Friday, August 30, 2013

Tea and Cheese and Passions

One of my favorite experiences is to be around people who have imersed themselves in their passions and then share that with others. The topic hardly matters; being with someone who knows and loves the topic is a joy.  When that topic of passion corresponds with mine, well then it's super!  Just like last weekend...

I had the good fortune to attend (with Marmalady) a cheese and tea pairing, hosted by two local experts.  Steven Smith and Steve Jones.  Smith is prominent in the tea scene, having been part of the birth of both Stash and Tazo brands, and now runs his own tea company. Jones is not only a skilled and thoughtful cheese seller, but also a national cheesemonger champ.  The two Steves decided to join up to share their knowledge and passions.
The pairings were carefully selected, the idea to bring out the best in both the tea and the cheese.  We enjoyed, starting at noon and working clockwise on the plate:

1:  Tea - White Petal (No 71), a white tea with chamomile, osmanthus, pear and apple infusions (for citrus) and lightly sweetened, from the Ready-to-Drink (RTD) bottled line, served cold; Cheese - A goat's milk gouda, aged 6 months
2:  Tea - Lord Bergamot (Smith's take on Earl Grey and his #1 selling tea); Cheese - an earthy Montgomery English cheddar
3: Tisane - Red Nectar (rooibos and honeybush); Cheese - Gruyere de Savoie, a French cheese, lightly creamy and nutty
4: Tisane - Big Hibiscus; Cheese - Aged (2 years) cow's milk gouda with a nice crunch due to caseins that crystallize in the aging process
5: Tea - Brahmin (a blend of Assam, and two Ceylon teas); Cheese - Lightly smoked sheep's cheese from basque Spain (Idiazabal)

The pairings exceeded my expectations!  I didn't know if I would find tea with enough acidic "bite" (thinking of wine) to go well with the cheeses. Wow - some of them had just that and the others showcased the cheese's creaminess. 

I learned a lot, too.  For example, these designations relate to cheese: 
Farmstead:  The milker is the maker, cheese made at the farm where the animal is milked
Artisanal:  Hand made cheeses, small batches (this has an actual meaning in the cheese world, vs. a marketing label)
Coop:  Pooled milk from a region, 1 great cheese maker

Have you ever enjoyed a cheese and tea pairing?  What pairings would you like to try? 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

She Comes Home

It's a wonderful Sunday afternoon. The DH is whiling away at the bicycle show at the museum and I'm tucked into a beautifully presented pot of sencha at the Japanese cafe across the street. A good book, a pot of tea, moody skies and a light rain. Portland has come home after a gorgeous Mediterranean vacation for herself. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Matcha in the Park

Last week I had the wonderful chance to visit with friends (from near and far) in a beautiful park.  I also got to use my nodate picnic set - it's a little basket with a small tea bowl and a diminutive whisk and scoop.  This style of Japanese tea "ceremony" is informal and flexible, perfect for a day in the park.  It was my pleasure to make bowls of matcha for the guests.  My laughter above shows the spirit of the day (and notice the wedding in the background!).

Not pictured is our friend Ms. M, the photographer.

I love this tiny little whisk and scoop set!  The scoop folds up and fits into the bottom of the whisk.

Just a hint of the frothy green matcha.

When drinking matcha, it's a good idea to have a little sweet just prior to drinking.  The sweet lingers in your mouth and blends with the bitter flavor of the matcha.  We shared sweetened rice crackers and sesame mochi (soft, chewy rice flour cakes with sesame paste filling).

It was a great afternoon and I was honored to make tea for my friends!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Working Girl and the Privileged

I'm enjoying these two new thimble-sized teacups I picked up at the Chinese Garden. I'm calling them the Working Girl and the Privileged. They are both me.

I'm a conscientious and hardworking employee. I give a lot to my employer.  I manage through the turmoil and stresses - along with the benefits  - of corporate life.

I'm also privileged, simply by being born an American into a middle class family. I have an advanced education which affords me some job flexibility and security. I have a safe home. I have a loving  husband, family and friends.

