Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Crazy me, making my own teas

As I have done my best to cut down on caffeine, I have fallen in love with herbal teas, 
especially if I drink them in the tea cups I collect. 
I use my "special" tea cups everyday, as everyday is special to me...
How can you not like drinking tea in this...?

or this..?

I feel like a queen when I do.

I was eating at one of my favorite restaurants a couple of months ago, having a totally healthy day
(you know, those days when you are even surprised at the healthy choices you've made since
 breakfast and you don't want to ruin it).
I ordered a salad for dinner.
Thinking that it would not be enough but not wanting to grab a slice of the pizza my hubs had ordered
(that would be the "ruining" part -- too many carbs), and given it was such a cold evening,
I decided to go for tea. 

One of the flavors caught my attention: Blueberry Hibiscus. 
It was love at first sip. 
That's all it took for me to start a long conversation with the server that would lead me to Tea Grotto.

The very next day, I headed downtown to visit this tea store. 
Great teas, high price. 
I expected the high prices, but I was surprised that there was no list of ingredients,
or no information about where the ingredients came from. 
I had no way of knowing if there were any additives, colorants, or anything else
I really don't want to put into my body.
I loved their teas (I bought quite a few different flavors) but I was missing
a lot of the information on ingredients that I am (quite) fanatic about.

While driving back home I thought..why can't I make my own herbal teas?
Then I would know exactly what goes in it, right?
The control-freak in me applauded the idea.

While watching one of my favorite shows on PBS, I saw a recipe for an herbal tea with ginger 
and lemon grass. I love both and happened to have them on hand.
I added two more ingredients and came up with this wonderfully sweet (on its own) tea.
My first home-made tea.

Lemon Grass, Ginger, Mint Tea


  • 6 stalks of dried lemon grass (you can buy lemon grass in most supermarkets or Asian specialty stores). It may come fresh, so just leave a few stalks out on a plate somewhere on your kitchen counter for a week or so and voila. Ready for tea. It's wonderfully sweet on its own, and the aroma is magnificent.
  • A few dried mint leaves (we collect these from our garden each summer and let them air dry, then keep in air tight container until ready to use - great for cooking or for making mint tea all on its own).
  • One teaspoon of dried ginger. Use real ginger, not the spice powder. It won't taste the same. You can purchase ginger at the grocery store, in the vegetable session. Peel part of it with a spoon, chop it in very teeny-tiny pieces, then allow it to air dry on a plate on your counter for a few days. 
  • 2 teaspoons of dried orange zest. Peel an orange (organic, preferably to avoid pesticides), being careful not to include the pith (white part) as it can be bitter. Just the orange peel. Allow it to dry a few days. Then break in into small pieces with your hands (it's easy to do once it's completely dried).
Mix all these in a container. Done. 
Of course, if you add more ginger, the tea will be quite strong, so watch out. 
Too much mint would overpower all the other flavors. 
I'd go 6 parts lemon grass to 1 part of each of the others.

To make one cup of tea, in a small saucepan add 2 teaspoons of the mix to 1 cup of water.
Bring to a boil. Let steep for 5 minutes.
Strain and serve. Add sugar to taste, if needed.

I made single-serving packets for my friends and family to sample the tea.

It's become my favorite tea.
It's delicate, sweet, flavorful, and calming.

Any of the ingredients in this tea will be good on their own.
Orange zest tea is wonderful.


Be good to yourself,

Thursday, October 4, 2012

It's settled: It's a fruit

With these scrumptious heirloom tomatoes from our garden...

I made this salad (or a "somewhat salad") for dinner..

I know, I know. I would not win Master Chef with this non-recipe.
But if Chef Ramsey could taste these tomatoes, he would probably give them an award for sweetness.

 These are Golden Medal (yellow/pink) and Cherokee Purple heirloom tomato varieties.
All these beauties needed was just a light sprinkle of flake sea salt, a splash of first-cold-press extra virgin olive oil, and some fresh lemon basil leaves from our garden. In fact, they didn't need the basil.
It was too strong and it overshadowed the flavor of the tomatoes.
Sometimes less is truly more. 

One of my friends stated "I haven't eaten a good tomato since I was a kid. "Why is it that the tomatoes from the stores taste so bad? No wonder so many people don't like them".

It could be because tomato producers pick their tomatoes when they are "mature green".
This means that they are still firm, but well...green. The lycopene that doctors claim reduces the risk for cancer has not developed yet in these tomatoes, nor any kind of (good) flavor.
To make matters worse, producers spray a gas on the poor things called ethylene (derived from petroleum, I'm not kidding). Why? Because it triggers the creation of enzymes which break down cell walls and turn starches into sugar. Tomatoes then begin to soften and to turn red. So they are red, but they don't develop the flavors that can only be developed by ripening the tomato on the vine.

I personally only eat the tomatoes we grow or those from the local farmers market. My window of opportunity is only a few weeks during the summer (like Kramer from Seinfeld with the "Mackinaw" peaches  "they are only here for two weeks")
The rest of the year I eat canned tomatoes, which are picked at the peak of ripeness.
It may sound extreme and limiting.
However, it's like the changing colors of the leaves during the fall.
Because we can enjoy this for a short time, we seem to appreciate it more.
When I eat a tomato, it's a truly cathartic experience.
I wouldn't have it any other way.

