True Colors in Tea

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The first thing I notice as I embark on a year of conscious ingestion is that most all store bought teas carry, and many times as their first ingredient, “natural flavors” or “artificial flavors.” This is why many teas taste sweet or spicy and run miles over purer brands because of their hyped up, intense flavors. This makes me sad for many reasons but mostly because tea, which is supposed to be a reflective, meditative, clear drink and ritual, has now become bastardized by the same machine that manufactures the famous potato chip flavor to cause our tongue addiction to processed salt and fat. How can tea brands with integrity compete with teas beefed up on steroids? It is the same principle that occurs when children grow up eating packaged snacks and waxy candies that coat their mouths with that compulsory sensation that can not equally be found in the annals of fresh fruit or vegetables. Of course a child will choose a fluffy chocolate coated donut over an apple when their taste buds have become slave to that grocery store chemical feel—that bait that engages a palate young and takes hold for a lifetime. Going back to a simple carrot after years of fruity sugar gummy bears is a hard reversal. One has to relearn flavor—realize that everything doesn’t have to be an instant spike to our prefrontal cortex pleasure centers. We need to recall the art of the savor.

So as I sit here this morning drinking my recent favorite Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice Tea, I read the ingredients list: a blend of black teas, three types of cinnamon, orange peel, sweet cloves, natural and artificial flavors. Well at least artificial flavors are the LAST ingredient but I now know that I will not be buying more of this. I will however keep my Republic of Tea tin of Biodynamic Turmeric Cinnamon which counts only those two things and both 100% organic. Also, my Numi Collection box with its yummy organic sencha green tea with toasted rice. My tea stock is plentiful at the moment and I am not one to waste but after I finish going through my teas in current inventory I will be making a point to buy only teas with real ingredients going forward, even if it means having to retrain my brain to enjoy the simply authentic flavors in life, no matter how subtle they are. There is something beautiful in this thought, of quieting down and sitting still enough to really appreciate a blend for the herbs, barks and spices that waft up through the steaming brew. Of inhaling the essence in efforts to discern each note. Of being fully engaged with every single thing being ingested.

Weeping World, Mulita Dreams, Oolong Tea

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The world is weeping and it is gorgeous. I wake early and immediately fling open all of the blinds in the downstairs windows. I love the cleansing isolation of rain—the way it wraps our homes and lives in grey and favors inner contemplation over external productivity. I am keenly aware of renewal’s cogs and wheels turning, in the green outside, in the boiling fervor of my oolong tea and in the sweet, honey-tasting pears that are plump and falling, finally, from the backyard tree.

As I sit here alone, inhaling the steam from my cup, I nurse a ravage hunger for a simple mulita from the truck that usually lingers blocks away on the road near Home Depot where the Mexican day laborers congregate hoping to find work. It, along with the four masa making mamacitas, have no doubt sought shelter for now, hiding away off the water-soaked streets that have been pummeled all night long. Yet I still crave the supremely simple Mexican sandwich consisting of two freshly grilled corn tortillas stuffed with oozing white queso fresco and nothing else. It is the chubby cousin of the quesadilla and wears no frills. It arrives hot on a disposable paper plate with a plastic fork and costs a few bucks. It sustains people deep into the night who are just getting off work, need to soak up too much booze, or crawl from their homes for cheap and convenient eats when too lazy to cook dinner at home. It is the perfect bite to dream about while enjoying the purifying aspects of the rain.

There is something pleasurable in this act—in this gratitude for a break in the hot weather, in being up before anyone else in solitude’s gauze of grey, in the smoky sips of fortifying tea, in the internal ache for a nurturing and stomach-warming mulita from those Mexican mothers who merrily bake and knead. The act of craving and wanting followed by the deprivation of the wish becomes its own kind of clarifying sustenance.

For the Birds

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Ever since I was a little girl I would watch them, perched in their daily spots, yacking and flapping their wings and their jaws, loud and boisterous at their chosen stoops—the old men and women I coined “the birds” because they reminded me of winged creatures congregating on the telephone wire.

