‘Tea Tuesdays’

tea


NPR has a fabulous series. I assume the name arose because of the alliteration, but dedicating one day of the week to the beverage is fabulous. Here’s my contribution for this week.

I stopped by a friend’s this afternoon, and she served a Tanzanian selection. I’m not sure if the photo is exactly the same. It tasted heavenly, less astringent than rooibos but offering the identical soothing quality. Her son buys it in NYC, so there’s hope that I can procure some.

This past Sunday’s NYTimes Travel section’s lead story featured Sri Lanka. Search for “Deep Into the Hills of Sri Lanka.” The descriptions sounded magical, if still heavy with the touch of the raj. The expert took the old themes to new stratospheres: four cups of tea a day “could indemnify … against indigestion, heart disease and general dysfunction.” That’s about what my mother drank, and she suffered from none of them until the very end of her life, so maybe I should up it from two. He also said optimal brewing time is six minutes, which is the longest I’ve ever seen. Most range from 45 seconds (Jeju) to five minutes (black teas). After reading again about the predations of the Tamil Tigers, I realized why I’ve seen no Ceylon Breakfast in the past few years. Will check with my friend Peggi when next I visit Tea Roses Tea Room.

As for the NPR “Tea Tuesdays,” I’m mentioning yerba mate even though it’s not tea because I included the Tanzanian version, which is also an herbal beverage, not made from camellia sinensis. With jaguars and moon maidens (and Pope Francis), mate offers the best tale of the series. And it has the most important part of tea: the ceremony of the preparation.

If you want some larceny with your afternoon (or morning, or evening beverage), here’s a link to the Scot who ripped off Chinese tea.

To conclude on a family note, which is where tea should always be shared, here’s is TT’s version of brewing the perfect cup English style, with commentary about the way I learned from my mother, whose training in chemistry helped her brew tea and coffee that kept guests coming back for more.

Her process never used anything other than black tea and NEVER in a tea bag. She heated the pot before putting in the leaves and adding the water, which the article neglects to mention.

Favorites, depending on her mood, were the heavy smoky Lapsang Souchong or light and feathery Darjeeling. Guests almost always received the bergamot-laden Earl Grey.

Cups were always bone china. I remember a friend I’d brought to the house to help move some furniture said he was afraid to pick up the cup and when he did, he discovered he could see through it. I gave those cups (there were many, many of them) to some of her dear friends but still enjoy that ethereal thrill when I visit Tea Roses. Mother always checked on the brewing process about three minutes in and poured at five, decanting the remaining tea into another heated pot.

She always added milk, after pouring the tea, but thought lemon suited just as well.

And those tea leaves went into the azalea bed at the back door, along with the coffee grounds. We not only had satisfying afternoon teas but beautiful flowers to go along with them.

What I’m Reading Now

heroes

As reported in “What I’m About To Read,” I have been eagerly awaiting Heroes for All Time: Connecticut Civil War Soldiers Tell Their Stories. When it arrived, I rushed it off to get a signature from Peter “Buck” Zaidel, a/k/a my dentist.

Then I sat down to read and wound up staying awake far past my bedtime that first night.

Just opening the book to the end papers gives a quick snapshot of the men (and one woman) who became embroiled in the war. Moving right along, I became engrossed in the rush of enthusiasm when the government issued the call to arms. Here was the abrupt change in the lives of these farmers, clerks, and in one case a minister who had already reached the life expectancy of forty-six when he joined. I learned something new on almost every page – the tension between the regular army and the green recruits, new officers who did not know military terminology, the privations of weather, poor clothing, and bad food.

The text and photographs serve to show how history should be taught. Of course it would be unrealistic to require students to read the entire three-hundred page book even with lots and lots of spectacular photographs. Selecting almost any chapter and learning of the lives of these young fighters would give students an appreciation for what an earlier generation suffered and sacrificed.

