The Teacup Chronicles

Month: November, 2010

Peppermint Patty Tea

Thanksgiving is past, the family packed up and headed back to Michigan, the husband off to work. Today is just me and the cats.

The house is eerily quiet after being filled with so much life and activity these past few days. The sounds of laughter and timers ringing, the oven door screeching open and the clink of glass in the sink seem to linger in the air with the faint  aroma of turkey and pumpkin pie spice.

I had high expectations when today began – playing catch up after the holiday with a long to-do list of items,  the smug sense of accomplishment I’d feel at the end.  But the day had other plans for me. The light was just so soft as it fell through the windows, the wood stove warm and beckoning. But it was the quiet that did me in at the end, I think.  I found myself curling up with the cats, the words of my book drowning out the last arguments posed by the responsible side of my brain.  And I couldn’t much manage to pull myself back up again except for the lure of a turkey sandwich made with the Thanksgiving leftovers (the only kind of turkey sandwich worth eating, mind you). By that time the light had already started to fade.

I guess all that Thanksgiving revelry took more out of me than I had realized…

Since I hadn’t really touched the to do list, I figured, “why start now?” and decided to continue on with my laziness (telling myself, like a true procrastinator, that I can do it tomorrow, right? ).

Now, some of you are probably saying to yourselves, “enough with all this babbling, I came here because it said Peppermint Patty Tea – not to hear about all the incredibly mundane details of how you spent your Sunday.” So, for all of you that have managed not to succumb to the laziness of a steel-gray Sunday afternoon, I will give you the recipe now. Head to your kitchens, revel in productivity, and feel that smug sense of accomplishment for me.

Peppermint Patty Tea

This tea really doesn’t need much introduction – peppermint, chocolate, vanilla – need I say more?  It’s the perfect after-dinner drink for soothing indigestion and satisfying the craving for something decadent. Makes about 10 oz of tea mix, enough to package up 3 or 4 containers for giving away as holiday presents, if you can bear to part with it.

In a large mixing bowl, combine:

  • 5 oz raw cocoa nibs, dry toasted in a skillet until shiny with oil and fragrant
  • 2 oz peppermint
  • 2 oz spearmint
  • 5 vanilla beans, very finely chopped

If you have things to do, and to-do lists to contend with, you can just stop reading here. You’ve got your tea recipe, and you don’t want me infecting you with my unproductive spirit. Get gone, and carry on with your dignity in tact.

Now, for the rest of you, who are as lazy and easily distracted as myself – you who are probably here reading precisely because you were hoping for a suitably engaging distraction from something you’d rather not be doing – read on. Have the productive people make you a cup of peppermint patty tea, and be ready to kiss your to-do list goodbye.

So, for the lazy indulgences:

To really get into the daydreamer’s spirit, I started off with some good clean fun appreciating clouds at the Cloud Appreciation Society (yes it is a real thing!). Turns out that clouds aren’t that gloomy after all – just take a look at this if you don’t believe me. Then, I adopted some endangered words to fill the vacivity of my day with some meaning  (hah!)  and hunted for the origin of phrases (who knew that a shamble started off as a footstool?). I also decided that cellar door really is one of the most beautiful word combinations in the English language.

From there, I spent a ridiculous amount of time perusing the Terrain website, and decided, when I am someday filthy rich, as I’m sure to be, I will buy this so I can feel especially important when pulling down a book from the shelf.  From here, I veered off to Orangette to copy down the wholesome chocolate chip cookie recipe, which convinced me to add this book to my ever-expanding Christmas list. I also clicked on to find a beautiful photography blog that I got lost in for a good long time. I was so inspired that I decided to take some pictures myself. Then, before the darkness took complete hold, I ambled out into the inch of dry, cold snow blanketing the ground, and crunched down the road, watching my breath turn to puffs of smoke and bundling my hands deep into my pockets.

It wasn’t what I expected at all, but it was a good day in the end I think.

Inspiration short #11: Give some self-love with an oil massage

When it really comes down to it, the love we need the most is the love that we give to ourselves. At the end of the day, after all, it is always ourselves we are left to contend with. And from my own limited experience, I can tell you that there is no amount of love in the world that can make up for the love you fail to give yourself.

While it’s true that people around us can be manipulative and heartless; can say terrible things; can even break our hearts or abuse our greatest trusts – their plots are always temporary in the end. The only thing that is constant is our own voice, and it is our choice what it says. It can be critical and unforgiving, negative and doubtful – or it can be encouraging, compassionate, hopeful and kind. It’s entirely up to you.

One way you might start sending yourself some loving vibes is to do a daily oil massage. In Ayurveda this is known as abhyanga, and is considered an essential part of daily self-care.  In Sanskrit, the word for oil (sneha) is also the word for love – and the warm and nurturing effects of anointing oneself with oil are believed to be the same as those received when one is saturated with love. People in India have used daily abhyanga for thousands of years for its beneficial effects. As is said in the Charaka Samhita, one of the oldest Ayurvedic texts:

By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age.

