January 27, 2011

Steeping chai tea

My beverage of choice this winter is chai tea. It is so soothing and pleasant. If you've never had chai tea, you've gotta try it...you just gotta! I also love to drink it in this vintage tea cup, complete with saucer. You know that tea just tastes so much better when it's in a vintage tea cup, right?!

You can buy chai in tea bags or "ready to drink" in a sealed carton in the coffee and tea aisle at the grocery store. I found loose Organic chai at a local, non chain, coffee house. It costs $5 for 4 ounces. Now, that probably sounds a little expensive...that's what I thought too. But holy cow, wait til you see how far it goes! What I have pictured here is less than 4 ounces...it's just a sampling so you can get a good look at it!

Chai, is pronounced as a single syllable with a "ch" and a long sounding "i"...it rhymes with "pie"...hmm, I like chai AND pie! Ok, sorry!

Basically, chai is a rich black tea combined with various spices and then mixed with heavy milk and a sweetener such a sugar. The spices in chai can vary, but the most common are cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and pepper.

Chai is known to produce a warm soothing effect giving a wonderful sense of well being. It has also been said that it is a natural digestive aid.

Just a note of reference, chai, is the actual word for tea in many countries. People have been drinking chai for centuries in many parts of the world, most especially in India.

For loose tea, you can use a steeper. There are many different kinds on the market. I happened to buy mine at Pier 1 Imports, go figure...for those of you who don't know, I work there. A tea steeper holds loose tea leaves while being infused into hot water...creating tea. It basically acts as a tea bag. I believe the fine mesh steepers allow more tea flavor into your tea, but this is what I am using for now, and I am doing just fine. However, I do plan to experiment with a fine mesh steeper.

The water should be hot when steeping tea. A point of interest here...I have read that you shouldn't use boiling water because extreme heat burns the tea leaves essential oils, producing a less flavorful tea. Sometimes while I'm waiting for my tea to steep, the water does get a little on the luke warm side. I just reheat it a bit..no harm done.

To make it a traditional cup of chai tea, one must use heavy milk, or half n half. I always have half n half on hand...that's what I like to use. I would recommend taking the chill off the half n half by letting it sit on the counter for a bit, or just heat it in the microwave in a small dish for 3 seconds tops. If you don't...well, you're just going to make your tea cold and you'll have to heat it up again!

Adding sugar to chai tea is a must. It enhances the flavors of the spices making them more robust and flavorful.

Ahhhh, chai tea...it's a thing of beauty. If you want to buy some at the grocery store, might I recommend the brand TAZO. All of TAZO teas are wonderfully fantastic! You can't go wrong. If you're at a coffee house, I'm quite certain you will find a chai latte on the menu...you could certainly try it there! You will not be disappointed!

January 24, 2011

Hello, I am back!

I can't believe I haven't posted since January 8th.
Well, actually I can believe it...it's just that time has been flying by and I have been preoccupied by one thing or another.

The weather has been freezing cold here in SW Pennsylvania! This morning it was zero degrees. We've been getting snow every other day...sometimes an inch, sometimes 5 inches...sometimes just a dusting. This keeps us busy with shoveling the front walk, plowing the driveway, and dealing with school delays.

A couple weeks ago our furnace broke on a Saturday night at 11 pm. Sunday rates for furnace man are double or something like that...so we waited til Monday morning. However, we have a fireplace in our living room and a small wood burning stove in the basement. This saved us!! We were able to get the house to 60 degrees during the day even though it was in the low 20's outside. Also, our bedroom has base board heating because it was an add-on to the house. We had heat in our bedroom, just not in the rest of the house. Our children slept in our bedroom in their sleeping bags and/or on a twin mattress on the floor. Anyhow, the furnace was fixed Monday morning and all was well! I have to say that I actually enjoyed roughing it in some weird sort of way. Having a fire in the fireplace 24/7 was beautiful and charming. Yes...the house was cold, but we could get a cup of hot tea or cocoa and sit by the fire and be as warm as we wanted.

Another lovely thing that happened during my absence from my blog...our van, which was our only car...broke down! Like, broke down, no power, side of the road kinda thing! I was the lucky one to be driving it...on the highway! It started losing power even though I was pressing on the accelerator. So, I pulled onto the side of the road and coasted it as far as it would go. As soon as I came to a stop, it went completely dead.

I, being the person that fights against modern technology, did not have a cell phone on me. I could see a sign up ahead that said, next exit 1/4 mile. I was still about a 1/4 mile from that sign though...so I estimated I had about a 1/2 mile walk. It wasn't too cold out, it was mid day and about 25 degrees. I know, 25 degrees is cold, but it was about 10 that same morning!

Thankfully, I knew this area well and I knew I there was a McDonald's and a Sunoco at this exit. I didn't have a problem with walking a 1/2 mile. I knew I would make it, no problem. What I didn't like was I knew that it was inevitable that someone was going to pull over and offer me help. The question was who. Would it be a crazy psycho? I had to prepare myself to deal with this and pray that I would know what to do.