Two favorites so far: James Sawyer provided a list of the pieces of his new uniform including “sky blue” overcoat and pants, 1 forage cap, and “1 pr coarse wide shoes.” Andrew Knox wrote,

One of the boys took his plate, knife and fork from his haversack, laid the plate on the table and laid on it an attractive hunk of beef. On cutting it open two or three fat maggots rolled out. He emptied his plate on the dish and reached for a hard tack. This broke easy. The reason was shown, as several lively skippers trickled down on his plate. “I Yum!” said he, I’ll drink my coffee with my eyes shut,” and he did.

Skipper = moth. Given the poor quality of the food, it’s amazing that so many were able to survive and fight.

At 50 pages in, I have only one complaint: because of the size and the sans serif type, the photo captions make for extremely difficult reading, which is a shame because they provide an education all on their own.

Thank you, Buck and Di, for this fabulous contribution to our history!

Sushi Friday

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Ginza, Wethersfield

This is a revisit from a review posted two years ago. Huge bowls of miso now include two types of seaweed, a decent quantity of tofu, and a scattering of scallion.

The salad, now part of the bento box, remains a disaster: half a flavorless grape tomato, one huge chunk of cucumber, a coating of mesclun over iceberg, all topped with a huge glop of neon dressing.

The shrimp shumai is down from three pieces to two and doesn’t taste as fresh.

The four pieces of Cali roll had more flavor than usual, perhaps because the rice was a bit warm. The huge serving of rice comes in brown or white options. Good undyed ginger provided some counterbalance to the slightly dried out wasabi.

The fish still  consists of nine pieces, three each of  v. fishy escolar, OK tuna, and salmon that had little of the expected buttery goodness but was absolutely fresh. Instead of the ubiquitous daikon, they rest on thin strips of cucumber, balancing the fish.

I stopped sitting at the sushi bar a while ago when the chef went on a rampage about how little money he had. The manager and much of the waitstaff now recognize me, so service is decent, though on a recent previous visit I was seated right outside the toilets despite the many other available options.

Grade: Back up to B from C+.

Quick Hit

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Ex-Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards 

It’s Thursday, and the Internet is acting as though all the hackers in the world want to take out my computer, so here’s a funny. Dean Baquet, now in charge at the NYTimes, was reflecting on journalism and politics. I did not realize that he was responsible for immortalizing Edwin Edwards.

Baquet noted that he’s made sure his obituary in The New York Times will give him “sole and full credit for the best political quote of all time,” when Gov. Edwin Edwards told him on a campaign bus that “the only way I can lose (a coming gubernatorial election) is if I’m caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.”

Empowerment

poets

Every couple of weeks, the veterans’ writing group tackles a prompt. These challenges are often related to their military experience – sights and sounds that made an impact, a place remembered fondly (or not).

Sometimes the prompts can apply to life in or out of the service. I lifted this week’s from Poets&Writers’ “The Time Is Now.

“Let it be known: I did not fall from grace. / I leapt / to freedom.” The ending of Ansel Elkin’s poem “Autobiography of Eve” is packed with confidence. Write an essay reflecting on a time when you felt a similar sense of empowerment. Maybe you ended a stifling relationship, or went back to school to train for a new career? Write about the initial fear and the certitude of your actions.

Nothing can compare to Eve’s empowerment as she leaps, “wearing nothing but snakeskin boots.” Here’s my lesser contribution.

During the 1980s I practiced law in Philadelphia. It was a time when the city experienced an avalanche of crime because childless adults could no longer receive any form of cash assistance. The city became known as “Filtha-delphia” because of the piles of trash littering even the upscale areas. The craters in the streets required twice-yearly alignments to my ancient Volvo. Worst of all, the FBI came a’calling on the judiciary. Eventually fifteen judges (if memory serves) bit the dust for taking bribes. It seems the roofers’ union was handing out Christmas presents.

When a second prospective client asked how much it cost to buy a case, I cried “Uncle.” And I cried, a lot. I was depressed and scared, not knowing what I would do, except that I couldn’t function in that atmosphere.

