December 7, 2011

My Recent Taiwan Tea Field Trip (Part 1: Nov. 11 2011: the tea lodge)

Just as I expected: once we settled with luggages, Mr. Lin, the lodge owner treated us with oolong tea produced from his tea fields.

The wood lodge's living room is warmly decorated with calligraphy, painting, bonsai and orchids.  Both tea table and serving tray were carved from single blocks of hard wood. 

Next: evening tea dinner

December 6, 2011

My Taiwan Tea Field Trip (part 2: Nov. 11 evening tea dinner feast)

most unforgettable among a tableful of yummy dishes:  

beautiful crispy flower petals on top of fried crunchy oolong tea leaves,

stir-fried tender celery stalks picked in the afternoon with taro strips,

the most flavorful chicken wings I have tasted ever-- braised with oolong tea in a clay pot.

December 5, 2011

My Taiwan Tea Field Trip (part 3: Nov. 11 midnight till 2 am: participation in tea production)

We stayed in the area known for the classic "Tung-Ting" oolong tea.  Thanks to Mr. Lin, the lodge host who treated us with tea dinner feast, I got to observe and participate in tea production at one of his relatives' farm house.  We arrived around 8pm when he had already laid out the leaves for partial drying and was ready to stir the leaves for enzymatic oxidation. 

With his artisan tea experience, he added the optional process of rotating the leaves in the bamboo cradle for further oxidation.  One needs to be patient and observant in order for all the batches to go through similar degree of
transformation.  Then the highlight of the evening (and well worth to give up sleep until 2am): the pleasant aroma released from tea roasting to stop its further oxidation.

December 4, 2011

My Taiwan Tea Field Trip (part 4: Nov 12: morning stroll near the lodge)

I was awakened by bird chirps and soft sunlight around 7 o'clock.  The garden greeted me with colorful pots of flowers.  Few steps from the backyard, I was among rows of tea shrubs on the slope of Tung-ting mountain!

Looking out across from the tea path, Chi-Ling Lake is refreshingly beautiful. 

After breakfast on the lodge patio, we were guided to vist a local farmer's cafe and its unique surroundings.

December 3, 2011

Beauty of late autumn season

This year the fall season lasts longer with warm temperature even into early December.  I finally have to pile up the fallen leaves, saying goodbye to the variance of yellows, oranges and reds along the sweeps.

Some of the leaves are perfect with brilliant color and shape that I can't help but give thanks to our creator God for nature's beautiful blessings.  I shall preserve them in my book marks for this treasured moment.

October 10, 2011

Where would you like to have tea today

My first grape harvest under the arbor

If someone asks me today where would I like to have tea, my answer is  Lumière in Paris ! With music in the air, warm fall color surroundings, sipping "le thé" with my favorite almond croissant -- c'est la vie!
Setting for tea and music, chez moi

Make believe French fun in my backyard

So the next best place to have tea today is chez moi--right at home! 

September 15, 2011

Hope for fresh tea produced nearby

antique hot drinks dispenser in Columbus, IN
Recently a tea blog updates me on few more active tea plantations in US.  One  place opens to the public is the Charleston Tea Plantation .  If you are a tea enthusiast and loves to travel, mark your calendar for the plantation's annual
2012 First Flush FesTEAval on Sunday, May 20th. The plantation is open year round: the harvest season starts in May and the Camellia Sinensis plants begin to bloom in late September.

For my tea blog readers near Alabama vicinity, check out this seemingly charming place for yourself: Fairhope Tea Plantation . 

Fresh mozzarella and tomato platter at "The Old Fashioned" restaurant in Madison, WI
It is back to college time, here is a helpful article for the mothers to prepare for tea-loving sons and daughters to stay healthy: Campus teatime

Enjoy tea wherever you are!

June 4, 2011

Dumbarton Oaks Garden Revisit

Urn Garden
Wherever I travel, garden is my first search in local visitor’s guide. Quite a few of my trips were planned with a specific garden in mind, such as tea plantation or garden with camellia collections. Among all garden visits, Dumbarton Oaks Garden hidden on the edge of DC’s Georgetown left me with a special longing to go back again. With all the intention (I even have the visitor info sheet with me all the time), it’s the travel writing class that propelled me to make it happen again.

brick stairway framed by boxwood
Thirty years ago, the visit was with my young family. We followed the guide map and walked through terraces, smelled the roses, posed for group photos. It was a joyous weekend outing in a pleasant, beautiful setting. I didn’t realize then that the intrinsic reason for my longing to go back after 30 years is partly because of the happy memory, and partly the subtle scents of boxwood and magnolia blossoms.

