11 June 2012

Phoenix Morning

It's almost summer, no doubt about it.

I'm up before 5am, and there's plenty of birds to keep me company. It stays light so late I lose all track of time (although that phenomenon does seem to span multiple seasons). All this means more hours in which to drink tea—I do drink it after dark, but usually only an oolong that I've been nursing all day and I can't bear to part with, or a pu-erh that's older and wiser than I am.

The other morning I was lucky enough to have a bit of a gorgeous Phoenix Song Dynasty to start the day. It's a carefully twisted, semi-oxidized oolong from China that seems to reveal more of its green-ness with each steeping. Woody, lightly sweet and intensely fragrant, this is a tea you can get lost in before you even realize what's happened.

But after five cups, I had to break down and have something to eat. I wanted something as floral and lingering as the tea, and this strawberry ginger jam was the answer.

It's something I make every late spring, as soon as those little plump rubies appear in the farmer's market. They're around for just a few short weeks and it's hard to not just eat them out of hand, but this jam helps extend the season a little longer.

Strawberry Ginger Jam
Makes: about 1 1/2 cups

1 small lemon, peel and pith removed, flesh coarsely chopped
5 cups strawberries, hulled, halved if large
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan; heat to boiling then lower to a gentle simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes or until thick.

This is lovely slathered on olive oil cake for breakfast, or just eaten on a spoon—whatever lets you get back to the tea more quickly.

03 June 2012

The Demon Bean

I get asked, "Do you drink coffee?" a lot.

OK, maybe not that often. But it usually comes up with anyone I drink tea with on a regular basis. I don't dislike the idea of coffee—it's just another feel-good plant plus hot water formula—but I find it overwhelming on all sensory fronts. It's strongly scented, strongly flavored, loud to prepare and often to consume. Tea's subtlety, on the other hand, tends to lead me inward, as I watch the leaf unfold and take in its aromas on a wisp of steam. My mind has to quiet to fully absorb the experience.

I can appreciate coffee in a few contexts, though. Since working as a barista (which was interesting due to my intense dislike of espresso) I can enjoy a beautifully made shot once in awhile—and understand how much skill and focus went into producing it.

It's been the best training for my palate as well, as preparing good espresso requires frequent adjustments and constant tasting. Tasting something I like (tea) is easy; tasting something that I really don't requires enough focus to get past my emotional reaction and pay attention to flavor analytically.

And then there's Cafe Du Monde (800 Decatur St.), in New Orleans. I don't get to go there as much as I'd like, but when I am, anything other than a cafe au lait to accompany those deep-fried, diabetic bombs known as beignets just wouldn't taste right.