Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tea, with Cucumbers

I admit it, I haven't been drinking tea much. Not even my beloved ice tea. It's just been so hot outside, I've been drinking mostly water. Yes, yes, very good for me, but I miss my tea. That round of deprivation has ended. I brewed a pot of tea this morning and sat down with a nice cuppa and read.

As I sipped my white tea, blended with cucumber (yes, cucumber!) and lime peel, I thought about, well, what else, cucumber tea sandwiches.

It was Anna Maria Stanhope, seventh Duchess of Bedford, that began the tradition of afternoon tea. It was designed to be a light meal to bridge the gap between luncheon and dinner, which wasn't served until 8 P.M. Sandwiches were intended to be small and just enough filling to prevent overindulgence in the sweet teatime treats, like scones and other pastries.

But cucumber? In a sandwich? According to Wikipedia:

"Cucumber sandwiches contain little protein and so are generally not considered sustaining enough to take a place at a full meal. This is deliberate; cucumber sandwiches have historically been associated with the Victorian era upper classes of the United Kingdom, whose members were largely at leisure and who could therefore, afford to consume foods with little nutritive value. Cucumber sandwiches formed an integral part of the stereotypical afternoon tea affair. (By contrast, people of the era's lower working classes were thought to prefer a coarser but more satisfying protein-filled sandwich, in a "meat tea" that might substitute for supper.)

Some writers have attempted to draw out an association between the daintiness of the sandwich and the perceived effeteness of the British aristocracy. Cucumber sandwiches are often used as a kind of shorthand in novels and films to identify upper class people, occasionally in a derogatory manner. In the first act of Oscar Wilde's The Importance Of Being Earnest (1895), cucumber sandwiches that have expressly been ordered and prepared for Lady Bracknell's expected visit are all voraciously eaten beforehand by her nephew and host, Algernon Moncrieff; consequently he is forced to tell a little lie, with his butler's connivance: namely that "there were no cucumbers in the market this morning... not even for ready money". In addition, the sandwiches were once considered appropriate delicacies to offer to visiting clergy, in times when such visits were still a common feature of English middle class life.

The popularity of the cucumber sandwich reached its upper-class zenith in the Edwardian era, when cheap labor and plentiful coal enabled cucumbers to be produced in hotbeds under glass through most of the year. With the declining popularity of tea as a meal in the United Kingdom, there was a corresponding decline in the popularity of cucumber sandwiches, but they are still frequently served at teas, luncheons, and gatherings. They are now increasingly popular in the UK due to the hotter and longer summers, and the range of variants of accompaniments from take-away sources (e.g. supermarkets) is large; hence they are a popular lunchtime snack for workers. Most English cricket clubs supply malt vinegar and ground pepper to dash inside the sandwich, and this is the simplest form commonly used in England."

Okay, so that explains how cucumbers came to used in dainty, little tea sandwiches.

I have several tea sandwich recipes, a handful that involve cucumbers. I will be making several of them in the next coming days, and will share the recipes and my thoughts on them.

Until then, happy sipping!

Monday, June 11, 2012

June is National Iced Tea Month

Now how awesome is that? An entire month dedicated to the drinking of such a thirst quenching - and good for you! - beverage!

Growing up in the south, tea was pretty much a staple, and the sweeter the better. We used to tease my sister when she made the tea about how much sugar she added. Would you like a little tea with your sugar, dear? Add a squeeze of lemon and you could hear the contented sighs.

Well, I still live in the sort-of-south, and I still drink plenty of iced tea. Just no longer sweetened. It's weird, but I always lightly sweeten a cup of hot tea, but I prefer my iced tea unsweetened.

Each morning I make a pot of tea. Into my mug, along with the delicious flavored teas I prefer, I add a teaspoon of stevia. I sit back, close my eyes and sip, savoring the taste and smell of whatever tea I chose for that morning. A piece of toast or some other savory type breakfast dish and I can face the day. Never anything sweet to eat with my tea.

When I am done enjoying the first cuppa, I do something some might consider odd. I pour the leftover tea from the pot into a pitcher and fill the rest of the pitcher up with filtered water. Then for the rest of the day, I pour this into a glass filled with ice and continue to enjoy my tea, this time as an unsweetened iced tea!

Honestly, I had never considered doing this before, and lamented how there would be days I found myself pouring out half a pot of tea after it had gotten cold (and I'm not hip on microwaving it to warm it up!) What a waste, I would think! Then one day I hit upon the idea of just adding it to a pitcher with more water and voila! Flavored iced tea was born. Okay, flavored iced teas are not original, but why I never considered doing this before I have no idea. I've consumed flavored iced teas at restaurants and thought nothing about it. At home, however, I would always fall back on the traditional orange pekoe bags to make the iced tea I grew up with.

Now I get to enjoy my tea all day long and no longer cringe watching a favorite morning drink swirl down the drain, wasted.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Morning Detox

I recently started a new little morning ritual - that of drinking detox teas. I realized I had five different types of detox teas, and in a rare lightbulb moment, figured what the heck? I could sip a different one each week day.

Do I think these store bought pre-packaged teas are ridding my body of bad things? Uncertain. What I do know is they have a pleasant taste, do me no harm, may actually be heathful, and seem a nice way to start the day.

