Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Celtic Blend Moment

A Tuesday. It is the calm before the storm. Today kicks off a whirlwind of activity, both at work andd at home. I know I should be much more organized and purposeful than I am. Much more. What I need is a serious cup of tea. That, or a martini.

But, as it is 8 a.m. and the goal is to make things better, rather than make things worse, I reach for tea. A serious tea. Celtic Blend from American Tea Room. I love that it is more than just an Irish Breakfast Tea. It is reaching for the roots, the core of Irish Breakfast Tea's being. It is Celtic. And it will kick you in the teeth. In a good way.

The blend is so serious, in fact, it requires the use of a mug rather than a tea cup. A pretty mug. But a mug all the same. (By the way, a pocket text disaster sent about a dozen copies of this photo to a group of my neighbors. They must think I'm REALLY excited about this tea. Which I am. But it doesn't excuse the barrage of tea photos. Sorry, guys.)

Bold, strong tannin flavor, and yet surprisingly smooth. It is the liquid warrior version of Enya.  Liquid velvet that packs a punch. I take my morning tea black, but this blend would be extremely cozy with milk and sugar. Maybe that will be my afternoon treat. In the meantime, I feel the fog breaking up, the goals become clearer. No longer a deer in headlights, it's time to make my move. This week will not jam my gears. Look out world, here I come. And I'm bringing my mug with me.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Dark Green Moment

Tomorrow is the first day of summer, and I'm reflecting on how different this year is for me compared to other years. For one thing, I'm absolutely consumed with food. Eating it, growing it, cooking it, reading about it...! I guess that happens when you can't eat for a year.

I'm paying more attention to seasonal ingredients, too. Maybe because I'm actually having some success with my own small garden for the first time EVER.

One result or side effect or... I don't know what to call it... is that now that I can drink tea again I seem to be most drawn to pure teas. No flavorings, no additions. I'm particularly enjoying the plain leaf: Assams, Ceylons, and so on.

As summer rolls in and my outdoor surroundings flourish and deepen in color and fragrance, I am suddenly craving some green tea. I am in luck! In the tea cupboard is an unopened package of Dark Green Needle from Teasource. It's been too long since I've indulged in this long, spindly leaf!

The first thing I notice as its steeping is that there is a slight fragrance of fresh corn. Apropros, as we've been enjoying corn on the cob and all manner of corn salads these past couple of weeks. I find that summer has arrived in my cup! The brew itself is a sunny, golden color, and the first sip provides a robust and refreshing flavor. Slightly nutty, a little earthy, that hint of golden corn, just barely, barely astringent.

So, Summer, I'm ready for you. Ready for a refill, too.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Moment with Les Miserables

Les Miserables is in town at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Orange County, and I was thrilled to be able to go with one of my fellow musical lovers, C. The last performance we attended was quite a different experience. We were both halfway through slightly challenging pregnancies and looked and moved with barge-like qualities. This time, we were able to fit into "normal" clothes and we sipped on champagne at intermission rather than nibbling on smuggled-in crackers in a dark corner.

This was my 4th time seeing Les Mis, and I fell in love with it all over again with this cast and crew. With its 25th Anniversary, the directors and producer have changed things up a bit: losing the stage turntable that allowed characters to walk and run at normal speed, created movement, and provided views of both sides of the barricade. They also incorporated sketches and drawings by the author of Les Miserable, Victor Hugo, into the backgrounds, giving it an added layer of depth. Did you know Victor Hugo was an artist in his own right? As an aside, I got to visit his home in Paris, and some of his drawings hang throughout the house, including a large charcoal sketch of Notre Dame - which explains his ability to describe the cathedral and so much of Paris with such clarity. He knows and understands the curves, the corners, the shadows and the light of the city. He was quite an amazing artist.

Some of the voices they chose for this production were a little different. Fantine's voice was more youthful and ethereal than I've heard before, and yet it does make sense. She was a young, single mother. My skepticism turned to full belief as I listened to her as she gave her only daughter to the care of Jean Valjean and then slipped away. Betsy Morgan's voice is absolutely haunting and beautiful. Eponine's voice was also a little different. Less jazzy, a little more refined than in other productions. I'm still not sure if I'm sold, though she reduced me to tears with her performance of "A Little Fall of Rain." 