I take none of this for granted. I often think of how lucky I am to simply have been granted life into my family, this century, my geography. And I wonder how I can be of service in this world to so many who don't have the same.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Meatless Monday: Artichokes

Well here's a plant we could never grow in the Midwest...artichokes!  Fun to grow because the plant is BIG and pretty, and if you let it bloom, it looks like a giant purple thistle. But why would you want to do that when you can eat them?  We trim the sharp points and steam for about 25 min for small ones. I like them unadorned, though many people enjoy dipping the leaves in melted butter, mayo or other sauces.

Do you grow fresh artichokes?  (They don't like cold winters.). How do you like to cook them?

And a flower for you too....

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Obon Festival

Obon Festival Folk Dances

I had the wonderful opportunity to attend our local Obon Festival this past weekend.  Obon is a Japanese custom of honoring one's ancestors.  It's celebrated with wonderful food, arts and performances and dancing. The stately woman leading the dances above is Sahomi Tachibana, grande dame of Japanese traditional dance.

It was fun to wear a yukata (casual cotton kimono) with a fancy-tied obi (thank you MK!).  The orange fan is used for fanning as well as in some of the folk dances.  I even tried my hand at some of the dance, great fun!    

The wooden platform shoes are called geta.  They make a nice clack-clack sound when walking.  The ones shown below are covered in black lacquer.

Many people wore kimono and looked simply stunning!  It was lovely to see the young men and women dressed in bright blues and whites,with colorful obi.

And green Nike's.  ;-)  This young man is participating in a multi-generational folk dance.  How cool!

And now, the food...many delicious choices, including noodles, spam specialties and deserts called manju.

My friend MK was incredibly generous and made a bento lunch for me.  Delicious!  And to top off the day, I enjoyed shaved ice with guava and lychee syrup.

A wonderful day full of cultural treasures.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Foolish Projects

A foolish project

Start a huge,  foolish project
like Noah.

It makes absolutely no difference 
what people think of you.


I've been taking this really great online class, Start a Foolish Project, with Andrea Scher.  The idea was to say YES to a project that INSPIRES and DELIGHTS me, and to do it for the JOY of it!  I'm so glad I jumped in!

My warm-up activity was the Take What You Need experiment (image below).  I am  happy to report that all of the paper slips were pulled at the sign posted at my nearby market. I nearly jumped up and down clapping my hands the first time I walked by and some were gone.  ;-)

Next was the "guerrilla goodwill" activity (image at the top).  I made slips of inspiring quotes and affirmations and placed them in library books and on the back of public restroom stalls.  (Two of my favorite authors, Alexandra Stoddard and Sarah Susanka, were next to each other at the library, how serendipitous!) I love the anonymity of it.  It's also very fast. I spent 20 minutes making the slips from leftover scrapbook paper. It takes only 30 seconds to stick on a door or in a book, and my mood is lifted for a couple of hours.  It feels like I'm getting away with something, but in a good way!

My final project was to organize a neighborhood potluck picnic.  The DH (dear hubby) and I are relatively new here and I wanted to get to know more neighbors.  This was the project that really pushed me out of my comfort zone.  I'm a sociable person, but I had to be brave going door to door to introduce myself and hand out the invitations.  I dressed carefully, put on my best smile and headed out.  My opening line, "Hi! I'm Stephanie, your neighbor..." speaks to my nerves. Would they even open the door?  Think I was a solicitor? Ultimately, I found great value in this invitation process.  I met four new neighbors and learned that two of them have lived here for some time and yet didn't know many people.  That validated my cause.
Last Sunday evening was the picnic potluck.  We met in the nearby park.  I took over vases of flowers from the gardens.  I pulled out pretty tablecloths, but aside from that, this was simple because I chose to host in a public space (I highly recommend!).  Nonetheless, I had to remain calm as I made my way there and spied another neighborhood group using the picnic tables I had desired (in the shade). I had been watching the tables for a one ever used them, not once!  Fortunately, there was another table available and we set up a portable table and carried on.  We had a lovely time with 12 of us in attendance.  I know these neighbors by name now. We shared food and smiles, and that is foolish magic!