Immunity Tea…or Immuni-tea? A recipe for really good, healthy tea!

When I had my little baby girl, everyone told me “the first year is the hardest.”  I came through that year strengthened by a love so fierce my words fail to describe it, and simultaneously weakened by the thought of bringing a vulnerable little human into this sometimes frightening world.  I was awed at the strength of my body to birth and breastfeed a baby.  Humbled by the fact that I had no idea what I was doing, and yet I was doing what seemed to be the most important thing in the world.

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Though my first year as a parent was filled with ups and downs, I have to say, it’s the second year that’s shaping up to be the hardest.

Let’s put aside the guilt I sometimes feel as I drop my baby off at daycare to spend eight hours a day away from her (and the extra guilt when I’m relieved for the “break”).  Let’s not talk about dashing out of meetings to pump so that my wee girl could continue to suck back large quantities of breastmilk (or the panic I sometimes felt when I didn’t feel like I was bringing home “enough”).

Let’s talk about germs.

I knew.  I’d heard about the petri dish that is daycare.  But I was NOT prepared for what that would mean for my little baby and our family.

We spent from mid-December until approximately two weeks ago SICK.  First it was the stomach flu, then Ada’s first ear infection, then cold after cold after cold after cold, another ear infection, fevers, throwing up.  Ada and I passed germs back and forth from each other, going through more Kleenex, Advil and tears than I’d care to think about.

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A few weeks ago, I finally went to see my naturopath, who had told me that she could provide me with some immune support to help me fend off bugs and stay energized.

The first thing she did was give me a recipe for this tea.  Immuni-tea, as I like to call it.  It’s full of immune-boosting ingredients, and acts like that giant glass of orange juice we consume when we feel the nag of a sore throat.

The best part?  This tea is DELICIOUS!  It tastes kind of like a chocolate chai tea.

So whether you’ve got a cold threatening to knock you off your feet or you just feel like whipping up a nice hot drink, you need to make this tea!

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Here’s what you need:

6 cups of water

10-15 star anise

10-15 cloves

1 inch of ginger root, peeled

1 tbsp. cocoa

1 cinnamon stick

Honey to sweeten, if desired

 

Here’s what you do:

Put all the ingredients in a large pot and boil for 10-15 minutes.  Strain, sweeten if desired, and enjoy!

 

P.S.:  Um, in case any of you require me to make this disclaimer:  if you are getting a cold, and you drink this tea, I cannot guarantee you won’t get sick.  Duh?  Okay, well, I had to say it.  

…on tea….

There’s something so perfect about a good cup of tea.  In the morning, whether the sun is patterning shadows on the walls or the rain is streaming down the windows, I tread downstairs and fill the kettle.  I pull my stainless steel double-walled teapot down from the cupboard above the stove.  I keep a collection of rather precious teapots up there; this one is big, utilitarian and everyday, and it keeps my tea warm the longest.  I open up the drawer where I keep my tins and boxes and bags of tea.  Wafts of aroma greet me – rich tannins, velvety vanillas, sharp fruity greens.  In the mornings I invariably choose a black tea imported from Nepal.  I pinch a few long, featherlight flakes of loose tea and drop them into the mesh strainer in my teapot as the kettle begins to spew and whistle.  Earthy steam greets my nostrils as I slowly pour the water over the tea, savouring the thought of it steeping.

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I select a hand thrown ceramic mug – my favourite, all shades of iridescent blue, brown and shimmering black – from my collection.  The mug – the way it looks, the way it feels when it’s cupped between my two hands, the sheer volume of tea it holds – is, in my mind, an integral part of the experience.  A spoonful of sugar and now dark black tea; I fill my mug and add a generous dollop of cool milk.  Sweet and creamy; a comfort that has a way of stopping time, of erasing past and future and isolating the moment.  Silence in the cacophony, stillness amid the rush.  A breath, a sip, and now on with the day.

It is necessary to have a variety of teas on hand, as every occasion demands a different  flavour.  Easing into the morning requires sugar and milk and caffeine.  If there are cinnamon buns; however, the tea must be black and strong to balance out the tooth-aching sweetness, the finger-licking stickiness, and the cinnamon.

