Saturday, February 28, 2009


A recent cold has me thinking about comfort food. The kind that enwraps you in a blanket of fleece, providing warmth and maybe even nostalgia. For me, pillowy blueberry waffles fit the bill. They invoke images of my mom spooning batter, flecked with little plump berries, onto the griddle of the wafflemaker. The aroma of the waffles cooking would fill the house as my sister, brother, and I impatiently hovered over my mom's shoulders (much to her annoyance), our hunger increasing by leaps and bounds. The waffles, finally done, stacked neatly, one on top of the other, did not have a chance to make it to the dining room intact. Each of us grabbed one or two for ourselves and slapped them onto our plates, carrying our quarries to the table.

My favorite way of eating waffles is with only small pats of butter. With the waffles still steamy, the quickly melting butter atop my waffles was barely perceptible, giving me full view of the luscious berries in their ridges. My sister and brother would look with pity at the bare contours of my chaste-looking waffles, as they poured maple syrup liberally over their own.

Nowadays, I have my blueberry waffles, still unadorned, but complemented by cup after cup of bracing sencha.

The vegetal astringency abates with the second infusion, yielding a more tame flavor but still with enough kick so that as I sipped the light green liquor gratefully, I almost forgot about my cold.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

White Peony Redux

It is more White Peony today. I can't seem to get enough of its elemental white tea-taste. I have already had several infusions of the tea this morning and am not ready to call it quits just yet. I sipped the tea from the gaiwan, swirling the foresty green leaves with their silvery white tips in the liquor and watched the interplay of the steeping leaves on the deepening yellow color of the liquor they impart.

Suffused by the warmth of the tea, I found myself going back in time to my childhood. This was in part due to an e-mail I received out of the blue from an uncle I had not heard from for thiry four years.

A whole other life seemed to unfold before me as I thought of a childhood spent in another country years ago. Many memories which lay dormant, surfaced. However, there are those that have always stayed with me; the image of my grandmother sitting for hours on end next to
an endtable on which her tea things were arranged is one of these memories. Her grey hair neatly pulled back in a knot, with her slippered feet tucked beneath her chair, she would pour cup after cup of green tea from her teapot, the latter cossetted in a multicolored rattan cosy. The tea that emanated from this teapot seemed limitless to me -a manna derived from the camellia sinensis leaves. Her capacity to drink tea likewise appeared to be miraculously prodigious to my seven-year old's eyes.

In reality, I think that she would brew infusion after infusion from the same batch of tea leaves; the fresh leaves were deposited anew into her trusty little teapot every morning and made good use of for the entire day so that the caffeine content would become quite attenuated after several infusions. She leaned back in her chair holding her thin-lipped teacup, placid and content, as I noisily chased my brother and sister around the spacious living room.

Now, as the cats, in their turn, scampered over me, and I extricated myself from a mouthful of tea leaves gulped accidentally from the gaiwan, I was glad to carry on this tea-drinking tradition.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

White Peony

A jangling of nerves, stretched a little tautly. This is how I am feeling now. It is not an unusual feeling that I have when on weekend-call, which is the case today. The beeper is currently quiescent, but this dormancy is temporary, I know, easily rousing itself with a musical tune of forced merriment. I had it programmed to play something musical rather that having it announce its presence with the audaciously prolonged beep that is the beeper's default. My hope that I would welcome its sound was a ruse that has never worked.

With the sunlight streaming around me through windows, warming the snoozing cats in the usurped armchair nearby, and me in the plushiest seat in the house, it is not easy for me to stir myself with alacrity in order to bolt out the door to the ER when a hospital admission beckons. I needed to calm this hypervigilance of mine and reached into my tea cache for the soothing White Peony.

This Chinese white tea, also going by the name, Bai Mu Dan, has had a hold over me ever since I first tasted it several years ago. In its dry form, the tips are silvery white and longish, flecked with deep green-hued leaves. It brews a yellowish liquor that with the first infusion imparts a clearly vegetal, slightly sweet flavor.

But it is the second infusion that has me truly in its thrall; the sweetness is now gloriously so, with honey-like notes and a full-bodied gentleness.

