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Tea with a Difference

Catching up with the extended family cousins who have been seriously bitten by the “travel bug” leads to often enlightening conversations and interesting accounts. In the course of discussion was their recent rove into the Tibetan lands. Asides the details of their stay and visits, what caught the curiosity of yours truly was their tea culture.

“When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?” Muriel Barbery (author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog)

Interestingly the Tibetan tea culture primarily includes the butter tea and the sweet milk tea. Other varieties include the Pu’er Tea, green tea, milk tea and boiled black teas. The most favoured tea is the butter tea, known as po cha (Tibetan, Wylie: bod ja, “Tibetan tea”) or cha süma ( Eastern Tibet, Wylie: ja srub ma, “churned tea”) or suyóu chá (Mandarin Chinese) or gur gur (Ladakhi language). Made from tea leaves, yak butter, water, and salt in the traditional way, wherein the butter, milk and salt are added to the brewed tea. Although the variation today is to use the butter made from cow’s milk based on the latter’s wider availability and lower cost.Had by itself or used as an accompaniment for eating tsampa by pouring onto it or dipping the tsampa into it and mixing well.

The quality of the butter tea is enhanced by boiling the tea leaves to achieve a dark brown colour (takes almost half a day) or turns black (steep the tea leaves). One method involves skimmed the dark brown tea, pouring into a cylinder filled with fresh yak butter and salt and then the whole mix is shaken. The resulting thick liquid is then poured into tea pots or jars. Another method is to add salt to the steeped black tea, stirring the mix through the horse air (or reed) colander into the wooden butter churn with a large lump of butter then added to it. Then it is churned (or rapid stirring in wooden bowl) till the proper consistency of the tea is achieved and then transferred to copper pots kept warmed on a brazier. Modern day alternatives include tea bags, butter and blender.

Like the detailed preparation of butter tea, the Tibetan tea drinking culture has many rules. As per their custom, butter tea is drunk in separate sips. After each sip, the host refills the bowl to the brim. As a rule the guest never drains his bowl, instead it is to be constantly topped up. If the guest doesn’t wish to drink, the best thing to do is leave the tea untouched until the time comes to leave and then drain the bowl. This signifies the observance of etiquette, without any offense to the host. Another set of rules to follow is when one is invited to a house for tea. The host will first pour some highland barley wine. The guest must dip his finger in the wine and flick some away, which is done so three times to represent respect for the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Then the cup will be refilled two more times and on the last time it must be emptied or the host will be insulted. After this the host will present a gift of butter tea to the guest, who will accept it without touching the rim of the bowl. The guest will then pour a glass for himself, and must finish the glass or be seen as rude.

Not just limited to drinking but also serving butter tea has it’s own special set of tea-ware. From special porcelain cups to wooden bowls set with gold, silver or copper, or made from these metals as well jade, the Tibetan tea-ware is an art by itself. Interestingly like Tibet, most of the East Asian countries have their own special tea customs, so much so that the tea culture of each country has a rich and varied history behind it. That for tea connoisseurs is the beauty of tea, in itself and being a part of rich vibrant cultures, their customs and traditions, lending the subtle depth and significance to the art and concept of tea.

“The first cup moistens the throat;
The second shatters all feelings of solitude;
The third cleans the digestion, and brings to mind the wisdom of 5,000 volumes;
The fourth induces perspiration, evaporating all of life’s trials and tribulations;
With the fifth cup, body sharpens, crisp;
And the sixth cup is the first on the road to enlightenment;
The seventh cup sits steaming – it needn’t be drunk, as from head to feet one rises to the abode of the immortals.”
–Lu Tong, 9th century

Posted in Daily, Food, Uncategorized

Of Parfait, Choice and Style

For any meal, the finale is marked by that delightful bit of sweetness. With the rising awareness of eating healthy and right, the right balance has to be struck at times between the temptation of the sugar craving to close the meal and to stay on the low healthy calorie counter too. Which is why “parfait” has evolved since it’s inception to the present day.

The oldest known recipe can be traced to 1894, of French origin where it had started off as a frozen dessert. While the French prefer to make the base from cream, egg, sugar and syrup creating a perfect custard-like puree, known as “the parfait”; whereas the American counterpart includes an artful layering of varied ingredients like granola, nuts, yogurt, liqueurs with a topping of fruits or whipped cream layered and served in a tall glass.

Of recent, with new trends and various experimentation, parfaits have been introduced without the cream and liqueurs. Instead they are made by simply layering the fresh fruits ranging from berries, cut peaches, strawberries with yogurt , granola or nuts; served as a healthy snack, breakfast option or a light meal, as a change from the regular. Which ever way it may be, the popularity of the parfait lies not only in it’s ease of preparation and the delectable indulgence but also in the appealing art it holds in itself.

