Tea and Snacks

Aragorn: Gentlemen, we do not stop ’til nightfall.
Pippin: What about breakfast?
Aragorn: You’ve already had it.
Pippin: We’ve had one, yes. What about second breakfast?
[Aragorn turns and walks away]
Merry: I don’t think he knows about second breakfast, Pip.
Pippin: What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn’t he?
Merry: I wouldn’t count on it.

~The Fellowship of the Ring

I’m a Harry Potter girl, for sure, but I have read all the Lord of the Rings books and I’m quite fond of the hobbits and the Shire. Since I claim hobbit-ness as one of my characteristics, it should make a little bit of sense!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this scene (or are having trouble placing it), Merry and Pippin are two hobbit friends of Frodo’s who join him on his adventure to destroy the Ring. Aragorn (who at this point in the story is usually called Strider) is a human who agreed to be their guide. Merry and Pippin aren’t quite yet…adjusted…to the rigors of travel, and Aragorn is, perhaps, lacking a bit of patience for them.

Many people joke about second breakfast and elevenses, but as I begin teaching again I’m finding that snacks are an integral part of my routine. I eat breakfast around 5:45am, so by the time 9:30 roles around, I’m hungry again. Time for second breakfast! I snack again around eleven, and then eat lunch at 12:35. Afternoon tea is yet another snack at 3:00 when school lets out, and then I eat dinner when I get home (any time between five and seven). Out of all of those mealtimes Pippin listed, I only miss one!

I don’t remember snacking this much when I was in high school – perhaps I ate larger lunches and dinners – but I can’t function if I don’t snack now. I pack fruit, nuts, granola bars, chocolate, carrots and hummus, crackers…anything is fair game.

One of my colleagues has a planning period during my sixth block, when I sneak into my back office and grab a handful of something. He laughs at me and tells me he could set a clock by my snacking. But the days when I miss my snacks, I really do find myself getting cranky.

The other integral thing I imbibe is tea. I like any kind of tea with one glaring exception: hibiscus teas. Mom used to make the Celestial Seasonings Lemon Zinger when I was sick, and I have never ever liked it.

The first tea I ever did like was also a Celestial Seasonings tea; their Tension Tamer. I always have a box of this around for when I get a sore throat or want something in the evening. My senior year of high school I got on a kick with green tea, and my sophomore year of college I added black teas to my repertoire. Now I seem to go through phases; last fall I drank Good Earth’s Sweet and Spicy tea almost exclusively, and last spring I possibly drank more jasmine green tea than water. This fall I’ve cycled back to Twining’s Lady Grey tea, although I’m also very much in love with a lavender chamomile I’ve discovered.

I got spoiled my sophomore year of college, when my roommate worked at Celestial Seasonings. She would bring home two to four boxes of tea a week and we would try all sorts of different things. We almost always had iced tea in the fridge! Even now, I have six different kinds of tea at home and three at school, for whatever tea moment I might be having.

I’m extra fortunate because Marilyn, whose house I live in, also has a major love affair with tea. She travels to India on a regular basis and knows more about Darjeeling and Assam and tea grades than I ever thought it was possible to know. I’ve learned that Assam is a lowland tea with a stronger flavor, while Darjeeling grows at higher elevation and has a milder flavor. As for the grades of tea, the names are absolutely hilarious and you can check them out on Wikipedia.

I like tea because of the wide range of flavors, and because it’s warm, but I also like the ritual of making tea. Different teas steep for different amounts of time, and hearing water is a process that simply cannot be rushed. It forces me to slow down in the craziness that are my days.

Your homework: How do you replenish throughout the day? What’s your favorite snack?

Hej då,

Jamie

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Cooking for the Fall

Ok, it’s not really fall yet. Sometimes I think the beginning school gives me minor seasonal displacement  – I think the leaves should turn as soon as the first bell rings and stay colorful until the end of October, which is not actually how it works! But despite the calendar and the temperature telling me it’s still summer, class has started and that means my energy is being sucked up by my already incredible to-do list.

After spending all day pacing my classroom and kneeling to look at student work and projecting my voice and my presence in a room full of thirty other humans, the last thing I want to do when I get home is cook dinner! I usually avoid this by cooking family-sized meals on Sundays and eating the same thing all week long. This works brilliantly – I can go to the store once a week and have tasty, healthy food every day (although I will admit I am developing a serious bias to foods that keep well in the fridge).

That is, it works brilliantly until the weekend I’m not home. And knowing that I’m planning on making an effort to adventure and get outside more this school year, I thought I’d better plan ahead a little bit more. So this weekend, I’ve been creating meals-in-a-bag that can live in my freezer until the moment I need them.