I sipped from the warm cup while the cats stirred themselves from slumber and commenced a flurry of mutual grooming. The beeper finally sang its tune and I reached over to quiet its tones.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pelikaan Tea

The first splat on ice of the winter. It was bound to happen, sooner or later. A light snowfall covered the hard ground with a powdery sheen, belying its slipperiness as I walked jauntily. Limbs flung in the air, I landed ignominiously in front of a noodle shop. During my momentary descent to the cement, lightning-quick thoughts flitted by: on what body part will I land, will I need to call my orthopedist colleague?

With a sigh of relief, I realized that I was still intact as I quickly got up and walked away. Except for a tingling sensation in my left arm from hitting my elbow on the ground, I was unscathed. This pratfall was not such a big deal after all.

But after this, I needed a tea that is both soothing and assertive and thought of the Pelikaan black tea languishing in my tea cabinet. The tea, made in the Netherlands, was a gift from a Dutch friend. She did not give us too much information on the tea other than it is quite famed regionally.

After piecing together information from disparate sources, I tried to weave a story of its provenance. The Pelikaan coffee and teahouse in the small city of Zutphen sells this tea and seems to attract a bit of tourism to the area.

I am not sure why I don't drink this tea more often as it has a lot going for it.
Bergamot-flavored, this black Indian tasting (Darjeeling, perhaps?) tea is robust and brews a great eye-opening cup in the morning. However, it does have to compete with my beloved Keemun, now a staple of my morning drive to work.

Retrieving the tea from the nether reaches of the kitchen, I inspected the pretty foil container. The incomprehensible Dutch writing stared back at me and I proceeded to brew the tea.

Several sips later, I thought that as fanciful as it may be, wouldn't it be a lovely story if a tea could really save a town from obscurity by putting it on the map?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


The roasted maltiness of the hojicha was an unexpected revelation, although the honey color of the liquor should have been a tip-off. This Japanese green tea is entirely made of tea stalks, the cast-offs when tea leaves are harvested. However, these humble twigs have been ingeniously put to use, yielding a tea with a truly unique taste, deluding me into half-believing that I was drinking a black tea.

Sipping the tea, I was grateful for the happy pairing of resourcefulness and serendipity in creating my many enjoyments of life. This cup of hojicha was one of them.

The tea was further enhanced by an accompaniment of delectable macaroons. These orange and rose-flavored cookies sandwiched a sweet buttercream filling, a yin and yang of airy egg whites and robust cream (sorry, Manischewitz).

In a swirl of a tea and macaroon-infused state, E and I strolled through a woodsy park on this late balmy afternoon. The snowfall of early morning had partially melted; we evaded bits of treacherous ice and leaped over puddles of melted snow.

Red and blue berries were suspended from bare skinny limbs of trees, throwing out splashes of color amidst a more somber background. We reached the water's edge of the lake, noticing the shafts of light flitting through the uppermost branches.

An occasional dogwalker passed by. The splashing of the waves as we stood on the promontory made me feel like I was on a far-away island. Inhaling deeply, we walked back together.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


My first cup of gyokuro. My expectation was such that I felt the mysteries of Elysium would be revealed to me once I had a taste of this most prized of Japanese green teas.

It took place at the Green Teaist, a tearoom in tony Lake Forest, a suburb of Chicago. Nestled between downtown boutiques, the tea salon was a study in elegant minimalism. Moss green walls surrounded me as I leaned back on linen-covered cushions of the wooden bench. Uncluttered by requisite Victorian-themed doodads, a staple in many teahouses, the red lacquer of tabletops and light wood finish of the floor presented pleasing geometric lines that was offset by the soft sheerness of white curtains decorously shielding parked cars outside from view.

We scanned the list of teas on the menu, all Japanese greens: bancha, hojicha, sencha, the rare shincha and tencha, genmaicha, and of course, gyokuro; I felt I was in Japanese green tea heaven. I already knew what I would choose and ordered a pot of gyokuro along with a mouth watering trio of pastries. Our server brought out the tea and proffered the dry leaves to us for inspection. The deep pine-green of the leaves was striking in appearance as I inhaled. This hue is due to the unique way in which gyokuro is grown. Unlike other green teas, the tea plants used to make gyokuro are shaded from the sun for three weeks each spring before they are eventually hand-plucked. Underneath a cover of black cloth, very little sun filters through and the tea grows mostly in the dark, allowing the chlorophyll content to increase and thus imparting that rich green color characteristic of gyokuro. The famed region of Uji, south of Kyoto, is known for growing this tea and we were told that indeed this was the provenance of the tea we were about to taste.

