THE BEATLES

I’m sure you’re all scratching your heads wondering why in the world would I be writing about the Beatles.  What could they possibly have to do with a blog called TEA, TOAST and TRAVEL?  Well,  they certainly do qualify … definitely from England, and they were all “tea” drinkers.


We just returned from a two-week visit to England and, never having visited before, this year we decided to go to Liverpool.  How surprised were we when we discovered this once down-on-its-heels city of the working classes is now a thriving metropolis with a world-class seaport district, high-end restaurants and shops, museums and a tourist mecca.  How did all this happen?  The obvious and logical answer, of course, is the investment over recent years by developers into revitalizing the city.  I say it’s because of four young men from the ‘neighborhood’ …. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison.

In making plans for our visit to Liverpool, I thought it would be great fun to take a “Beatles tour” … maybe finding a cabbie to take us around, or we might find a ‘hop-on-hop-off’ bus.  So, I started trolling websites looking for what we might be able to do.  Not only did I find a slew of companies offering organized Beatles tours, ranging anywhere from three hours to a full day, and anywhere from a private tour with an ‘expert’ Beatles guide, to full bus tours, it was impossible to choose.

Looking at the range of possibilities (and the costs), I choose one of the bus tours.  Now I had to choose the day and time to make our reservation.  Huh?  Although they offered tours every three to four hours, they strongly suggested advance reservations because they usually sell out before the day of.  Once again, huh?   This was just one of the many Beatles tours.  So, I selected one time slot which would work for our schedule …. sold out.  Okay, I choose another …. sold out.  Picked one for the next day …. sold out!  What the?  I had to switch to another tour group.  Finally, landed on the “Magical Mystery Tour”.  Made the advance online reservation.  Paid in full.  And exhaled!

Never having been to Liverpool, we wanted to get there early, poke around the city center a bit and get a feel for this coastal metropolis.  Thank goodness for “sat nav” because without it, we’d still be driving in circles, trying to navigate the many bridges and tunnels.  And when we finally emerged, it was beautiful!  Elegant ornate old stone buildings intermingled with the sleek, modern architecture of today.  With the help of the many tourist information stands, we found our way to the “Magical Mystery Tour” kiosk (located right next to the Beatles museum), picked up our “Tickets to Ride” and were soon in the midst of other like-minded tourees … all ages … all countries … all interested in The Beatles!

There we all were clustered in front of ‘our’ bus (of which there were many), taking selfies, waiting patiently for the doors to open.  As soon as they did, we piled in, jostling each other for the best seats.  The tour leader boarded, introduced himself and we were off.  We began at the stadium where tickets to Paul’s 2008 concert sold out in seconds to twice its capacity, when he played far into the night without ever taking a break.  We then drove to the ‘neighborhood’ where the four young men grew up, visiting each individual location, the schools, the hangouts, the barber shop, the church where Paul was a choir boy … learning about all the inspiration for their songs.  Along the way, the entire bus group would break out into song, everyone knowing the words, to the Beatles background music.

The tour leader was not only entertaining, he provided us with so many rich details on each band member, making it quite an intimate experience.  Starting from 1957 when 15 year old John Lennon started a skiffle band, to Paul McCartney asking his banjo-playing mother to teach him how to play the guitar, to Richard Starkey wearing a bunch of gold rings and earning the name “Ringo”, to Lennon wanting George Harrison in the band because “that kid can sing and he’ll get us all the girls”.  And learning that the reason the Beatles broke up was not because of Yoko Ono, but because of the death of Brian Epstein, the cement which kept these talented four together.

Yes, we stopped at Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, Paul McCartney’s home, George Harrison’s home and more.  At each destination, everyone piled out of the bus, taking turns for our photo op in front of whatever icon we visited, while watching similar buses, taxis or limos pulling away with another group of like-minded Beatles fans.  I felt badly for people living on the streets where all this activity goes on day after day.  They still had to go to work, school, shopping, the dentist, whatever, and here we all were clogging up these narrow, little neighborhood streets.  Our tour driver insisted not only don’t they mind, they actually love all the attention.  I hope so.

Two hours later, our tour ended back in the city center where it really all started for the Beatles, at the Cavern Club.  This little below-ground club is where in 1961 the Beatles (before Ringo) played to the lunchtime crowd almost daily.  Today this alleyway of a street is the hub for Beatles mania!  The Cavern Club sits mid-way, but first there are Beatles gift shops selling absolutely every item you can imagine with Beatles images on them.  Outside the Cavern Club is a brick wall with the name of every known country, rock or blues musician.  And be sure to have your photo taken with John Lennon or Cilla Black.
Each year Liverpool hosts an International Beatles Week attracting thousands of fans, with concerts all throughout the city performed by hundreds of Beatles tribute bands from around the world.  And, if you are such an ardent Beatles fan that you want an all-consuming experience, then you must stay at the Hard Day’s Night Hotel.  This high-end establishment is adorned with specially-commissioned artwork and memorabilia.  And, yes, it serves Afternoon Tea.

As I said Liverpool is a vibrant and thriving city now.  If you ever get the chance to visit, you won’t be disappointed.  And if you want to argue that Liverpool’s amazing turnaround over the past 30 years is because of the investment of dedicated developers which has led to the revitalization and rebirth of the city, you may be right.  But I say it’s all because of four lads, who called themselves the Beatles.

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References:  Hard Day’s Night Hotel, The Cavern Club, Beatles Tours, Wikipedia,
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CAFFEINE

This site is about ‘tea‘, as well as ‘toast‘ and ‘travel‘.  But, it seems lately I haven’t posted much about the actual beverage ‘tea‘.  Many people think this is a site about food only.  Actually, it was my love for ‘tea‘ and the closing of my tea business which prompted me to start this blog.  I think I still had much more to say on the subject but my audience was gone.  Well, I haven’t stopped talking about ‘tea‘ yet.

