Weeping World, Mulita Dreams, Oolong Tea

IMG_3939

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.

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.

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!

Contemplating Soul with Earl Grey

IMG_6353Sometimes it takes a gradual revisiting of complex concepts to understand the most obvious things in life and oftentimes, the revisiting in itself creates the momentum of familiarity that causes you to finally have an “aha” moment about something which may have escaped you on all prior visits. Or maybe, we just come to understand things in finality when the timing is right and we are finally ready to receive the information. This has been my course of discovering and understanding the shape-shifting, life-impacting operations of the soul.

According to Deepak Chopra in his book The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire, “A soul is the observer who interprets and makes choices based on karma, it is also a confluence of relationships, out of which emerge contexts and meaning that creates experience.”

What this means is that any given moment our soul is operating from a conglomeration of things: our past actions both energetically and physically, our current intentions, our moment to moment interactions and what we decide to fill them with, our hopes, dreams and desires, and anything else that is stuck in the amoebic soup of our lives. Once conscious of this, we become aware of the importance of what we fill it with and become armed with the knowledge that we can indeed create our lives going forward with a directed content towards what we really want. It requires an accountability once we know this, that we are indeed the products of ourselves and that we can blame no other thing, event or person for the course our life takes. Every thought, word and deed going forward then becomes something to choose with sacred discernment and an astute awareness of the present. The more we begin to act out our lives from the crux point of every forward moment, the more we are able to listen to that quiet voice inside of us and turn off the endless chatter that worries about yesterday, tomorrow, outcome or guarantee and we may succumb to the flow. We become a part of the primordial fluid of our own existence and steer it like the captain of a well-oiled boat.

This creates a beautiful microscopic field around all of our decisions. Our choices become crystal-clear gems made with utmost care and we become accustomed to joy, pleasure and fulfillment because we understand we are the carvers of our own experience. In the beginning, we may spend a lot of time clearing out old muck by setting straight any errant paths we may be on due to old traumas, negativity, misguided words or conflicts in relationships, but once we clear out those things, we become a blank slate of pure potentiality.

This trickles down to everything we do, say, consume, participate in and surround ourselves with. When it comes to food, it means being aware of what your body wants to eat, hungers for and why, what it naturally needs as fuel, and what comforts you most in times of emotional highs and lows. It’s not about extreme dieting or gluttonous overeating; nor is it about numbly self-medicating with sugar or becoming blindly addicted to butter and fat. It’s about knowing what’s in your food, being conscious of what you ingest and how it makes you feel, tweaking your intake to represent a balance of what you need for nutrition and what you need that fortifies your pleasure zones and about fine tuning what moderation means to you. It’s about creating your consumption patterns based on the things you learn along the way by listening to your body tell you what it enjoys and what makes it sick. We have all the information inside of us like a quivering gauge if only we would learn to dial closely into our own souls.

Every morning when I wake, the first thing I do is put on the water for tea. When I am feeling optimistic about a productive day ahead, I tend to reach for a citrusy vanilla rooibos. When I am feeling the effects of a rich-food weekend overload, I reach for a stark yerba mate or a rice or genmaicha blend deep with branches and twig essence. When I am feeling the need to alert my mind and body and shake it up a bit, I opt for gingko biloba varieties spiked with mint or ginger. When I am feeling the lull of a lazy Sunday I enter the day slowly with a potent chamomile. But for most all of the other days, when I wake up with a smile on my face and the willingness to slowly flow into the great unknown absent of a to do list but just the desire to see where the day might take me, I choose my favorite comfort brew of husky Earl Grey – which like a favorite pair of flannel pajamas and winter boots, never fails to lift my spirits just right.

IMG_6354Of late, I have gotten used to the idea of special little sandwiches to accompany my tea – also changing per the mood of my soul and a treasure hunt through the refrigerator to see which version might call to me on any given morning. Recently, my favorite creation is a slice of toasted 7 grain bread, halved and then sprinkled on one side with quality, crumbled blue cheese, a dollop of Armenian rose butter and studded with tiny, earthy filberts. Sipping my tea and taking my rich, indulgent little bites becomes a morning meditation—a self-created pocket of space from which I may ponder ideas as large as the soul.

Cinnamon Chicory Roast in the Captain’s Quarters

IMG_6149Over the weekend I attended a special party hosted by the Los Angeles-based performance troupe Lucent Dossier, of which my friend Erin is an integral player.

What makes this troupe and performers stand out above the rest is that they don’t simply put on shows and invite people to watch them. They embody and represent a lifestyle that encompasses the community that I belong to in which people have sidestepped the normal route of existence of our parent’s paradigm and are forging our own ways through a life lived with conscientiousness in spiritual, mental and physical pursuits where work and play all become one breathing entity and wherein all humans are connected and loved rather than separated and materially-motivated. Their parties are pleasure and show for sure, but they are also dotted with integrative experiences between audience and star where no hierarchy dictates one superior over another and where being yourself is wholeheartedly encouraged, even to the point of being heralded from stage by an announcer who says at the end of the evening, “I invite you to be whomever you want to be and when you wake up tomorrow you have absolute permission to still love yourself entirely!” By the end of the night, everyone becomes one equal populace and individual experiences pepper the space that Lucent has created in their downtown Los Angeles warehouse for people to partake in. You can enter a room to cuddle platonically with strangers. You can have your face painted for free by a miraculous artist in a blonde jeweled Afro. You can buy a raw food meal at the vegan kitchen or try a special drink made of kombucha. You can dance with a white-faced juggler on the dance floor before being shooed off with a gigantic broom by a glee-faced chambermaid preparing for the next aerial acrobat to grace the stage. You can try on clothes in an upstairs attic occupied by a living doll. Or you can interact with artists who work on their pieces along the periphery of the room coaxing spirits out from the blank canvas inspired by the energy of the participants of the party. You walk away from the event feeling fortified not only in fun but also within the deepest confines of your psyche as if you’ve had a four-hour intervention of your soul wherein you’ve been given secret instructions on how to go forth and prosper. Eat healthy and well, dance hard and be strong, love each other without judgment because we all are one, play with joy because you can, work doing what you really love and live as an example in the world sharing and mushrooming the glow that is individually you.

