Coffee and July 4th tree

Sunday, June 29, 2014

I normally do tea posts, so why coffee today? Well, after all, it was the infamous Boston Tea Party that turned us into a nation of coffee drinkers. In honor of those early patriots, I'm drinking a cup of coffee today, and celebrating the freedoms that our Founders fought for.

from George Washington's handwritten copybook
As I've been on vacation, and indulging a great deal, I have none of the usual cookies or scones to go with my coffee. When I was growing up, and we had a particularly big feast or had indulged ourselves, my mother would say that the next day would be just "coffee and conversation." I guess that would be to make up for eating so much. Has anyone else heard this phrase? (And yes, of course she would feed us; it was just an expression!) Anyway, for me, it will be just coffee and a book.

We have lots and lots of books on American history, the Founders and various presidents, and on politics, as we are all history lovers and spend lots of time discussing politics. No dearth of information around here. Witness the "presents"  I have placed around my Patriotic Tree . . .

I bought a little silvery accent tree in January during the sales, only a few weeks after telling my family that I really preferred real Christmas trees, and abhorred all the fake, made in China Christmas junk. What can I say? The tree reminded me of my husband's stories of the aluminum tree from his childhood, which came complete with a light that sat on the floor next to it, changing the tree's colors from red to green, blue, and yellow.

 So I bought it, even though, thankfully, it isn't made of aluminum. My husband said those branches cut his hands when he was helping put it up! I really couldn't wait until Christmas to use it, so the 4th of July was a perfect excuse.

And since our youngest son is running a campaign here out of the house this summer for our local senator, I thought a little red, white, and blue ambiance would be perfect for all the campaign interns and volunteers coming in and out of our house. Good excuse to keep it up a little longer than just through the holiday weekend, too.

I found these vintage-looking ornaments a few years ago, and was glad to be able to finally use them.

A red Christmas ornament works well, too . . .

I had a picture on the wall that didn't really go with the tree, so I just took a jacket off a book and carefully placed a few strategic pieces of tape on it and covered the picture . . . 

My sister- and brother-in-law send us the official White House ornament every Christmas. Several of them worked very well on my tree . . . 

The top of the grandfather clock gets a sand bucket with a couple flags and some small sparklers poking out of it.

How about another cup of coffee? There's more books to look at . . . 

I'm thankful for the sacrifices made so that we can live in freedom and peace. May it always be so.

Recipe for Indian chai

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I have a recipe to share today for some lovely Indian chai masala.* It is dark and rainy here, and a cup of spiced, milky tea sounded perfect to me. Normally, I think of chai for cold autumn or winter days, but consider what 19th century British Prime Minister William Gladstone said about tea . . . 

If you are cold, tea will warm you;
if you are too heated, it will cool you;
if you are depressed, it will cheer you;
if you are excited, it will calm you.

So there you have it; tea is good any time, even in hot, steamy weather. Tea is good for your health, too. Read my previous post here, which contains a list of the health benefits of black tea. The spices traditionally used in chai also provide health benefits. Different varieties of chai can contain cinnamon, ginger, fennel, cloves, cardamom, and peppercorns, spices which are known to improve digestion, fight inflammation, and strengthen the immune system, among other things.

Use the flat surface of a santoku knife to crush the cardamom pods. Also shown is a star anise. Star anise comes from an evergreen tree native to northeast Vietnam and southwest China.
By the way, the British-owned Indian Tea Association was responsible for promoting tea drinking in India in the early 20th century. Wanting to increase their profits by getting another nation besides themselves hooked on tea, they allowed tea breaks for the Indian workers. The British custom of adding a little milk and sugar was tweaked by Indian tea vendors who increased the amounts of sugar and milk and added spices. Apparently, the British weren't too happy that the subsequent recipe used less tea, thus cutting into their profits! India itself continued to promote tea drinking among its population, and now 70% of India's vast tea crop is drunk locally. India now leads the world in tea drinking.