There were the wrinkly-eyed chaps at Dunkin Donuts who greeted my grandfather by name whenever we would stop in for cinnamon holes after a walk in the orange groves on a Saturday morning in Orange County. There was the black haired artist on the bench outside the Palm Springs library who would create intricate red and blue ballpoint drawings on lined notebook paper. There were the two Asian men who played chess at the picnic tables at the park between my high school and the public swim center, shouting at each other between crotchety-fingered moves. There were my mom’s senior citizen friends at the VFW on their barstools, cackling between sips of cheap vodka tonics. There were the Italian mobsters in Boston’s North End playing checkers and yelling at sports pub television screens over bouts of soccer next to the coffee shop where I bought my morning egg burritos from Seamus, an ex-seafaring captain. There were the 70-year-old, leathered skateboard riders at tables outside the coffee shop down the corner from my seaside bungalow in Venice Beach. There were the inky black hustlers in the park on Fillmore Street in San Francisco, shushing when the cops walked by before reigniting their various card games on concrete. There was the gaggle of Chinese fellas tussling over mahjong on the red lacquered tables outside my favorite downtown L.A. herbalist. They were an unconscious brethren that tweaked my soul and I desperately wanted to become one.

I had to delve into the idea of what makes a bird in order to understand their lure. What was it about these communing flocks that tweaked my heart so? It was the idea of finding home, for only when one stakes down roots somewhere can one find a community to call one’s own. These were people who would ritualize their regular visits to coffee shops and pubs, bookstores and store lined benches because in these spots they cemented their own sense of belonging to a community. Whether singular or with others, these places and pockets of time were theirs and theirs alone. I realized that what I so desperately wanted to become was a person who had her own place.

I maintained fantasies, whenever I would find myself in a spot ideal for birds, about my own future when I would join their universal club. At Greenblatt’s or Langer’s Jewish delis in Los Angeles, I would tell the Cute Gardener that I would love to grow old with him and a newspaper at one of their fine pastrami-slicked counters. I would secretly notice places that called to me, plotting the day when I could become a bird myself because I knew it meant more than patronizing for me, it meant committing to my own grounded state and claiming my own patch in the world after years spent roaming amidst the carefree unknown.

Finally, two years after moving in with the CG and realizing that this was now my permanent home in the San Fernando Valley and the City of Los Angeles, I decided it was time to join the ranks of the birds. So far, I have embraced two locations that fit my personality just fine. Once or twice a week I drive down the hill from my home to a small shop called Coffee and Cream where the owner Hussein likes to hang his amateur paintings around the dimly lit interior space over the tubs of gelato and espresso machines. I sit outside on my laptop with a steaming chai to write and sometimes when it’s slow, he’ll show me the videos on his phone he’s made overlaying Alan Parsons Project songs over his videos of Sunset Beach at dusk. I am beginning to know the regulars—the guy in a leather jacket who comes in for morning biscotti or the little girl who comes in with her Mexican grandpa for his morning cup of Joe. My table is known as the place where a famous Saturday Night Live writer spent years cultivating his humorous skills over cappuccino. Once a month, I will hit the freeway and head into Chinatown where my favorite New Orleans deli, Little Jewel, offers authentic chicory tea au lait that boosts my word count for the day. Outside on a cast iron table for one, I sip and watch the citizens go to and fro to work, pushing their baskets past the clumsy pigeons scouring the sidewalk for breadcrumbs. I listen to the jazz competing with the bus fumes and feel like I have finally come to know my permanent space in the world as both a writer and a human who, for so long, felt she had nowhere to go.

Mud Forest Brew: The Miracle of Traditional Chinese Medicinal Tea

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A few years ago, I was in a writing group called Merry Muses with two close friends while we lived near the sea in Venice Beach. One night, alongside our bowls of fruit and chunks of dark chocolate that accompanied our reading materials, our hostess served a special “ladies tea” she had bought earlier that morning from an herbalist at a spa in Santa Monica. Reading through the list of ingredients on the tea was impressive—there were at least 15 items in the mix. The brew was a golden brown with caramel overtones and came wrapped in white linen paper smelling of cucumber essence. This was all fine and dandy but deep down inside I knew the herbalists of Santa Monica serving the new trend of herbal blends customized to each unique human were a watered down version of the truth.

