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"Tea, thou soft, thou sober, sage, and venerable drink ..." —Colley Cibber
On cold winter nights, nothing beats curling up in front of the fireplace with a cup of hot tea and a good book. The mug warms my hands; the delicious liquid warms my insides going down. My personal favorite is Earl Gray. I love that flowery, mysterious flavor—but no milk and sugar for me. I like mine straight. Recently, though, I have been drinking herbal teas—beside the fact that they are caffeine-free, they have all kinds of health benefits. I like to make my own. It's easy—as long as you don't combine different herbs. Just stick to one herb at a time (professionals call them simples). There's something about making the simple and then drinking it later that feels like a bit of a homey ritual to me.
Herbal Tea Infusions for your health can be found on pages eighteen through twenty. Simple Pleasures of Tea offers recipes for a range of teas (herbal and black), along with easy recipes for delicious baked treats to accompany your teatime, alone or with company. There are also ways in here you'd never imagine to use tea—giving your plants a cup of tea for nourishment, for example, and treating yourself to a steaming tea facial. Drink, eat, and pamper yourself to your heart's content.
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We lift our tea cup—of course it is of the finest old India or Chinese porcelain (egg shell preferred)—to our lips. Rest—Peace Ambrosia! We are at one with the gods. They of Olympus with nectar and damp clouds have nothing on us with our sparkling fire and tea inspiring and recreating us.
—Alice Foote McDougall
Sun tea is great because it has a mellower flavor than brewed tea. Drop four teabags in a quart pitcher of water (the pitcher must be glass). Cover to keep out bugs and put the pitcher outside in the full sun. After a couple of hours, when the sun is really hot and you are too, remove the teabags. Add ice and serve.
For a variation, use a peach fruit tea. When the tea is ready, cut up a chilled peach into bite-sized pieces and add to the tea. Serve immediately for a one-of-a-kind refresher."
* * *
Is it so small a thing to have enjoy'd the sun, To have lived light in the spring, To have loved, to have thought, to have done?"
STUFFED BAKED PEACHES
10 fresh peaches, pitted and halved
1 egg yolk
7 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup of crushed Amaretto di Saronno cookies
Remove one spoonful of peach flesh from each peach and puree; set aside. Cream 6 tablespoons of butter in a bowl, stirring in egg yolk, peach puree, and crushed cookies until well combined. Fill each peach half with a generously rounded scoop of the mixture.
Place the peach halves, open side up, in a large glass casserole with the remaining tablespoon of butter, and bake in a preheated oven at 375° for 5–7 minutes or until cookie mixture is lightly browned. Serve peaches at room temperature with crème fraîche or ice cream. Serves 10.
GIVE YOUR PLANTS A CUP OF TEA
Don't throw leftover herbal tea away—use it to water your houseplants. But be sure it is caffeine free; plants like tea as long as it is "unleaded."
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Green fingers are the extensions of a verdant heart.
SUREFIRE RHUBARB - STRAWBERRY CRISP
Summer is the time for this treat.
3 cups rhubarb, sliced
2 cups strawberries, whole or sliced
juice from one lemon
1 stick butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup flour
Preheat oven to 400°. Combine rhubarb, strawberries, and lemon juice in a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. In a medium bowl, combine the butter, sugar, and flour until crumbly and then spread over rhubarb mixture. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes or until crisp is bubbly and top browned. Serves 6.
SIMPLE SUMMER REFRESHERS
Freeze little slices of lemon or lime into your ice cubes for a pretty and refreshing touch in iced tea or other cold drinks. You can also freeze orange or cranberry juice into ice cubes to add sparkle to lemon-lime soda.
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"A little of what you fancy does you good."
LEMON TEA BREAD
Here's a summer treat for those who grow lemon balm.
1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon balm
1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon thyme
¾ cup low fat milk
2 cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons baking powder
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
juice of 2 lemons
confectioners' sugar, about ½¾ cup
Preheat the oven to 325°. Grease a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan. In a small saucepan, gently heat the milk with the lemon balm and thyme until just before it boils. Remove from heat and let steep until cool.
Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well. Add the lemon zest, then part of the flour mixture, then some of the milk. Beat well and continue alternating until well combined.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. While loaf is cooking, place lemon juice in a small bowl with enough confectioners' sugar to make a thick but still pourable glaze. Stir well.
Remove bread from pan and place on a wire rack that has been set over a piece of waxed paper. Pour glaze over top and allow to cool. Makes 1 loaf.