Posted in Daily, Food, Uncategorized

Of the “Mocha”….

With the heavy downpour being tempered down, the cold winds still bring forth the occasional morning chill. Little wonder then, as the rainy blues slowly creep in, with piles of unfinished work piling about; the morning combination of coffee and choclate keeps the day and the evening going fine.

“Suave molecules of Mocha stir up your blood, without causing excess heat; the organ of thought receives from it a feeling of sympathy; work becomes easier and you will sit down without distress to your principal repast which will restore your body and afford you a calm, delicious night.” Charles Maurice de Talleyrand

Though the caffè mocha or mocaccino ( or mochaccino, mochachino) is in fact a chocolate-flavored variant of a caffè latte; it can also mean a simple mix of hot choclate and coffee. Essentially caffè mocha is based on espresso and hot milk but with added chocolate flavoring and sweetener, typically in the form of cocoa powder and sugar. Many varieties, at times signature style of certain cafes’, use chocolate syrup, may contain dark or milk chocolate, with distinctive milk froth on top or with whipped cream, cinnamon or cocoa powder. For the more artistic coffee connoisseurs, marshmallows plain or coloured, nutmeg powder, bits of sprinkles with cream and the like may be added on top.

Interestingly, the word “mocha” didn’t have anything to do with chocolate. Originating in the 1770s’, the word “mocha” referred to a variety of coffee beans, named after the the port of Mocha (Al Mokha) in Yemeni (or Yemen), where the beans were shipped from. As their popularity increased in Europe, these beans became a part of the coffee culture. Today, these beans are commonly referred as Arabica beans, with “mocha” being the mix of coffee and chocolate.

“Coffee and chocolate—the inventor of mocha should be sainted.” Cherise Sinclair

Over the years, mocha variants like white caffè mocha (made with white chocolate), as well as more exotic sounding names like black and white mocha, marble mocha, tan mocha, tuxedo mocha or zebra; all varying as per as the amount of choclate (dark or milk) and coffee mixed in. Variant as an espresso shot (double) with either a combination of steamed milk and cocoa powder or chocolate milk is known as mochaccino. Another variant on the caffè mocha is to use a coffee base instead of espresso with the combination be coffee, steamed milk and the added chocolate ( akin to sip of coffee with a shot of hot choclate).

No matter the way it is made, cafe mocha is essentially a drink that can be made in the kitchens of all coffee lovers. For keen experimenters, nothing would be better than the National Mocha Day (September 29th) to indulge in the crazy but delightful combinations and enjoy the flavours of the two C’s, chocolate and coffee.

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A Bit of “Punch”

“It is known to almost every one how punch is made; but, that it may be observed for the future where it is made to its greatest perfection, I will mention the true proportion of its constituent parts. To a quart of boiling water, half a pint of arrack is taken, to which one pound of sugar, and five or six lemons, or instead of them as many tamarinds as are necessary to give it the true acidity, are added: a nutmeg is likewise grated into it. The punch, which is made for the men in our ship was heated with red hot iron balls which were thrown into it. Those who can afford it, make punch a usual drink after dinner. While we stayed in China, we drunk it at dinner instead of wine which the company allowed the first table.”
(An early recipe for arrack punch as recoreded in “A Voyage to China and the East Indies” (1771) written by Pehr Osbeck, Olof Torén, and Carl Gustaf Ekeberg)

Through the years of college and work, one may have attended any meet or party with the ever present “punch” popularly served in large, wide bowls at the parties. Essentially punch refers to a wide assortment of drinks, both non-alcoholic and alcoholic, generally containing fruit or fruit juice. Though on American grounds, federal regulations define the word “punch” to label commercial artificially flavoured beverages, with or without natural flavourings or absent of fruit juice or their concentrates in significant proportions. While serving to a larger community group, punch is expected to be of a lower alcohol content than a typical cocktail.

The origins of punch can be traced to the Indian subcontinent. As the sailors and employees of the British East India Company (the early 17th century) discovered that the beers held in the cargo bay of their ships had grown rancid and flat; they had turned to seek out the local distilleries who already had their arrack based drinks. Consequently there were new drinks created out of the ingredients indigenous to their destinations: rum, citrus and spices. These drinks were introduced from their travels to the U.K. and from therein, to other countries of the western sphere.

The word punch may have a Sanskrit relation from the word “pañca”, which translates to five for the drink in the Indian subcontinent had five main ingredients consisting of alcohol, sugar, lemon, water, and tea or spices. Another theorization was that the word had originated from the English “puncheon” (15th century word for a large cask of varying capacity) previously used to transport alcohol on ships in set volumetric capacity sized barrels.