The truth as I knew it was an older, spry man with a wizened face named William Woo Yiu Fai who sat at a small table in the bowels of Chinatown. His table was cluttered high with papers next to a wall lined with sticky notes. He sat there in the middle of Fuk Yin Tong Herbal Trading Centre day in and out, while his wife manned the store counter, giving his $15 consultations to anyone who walked in complaining of a certain ill. After spending two years battling severe ups and downs with my hormones surrounding my menstrual cycle and feeling weakened in the adrenals from a foodie’s roster of weekly cocktails and a strenuous hiking schedule, I finally ventured in to meet him.

I handed over my $15 bucks and told him my woes. I was tired. I was seeking energy. I was getting older and having my womanly chi suddenly alternate between rage and lethargy on a whim. I didn’t want a fancy woman to hand me a cotton robe and an Indian flute soundtrack and a bag of weak chamomile and exotic sounding mellow dried fruits. I wanted medicine and could he help me?

It took him ten minutes to look at my tongue, stare into my eyes, review my ears and sit silently listening to my pulse. He then told me that I shouldn’t eat the spicy Indian and Thai foods that I love because my nature is too hot. I should drink water at room temperature as to stop “shocking” my digestive system which is more like a tepid miso soup than a cold vichyssoise or a boiling stew. He said it was time to ask my medical insurance company for my first colonic because my tubes could use a flushing. He said the rest of me was healthy but 42 years of ingestion (and some of those years including cigarettes and other not so great ingredients) had taken its toll so I needed a reboot. He said my menstrual woes and random headaches were connected but he could push a reset button in me with a special tonic tea if I followed his instructions properly. While I sat in a dark back room with my feet in a bucket of water for a $10 ionic detox treatment that helped my body go back to a more alkaline state, William’s wife carefully measured and poured six $25 bags of herbs, roots, barks, dried mushrooms, powders and other ingredients of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for a 6-day regimen. The bags weighed five pounds each—no dainty envelopes here.

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For the next 6 days I followed William’s instructions to pour an entire bag of ingredients into a 4 quart-dutch oven and cover the lot with water. I then boiled the pot followed by a low simmer for 1-2 hours as the liquid condensed into only one cup. I then drank the cup. An interesting phenomenon occurred. On the first day the brew was unbearable; it tasted and looked like bitter mud from an ancient forest. But as the days went by and my body started to assimilate the ingredients, the taste magically went away. By day six, I was drinking in slow measured sips rather than chaotic, gulping gags. I found that so interesting, that the fluid had entered my cells with its nourishment in such a way that my body now fully welcomed it.

In one week I felt brand new. My sluggishness was gone. My need for a 2 p.m. nap had dissipated and I was upping my daily yoga to an hour and a half without a problem. Of course I don’t have x-rays or a hefty insurance bill to showcase the changes that took place in my liver or kidneys but the way that I feel is assurance enough for me, even now two weeks later when the effects are still lasting and real. I even went through a menstrual cycle which was surprisingly mellow and didn’t deter me, as is usual, from walking miles up an overly steep hill.

When I was leaving the store that day with my bags of tea, I asked William when I should come back for a follow up appointment. He told me whenever I was feeling bad again. I was reminded that Chinese herbalists and practitioners of TCM pride themselves on not getting paid when a client is sick, but being paid to keep a client well. Following those instructions for wellness were now all on me.

Literature as Lunchbox

IMG_9728 On Monday morning as I sat at the small, wooden table I park at habitually for daily tea and my Internet newspaper I noticed that my breakfast was a hodgepodge of edibles I had discovered through my love of great literature: a pudgy square of green tea mochi and a bowl of flaming orange papaya chunks.

I first read about the exotic papaya fruit in Sandra Cisnero’s The House on Mango Street. I was in fifth grade and fell in sisterly love with Esperanza, the young Hispanic girl who documents her neighborhood characters with a sassy wit. One of those characters was Rafaela, a woman locked inside her house by an overbearing husband, whom Esperanza would see sitting at a window looking wistfully out into the street as she passed on her way to and from home. Sometimes, Rafaela would throw down a dollar and Esperanza would run to the corner to buy her papaya, which she would hoist up to Rafaela in a paper bag on a string. This caused me to eye the street side vendors in my own life, who sat with carts stocked full of tropical fruits, eternally looking for my own chance to taste the foreign papaya. Finally, on a fifth grade field trip to Olvera Street, I bought my own cup stuffed with the fuchsia fruit chunks and tasted rapture in the subtly sweet flesh that oozed messy, squirts of juice across the chest of my Catholic School uniform. Rafaela’s forbidden fruit had become real.