I took a deep breath, got out of my van and began to walk. Many people whizzed past me...and then finally, I looked up to see a green pick up truck pulling over. I begin praying while walking up to the truck..."please God, let it be an old person, please God, let it be an old person...old people are good, old people are not axe murderers, please God let it be an old person!" Low and behold....it was an old person! Thank you God! It was someone that I would describe as a Grandpap. I told him I broke down and he offered to give me a ride to the next exit. I made a very hesitant decision that I felt I could trust this man...even though, I still was very leery and nervous.

This is the first time, ever, in my life that I got in to the car with a stranger. I got into the truck, closed the door and said a quick prayer "please Lord, don't let this man be an axe murderer!" Now, remember the exit was about 1/4 mile away, so I knew that I would know very quickly if I was to be in trouble or not. If he passed the exit, I would know he was a psycho...if he pulled off onto the exit ramp, I knew I would be safe.

I had already quickly planned in my head to jump out the second that he passed the exit. I figured we wouldn't be up to 65 mph yet by the time we reached the exit ramp...so I figured I would only have to roll out onto the ground at about 35 mph at the most! I knew it would hurt, but really I would be upset because I was wearing my brand new coat that I got for Christmas! A coat that I got with money my Dad sent me to specifically buy a coat! I had bought the coat on sale, but it was originally priced at $160...and this was the most expensive coat I had ever owned in my entire life!!...and here I was, possibly in a situation where it would be shredded to pieces as it broke my fall onto the rough, dirty, gravel side of the highway! No fair man! Crazy as that sounds, that really did go through my mind. I didn't have a fear of dieing while rolling out of a pick up truck at 35 mph. I figured I be scraped up...but they did it on Dukes of Hazard all the time and they survived...right? Ok well, of course you can assume correctly, this nice, elderly gentleman, who was so kind and helpful and polite, DID take the exit, and DID drop me off at McDonald's. Otherwise, I wouldn't be typing this post to all of you right now...cause I would be locked in a dungeon somewhere, being fed scraps that were lowered down by a basket on a rope!

By the way...our van is officially dead...it needs a new engine! However, the van is paid off, so we are keeping it until we can afford to put a new/used engine in it. We have since acquired a new/used car! It is a VW Passat! Yay!

We are so blessed! A friend of ours gave it to us because they just recently bought a new car and they are single and have no use for their old car. We are so thankful and grateful to our friend. Never in my life did I think that someone would ever just give us a car. That is so wonderful and generous and we are ever so grateful! A little later, I had remembered that when we lived in Florida, we gave our old car to a person in desperate need. We had 2 other vehicles and did not need it. We gave freely and happily and now the blessing has been repaid to us! Thank you God!

Well, that's about it...give or take a few other things here and there...but nothing that sticks out in my mind as the 2 things I just wrote about. It just seemed like every time I thought about sitting down to blog...something was in the way.
Anyhow, I'm back baby!

A few things on the horizon that I plan on blogging about:

fresh coconut
steeping loose tea
homemade pierogies

Stay tuned!

January 8, 2011

A wintry poem and my love for Pennsylvania

This photo was taken by me in our field behind our house just after a big snowfall.
The house in this photo is actually our neighbor's.
It's very old and very beautiful, built with crimson red brick.
The tiny little snowflakes and poem were added using Picnik.com, a free photo editing program that I use for most of my photos.
I don't have Photoshop, so it comes in handy.

I love this poem, January...by John Updike!
It precisely captures the cold, grey wintry days of January in Pennsylvania.
John Updike grew up in Pennsylvania..and that is why I love his poetry..I can appreciate his descriptions about the months of the year because I've lived it.
It's my life.

I know that winters in my state can be long..and cold..and grey..but there's something about Pennsylvania that I just dearly love.

Pennsylvania is good, Pennsylvania is life, it's earthy, it's farms and farmers, dairy cows and corn fields, it's rolling acres, mountains and valleys, it's family and friends, it's school yards and churches, it's deer and wild turkeys, groundhogs and squirrels, it's pheasant and duck and raccoons and possum, it's fishing and hunting and skiing and camping, it's 4 seasons..winter, spring, summer and fall, it's icicles and snow, it's daffodils and crocuses, it's Sunrise service on Easter morning, it's green grass and swimming in the lake, fireworks and picnics, it's heat and rain and high humidity, it's garden grown corn, fresh picked tomatoes still warm from the sun, it's pumpkins, gourds, and trick or treat, it's giant orange harvest moons, it's ponds and lakes and creeks and dams, it's state parks and county fairgrounds, it's parades and festivals of every ethnic background, it's blue collar workers and mom and pop corner stores, it's libraries and fire halls, weddings and funerals, it's Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, World War II veterans and new recruits too, it's meatloaf and mashed potatoes, homemade bread and fruit pies, it's maple syrup and wildflower honey, it's pine trees and oaks...it's Pennsylvania, home to good folks. Pennsylvania is good, Pennsylvania is life!

Ok, that there was written by me...just now, off the top of my head, not pre-planned, just from my heart and my soul. Now you know just a little bit about what makes Pennsylvania a special place. Even now as I write, there's so much more that's coming to my mind...but I'll leave it at that.

That's me in the photo below...enjoying the snow. Have you ever fallen back into a foot or more of snow? It's quite comfortable.