Friday, February 28, 2014

Matcha Jelly Roll

Just in time for St. Patrick's Day...a matcha jelly roll!  Not only is it pretty, but it also tastes (gently) of matcha.  This was my first-ever attempt at a jelly roll, so it's a little messy, but I was pleased overall.

I used this recipe.  It worked pretty well.  I agree that you need to sift the flour three times!  Not only does it add air to the flour, but it also ensures your matcha is evenly distributed throughout the mixture.



I had a tear along the side of the roll, but it remained intact overall and worked out OK.  I also thought the cake was a little dry. Next time, I will wrap it in a moist towel (instead of leaving it in its parchment paper). If you have jelly roll tips, will you share them?  Thank you!

Monday, February 24, 2014


I am thinking of my friend who thought of me when she spied this lovely cup and saucer at an estate sale, and procured it for me.   It's become a favorite.  I learned it's satsuma porcelain.  It's a diminuitive, delicate cup. (I'm drawn to the small ones, it seems).  It doesn't seem small in this photo because of its normal proportion to the teapot.  The thing is this:  That teapot is a little one, too!

This friend recently  had a birthday, and so I celebrate her from a distance!  She's a very benevolent spirit. 

Here's an excerpt from a Baisao poem.  It's  nice to contemplate...

"Sake fuels the vital spirits, works like courage,
Tea works benevolently, purifying the soul.

Courageous feats that put the world in your debt

Couldn’t match the benefit benevolence brings."

Friday, February 21, 2014

Afternoon Tea at the Mandarin Oriental, Vegas

Me, having afternoon tea at the Mandarin Oriental in Vegas

I was recently in Vegas for work and managed, despite my busy schedule, to squeeze in time for tea at the Mandarin Oriental.  A girl needs priorities and I was desperately seeking quiet time.  Working trade show events and being constantly 'on' can take a toll even on the most outgoing of us.    

 The Mandarin Oriental is a respite.  It has great views of the strip, but more importantly to was peacefully quiet and smelled nothing of smoke, not even a subtle hint of it.

The tea I chose was the Mandarin blend, a black with essence of orange.  I should have known better and stuck with an English Breakfast.  I'm very, very picky about teas and this was so-so.  But the afternoon tea service more than made up for the just-OK tea.  It was delicious!  On the pricey side, but my mental health is worth it.

The afternoon tea was not an Asian theme; it's standard British-style fare.  However, the Mandarin does offer a gong fu cha service for parties of 3 or more.  Next year I will plan for this and drag along some colleagues.  ;-)

The three-tiered server was very novel. It's a stand-alone unit next to the table and curves back at a slight angle.  The savories were my favorite of the three courses (that's normal for me).  The presentation was spot-on!

Creamy deviled egg and lavash

Smoked salmon and cucumber with watercress spread

Tartlet of mango with goat cheese and spice bread crisp

Black Forest ham sandwich

Traditional scones with cherry preserves and imported Devonshire cream

And for dessert...

Blueberry cream puff (on the right), rum cake (mini bundt), yuzu tartlet with raspberry center and sugared rose (my favorite), a coffee-flavored cake in the little purse (not for me, I don't like coffee) and a passion fruit truffle in the back (also very good!)

If you are in Vegas, I recommend taking your gambling money and going to the Mandarin Oriental for afternoon tea instead!  That way, you're sure to win.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sprouts Under the Snow (Japanese Sweet)

Sprouts Under the Snow

Recently, we had snowy weather in Oregon!  I was also playing around with my first batch of shiro an, a sweet bean paste made from white beans.  I'll write more about the process of making the bean paste soon.  But for now...the sweet.

This type of sweet is served with matcha, powdered green tea, during the Japanese Tea Ceremony.  It's customary to provide a poetic name to utensils, the tea bowl and to sweets.  So in that spirit and given the weather, I named this sweet "sprouts under the snow".  This sweet is nothing more than bean paste and sugar (with a dot of food coloring).  It's naturally vegan and gluten/soy/dairy-free, so a great sweet for anyone with food allergies.  It's also DELICIOUS!  I know that sweetened bean paste sounds a little funny to most of us Americans, but it really is yummy! 

Daffodil sprouts under the snow

Saturday, February 15, 2014

February is For...

Plum Blossom Herbal Tea

Plum Blossoms!  In Japanese culture, February denotes the time for the delicate and long awaited plum blossom.  The plum is an early blooming tree that blossoms despite the cold weather.  It is one of the three friends of winter, with bamboo and pine.  I haven't seen any plums blooming around here yet, but it may be blooming in the protected shelter of the Japanese or Chinese gardens.  The DH (dear hubby) brought in these plum branches so that they would bloom in February for me (Awww!)

Dried plum blossoms make a delicious tisane, with a pleasing aroma and subtle tart flavor.  The buds hold up to numerous steeps and are said to be good for general relaxation.  My plum blossom herbal tea came from New Century Tea Gallery in Seattle.