I do realize that I still live in that ‘tea world’, a world in which most people do not live.  So when I overhear someone saying ‘yeah, I can’t drink tea because it has too much caffeine‘, or ‘did you know tea has more caffeine than coffee?‘ I have to step away from the conversation, because it still makes me a little crazy.  I feel compelled to set the record straight once more … TEA does not have more caffeine than coffee.  In the most simplistic of terms … ” A cup of tea has HALF the caffeine as a cup of coffee.”

Not enough information for you?  Okay, then here’s my CAFFEINE 101.

Camellia Sinensis plant

Where does caffeine come from?  Well, Mother Nature is responsible for caffeine.  She came up with a natural way to protect over 60 plants from destructive leaf, nut and seed-eating predators.  When these hungry, little insects try to eat these plants they get a mouthful of this bitter organic compound.  For the most part, these plants originated from Asia, Africa and South America, which, of course, is where the trees which give us coffee, cocoa and tea originated.  At this point, I am assuming everyone knows tea (not herbal beverages like chamomile, mint, rooibos, hibiscus, etc.) comes from the camellia sinensis plant, which originated in Asia.

Caffeine Structure

Now we’ve established that caffeine is natural.  It can, however, be ‘manipulated’ and it can also be ‘harvested’.  In the beverage we love so much, there are several factors which determine tea’s caffeine content.  In today’s modern world, it begins with the propagation of the bush.  Plants grown from clones can produce twice as much caffeine as bushes from seeds.  Nitrogen fertilizer can also add another 10% to the normal caffeine level.  From there, the caffeine content in the plant can vary according to the picking season. Teas plucked in cooler weather might produce less caffeine than those plucked in the fast growing hot months. Also, things as subtle as the location of the leaf on the stem, or whether its an unfurled bud, can also affect the level of caffeine.  And let’s not forget that the longer the infusion (the longer the leaves sit in the water), the greater the caffeine content.  Did you know that tea bags, which contain broken leaves, fannings and dust, produce an infusion with far more caffeine than loose leaf tea?

Uber-smart Nigel Melican, research scientist and founder of Teacraft, Ltd., says it best Caffeine varies in the fresh green leaf depending on fineness of pluck. For any tea, be it black, green or white, the caffeine is highest in the bud. Silver needle (white tea) is 100% bud and has the highest caffeine content.  If your white tea is 100% bud then it’s going to be one-third higher in caffeine content than green tea made from two leaves and a bud.”

Learning how to properly pluck tea in China.

Please understand we’re not talking about astronomically high amounts of caffeine … perhaps a variance of 8-10% (which might be just enough to keep some people up at night).  The average tea drinker consumes about 180 mg of caffeine per day as compared to the average coffee drinker’s 330 mg per day (far more if they drink robust coffee such as Starbucks).

Upon drinking this naturally-occurring substance, it is absorbed into the small intestine and within 45 minutes is distributed throughout your body.  Yes, it is a stimulant .  And, yes, it has been shown to increase alertness and concentration, quell headaches (which is why some pharmaceutical companies ‘harvest’ caffeine) and it does speed reaction time.  It also increases digestive juices in the stomach (always served after a meal in Asia).  Although it does not dehydrate the body, it does stimulate the kidneys, which helps the body eliminate toxins.  If caffeine keeps you up at night, avoid drinking it four to five hours before bed (which is the amount of time it takes for the caffeine to work its way out of your system).

For most of us, caffeine really shouldn’t be a concern.  High amounts of caffeine, however, can absolutely have a negative affect on some people.  If you are on medication which is affected by caffeine, or if your doctor is asking you to cut caffeine out of your diet, switch to a decaffeinated tea or a caffeine-free herbal.  (Remember, caffeine is not present in herbals unless they are blended with tea leaves.)  Always consult with your doctor if you have any questions about caffeine’s effects upon your health.

There is much more to say on the subject of caffeine, but I think I’ve gone on enough for the average person.  The next time someone tells me ‘tea has more caffeine than coffee’, I hope you’ll realize that, at that moment, I will be doing everything in my power not to go on a rant … as I’ve done here!  And, for everyone who may still be confused … ” a cup of tea has HALF the caffeine as a cup of coffee.”

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References:  Cha DaoCoffee and Health, Wikipedia, Villanova University,

ZUCCHINI STREUSEL BREAD

If you check out my recipes page, you’ll find that I have quite a few “zucchini” recipes.  There’s a reason for that … some vegetables  I can grow easily, and zucchini is one of them.  I’ve picked the last of the summer’s crop of zucchini for this year, and, believe me, it was a bumper crop as usual.  I’m not quite sure which of my zucchini recipes I like the best.  They are all tried, true and delicous!   My suggestion, give them all a try and then let me know.

This quick bread is a “go to” and not as complicated as it may look.  I like to make the streusel topping first and set it aside.  Then I mix the dry ingredients together …. the wet ingredients together and combine.  What could be easier!
Happy baking!

ZUCCHINI STREUSEL BREAD
Stays very well for 4 to 5 days if wrapped and refrigerated.  Or this bread can be made ahead and frozen for up to 3 months.  

2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup plain yogurt, non-fat or full-fat
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups grated, unpeeled zucchini (about 2 large)
3 cups all purpose, unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Optional:  1 cup chopped walnuts, dried fruits

Preheat the oven to 375°.  This recipe will make two one pound loafs, one large 13 x 9 tray loaf or 24 muffins.  Grease and line whichever pans you’d like to use.

Grate the zucchini either by hand or with a food processor, then wrap the grated zucchini in a kitchen towel and squeeze out all the excess moisture.

In a large bowl beat together the eggs, sugars, vanilla, oil and yogurt.  When fully combined, fold in the grated, squeezed-dry zucchini.  A medium to coarse grating is perfect.

In another large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.  If you are adding walnuts, dust with a little flour first to prevent them from sinking into the batter.

Quickly fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until well combined.  Don’t overmix.  Spoon the batter into the prepared pan(s).  Bake at 375° for half the total baking time – 25 minutes for breads – 15 minutes for muffins.  At this half-way point, you’ll want to generously spread the streusel topping onto the bread(s), pressing down slightly.

