I Need a Trip to Napa…

Napa Valley in February 2014...wild mustard profusely blooming all over the valley as a stunning yellow cover crop -- photo opps appear around every corner...

Napa Valley in February 2014…wild mustard blooms profusely all over the valley as a stunning yellow cover crop — photo opps appear around every corner…

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Arguably the best time of year to go to Napa is during “crush” season…when the air is permeated with the fragrance of grapes, and the days are long,  the daytime fall temperatures are warm and breezy, and there is the hubbub of trucks and trailers hauling up and down Highway 29 with massive amounts of grapes spilling over the sides; however, my favorite time to be in this stunning two-mile wide, 30-mile long valley is in early February.

The beginning of 2015 have been particularly hectic for me; yet, I was slowed down the other night when churning through thousands of photos I have stored on my computer…searching for a particularly elusive photo of a family member that I wanted to share with a cousin of mine…our Napa trip from last year flew by as I was on the hunt and the photos stopped me in my tracks.  I then took a virtual vacation to my favorite place and smiled…ahhhh…Napa.  While I love the cabernets…it’s the meticulous attention to the the full-circle of the food cycle created through the various properties using sustainable agriculture practices, the prevalence of stunning gardens (edible and flower), seriously fabulous restaurants, and a sense of grace exuding from this farming community that touches my soul.  And…they always have perfectly lovely, quality tea service readily available and accessible.

There are scrumptious, flavorful small bites of foods and beautiful teas served all over town

There are scrumptious, flavorful small bites of foods and beautiful teas served all over town – this mini tasting plate was served at the Greystone Restaurant attached to the CIA (culinary institute of America) in St. Helena, Napa.

 

Everything seems to taste better in Napa..the town of Yountville is our favorite small burg.  We walk quiet little streets to shop, eat, drink, meander, and enjoy the gardens.  It’s a no-pressure, relaxed environment.  Of course, there are plenty of stellar wines to sample…which might contribute just a little bit to the sense of relaxation 🙂

Bouchon Bakery stop on our morning walk, barrels and caves to explore, small plates to nibble on and lovely cups of tea abound

Bouchon Bakery stop on our morning walk, barrels and caves to explore, small plates to nibble on and lovely cups of tea abound

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Yep, I’m ready for a drive up north 🙂

 

Your Entire Life Leads You To The Next Step…

I found this quote scribbled on a pad I pulled out of an old box of papers I had stashed away some time ago…I like it. These kind of sayings inspire me.  The Natasha Bedingfield song, “Unwritten,” touches me too…she writes…

“Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten”

A few months ago I ran into a former work associate/friend – this incidental “run in” at a Cinco de Mayo taco party on the bluff in Dana Point led to my life’s next step…and, you may have noticed, has distracted me a bit from posting here about my favorite tea and food rituals 🙁 .

Ironically, while I got the opportunity to take on a job I’ve wanted to do for a long time…teaching part time at a wonderful university… this experience also led me back to the tea shop that first got me excited about what I call – the contemporary tea shop  – Cha For Tea in Irvine.  On my first day teaching, I had a long break between classes and sought out Cha For Tea…hoping it was still in the same location.  It had been ten years since my first visit to their tea bar. Back then, when the tea barista handed you your cup of tea, he said, “if this needs any kind of adjustment, let me know, we’ll make it to your liking”.  Well, I found them.  Not surprisingly, they were humming with business…they really focus on preparing your great cup of tea.  Your tea choice is steeped in front of you with a timer in your individual infuser. Thrilled that I re-discovered this fabulous tea bar, I ordered a brew.  When the tea maker handed me my cup, she said,  “if this needs any kind of adjustment, let me know…bring it right back to me”.  I had to smile, how cool.  Awesome!  For me…there is great comfort in ritual.  I love my tea rituals – and to tie it to fulfilling one of my life dreams made it even more special.

Cha for tea…check them out.

Cha For Tea, Irvine...your tea steeped to order in an infuser...adjusted to meet your taste...

Cha For Tea, Irvine…your tea steeped to order in an infuser…adjusted to meet your taste…

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Cha For Tea has three locations...

Cha For Tea has three locations…and offers tasty food to eat in or take out

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Infusers and other tea gear

Infusers and other tea gear

What’s Been Going On? Relaxing, Reading, & Drinking Tea (of course)…

The past month just flew by for me… so, while my posts are normally singularly focused on a specific topic…this one will be a “mish-mosh” of sharing and catching up…and yes, we will end up with some tea talk too.

