Sunday, December 30, 2012

Fabulous Fabric Rings

I've been making these fabulous fabric rings for gifts (and a few for myself!).  Thanks to the tutorial from V & Company.  I found the ring bases at JoAnn's and used fabric from my stash.  The ring takes only a 1" by 10" strip.  I enjoyed matching the colors of the rings to the personalities of my friends.

My suggestions:  Dedicate the first ring to getting the process figured out, and the rest will be fun and fast!  I also recommend (on the final step) applying pressure to hold the ring base and fabric together so that they have a wide base of adhesion.  

I experimented with different shapes.  The ring below is one of my favorites.  :-) 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

I Just Couldn't Help Myself...

A jumper dress for the niece, dress for Kanani (the doll) and skirt for me!  :-)  This fabulous fabric came from my tea friend in Hawaii (some of you know her).  I'm very grateful.  My niece thought it was so cool since Kanani is from Hawaii, too. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

True Riches

May you enjoy true riches:
Love, family and friends, quiet peace
and good tea!


Friday, December 21, 2012

Celebrating Light

You can't have a light without a dark to stick it in. ~Arlo Guthrie

Today is the Winter Solstice, a day that I like to acknowledge.  We've made it through hours of increasing darkness and now the earth and we passengers in the Northern Hemisphere turn toward the light once more.  Light and dark - both important.  It's what we do with those times that matters. 

Keeping it light, I had fun last evening.  I joined a group of fellow revelers to run through a festively lit part of town.  The entire neighborhood of old Tudor houses goes all-out with twinkly lights.

Wishing you a light-filled holiday!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Making Tea in Kimono (A Special Gift)

At my chanoyou tea lesson last week, I was given a very special gift!  My sensei dressed me in one of her kimono and obi so that I could practice walking and making tea in kimono.  The kimono limits movement and adds volume to the sleeves, things that must be attended to when making tea!

The gift continued....she photo-documented the experience for me!  I'm so lucky to have a very generous teacher!  (Learn more about the Issoan Tea School.)  I feel compelled to confess - these photos make me look like I know what I'm doing!  ;-)  I'm still very much a beginner, needing to be coached through the process and clumsy in my ways.  However, with each lesson I grow in my knowledge, precision and confidence. 

Many of you have expressed an interest in what a Japanese Tea Ceremony looks here is a summary view from the perspective of the host making tea.  I'm sharing this wonderful gift with you.  Enjoy!

We begin with a bow and a greeting.  The host then stands and enters the room. 

Next the host carries in the utensils and places them in precise locations. 
The number of trips required varies depending on the procedure being used.  (A key learning for me along this journey - there are hundreds of tea procedures, not just one way!)

The host settles and takes a moment to gather composure, then removes the fukusa (silk cloth) from the obi (the wide belt).  The fukusa is folded in several special ways for purification of utensils.  I like this photo because it shows the sitting position (on knees/heels).

The color of the fukusa for women is typically red or orange, yang (male) colors to balance the feminine energy.  Correspondingly, men use deep purple, a yin (female) color.

I've just had an ah-ha.  The folding of the fukusa is becoming comfortable to me...that is something that at one point I never thought I'd master.  Progress!

Purifying the utensils is an important aspect of the procedure.  This is a symbolic act, as all utensils are clean when brought into the tea room.
Next the host opens the lid to the kettle.  Notice the length of the kimono sleeve.

And then the host pours hot water into the tea bowl.  Then she/he inspects the whisk and brushes the tines through the warm water.  This warms the tea bowl and the bamboo whisk.

Now the host pours off the excess water.  This step is one of the reasons my sensei wanted me to practice in kimono.  I have to be very careful not to drag my sleeve through the water basin.

The host uses a linen cloth to purify the outside and inside of the tea bowl. 

Now make tea!  The host adds two scoops of matcha, along with half a ladle of hot water.  The matcha is whisked briskly until the powder is well incorporated into the tea and a beautiful, silvery-green foam appears on top.