In high school, while perusing Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club I found myself absorbed in the descriptions of various Chinese finger foods and ritual holiday treats. I started researching across the Asian spectrum for similar small bites that loomed fantastical to my American snack vernacular. Of special interest were the glutinous rice balls filled with red bean paste called mochi that peppered Japanese grocery store aisles, beckoning like jewels of every color and flavor. Today, they are a mainstay on my tongue, fun and squishy to eat while delivering sugary protein bursts alongside various combinations of tea.

I realize that my love of and adventurousness toward food, and an early impetus in my gradual inclination to food writing, was sparked by my very early passion for reading. In my traditionally American household, I knew nothing of bagels or luscious, black moles or puffed rice with hot spices or French omelets or sexy, sensual oysters. That is, until I stumbled upon my existential crush Jean Paul Sartre’s silly food vignettes, or MFK Fisher’s remarkably independent Consider the Oyster, or Isabel Allende’s women ablaze in the humid, summer kitchens of Like Water for Chocolate, or Jumpa Lahiri’s displaced East Indian women attempting breakfast in cramped U.S. apartments in Interpreter of Maladies, or snippets within the best Jewish essay compendiums of my youth. A big part of my lust for the written word was birthed by the escapism that stories of other cultures provide. But as I look back now, I realize that these stories also became a big influence in evolving my contemporary palate.

P.S. Here’s a lovely essay from this week’s Rumpus by Chef Dana Tommasino, owner of Gardenias floating pop-up restaurant in San Francisco that alluringly combines food and literature in all the ways I love best.

Breakfast of Champions, Nightcap of Queens

IMG_9377When you think about the cycle of a day as a metaphor to the cycles of life, there is an opening that occurs in the morning and a closing, which appears at night. When we arise, we are meeting a new day like a blank slate and when we close our eyes at night to sleep we are leaving the past 24 hours in our wake as our subconscious factory starts its overnight duty of processing the emotion and existential influences of the day. I like to partake in a daily solo sacred ritual at both bookends of my day to sanctify both the beginning and the end and to pay homage to the body I live within that allows me to function and enjoy my life.

The first thing I do when I wake up every morning is to go downstairs and boil a pot of water. I get out my earthy ceramic cup that feels like a warm stone between my palms when I fill it with fresh brewed tea. I choose different teas depending on the day: soothing green if I am hunkering down to dreamily write for hours, energizing gingko biloba if I need to focus on technical production of my artwork, or bitter and hearty reishi mushroom if I am feeling low on energy. I also take out a tiny porcelain cup and fill it with a teaspoon dollop of organic honey and a tablespoon of Bragg’s organic apple cider vinegar. I pour a fourth cup of left over boiling water into the mix and stir it all up. This vinegar concoction, sweetened by the honey, is a magical elixir to the digestive system and keeps it working properly alongside managing the flora and fauna of the body’s natural bacteria. It keeps the elimination process regular and everything flowing smoothly. Then, I boil a little more water and cook a heart and belly warming spot of cereal. Sometimes it is oatmeal with a scattering of walnuts, raisins and coconut palm sugar swimming in a dash of almond milk. Sometimes it is Chinese lutein cereal, stirred into hot water until creamy with slight cocoa and rice notes. Sometimes it is a bowl of organic brown rice sweetened with coconut milk, chopped up dates and cinnamon. Sometimes I will wash this all down with a small bottle of kombucha by my favorite kitchen witch Sanandra Black to give me a jump start of buzzing bee exhilaration throughout all of my cells. While I enjoy this daily ritual I boot up my computer and casually read my emails for the day. This not only takes care of my physical system for the hours to come but it is a sign to my soul that I love it and wish to properly care for its being. Instead of jumping head first into the to do list and gobbling down convenience foods or coffee, it prepares me slowly and steadily and imparts a sense of grace to what may come. I leave the table feeling renewed, nurtured, and prepared to face whatever will come.