Tea has a way of bringing people together.  Steaming mugs invite openness and make for excellent props for complicated conversations  – a place to rest the hands, a place to gaze while choosing one’s words.  There is a tenderness in brewing a cuppa for someone in need – indeed, perhaps it is the surest way of nurturing another.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day: Irish Soda Bread Scones

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day:  Irish Soda Bread Scones

My dad loves to make bread.  It has become a pretty serious passion of his:  several loaves a week, experimentation with different types of flours and grains, the addition of nuts, candied ginger, onion, raisins, spices.  I’ve got a long way to go before my bread turns out as beautifully as his, but I think I’ve discovered why it’s such an obsession for him.  The best loaf you’ve ever made might just be the next one, and so the relentless pursuit of perfection begins.

When I was young, and before it became an obsession of my father’s, bread making in our house happened on Saturday mornings.  My dad is an early riser, and he would set to work in the kitchen making sure the smell of warm dough would await when we woke up.  I think of it now as such a simple, loving gesture; a way that my father liked to nurture our family.

One of the first bread recipes I remember my Dad making was Irish Soda Bread.  It’s my mom’s favourite.  It’s actually more of a gigantic scone than a bread, but no matter what shape it’s moulded in, it’s delicious when hot, slathered with butter, and served with milky tea.

I’ve developed a recent interest in tea parties.  It’s a result of a few things:  the fact that getting friends together in the evening for a meal is challenging with a one year old who has an early bedtime, my love of fancy loose leaf teas and my compulsion to share them, and my inheritance of a beautiful set of china, including dainty teacups, from my folks. I decided to make Irish Soda Bread, but in scone form, for some friends who were coming over for tea.  Though these caraway-studded gems are great with a layer of butter, they’re outstanding with some clotted cream and fresh strawberry or blueberry jam.

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Here’s what you need:

2 cups all-purpose white flour

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. sugar

6 tbsp. chilled butter or shortening

1/2-1 cup raisins

1 tbsp. caraway

2/3-3/4 cup milk

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Here’s what you do:

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Whisk together the dry ingredients.  Cut in the butter/shortening, and then stir in the raisins (amount depending on what looks good to you) and caraway seeds.  Add just enough milk to form a cohesive dough and turn out onto a greased baking sheet (I usually make a round dome-like loaf, but scones work too).  Brush the top of the loaf/scones with milk and bake 40-50 minutes or until golden brown.

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Recipe source unknown

Chai Tea

I can’t remember when I had my first taste of chai tea.  I do remember that my adoration of the beverage began during the leading cusp of its’ growth in popularity in North America.  Unlike with most trends both culinary and otherwise, I hopped on this  bandwagon pretty quickly.  Perhaps I first became smitten with the syrupy, processed flavour of Starbucks’ version of chai, but my most memorable chai drinking experiences have been truly authentic.

When I finished my undergraduate degree, I packed my Chevy Tracker with all my worldly possessions and returned to my childhood home in Manitoba from the east coast.  Halfway home, I met up with a good friend from high school, whose Indian heritage seemed to have taken on even deeper roots since she had moved to the big city for university.  As we caught up on each others lives, she stirred four tea bags into a saucepan full of milk.  Into the warming pot went sugar, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom.  I jotted the recipe down in my leather bound journal and have made it many times since.

I had another opportunity to taste “the real deal” when it came to chai when I traveled to India the following year.  New Delhi was hot and overwhelming.  I met up with a friend from university in a guesthouse late one night after a flight in from Bangkok.  She had brought Pirate cookies from home.  The power was out, and we ate the peanut buttery sandwich cookies – the entire box, as I recall – by flashlight.  We were terrified of the adventures to come, and comforted by the familiarity of a taste from home.  The next day we shoved our way onto a third class car on a train bound for Agra.  I looked out the steel bars of the train window, beckoned by the calling of a chai-walla.

“Chai walla, chai walla, chai walla, chaiiiii.”

Later we would learn to dodge out of the train as it pulled into the station, buy a chai and peel off the thick brown milk that had formed a layer on top of the drink and stuck to the sides of the cup.  Quickly down the throat, then back on the train before it pulled out of the station.  We had breakfast chais served with pakora and mint cilantro raita, chais after rich yogurt, butter and tomato-sauced dinners scooped with aromatic naan.