As I ponder this, our server expertly brewed the tea. With filtered water that was cooled to the right temperature, he poured it over the leaves in the small glass teapot. The dark green leaves unfurled and yielded a golden yellow liquor.

I sipped the tea in a demitasse cup and tasted an unexpected sweetness that I had not associated with Japanese green tea. Even matcha, made from shade-grown tea leaves as well, can be a little astringent. But here, the vegetal sweetness felt buoyant, accentuated by mindful sips from the diminutive cup which served the tea so well.

The miniature piece of matcha pound cake was buttery flaky and seemed to melt in my mouth. The riot of sensations: the umami of the gyokuro and the sweet richness of the cake seemed to coax from me a sense of well-being.

E was savoring his apricot chocolate mousse between sips of the tea as the dappling sunlight of the early afternoon and mellifluous Chopin from the spinning CD player induced a languorous sweetness.

Happy Valentine's Day, E.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I was giddy with spring fever. Or at least, a feeling that was akin to it as I knew that this was premature. Spring does not come to Wisconsin in early February but this respite of wintry weather was lulling me into a pleasant delusional state. The thawing of snow was present everywhere: blinding whiteness was replaced by the piebald earth, with twigs and stones haphazardly revealed.

I wanted a tea that would adequately match my mood and thought of masala chai. Its riot of spices - cardamon, cinnamon, and pepper amongst them- bespeaks a festive spirit. As I sipped the chai, between bites of a fluffy mozarella, tomato, and basil omelette and in the wonderful company of a friend, I was reminded of the tea's provenance in India. Nowadays, street tea vendors called chai wallahs, hawk chai on Indian streets and this tea is very much an everyday drink. I was struck by the contrast between the inherent luxuriance of the tea imparted by its spices and its more prosaic mode of consumption.

Later during the weekend, I had more steamy cups of chai, this time in an Indian restaurant with more good company. This incarnation of the tea was milkier and less sweet. I seemed to taste its Darjeeling base more readily. The chai's silky sweetness went well with the dosai, paper-thin rice crepes, mine flecked with bits of spinach. The crepes' crispiness held up to the aromatic tomato onion sauce in which they were dipped.

A spirited discussion on religion ensued as I relished the ending to our meal. The wonderful kheer, dreamily milky with cardamon, that now familiar spice echoed in my chai as well.

A fitting paean to friendship, indeed.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Sunday Skiing

It was a perfect day for cross-country skiing: the blustery winds had calmed down, and the sun finally came out. After a night of being up and down from call duties, I heartily welcomed a good stretch of the legs in the open air.

With our skiing gear packed in the car, E and I drove to a nearby park where we had planned to meet some fellow skiiers. Less than twenty minutes later, we were on the trails. The mild breeze was bracing on my cheeks as I lightly glided on the plowed trails which weaved in and out of the woods.

We passed over a pond, recognized only for its lack of flora on a wide expanse of whiteness, dipping down into a concave bowl ringed by trees. But as I leaned over the wooden bridge, its slats now packed with snow, I saw puddles of melted ice here and there, breaking up the snow-covered monotony.

The sound of crunching made by my skis as I glided along crisply alternated with that of the poles skimming the flanked snow on both sides of the trail.

With our faces flushed by enjoyment and exercise, we decided to take a refreshment interlude. I unearthed my warm thermos of tea safely ensconced in my backpack and prepared earlier this morning. The tea was a brew of the lovely Ancient Snow Sprout, a Chinese green tea. I poured the tea and inhaled the pleasing aroma. The warm liquor, still steamy, yielded its welcomed honey taste as I sipped gratefully.

Hours later, nestled in a corner of our favorite Japanese restaurant, I wished E a happy birthday over a dimly lit candle. Between sips of sencha, I tucked into a warm piece of bread pudding -which E partook rather abstemiously- atop a pool of creme anglaise. The melange of creamy sweetness and eggy airiness contrasted nicely with the more austere nature of the sencha.

As we lingered a bit, I thought with drowsy pleasure the apposition of other unlike natures which end up complementing each other so well: skiing and tea, tea and more sweets....