If that isn’t loving yourself, I’m not sure what is. All that oil and massaging helps move waste products out of the skin by encouraging lymphatic drainage and enhancing circulation. It also calms the mind and makes the skin soft, lustrous and radiant.  And I can tell you, standing in front of the wood stove slathering myself in warmed sesame oil before I step into a hot bath (especially an herbal bath), I sure do feel like I am saturated with love.  It is pure joie de vivre, as the French say.

To give yourself an oil massage, first choose an oil that is correct for your constitution. Follow these guidelines:

  • If you are thin, tend towards dryness, cold hands and feet and irregular digestion – a warm and heavy oil like sesame  is a good choice.
  • For those of a medium frame, with fair complexion and a tendency towards inflammation (both mental and physical), cooling oils like coconut or sunflower are more suitable.
  • Those of a more voluptuous build, with thick hair and steady energy who tend towards congestion will benefit from a warm and stimulating oil such as mustard seed.

Before you massage,  heat the oil first by placing it into a sealed bottle, and placing the bottle in a pan of hot water. When the oil is comfortably warm, position yourself over a towel you don’t mind getting a little oily. Start massaging the oil into your skin, working up from the extremities in a clockwise motion, always moving towards the heart. Massage for anywhere from 5 – 20 minutes, as long as it takes to feel saturated with the sensation of your own beautiful love. Follow with a hot bath or shower. (As the oil acts as a natural solvent for dirt and grime, it will carry away impurities as it washes off your skin. You don’t even need to touch the soap!)

Repeat daily, or at least several times per week. Your self will thank you.



An Ode to the Pear

Until recently, the pear really wasn’t on my radar. I ate pears, occasionally, and I probably thought they we’re good, but I didn’t really love them. They we’re just pears. The kind of fruit that sometimes gets lost in the bottom of your bag and turns into something mushy and soft, a thing not at all pleasant to poke your finger into when fishing for a pen at the bank. (An apple would never do that.)

But  something has shifted for me. I can’t explain exactly how this happened, just in the way I couldn’t explain what makes a person suddenly fall in love with someone they had never even remotely considered loving before. Cupids perhaps? I haven’t a clue when it comes to love, but as to the pear, I might venture the guess that until several weeks ago, I had never eaten a pear that was truly, perfectly and exquisitely ripe.

You see, I’ve just never done well with fruits that are finicky and short lived. (I can count on one hand the number of avocados I’ve cut into when they weren’t either rock hard or stringy and black.) I’m impatient and neglectful and all of the things one shouldn’t be when it comes to waiting for a fruit to be just right.  And so, it shouldn’t surprise you that most of the pears I have eaten in my life were hard, crunchy and dry things, thoughtlessly yanked out of the fruit basket and bitten into like an apple without any preemptive squeezes to check for ripeness.  And too many of them, casualties of my neglect, are discovered under a cloud of fruit flies, inexplicably bruised, soft as a stick of butter and turned into a grainy, faintly alcoholic smelling mush.

But one day, in my absent-minded visit to the fruit bowl, I happened to pick up the perfect pear. All of you pear lovers will agree – you who tenderly lay your pears on plates or wrap them in paper bags, checking them daily with gentle squeezes and long, wistful inhalations of their increasing perfume – that this is completely unfair, and I would have to agree. I was not gentle or thoughtful with my pear, I hadn’t monitored it’s ripeness. I just got lucky. I picked up the pear, mindless as ever, and it happened to be the pear.

It gave just ever so slightly in my grasp, and when I bit into it,  the flesh was softly perfumed and yielding, sensuous even. Juice trickled down over my chin, and my mouth was filled with notes of  honey, roses and anise; a musky blend of subtleties that made me close my eyes and  gasp.  The flesh practically melted in my mouth, and I thought, if ever there was an erotic fruit, the pear must surely be it. And then I was in love. Just like that.

Nigel Slater, one of my favorite cook book authors and food writers says, “Like a snowflake, the perfectly ripe pear is a fleeting thing. Something to be caught, held tenderly, briefly marveled at, before it is gone forever.” And so it is. I have bought numerous pears since my amorous affair began, and I have had some good ones, but none have quite equaled in measure the one that started the whole thing off. I haven’t despaired, though, because just as new lovers begin to find comfort in the more mundane aspects of one another,  I have discovered ways to love pears that extend beyond the fleeting pleasure of one to be eaten immediately, just as it is, in its complete and perfect splendour.

