27 January 2013

Thirteen Proprieties for Tea

"Third condition: Tranquil and elegant sitting area. When drinking tea in quiet and tasteful surroundings, a calm and quiet atmosphere, may you be at ease and unconcerned about the affairs of the world for a moment."

-Feng Ke Bing, Thirteen Proprieties for Tea from Annotations of Jie Tea (1642)

13 January 2013

Honey Sweet

You'd think the worst thing about being sick is how is makes you feel (really horrible). But equally as bad is how it makes you sound (really boring). So enough of all that talk.

One of the brighter moments over the haze of the holidays was preparing one of my absolute favorite teas in the kitchen where I grew up. I suppose that's what defines a home: a place that no matter how long as has passed since you've been there, you still know where everything lays. And in this kitchen, each cup, even every counter surface has such a patina of memory on it that I'm surprised they're not more visible than a few faded stains.

Jia Long was certainly not something I ever tasted growing up, unfortunately, but it's such a richly scented, deeply sweet oolong that the first time you do, it instantly becomes a visceral memory. Even in the cold air of New England in December, the aroma- like warming honey- filled the room. Everyone in my family who walked by while I was making it stopped and said, "What is that?"

As we sipped together, I told them about visiting the teahouse and farm of Mr. Chen, the incredibly talented farmer who makes this tea in northern Taiwan. As evocative as it is to taste here, having it prepared by the producer himself was transcendent.

His tea farm was also stunning, the scent of the leaf mingling with other heady tropical aromas, of wild ginger flowers and neon pink dragonfruit growing like weeds out of cracks in a stone wall.

I'm still surprised I was able to leave.

03 January 2013

Punishment Cookies

Pleasure and pain: you'd think being home sick for awhile wouldn't be so bad. But when it's pneumonia, and two weeks, you start wishing to be anyplace but in bed.

I can't verify the diagnosis because x-rays and tests are a bit out of my budget. However, this illness is an intense one, and brings with it a complete lack of appetite- for food and tea. Yes, it's that serious. So in order to claw my way back to health, I've been choking down ridiculously expensive oolongs and punitions, or punishment cookies, every few hours.

I read about these simple French sugar cookies in an article about Poilane bakery, in Paris. The focus of the piece was the baker, and the bread, but the mention of a small basket of these treats by the register- offered to every patron- haunted me for all of two days, until I found the recipe and made them my own.

Punishment Cookies
Makes: about 4 dozen

10 tablespoons unsalted butter (Kerrygold is my preference)
1/2 cup (125 g) sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
2 cups (280 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Put butter in a food processor and pulse, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until smooth. Add sugar and process until thoroughly blended; add the egg and process until the mixture is smooth and satiny. Add flour and salt, then pulse several times until dough forms into clumps.

2. Gather dough into two balls; press into disks and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate overnight or at least a few hours. When ready to bake, heat oven to 350°. Roll out one disk at a time to about 1/4-inch thick. Using a round or flower-shaped cookie cutter, cut and place cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Gather scraps and gently re-roll to cut more cookies. Repeat with remaining disk.

3. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, until cookies are set but still pale. Let cool on sheets for a few minutes, or transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Or watch this video of them being made by the original crazy Frenchman, by hand - truly, a work of baking art- and then feel lucky that things like cookies and clear lungs exist.