HERBAL TEA INFUSIONS
Start with a handful of a dried herb of your choice (see list following). Place it in a glass jar and put a stainless steel knife into the jar (to keep the glass from cracking). Pour boiling water into the jar and stir. Put a lid on (a plate will do) and let sit until completely cool. Strain and store in the refrigerator. To serve hot, bring to a boil on the stove or in the microwave.
COMMON HERBS FOR TEAS
Blueberry Leaves: A very delicious tea said to be beneficial for blood sugar problems and varicose veins.
Dandelion Root: High in iron, manganese, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and potassium. A diuretic, it is reportedly good for the liver by helping the body remove toxins.
Echinacea Root: Native Americans used it to heal wounds. Modern folks swear by it when a cold or flu is coming on since it is said to boost the immune system.
Fennel Seeds and Leaves: Good for the intestinal tract. A natural breath freshener.
Gingerroot: Good for digestion, nausea, and morning sickness. Is also said to aid circulation. Tea with this herb is made differently—simply cut off a slice of the fresh root, pour boiling water over it, and let steep for ten minutes. (You probably will want to add some sweetener like sugar or honey.)
Nettle: Reputed to be good for kidneys and an immune system booster. Is high in many minerals and vitamins including iron, thiamine, and riboflavin.
BUYING HERBAL TEA
Most health food stores carry herbal teas in bags. But if you want to buy herbs in bulk (store in a dry, dark, glass container), you can contact Blessed Herbs (800-489-4372) or Herbs, Etc. (888-694-3727).
If your tastes don't run to herbal teas, try this wonderfully spicy potion instead. This makes enough for a crowd—try it on a cold winter's evening. I make it unsweetened and allow guests to add their own sugar if they want. You can make it with decaf bags if you want to avoid the kick.
4 cups water
4 cups cranberry juice
4 orange pekoe tea bags
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
1 apple, cored, seeded, and cut into 8 slices
Bring water and juice to a boil over medium heat. Place the tea bags in the mixture, cover, and remove from heat. Let steep 10 minutes. Remove the bags. Add the cinnamon. Place 2 cloves in each apple slice and add to tea. Let steep 5 minutes. Pour into mugs, making sure each cup gets 1 apple slice. Serves 8.
"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterward."
MEXICAN WEDDING COOKIES
Traditional wedding cookies are often served at other festive occasions as well.
½ cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ¼ cups flour&
#188; teaspoon salt
¾ cup chopped nuts,
additional powdered sugar
Cream together the ½ cup sugar, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl. Sift in the flour and salt. Add the nuts, if using. Cover and chill the dough for 2 hours in the refrigerator or 10 minutes in the freezer.
Preheat oven to 400°. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake until set, about 10 minutes. While still warm, roll the cookies in powdered sugar. Makes 4 dozen.
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Eros, the god of love, emerged to create the earth. Before, all was silent, bare, and motionless. Now, all was life, joy, and motion.
—Early Greek myth
This tea may not cure your cold or flu, but it sure will make you feel better.
2 tablespoons honey
juice of 1 lemon
1 ounce sage leaves, torn
Place honey, lemon, and sage in a mug. Pour the water over and stir to dissolve honey. Cover and let sit for at least 5 minutes. Makes 1 mug of tea.
These are sensational right out of the oven with butter, jelly, honey—or even plain!
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup vegetable shortening, butter, or margarine
¾ cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450°. Combine the first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl. Cut in the shortening, butter, or margarine until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in buttermilk. With flour-covered hands, knead gently and then roll out on floured surface to ½-inch thickness. Cut with a 2 ½-inch biscuit cutter and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden. Makes 10.
TROPICAL BACCHUS BREW
¾ cup sugar
1 quart strong orange-spice tea
1 cup orange juice
1 can 7-Up
4 cups vodka
2 cups dark rum
Stir the sugar, tea, orange juice, and 7-Up together in a large punch bowl until the sugar dissolves. Add the vodka, rum, and bitters and stir well. Add the ice. Wedge a mint leaf into the center of each orange slice, and garnish the brew with oranges and cherries.
Makes enough tropical brew to arouse 4 to 6 bacchants and bac- chantes to bliss.
"To affect the quality of the day; that is the art of life."
