Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Steeped: A Lovely Little Tome About Tea

When I moved my North Coast Holistics office into Hancock’s Jutila Center, I began by setting up a place for making tea. I plugged in a burner, arranged my favorite set of blue mugs next to a good kettle, and stacked boxes of herbal, green and black teas on a shelf below. When someone comes to see me, I often welcome them with the warming ritual of offering tea.

I now own a copy of the perfect book to go with my tea stand: Steeped: In the World of Tea, edited by Sharon Bard, Birgit Nielsen, and Clara Rosemarda, photography by Juliana Spear. This beautiful collection of essays, poems and images looks at tea and its everyday but influential place in our lives.

The book serves up a selection of literary morsels that provide flavorful companions to teatime, many just about the right length for one cup. Take, for instance, Emily North’s sweet snippet “When Mom was a Hippie,” about the author’s back-to-the-land period in rural Vermont with her young daughter Violet. Living a lifestyle infused with the gathering of wild herbs for medicines and decoctions, she shows the importance of tea as she captures some of the magic of this phase of her life:

With Violet in bed, I lit the candles in the kitchen and made a cup of tea; often yarrow, which resembles Queen Anne’s lace and grows in meadows. Yarrow reminds me of August, just before the summer begins turning to fall, which it does in Vermont before September. If on one night in August there is a new crispness in the air, then by next morning, the spiders will have strewn the meadow and raspberry bushes with sodden webs. Thus, the smell of fall arrives, along with the golden rod, and this is how you know summer is passing.

At night, I sat on the front step to watch the stars while sipping my tea. Yarrow allegedly enhances psychic powers; the fields and woods around me thrummed with unexplained noises….

Then there’s Clara Rosemarda’s “Strong Brew,” a powerful piece about her relationship with her father. “My father and I shared a love of tea and adventure,” Rosemarda begins, and then blends the experience of tea-drinking into the evolution of this parent-child relationship in a way best described by one of the essay’s concluding sentences:

Teatime, that sweet destination, a golden rim that shimmers on the surface of my memory, weaves my father and me together, fellow travelers on separate yet intricately entwined journeys.

I also loved Sharon Bard’s “Streaming Green Tea,” a meditation on communicating with colleagues in a different land. In her story, Bard describes a 1977 exchange visit with teachers of severely handicapped children in Japan and punctuates it gently with the presence of tea:

All eyes were on me. I put down my tea cup. It was time to talk.

“I, too, am a principal of a small school for severely handicapped students. Most of our pupils are more disabled than the children here,” I began, enunciating slowly. Mr. Mochizuki translated.

“We had hospitals for children like these in California. But then our governor signed laws for them to leave the hospitals and go back into the community. In part to save money.”

Translation into Japanese. Nods.

“Now there is a movement to include these students in regular programs. Into a less restrictive environment. So they can have equal education. We call it mainstreaming.”

More translation.

“Please say it again.”


Notebooks opened. A Pilot Razor pen appeared and one of the men carefully inscribed that Western buzzword into neat little ideographs.

“Main steaming,” said another. Two of the men looked at me. The third looked over to the flat teapot, connecting my term with the escaping vapors.

Full disclosure: I know two of the three editors of this book, having met both Sharon Bard and Clara Rosemarda years ago when I lived in Sonoma County, California. Both are independent thinkers, smart and very creative women, and I am not surprised to see them produce a book with such thoughtful, high-quality content. I’m equally impressed with the contributors I don’t know, including photographer Juliana Spear, whose luscious, evocative images keep me flipping through the pages every time I pick up this volume, just for the pleasure of looking at it.

Though Steeped is small in format, it brims with literary flavor and artisanship. It’s a book as delightful and nurturing to curl up with as your favorite cup of tea.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Deliciously Healthy Valentine

My partner knows that one big path to my heart runs right through my stomach. I’m convinced, too, that he wants me to live a long and healthy life – a nice thing to know! – since most of his food gifts to me are so deliciously healthy.

He surprised me this Valentine’s Day with the latest example of his curative culinary creativity: a heart-shaped pancake made with freshly-ground millet flour. Millet, a gluten-free gain, is a good source of B vitamins like thiamin and riboflavin, as well as minerals like magnesium, potassium, silicon and iron. Chinese medicine considers it a yin-builder and beneficial for the kidneys, pancreas and stomach. Several sources list it as alkalizing as well as anti-fungal.

If you want to try making your own millet pancakes, here’s his approximate recipe. Though I haven’t repeated this in the ingredients list, we use organic ingredients whenever we can.

Dry ingredients:
1 ½ to 2 ¼ cups millet flour (grinding it fresh keeps the vitamins from oxidizing and the fatty acids from going rancid; we use a Vita-Mix for this, which makes it easy)
1 to 2 tablespoons protein powder (we use Garden of Life Goatein; for vegan pancakes, you can use an equivalent rice-based protein powder)
Cinnamon or similar spice(s) to taste (we like cinnamon best, but also sometimes use cardamom, allspice, and/or nutmeg)

Liquid ingredients:
2 to 3 eggs (or equivalent powdered egg replacer, for vegans), lightly beaten
1 ½ to 2 cups water
about 1 teaspoon vanilla
a dash of Morin Labs Selectrolyte (we use this instead of salt because it’s tested to be free of contaminants, especially heavy metals, but you can also use a dash of salt added to the dry ingredients if you wish)
up to a tablespoon of melted virgin coconut oil

Combine dry ingredients in a medium to large mixing bowl. Combine all liquid ingredients except coconut oil in a separate bowl and mix well. Pour liquid ingredients into dry and mix until combined and smooth. While stirring, drizzle melted coconut oil into batter. Adjust quantity of flour or water to get a batter consistency you like. Cook on stovetop as you’d cook any pancake. We use a cast-iron pan with coconut oil, which is stable for cooking, over moderate heat.

As you can see from the photo, I like my millet pancakes with mashed wild blueberries, full of phytonutrients that help the brain. They add just the right touch of mild sweetness to the subtle cinnamon-vanilla flavors in this recipe. Yum!

Here's wishing you a Healthy Happy Valentine’s Day!