Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Tribute Tea

Propped up awkwardly on two pillows, he maneuvered around the sports magazines and the remote bed controls -scattered on the bed- to eat his lunch. His bedside table was now swiveled over the bed, cramping his bare knees tucked underneath. This must have been the third or fourth week of his hospital stay, and his medical condition has kept food at bay from him for days on end. But here he was, hungrily attacking the stir-fried chicken and rice on his plastic tray. It was a sight that buoyed me.

His lunch still warm, I was loath to keep him from it for any length of time -the window of palatability of most hospital food being, unfortunately, quite narrow. His spirits were up, I examined him: clear lungs, good heart sounds, and most importantly, soft belly -I felt intrusive, as always, to press on a patient's abdomen in the middle of his meal.

Bidding him good bye, I walked into a glorious afternoon, the budding flowers overhead irrepressibly joyous. The sunny warmth accompanied my short walk home.

With the cats furrily underfoot, I whisked together vanilla and eggs for a yogurt loaf cake, luxuriating in the flicking rhythms. A celebratory lemon cake that I adapted from Dorie Greenspan's recipe (my incorrigible tweaking to make it more healthy had me using fat free yogurt instead of whole milk yogurt; substituting lemon for the original lime was done more on a whim) for springtime -and for a homecoming. E, coming back from his weekend retreat later that day, would hopefully walk in as the cake, fragrant with lemon zest, awaits him for our tea.

I chose Lung Ching (Dragon's Well), a classic Chinese green, whose name refers to an old well perched on the flanks of a hill outside Hangzhou, the original birthplace of the tea. This tribute tea, historically presented to the emperor himself, still comes from the spring leaves near its eponymous well, grown on the hillsides.

The aromatic liquor, toasty and nutty, had a velvety sweetness that was only slightly vegetal. I sipped from my cup, basking in warmth, and placed another slice of the moist crumbly cake on E's plate.

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