Tea is comfort. Tea is ritual. Tea is an escape to another place even within the confines of your own home. Easing tensions in an uncertain time, I drink tea during the day at times that I might not normally do so – even just before going to sleep. Whenever I sip, though, I think of the lush and hilly terrain defined by well-aligned rows of tea bushes and there is a sense of calm. In the mind’s eye, I can recollect past trips to tea gardens and remember the aromas in the air when nearing tea factories. As I scan the shelves in the tea cabinet, I think: ”Where do I want to go today? —South India? Japan? China? Colombia? The Big Island, perhaps?“ When I taste the teas of a particular place, images emerge of the landscape and the people connected to all of the steps it takes from the bush to the cup. And a sense of gratitude imbues the cup in front of me. 

I’m grateful, too, for the long-term ritual of taking five minutes out of each part of the day to center me, to be able to focus on instinctually measuring out the right amount of leaf for each cup, to be aware of how many minutes the tea is in contact with the water, to escape — just a bit — from the overwhelming news of our present situation. And if I have a nice cookie to go along with that cuppa, I’m ever more grateful to the people on the front lines and for those who shop for us, who deliver the essentials; to the farmers who are assembling produce boxes and dropping them off in front of neighborhood restaurants. I’m grateful, too, that I can still get the basics essential to the baker’s trade: Flour, butter, sugar. Picking some fresh rosemary from my garden, I’m inspired to make a buttery frangible shortbread as golden brown as the tea in my cup, providing a moment of escape and pleasure in these dark times.

If your supply of the staples happens to include flour, butter, and sugar; herbs optional. 

Clipping the herb from its wildly productive bush, I think of Shakespeare’s line –

“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance,

– a phrase that seems especially apt today when it’s hard to remember back to a time before the pandemic. The pine-y fragrance of this prolific herb is mind-clearing, perhaps. Stress-free and stress-relieving baking is the goal here.

Here’s how to make that evocative shortbread if you’re looking for a short project to take you away from the worries of the day.

Mix 7 ounces of all-purpose flour and a generous pinch of salt in a bowl or food processor. Add 6 ounces of cold, unsalted butter and a scant 3 ounces of granulated sugar. Mix to a powder not a paste. With pan spray, lightly coat a 9-inch tart pan or an 8 x 8 square baking pan. When your shortbread mix is a uniform powder, transfer it to the prepared pan. Press gently into an even layer, without compacting the mixture. Chill for about 30 minutes. 

Remove from the refrigerator, prick with the tines of a fork all over. Bake in a preheated 325° F. oven for about 30-35 minutes. The shortbread should be lightly golden brown all over. While still hot, cut into wedges or squares. If you’d like, sprinkle the shortbread with rosemary-scented sugar (fresh rosemary whirled in the blender or processor until the herb breaks down into fine particles).  Store in an airtight tin at room temperature. 

Sip the well-brewed tea in your cup, a taste of the familiar in these destabilizing times. Inhale the calming aroma of the cookie. Simple pleasures count. We’ll meet again after the all-clear has been sounded.

Photo “Tea and shortbread” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License to the photographer Natalia Wilson and is being posted unaltered (source)