With the turning of the season, does your tea habit change? Cooler nights after sweltering days lead me to drink lots more of our favorite beverage. In this crazy time, my thoughts turn to the flavors of fall – apples, pears, pomegranates, persimmons…. I crave the darker, duskier, more full-bodied teas: Keemun, malty Assams, and yes, Pu-erh. The time for iced floral Darjeelings or oolongs is passing, at least for me. Instead, hunkering down with a good book to take me away from our current madness with a soothing cup of tea at my side provides a bit of comfort. Without the ability to travel, books set in faraway places or distant times — the armchair as the conveyance with words in front of me — ignite my wanderlust. Revisiting a book with that cuppa near at hand has been my wont these days.
Re-reading The Gypsies, the wonderful rhapsodic tale by Jan Yoors, Belgian-born, about his nomadic life with a band of gypsies in Europe takes me far away. His opening lines still beguile me after more than 50 years. He writes:
“I want to evoke a mood: the overwhelming immensity of the sky and the timelessness of the moment, where night is merely the continuation of the day…of the lake where carp play in the sun, of approaching twilight…”
Here the scene is set. In my mind’s eye, I can conjure up an open smoky fire with a primitive iron grate set over it, where the water boils in a rough pot or open saucepan; the tea is probably strong and Russian and consumed with lumps of rough sugar held in the mouth – melting slowly, sweetly, a moment of respite amid the harsher realities of exile. Come to think of it, the world’s populations are in exile: Separated from loved ones, separated from routines, the places we love, drawing comfort from the interior spaces we inhabit and the scenes conjured in words; with the details filled in over a steaming cup – inhaling, warming our hands, calming.
Here is a non-recipe recipe for the cooling months ahead:
Tea and Mushroom Vegetarian Side Dish
- Wash and dry mushrooms of all varieties you can find and sauté them slowly in butter.
- Pour a good cup of brewed Pu-erh over them and continue to cook until the liquid has nearly evaporated.
- Salt and pepper to taste just before serving.
- Empty the sauté pan over a bowl of steaming hot pasta of your choice. Chop some chives and scatter them over all.
- Inhale and enjoy while the dish is piping hot.