Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Wishes and Recipe for Giving

Growing up in South Florida meant the "Winter Wonderland" at Christmas time was sand going between your toes while you walked barefoot on the beach. The closest we got to chestnuts roasting on an open fire was the crackle and pop the LP made as our treasured Nat King Cole Christmas album played the tune on our record player. My dad is a huge Nat fan and has collected his albums for years. In fact, I often wondered if that was why his album was the only holiday music we owned growing up-nobody could out do Nat King Cole.  

My dad was also a singer himself. For several years, my father was asked to be a part of a Living Christmas Tree production in St. Petersburg, Florida. When I was around 8 or so, I was asked to be a part of the production. My role was to just sit still on my dad's lap as he sang the old favorite that I had heard every year-The Christmas Song better known as Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire. The night of the performance I was so nervous that my mom kept having to take me to the ladies room. I was afraid I was going to miss my stage debut due to a nervous bladder!

Alas, my time had come to go on stage. I remember getting up onto my dad's lap and nervously looking out into the audience when I realized I couldn't even see them. The lights on stage were so bright that all I could see was their bright beams . So, I just looked at my dad as he sang my favorite Christmas song to me and I forgot all about the audience. I have to say his rendition that night of The Christmas Song was the best I had ever heard-even Nat King Cole couldn't out sing my dad!

My South Florida upbringing didn't allow me to experiment with recipes for roasting chestnuts on an open fire, but here is my Microwave Chocolate Truffle Recipe instead. Some of my readers have emailed me that it has become their "new favorite" Holiday Recipe-so good and so easy. I think the best gifts are those from the heart that you make. It is such a great gift for this time of year! 

Easy Microwave Chocolate Truffles
from Tea with a Twist - All About Chocolate Tea Party

½ cup heavy cream
3 Tablespoon butter cut into chunks
2 Tablespoon sugar 
1 Tablespoon vanilla
10 oz good quality bittersweet chocolate (60%) I like Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips* (If not using chip, break up chocolate into small pieces)
½ teaspoon salt

Cocoa Mixture
Mix 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa and 1/3 cup powder sugar together. For a saltier taste add 1/8 teaspoon fine salt.

Microwave cream, butter and sugar in 2 quart microwavable glass bowl on high for 1 ½ minutes. Stir well; heat an additional 1 minute longer or until mixture comes to full boil. Stir in vanilla and chocolate into cream mixture until chocolate is completely melted. Add salt and blend. Chill until firm enough to shape into balls about 3 hours. Shape into 1-inch balls. If desired roll truffles in Cocoa Mixture. Another option is to roll in finely ground nuts and salt. Store covered in refrigerator. Makes about 2 dozen.

Happy Christmas, Sipping, and Giving, Lisa

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Taiwan Day 6 Head in the Clouds

The view from my hotel was once again beautiful.  I knew I was in for a treat as I woke up to this stunning view seen below.  We packed up our stuff again and loaded into our vans.  This was our third hotel to stay in since I had come to Taiwan.  It was lots of packing and unpacking, but totally worth the effort.  That morning we were to visit one tea district and then in the afternoon we could visit another.

The first tea district was Shan-Lin-Si.  It is in the mountains about 4,000 feet high.  According to the tea master, his tea garden was the most photographed of all the tea fields in Taiwan.  He says he built the garden according to the lay of the land which gave him this "Baqua" shape.  If you are not familiar with "Baqua" as I was not, it is a Feng Shui term used to describe a shape that means there are 8 sides going in 4 directions in a circular fashion.  I think the picture of the tea garden best describes it.

The tea master told us the people visit from all over to study the garden and try to recreate it, but they can't. Since the world is a unique place and no two people are just alike, I guess no two tea gardens can be the same either! But we all enjoyed a taste of the wonderful teas from this garden. He had interesting cups for us to sip our tea from. They were small white porcelain cups with two small blue fish painted on the bottom of the cup. As the tea swirled in my cup, it almost made the little fish look like they were swimming!

After our lovely visit and tasting at the "Baqua" tea garden, we headed to our next destination, but not before a wonderful lunch.  I just loved the way the meals in Taiwan are served family style.  I have to say I got quite adept at using chopsticks after using them for every meal!

Our drive in the mountains was quite interesting.  The picture below shows our vans enroute to the tea garden.  We are not on a one way road as it may appear.  This road is two-way traffic winding up and around the mountains-sometimes with full 180 degree turns.  There was a three-way radio being used so that the drivers could communicate between each other.  Since I was in the last van, we would be alerted to oncoming vehicles and we would pull over.  It appeared many times that there wasn't enough room for the sometimes large vehicles to get by, but they always seemed to manage.