As per the British documents (1632), most punches were similarly to wassail with a wine or brandy base. As Jamaican rum came into use, the modern punch emerged. During the Victorian Era, strong alcoholic punches fell out of favour to the frothy egg white-based and sherbet versions popular until the 1950s. As the cocktail culture grew in full effect, punch fell in popularity. It was given an entire makeover by the 21st century.

With both non-alcoholic (lemon lime-soda, Tiki Punch, Kool-Aid) and alcoholic recipes, punch has still formed a major part of the gathering or party beverages. With each locality or region having their indigenous recipes, like the Barbados Bajan Punch (rum, lime juice, cane sugar, nutmeg, bitters), Central European Jagertee (alcoholic punch of “Inländer-Rum” with spiced black tea), Korean Sujeonggwa (traditional punch of dried persimmons, cinnamon, and ginger), Mexican Agua loca ((“crazy water”) sweet punch of fermented sugarcane, mezcal or tequila mixed with “aguas frescas”) and the famous American Planter’s Punch or Southern Bourbon punch (sweet variety includes sweet tea, citrus flavors and bourbon whiskey) to mention a few.

This recipe I give to thee,
Dear brother in the heat.
Take two of sour (lime let it be)
To one and a half of sweet,
Of Old Jamaica pour three strong,
And add four parts of weak.
Then mix and drink. I do no wrong —
I know whereof I speak.
(The first known print reference to Planter’s Punch in the August 8, 1908 edition of The New York Times. These recipes of Planter’s Punch varies with the combination of rum, lemon juice, pineapple juice, lime juice, orange juice, grenadine, soda water, curaçao, Angostura bitters and cayenne pepper.)

In fact, each family may have their own traditional punch recipes handed down from one generation to the other, especially meant for family gatherings, celebrations or festive occasions. What better way to celebrate the National Punch Day (September 20th) by indulging in new concoctions or making one of own.

Posted in Christian, Daily, Family and Society, Musique, Reflections, Uncategorized

Through Uncertain Times

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” Corrie Ten Boom

As I was stacking up the old newspapers for recycling; amidst them was last year’s calendar. With the accompanying monthly pictures being beautiful, I hadn’t discarded it but kept it aside to cut them out. With the pending task being accomplished, I leafed through the months and the tiny notes along the dates. “School reopening”, doctors’ appointment, “sports’ dates”, local functions aref ew of the many red or green inked circles that were scattered through the year.

“For who is God except the Lord? Who but our God is a solid rock? God is my strong fortress, and he makes my way perfect.” 2 Samuel 22:33

Looking back, I felt blessed by His Grace and the countless ways He had kept watch over us and the daily happenings. At times, the feeling of wonder strikes as one realizes long after the difficult situations were over, how God had stood over our lives, guiding us with His Hand and by His Word. The relocation to a new place of work, new school year, family weddings and many more; all the big events within the family were felt big and difficult in those days; but went smooth largely due to His Grace and Blessings.

“I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.” Martin Luther

Many a time, some of the changes in life may be forced. An unforeseen work related transfer, opportunity to pursue higher studies, ill health and the like. Though decisions are made, they mayn’t work out. Yet once we place it in His Hands and be prepared to do things as they come; then things start falling into place and happening at the right time. Eventually when the obstacle had been crossed, one realizes the true magnificence of His Grace, His Power and His Love. Man being man mayn’t foresee many things. How much more better it would be ], when we put everything in His Hands, put in our efforts and await His Will to show us the way.

“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17

“….I am one of those who are determined to go to the end.
I will not slow down the pace, I will not look back, but I will praise Christ.
I will not give up, do not shut up,
Do not weaken and do not burn.
I will not finish praying, with Christ I stand.

I am one of those who firmly decided to go to the end.
I can not stop, do not buy, do not hold.
And when He comes to pick up his own, he will recognize me,
Because I am one of those who have come to the end.

And if the salt loses its power that will replace it?
And lit a candle, do not put it under a vessel.
Here I am before You, use me for Your glory
On earth, Jesus, let Thy will be done

Olga Yatsenko ( few lines of Poetry/lyrics of “Till the End”, translated to English)

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Going “Carrot” All the Way

Being parents or guardians of little children, the most lovable yet tiring and troublesome phase is making them eat their vegetables. The beginnings of this battle with the “veggies” starts when they reach the toddler age, often progressing onto their years, even till high school and beyond.

“When a man is small, he loves and hates food with a ferocity which soon dims. At six years old his very bowels will heave when such a dish as creamed carrots or cold tapioca appear before him.” M. F. K. Fisher

With the advent of various art forms, school activities, newer recipes, extra seasonings and the magic of Bugs Bunny and Popeye the sailor man among others, have brought down the fervor of this battle. Among the various projects among play-schoolers to get them to eat their vegetables was observing special days like the International Carrot Day (4th April). While for the toddlers, activities range from supervised game activities, music, model art with play dough fun and costume art; parents have been tasked with preparing any carroty dish. Ranging from meal based recipes, of soups and main course (pies, curry, sandwiches) to snacks or desserts (“gajjar halwa”, carrot cake or sweet carrot tarts) and juices, the list of recipes is quite extensive. In the course of cooking, there was a couple of “carrot trivia” which make for an interesting read.

