Thursday, June 25, 2015

Red and Black Currants and Chimney Cake

I've mentioned that Oregon is berry heaven, right?  At the Farmer's Market last weekend, I was surprised and delighted to find currants, red and black.  I've been eating them out of hand all week and enjoying their tart, but distinct flavors. 

The black currants are plumper.  To me, they have a mild anise flavor in addition to the berry tartness. It's unexpected in a berry, and I like it. The red currants are bright pops of pucker with a finish of sweetness. They're just so cute!

I was also pleased to find this chimney cake, or Kürtőskalács. I had only learned of their existence a few days before, but the baker was sold out. What good fortune, to find these being sold at my neighborhood Farmer's Market! They're fun and delicious. It's a sweet yeast bread, not really a cake, and makes a beautiful display. They're cooked on a rolling pin device.

What summer treasures have you discovered lately?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunrise Solstice Tea in the Garden

Today is the summer solstice, the "longest day of the year," thanks to the Western Hemisphere's deepest tilt toward the sun. The sun rises and sets at its northernmost point along the horizon. It's funny, really, as the solstice is considered the start of summer and yet it's also the tipping point towards winter. From here, we lose a bit of light each day even as the temperatures continue to rise. That's because the land and oceans are still warming.

Humans are deeply connected to the shifting seasons and the moon phases, even though most of us don't acknowledge these subtle patterns in our life. It's something I aspire to observe.  I rose extra early to enjoy a solstice sunrise tea. I confess - it wasn't easy dragging myself out of bed - but I'm so glad I did! I took my chabako kit (a box with all the necessary implements for making matcha in the traditional style) to one of our garden plots. It was cool and quiet. The robins were beginning to hop around and the bees were still asleep inside of the hollyhocks.

I tried to follow the forms and practices of this tea procedure as best I could. I was both host and guest, which is unusual in a Japanese Tea Ceremony and required some adjustments. When I said, "otemae chodai itashimasu," thank you for making this bowl of tea, I was thanking all the people involved and the earth's generosity in bringing me this bowl of tea. It's an interesting contemplative experience if you dive into the thought of being both host and guest. 

I enjoyed being alone and spent some time journaling. Both tea and writing nourish me.

About an hour into the morning, the sun broke through the clouds, and everything began to sparkle.  

By the time I departed, about two hours after I began, the bees were humming and the sounds of human activity were floating in my direction. It was a time to go. A wonderful morning.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Berries, Old and New


I went berry picking last weekend, something I love to do.  I thought of my grandmothers as I moved through the bushes and vines. I remembered my mom and paternal grandmother picking wild blackberries; the chiggers were awful but grandma was determined! Fortunately, no chiggers here. I recalled summer mornings with my maternal grandmother, making jam in her farmhouse kitchen before the heat of the day crept in.

Gooseberries are an old-fashioned fruit, the plump globes are tart until they ripen a little, but green is when they're best for jam. They're naturally high in pectin so they gel up without any additives. Here's the recipe I used. Gooseberry pie also happens to be one of my step dad's favorite treats. I just wish I were closer to make him one!

The bushes were easy pickin', so heavy with fruit that I brought home far more than I'll need.  Thankfully, they freeze well.
At the same farm, I was introduced to tayberries, a cross between a raspberry and a blackberry. They're a relatively "new" fruit, developed in 1979 in Scotland and named after the River Tay. This berry manages to have properties of both fruits, yet be its own thing.  I've been eating them out of hand all week and also made a batch of jam. They're delicious!

The gooseberry jam turns this pretty soft pink color, and the tayberry jam a deep purple-red. I'm grateful to live near berry farms, Oregon being one of the country's biggest producers, and I love traditions like this that keep family alive in my heart.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Camellia Tea House in Kigali, Rwanda

Rwanda had many riches to reveal to me. The beauty of the landscape, the smiles of the people, the delicious fruits, the colorful fabrics, the easy weather, the benefits of a modern city (Kigali), the pleasures of the country, the hope and investment in the future.  Kigali even has its own tea house! 

I was able to visit the Camellia Tea House on my last day in the country, for a leisurely lunch with my colleague. Camellia Tea House is a cafe that serves food and the teas below. 

I enjoyed the black tea (Rwandan). You can see here how it's presented. The insulated carafe keeps tea piping hot. Tea was always served with the optional sugar on the side (and always unbleached sugar).

My colleague and I, enjoying the outdoor patio. It was a nice way to relax and reflect upon our experiences.

Delicious fruit plate includes passion fruit, guava, tree tomato (front, left), mango, watermelon, papaya, grapes, apple pineapple and orange. I am definitely missing all these locally-grown fresh fruits!

I want to go back to Rwanda and explore even more of its tea culture!

Friday, June 05, 2015

To Market in Kigali - A Place of Color, Texture and Treasures

During our time in Kigali (capital of Rwanda), we had the fun experience of visiting a local market. I didn't catch the name of it, but it's a place where locals shop (not just for tourists). As markets go, this was pretty tame. The folks were eager to sell to you, but they didn't hassle or touch. A "no thank you" and a smile allowed us passage through.

Many treasures to be found here, from handmade baskets, wood carvings, clothing and shoes, fruits and vegetables, and the highlight for me: fabrics! I could have spent hours looking at all the bold and beautiful patterns. You can even have an item custom-sewn on the spot (on a treadle machine, perfect for these conditions because it doesn't require electricity). I'm thinking of my grandmother and how she would have loved these fabrics and being with these women.

As much as I would have loved to bring home a suitcase full, I limited myself to these two choices.

Baskets and other beautiful woven crafts are other treasures to be found.

These photos are a little dark because the hallways are narrow (barely room for one to pass), with goods overflowing on each side. It would easy to spend hours - or days - wandering through.

Negotiations on price are the norm. Though I managed to bargain a little (not my strength), I'm certain I still paid tourist prices for things, and I was content to do so. 

One of my most precious souvenirs, packed in my  heart, is the colorful experience of meeting people who have very little and who are very happy. 

Monday, June 01, 2015

Weigh Station for Tea Picking in Rwanda

Tea picker is sorting tea

Getting tea from the field to the factory is a matter of skill and speed. When tea is picked by hand, it's most often the hand of a woman. When she has picked her quantity for the day, she proceeds to the weigh station.  The tea is weighed and noted in the ledger for payment, then hastily transferred to the factory for processing to begin. It's a special privilege to happen upon a weigh station. If you're not there at just the right time, you'll miss it!  I've been lucky to witness this twice, once in Darjeeling and just recently in Rwanda.

Enjoy these photos!

People were as interested in us as we were in them

Friendly smiles

Just look at the backdrop to this scene, so green and lush

This little girl totally photo bombed me!  She did this several times, I loved it!

The tea waits in bags for transport to the factory

Me with the Tea!