IMG_9380At the end of my day, I do something similar. After all the art and writing work has been done, exercise exhausted, errands run, chores conquered, dinner enjoyed and house shut down, the Cute Gardener and I will spend our time doing something together that we enjoy. During this down time stoked with my love, I like to pay homage to another great day gone by with another cup of tea and a treat. The act of warming up a cup of chocolate purhea to dip fresh baked French cocoa sable cookies into signifies the end of my day. It is now time to shut off my brain, enjoy the art of the dunk, and let my brain rest until tomorrow.

These simple acts of hello and good-bye assure that I never go to bed angry, wake up stressed and afraid or clog up the normal rejuvenation cycles of existence with toxic emotions — I have come to utilize these tiny food rituals to make me slow down, breathe, nourish, and learn the gentle art of staying in the present knowing everything else is simply stuff to let go.

G.T.’s Kombucha Delivers Grape Glee

IMG_9343In my early twenties as I stepped onto my personal journey through the alternative healing modalities, I heard about a beautiful woman who made miraculous tea from a mushroom in her kitchen. I sought her out and would spend the next two years of my life visiting her monthly in the afternoons to gain wisdom, an education in various systems of spirituality and a nice glass of the most, sparkling and effervescent kombucha.

Sanandra owned a company called Sea Chi Organics. She would raise batches of kombucha culture in her tiny condo kitchen, tending over her brood like true earth mother, and then funnel the life-affirming juices into bottles for the local health food restaurants and stores. She would also put the juice into creams for the skin, and proudly spoke of the way her creams had healed skin conditions in people who had all but given up hope.

The first time I tried kombucha while we were sitting on her living room floor pulling tarot cards and sniffing essential oils, I felt like I had snorted a shot of Vitamin B to the skull only better. Energized and tingling for the rest of the afternoon, I knew I had found a lifelong elixir.

Fast-forward to today and kombucha has become a household name. Just visit any Whole Foods refrigeration aisle and you will see shelves devoted to bottle of kombucha from a myriad of companies in flavored with everything from fruit to coconut to chai. After moving from the desert to Los Angeles where I was privileged enough to enjoy Sea Chi’s version regularly, I was grateful to know that I could still drink my favorite probiotic and antioxidant serum on a regular basis.

After trying my share of brands, I have settled on the company G.T.’s as my favorite. Not only do I like the company’s story of a young man named Dave bottling kombucha in his home as a teenager after seeing it heal his mom of breast cancer, I also like that it is a local company. I always prefer sourcing and consuming locally so as not to expend unreasonable resources. I also like that they offer a classic, stronger kombucha tea and a lighter line. Their flavors are bountiful and range from multi-green to gingerade to original to citrus and more.

But my favorite thing about this company is that they have a line of kombuchas stuffed with chia seeds. Aside from kombucha, chia is my next favorite health additive. Chia acts like a sponge going through the intestines, absorbing all the crap that lines our colons and injecting our bodies with Omega 3s. The chia varieties are super fun to drink and my favorite is the Grape Chia which tastes exactly like the super sweet, beloved Welch’s grape juice of my childhood without the processed sugars. The ingredient list states: raw kombucha, raw chia seeds, Concord grape juice and 100% pure love. Can’t get any better than that.

Dandelion Tea and Morning Nature Vitamins

IMG_8230I have been an ardent fan of Michael Pollan ever since reading The Botany of Desire, a poignant plants’ eye view of the world. But the reason I like him most is that he’s a proponent of the same thing I am and that is Eat Whatever You Want, Just Cook It For Yourself.


