Sunday, March 29, 2009

Camellia Sinensis Meets Master Gardener

Spring has arrived, and it’s that time of year when Dan & I stare at our yard, and discuss a game plan for the planting season. We yearn for a great looking yard- one that you can sit back and enjoy at the end of your day with a chilled glass of rosé in hand. Doesn't everyone strive for this? Wine time on the patio is just not the same when you are staring at dead plants, and weeds. A colorful array of plants or a patio that is tidy, gives you a sense of accomplishment. When your outdoor living space is not done, or overgrown, or “hodge podgey”- which is how I describe our yard- you feel frustrated, and grumpy!

This year instead of throwing plants at the yard, seeing what sticks, and what whithers and dies, we hired a Master Gardener to come over for a consultation. At 8am on Saturday morning, the door bell rang. There was Sue- with clip board in hand. My palms began to sweat; I felt like she could see through us, and peer into our souls. Thinking...these people haven't a clue about taking care of plants. But, she opened her mouth, and said, “Hey, you’re the tea man!” Yep, that’s right, we may not know diddly about plants, but we certainly know our Camellia sinensis, Drink the Leaf's mother plant. So, we offered her a cup of one of our best green teas- Organic Lu' An Melon Seed, and set out the front door.

Sue was wonderful. She complimented us on how our yard looked, and told us that the plants that we had were healthy and beautiful. She praised Dan’s pruning abilities. And then, she took out her pencil, tape measure, and got to work. With in an hour, she had helped us design our front and back yard. We will be removing only one plant, and moving two others to a more suited spot. She worked with what we had and inserted her recommendations, which resulted on paper ,a transformed yard, that we could not wait to see. The best part is that she gave us a list of plants that are easy to find at our local nursery, MidCity. I was impressed that Sue rattled off all of the plants by calling them by their Latin name. Thank heavens, she wrote them all down. And gave us a key of where each plant went in the diagram.

We spent the rest of the afternoon, researching our new plants on-line. This week, we hope to head to the nursery to view them in person. Next step, we need to convince someone else to plant them. No kidding, I am not doing yard work. Obviously, this is how we got into this predicament in the first place!

Check out our soon to be new friends in the yard:

Coleonema Pulchrum- An evergreen shrub with soft needles, pink flowers, that sways in the breeze.

Polygala myrtifolia 'Grandiflora' - Sweet Pea Shrub. -An evergreen shrub that grows 5 to 7 feet tall. Perfect for under our dining room window. Rich purple, pink flowers.

Escallonia Compacta- A small shrub with tiny pink flowers. We already have two of these, and we plan to plant a couple more to even out the landscape.

Viburnum Spring Bouquet- showy, clusters of pink and white flowers.

Lamium & Lithodora Ground Cover- Lamium is a low growing, trailing perennial. silvery white leaves, with pink flowers. Lithodora is low growing, with a beautiful contrast of bright blue flowers, and dark green foliage.

Gestrum Nocturnum- Night blooming jasmine. Need I say more? Perfect for under our bedroom window.

Gestrum Elegans- Same thing, but with stunning red flowers.

Sarcoccoca- low growing, with flowers, and stays green all year. This plant will brighten up our garden bed that is the veiw from our kitchen window.

P.S. Another great source and handbook is the trusty Sunset Western Garden Book. Ours is mostly circled and marked with the plants that did not make it through a growing season. Hopefully, we can can turn this book into a celebration of the "living", instead of an homage to all the plants that have been sacrificed in our yard.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring into Loose Leaf Green Tea Today!

I am exposed to a lot of teas on a weekly basis. I always seem to dodge green tea. Why is that? Is it because it’s good for me and a healthy substitute to for wine? No, I am assuming it’s because I prefer teas that fall under the following categories: black, brown, golden, earthy, nutty, complex, toasty, smooth, and packed with caffeine. Green tea on the surface seems to be the complete opposite. First of all, it looks green, and smells of freshly cut grass.

