Monday, January 25, 2016

A Moment to Discover the Secrets of the Best Chai

It's my birthday today, and I've been sitting here, enjoying a cup of my favorite Assam, thinking about tea. And chai, as it turns out.

Assam by Joseph Wesley Black Tea
Chai. I see and hear about it everywhere. The thing is, I most often hear about it terms of "chai lattes," which is kind of chai, but not quite.

What makes a good chai? What's the secret to making the Best Chai? I turned to my friend, Joe Uhl, founder of Joseph Wesley Black Tea, and here are the secrets that he shared:

My wife is Indian, so whenever I go to India I take note of my wife’s aunts' various techniques and have my cousins take me to their favorite chai wallahs where I make everyone laugh with embarrassment as I ask a lot of questions and show much too much interest in process. I learned a few important lessons about masala chai (secrets that are not in my recipe) this last trip and during previous trips:  

(1) The best chai wallahs always simmer their milk for hours to reduce the water content and increase the fat content.  This is important to create a heavier and more silky “mouthfeel” as the kids like to say. 
(2) The best chai wallahs almost invariably boil their milk.  This is important because boiling the milk will actually brown the sugar. I’ve found it easiest to boil the milk before simmering (I boil it three times.  Let it come to a rapid boil, take it off the heat, let it come to a rapid boil, take it off the heat, let it come to a boil and then take it off the heat.  When you return the milk the fourth time, reduce the milk to simmer and let it simmer for as long as you can.) 
(3) Although the chai wallahs rarely do this, I’ve found that it’s best to infuse your milk with your spices and then add your pre-made chai/tea concentrate with a 1 to 1 ratio — instead of infusing the actual tea and adding milk.  This provides you a much longer time to allow the spices to develop as you allow the milk to thicken. 
(4) Actual milk is rarely used by the best chai wallahs. Almost all chai wallahs use evaporated milk instead of whole milk, although I’ve had occasion to have goat’s milk masala chai (in southeast asia everyone uses sweetened condensed milk).  I know it’s not fashionable with the youth, but evaporated milk creates the je ne sais quoi almost always missing in North American masala chai attempts.  — Sweetened condenses milk has a lot to offer too, but in my old age it’s just too sweet for me.  
(5) Black peppercorns are not essential but really important — much more than fresh ginger (although ginger can add something nice to a masala chai) — with that in mind, I like to add a pinch of salt to enhance some of the spices lurking in the background.
Recipe and Image by Joseph Wesley Tea

In honor of Joe's willingness to share his Chai Secrets, and because it's my birthday, I'm giving away a free copy of Joe's amazing book. The Art and Craft of Tea.

To be entered into a drawing to win a copy of this book, please vote on which chapter you would read first in his book. You may vote in the comments here, or Twitter, or Facebook or Instagram. Tag me (@teamoment). You may enter once per social media platform. The drawing will take place this Friday. January 29th at 12 p.m. Pacific Time. So, which chapter would you read first?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Moment with Snowmen

My aunt is the type of person who creates beauty wherever she goes. From painting to woodworking, to quilling, to gardening, to sewing... you name it, she can create it. In the years after I acquired my driver's license, her house would be a regular stop to say hello. There would always be snacks and fun stories, a sympathetic ear, and a new project to see. There would also be the seasonal decor.

Nearly every month, there is a new theme, reflective of the appropriate upcoming holiday or season. While we were home for the holidays, it was with great pleasure that we stopped in to see said aunt a couple of days after Christmas. January decor was in full force, which of course means... Snowmen.

Even though we had promised we were coming by just for a very short visit, there was a pot of tea and a tray of treats. And, of course, no detail was overlooked. Milk and sugar cubes - with tongs even!

It was a quick visit, a needed visit, a hearkening-back-to-old-times visit. And I'm so glad that Edie could be there to experience a glimpse of the magic that is Aunt S. Tea and cookies, some moments to play with her cousin, soaking in the beauty created by this relative that we only see a couple of times per year. It's important. It's part of who I am, of who she is, and I look forward to more of these precious moments each time we go home.

And while I can never seem to stay on top of the changing seasons in my own household, and certainly not seasonal decor, this visit has inspired me to get out the few snowmen I have. Funnily enough, 2 out of the 3 were gifts from her~

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Moment With New Eyes

I've heard so many people describe that first morning. And now it was my turn. I woke up. I opened my eyes. I could see the detail of the drawer pulls on my dresser across the room. I turned to look at the clock on my husband's night stand. I could read what time it was. It was 4:07 a.m.

I could see.

For people who have been near-sighted for any length of time, you understand that extra step that is necessary to begin any real functionality every morning. Whether it is reaching for the glasses on the night stand or going into the bathroom to put in contacts. There's an extra step just to be able to do anything. Sometimes, due to laziness or necessity, you do things blindly - navigating through the room or the house without running into walls or furniture, distinguishing by touch toothpaste tubes from lotions or ointments that might also be laying on the counter. I identify approaching people by their walk rather than their faces. Even my kids knew the routine. My youngest had been waking me up by laying my glasses on my chest in the morning.

And thank goodness for this extra step. The fact that there are such aids available is amazing and necessary and not to be taken for granted. But not being able to see more than 1 foot in front of me without these aids, is a bit scary.

Modern technology is amazing. It's been 1 month since my LASIK procedure, and I am seeing the world with new eyes. There's a sense of awe every time I wake up and can just... begin. No extra steps. Just open my eyes and go.  Trees are more beautiful, flowers are more intricate, clouds are fluffier, my girls' eyes are brighter. Not because I can see better, but because I am constantly amazed that I can see with just my eyes alone. It's life-changing.

Some might think I'm being over-dramatic in my exuberance in this now-common surgery. But for me, having worn glasses for nearly 30 years and contacts for nearly 20, this is magical.

In the midst of my gratitude for this miracle (in my mind) and gift of sight, I'm aware that ultimately nothing around me has changed. It's how I'm absorbing those things that has changed. I am in the moment. I am soaking in my surroundings as they appear, rather than thinking 5 or 10 or 60 minutes ahead to where I need to be next, what needs to happen next.

How do I keep this current state of awe? How do I nurture this sense of gratitude for the things that I can see? I suppose that is something that a morning cup of tea can be, and often is, for me. The ritual of being present, of seeing what is in front of me, right here, right now.

In this New Year, what are you looking at with new eyes or new awareness? And how will you keep that newness alive. I'd love to learn from you.