The one I am drinking today, for example, is a green tea with lime, fennel, cumin, turmeric, rosemary, oregano and coriander (cilantro for you Texans!). Most detox teas tend more toward the herbal side, so this one is decidedly different in that respect.

So I sit today on my bed, reading, sipping, and feeling the sweet purr of my baby kitty on my lap as she naps. Later today I will finish up the cross stitch piece I am working on and start a new one. This new piece I'm about to start is tea related. Go figure.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tea and Bone (China)

My daughter knows me so well. For my birthday last week she bought me a bottle of lotion in my absolutely favorite scent - patchouli - and a beautiful bone china tea mug that so exemplifies who I am.

I am sitting here loving the mug and enjoying a green tea with kiwi and pear. And what would go so well with this tea but a lovely fruit salad to start my day.

Fruit Salad

1/2 cantaloupe in 1/2-inch chunks
One kiwi, peeled and sliced
1 c. red seedless grapes
Zest of one small lime and 1 t. its juice
1 T. fresh mint leaves, minced
1 T. agave nectar
2 sprigs mint

Place cantaloupe, kiwi and grapes in bowl. Sprinkle lime zest, lime juice, and mint leaves over fruit and toss well. Add agave nectar. Divide into servings bowls and top with mint sprigs.

And speaking of bone china, I was reading today how drinking tea may help me keep strong bones. A report in the Archives of Internal Medicine stated how study participants who consumed one cup of tea - black, green or oolong - a week for at least ten years had higher bone density in all areas of the body than those who rarely drank tea. It is believed that the compounds in tea leaves, like fluoride and phytoestrogens, provide the beneficial bone boost.

One cup? A week? Oh my. With as much tea as I drink I think I'd be more like Wolverine and his adamantium skeleton! Probably not. But it is nice to know that not only is drinking tea a sublime experience, it is also a healthy one!

Okay, so it's not Wolverine, but Hugh Jackman, and he's drinking bottled (yuck!) tea. But it's Hugh Jackman! And he's drinking tea!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Zen and Peace, All Together Now!

I am singular in my family, in that I do not like coffee. Not just the taste; I can't even stand the smell. My husband laughs at me because every time he opens a new container of coffee, he can count on me coming into the kitchen to ask what is burning. Really. It's weird, but that's how my nose and brain always interpret it.

And I am surrounded by coffee snobs.

My husband is totally okay with nearly any brand of coffee, but my children refuse to drink anything that is not a superior coffee. Don't even ask me what that means, I have no clue.

So here I am, me, myself and I, an avid tea drinker. Hot, iced, black, green, white, herbal, I love it all. I simply cannot enter a grocery store without at some point walking down the tea aisle to see if there is anything new. God help me if there is, because I will buy it. I'm like a kid in a candy store.

I don't know when I began collecting tea mugs. Dainty cups and saucers are all well and good (and I have a few of those!), but a good sturdy mug tends to hold more. Maybe that's why I prefer them. I see mugs in a shop, I head straight for them. But not just any will do. They have to speak to me. I'm sad if one breaks, because I'm certain I won't be able to replace it, easily or at all. I have taken to gluing those sad, injured mugs back together and using them to hold utensils or pens or something.

The obsession with all things tea does not end with my large variety of teas or mugs. It has extended now to teapots and other tea accoutrements. I have a teapot clock, a teapot lamp and my sister found adorable boxes decorated with teapots and cups and saucers. These boxes hold my selection of tea scented candles and tarts. (I am still very sad that Yankee Candle stopped making their tea scented candles!). I even have picture frames with teapots on them.

I finally designated my dining room as my tea room. It contains all of my tea related collections. It is a work in progress.

Anyway, my fascination with tea has not escaped the notice of my friend, Susan. She has been gently pushing me to start a blog about tea. I had thus far managed to skip and dance merrily around her ministrations, until last week. It was my birthday, and a package arrived in the mail for me. Upon opening it I laughed giddily at the mug inside. After unwrapping it, inside at the bottom of the mug she had taped a handwritten note. Two words. Mug blog (her term for her not so subtle subliminal messages). So, I am dedicating this blog to you, Susan. Susan believes I have a year's worth of mugs. I'm pretty sure I don't, but I'm also not so sure I want to test that theory. My husband teases I have a lifetime supply of tea. Also not sure I want to test that theory.

But I do love tea and I want to share my love of tea, even if no one but Susan ever reads my blog. To start things off, this is the mug Susan sent me:

I don't even know if she realizes how absolutely perfect it is. The word *peace* has been my mantra for awhile now. I try to keep it, I try to be it. Having a visual helps. I even created a small peace altar in my home.

The tea in this mug right now is Zen. A green tea blended with lemon verbena, spearmint, lemongrass and more. I can't think of a better way to start off my day. Zen tea in a peace mug. The weather outside is warm, but it is cool in my air conditioned home sitting in front of an oscillating fan. (I live in the south; don't judge me!) I get to sip a delightful tea in my new mug and cross stitch. The piece is a wizard with fluffy bunny slippers. He amuses me.

Sydney Smith, in A Memoir of the Reverend Sydney Smith said it best, “Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea! How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea.”