STREUSEL TOPPING
2/3 cup old-fashioned oats (not instant)
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 stick cold butter, cubed
Optional:  1/2 cup chopped nuts, chocolate chips, Reese’s pieces, brittle

In a bowl thoroughly mix together the dry ingredients and then cut in the cold, cubed butter until the mixture looks crumbly.  Set aside until ready to spread onto the bread batter.  

Finish baking until a tester inserted into the middle of the bake comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before removing from pan.

Now it’s time to put the kettle on and make that pot of tea.  When serving, there’s no need for butter, cream cheese or any other spread, this bread is moist, rich and delicious!  Have a second slice, you’ve earned it!!

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TEA in SPAIN

I really should title this post “Searching for Tea in Spain” … because I was hard pressed on our recent trip to find any.  No, I’m not talking about the obligatory selection of tea bags sitting next to the carafe of hot water at the breakfast buffet in the hotel.  And, of course, if you ordered tea at a cafe or restaurant, you were served tea … sometimes even in a teapot.  What I was hoping to discover was a love for, a connection with, or history of  … ‘tea’.

We started in the capital of Spain and the third largest city in Europe, Madrid.  An exciting city, full of vitality and passion, and now well on its way to shaking off the financial woes it experienced during the past decade, but even in the heavily traveled tourist areas, no outward signs of “tea” existed.  What was I looking for?  Perhaps a retail store, tea room, even a tea display or sign … something that beckoned the tea drinker.  Nothing.

We then traveled south into the magnificent area of Andalusia with its vast savannahs filled with olive groves and vineyards, surrounded by the majestic Sierra mountain ranges.  Our visits to the white-washed villages of Cordoba, Toledo, and Ronda were breathtaking … but no ‘tea’.

We marveled at the Roman ruins in Merida, the medieval walled city of Carceres, and hoped to see a bullfight in Seville, but didn’t.  We climbed the narrow stone steps into the cathedral towers, got lost in the maze of winding alleyways, clapped to the beat of the flamenco guitar, and ate tapas, authentic tapas, some spicy, a few not, some raw, others fried … but no ‘tea’.

We strolled through the lively gypsy neighborhoods, wondered at the priceless art collections, and indulged in an occasional afternoon siesta.  We attended the prestigious annual patios festival, took photographs of the vibrantly festooned balconies, and dunked our churros into hot, thick dark chocolate.  We drank red wines and white wines from the local vineyards; rich, red, fruity sangria, and syrupy sweet sherry over ice … but we didn’t drink ‘tea’.

Until we came to Granada.

Granada is one of the most important cities in Spain’s rich history.  Settled by the Phoenicians until the Romans overtook it in the 3rd century; by the 5th century Rome had fallen and Granada was then ruled by the Visigoths.  The Visigoths held this area for a few hundred years until Muslim forces coming from Morocco across the Strait of Gibralta, conquered it around 1010.  The Muslims remained in power, living side-by-side with Christians and Jews, until 1492 (hmmmm, that date sounds familiar), when Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand took control.  Why is any of this important?  Because during the Muslim rule, the city became one of the richest cities in medieval  Europe.  Trade routes from Morocco were open and the artistic and scientific communities flourished.  With these trade routes came silk, cotton, paper and … ‘tea’.

Yes, “TEA” is alive and well in Granada!   Although the Muslims were forced out of the city by the 15th century, their influence has remained.  Within the old Moorish district of Granada, known as the Albayzin, there are Arabic tea houses or teterias.   A narrow, cobblestone paved street called “Calle Caldereria Nueva” is as close to a Moroccan souk as you can find, crammed full of trinkets, rugs, lanterns and it is dotted with tea houses!  No, you will not find bone china cups and saucers.  There’s not a scone or tea cake anywhere around.  But what you will find are lavishly decorated, intimate cafes serving loose leaf tea.

Calle Caldereria Nueva

So while sitting on a long, pillow-topped divan, with heavy drapery covered walls, in a Moroccan-inspired tearoom, sipping a hot steaming cup of mint tea, what I learned was, in Spain, unless you are visiting Granada, it is “coffee country”.

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References:  Wikipedia, Andalucia, Love Granada, Trip Savvy,
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CHAI … it’s sordid beginnings

In many languages “cha” or “chai” is the word for tea.  Chai, or Masala tea as it is called in India, is that milky, spicy, sweet, hot beverage we’ve all come to love.  Knowing the humble origins of chai, I’m amazed when I go to stores like Home Goods or TJ Maxx or even Ocean State Job Lot to see ‘chai‘ in shelf-stable packages, pre-made and ready to drink.  Actually I shouldn’t be surprised at all.  As much as we might love this spicy beverage, we’ve become a country in which we are so busy, we don’t have time to sit, relax and enjoy the process of … making chai, baking bread, growing herbs .  I’m one of those people, however, who tries to make time for it all.

I find the story of how Chai began quite fascinating, because it tells the story of tea … with all its grit, espionage, smuggling and deceit.  Chai has one of those sordid origins where it was bred out of necessity, much like soul food.  People had to eat (or in this case, drink) what was available.  If they didn’t they went hungry, and in most cases, they would die.

Let’s start at the very beginning.  It was 1848 and the East India Company had lost its monopoly on the China tea trade.  The Chinese were resentful that Britain attempted to addict their entire nation to opium and refused to do business with them.  The whole of Great Britain was now demanding “tea” and It was imperative that the British government establish its own independent tea supply.  But where and how?

Among botanist Robert Fortune’s tasks in China was to learn the procedure for manufacturing tea, as shown in this 18th century tea plantation. (The Granger Collection, New York)

A Scotsman by the name of Robert Fortune, curator and botanist of the Royal Horticultural Society, was asked by the East India Company to go on a “tea-discovery” mission to China.  Little did Fortune know that he was about to become an international man of espionage.  For three years, disguised as a Mandarin, Fortune visited the most famous tea districts, kept meticulous notes on the soil, the pruning, plucking and manufacturing process, and systematically collected seeds and plants.  By 1851, Fortune had amassed such knowledge, and plants, that he filled four vessels sailing from Hong Kong to Calcutta with thousands of plants, seedlings and had hired a team of experienced Chinese tea workers.