Indian Chai Masala Recipe**

2 1/4 cups water
1 whole star anise
1 stick cinnamon
4 cardamom pods, cracked
4-5 black tea bags or 1/4 cup loose black tea
2 cups whole milk or half and half
1/4 cup sugar

Press the cardamom pods until they crack. Bring the water, tea, star anise, cinnamon, and cardamom to a boil. Boil for 3 to 5 minutes until the tea is black and has reduced to about 2 cups. Strain and add the sugar. Add the milk and stir until hot. Makes 4 American-sized servings or 12+ Indian-sized servings.

Straining the tea

Did you notice the serving size on the recipe? Four American-sized servings or 12+ Indian-sized servings? Talk about the American penchant for super-sized everything! However, this teacup contains about 1/4 of the recipe, so I don't think it's really huge. It is a rich drink; one teacup was plenty for me. 

*"Chai tea" is actually redundant, as "chai" means tea. The correct usage is actually "chai masala," masala meaning a blend of spices used in Indian cooking.
** This recipe comes from a very dear friend's daughter, who recently moved to India to use her master's degree in counseling psychology to help women who have been victims of trauma and abuse recover and find useful self-employment. 

Vacation tea

Sunday, June 22, 2014

As some of you know, we stayed in a beautiful rented condo on Lake Michigan this past week. It was a great week of walks on the beach, golf, sunburns, movie watching, and lots of talking and laughing. And one day, when it rained all day, a visit to a four-story antique store in Traverse City. 

The guys were happy to sit next door in a pub with the World Cup on, and we spent a lovely couple hours wandering around beautiful china, linens, books, lamps, furniture . . . there were so many delightful things I will surely have to go back next time I'm up north.

Look at the beautiful teacup I found . . . 

This says it's the Bridal Rose pattern by MZ Austria, I think. If that faded word at the bottom there is Austria, then this was made sometime between 1884 and 1909. I love china, but don't know a lot about it other than what I've looked up online, so I could be wrong. But isn't it fun to think I might be drinking out of a cup that someone in a real Downton Abbey-type setting might have used? Or later, sipped from while sitting next to a radio listening to Winston Churchill giving his "never give up" speech during World War II? So many histories could be assigned to this little cup!

I love wandering about antique shops and wondering about history and the lives of people who used or made the objects I pick up and admire. For instance, who sat and crocheted this lovely tablecloth?

I got this beauty to put on my kitchen table in between use. It is in perfect condition. I only knit and crochet a little, so I'm no expert, but this looks like it took a long time to make. It would take me forever. I'm going to have to make up a little story for myself about the woman who sat and worked hours and hours on this. What a treasure.

We also went to a little tea store in the town of Glen Arbor. They had this sign posted on the table with their black teas. Just in case you need convincing.

They had a wonderful selection of teas and spices. The owner was very knowledgeable, and made some Ceylon tea for us to taste. This spiced sugar smells and tastes delicious.

I'm looking forward to trying this Manitou Masala Chai tea. The tea must be named after the islands just off the coast here. South Manitou Island is visible from our condo, and there's a North Manitou Island as well, with ferry service to both. 

The teapot in the back was in one of the cupboards in the condo's fully equipped kitchen, a nice surprise.

We also found the Leelanau Coffee Brewing Company and got some delicious coffee. Check out the old-school dunesmobile on the front of the package. This area is famous for the huge Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Thanks for sharing a "vacation tea" with me. Check out these parties I'm linking with . . . 

S'more memories

Thursday, June 19, 2014

It isn't summer unless I have a s'more. I don't even really like them that much; I would gladly eat the chocolate and skip the rest. In fact, the graham cracker and marshmallow are just vehicles for carrying the chocolate to my mouth, so to speak. 

But really, there's nothing like toasting a marshmallow for a s'more over a campfire, trying to get it to the perfect stage of golden brown. The stars are winking overhead, everyone is pleasantly tired after a day at the beach or on the trails, someone's telling jokes or singing a song . . . when suddenly that perfectly toasted marshmallow bursts into flames and ends up a blackened, charred mess.

When you have children, there is one of two reactions when this happens -- tearful disappointment or unadulterated glee. The child who wants to make the perfect s'more and the child who is delighted to burn up an entire bag of marshmallows, three on a stick at a time.

our view of Lake Michigan last night
Making s'mores with children is fraught with danger. Take three excited, overtired children at the end of a long day, put them near an open fire and give them long, sharp, pointed sticks. Um, who came up with this brilliant idea? Mom and dad are on the constant alert, lest someone trip and fall into said fire or accidentally poke someone's eye out. There's always the possibility of a flaming marshmallow, wildly swung about in an attempt to extinguish the flames, slipping off and careening into the nearby nylon tent.