What’s been going on? Relaxing on the beach, reading food history books, and consuming plenty of tea…

Life's A Beach...in Carlsbad Ca. this summer...my spot is the one on the far left...

Life’s A Beach…in Carlsbad Ca. this summer…my spot is the one on the far left…

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We just returned from our annual family vacation to the beach in North San Diego County.  It’s just sooooo enjoyable having sustained time with the family. This was our tenth year with lots of sun, sand, boogie boarding, Uno Mod ( the new favorite game for us), and Auntie V. bought the boys their own Monopoly game.  Each morning, just a short walk from our condo, my favorite French pressed tea latte from It’s A Grind, the local’s coffee shop, was waiting for me.

My French Press Latte...ready to be "plunged" by one of my grandsons (they liked pushing down the leaves with the press button).  This is a comfortable, cool, local coffee / tea shop...lots of locals...we are locals for one week a year :-)

My French Press Latte…ready to be “plunged” by one of my grandsons (they liked pushing down the leaves with the press button). This is a comfortable, cool, local coffee / tea shop…lots of locals…we are locals for one week a year 🙂

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On the literary front…I’ve been fully engaged and enlightened by reading two books on the history of food.  They are literally changing my view of eating…both books were purchased from the famous, city-block sized Powell’s Books from our Portland trip last spring.  Am so glad that I have the actual books (not e-book format) so I can go back and forth and easily re-read portions.  Check these out!  The question of “what’s for dinner?” will never be the same (or simple) after finishing these well-crafted and researched books.

Outstanding food books...Reading Empires of Food is truly enlightening as the authors chronicle the fate of people and societies for the past 12,000 years through foods they grew, hunted, traded, and ate...and offers devastating insights as to what's to come... Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, a James Beard award winning book, is engrossing and makes you think about the politics, perils and pleasures of eating...both make the question "what's for dinner" not such a simple answer ...

Outstanding food books…Reading Empires of Food is truly enlightening as the authors chronicle the fate of people and societies for the past 12,000 years through foods they grew, hunted, traded, and ate…and offers devastating insights as to what’s to come… Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, a James Beard award winning book, is engrossing and makes you think about the politics, perils and pleasures of eating…both make the question “what’s for dinner” not such a simple answer …

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A gift from a friend…sometimes, friends surprise you with their thoughtfulness…as my exercise buddy did last month.  She knows I love tea, and she loves Tea With Betty, so when she and her husband were downsizing, they  decided that this beautiful Chinese tea set should come to me.  I am looking forward to serving tea from it and inviting her over…a dim sum tea with some of our mutual friends…when the weather cools a bit.

I was handed this beautiful, somewhat mysterious looking, Chinese box...

I was handed this beautiful, somewhat mysterious looking, Chinese box…

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I was handed this beautiful, somewhat mysterious Chinese box...lifting the lid exposed this stunning tea set...finely painted with a story I will attempt to figure out on the pot and cups...each are meticulously and finely detailed...the cups are double walled so easy to handle...just lovely.

Lifting the lid exposed this stunning tea set…finely painted with a story I will attempt to figure out on the pot and cups…each are meticulously and finely detailed…the cups are double walled so easy to handle…just lovely.

 

Lastly, exciting news? Tea Classes are coming.  I will be teaching Tea 101 classes at the Spice Merchants in Laguna Beach in October.  Next week I will share  information on Spice Merchants.  We plan to do several tea classes – specific to various tea types, countries of origin and brewing methods.  Watch for the details coming soon!

The School of Essential Ingredients…A Delectable Read Worth Devouring

Kindness, thoughtfulness, and inspiration can come at you from the most unexpected places.  This happened to me last week when a relatively new friend emailed me that she had a book for me to read. This friend, L.J., is  a voracious reader and the instigator of our small book group.  I distinctly remember the moment she walked by me in our exercise class, over a year ago, and said, “I’m starting a book group, I doubt you’ll want to join, but here’s when we are meeting to see if this is a go or not.”  I had to chuckle at the somewhat backhanded invitation…but it worked.  I went.  How could I resist?  The rest is history.  Since then, normally a foursome of us meet up (we purposefully keep it small), we move at a relaxed pace, and have virtually no rules for our group.  Each of us had prior experience with more elaborate “book clubs” which often veered off into a gabfest or onto a cliquish tangent, each having little to do with the books…eventually we opted out of those environments.  We laughingly consider ourselves book “club” rejects.  We call ourselves a group, not a club, and have truly grown from our discussions.  The book she gave was written just for me I think…It stole my heart and made me hungry…the title, The School of Essential Ingredients…by Bauermeister.