While Robert Fortune was busy collecting specimens, Robert Bruce, a fellow Scotsman, was meeting with one of the chiefs of the Singpho tribe in Assam, India.  The Singpho tribe, as the Chinese and other tribes in Southeast Asia, had also been making tea for centuries.   A tea committee was immediately formed to explore the possibilities of growing tea in this Assam region, which lies just to the west of China.

And then the takeover began.  Britain appeared to align themselves with the tribes, but their intent was to take over this territory.  They began by moving into this area and stripping the tribal people of their land, and then increasing the land tax to the point where the Assamese were unable to pay it.  This forced the Assamese to work clearing their own swampy, mosquito-laden land for the future tea gardens of their new British land “lords”.

These indigenous people had no experience laboring in this manner, and under deplorable working conditions.  The  British viewed them as “lazy, indolent and miserable”.  As a result, the British began “importing” labor from other parts of India. This “importing” of labor was, in fact, slavery.  Recruiting agents were sent into rural areas and promised a good wage and better life to men, women and children … ‘recruits’ who willing to immigrate to Assam.  When they had enough ‘recruits’ from one area, they loaded them onto overcrowded boats with appalling conditions for the six- to eight-week trip up the Brahmaputra River.  Many of the men, women and children, or ‘coolies’ as they were called (the term ‘coolie’ is believed to originate from the Tamil word for wages, ‘kuli’), died from cholera, dysentery, malaria or typhoid fever.  The ones who did survive were put to work no matter how sick, hungry or tired.  They were managed with whips, lived in pitiful huts, were chronically ill and malnourished, and unable to escape.

Most often the only source of nourishment for the ‘coolies’ was rice and tea.  No, not a good quality tea, but tea made from the dregs of the pluckings, infused with some milk for nourishment, sugar for energy, and spices to cover up the bad taste.   As a result, coolies suffered a very high mortality rate.  Between 1863 and 1866 half of the 84,000 laborers brought into this area died.  As I said, the history of “tea” and this now-beloved drink isn’t the sweetest tale.  Many thousands upon thousands of people died from malnourishment, disease and mistreatment.

Born out of necessity, today “chai” is the national drink of India. From sipping chai in someone’s home, while making a purchase in a shop, at a train station, or on a street corner, you can’t visit India without experiencing this unique culture.   Chaiwallahs are on every street corner in every village and town, ready to serve you a small cup or glass of this wonderful beverage.  Each may have their own special recipe or preparation style, but rest assured, each is as delicious as the next.

Everywhere in India there are chaiwallahs on the street with large kettles selling their spicy tea steeped with boiled milk and sugar. Because of the stiff competition between chaiwallahs, each tries to develop a unique style.

While specific recipes can vary, the black tea is always brewed with a blend of spices, generally cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, ginger, and cloves, with the addition of milk and sugar or honey.  In the U.S., some folks steep their tea together with milk, spices and sweetener. Others steep the tea and spices together, then add the milk and sweetener. A third group steeps the tea, stirs in the sweetener, and enjoys it without milk. It’s your choice.

We enjoy ours best steeped in a saucepan for 10 minutes or more with equal parts water and milk and one teaspoon of tea, spices and sugar for every 8 ounces of liquid.  Milk may burn if the heat is too high, so steep the heat at a medium temperature for about 10 to 15 minutes. After steeping, strain into a pot, and enjoy.

Yes, making it yourself does take about 15 minutes or more, and you can certainly buy prepared chai in bottles or packages, or even dry chai mixes, but taking those 15 minutes is so worthwhile.  And, if you make too much, just put it into the refrigerator and enjoy it cold the next day, over ice, or reheat it.  In the summertime, I love to make chai shakes … with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the blender.  Try it.  It’s absolutely delicious!!

I may occasionally order a chai (notice I didn’t say “chai latté”), in a café, but I really enjoy making it at home.  The aroma of those comforting spices steeping in that dark, rich tea just relaxes the senses and puts me in that “happy” place.

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References:  TEA by Roy Moxham, The Heritage of Indian Tea by D.K. Taknet, For All The Tea in China by Sarah Rose, Academia, Teatulia, Smithsonian

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TOAST

Have you wondered why I’ve named this blog ‘Tea, Toast and Travel‘?  Well the ‘tea’ seems fairly obvious as does the ‘travel’, but ‘toast’?  I’ve had that question asked more than once. For me ‘toast’ is a warm, crunchy accompaniment to a hot cuppa tea … slathered in creamy, salty butter and, most often, a thick, sweet, fruity jam.  As a child, whenever I was sick … cold, flu or just a belly ache … my Mother would make me “toast” which now epitomizes comfort food.  I also use ‘toast’ as a category for recipes that I feel pair well with a cuppa tea … whether hearty soups or quick and easy desserts.  And this blog is meant to be about me sharing what I enjoy, so “Tea, Toast and Travel” suits me to a ….. T.

Years ago, I mentioned to hubby that I would love to open a small restaurant called “TOAST” and just serve just that – ‘toast’.   High-quality, loose leaf teas would, of course, be served too, but it would be ‘toast’ with all kinds of specialty toppings from savory to sweet.  How about bacon, avocado and poached egg on toast … or a garlicky ricotta cheese and English peas spread with a hint of lemon … or a thick slab of roasted turkey breast smothered in pan roasted drippings (yes, I used to have that same lunch sitting at the Kresge’s counter with my grandmother) … or Nutella and banana slices, a sprinkle of pecans and topped with Marshmallow Fluff under the broiler all melted and gooey?  My ‘toast’ would not be thinly sliced, pre-packaged white bread. It would be crusty, thick slices of artisanal breads from sourdough to whole grains.