A pear can be poached, a pear can be roasted. It can be slivered into slaws or sliced thinly into salads. It can be slipped beneath cheese and arugula and concealed between slices of  dark bread; it can be baked or stewed or blended into a soup. There are so many things one can do with a pear – and who would have thought! When I first met my husband, I remember the secret delight I took in delving into his character – placing him in different scenarios or with certain people to see how new and different aspects of his personality would come to light (like the time he first met my best friend Carol – the ultimate test of a man –  and their personalities melded like pears and chocolate which filled me with more joy than even pears and chocolate can).  So it is with the pear, contrasting it with the unexpected, celebrating the familiar, getting to know it deeply and intimately as if it we’re a part of myself.

Here are some favorite discoveries I have made in my delving, and I think they capture all the reasons I have fallen for this demure yet seductive fruit. As Nigel says, “a pear whispers.” It pulls you in, if you pay attention and listen closely.

Roasted squash with apples, pears, cinnamon and ginger

My mother in law makes something like this every year for the holidays. I always have seconds, and sometimes thirds. It shows that the pear, too, can be comforting and warm. It would go very nicely served along side of a roasted pork loin or pot roast.

  • 1 large squash (butternut, buttercup, kabocha or delicata are a few possibilities)
  • 2 tart medium sized cooking apples (granny smith, calville blanc, etc)
  • 2 firm ripe bosc pears
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 tbl brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a large baking dish and set aside.

Peel, seed or core the squash, apples and pears. Slice them into 1/4 inch wide by 2 inch long wedges, so that the apple, squash and pear slices are all roughly about the same size. Place them in a bowl, and toss with the lemon juice and salt.

In a small skillet, melt the butter and add the ginger and cinnamon, cooking 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the brown sugar, and cook for just a moment, until the sugar is just dissolved. Drizzle the mix over the squash mixture, and mix until everything is well coated.

Layer the squash mix into the prepared pan, scooping every bit of the buttery sauce from the bottom of the bowl into the pan, and cover with foil. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until everything is fork tender.

Arugula with wine poached pears, bleu cheese, and toasted maple-pecans

The pear salad is just an essential thing to know how to make. There are a million variations on it, but this is one that I think really captures the sophistication of the pear – this is the pear out for a night in the city, bedecked in black, wearing high heals and drinking martinis.

  • 2 firm but ripe pears (comice or conference ideally)
  • 200 ml red wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 thyme sprig
  • 4 juniper berries
  • 1 tbl sugar
  • 1.5 cups pecans
  • 2 tbl maple syrup
  • 6 cups baby arugula (or 1 15 oz bag)
  • 1 cup crumbled bleu cheese, such as Gorgonzola
  • 1 small red onion, sliced thinly into half moons

Combine the wine, bay leaves, thyme, juniper and sugar into a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Meanwhile, peel, quarter and core the pears, cut them into quarters, and then cut each quarter in half lengthwise. Add to the pot, and simmer for 10-12 minutes. Remove from heat, and let sit until cool.

While the pears are cooling, combine the pecans and maple syrup in a small bowl with 1/2 tsp salt. Stir to coat well, then place the pecans on a parchment lined baking sheet, and bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees F for 10-12 minutes, or until browned and crunchy.

Assemble a dressing by combining 1 tbl dijon mustard, a few glugs of balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk in 1/4 cup of walnut oil (or olive).

To assemble the salad, dress the salad leaves with a good spoonful of the dressing, then pile a handful onto each serving plate. Arrange the cheese, onions, pears and pecans over the top, then spoon a little more dressing over the plate and serve. A toasted slice of a dark, molassesey and raisin flecked bread would be a nice accompaniment.

Vanilla poached pears drizzled in warm chocolate

If I could have pears just one way, this would be it. After I discovered this recipe, I made it for desert a week straight. I think showcases that pears are just heavenly and divine, no questions asked. This is based off of a recipe in Nigel Slater’s Tender Vol II, but I have cut down the sugar a little and played around with the chocolate sauce to get it just right.

  • 4 pears
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • a vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise
  • a squeeze of lemon juice

Bring the sugar, water, vanilla and lemon juice to a boil, then turn down and leave to simmer. Peel the pears and cut them in half, removing the cores with a sharp pairing knife.  Slide them into the syrup, and simmer until they are easily pierced with a knife, about 35 minutes depending on the ripeness of the pears. When the mixture has cooled a little, remove the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds into the syrup, stirring to incorporate them in.

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup good dark chocolate, broken into pieces (75% is divine)
  • 1/8 cup  strong black coffee
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 2 tbl butter

Melt the chocolate, coffee and cream in a heavy bottomed saucepan, on very low heat. Once the chocolate is mostly melted, take off the heat, add the butter, and stir until smooth.

Place 2 pears halves on each plate, and drizzle the chocolate over.

Variation: If you have a very ripe pear, don’t bother with the poaching. Just whip up some chocolate sauce, cut the pear into wedges, and dip in.