Michael Pollan in Action

IMG_8238Beginning of my batch of dandelion tea

I am continually finding new ways to stop buying things in boxes or cans at the grocery store. Recently after my toxic tea bag rant, I decided that would have to trickle down to my favorite drink as well—tea. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying foraging the yard for ingredients. There’s nothing as serene as heading out to the garden at eight a.m. freshly rustled from a good night’s sleep to feel the first rays of sunlight on my arms as I peel away produce plants in search of ever-invading dandelion greens. The bees come by to buzz hello, the fat frog sunning on the damp rock blinks an eye, the birds are chirping their morning remarks, the snails are sluggishly heading up stalks of kale and I am fingers deep in dirt instead of jumping into early computer screen hypnosis. Once I have the base of dandelion greens, I look around for whatever else is currently available. At this time of year, it’s purple chive flowers in bloom along with hearty stems of rosemary. Once back in the kitchen I clean the dandelion roots, save the leaves for a salad later, and throw my entire foraged wild into a pot. The recipe is traditionally the same: around 6—8 cups of water in the pot, bring to a boil for about ten minutes and then simmer with the lid on for 45 minutes to one hour. Voila, a nice brew of tea to enjoy throughout the day. And the remains can be refrigerated to enjoy cold for up to three days.

IMG_8240My love dove with two new babies who’ve made home in the Cute Gardener’s blackberry brambles.

Homemade tea may take a little more effort than opening a cardboard envelope, but when you get to commune with nature and discover things like the birth of baby doves, it is highly medicinal to the soul as well as the body.

IMG_8227Along with my tea, I like to enjoy a decadent breakfast that provides at least one substance to dunk. My recent obsession has been rye toast with almond butter, bananas and a sprinkle of coconut sugar proving that food that tastes sweet and good doesn’t have to be bad for you. My next endeavor will be to stop buying jarred nut butters and learn how to make my own in further endeavors to be completely box, bag and jar-less eventually.

 

Is Your Tea Ritual Killing You or Healing You?

IMG_8194After quitting caffeine for New Year’s two years ago and starting a course of herbal studies, I have become highly appreciative of tea. I love the ritual of choosing the proper tea for my moment whether it is to wake and energize my senses for the day or lull me calmly to sleep at night. I enjoy the various forms of making tea whether boiling water to the proper temperature to pour over a bag in my brown ceramic mug, creating a homemade medicinal decoction from garden grown lemongrass, astragalus or dandelion root; sipping green fresh-stirred matcha slowly from little Japanese cups alongside my Little Tokyo teapot; or going all out for a batch of customized masala chai in my tomato red Le Creuset French oven pot.

I also love the way herbs and spices affect and nurture the body naturally. I know that chicory, rosemary and ginger are the best bets for breakfast to electrify the brain for a hard day of work. I know that thyme is soothing yet stimulating midday for keeping the productivity and the bowels flowing. I know that rice genmaicha is perfectly fortifying before a long hike. And I know that nothing creates comfort and peace and that warm and fuzzy “blankets on a cold day” feeling like a warm nightcap of chamomile.

With all the beautiful health benefits and mental well being that tea brings, it’s a shame to see it counteracted grossly when it comes to the mass marketing department. Earlier this year, Food Babe came out with a post on all of the tea companies in the markets that were selling teas stuffed with artificial and unnatural flavors as well as poisonous plastic and paper tea bags. Basically her findings say that only Numi, Rishi and Traditional Medicinals are pure. Another source at Clean Plates goes further to confirm that EDEN Organic, Organic Stash, Choice, Two Leaves, Organic Yogi Tea, and Tetley Black and Green Tea get a passing grade as well.

This was so disheartening to me. I know I am prone to living with Pollyanna glasses on in general but if a company is going to go so far as to state they are trying to make something that is healthy and good for you, why not do their homework and integrate some integrity into their choices in consideration of the overall product? I mean, don’t just throw good tea leaves into a bag that’s going to eventually kill me and call it holistic because the leaves came from the ground. This really bothers me and continues to feed my disillusion in the capitalist model of moneymaking in general.

What disappointed me most was the realization that I would have to give up all of my favorite teas. No more Celestial Seasons Sleepytime or Roasted Chicory. No more stepping into Teavana to buy a bag filled to the brim with vanilla cream Earl Grey. But then I got excited realizing that I could actually practice what I preach and support the businesses that are doing it right.

I went about on an escapade to find new favorites. So far Choice is doing a good job at keeping my tea palate titillated. Their flavors are strong especially the lovely and sprightly ginger, and the prices are reasonable. I can find them in places like Mother’s, Trader Joe’s and some common grocery stores.

