Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cuppa Good Tidings

If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.
~Japanese Proverb

How wonderful it is to steal a moment in the garden with a cup of tea when your life is crazy busy.

I am a tea and coffee drinker but in the last few years tea seems to be winning in the frequency department. Loose leaf teas are my preference. I think they simply produce a better, more flavorful cup of tea than a tea bag can usually manage. Since it’s the winter season when our tastes turn more toward certain spices I found my tin of The Republic of Tea Tea of Good Tidings. It’s a black tea blended with almonds, fruits, juniper berries and winter spices like clove and cardamom among others. Add a spoonfull of maple syrup to sweeten…ahh it is delish and never tasted so good as on a cold winter day. Discovering my tin was nearly empty I added it to my shopping list. I was surprised to find how many grocers do not carry Republic’s line of teas at all. Quite an extensive line it is and only one store had more than just a few varieties. If you are a reader local to the central Puget Sound area, Metropolitan Market is the grocer I discovered who carried the largest selection but by no means the whole offering of The Republic of Tea (RoT).

To my surprise even those stores that had holiday blends from RoT, none carried the particular one I was after. I was so bummed. Don’t tell me they don’t blend Tea of Good Tidings any more? So I got online and happily RoT’s website does offer it for sale. Believe me I searched several stores not being one who wants to add to the price with shipping costs but by the time I did all that running around I probably matched the cost in gasoline. So I ordered it. And when it arrived, quickly I might add, I was surprised at the size of shipping box for just one tin. Must be a lot of packing material, I thought. Don’t you just get annoyed sometimes with the amount of packing material you have to dispose of from some mail order companies? Well this one brought a smile to my face and a new level of respect for The Republic of Tea Company. Their tea bags are cut round to fit their round tins and when I pulled out all the piles of packing material it was obvious that it is the scrap paper after the cutter has cut out the circles used for the teabags. I’m always impressed when companies use their ‘waste’ as packing material that can be safely disposed of and/or reused by the consumer. And this being food safe, natural and unbleached paper can go into my compost pile! Bonus!

Kudos to you RoT for your innovative and responsible packaging practice and thank you for a lovely product. And I’m glad to see you are developing a more extensive line of whole leaf teas which I will be perusing for sure.

From a gardeners perspective the world of teas is fascinating. Black, green, white, Keemun, Oolong, Pouchong, Darjeeling and Pu-erh teas are all different teas, with very different tastes and differing caffeine levels but did you know they all come from the same plant? Camellia sinensis (Chinese Camellia) is the leaf but depending on what part of the bush or tree it was plucked from and how it is processed and fermented after harvest is one way all those differing varieties are created. That and where the plant is grown. Tea plantations are all over the world so depending on the soil and minerals found therein the tea leaves will taste differently. Red tea or Rooibos (pronounced roi-boss) is yet a different plant all together, found in Africa and is naturally caffeine free.

This is not meant to be a lesson on teas…I am not that well studied but I do highly recommend a tea tasting if you find one…they are insightful and fun where you will learn how to brew or steep the different teas. For instance green and white teas are delicate compared to black or Pu-erh tea and can only be steeped 3 minutes or they become very bitter. Some teas can be steeped more than once for a second or third cup but not others. And if you want less caffeine but don’t want to buy decaffeinated tea you can pour off the first steeping and lose most of the caffeine…but don’t try this with a delicate tea. Those are just some of the tidbits I learned from a tea tasting at a local tea shop.

This is an endorsement for loose whole leaf tea but is not a paid endorsement for RoT or any particular supplier of tea. I have found favorites over the years and I mail order that which I need from more than one company. I also frequent tea shops in my area where loose leaf teas are sold and I often check out the Asian markets. Some of my most favorite are from shops only found in an International District.

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Rhododendron, Daisy

Author’s photo

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Best Veggie Scrubber

"Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field."
~Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1890-1969, 34th US President

This may seem an odd subject to blog about but if you scrub as many fresh veggies as I do, this is important and I’ve wanted to write a short post on it for quite some time. If you have a lot of vegetables to scrub, a good scrubber will not only clean the food you are about to eat but will not cause bodily fatigue as you use it.

I’ve used a lot of things to scrub my vegetables, everything from nail brushes to those green Scotch Brite pads. Most things I’ve tried worked well, except the loofa sponge. It got soft as soon as the water hit it. The Scotch Brite pads conform well to a variety of odd shapes and crevices but they break down over time and need to be replaced often throughout the year. As I said most cleaned well enough but many also caused some thumb or finger fatigue after a while. Some even caused wrist pain due to the amount of pressure needed to really get the dirt off. Carrots for instance can hold onto a lot of dirt stain, even those store bought that had already been rinsed.

Last year while shopping for my organic veggies at my local health food store I saw this little gem. It has become the only one I use and it shows no signs of wearing out.

The coir bristles are good and stiff. I wondered if they would hold up when wet unlike the loofa.  They do. The store offered the brush in two sizes. The one shown here is actually marketed as a nail brush per the tag but I thought it a perfect size for my smallish hands. There is another larger size marketed as the veggie scrubber this one was a better fit. The bristles are so tough I actually wouldn’t want to use it as a nail brush. That skin surrounding your nails can be pretty tender. Matter of fact these bristles are a bit too rough for the tender-skinned new potatoes or freshly dug sweet potatoes but are great for the tougher potato skins.

I also like that it is made from all natural materials and distributed by a company that is local to the Pacific Northwest, committed to quality, its employees and selling products made mostly of materials that are recyclable or biodegradable.

So if you do a lot of scrubbing like I do, I hope you find and like this brush. Scrubbing vegetables isn’t such a chore with it…well it’s at least a more enjoyable chore.

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Rhododendron, Daisy

Author’s photo