Meal 1: Cajun Shrimp and Rice

When Safeway has 2lb bags of frozen shrimp for buy-one-get-one-free, this is always a good choice. I chopped up 2 plum tomatoes, 2tbsp parsley, and 1 bunch of green onions and tossed them in a gallon bag. I also minced 3 cloves of garlic and put them in a small zip lock with 2 tsp of Cajun seasoning.

When the time comes to cook this up, I’ll make 3 cups of cooked rice (which starts as 1 cup of uncooked rice), heat the spices and garlic in 1 tbsp of butter and 2 tbsp of olive oil, and cook the tomatoes, green onions, and 1 lb of thawed shrimp together before tossing all that tastiness in with the rice.

Meal 2: Quiche

Whenever I try to make quiche, I end up making enough for two fillings and I have to freeze some of it anyway. Doing that one weekend last year inspired me to always have some quiche filling and pie shells on hand for a super easy dinner. The only caveat with quiche is that it still takes about an hour to bake.

I chopped 3-4 carrots, 3-4 sticks of celery, a box of mushrooms, a yellow onion, a ham steak, and cleaned a bunch of baby spinach. All that became the “solid filling” bag. Of course, the variations here are endless. Bacon, crab meat, artichoke hearts, asparagus, and various other left-over bits and ends have all made it into my quiches before.

I also shredded smoked cheddar, Gouda, Jarlsberg, and and Fontina cheese. I will totally admit that I splurge when I get cheese for quiche. It’s totally acceptable to use normal Swiss and cheddar instead; I just also like snacking on the cheese. This should total four cups of shredded cheese delicious-ness. The cheese does need to go in a separate bag than the other goodies. (Note that this is all to prepare two nine-inch quiches; I’ve also seen this amount of filling used to make one deep-dish quiche.)

When I go to make the quiche, the things I need to have on hand are a pie crust (sorry Mom, I definitely buy them frozen from the grocery store…), 4 eggs, and 3/4 cup heavy cream. Once everything is thawed, the cheese gets mixed in with the beaten eggs and cream, the veggies and ham get tossed in the pie crust, and the egg/cheese mixture gets poured over the top. I cover mine in foil so I don’t toast the crust too badly, and I bake it on a tray for when the egg rises over the top, at 375F for about an hour.

Meal 3: Chicken Enchiladas

This was a huge favorite at home, but I almost never make it on my own because of the effort of shredding the chicken. Mom used make the filling ahead of time and freeze it to avoid that conundrum. Like quiche, this takes a while to bake even if the prep is done ahead of time.

This starts by boiling 3 chicken breasts for 15 minutes and then shredding them with a fork. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it’s worth it. Then I go on to chopping an onion, a red, yellow, and green pepper, and saute all of that together. I mix all of this with a large can of chopped green chiles, a cup of green salsa, 4 tsp of cumin, 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, and 4 cups of shredded Mexican cheese. This is what lives in the gallon zip locks in the freezer until later.

When later happens, all I need to add are eight tortillas, chicken broth, and cream. I don’t ever remember how much chicken broth and cream, of course, but I do know they get mixed in equal parts and poured over the top of the enchiladas until I can see it at the edges. I bake this at 350F for about 45 minutes. If I’m feeling fancy I’ll have sour cream, salsa, and/or avocado to put on top when they come out of the oven.

Beyond the relief of having something to eat when I’m starving and exhausted, I love preparing food against hard times later. Last spring I re-read Little House in the Big Woods, and a significant portion of the story is taken up by Laura describing how her family preserved food for the winter. Their attic was full of vegetables and jams and cured meats.

None of the recipes I described today particularly take advantage of the seasonal vegetables, but I have done some other projects that do. Some ideas include: baking, pureeing, and freezing pumpkin or squash (which is handy for anything from scones to soup), canning jams, jellies, apple butter, and/or tomato sauce, and cooking and freezing spinach (this happens in the spring but is awesome for making saag).

Last year I wrote a bit about canning apple butter; the apples we got were from a friend in Steamboat whose apple trees went crazy. They didn’t know what to do with so many apples! But this year, a late frost killed all the flowers, and this fall there won’t be any apples. We had an interesting discussion about how it can be impossible to predict the weather and thus the crop production of years to come. Years ago, people just had to preserve as much as they could and hope it would last. Preserving food helps me tune in to the seasons and the environment, as well as our history.

Your homework: How do you usually use food to take care of yourself? What’s one thing you can do this week, related to food, to take care of yourself?

Hej då,

Jamie

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American readers! And to all of you who may not be American, here’s the general definition of our holiday I gave to Henri, my friend from Paris:

“Thanksgiving is the holiday where I get to tell all my friends how amazing they are, spend a lot of time with my mom in the kitchen, and eat way too much food. These are all good things to do every once in a while.”

