Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Winter Cheer... and a recipe!

Oh, winter - so cold.   It's February here in Minnesota and many of us try to get through the cold with our favorite beverages.  Many of my friends turn to the vine at this point and let the winter evenings blur past them in the warmth of their favorite bottle.  That sort of makes them sound like alcoholics - most of them aren't though.  People just seem to enjoy a glass at night more often in the winter.

 Anyway - that doesn't work to well for me.  I had a glass the other night and had the fun of arthritis flaring the next day.  So it turns out that I like the idea of an after dinner glass of wine with my husband before retiring for the night.  The reality doesn't match the cozy romantic ideal. Sadly, it involves waking up in the middle of the night with painful hands and enjoying a larger than normal handful of Advil with breakfast.

I've also given up coffee.  I gave it up while I was pregnant.  The first thing I did after learning that I had miscarried was go and get a cup of coffee.  I sent CJ into the coffee shop because I was crying.  But what the hell - I was at least going to have my coffee if nothing else.  It was delicious, but didn't seem worth getting hooked on it again.  So I have left it for an occasional indulgence.  It's more special that way anyway.

So I switched to hot chocolate.  Especially the hot chocolate at Caribou.  I like mine with half dark and half milk chocolate, whole milk, and whipped cream on top.  At Caribou they also sprinkle some of the tiny chips on top of your whipped cream.  After a few weeks of a few of these a week, I realized it's basically a really decadent dessert rather than a mildly indulgent drink for a winter afternoon.  It's been even worse for CJ, because I can never finish my drink.  I always hand the last half to two thirds to CJ to finish.

So in the interest of saving our tummies from getting too pudgy and our wallets from getting too thin - I needed to find a new winter indulgence.  Something warm and comforting, but not too over the top sweet.  I like chai - so I decided to go with that.  I don't like most pre-mixed chai.   The stuff you get at coffee shops is usually really sweet.  I mean really really sweet.  I have a definite sweet tooth, but am not a fan of things that taste like drinking straight sugar.

 The boxes of chai concentrate liquid are basically the same.  There is even a brand that sells a type of chai they call "Slightly Sweetened".  Slightly sweetened, my ass.  It isn't as sweet as the regular, but it still overwhelmingly tastes like sugar over anything else.  Is there even any tea in those?  It's listed in the ingredients, but I can't taste it at all.

So I started putting together my own blends.  I had done this a couple of times in the past, but wanted to revisit the way I put them together.  I did something crazy and actually wrote down the amounts of spices I used this time.  So if I like this batch, I may even be able to recreate it in the future.


1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp whole cloves
1 Tbsp dried ginger (the big flaky kind - not the powder)
2 Tbsp green cardamom pods
1.5 tsp fenugreek
1.5 tsp fennel whole fennel seed
1 tsp black peppercorns
1.5 cups Irish breakfast tea

I crushed all the spices that started whole with my mortar and pestle.  Except for the fenugreek - that was  uncrushable.  If I hadn't been too lazy -  I probably would have washed the blades from my Magic Bullet and just used that.  As an aside, I am a weird kind of lazy.  It seemed like more effort to wash one item than to use my crazy morning stiff arthritic hands to manually process the spices.  Anyway, if you do use a blender or a coffee grinder just pulse it.  You don't want these to become powder - just crush them to release the flavor.

Mix up all the spices in a bowl and then store them in a glass jar.  I use one teaspoon per coffee cup sized serving.  You can either brew the tea, strain it, and add honey and milk (or cream, or coconut, or whatever) or you can heat the tea mix, half milk/ half water, and honey all together.  If you have some fresh ginger in your kitchen - adding some of that either grated or sliced adds a little more deliciousness.  You can even buy ginger juice and just add a splash of that to your liking.  Sometimes I go crazy and splash twice.

Why Irish Breakfast Tea?  Because there aren't a lot of loose leaf black teas at my local co-op.  My choices were Irish Breakfast, English Breakfast, and Earl Grey.  I used my sniffer to figure out which one to buy.  .

Earl Grey?  No way was that flowery piece of crap making itself anywhere near my drink.  I've never liked Earl Grey.  It tastes like drinking perfume.  People must actually like that because I know it is a popular drink.  Despite the fact that Captain Picard drank it - I just can't choke the stuff down.  Sorry, Jean Luc.  The English seemed like it might be too overpowering.  I really like the taste of all the spices when I drink my chai, but I also like tea - so I needed a balance.

Irish Breakfast wins!  It's probably good that there weren't more options.  I may have been paralyzed by indecision and remained standing at the co-op, stuck in front of the spice/tea rack, still trying to choose.  As it is, this makes enough for a few weeks of delicious tea mornings.  I even got all magnanimous and gave a small jar to a friend.  Because sharing is caring, you know.

Enjoy!  If you actually make some of this, I'd love to hear your feedback.  Also, yes, I realize the instructions in my recipe are not terribly straight forward and took a weird Star Trekky-ness in there somewhere.

I think I am going to need more honey!
Here's the abbreviated instructions.  Smoosh up the spices and mix them with your tea leaves.  Make tea like usual.  Add some kind of milk and sweetener - I use honey.  Add more ginger if you feel like it.  Watch an episode of Next Generation and revel in the fact that your tea is 1000 times better than that replicated cup of flowery crap.

Make it so.