So...just only for their amazing sweetness, don't you think that tomatoes
should be once and for all categorized as a fruit? Yes?

Happy Friday!


Thursday, September 27, 2012

So what is Argentine food like?

Many years ago, when I moved from Argentina to Southern California, 
people would ask me for my favorite recipe for Chiles Rellenos. 
Well...great food...but...wrong country. 

At that time, being a total newbie in the US,
I had no idea what Mexican food was all about 
(and how much I was going to love it!) 
I come from a country where about 50% of the population has
some degree of Italian descent. 
I grew up around Italian grandmothers that made pasta from scratch
on Sunday mornings. 
I remember watching the women in the family
all in the kitchen making
that very special tomato sauce all morning long,
while my grandma threw a 
piece of pasta to the wall to see if it stuck or not. 
That's how she knew if it was cooked.

Italians began arriving in Argentina in great numbers
from 1857 to 1940, 
totaling 44.9% of the entire immigrant population,
more than from any other country 
(including Spain at 31.5%, France came third).

Argentina has significant connections to the Italian culture in terms of language,
customs, and traditions...and food! 
In fact, Buenos Aires (where I am from)
has a very European feel.

People are always asking me for traditional recipes from Argentina. 
I have directed them to find them online,
but I normally decide to just show them how to do them.
I am not really one for recipes...
Unfortunately, some of the recipes featured on online
sites at times include products or measurements not available or used in the US. 
So, I have decided to share some of my Argentine recipes on this blog
(and some of my latest inventions, my everyday thoughts on foods
and foodie discoveries).

I love cooking.
I love chopping and slicing ingredients. 
I love presenting my dishes.
I enjoy the smell of food, the subtle differences in flavor
from the different components, and knowing where my food comes from.

I want to warn you that I am a food fanatic and I can get
painfully detailed about how I prepare my dishes.
I hope you don't find this boring as I explain recipes.

So, here I go, with a new blog, a new outlook,
a new way to share my beloved Argentine recipes.

This blog is also a tribute to my dear mother,
who passed away two years ago.
She was the most resourceful cook I have ever known. 
She could transform boiled soy beans into the most delicious burgers.
She could make a feast out of a few ingredients.
She knew by instinct how to combine flavors to come up with an aroma 
that would make the neighbors suddenly come to visit. 

To my dearest Argentine mother, 
and to all those who love and respect food as much as I do, 
I dedicate this blog.


Let's get cooking.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Lavender-Peach Iced Tea

Those who know me, know I love lavender.
I love the color, the smell, and the taste.

 When lavender is in bloom (early to mid-summer here in my area),
I have it all over the house. 
For our last Sunday family gathering a few weeks ago,
(celebrating the beginning of the harvest), 
I decided to make lavender-peach iced tea for the first time.

 I had saved the blossoms to gather the seeds so I can get the sprouts for new
plants started indoors in February.
I also kept the blossoms in jars as I plan to start using lavender to perfume my dishes
(I'll be trying lavender-rosemary chicken breasts: delicious and very Proven├žal).

I decided to heat up some water in a pot, add three tablespoons of lavender blossoms, and a few slices of our summer peaches. I made the mistake of boiling it (not good for tea!), so if you make this, I recommend you turn off the heat just before the water starts to boil. Then you let it steep for quite some time.
 I strained it, let it cool, and then put it in the fridge for a few hours.
 Before serving it I added a few teaspoons of sugar and mixed well
(you could add another type of sweetener like Stevia or nothing at all depending on your taste).

I poured the cold tea in pretty wine gobblers and added crushed ice and a slice or two of a fresh peach. 
Next time, I think I'll throw in frozen peaches instead of the ice, to keep the flavor
(water will water it down, of course), or make ice cubes with peach juice. 

 You can make tea with any herb or fruit combination. I made rose petal tea at the beginning of the spring, with petals from my own rose garden (but, of course, they need to be free of pesticides). 

 What combinations would you try? 
I'm thinking blueberry/vanilla (blueberries and half a vanilla bean pod?), 
or raspberry/lemon (pieces of lemon rind and raspberries)? 

Hmmm...oh the possibilities! 

 Go on, loves, have some tea.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Beautiful, imperfect Heirlooms

I love knowing where the food I feed myself with comes from.

My husband and I grow our own veggies and herbs during the spring and summer 
(well...he does the work, I just help out), 
but we like to complement our little harvest 
with the bounty and variety we find at the nearby Farmer's Market.

I smiled from ear to ear last Saturday morning when I saw the array of heirlooms
in almost every single stand.

Why do I love heirlooms? 
 Their shape is odd.

They are full of wrinkles.

They have blemishes.
They are imperfect.

And so am I.
They remind me of me.

Though they may not be suitable for mainstream supermarkets,
I celebrate their colorfulness, their intense flavor, and their personality.

 I love growing oddly imperfect heirlooms. 
They remind me of my imperfect yet beautiful life.

Hope you are happy with what you see in yours.

Welcome to my new blog and my first post.

Eat with passion. Live with passion. 

 To a wonderful life, 

Photos: mine and Tomato Bob