Maybe my wine palate has ruined me from enjoying green tea. I seem to have an aversion to red wines that show any “green” characteristics- read: unripe grapes. Maybe this applies to tea, too. However, I do love a nice glass of herbaceous Sauvingnon Blanc, especially if I am slurping down Hog Island Oysters with it. There is hope for me, yet.

It’s time to dispel this “green theory” and call in an expert, my husband, the Tea Drinker. By the way, he is now infamous in our hometown. Spread the word. I asked Dan to put together a tea tasting of his favorite Drink the Leaf loose leaf green teas. Besides, it’s seems to be a fitting time of the year to drink green tea. Spring is here, and with that comes plenty of fresh asparagus, artichokes, and peas which we look forward to this time of the year, anyways.

My Mission: The following teas were blind tasted, and I rated them in order of preference.

1) Curled Dragon Silver Tip, China -$10.50
I love the color of this tea. It just looks fresh, and inviting. The color reminds me of fresh squeezed limes, obviously without the pulp! The infused leaves are gorgeous, and give off a hint of fresh grass. On the palate- honey mingles with bright flavors. This is a lovely tea, and I can't wait to try it again. A fresh start.

2) Organic Lu 'An Melon Seed, China- $7.00
Wow. This tea is almost chartreuse in color! Should make some of my absinthe loving friends happy...Already I am having fun, and I haven't even tried it, yet. The aroma reminds me of cooked green vegetables, such as spinach. The palate is complex, and has weightiness to it. Clean finish, and the green factor on the palate tapers off into a nice buttery finish. Give this one a try.

3) Gyokuro, Japan - $ 10.00
Golden, yellow hue with hint of green. Aromas of fresh plucked spring pea tendrils. Rich flavors on the palate, but not too heavy. More clean and bright. Reminds me of a spring morning after it rains…smooth finish.

4) Kawane Sencha, Japan- $16.00
Lemon/Lime color. Fresh cut grass aromas. Light bodied & delicate. Your mom always told you to eat your vegetables. Have this tea, and you will make your mom proud.

5) Organic Kukicha, Japan- $14.00
Right off the bat, I knew this tea was different, and not like the others. Green/forestry color. The aroma was nutty. The palate was loaded with heavier green flavors, such as broccoli, asparagus, and even root vegetables- turnips. And most surprisingly, its had tannins. A grippy tea! Med- full bodied. Long finish- grassy… acquired taste. I discovered afterwards, that this tea is quite popular. It consists of broken leaves,stems, stalks and twigs- all giving the tea structure and depth of flavor. Venture out and try this.

Disclaimer: The key to enjoying perfectly brewed green tea is water temperature. Do not scald those poor little leaves. Yes, you can burn your tea. Follow the recommend temperatures, and steeping timing is equally important.

Verdict: I stand corrected. Green tea has a lot nuances, and its fun to try something new, and break out of my black tea rut. I learned that the primary difference between green tea and green wine, is that green tea is supposed to be green, through and through! What a relief. I think I can now safely put this hurdle behind me. I can sit back and enjoy a bright green tea packed with flavors of grass, peas, and asparagus, and enjoy it. Except now, I am craving grilled artichokes rubbed with garlic, lemon, olive oil and butter. Best served family style with a whole grain mustard aioli mixed with chopped parsley. Shoot, now I am craving wine again. This mission is turning around...

Find the above teas on-line.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Tasty Brunch at Brenda's French Soul Food

What an enjoyable weekend, and it’s not over, yet. I am sitting here enjoying a cup of Drink the Leaf Keemun, a tasty, mild, but flavorful rich black tea. Willing myself to get up and go to the grocery store to complete the last item on the list for the “ Surprise Birthday Weekend”: Savory Bread Pudding (see previous post). However, my mind keeps traveling back to the amazing brunch that we had yesterday in the city. We love discovering new restaurants, especially when it’s at the last minute, and recommended by my new nifty device: the I-Phone.