The School of Essential Ingredients...by Erica Bauermeister

The School of Essential Ingredients…by Erica Bauermeister

L.J.  is taking a break from the group for a bit to focus on significant life challenges suddenly tossed her way…so when  I received her email, I was pleasantly surprised that, in the midst of her current situation, she thought about me and intuited something I would enjoy.  And she was so right.  I thoroughly consumed this book and was carried away with food memories of my own as I read.  Thank you L.J. for exercising your uncanny ability to know the types of books that will move me and make my life better.  It was a delicious, heart-warming gift.  I recommend this to anyone who appreciates how cooking is more than just food preparation.  It is gentle, creative, inspiring and kind and makes you really want to make some pasta or the cake mmmm or, well, I could go on and on.  Let’s just say you don’t want to be hungry when you read it 🙂

You may ask, “so what are the “essential ingredients?”  While different for everyone, three essential lessons about food are ingrained in me…first is to have respect for the ingredients.  Bauermeister beautifully writes about this, noting that “every time we prepare food we interrupt a life cycle.  We pull up a carrot or kill a crab…or maybe just stop the mold that is growing on a wedge of cheese.  We make meals with those ingredients and in doing so we give life to something else.  It’s a basic equation…the lesson is to give respect to both sides of the equation.”

Post from Smith Teamaker Portland Oregon

I saw this timely Post from Smith Teamaker Portland Oregon …a place I will be visiting soon and will share the experience of this fine teamaker.

Another essential lesson which I relate to every time I steep a pot of tea is the beauty of ritual and the thought provocation which occurs while waiting for the tea liquor to exude.  It’s amazing what you’ll think about while waiting for liquid to absorb or onions to turn opaque while slowly cooking.  There is comfort in this ritual for me.

Thirdly, food memories abound when I read about foods, chefs, or cook myself.  I was struck by the author’s character giving advice when using canned tomatoes for making pasta sauce …her words could have come directly out of my mom’s mouth when the Chef described how to add the tomatoes to the meat of the bolognese…”you can used crushed tomatoes, but crushed tomatoes are made from bits and parts nobody will see anyway…however, if you want to ensure you have the best…then buy them whole and crush them yourself.”  It takes a little time, but is worth it.  I could hear Mom (Betty) saying that over and over as she made our Thursday and Sunday pasta sauce … our standards growing up in an Italian household.  To this day, I only use “whole tomatoes” for my sauce and crush, puree, or dice to suit my needs.  I smile and think of Mom every time.

Thanks to my friend L.J. for providing me the perfect recipe for escaping from life’s stresses and enjoying luminous prose while reading The School of Essential Ingredients.  Friends who listen certainly fit on that list of essentials too.  Some lemon curd and the tea time of your choosing is coming your way L.J. whenever you are ready for it. 🙂

Enjoy and drink tea.

 

Take A Moment…

Over the past few years, the first couple weeks of April have become the busiest time of year in our household.  Aside from the regular stuff of life; albeit enjoyable and ultimately rewarding activities, time-consuming and physically demanding things; such as, spring garden planting, readying for garden tours, family Easter at our house,  our grandson’s birthdays, and working on tea events conducive to this season seem to bunch up into a two-week period, creating a time crunch in my usually languid schedule.  So…before I share details and photos journals of all this exciting stuff (including the best looking giant birthday cake we’ve made yet :-)), take a moment...as I just did before starting to edit photos.  I looked up and saw this beautiful artwork which my sister-in-law generously and thoughtfully created and gave to me as a gift at Easter.

Stylized photo ...a gift from my sister-in-law...beautiful, a beautiful thought, and one of my favorite books too (note the book spine).