Now the host rotates the bowl so that the front is facing the guest, and places it next to the kettle for the guest to retrieve.

Finishing the ceremony:  The guest will have already enjoyed a sweet (very important to balance the flavor of the matcha!).  S/he will move forward and collect the tea bowl, acknowledge the host for making it and lift in silent thanks.  The guest then turns the front away (out of respect) and enjoys a delicous bowl of matcha!  The guest returns the bowl and the host prepares bowls for others.  Once everyone has been served, the host will tidy up and remove the utensils, and the ceremony finishes with a silent bow.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Joy in Small Things

Joy comes in simple things, like chocolate chip pancakes

It's not the holiday hoopla that I long for this season.  It's the muffled quiet of a new snowfall, the full moon in December, watching Christmas specials on TV with my Mom, a cup of hot chocolate, hearing my niece's voice, the DH's (dear hubby's) laugh.

What simple things do you long for?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Stash Tea's New Tea Bar in Portland

New Stash Tea store in Portland

Along a pretty tree-lined street in Portland OR,  Stash Tea has opened a tea bar and retail store.  This is the second retail store for the company and the first tea bar.  The neighborhood, Mississippi Avenue, is known for its independent and artsy shops and I very much enjoy visiting.  The Stash Tea Bar is a nice addition.

You probably know of Stash from is colorful teabags.  Until recently, I didn't realize that the company also sells loose-leaf teas.  When you walk into the store, you're greeted on the right by canister after canister of the loose leaf, and on the left by floor-to-ceiling shelves with teas ready for purchase.  You can also find a nice selection of tea pots and other implements.  I was particularly fond of little ceramic storage jars, and the price was very reasonable.  If you prefer bagged teas, you can find those, too.

Thanks to Stash Tea for this photo

Thanks to Stash Tea for this photo

While you're at it, sample one of the teas on display and contemplate a tea latte or other beverage at the tea bar.  The friendly staff will be happy to tell you about Stash's history and the architecture of the retail space.

The open and bright space is pleasant.  Grab a seat by the window to enjoy your tea beverage as you watch the hip shoppers pass by on the street.

Stash Retail Store and Tea Bar
3972 N Mississippi Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97227
Sunday-Saturday: 10 AM - 6 PM

This picture is just so, so Portland with the cyclist and the pretty trees!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Gifts for Herbal Tea Lovers

Many of you have enjoyed my series on herbal infusions (mostly from the garden).  I thought I'd wrap up the year by pointing to a couple of vendor sources.

Bird's Eye Tea recently sent me a box of samples to review.  I'm always eager to support a small business, and this one is in my neck of the woods.  One of my favorite things about these samples was the hand labeling.  In the picture above and below, I'm drinking the Honeybush Spice.  It's a delicious and sweet cup, though no sweetener is added.  The sweetness comes from the honeybush itself, and balances well with the other warming spices.  I've also tasted the Xocotal which is unlike any hot chocolate I've ever had!  It's made of raw cacao, rose petals, chamomile, spearmint, ginger, cinnamon, star anise, chipotle powder and roasted cacao nibs.  Per the instructions, I steeped it, added some warm milk and then a bit of sweetener.  (I used just a touch of agave.)  It was really good!  Bird's Eye Tea offers these two herbal blends along with others as a tea-of-the-month arrangement.  See the website for more details.  I'm sending best wishes to this small, woman-run business.

Two Leaves Tea Company also recently sent me a sachet sampler packIt came with 18 tea sachets, samples from the entire line.  About half of these sachets are herbal teas, and I've been enjoying them in the evening.  This would make a nice gift for someone who appreciates herbal teas or is beginning to expand his/her knowledge of of  teas.  It's priced right at $14.95

Got any perfect herbal tea gifts to recommend?

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Gong Fu Brewing in a Bowl

Question from reader:  "I'm a newbie.  I have a little clay teapot, but nothing else.  Can I still brew in Gong Fu style?" 