When I mentioned my idea to hubby little did I know I was a few years ahead of a trend.  Today it seems ‘toast’ has already become the latest fad among foodies.  There are restaurants named ‘TOAST’ in New York City, Los Angeles, Long Island, one in Michigan, another in Charleston, and there’s even one here locally. They’re all over the country and they are all individually owned … not a chain, each one with a different image and menu.  There’s even a point-of-sale system for restaurants called “toast”.

I know trends are short-lived, but how fun to ride the wave. We’ve survived the freeze-dried coffee era, the fondue dinner party fix, the ubiquitous seven-layer dip which appeared at every social gathering.  Then there were bagels:  breakfast bagels, pizza bagels, dessert bagels, bagel chips, bagel bits.  And, of course, thanks to Oprah, the never-ending parade of cupcakes.  From smoothies to sliders, mac ‘n cheese to short ribs, we now have ‘toast’.

The word ‘toast,’ in fact, comes from the Latin word tostum, meaning to scorch or burn.  It is believed that 5,000 years ago Egyptians used ‘toasting’ bread was a way of preserving it.  (Not quite sure how researchers have been able to determine that time line.) Romans also preserved bread by toasting it, and this continued to be spread throughout Europe.  The British really took to ‘toasting’ (what goes better with a cuppa?).  And, of course, anything that was popular in Europe found its way to the Americas.  Cutting slabs of bread and roasting them on an open fire sounds intoxicating and romantic to me.

Although its only been around for about 100 years, the most common household item is the electric toaster.  Doesn’t everyone have one?  The invention of the electric toaster in 1893 by a Scotsman was thought to be the greatest invention of all time, although sliced bread wasn’t invented until 1928.  I’m not sure how popular it was, having to lay your bread against the coils and and watch it, quickly taking the bread off before it burned.  It wasn’t until the 1920s when the electric toaster as we know it today was perfected, evolving into a two-slice, pop-up device with a timer.  And with the invention of pre-sliced bread, the world was changed forever.

As a child isn’t toast the first thing you learned to make?  Ask someone who may not know how to cook if they know how and you’ll probably hear “I can make toast”.  So now how do you feel about slicing bread, toasting it under some type of heat source, spreading your favorite topping on it and then sitting back and savoring its sweet, crunchy goodness?  Serve that up with a piping hot mug of tea, and I’m yours!


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References:  Thoughtco, H2G2, Today I Found Out
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Chocolate – The Elixir of Love

Every February we are inundated with tv, internet, magazine and newspaper ads all selling the “passion” of chocolate. Roses have been pushed aside.  Valentine cards are a thing of the past.  Now chocolate has become the one true symbol of love and romance.  I need to find out not only how our obsession with chocolate began, but  where our love for chocolate started.

If you’ve read my blog “The John Company” then you know how “tea came to Great Britain.  It was Queen Elizabeth I who gave the East India Company a charter to go out in search of spices, competing with the Spanish and the Dutch.  Not only were spices necessary for preserving foods, spices made spoiled foods taste better. Spices were also used for embalming the dead, in religious practices, and as medicine.   Nutmeg was the most cherished of all spices because it was believed to be a miracle cure for the plague, which killed more than 35,000 people in London in 1603.

Over the 60 years during which they had a monopoly, The East India Company did bring back spices … pepper, cinnamon, clove, saffron, ginger and nutmeg … and they also brought back tea, coffee and cacao beans.  But it was actually the Spanish who are credited with introducing “Chocolate” to Europe.

Coffee House – 17th century

By the mid-17th century coffee houses were well established in London. These male-dominated “penny universities” were the social and political centers of London.  No woman would dare enter.  Although alcohol was not served, these places were not always ‘high brow’ destinations. In fact, King Charles II made an attempt to ban them altogether by 1675, but the public was so outraged, it was withdrawn.

Coffee was served, tea was just being introduced and alongside coffee and tea a new “hearty drink called “Chacolate” was starting to peak London’s curiosity.  In 1659 Thomas Rugg wrote in his Diurnal … “And theire ware also att this time a Turkish drink to bee sould, almost evry street, called coffee, and another kind of drink called tee, and also a drink called Chacolate, which was a very harty drink.”

Historians have been able to trace the origins of “Chocolate”, which is the result of roasting the ground beans of the cacao plant, back to as early as 1900 B.C. in Mexico, Central America and South America.  The Mayans and Aztecs used the pulverized seeds of the cacao plant, together with water and chili pepper, to brew ceremonial drinks.  They actually believed the cacao bean had divine and magical properties, which made it suitable for use in the most sacred rituals of birth, marriage and death.   The word “Chocolate” comes from the Maya word “xocoatl” which means “bitter water”.

Cacao beans were also used in trade as currency.  In 1545 a list of Aztec prices illustrates the value of this precious bean:  1 good turkey hen for 100 cacao beans, 1 turkey egg for 3 cacao beans, 1 fully ripe avocado for 1 cacao bean, 1 large tomato for 1 cacao bean.   Unfortunately, according to a report at that time from Hernando de Oviedo y Valdez, cacao beans also bought:  a slave for 100 cacao beans. services of a prostitute for 10 cacao beans, and a rabbit dinner for 4 cacao beans.

It’s hard to know who to credit in the mid-16th century with introducing Spain to the cacao bean and the “hot beverage” that was made from it.  Was it the explorer Christopher Columbus, the conqueror Hernán Cortés, or was it the returning missionary Dominican friars?  Whoever it was certainly made an impression on the Spanish court.  This hot, bitter beverage made from the pressed blocks of dried cacao beans and hot water became a hit with Spanish aristocracy, but only after they began adding honey or sugar to it.  They found it most enjoyable when mixed with milk and flavorings such as vanilla, cinnamon, ground cloves, allspice and chilies.

“Chocolate” then migrated from Spain to France because of the marriage of Spanish King Philip IV’s daughter, Marie Thérèse, who, when she married French King Louis XIV, introduced these hot and hearty drinks to her French entourage.  King Louis XIV became so very fond of chocolate, he actually granted a monopoly for manufacturing this beverage to David Chaillou, a French importer.