—Henry David Thoreau
REMAINS OF THE DAY
A friend once related the following story to me: My current schedule requires me to get up earlier than my wife and our two-year-old daughter. I may grumble when the alarm goes off, but I relish that hour of solitude. It's not just sitting at the table drinking coffee and reading the paper in silence. Nor is it the beauty of the morning. What I love is seeing the remains of yesterday's activities and dramas: the stuffed animal wrapped in a dishtowel "blanket" on the chair where we left it last night, the last crackling cinders in the fireplace, a little sock lying under the table. It's sort of an archaeology of the living. I see the object and it brings a flood of memories.
STEAMING TEA FACIAL
1 chamomile tea bag
1 peppermint tea bag
3 cups boiling water
Place the tea bags in a large, wide-mouthed bowl or pot. Add boiling water, and allow to cool for 2 minutes. Place a clean towel over your head and the bowl (keep your face at least eight inches away from the surface of the water), and steam for 10 minutes.
Scones are becoming increasingly popular breakfast items. They're easy to make, and because these are made with oats, they have the added benefit of being good for you.
1/3 cup butter or
1/3 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1½ cups flour
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1¼ cups quick oats
1/3 cup raisins
Combine butter or margarine with milk and egg in a large bowl. Set aside. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cream of tartar. Add gradually to milk mixture, stirring well. Add oats and raisins and mix well.
Preheat oven to 400°. With flour-coated hands, form the dough into an 8-inch circle on a lightly floured cookie sheet. Cut into 8 wedges. Separate wedges slightly and bake for 12–15 minutes or until lightly browned. Makes 8.
HOMEMADE HERBAL TEAS
It's easy to grow and make your own herbal teas, according to the folks at Yamagami's Nursery in Cupertino, California, who write that one way to start is to grow lemon verbena, lemongrass, spearmint, and peppermint. Lemon verbena is easy to grow in full sun to part shade. Prune it frequently to keep it bushy. Widely used in Asian cuisine, lemongrass is a very fragrant clump grass that grows two to three inches tall and likes full sun. Spearmint and peppermint like moist semishady areas; prune them frequently to keep them low, and beware—they can be invasive so you might want to grow them in containers.
You can throw a small handful of any or all of these fresh herbs into black tea before steeping—just be sure to wash them well beforehand. Or you can dry them and experiment with a variety of combinations and additions, including carefully washed rose petals and hips, chamomile buds or leaves, or lemon or orange slices. A good basic caffeine-free recipe is 3 tablespoons dried lemon verbena, 4 tablespoons dried lemongrass, 1 tablespoon dried spearmint, and 1 tablespoon dried peppermint. Simply crumble dried herbs together, steep in 4 cups of boiling water for 5 minutes and strain. Delicious either hot or iced.
CHINESE ALMOND COOKIES
These are simply delicious.
½ cup finely chopped roasted almonds
36 whole almonds
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter or margarine
1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon gin, vodka, or water
red food coloring (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°, and grease several cookie sheets. Set the 36 whole almonds to the side. Sift flour with baking powder and salt. Thoroughly cream butter and sugar in a large bowl. Stir in all remaining ingredients except whole almonds. Form dough into 36 balls. Place on greased cookie sheets. Press a whole almond in the center of each ball and dot with a bit of red food coloring. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Makes about 3 dozen.
"Come along inside ... We'll see if tea and buns can make the world a better place."
—The Wind in the Willows
THE PERFECT CUP OF TEA
Fill the kettle with fresh cold water. Bring to a rolling boil. Scald teapot with hot water. Place 1 rounded teaspoon of loose tea per cup into an infuser inside the pot (or one tea bag per cup). Pour boiling water into teapot. Let steep for three minutes. Remove tea infuser and serve.
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One day with life and heart Is more than time enough to find a world.
—James Russell Lowell
MORNING WONDER RITUAL
The great cellist Pablo Casals once said, "For the past eighty years, I have started each day in the same manner. It is not a mechanical routine but something essential to my daily life. I go to the piano and I play two preludes and fugues of Bach. I cannot think of doing otherwise. It is a sort of benediction on the house. But that is not its only meaning for me. It is a rediscovery of the world in which I have the joy of being a part. It fills me with awareness of the wonder of life, with a feeling of the incredible marvel of being a human being."
What small thing can you do when you wake up in the morning to tap into that sense of marvel? Play a special piece of music? Read something inspirational? For me, it's cuddling in bed with my daughter, looking up at the redwood tree framed in the skylight, and listening to all the birds sing. We brew two cups of Earl Gray, dip our scones in them, and feel ourselves surrounded by nature.
Excerpted from SIMPLE PLEASURES of Tea by Susannah Seton. Copyright © 2004 Conari Press. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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