Steph's thoughts:  Yes!  For me, the spirit of tea is about humbleness and simplicity.  I love all the special tools and pretty accessories that surround tea brewing, but they are collections.  Making a good pot of tea requires very little.  In truth, sometimes the other stuff gets in the way.  

Gong Fu brewing can be done very simply.  In the picture above, I've taken a bowl from the cupboard.  Into that I've placed a small glass container to use as a rest for the the teapot.  (This is not necessary.  I did this because my bowl is very deep.)  Simple Gong Fu brewing in five steps:

  1. Warm.  Fill the teapot with hot water.  Put on the lid and then pour water over the pot.  The bowl catches the runoff.  Also warm your teacups and, if using, your serving vessel. 
  2. Add tea.  Pour off the hot water from the teapot and add your tea.  Put on the lid, wiggle in your hands, then lift the lid and enjoy the aroma.
  3. Rinse.  Now add hot water.  Many people prefer a quick rinse of the leaf, so after a very few seconds, pour this off.  (You could use this rinse water to warm your teacups if you haven't yet.)
  4. Brew.  Pour more hot water over your leaves.  This is your first brew, and it will be very short because in Gong Fu brewing, you use a high ratio of dry leaf to water.  Between 30 seconds and 1 minute, typically, depending on your tea.  While the tea is steeping, pour off the water in your teacups and serving vessel.
  5. Serve.  If desired, decant the tea into the serving vessel.  Pour into the cups.  Enjoy and repeat for several brews!
Here's the actual setup I used with a friend.  I have an extra bowl (also from the cupboard) because we went through several pots and I needed the extra waste water capacity.  The remaining items are fun and beautiful additions.  They aren't necessary to brew the tea well.  The utensils in the upper right include tongs for handling the teacups, a scoop for the tea, etc.  On the right is a little serving pitcher.  A creamer works just fine.  The brush can be used to sweep the dry leaf into the pot and to bathe the clay teapot with hot water as you brew.  

The key message: Making tea is a humble pursuit and requires very little.  All the extra stuff is for fun, but not necessary. Does this ring true for you?  Or, how does tea foster simplicity in your life?    

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Date Night at Uwajimaya

The DH (dear hubby) and I visited Uwajimaya's last weekend and we shared a fun two hours wandering the aisles, marveling at the unique and interesting items.  We were also goofing around, as you will see.  Uwajimaya is a large Asian grocery store, with its core being Japanese.  Visiting here is like taking a mini trip to Asia without getting on a plane.  Below are some photos of our adventure.  Of course, I had my eye on tea items.

Greeting us at the door, "Ready to Drink" oolong tea

The most exciting moment - finding A Tea Reader in the book section!
(I have an essay in this anthology.)

Lots and lots of tea choices (including Pu-Erh cakes) and these bubble tea supplies

The DH locked me up in these Chinese finger cuffs
And red bean ice cream!  I would have previously been suspicious, but after having so many delicious sweets in my Japanese Tea Ceremony classes based on red beans, I think this ice cream would be great.

Do you have an Asian grocer near you?  What do you find interesting or like to buy?

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Meatless Monday 16: The Tofurkey Report

Tofurkey with mushroom gravy

In case you're curious, the Tofurkey at Thanksgiving was much better than expected.  In taste and texture, it was surprisingly passable.  It's not shaped like a turkey.  It comes as a loaf with a delicious wild rice stuffing in the center.  Ironically, it's local too!  Tofurkey is made just up the road in Hood River, OR.

Decent though it was, one slice was enough for me.  The rest was enjoyed by the DH throughout the week.  He insists that it was even better cold, straight from the fridge.  A fun experiment, but I still prefer the sides.

I comprised the pretty centerpiece below from cuttings made during a walk earlier that day.  Crabapples, rose hips, black eyed Susans, daisies, snow berries?  (I'm not sure what the white ones are) and evergreens.  It will be interesting to see what's available at Christmas, just one month later.

Have you tried Tofurkey?  OR...what's available outside right now for you to use in an arrangement?