As I was closing out my practice, I happened on a career-planning workshop. Modeled on What Color Is Your Parachute?, it offered a workbook and seminars that explored skills, interests, aptitudes, geographic preferences, and so forth. The group I joined consisted of eight people, including four lawyers. I felt better already.

As I was exploring what to do next, I needed income, so I sold subscriptions to The New York Times. I made enough money working three or four hours a couple of days a week, plus occasional weekends at trade shows to pay the rent. I liked everything about it except for the inky fingers left from handing out free samples. This was before the Internet, and if I positioned myself at the exit from the commuter trains that spilled out the suburban masses to the new glass and aluminum high-rises, I’d have people waiting in line to sign up.

The rest of the time I worked at a small independent theater where I did any number jobs, including running a workshop for playwrights. It paid almost nothing, but I spent much quality time with creative writers, designers, and actors. The experience convinced me that I needed to return to the world of words.

Seminar and theater dovetailed. I was able to step away from corruption, return to journalism, and eventually launch a career as a book author. It all felt absolutely right,

Junk Food the Second

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(Continued from Friday Follies). We left the junk food guy with smaller plates. Here’s the rest.

I could not disagree more with the Taco Bell/Moosewood split. There is no reason that anyone, with a bit of thought, cannot provide healthy, good-tasting meals that don’t cost a fortune. TV, the web, and old-fashioned paper cookbooks offer lots of options. A quick check of Epicurious’ “healthy” and “quick and easy” reveals a large overlap and lots of variety.

As for the tax on sugar, the government has subsidized the producers of sugar, wheat, etc. for years. Why shouldn’t we give the people who produce healthier stuff a break by hiking the price of the junk?

The Chinese buffet observations are genius, especially removing the forks. Besides forcing Americans to eat slower, chopsticks cause more of the calorie-laden sauce to fall off the food, saving mucho calories.

Most of Wansink’s research falls on the far side of cynical, such as helping Mickey D’s feed more happy meals to little kids even if they are smaller and lack caramel. His efforts toward healthy stuff don’t inspire confidence. If he’s still eating grease, grease, more grease, why should anyone listen to what he says?

Bagged lettuce can save time, but people on a budget would do better to add the three steps – washing, drying, tearing – and save beaucoup money. As for those craisins, I lost my taste when I watched the keepers at the Honolulu zoo hide them in the chimpanzee enclosure, Wansink is welcome to them.

Race Away From Starbucks

mermaid

Blog will return to the issue of junk food but interrupts to deal with another piece of junk, Starbucks’ ridiculous attempt to cash in on the pain and suffering of African Americans in the United States.

Here are my objections to the campaign and Starbucks in general.

  • The company’s cynical co-opting began with its name. The Starbuck family killed whales for decades. The logo of a mermaid/figurehead whitewashes all that.
  • Shouldn’t we call it “the company formerly known as Starbucks” since it no longer includes a name on its logo and advertising?
  • As for the race conversation, the idea is about as tone deaf as one can get. The multiple reactions show exactly how bad. My favorite, aside from the jokes about renaming the coffee, (“I’ll have mine of color”) etc. was Gwen Ifil’s tweet: “honest to God, if you start to engage me in a race conversation before I’ve had my morning coffee, it will not end well.” I say amen.
  • Aside from the snark, LinkedIn offers a serious examination of the reasons for failure:
  • That the marketing people failed to acknowledge the “privilege” of Starbucks drinkers, in many places “white privilege,” probably has to do with the utter lack of anyone on staff who could draw their attention to the problem.
  • What the authors call “authenticity deficit,” means the employees are as headblind as the honchos.
  • The “poor reaction” is a massive understatement, but the lack of company response indicates more headblind tone-deafness.

My opinion: Avoid the burnt, overpriced beverage. If no place nearby offers caffeine, go to the figurehead’s lair and order tea. Even she can only mess up hot water and a tea bag by not getting the water hot enough. It still tastes better than mermaid water.

Friday Follies

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It’s Friday, and it’s snowing AGAIN!!! So here compliments of Mother Jones is commentary on food, both funny and serious.