I could not get enough.  Of India, of Indian food, and of chai. Though I long to return one day, perhaps with my little girl in tow, perhaps with the friend I made my first trip with, I can at least approximate real muggy train station chai-walla chai at home until I am finally able to buy that plane ticket.

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Here’s what you need:

2 cups of milk

2 cups of water

Four tea bags (whatever black tea you prefer) or 6 tsp loose black tea

1/2 vanilla bean, scraped

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp powdered ginger

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp cardamom

Pinch of black pepper

Here’s what you do:

Add all of the ingredients except the tea into a pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Add the tea and steep for as long as desired (I like a good strong tea, so I usually steep for 5-7 minutes, with the pot on low heat).

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Use a strainer (a loose leaf tea strainer works well) to strain the tea into a pot or individual cups.  Sweeten with sugar, honey or agave nectar to taste.

Matcha Macaroons…and a bloggity blog day

Matcha Macaroons…and a bloggity blog day

Sorry I’ve been AWOL, everyone!  I’m sick sick sick…and still recovering today.  Thankfully, my typey fingers work and I remembered that I have a food blog (yesterday, if you’d asked me that question I might not have given an accurate answer…).

I’ve been wanting to tell you about this cool little bloggity blog day I had a couple weeks ago.  It was one of those days that made me feel like the universe was telling me I was doing the right things.

I had met up with my friend Amy from foodeverywhichway.com at David’s Tea.  While deciding on what brew to sip, I noticed some matcha powder for sale.

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A few months ago while browsing at a local craft sale, I had tasted (okay, greedily wolfed down without sharing) the most beautiful, unique cupcake I’d had in ages:  a yellow butter cake cupcake with matcha green tea icing.  I was determined to re-create its’ awesomeness.  I made a yellow butter cake, but itwasn’t as moist and rich as the cupcake I had eaten.  Next I had to try the icing.

I took the matcha powder up to the counter and asked about how one might use it in a buttercream recipe.  Well, turns out, David’s Tea (on Spring Garden Road) happens to have a resident expert in baking with tea.  He promptly informed me as to the appropriate quantity of matcha powder required, and then provided me with a couple other tea-baking recipes to try.

On the way home from my tea date with matcha powder in hand, I had decided to stop at Argyle Fine Art to pick up the “Musicians, Memories and Morsels” cookbook for my recent giveaway.  I was so excited about the whole thing that I mentioned to the person working at the gallery that I was giving away the book to readers of my food blog.  She thought that was so cool, and told me she had a food blog too:  Gateaux Rose.  This, my friends, was Crystal, the very creative and talented person behind the yellow butter cake/matcha buttercream cupcakes that I had been dreaming about for two months.  Beaming and gesticulating wildly, I pulled out my matcha powder and began rambling on about the incredible-ness of her cupcakes and how much I admired her artistic cake decorating abilities (you have to check out these cakes….they are works of art!), while also hinting that I would appreciate any tips she could provide on mastering the art of the yellow butter cake.

I left the gallery simply ecstatic about food and blogging and coincidences and the world (!) and everyone in it (!).  It was a good day.

So I wanted to share with you the recipe for the matcha macaroons.  I’m sure you can get matcha powder at lots of different places, but I picked up mine at David’s Tea.  I think next time I might use a little less matcha (maybe 3 tbsp.) – but if you love the taste of green tea, use the full amount (I would love to hear your feedback on this recipe!).  Also:  stay tuned for more matcha-involving baked goods!

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Here’s what you need:

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup milk

6 tbsp. cocoa powder

5 tbsp. matcha powder

5 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup sweetened coconut

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp salt

Here’s what you do:

Lay out several sheets of parchment paper.

Combine the sugar, butter, milk, cocoa powder and matcha powder in a pot and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, remove from the heat and add the remaining ingredients.

Using a spoon and some guidance from your fingers, dollop cookie-sized globs of the mixture onto the parchment paper.  Allow to set for a couple hours before indulging.

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Enjoy!

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