The difference in staging was the biggest difference. The biggest win was the cafe. It felt more intimate with a clubhouse effect. And the choice to have "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" performed with no set at all, though I questioned it at first, ended up being even more heart-breaking. The greatest fail, however, was the barricade. This is a huge fail, I'm afraid. Without the turntable, the audience wasn't privy to both sides of the structure. As a result, the role of little Gavroche was a throwaway. His character lost all impact. For all his scrapping and inside-scooping under and around and over the barricade, because we couldn't see it, it didn't matter and his death was barely noticed. Eponine's death, too, lost a lot of impact. We didn't see her, or anyone, risking life and limb trying to slip unnoticed through the barricade.

Overall, though, a beautiful performance. I've been singing bits and pieces to myself for days and savoring little memories of scenes here and there. For example, how refreshing to witness the story of the priest as a hero!  The priest opened his home to a broken, wild ex-con, fed him, gave him a comfortable place to sleep. Instead of thanking him, Jean Valjean steals all his silver in the middle of the night. When apprehended and the police go to the priest to have charges pressed, the priest says no, the silver wasn't stolen, it was a gift. And, in fact, his guest had left behind the best ones on accident. This act of forgiveness is what sets Jean Valjean on his path to redemption and healing after being imprisoned for 20 years. This is an act that I would expect from my friends who are men of the cloth, and how lovely to see it played out on stage.

I don't know what C and I can go to after this. It's going to be a tough act to follow.  But, as with tea, attending performances such as these are even better when you have someone to share them with. So I raise my cup of tea (green, in honor of C's preference for the greens) to a beautiful production and a good friend with whom to see it!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Cup of Friendship Moment

There is something about having known someone since your childhood. There's a history, an unspoken understanding of who you are at your core. Years can go by, and yet the moment you're together again it's as if no time has passed. When sharing the latest, there's no need for any back story - they totally get why a story about your family is even funnier or even more disturbing because they know the cast of characters. And it gives you a greater appreciation for what those friends have accomplished in life because you really "knew them when." 

And so it was with great pleasure that I heard the wonderful news that my old friend, A, would be in the area for a Fellowship that she is just beginning. A and I have been friends since we were 4 years old - the very age Edie is right now. Our parents attended the same church, and eventually we not only went to church together but school together as well. I remember on occasion going home with her family after church and them stopping by Dairy Queen for an after church treat. A Peanut Buster Parfait to this day is my favorite indulgence there, and I can't pass a DQ without thinking of her family. As young girls we invented a "Sharing Box." It was a box we decorated together and kept things that we both liked, but of which there was only 1. Putting it in the Sharing Box gave us joint custody of the thing.

Peanut Buster Parfait. Parfait, indeed.
Growing up we had different, though overlapping, circles of friends. By the time college came around, we had drifted into our own worlds. But several years ago, we ran into each other in our home town and have checked in with each other fairly regularly. She lives in a remote area now, is a naturopathic doctor and has her own practice.  Talents and gifts I took for granted in her when we were growing up have served her and her community phenomenally well as an adult.  Being able to spend an entire day with her - I can't even express how much I enjoyed it!

What is that song? Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other is gold.

How true.

On my Mom's last visit here, she brought me a small box of coffee mugs that I had been given over the years. When A went to pour her morning cup of coffee (yes, I'll serve my guests coffee, if that is their fuel of choice!), she chose this mug:

What I don't know, but will have to ask her, is if she remembers giving this very mug to me when we were children.

This pondering of friendships made me think of Kyoto Obubu Tea Plantations and their drive to create friendships among international tea farmers as well as "students of tea,"among whom I count myself. These friendships are built through the International Tea Farms Alliance (ITFA) and the Global Tea Tasters Club. I brought out my December 2011 Shipment that introduced me to the PT Harendong Green Farm in Indonesia, and set up my own little cups of friendship to meet their green tea, oolong tea and red tea (what we Westerners call black tea).

Green... Oolong... Red

The Green had the slightest oolong-y perfume, and was what I consider the perfect balance of Japanese green tea grassiness and Chinese green tea earthiness. The flavor was full and substantial and hit all points of my palate - something that not all teas accomplish.  The Oolong was mellow and rich, and managed to be light all at the same time. So many oolongs can taste like flavored water that smells of a grandmother's perfume, but not this one. It fully enveloped all my senses without overpowering any of them. And the Red. I found it interesting that this, too, had the slightest essence of oolong and also just a hint of what I register as Puerh, or fermented tea. That said, these elements melded together into a perfect symphony. PT Harendong, it's so nice to meet you.

It's so lovely to be drinking and enjoying tea again! I'm meeting new teas and indulging in old favorites.

Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, and the other is gold.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Bed of Roses Moment

I saw something about Wordless Wednesday. Let's try it out with my roses, which may or may not be tea roses. I love them just the same.