Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Nettle Herb Blend: Underground Alchemy

"Those who cannot feel the littleness of great things in themselves are apt to overlook the greatness of little things in others." 
Okakura Kakuzo The Book of Tea

Read that quote a few times slowly. Sip tea. Read it again. I'll wait.

In 1906, Kakuzo was writing about how the Western world dismissed the subtle peace and beauty of Japanese cultural practices like the tea ceremony, favoring any military or warrior history. Kakuzo was a Japanese man of great respect in the artistic world of home country, until he clashed with the leaders on how to respond to the great divide between Eastern and Western philosophies. He eventually left Japan to travel, settling in Massachusetts, US. He was employed by the Boston Museum of Fine Art, and I highly recommend touring their Asian art exhibit- much of it acquired during his tenure. He wrote quite a bit, but is today mostly remembered for The Book of Tea. He wrote as a man coming from one culture into a very different one.

The culture of men is very interesting to me. I had a father who wanted a boy, and since my older sister was incredibly sensitive and dainty, I was the de facto "son." I've always had guys in my friend circle, I married and have lived with man for twenty years, and I've raised a son who is now a teenager. So, although I am not a man myself, I do know something of them, especially since I live in the Western patriarchal society which glorifies domination over harmony, force over grace, production over beauty, and big over little. The culture of tea does not fit neatly into the American ideals of masculinity. 

Last year there was an animated short film from Japan called "Possessions", about a burly man traveling in the woods who seeks shelter from a storm in a forgotten shrine. It is haunted, and he is trapped in a strange house with demons. If it was an American movie, the main character would have to defeat the demons, either by physical force or outwitting them. But in this Japanese film he listens to the neglected spirits, and he takes out a sewing kit and fixes them up, complimenting them the whole time. He wakes the next morning, dry from the storm, and with gifts to take on his way. My son liked the film a lot. "It's like, 'oh-no demons!', but the guy helps them. And he even helps by sewing." 

Tea was first cultivated in China, spreading around parts of Asia, with different cultures creating their own traditions around the drink. Europeans adopted the leaf into their own way of life later on, most notably the British. During the 20th century wars, there are stories of British officers drinking tea out of fine porcelain. Bringing a delicate tea service into battle does not seem useful or strategic. Could the officers only remember the littleness of great things in themselves by taking time to sip tea in fragility? By appreciating small beauty in their own tent, could they remain aware of the greatness of little things outside it?  

I can see the different cultures of tea finding harmony in my country. There may be no need to defeat our demons, but instead to listen, help, and then sleep a night in peace, waking to gratitude and hopefully, a steaming cup of tea.

Rise untethered.
Move with intention.
Be grand.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

London Fog: Professor Java's

When I first moved to my present city my love of tea also began. As I explored with my children the delight of the drink, we also found a place that served good tea, and had fun with it too. Professor Java's has always had tea lattes brewed with loose-leaf from DiviniTea, a local high-quality tea company. I'm pretty sure I've written about the place before, but they are worth mentioning again. Now tea is becoming more mainstream here in America, and tea drinks are popping up in many eateries. But I like the creative names here. London Fog is Earl Grey in steamed milk with cinnamon and honey. Fantastic.

(Valentine's Day recap: hubby and I had an unplanned evening together; both kids decided to attend the Dance Flurry and could get a ride home. He baked banana bread, I gave him truffles I had made earlier in the week, we made tea, and played Scrabble. And then...hmm...start a puzzle?)

To have tea brewed for you or not? At Java's they place the loose-leaf in a bag in your cup. Only the dedicated tea shops: Whistling Kettle, Short and Stout, Tailored Tea, steep it before serving. I like having the tea all set for me, but since I also know what I'm doing, I don't mind brewing myself. Except when I'm distracted. I over-brewed the London Fog a bit, forgetting that it wasn't just regular black tea; the bergamot in it makes it sensitive. Why was I distracted? By the conversation at the next table, of course.

There was an intense therapy session happening. The one lady really needed to get past something, but wasn't able to deal with it properly to move on. I so totally relate! Patience. It's important not to brush something aside, but exactly how to deal with negative emotions is such a process, and one not to be rushed. Unfortunately, life just keeps coming at you. The other lady was listening and sipping tea wisely as her friend vented.

(We decided no puzzle for our verrrry exciting Valentine's Day evening. Hubby had been listening to our teens in the car go on and on about different online videos they had been watching lately, and he mused that TV was going to die soon, and maybe we should find some funny videos to watch? Well. As the one home with my son, I am subject to viewing quite a few YouTube moments during the week. However, I also know most of them would be more irritating than amusing for hubby. I had to think about it...)

So the therapy session continued as I drank my tea. It was a work place thing, and the lady couldn't leave the situation. The other lady was asking some thoughtful questions. Was she really just a friend, or a life coach? Was this a paid session? "I need to know my own boundaries so others aren't forced upon me." I thought that was a pretty good insight she made for herself. The "therapist" nodded sagely and ate her chips. Could I get that job? Drink tea, listen, and encourage someone to figure out their own problems? What other jobs involve sitting around drinking tea? 

This week I'm excited to be sharing tea with others. I have my TeaPunk Soirèe on Thursday. I made marbled tea eggs and they came out perty and yummy, so I'll demonstrate that. I bought some good Oolong to brew for people. We'll play some games, maybe make an origami tea cup. The possibilities!