And the unsuccessful attempt to make sure all the graham cracker crumbs and dead marshmallows lying in the dirt around the fire have been cleaned up so that you don't wake up in the middle of the night to hear two angry, snarling raccoons fighting over the leftovers.

Enter adults staying at a condo on the beach, with fond memories, but no campfire at hand. It's summertime; s'mores are clearly called for after a day at the beach.

Well, necessity is the mother of invention as they say.

Now, those of you who own toaster ovens have probably already thought of this, or have done this. But, when I thought of using the toaster oven in this fully equipped kitchen to make s'mores, I felt Positively Brilliant.

tip the marshmallows over and toast "s'more"

No fuss, no mess. No sticky fingers all over the clean sleeping bags despite mom's best attempts at wiping little faces and fingers clean before bed. No marshmallow residue in a child's hair, resulting in a matted tangle. A nice perfect s'more.

So how come I miss those campfire days so much?

Coffee and a view

Monday, June 16, 2014

 We are staying at a beautiful condo on Lake Michigan near Traverse City. This is our view as we have our morning coffee . . .

Linking with Teatime Tuesday.

Popsicles and "martinis"

Friday, June 13, 2014

Summertime . . . and the livin' is easy . . .

What better way to relax than by listening to some happy music and having something cool 
and refreshing? 

Start out with a pink "martini," a blend of pomegranate juice and sparkling water. A slice of lime in this would be even better.

Or maybe, a cool strawberry popsicle?

Listen to your favorite music . . . 

My daughter made these for me years ago, and they remain two of my favorite CDs. The 40s Fun
includes 40s and 50s music from the Andrews Sisters and Peggy Lee to Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra. Mama's Mix (so sweet) includes all kinds of great classics from Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald to the Monkees and Motown to favorite movie soundtracks. I often put these on, not while lying in a hammock, actually, but when I have a lot of housework to do. They keep me in a happy mood!

Enjoy your weekend friends!

Linking with Pink Saturday.

Caesar club sandwich -- and a present!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Thank you, dear blog friends, for the well wishes during my recent illness. A little lingering cough, but I'm feeling much better.

I'm always looking for suggestions from my family when I plan the week's menu, and my son, who is home from college this summer, asked me to make this Caesar club sandwich. I had forgotten all about it. So glad he reminded me, because it is delicious.

It is very simple, just chicken and bacon, lettuce and tomato, with a delicious homemade Caesar dressing, on a crusty baguette. The dressing is so good; whenever I make this I wonder why I don't make all my dressings from scratch. They are infinitely superior to the bottled versions.

Here's the dressing recipe . . . 

Caesar Dressing

1 large garlic clove
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons anchovy paste
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup mayonnaise

This is a thick dressing, good for spreading on a sandwich. If you want a thinner dressing for a salad, I've found that adding about 1/3 cup olive oil  to the above recipe will do the trick. I had just two tiny slices of lemon left, so I made do with that. I used lots of parsley from my little herb garden on my deck. Just whirl everything together in a food processor.

Roast chicken breasts with olive oil, salt, and pepper (350 F for about 35 to 40 minutes) and cook the bacon. Slice your tomatoes and wash some greens, whatever you like; spinach, romaine, or arugula.

This tomato looks rather anemic; I can't wait until the garden tomatoes come in.

You can toast your baguette if you like.



While I was typing this post, the doorbell rang. A friend's husband hand-delivered this lovely and promising-looking present.

Do you think I possess the self-restraint to wait until my birthday? Dear Reader, I opened it.

Yay! A beautiful teapot! Thank you, dear friend! I will use this often! And it has the perfect "feel" to it for pouring, an important criterion, as well as being gorgeous!

And because she knows I've been sick, she sent me some restorative Vitamin C. Hey, it says it's made with orange juice, right? Yummy, I love these!

Linking with . . .

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