To digress, this I-phone has become my latest obsession. I can talk, type, listen, view, and ignore all at the same time! The free applications are the best, and my favorite is Urbanspoon. Thank you to my dear friend, Pam, for introducing me to this informative tool. The Urbanspoon is an ideal application for any of the following reasons:

1)You are in food freak, and need to find a restaurant ASAP
2)You are lost, and you remember that there was this cool restaurant nearby
3)You are craving Italian, Indian, or whatever you fancy-
4)You want to find out how to get there
5)You are obsessed with researching restaurants
6)You travel frequently, and need to be in the know! The list goes on and on

Back to the brunch. We were in search of finding a restaurant near our hotel, and narrowed our quest by selecting Breakfast/Brunch. Viola! Brenda’s French Soul Food popped up. Three miles from our hotel on Polk St & Eddy- perfect. Urbanspoon also gives the user the ability to rate the restaurant with a simple: Like Or Don’t Like. (91% was the favorable score). Reviews, articles, and menus are also available. We headed out.

Brenda’s is owned by Chef Brenda Buenviaje, a native of New Orleans. This diner totes Creole food “with a French style and New Orleans Soul”. Only open for breakfast and lunch, and with a line out the door. It’s a postage size stamp of place, where we counted about 30 seats total. We put our name on the list – tacked to the outside of the building, and waited. About 30 minutes total. Not bad, because we were rewarded with a very flavorful meal. The menu ranges from Beignets to Fried Oyster Po’Boys. Sitting in this restaurant makes you feel like you stumbled upon something really special, and you can't wait for the chance to tell your friends about it.

We settled on the following:

  • 2 cups of Café au Lait
  • One Order of Beignets- Traditional- the dough, deep-fried, was hot and moist, with confectioner sugar sprinkled on top.
  • Tea Drinker: Croque Monsieur with a side of French Fries: Baked ham, topped with Gruyere, and béchamel sauce on sliced sourdough. A great base for the rest of the day.
  • Wife of Tea Drinker: Florentine Eggs Benedict- Today's Special- Oh my. Two perfectly cooked poached eggs with sauteed spinach sitting on homemade “cream” biscuits, all smothered with a delicious Cajun hollandaise sauce. Side of potato hash. Need I say more…Okay, I will. I will be thinking about this hollandaise until I can get back there for more.

Go to this place-you will not be disappointed. Other items that caught our attention were: Crayfish Beignets, Chicken, Sausage, & Okra Gumbo, Bacon & Egg Tartine, and Fried Catfish.

Well, my last sip of Keemun is getting cold. Time to go to the store, or maybe I can convince the Tea Drinker to settle on leftovers- Potato Hash from Brenda’s…..

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Surprise! It’s the Tea Drinker’s Birthday Week!

What does this entail? Mostly that I will need to cater to my husband’s every whim. Give him anything he wants; when he wants it. Now, before, you email me comments about “waiting on men, and women’s rights” ….I need to confess- I created the “birthday week" tradition in our home. It was my idea, and I truly love it when it’s my week (May 13). However, you know what they say about pay backs?!

This year, I have run into a problem. Today, I left for NYC , and will not be back in time for the Tea Drinker's birthday, Thurs 3/12th. Actually, I will most likely pull up to our house just about 1am- right after his birthday evening ends. I know! I know! It’s a tragedy. What’s a Wife of a Tea Drinker to do? Maybe I could arrive armed with balloons, flowers, and silly stuffed animals from the airport… but that might be too intimidating or slightly crazy for the wee hours of the morning…OR…I could -plan a surprise!

Plan of Action:

  • Request a vacation day : Friday, March 13th -DONE

  • Head to San Francisco….Visit This science museum has re-opened after ten years of renovation. Dan's been itching to go here, and of course, I want to check out their much talked about restaurant: DONE

  • Plan a “tap along” visiting San Francisco's premium beer jaunts. ,, and Hey, wine and tea all day long, makes for a boring life.- DONE

  • Check out North Beach & find a perfect little Italian joint to have dinner. Dan has been craving Pizza. The real kind. – Suggestions welcome.