Back in England, it was an entrepreneurial Frenchman now familiar with this wonderful elixir who, wanting to elevate the chocolate experience in London, removed it from the bawdy coffee house atmosphere and in 1657 opened the first “chocolate house”.  As always, the wealthy elite were the only ones who could afford this luxurious experience.  Tea was very dear, selling at approximately £26 per pound … which, when you consider the average income was less than £10 per year, was outrageous … and chocolate was just as expensive!

But where did the allure of chocolate as an aphrodisiac come from? The Spanish were quite observant in noticing that the Aztec emperor, Montezuma, drank copious amounts of this cacao bean beverage before he visited his harem.  Montezuma, is said to have drunk cold, thick chocolate from golden goblets daily, which were thrown away after only one use.  And when returning to Spain with the new elixir these Spanish explorers were quite eager to tout the aphrodisiac properties to the Spanish court.  The explorers also described this native “food of the gods” as a drug, able to treat a variety of ailments.

It is said that the French aristocrat, Marquis de Sade, became quite proficient in using chocolate to disguise potions.  The following is taken from a guest’s diary at an elaborate ball given in 1772 by the Marquis:

“Into the dessert he slipped chocolate pastilles so good that a number of people devoured them. There were lots of them, and no one failed to eat some, but he had mixed in some Spanish fly. The virtue of the medication is well known. It proved to be so potent that those who ate the pastilles began to burn with unchaste ardor and to carry on as if in the grip of the most amorous frenzy. The ball degenerated into one of those licentious orgies for which the Romans were renowned…”

Needless to say, the European’s love for chocolate grew, especially when they believed it to have nutritious, medicinal and properties able to increase their libido.  But, like tea, it remained a privilege of the rich.  In the 1700’s, the British obsession for chocolate (and sugar) grew to such proportions they established colonial plantations in tropical regions around the world just to grow cacao and sugar.  Sadly, we all know what happened when European diseases were transmitted into these countries which, to the then privileged Europeans, didn’t stop them from going in search of cheap labor.

Chocolate was always a hot (or iced) drink until 1828 when Dutch chemist, Coenraad Johannes van Houten, invented a specialized hydraulic press  to squeeze the fatty cocoa butter from the roasted cacao beans, leaving behind a dry cake which could then be pulverized into a fine powder.  (We still see “Dutch process” as a way of branding cocoa today.)  This fine powder could be mixed with liquids, poured into molds and solidified into edible, easily digestible chocolate which paved the way for the solid chocolate we all know and love.  This also resulted in making chocolate affordable to everyone. And in 1830, J. S. Fry and Sons, a British chocolate maker, is credited with making the first solid, edible chocolate candy bar.

50 years later, J. S. Fry and Sons merged with another company you may have heard of … Cadbury.  In 1824 John Cadbury opened a grocery store in Birmingham, England.  In addition to groceries, he sold drinking chocolate, which he prepared himself using a pestle and mortar.  Van Houten’s 1828 invention allowed for a much more affordable and versatile product, enabling Cadbury to sell 16 flavors of drinking chocolate.  And when Daniel Peter from Switzerland puts the first milk chocolate on the market, the appeal for chocolate skyrocketed. In 1913 another enterprising Swiss, Jules Sechaud, introduced the process for filling chocolates.  We haven’t looked back since!

So how did we get from there to being the one true symbol of love and romance?  English philosopher, James Wadsworth, translated the Spanish works Treatise (1640), which poetically combined the descriptions of this new hot chocolate beverage with the promise that if you drank enough chocolate anyone would become “faire and amiable.”  Both England and France used this statement as a powerful marketing tool.

Cadbury’s Valentine’s Day Box

St. Valentine’s Day, as a romantic holiday, was well established by the 1840’s.  It first appeared in the writings of Chaucer during the medieval period in 1382 with knights giving roses to their maidens and serenading them with songs.  By the 1840s, the Victorian era of excess was well underway and they were indulging in chocolate, tea, Cupid and romance.  Richard Cadbury recognized this as a great marketing opportunity and designed an elaborately decorated box in which he would put their Cadbury chocolates.  From that moment on, Cupids and roses were put on heart-shaped boxes everywhere.

In 1907, the American chocolate company, Hershey, launched production of its revolutionary tear-dropped shaped “kisses,” (named because of the smooching noise made by the machines as the chocolate was manufactured). Let’s not forget from the earliest days of movies, chocolate has been an important cast member.  Jean Harlow’s seductive performance in the 1933 film Dinner at Eight linked chocolate and sexuality forever, as she suggestively nibbles her way through a giant box of chocolates.  And who will ever forget the classic episode of “I Love Lucy” when Lucy and Ethel worked on a chocolate factory assembly line?

Chocolate lovers are passionate about chocolate, but does chocolate really create passion? Scientists have isolated phenylethylamine (PEA) which is a stimulant found in chocolate (as well as many other foods), and also in the brain.  A minuscule amount of this stimulate is released at moments of emotional euphoria, which raises blood pressure and heart rate.  Although we have learned about the many antioxidant benefits of high-percentage cacao in chocolate, there really is no scientific proof that chocolate is an aphrodisiac.

Does any of this matter?  Not really … because who doesn’t love the luscious, pleasurable sensation of chocolate as it melts in your mouth? And, for me, a velvet-covered, heart-shaped box full of divine chocolates is the quintessential Valentine’s gift.

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References:  Wikipedia, Message to Eagle, Chocolate of the Month, Cornell University, History, Cadbury, Public Domain Review, Smithsonian,
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The Culture Shift … Tea to Coffee

What is happening in Great Britain today?  Traditional tea rooms are on the decline while lattés, caramelattés, cappuchinos, mochachinos and espresso drinking cafés are on the upswing.  The new millenials would rather log on and slurp, than clink cups and sip.  Although people are living longer, older generation Brits just can’t seem to hold onto their dying traditions anymore.  The solid foundations are slipping away.  The special occasion “afternoon tea” may be as popular as ever, but the mid-morning, mid-day, early evening tea break is just about gone.