I absolutely love coming home for holidays. My mom, dad, brother and I are all very close, and I love hanging out with them. We usually have Thanksgiving with just the four of us, and it’s nice to catch up (and get the first ski runs in!) We sit in front of the fire place and argue with the cat for the best chair, watch football, get the Christmas tree, and for Mom and I, knit a lot. Sometimes I even get some of my schoolwork done.

This year Mom and I spent the first two days of break canning apple goods. A family friend had an apple tree go crazy this year, so we inherited 12 pounds of apples. We make apple butter almost every year, and this year we also made applesauce. (For anyone who’s curious about the recipes, we use Ball’s Blue Book. Ball also has an awesome online repository of recipes.)

Canning and preserving might seem like a lot of work or something that’s beyond you. If you go on the internet, a lot of recipes call for gadgets that most home cooks don’t have. But water bath canning (or heat canning) is remarkably simple. This kind of canning is good for anything acidic: fruit or anything pickled are good examples. When I can with my friends, I don’t have any of the special gadgets my mom does. Here’s what you need in order to can at home:

  1. Any giant pot. It has to be deep enough to have an inch of water above the top of the cans. I can’t use the big pint jars if I’m canning with my pot, so I just use the 8 oz jars instead. If I want to use pint jars, I come home and use Mom’s pot.
  2. Some craft wire. I coil mine into a spiral and put it at the bottom of the pan to raise the cans just a bit. Mom has a rack that fits her pot, but the craft wire works just as well and actually is shorter so you can use a smaller pot. The goal is to avoid having the jars directly on the bottom of the pan, because then the bubbles of water vapor can cause the jars to rattle and shatter. Yeah, I’ve done that. It’s a mess.
  3. A fork. There are really cool magnetic things that help you pick up the flats and rounds, but it is totally doable with a fork.
  4. Tongs. The bigger the better, and if they’re rubber that’s the best. There are special jar-grabbing tongs that are awesome, but with a steady hand you can use regular tongs too.
  5. The cans, rounds, and flats. This is probably something you will have to acquire, but most grocery stores carry them in the baking aisle. Make sure you have the flat part of the lid (the flats) and the round screw-on part of the lid (the rounds). The flats are the only things that aren’t reusable (so long as you don’t give all your jars away…)

My only pieces of advice beyond that: follow the recipe carefully, do it with friends, and be patient while you wait for the jars to seal. It’s so tempting to push on the flats so they make that popping sound, but don’t do it! Just don’t!

I love canning with my mom for a million reasons. It makes me feel like a character out of the Little House series. I like getting to spend time with Mom, chatting about this and that and everything. I love using our food mill; it was my great-grandmother’s and it makes me feel connected to my family history. Canning also makes me feel more connected with the earth, the seasons, and my food. I like knowing where my apples came from, and I like knowing that I’m living more in tune with when certain products are available. I’ll eat apples all year long, but preserving is a good reminder that we wouldn’t have apples all year if not for modern transport. And beyond all of that, I love how good the house smells for hours!

And in several months, I’ll still be eating and sharing the fruits of our labors. Earlier in fall, Mom and I typically can currant jelly, peach jam, and sometimes we experiment with other fruits. I’ve taught a handful of friends how to can; we like to make strawberry-lemon marmalade for PB&J sandwiches and blueberry jam for scones. There is nothing better, in my opinion, than opening a jar of golden peach jam in February when it’s dark and cold. Peach jam is summertime in a jar.

I’ve also been knitting this break! I’m working on a pair of yoga socks for my yoga teacher and friend, Maggie. These are by far the easiest socks anyone can make, because you skip the heel and the toe! I’m using a pink and purple and gray yarn, and I’m really pleased with how they came out.

For me, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to knit. (OK, let me be perfectly clear. Any time is a good time to knit. I’m addicted.) I’ve never actually knitted anything for myself; I’ve given all my projects to important people in my life. When I knit, I try to make every stitch a promise, a hope, and a wish for good things. It’s something I truly enjoy doing, and it’s a good way for me to tell someone how much I care about them without having to deal with all the awkwardness of actually conversing. Since I am so deeply grateful for the incredible people I have in my life, knitting over Thanksgiving break fits right into the mood.

I’m also giggling a bit to myself as I write this today because this post is a fabulous example of how different parts of me twist together in interesting ways. I love coming home (hobbit) in part because I get to go skiing and hiking through the woods to find a Christmas tree (adventurer). I spent all break knitting (old lady) yoga socks (adventurer again). Adventuring requires energy and bravery and spontaneity, while being an old-lady-hobbit is nourishing and rejuvenating. Perhaps they aren’t so unrelated after all.

Your homework for this week: how do you spend your breaks? Do you go on crazy adventures, cozy up at home, or some combination of the two? How do you feel connected to your most important people?

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. Thank you for reading, for thinking, and in general for being good people. You make the world better, and that’s something to appreciate.

Hej då,

Jamie