Both plum and cherry blossoms are common in Japanese arts and crafts.  A rule of thumb for telling them apart is that cherry blossoms have a little notch in the end of the flower petal while plum blossoms do not.  I believe the motif in the teapot below is plum (no notch).  If anyone thinks differently, please tell me.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Naming of My Tea Bowl

The tea bowl, Richard Brandt (potter) and me

After watching my new Raku-style tea bowl's birth, I was lucky to be able to enjoy the first bowl of tea made it in.  Not only that, but it was whisked by my sensei.  Cool!  Before drinking, as is the custom with matcha, I  had a sweet. A red bean paste center with white bean paste outer - so, so good!  The sweet prepares my taste buds for the matcha.

Traditional style Japanese tea sweets

The tea was delicious!  And it was so special to be the first to drink from the bowl.
Enjoying the first bowl of tea

Next Richard packed the bowl carefully into its cedar box.  The box is an important aspect!  As you will see, it tells the tea's story.

The tie on the box lies flat, making it easy to stack other boxes on top!  I had to learn how to tie it correctly.

The next exciting part of this journey is the naming of my bowl.  My sensei, Margie of the Issoan Tea School, kindly offered to name the bowl and calligraphy its name onto the box.  She thought carefully about the names she chose and she practiced her calligraphy before working on the boxes.  Such a gift!
The top of the box says black raku tea bowl.  The character on the top left is cha (tea) - the only one I can recognize consistently.  :-)

Inside says Issoan Soya (name of tea school and Margie sensei's tea name), and Kin Pu - Golden Wind. That is the name of my bowl.  Isn't Golden Wind a beautiful image?

I know I will enjoy making and sharing many bowls of tea with Kinpu.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

The Birth of a Tea Bowl

Meet this gorgeous new tea bowl that has decided to come and live with me.  I was very fortunate to be able to watch this bowl (hand made by potter Richard Brandt) come to life!  It's a black Raku-style bowl, which is considered very formal in the Japanese Tea Ceremony.  It is prized for its "wabi" aesthetic, its humbleness, simplicity and earthiness.  I learned to call this Raku-style because "Raku" is actually a family name and true Raku bowls are those made by this family.  Everything else is in the style of Raku.   (And if this isn't what you think of as Raku, you're probably thinking of Western Raku, with its cobalt blue and other shiny colors.  While sharing the same roots as traditional Raku, it's a different process.)

The bowl I chose was sitting in front of me, softly whispering my name

Raku is hand shaped rather than formed on a wheel. This makes each bowl clearly unique in shape and size. Those unique qualities get amplified when the bowl is coated with slip and then put into the kiln, where it's a mystery what will happen to the glaze and the ultimate character of the bowl! (Note that historical slip used lead, but this is lead free.)  We were using the last of Richard's "Barnard slip", a special clay and recipe. There is no more of this slip to be had; the earth deposits have all been mined.  It is with an extra sense of gratitude and responsibility for all that the earth gives us that I observed the process.

Richard is applying the Barnard slip

My bowl waiting to be fired

View from the top of the kiln.
The black shape is another tea bowl; the red glow is from the intense heat.

The kiln got up to over 1850 degrees (F).  Seems pretty hot to me, and yet this is considered a low temperature firing!  The result is a rather porous bowl.  After 15 minutes or so of firing, Richard opens the kiln.  
I literally gasped - it's so beautiful!

Bowls ready to be taken from the kiln
After a brief period of cooling, Richard takes the bowls - still glowing red - and dunks them into water.  
Still glowing from the kiln

As the bowl enters the water, you see that it's black

A brave man; the water is steaming!

After a few moments, Richard reaches into the water and brings out the bowl.  It's still quite hot!
My baby!  Can you see that it's still steaming?

In my next post, I will share with you my first bowl of tea in this vessel and the naming of this bowl!

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Happy Year of the Horse and Happy Spring!

Photo from the Independent

Yesterday began Chinese New Year, with the first new moon of the calendar year.  It's a week long celebration in China and throughout the region.  A time to visit with family, have parades, eat good food, and set off fireworks.  Truly, it's a national holiday.  

You can read a lot of predictions about 2014 and what it means as the Year of the Horse from the Chinese Zodiac.  I prefer this description, shared by my sensei, "A year of running smoothly."  

On Feb 1 each year, the DH (dear hubby) and I also celebrate the first day of spring.  It's something the DH came up with a long time ago on his own.  Then he found out it aligned with many "spring" festivals of early cultures.  Cool, huh?  When people pay attention to the earth, she speaks to us.

Forsythia that the DH and I encouraged to bloom early

It may not feel like spring to my family and friends having a truly serious winter this year.  Nonetheless, you can trust that under the blanket of snow and ice, the daffodils are stirring.  Have hope!