Starbucks Cafe
Now there appears to be a war between Caffé Nero, Starbucks and Costa.  Take away their signs and all the marketing materials, and quite honestly, they are impossible to tell apart.  No character.  No charm.  No unique identity.  They refer to themselves as “customer centric”?  What exactly does “customer centric” mean anyway?

They each use surveys to track the customer service experience.  Surveys from how the customers like the furniture, the music, the art, and most recently what was printed on the take-away cup.  What about a survey about how good the coffee or tea tastes?  I guess that’s no longer important.

costaWhen I go to one of these take-away cafes, I know I’m going to have to compromise on the quality of the tea that I’m about to order.  I love green tea, but I know it will be a teabag of questionable quality, steeped with water that is far too hot and, if I don’t tell them to please not put the teabag into the cup, it will definitely be oversteeped and bitter.  I will carry the cup, perhaps on a tray, back to a table, which may or may not be clean, slopping most of the tea over the top, only to find that there’s no chair available, and napkins are nowhere in sight.  (Sigh)

caffe neroAnd the media tells me everyone is so concerned about their calorie and sugar intake, yet many Brits now consume these beverages regularly.  Action on Sugar, which is a group of specialists concerned with sugar intake and its effects on health, analyzed 131 hot drinks and found Starbucks, Caffé Nero and Costa to be among the worst offenders.

At Starbucks a “White Chocolate Mocha Venti with Whipped Cream” has 18 teaspoons of sugar.  Now, if I’m ordering dessert at a restaurant, that might be okay, but … really … this is just a beverage?  All right, that might seem a bit extreme.  How about if we wanted one of their seasonal beverages, such as Starbuck’s seasonal Hot Mulled Fruit drinks?  Would you believe 25 TEASPOONS of sugar!   Or if you think a nice hot chai would warm you up, at Costa a Chai Latte has only 20 teaspoons of sugar.  ONLY 20 TEASPOONS!

Want to know how many teaspoons of sugar are in a steaming, hot cup of tea?  0  Oh, maybe I didn’t stress that enough …. 0!  If you want sugar, you can put it in yourself.  I dare you to add 20 teaspoons of sugar to your cuppa and see if you still want to drink it.

We might have to get into the cost of these highly-calorific beverages on another post, but, for now, just think of the calorie savings alone.  The lowly cup of tea has 0 fat and 0 calories.  You can still hold it in your hands.  It still warms you.  It tastes delicious.  It is very social.  What’s better than sharing a good pot of tea with friends?  And it costs pennies.

So c’mon Brits.  Don’t be like so many other countries and let your traditions slip away.  Does every shopping area need to look like every other shopping area and every café look like every other café?  Perhaps tearooms may not be the chic, savvy trend-setting places they once were, but what they always have provided is a hearty cuppa, for a reasonable cost, warming the hearts and hands of generations of Brits!

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References:  Independent, Nunwood, Action on Sugar, TEA & COFFEE magazine

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Does the Answer Lie in the Leaves?

Last night I watched the first episode of Outlander.  Yes, I know, where have I been the past year? I’m not quite sure if I’m going to like the series or not, but I must admit there was one scene which caught my attention … Claire and the minister’s assistant sitting in the kitchen having tea and then reading the tea leaves left in Claire’s cup.

Tea leaf reading, or Tasseography (from the French tasse, for cup, and the Greek suffix graph, for writing), is the ancient art of predicting the future by reading images formed from the tea leaves left in the bottom of a teacup.  The origins are a bit unclear.  Was it the Chinese or was it Greek gypsies who saw the “future” in these images?  What is clear is that you must be a bit of a mystic or clairvoyant to accurately interpret these images.

By the 17th century, tea leaf reading had traveled, along with tea, up through Europe into Great Britain.  “Tossing the cup” as it was called in Victorian England had become a very popular parlor game, but in Scotland, it was taken a little more seriously.  One of the oldest books on the subject, TEA-CUP READING AND FORTUNE TELLING BY TEA LEAVES, was written anonymously by a Highland Scotsman.  From the book,  “… (reading tea leaves) is one of the most common forms of divination practised by the peasants of Scotland and by village fortune-tellers in all parts of this country.” Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the tea-leaf reading scene was included in the tv series.

Reading-Tea-Leaves

To read the tea leaves, you must first prepare a good pot of loose leaf tea.  No, you cannot use teabags. You must use loose leaf tea and let it steep in the pot without infusers or tea balls.   I love this passage from TEA-CUP READING“China tea, the original tea imported into this country and still the best for all purposes. Indian tea and the cheaper mixtures contain so much dust and so many fragments of twigs and stems as often to be quite useless for the purposes of divination, as they will not combine to form pictures, or symbols clearly to be discerned.”

Before serving, stir the tea in the teapot and then pour a cup.  You also must use a “proper” teacup with saucer – not a mug.  The inside of the teacup must be white to see the leaves clearly and have sloping sides. The person who drinks the tea and wants to know the future is the “seeker”.  The person who will read the leaves is, obviously, the “reader”.  The seeker is asked by the reader to concentrate on what question she wants answered, or what she wants to know.

After the seeker has finished the tea and left the dregs behind, the reader takes the cup in her left hand, and turns it counter-clockwise three times, swirling the dregs, and then turns the cup over onto the saucer.  After a moment or two, the reader picks up the cup to see what images have been made by the tea leaves left in the cup.  The interpretation of these symbols is, of course, based upon the talent and divining abilities of the reader.  He or she must be intuitive, focused and creative.  Seeing images in the tea leaves takes quite an imagination.

reading tea 2The reader begins reading from the rim down.  The rim signifies those events happening soonest, while the images closer to the bottom will be further in the future.  The tea leaves which settle closer to the cup’s handle suggest home and family.