  • Invite our 2 buddies who live in the city to join us- one always needs a partner in crime, plus, they really know their way around! DONE

  • Stay at The Westin - great deal, great location, and the best thing- no driving, and we get to sleep in - DONE

  • Saturday- spend the day researching tea in Chinatown-Tea Drinker’s choice

  • Saturday Night: Head back to Napa, either watch the next movie in queue from Netflix or go to the movies: A perfect, academy award winning movie with stunning cinematography, and some chai tea drinking going on.

  • Sunday Morning: Make Savory Breakfast Pudding - Dan's favorite. Serve with specialty teas from

And, most importantly, remember to cater to his every whim! Gladly..

Surprise, Honey! Enjoy your birthday week, and I will see you at 1am on Friday morning. The clock starts ticking then. Love, your wife, Tree

P.S. Go ahead, and plan a “birthday week" surprise for someone you love today. Have fun. Need ideas? Comment here. I am happy to help.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Meyer Lemon Tart & Your Favorite Drink the Leaf Loose teas

We have lemons coming out of our ears. A few years back my husband planted a Meyer lemon tree- we patiently waited for the bounty. Well, it has arrived- loads and loads of lemons; bright and beautiful. Now what the heck should we do with all of these lemons? I thought I had the perfect answer- display them in a big red bowl and set them on my dining room table. I pranced by admiring my brilliant creativity & domesticity. I was feeling pretty good-even a friend commented on how nice our table looked. But, there it was, the guilt. It was creeping in….Good people across the world nurture and care for their gardens, and not to just display their good fortune in a bowl! Okay, I give in. I would create something with this gift and share my bounty.

I recalled that my Mom had given me a cookbook back in 2005 for Christmas- Luscious Lemon Desserts,by Lori Longbotham. The inscription said- “looked so good, I bought one, too. Love, Mom.” Well, my copy has been sitting in the cupboard stuffed behind Bobby Flay and the like. I dug it out, and flipped through the pages. I conferred with the tea drinker- “This could be fun. We can bake all day, drink fabulous Drink the Leaf loose leaf teas, and eat dessert in the middle of the afternoon!” He was not convinced. (read: Dan thinking- not a healthy way to spend the day). So I forged on without him. Lemon bars, lemon meringue pie, lemon tart, and shortbread. The choices were limitless. I chose “The Perfect Lemon Tart”. And, you know what, it was pretty darn close.

I presented the Tea Drinker with the masterpiece. He even raised an eyebrow while eating, and asked me to cut two slices for our neighbors. The next day, the phone rang. The Perfect Lemon Tart had made an impression on the neighbors. Were the lemons actually from your tree??? Yep, I was proud. So much in fact, the following weekend I hopped to it again, and made a lemon tart and lemon bars, to boot. The Lemon tart was shared with my co-workers- to express my gratitude for all their help with recent festivities.

Give it a go, and let me know what you think. The whole process took me less than an hour.

Adapted from: Luscious Lemon Desserts

Shopping List:
10-11” tart pan with removable bottom
1 stick unsalted butter
2 TBSP. Lemon Zest
1 ¾ cups Flour
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 pinches of salt
6 eggs
1 cup of fresh lemon juice( about 7 lemons)
½ cup heavy whipping cream
Confectioner’s sugar( optional) for dusting

Pre-heat oven to 350
Melt butter in saucepan over med heat, add 1 TBSP of zest. Stand for 5 minutes
Whisk flour, ½ cup of sugar, pinch of salt in small bowl.
Pour butter mixture slowly into flour-mix with fork until dough sticks together between two fingers
Transfer mixture to pan and press to bottom and up sides of pan. Bake for 25 minutes or light golden brown. Remove and rest on wire rack.
Process remaining 1 cup of sugar with 1 TBSP of zest. If you do not have a process just mix well, and chop zest finer.
Whisk together eggs, sugar with zest, lemon juice, and pinch of salt in mixing bowl.
Beat cream with mixer until small peaks form. Fold into egg mixture until just blended.
Place pie crust in pan on baking sheet, and pour filling into the warm crust. Bake for 20-25 minutes until just set. Let tar cool.
Sift confectioner’s sugar, cut, and enjoy!

Oh, and Mom- if you are out there reading this- Dust off that cookbook, and give me a call. I would be happy to send you some lemons.