(Back to Valentine's Day. I decided John Oliver would be amusing to hubby, and I was right. Unfortunately, because the subject was depressing social and economic issues, we ended up venting to each other about the sorry state of the world afterwards. Not exactly romantic. "Enough! We need Flight of the Conchords!" That helped immensely. Our conversation veered somewhere else, and then somehow we got into children's cartoons, and ended up watching a He-Man episode. So bad! So awesome!
HUBBY:I don't think that was one of the good ones.
ME: *laughing* There were no good ones.
HUBBY: Skelator wasn't in it!
ME: True. And I didn't see the ubiquitous rock throwing clip. We need another nostalgic cartoon date night.)

I finished my London Fog just in time. The therapy session started going into putting together an arrest of someone, a minor involved- don't need to know anymore! Why are you having this conversation so publicly?! I can't not listen when you are right next to me! 

Recommendation: Professor Java's makes great tea drinks, but don't sit too close to others...

Rise untethered.
Move with intention.
Be grand.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Spice of Life: White Tea from Teavana

Two minutes. That's what it says on the package for this tea I'm drinking. Guess what takes two minutes while it's brewing? Doing a Mad-Libs with my son from his daily calendar! (That was your second guess, right?)

Dancing Class (A Play)
BOY: Would you do me the honor of brewing with me?
GIRL: Of course! I am good at contaminating and incriminating.
BOY: I like gurgling the best, but I can also do the gobly-gook and the ink.
GIRL: The last time I did those dances, I broke my palm!

Feel free to add in your own words for mad fun!

I'm not sure where the tea came from, but it's been sitting on my tea shelf and I felt bad for it. Someone in the house got it for Christmas ('cause I certainly didn't buy it). It needed to be used! It smells like a coconut spice cake, but tastes very light. I like it! Exclamation points!!!

So Valentine's Day. Love it, hate it, ambivalent...it, but I can use it as an excuse to do tea stuff with it (whether it likes it or not! Ha!) How about truffles? How about cashew cream truffles? How about cashew cream truffles rolled in Russian Caravan and cocoa? More exclamation points!!!

My wee nieces came over to help make the truffles today. The older one didn't like the smokey smell of Russian Caravan (but somehow ate them anyway...) but the younger was too distracted by the chocolate covering her entire being to notice much beyond asking: "When can I lick it off?" a lot.

Make them for yourself, your friends, family, or that certain someone you want to impress. I can't guarantee the truffles will make anyone fall in love with you, but- actually, YES, they WILL make people fall in love with you. I absolutely guarantee it! (I'm lying.)

Here's the recipe: (adapted from MakePeaceWithFood's recipe. Btw, the truffles taste decadent, but aren't bad for you- barely any sugar, no dairy, and nuts and dark chocolate are good for you.)

Blend 3/4 cp of raw cashews and 3/4 cp of water in a processor or blender for 2 minutes. (It's a long time, yes.)
Put 2 inches of water in a sauce pan on low. Put another saucepan on top of it and pour 16oz of semi-sweet chocolate chips plus 1Tbls olive oil into that top pan. Let chocolate melt- stir it around.
Pour liquified (awesome word) chocolate into a ceramic or glass bowl. Gently stir in the cashew cream. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
Crush 3 Tbls of Russian Caravan tea (or other tea) into teeeny bits. It helps to have a mortar and pestle, but be inventive. Mix with 4 Tbls of cocoa powder in a small bowl.
When the truffle base is ready, take a spoon and scoop out a bit into your hand. Roll it into a ball and then roll it around the tea/cocoa mix. Place on a tray.
Put full tray of amazing truffles in the fridge until you are ready to EAT THEM ALL.

Happy Valentine's Day! More and more exclamation points!!!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Lemon Tulsi: Underground Alchemy

In a previous blog I mentioned how I was trying the live the phrase 'focus and finish' to keep myself from half-done tasks and needless injuries. It is hard because I am highly distracted (insert "squirrel!" joke here) but I've remembered it this long, so hopefully it becomes a habit. And I know that our brain cannot focus on more than one thing at a time; we toggle between them inefficiently. However, steeping tea just begs for multi-tasking. 

Green tea steeps for a minute or so. There is no walking away to do something or it will be forgotten and icky. But staring at the clock for an entire minute is boring. I try to zen out watching the steam, breathe more deeply, say a prayer, or do a yoga move. (Practicing ninja moves works well too, though teenagers in the house may not take your seriously for the rest of the day.)

Black tea steeps longer  at 4ish minutes, but Earl Grey is finicky because the bergamot flavor can become bitter (bitterize?) if over-brewed, so I keep that to only 3ish minutes. Yet chai should be steeped longer to get the most out of the spices, so I do that around 7ish minutes. I usually set myself a task like making a snack to go with the tea, wash a few dishes, fold some laundry. I need to stay in the vicinity of the brewing cup because walking through doorways wipes your mind of all you thought you would remember. I'm not kidding.

Herbal (tisane...let's go insane!) teas steep for 10ish minutes to get the full flavor and/or medicinal properties. My morning routine usually is to set up my herbal tea, take a shower, and come back to a perfectly brewed cup. Keeping a ceramic lid on it keeps it hot for breakfast.

I enjoy having multiple projects steeping in my mind. My days are filled with routine tasks, like green tea, I need to focus on them to do well. Some to-do's require black tea brewing like posts for blogs. (Like this one! Yes, I actually think about it ahead of time...) And then there are the herbal tea time projects that require more imagination, like my upcoming TeaPunk Soiree.

(Tea! Food! Games! Prizes! Crafts! More tea! If you are in my area, join me! You can just show up too! Now with more exclamation points!!!)

I am most content when I am busy during the day, knowing my mind is steeping something creative. I don't need to be aware of what exactly is brewing, but when I sit down to work on the project, all these ideas bubble up, and I know they were gathering steam the whole time just waiting for me to notice them. 

I hope you find time to brew a perfect cup of tea with some fantastic ideas.

Rise untethered.
Move with intention.
Be grand.