IMG_8199The verdict on Good Earth is still out. While their Sweet and Spicy tea was my all time favorite tea ever with its blend of rooibos, cinnamon, chamomile, lemongrass, peppermint, papaya, jasmine tea, anise seed, ginger root, orange peel and orange oil; this article has me scratching my head in confusion as to whether it is bad or not. I guess I will have to finish my current box and then look elsewhere for a replacement.

Lastly, I am on the hunt for valid information on a tea that I find often in Chinese markets in pharmacies called Alvita. The boxes are a botanical illustrator’s dream and they come in hardcore medicinal flavors like burdock root and stinging nettle with descriptions and instructions for healing anything from stomach pains to liver pain and overconsumption. I love the concepts and the tea tastes really good but I can’t find critical information on whether they are pure or not. If anyone knows anything about these guys, I would love some more information.

Until then, here’s to righteous sipping!

The Decadent Art of the Dunk

IMG_7309My first encounter with the decadent art of the dunk came while visiting my grandmother Milly in Iowa as a preteen. A summer spent lolling in the slow, lazy days of Midwestern molasses heat waves in a farm town was full of many hours around the kitchen table catching up on life with the woman in my family whose cloth I am wholeheartedly cut from. At ninety plus she is still square dancing with younger men with her savvy fuchsia bee stung lips and ebony teased beehive bangs but back then, she was my wildest and closest friend. Whether it was in the morning to plot our day’s antics at the local county fair where we’d ride the Ferris wheel, screaming together, a good four or five times after strolling the pigs and cows; or post-dinner while plotting to sneak me into the VFW with her so we could dance together to our favorite jukebox songs; or just to ponder the creations we would make together that afternoon downstairs in her ceramic studio – we always converged with a food item that was sweet and a liquid in which to dunk it. Milly baked and cooked and canned and frosted so many things that summer that I am sure I came back laden with extra meat on my American thighs. We had warm coffee cake crumbles in light café mochas, gooey chocolate chip cookies in freezing cold Blue Bunny whole milk, crisp and buttery shortbread wafers in fresh squeezed orange juice, spoonfuls of pecan and maple pie in tepid sweet tea. I definitely became a dunker and the habit has stuck with me long into my adulthood. Even though these days my tastes run more towards high caliber dark chocolates and nut butter flavors of cakes and cookies and my choice of wet stuff seems to revolve around liquor and tea – I am still a product of my grandmother’s habit.

And it is a true art. The trick lies in dipping something only a portion into the liquid so that when you take a bite just above the wetted line you get both a quick bit of crunch and then something bready and sweet that squishes joyously between the teeth and onto the tongue. It’s also a skill in itself to wet a piece of food only enough to make it pliant and soggy but not so much that you lose it entirely to the bottom of the glass.

My favorite combinations are:

Anise biscotti in orchid oolong tea,
Almond croissants in soy cappuccinos,
Hazelnut milanos in hot green matcha,
Dark chocolate and almond biscotti in premium Champagne,
Peanut butter cookies in chicory tea or bourbon,
Tall skinny Italian breadsticks in dark, red wine…

…and the Cute Gardener’s dark chocolate sable cookies in Kahlua liqueur or Earl Grey tea; the recipe of which I will share below. This recipe comes with a warning though. Every time I eat these past eight p.m. I have trouble sleeping because they are dosed with caffeine. And, every time I eat these I can’t stop at one; even when I get a tummy ache and tell myself that I won’t ever do it again. They are that dangerous.

CHOCOLATE SABLE COOKIES

28 cookies

½ c. butter
¼ c. brown sugar
½ tbls. vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
1-1/2 c. flour
¼ c. + 1 tbls. cocoa powder
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. baking soda
1 c. chocolate (70% cocoa, chopped)
Zest from 1/6 lemon
½ egg white

In mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt.

In a large bowl, sift flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking soda.  Mix into butter mixture until well combined.  Mix in chocolate and lemon zest.  Add the egg white and mix until blended.

Roll the dough into two 1-1/4 inch diameter round logs.  Wrap in plastic wrap.  Chill several hours or overnight.  Cut the logs into rounds about 3/8 inch thick.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the sables on parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake for about 10 minutes until slightly puffed in the center.  Place the baking sheet on a rack and let cool for 5 minutes before removing from paper.