First the title: “This Fast-Food-Loving, Organics-Hating Ivy League Prof Will Trick You Into Eating Better.” I have a problem with online headlines, which are generally dreadful, way too long, and mostly a sign of laziness. This one fails only because it fails to add “unhealthy.” This post should probably have a different headline, but I’m too fatigued to come up with something better.

Just to clarify, the excellent photos should discourage the prof’s supporters.

The contents are fascinating: setting – lighting, seating, music – has a huge influence on the quantity and quality of our consumption.

Professor Brian Wansink is more than a hypocrite. He orders fat (bacon, ranch dressing) with the lettuce offering the least food value (iceberg), soup with more fat, cheeseburger sliders, with a diet soda. What? No sugar to wash down all that cholesterol?

The studies, however, are more fascinating than his personal predilictions. Author Kiera Butler may have supplied the answer for the person studying why the deep-fried Snickers eaters are skinnier than the hamburger eaters. That word is “novelty.” It’s likely that the people eating the fat/sugar/chocolate do so once or twice a year, as opposed to the burger eaters who may visit MD or BK or W or FG, etc. several times a week.

The mint theory may have some carrying power beyond gum. I’ve noticed eating an Altoid influences my choices, mostly to buy things that won’t clash with it: tea and maybe some lettuce, or yeah, basil and parsley.

The plate and glass size option – smaller and taller – absolutely makes sense. One of the things I noticed when I packed up my parents’ house was that the dinner plates measured eleven inches (except for those fancy silver-plated service plates). The ones being sold now measure thirteen. Those extra two inches in diameter can hold beaucoup calories. I recommend, as Wansink does, luncheon plates.

Okay, so this turned way too serious, and I’m not done with the commentary. More to follow.

 

‘Vows’ Special

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The “Vows” column  in the Sunday NYTimes Style section generally goes to the recycling bin without a glance. I’m not sure what made me look at the March 15 edition on Wednesday, which is when I got around to the features sections of the paper.

I’m so glad I did. If “compelling” were not so overused, it would apply. So do “inspiring” and “heartwarming,” but they all seem hackneyed ways to describe the story of Capt. Lorelei Gaus and Capt. Nicholas Schroback, who found each other in the most demanding of all military branches and bonded over their shared purpose, along with the usual stuff.

Search for “For Love of Country, and Each Other” to read the story.

Two observations: The pat on the butt with the sword doesn’t seem fair to do to a fellow Marine. And why is she in an ultra-traditional dress while he’s in military dress?

Brain Freeze

State hero Geno Auriemma

State hero Geno Auriemma

The last days have imploded my brain. The best part was hearing Geno Auriemma speak on Tuesday. He maintains his standup cool and added a bunch of digs at the Irish-Americans on the dais. Of course we’re all awaiting the beginning of the playoffs on Saturday.

Other than that, I’ve been trying to take long walks but have been stymied by rain and 30-plus mph winds. I managed to go far enough to see a tree in front of a house about a mile away with four birds’ nests — mostly robins — and one sloppy squirrel abode. The owner calls it her bird condo, said she tolerates the squirrels.

Then, I couldn’t get home from running errands because of a bad accident  a couple of miles the other direction, about which I’ve seen no news reports. It seemed to involve a car pulling out of a mini-plaza and being T-boned by an oncoming car that was probably speeding. The detour opened another crater in the day.

Then today I heard from a friend who couldn’t go the back way from her house because of a huge evergreen down across the road. Again, I’ve seen no news reports. She said it looked completely black.

She was worried about some neighbors who are friends of mine. I called and learned that the tree must have come down not long after the winds kicked up. It took The Powers That Be seventeen hours to begin chopping up the tree, leaving the people affected in the dark and cold. My friends have a generator so they were able to restore heat and running water (they have a well), but two deadlines for power restoration had come and gone. So much for the new improved power company. The name may change, but the service remains exorbitant and incompetent.

Taking care of various and sundry, my office now looks like a combination accident scene/windstorm disaster.

More of substance will follow in later days.