Take A Moment Photo …a gift from my sister-in-law…beautiful, a beautiful thought, and the cup is sitting on one of my favorite books too (note the book spine Jane Austen fans).  The photo depicts tea pot and cups which are family heirlooms…

 

One of the primary facets I just love about tea, and the concept of tea time, and the art and practice of preparing tea are the moments of reflection inspired by the actual time it takes to steep it. It forces you to take a breath while watching the leaves exude their liquor.  Glancing at this photo stopped me for a moment… forced me to take a breath and relax before charging on…for, as most of us know, that is what life is all about, breathing in and breathing out. Sometimes I need a reminder about that  🙂

So, take a moment…and drink tea…it’s good for you!  Enjoy

 

Crazy For Coconut…Comforted By Rituals…Change Is Good

The contentment of rituals; such as, methodically preparing my beloved cup of tea each morning, or routinely getting to my exercise sessions, or scheduling our recurring journeys to Carmel and Napa Valleys bring me joy, relaxation, and serenity; however, challenging that routine is something I force myself to do now and then…comfort is good, ruts are not.

At a recent book group discussion, one member’s comment smacked me across the side of my head like being hit by a 2 x 4.  We were having an insightful discussion about the short novel, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes…a tale of memory and missed opportunities.  My friend said that she thought “her life was settled, that nothing new was really going to happen anymore, she was content, she had traveled the world, and that was fine.”  I ruminated over her comment for a few days, the Peggy Lee song, Is That All There Is?  kept running through my head.  For some reason her comment unleashed a determination in me to NOT stagnate or be so predictable, (I am just a little bit predictable 🙂 ).  While thrilled with my daily life, I lay awake thinking about what I wanted to do to shake things up.

An evening later, my first opportunity arrived –  my brother texted me after 8 p.m. to ask if we wanted to meet him for drinks and oysters – right then – I texted back… “yes” … scurried to change clothes as I was in casual attire and sped down to the harbor to meet him…he was gone – when I called to ask where he was, he was home and said “I never thought you would actually say yes” … (I shocked him 🙂 ) — Next… the feeling of empowerment from that little experience motivated me to give the thumbs up to my husband to book our flights to see my beloved nephew in Portland…( I rather detest flying and had been stalling about going – now that the trip is booked I am so excited and can’t wait to have N. show me his town…there are some great tea shops in Portland too!);  and lastly, while online checking out my favorite tea sites, I saw Tea Forte’s Coconut teas…well, I LOVE coconut but normally do not love flavored teas.  In the spirit of “going for it” and changing things up a bit,  I went for the coconut.   The teas arrived … the fragrance is “really” powerful…after steeping a few cups, I will give you my verdict…it may not seem like much, but a small change can go a long way to opening doors…or even just opening one’s own mind a bit more.

Tea Forte's Chai Latte...organic zesty with organic black tea, organic ginger root, organic cinnamon, organic coconut pieces, organic licorice root,  organic cardamom, organic black pepper and organic clove buds...really fragrant and flavorful and wonderful with some milk

Lychee Coconut White Tea..says it’s for radiant skin…I did make this into an iced tea the moment I got it for my sister and me and it was quite refreshing and uplifting…haven’t seen a change in my skin yet but have only had one cup 🙂  – the large pieces of unsweetened organic coconut stand out…

Coconut Chai Latte from Tea Forte ... all organic...

Coconut Chai Latte from Tea Forte … all organic…organic black tea, organic unsweetened coconut, organic ginger root, organic cardamom, organic black pepper, organic licorice root and more…

 

Normally I am a pure tea fanatic…meaning that I primarily consume “unflavored, unadulterated, unmanipulated”  loose leaf teas which are most often organically grown and hail from respected and renowned tea farms purchased from purveyors I’ve come to trust ( Harney & Sons and Mighty Leaf Teas are two of my favorites).

On this occasion I also ordered my own Kati cup from Tea Forte …I had ordered many but kept giving them away…now I have my own…and even went for their new pan roasted black tea flavored selection.

Tea Forte Kati Cup...Pan Roasted Black Tea Noir Collection of flavored teas to include chocolate rose, peach brûlée, blood orange,caramel nougat, black cherry...they sound like desserts (but no carbs ...yay)

Tea Forte Kati Cup…Pan Roasted Black Tea Noir Collection of flavored teas to include chocolate rose, peach brûlée, blood orange,caramel nougat, black cherry…they sound like desserts (but no carbs …yay)

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While I highly doubt that any of these will take over my morning pure black tea steeping ritual…they are fun for the afternoon and can’t wait to try them with my favorite little macaroon recipe using Bob’s Red Mill unsweetened coconut.

Enjoy…and drink tea…even a new variety now and then can be a good thing.