“Carrots are devine… You get a dozen for a dime, It’s maaaa-gic!” – Bugs Bunny

Belonging to the family Apiaceae, “Daucus carota”, whose common names include wild carrot, bird’s nest, bishop’s lace, and Queen Anne’s lace (North America), is a herbaceous, mostly biennial white flowering plant native to temperate regions of Europe and southwest Asia, and naturalized to North America and Australia. Interestingly both the words ” Daucus” and “carota” mean orange. Ironically carrots are not always orange, but can also be grown as purple, red, white or yellow variants. Known by the Ancient Greeks as “Karoto” with the plant called as Philtron or “Bird’s Nest”, they were initially grown as medicines, and later as food, also used as insecticidal agent as well. In fact, the Victorians had a carrot based recipe to destroy crickets especially as it was discovered that they were very fond of carrots. The mix was a paste of flour, powdered arsenic with scraped carrots, placed near their habitations.

The role of carrots go beyond the kitchen, with their part cited in the “Trojan War”. As far as legends go ( no documented evidence), the Greek foot soldiers who hid in the Trojan Horse were said to have consumed ample quantities of raw carrots to inactivate their bowels. However, this tale contradicts the fact that carrots are good for constipation. Being a mythical tale, did the soldiers of the Trojan War eat lot of carrots before the fight to clear their intestines and avoid any problems during the important moment ? Most likely, this apocryphal tale was conjured or circulated due to the Hollywood scenes, fiction writers or as a result of the “toddler veggie battles.” Yet their mention in literature is present with the Early Celtic citing them as “Honey Underground”.

“The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.” Paul Cezanne

The Wild Carrot is called Queen Anne’s Lace. The reason being Queen Anne of England wore a lacy headdress which some people thought resembled the delicate flower cluster of Wild carrot, giving it its more poetic name, Queen Anne’s lace.

One of the first vegetables to be canned commercially, carrots were marketed on a wide scale. Additionally tobacconists in France used to put a carrot in their bins to prevent their tobacco from drying out. With the progress of preservation and brewery, carrots today, produce more distilled spirit than potatoes. To add on carrot as a sweet snack food, try the “carrot pie flavour jelly bean.” As far as the future holds, carrots are here to stay with their in the market as “bio-fuels“, especially as the oil runs out. So going “carroty” is the theme for now, especially today with trying something “carroty” as a special treat.

Posted in Daily, Food, Uncategorized

With regards,From Italy

“L’uomo è ciò che mangia” (a man is what he eats)- Ludwig Feuerbach

For those of us who know Italian or in love with Italian food, these words would sound familiar and seen sometimes across the menu cards. One of the most popular global cuisines apart from the American snack industry, French cuisine or Indian “curries” would be the Italian cuisine, which is actually in popular demand, ranging from the “pizza” to pasta, panini, lasagne, risottos, tortelinni. Although most would be familair with a selct few, Italian cusine offers a whole range and variety of meals which is quite simple to cook, especially for those of us who want a change from the regular.

“Italian food is all about ingredients and it’s not fussy and it’s not fancy.” Wolfgang Puck

Like with most European cuisines, the Italian cuisine developed over centuries with its’ roots primarily spreading and growing with the fall of the Roman Empire. With traces from Athens as well, the Sicilian cuisine was initially well liked and many believe it to be the first real Italian cuisine; especially in the Middle Ages. A lot of the cuisine varies from region to region primarily because of the Mediterranean and Arab influences in South compared to the Germanic and Roman roots of the north. In fact each area has its’ own specialty like cuisines from Basilicata, Lomabarde, Saridinia or Tuscany to list a few.

“In the 20th century, the French managed to get a death on the myth that they produce the world’s best food. The hype has been carefully orchestrated, and despite the fact that the most popular food in the last quarter has undoubtedly been Italian, the French have managed to maintain that mental grip.” Clarissa Dickson Wright, English Chef and Author

The versatility of Italian cooking lies in the explicit use of vegetables, cheese as well as meat along with the ease and simplicity in its’ making. For novice Italian cooking, the pasta and risotto are quite easy to make. With many recipes available online, its’ not that hard to bring a change to the menu once in a while and gives a healthy break from fast food and restaurant dinners.

Anche l’occhio vuole la sua parte (The eyes want their part – in the sense that something has to be pleasing to the eyes – apart from having other qualities)…An Italian Saying