IMG_6155Consciousness in food always runs a sub-stream at these events. There are always opportunities to try raw food and other healthy delights by various catering companies and specialists. This time food played a part in the unique experience that my friend Erin offered up to guests. A special room was created to look like the innards of an old steam punk style captain’s quarters of a ship in which Erin reigned in headdress and fishnets welcoming all captains into her fold. Once seated she poured hot water over our hands into a silver washing bowl and grated pink Himalayan sea salt over our palms for rejuvenation. Then she presented us each with an exquisite cup of Celestial Seasonings Roastaroma tea made with roasted chicory and barley, a hint of chocolate from roasted carob and a touch of cinnamon and allspice that instantly sparkled up the senses. Next, she shuffled a deck of handmade cards and splayed them in front of us from which we chose a card. The underside revealed a special word signifying the direction created for all of us as captains of our own lives by the North Star. Mine, appropriately was marked INDEPENDENCE – denoting the way I live my life as a lone wolf carving my own course in my writing, art and spirituality and not easily falling prey to any group mentality or social pack mores. Then she presented us with a ship’s log to write our name and a personal mantra (love is mine) before sending us off on a four-clue scavenger hunt throughout the party.

IMG_6156

The clues eventually led to a treasure chest of snacks! The night before the party Erin had asked me and other friends what kind of special things we liked to eat and I had told her anything with nuts, cacao, dried fruit or coconut. In the treasure box I discovered a bag written with the words “Inspired by Captain Nichols” that was full of miniature bags of dried mango and cashews to my utmost delight. Another friend’s bag was full of grapes and so on.

I made a mental note to find the tea she had served as I left the party inspired by the special magic that is Lucent. You leave most parties with an alcohol hangover and the need for a bed but I found myself leaving this one with a head full of inspiration to become the absolute best specimen of human being I can in the remaining years of my life on this planet.

Reflection with Trees in My Orange Blossom Oolong

IMG_2460

When I switched over from drinking coffee to tea for the year 2013, the act was born from an intention to create more custom and private rituals in my life; things that would become important to me and elevate the sacred moments I often take for granted. From a high speed and jittery caffeine mentality to a slow and ponderous outlook, I began the transition into enjoying the present more than the projected future.

This past weekend the Cute Gardener and I took a trip South and planned a day of bike riding around the cities of La Jolla, Pacific Beach and the entire Mission Bay. We kicked off the ambitious agenda with a visit to Michele Coulon Dessertier for a massive slice of shared carrot cake and a cup of orange blossom oolong. We enjoyed the snack under a cluster of leafy trees on a perfect Southern California morning, adjacent to a fluffy dog who resembled a bear with soulful bedroom eyes tied up not too far from us.

The icing on the carrot cake was special in that a normal layer of cream cheese frosting was further accented by a faint dusting of semi-translucent rainbow colored glitter – almost invisible like the inner whorls of a mother of pearl shell. It added a sweet kick to an otherwise traditional cake of organic carrots, walnuts, butter and pineapple. I was reminded of a few months back when I stood in the kitchen of my friend Charlotte’s house while she made “fairy bread” for her daughter Camilla’s birthday party. “Fairy bread” is an import from Charlotte’s Australian upbringing that basically consists of basic slices of white bread slathered with butter and covered in colorful sugar sprinkles that create a kid’s crunchy idea of heaven. Of course, when the sandwich slices are opened up after the sprinkles have all had a chance to melt and ooze together, you are also left with a vibrant swirl of magical hues.

IMG_2461

The rituals passed down to us by creative mothers are important to carry on lest they be lost to that place where other things like elves and pixies and Santa Claus retire. When I was young, every Valentine’s Day, the “love boat” would visit overnight just like the Easter Bunny. In the morning, my sister, brother and I would find baskets full of candied hearts, chocolate truffles, and love-themed Ad Libs on our kitchen table. This is something I in turn performed for my own daughter as she was growing up.

IMG_2466

And then there are the rituals between you and the person you love that you carve out individually and make your own. Like the way the Cute Gardener and I stake out the places we are planning to visit in order to find a special hike or bike ride we can take together. And then the way, he always takes extra measure to find a simple sandwich type shop for us to visit as we start our ride to buy a snack for that moment mid-trip where we are going to want to take a stop and enjoy the view of exquisite nature and fuel up for the rest of the walk or ride.

IMG_2464

Creating special rituals beyond the societal norm of holidays and momentous events is the meat of life. As we spent the rest of the day riding 22 miles through tiny hippie beaches, cold boardwalks, sunny patches of suburbia and then around a placid body of water marked by various parks and intermittent patches of sprawling and sparse terrain; I experienced a moment of gratitude in the fact that today, my rituals are my own and they are many.