In addition to the narrow two-way roads winding up and down the mountain, there were many places that the road had been washed out due to typhoons and storms.  If you can see beyond the fog (yes, it was foggy too) in the picture below, the road has been washed out with no guard rails either.  To make it just a little bit more interesting, it was raining on and off due to the typhoon that was edging its way along Taiwan.  I have to say, it made for a very exciting drive and I was very glad for the beautiful scenery to turn my attention away from our travel conditions!

Our vans got us safely to our next stop which was in the Ali Shan Tea District.  Tea Master Steve surprised us by showing up at the tea garden.  The garden is run by one of the farmers he has been working with to help make his tea production more modern.  It amused me to see that it doesn't matter where you are in the world, men love their toys and remotes.  Below is a picture of how the solar panel (black covering) and the rain protective panel (white covering) can cover the withering tea leaves which would be laying on the a canvas on the concrete.  But, the cool thing is, it can all be done by one click of a button from a remote control!  We saw many other automated things that Steve has helped the farmer with and then we were off to his tea fields!

A short trip from the factory was a beautiful tea garden.  To top it off, the sun came out and the sky turned blue.


The garden was literally in the clouds.  I always wonder when I fly and look out the window of the plane, what it would be like to be in the clouds.  Now, I know.  The tea fields were lush and green. The contrast between the vibrant green leaves of the Camellia Sinensis, the white billowy clouds, and the blue sky took my breath away. Talk about feeling like you were on top of the world.

We managed to get down the mountain safely without incident, even though we added darkness into the other problematic road conditions.  After a wonderful dinner, we then transferred from our vans into the larger bus and headed back to Taipei for our next adventure.  Below is our group enjoying their dinner and thankful for arriving safely out of the mountains. 

This day was so amazing. How I wish all of you could "be on top of the world."  I am looking forward to sharing with you the rest of my tea trip in the next few blogs. 

What part of my trip has been your favorite to read about?  Do you feel like I am taking you there virtually?  I do hope so.

Happy Travels and Sipping, Lisa  

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Taiwan Day 5 Finish Hands On Tea Making

After processing tea all night, we arrived at our hotel around 2:30 a.m. I knew we were staying around the Sun Moon Lake area, but since we had checked it so late, I had no idea we were right on the lake.  Here is the peaceful view I woke up to the next morning.  It was almost magical looking as the fog was lifting off the lake and the sun was just peaking over the mountains.  Although I could have enjoyed many cups of tea while watching the sun come up, I still had tea of my own to finish processing.

After a quick breakfast at the hotel, our group was back to TRES to finish our tea. Although I was tired, I was anxious to finish my hands-on experience in making oolong.  When we got there, a worker was already busy finishing the next step of the processing.  Each one in the group got a chance to "bag" the tea.  Below are some of my highlights.  After the tea comes out of the steamer, it is wrapped in a canvas bag.  The fragrant aroma of the freshly steamed tea leaves was lovely. 

It was fascinating to see how the tea was tied up in the canvas into a ball. You can see me tightening the tea ball above on a machine that twist the canvas bag into a tight ball. Then the canvas wrapped tea was placed on a rolling machine and allowed to roll around which is seen below. This process of steaming, bagging, and rolling happens repeatedly.

I have to admit that we cheated just a bit in our hands on tea making experience.  For sake of time, our group left the rest of the rolling and the final baking up to Tea Master Steve and his team of workers.  However, the opportunity to get to be a part of making tea with all of the steps and to work with Tea Master Steve Huang, was UNFORGETABLE. 

We bid farewell to our new friend Steve and headed out to our next learning adventures.  We were treated to a wonderful film at Lugu Farmers Association and Visitors Center.  There they also had a museum that we toured.  Inside the museum they had a typical tea farmers house.  Our host/guide Thomas Shu told us that he grew up in a house very similar to the replica at the museum. 

After a wonderful taste of their teas, we were off to the Ling Ji Tea Garden.  It was there we were introduced to this interesting way of brewing their tea through ice.  The ice is at the top and it drips down into the tea leaves which is in the second chamber.  It then is collected at the bottom and put into containers to drink.  I have never seen this before and wonder if it is done here in the US at all????

The owner of this tea shop had set up a cupping for us on the most exquisite table.  Her unique approach to tea was based on a 1-10 baking of oolongs.  The flavors were wonderful and I was enticed to buy her #8 which I thought was floral and delicious!
After a lovely dinner, we headed to a new hotel for some much needed rest.  The next day was going to be a treat as we headed to the Shan-Lin-Si Tea District and the AliShan Tea District.  The views and the tea fields were breathtaking.  I was literally "in the clouds" on top of a mountain. 

I hope you are enjoying my trip to Taiwan virtually!  Does anyone want to go to Taiwan now?  How about trying your hand at making your own tea?

Happy Sipping, Lisa