Anchor:  a good sign, symbolizing prosperity.
Arrow:  a disagreeable letter coming from the direction it points to.
Bird:  a flying bird indicates good news; a resting bird symbolizes an end to a journey.
Boat:  an upcoming journey or a removal of something from the seeker’s life.
Circles:  money, gifts or presents are expected.
Clover:  a very lucky sign; happiness and prosperity.
Cross:  a sign of trouble and delay or even death.
Dog:  a begging dog indicates someone will ask for a favor; a sad dog represents an injustice.
Heart:  love and affection
Horse-shoe:  a lucky journey or success in marriage and choosing a partner.
Human:  people in a positive stance is a good sign; aggressive stance signifies evil.
Line:  a straight, unbroken line means good progress; a broken line challenges the journey.
Numbers:  must be looked at with other symbols; numbers could signify days of the week, time, or amounts.
Ring:  at the top, means offer of marriage; at the bottom means long engagement; if broken means engagement broken off
Snake:  spiteful enemies; bad luck; illness.
Square:  being boxed in, limited or oppressed.
Sun, Moon, Stars:  all signify happiness and success.
Turtle:  a slow but profitable journey.

If you are interested in learning about tea-leaf reading, there are many books and websites on the subject.  Tea-leaf reading teacups, with the symbols on the inside of the cup and on the saucers and an instruction booklet, are available for sale online and at book stores.  Great fun if you want to have a tea leaf reading party at home.

reading teaI’ve been to many tea rooms which offer Tasseography, as well as Tarot card reading, Palmestry and other forms of seeing into the future … all of which I find absolutely fascinating.  Whether I believe it or not certainly doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of, not only the tea, but the experience.  For a fun afternoon, I recommend visiting a tea room where they have Tasseographers and enjoying a little divination from the leaves.

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References:  Newfound Info, TEA CUP READING, The Daily Tea

Bye, Bye, Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey Robert and CoraI’m not the only one saddened to see this award-winning British TV series end.  It’s been six years of pure joy and escapism.  For the past six glorious years, we’ve been transported to the opulent ancestral home of aristocrats Robert, the Earl of Grantham, and his wife, Cora, Countess of Grantham and their daughters, Mary, Sybil and Edith.

Downton Abbey sisters
Mary, the eldest daughter, elegant and graceful but headstrong, opinionated and daring to strike out on her own.  Darling Sybil, the middle daughter who defies the family by falling madly for the politically-active chauffeur. Edith, the youngest daughter for whom love and affection are always an arms-length away.

We’ve experienced the joys and heartbreak of life during this time as we’ve watched the Grantham family and the household staff experience love,  marriage, childbirth and death. We’ve stood hand-and-hand as they lost family members in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 . . . faced the direct, hard-hitting impact of the war years on their home, their lives and their future . . . coped with the changing morals, dress and labor landscape of the Roaring 20’s . . . and struggled with the decline of finances, lifestyles and ever-changing political climate.

We’ve become part of the inservice family below the stairs as well, watching as the fiercBTCyys-d4Rxlely loyal Mr. Carson, butler to the Earl of Grantham, manages the house and staff with discipline, integrity, and on occasion, patience. His stern demeanor masks the soft, squishy teddy-bear interior that we all know exists.  Firmly planted in the traditions of the past, Mr. Carson painfully and slowly must adapt to a new age.

His female foil and ultimate soul-mate is the pragmatic housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes.  Respected, admired and feared by the female servants, Mrs. Hughes runs the household staff efficiently and compassionately.  Just a jiggle of those intimidating house keys hanging around her waist and everyone pops to.

Mrs. Patmore is my absolute favorite character.  She is the plump, protective, persnickety head cook who doesn’t let anyone get the last word. High-strung and quick tempered, her sharp wit, below the stairs, is as enjoyable as the Dowager Countess’s are above season2_world_onset_04the stairs.  And, of course, the Dowager Countess, matriarch of the family, mother of Robert and grandmother of Mary, Sybil and Edith, who is an absolute joy to watch. Proud, loyal and schooled in the old traditions, she never lets impropriety get in the way of her sharp tongue.

The cast has come and gone over the six years, but not to be forgotten are my favorites:  Mrs. Crawley, Matthew’s mother, firmly planted in her middle-class mores and feminist attitudes. John Bates, the wounded soldier who fought side-by-side with Robert, Earl of Grantham, in the Boer Wars and who now works as his faithful and trusted valet.  Anna Smith, the head housemaid and chambermaid to Mary who falls madly for Mr. Bates (who wouldn’t) and somehow survives so much pain and hardship.  We’ve watched the scheming, manipulative Thomas Barrow advance from footman to butler, leaving no one in his wake.  And, Daisy, such a sweet, naive soul who wants nothing more than to be heard and to be loved.

We’ve witnessed the installation of electricity, the telephone and the radio in the grand house. Below the stairs, we’ve seen the world of those “in service” shaken with the introduction of the typewriter, the sewing machine and the electric “whisk” or hand-mixer.  We’ve seen the uneducated become learners and teachers . . . the acceptance of what was once unacceptable . . . and the role of women grow, mature and become equal.
downton_abbey_2032777c
We’ve had ‘tea’ everyday at 4:00 pm in the book-laden library
and dined in opulent, chandeliered dining rooms, served from the left by tuxedoed footmen.  We’ve been driven in chauffeured touring cars and ridden side saddle on fox hunts over the northern dales.  We’ve seen hemlines creep up and hair be cut off.  We’ve donned our gloves for dinner and put on our “wellies” to slop the pigs.

foxhunt

For me, I’ve never been so captured and captivated by a TV program.  Yes, of course, its a soap opera, but it’s been a glorious soap opera taking us into a lifestyle of opulence and luxury, rich in traditions and landscapes that doesn’t exist today.  A life that some of us may have fantasized about, but knew we would never experience.

Thank you Downton Abbey for six “masterful” years!

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Downloadable Downton Abbey list of characters, PBS, Masterpiece