Lovers' Lane Pool
For this visit, I freely followed bricked walkways or boxwood hedges to lead me instead of reading the guide map. On the terrace wall overlooking the rose garden, image of my daughters bending over smelling the flowers overlapped the real blooms. Suddenly a faint familiar fragrance came into focus, I looked around and there it was, a large magnolia tree right above me with a big white blossom!
Sculpture constructed with natural branches

The birds chirped happily and butterflies fluttered between bushes. With a writing pad, I took my notes and even did sketches of a terrace layout. Like meeting an old friend in new outfit, I noticed that many familiar plants were cascading down brick walls or trimmed to espaliers. Benches and chairs invited me to sit down in the shade and gazebo as if a gracious hostess had thoughtfully arranged for me.  I felt so much at home with ease and content.

My next visit would be with my grownup daughters.  I will store their images then with garden arches and cascading wisterias.

May 23, 2011

Tea Cuisine on the Horizon

Yilang Tea Lodge's garden

Yilang Tea Lodge's side garden
A report on the new trend of tea cuisine reminds me of a 2006 trip to Taiwan's Yilang tea plantations.  The road to the tea farmer's lodge took quite a few hair-raising serpentine turns on a narrow mountain road.  Another highlight of the trip was a rustic 10-course dinner prepared by the farmer family in a patio kitchen with free range chicken, mountain fresh field greens and mushrooms. Perhaps it was the most refreshing and tasty meal experience ever for all the diners around the table.  One surprise after another, the big bowl of tea-infused soup or stir-fried vegetable with tea leaves were greeted by incessant oohs and aahs!

On the way to the tea lodge
As a cooking ingredient, wine is a common staple for many cuisines.  Tea, or tea leaves, however, is seldom used and any recipe including it might appeal to but a few adventurous cooks.  Nevertheless, there are two Chinese dishes which are worth the effort to try (at least for cosmopolitan gourmets) due to the unique use of tea.  One is "smoked tea duck", a banquet dish prized for the golden brown color and subtle smoked tea flavor imparted to the duck skin and meat.  The second one is "Lung Jing shrimp": Lung Jing the delicate, green tea sprouts from West Lake and pearly pink shrimp velvety but slightly crunchy to the bite.  In my personal opinion, both are culinary masterpieces with exquisite combination of color, texture, aroma and taste. 

For tea's parallel to coffee's use in desserts, Japanese style "green tea cheesecake" has quite a following in Asian bakeries because of its beautiful color and refined texture.  Also, green tea ice cream has become a popular item for its intricate tea flavor.

Now I am looking forward to add more memorable tea dishes to my list if the "tea cuisine" trend actually takes off!

May 15, 2011

The History of American Tea Gardens

Camellia bush in a misty morning (Descanso Gardens, Oct 2007)

Camellia collection in the Elezabethan Gardens (Nov. 2010)

Most of readers, I believe, would be hard-pressed to name a tea plantation in America except Lipton's Charleston Tea Plantation .  For me, the closest connection to American Tea Gardens would be the two camellia gardens I have visited--Descanso Gardens in Glendale (about 20 minutes drive east of LA) and Elizabethan Gardens  near Outer Banks, NC,  plus the "pride and joy" bush in a protected spot of my backyard!  From my experience, camellia plant is similar in temperament as my other favorite plant: gardenia.  Once the combination of right weather, location and soil are provided, it would proliferate without much extra attention. 

Few years ago, I dreamed of making my cup of tea from a tea plant in my own yard and had thus ordered various frost-free camellia plants from Camellia Forest Nursery .  Somehow none of the 20 plants survived after 2 years of struggle.

However, a recent article in the Word Tea News about The History of American Tea Gardens revived my hope about fresh American teas in the making from Alabama, Hawaii , SC, Washington, Oregon and Pacific NW areas.  If successful, a tea plantation tour similar to the winery tour would be my next travel pursuit!

April 25, 2011

Wedding Celebration with "Tea" Theme

Crown Princess Margaret Rose
Recently I was asked for ideas about my friend daughter's wedding celebration.  In the limelight of the Royal wedding this Friday, here are several inspirations for the bride who loves tea:

1. arrange a Japanese or Chinese garden with gazebo for photo setting

2. at the start of wedding reception, the bride and groom serve tea (it's a Chinese custom) to the parents to express their appreciation (preferably on a raised head table for all guests to see, work out details at rehearsal dinner); this would likely be a moving experience for all to remember

3. if it's a Chinese banquet, a best man may give a simple instruction to the guests about tea courtesy ( tapping 1st and middle fingers on the table when tea is served) and proceed with a tea toast for the bride and groom

4. prepare miniature teapot filled with tea leaves as party favor for guests to bring home

April 18, 2011

Royal Tea

With Prince William and Kate's royal wedding on the horizon (April 29), tea becomes fashionable again.  I took the pictures above at a dinner gathering while the host was arranging serving pieces from his massive china collection (note those tea sets and cups on the side buffet tables against the Victorian pink wall).

Come think of it, one of my friend has mentioned to me a scholarly book  "A NECESSARY LUXURY: TEA IN VICTORIAN ENGLAND" during a recent conversation.  (She happens to know the book because it was written by her daughter!)  With tea's intrinsic allure,  even in our modern world, it conjures image of elegance, warmth and togetherness.  Tea serving provides shared cultural experience joyously at a dim sum house on weekends as well as soothingly in an England country home every afternoon.

More about joy of tea related to wedding in my next blog.

March 28, 2011

Spring is Here!

During my search for timely cherry blossom pictures for the blog, I chanced to find one of blooming pansies (My kids used to call pansies "Happy Faces".) It was taken during my Japan cherry blossom trip in 2006--along with images of cute tea houses, artful teapot displays and gardens of historical sites. Below are few more selections to celebrate DC's cherry blossom festival week with my readers.

Cherry and Camilla blossoms in Tokyo's Asakusa Park

street view from a Kyoto's temple pavilion

light meal with tea

elegant tearoom decoration on the wall

March 4, 2011

French Pastry at Teatime

A delightful paring for the smooth Darjeeling black tea could be any French pastry longingly perused by calorie-conscious women young or old.  The eye candy picture above frequently comes to me through my favorite blog feed: ParisBreakfast by Carol Gillott.  Her March 2nd entry is quite a guide for Paris tea salons.

Timing is right for me to mention the newly relesed documentary Kings of Pastry .  One can't help but respect the devotion of French chefs' dedication to their craft.

After viewing the movie with the cine club of Alliance Française of Frederick, I surely appreciate every bite of  beautiful pastry as a work of art!

February 22, 2011

New USDA Dietary Guidlines

Grilled Romaine drizzled with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and generous sprinkles of fresh Pamesan cheese
Thanks partly to this cold winter, my 2011 new year resolution has been kept well--no carry-out dinner (or more appropriately speaking: "carry-in dinner") so far!  However, I do have to talk myself out quite often in order to detour away from Chinese restaurants for my favorite stir-fired rice noodle or salt-pepper shrimps...

One way I deterred myself from falling is by stocking the refrigerator with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.  And for TV snacks, I fill my pantry with toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds (with shell) .  Nevertheless, my love of teas should take most of the credits for keeping me on tract of healthy eating.  A cup of warm oolong tea instead of ice cream, cake or pie would keep me happy and satisfied after the meal .  Even occassional crave for sweets comes along, a buttery caramel hard candy in between tea sips will be just the perfect dessert combination!

Here is the link for those who also like to start eating healthy.  It provides international websites of official nutrition recommendation, including the most recent (published Jan. 31st, 2011) USDA dietary guidlines.  The sage idea of  "eat everything in moderation" has been and will be my dietary motto.  No need to veer away almond crescent or Sopressata sausage--just have it in small portions.  Moreover, sipping teas throughout the day provides ample zero calorie fluid need for healthy living!

February 1, 2011

Happy Lunar New Year of the Rabbit

Vegetarian Ingredients for Hot Pot
Just like Christmas and Thanksgiving here, Chinese new year celebrations in my memories are about gatherings with family around dining table.  Travel tickets need to be arranged way ahead so no one would miss the hearty New Year Eve's dinner.  Since the weather during lunar new year is usually cold, many families prepare steaming Hot Pot in addition to bowls of their house specialties.  Here is a picture to show how hot pot brings out new year festivity even in modern day Texas!

January 21, 2011

All my favorite things

"These are all my favorite things...." The beautiful voice of Julie Andrews and images of Lewis Carroll's England come to my mind upon viewing this picture.  The boxwood garden with the flighty flowers, citrus fruits and butterflies surrounding the girl in the pretty white dress  sipping tea (it must be tea!) cover almost all my favorite things.  I am longing for the days to enjoy tea in the garden as the girl does.  Well, it's less than two months away...

January 1, 2011

Start the year with "Back to Nature" life style

at Woodstock's Biling Farm
The enlightening TED talk by Dan Barber reminds me that drinking tea is the easiest way we can connect to natural foods on daily basis.  All the good things which are produced in tea leave cells in fresh air would be gently simmered out from the dried leaves into your tea cup ....  His recent interview by NPR (at time marker 45:45) furthers the topic of tea's anti-angiogenetic property (RE: Dr. William Li's TED Talk in my Aug.09, 2010 blog entry) and  health benefits of natural foods with better flavor.

at farmer's market in Vermont
So my 2011 new year resolution (which should be easy to carry out) : more visit to farmer's markets and surrounding gardens, more cooking at home!