Sweet Dreams and Rugburn

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Charlotte didn’t manage to stay in bed tonight after getting quiet.

Progress Report: T2 Nine Green Sampler, Part 1

The “agony of the leaves” while steeping Gunpowder

I’ve had my T2 green tea sampler for a couple of weeks now, and I’ve tried six of the nine teas now. That sounds like I’m going slowly on it, and maybe I am. I have a baby and a toddler that demand my attention, and I also don’t want to try any of the teas when I’m not feeling well (I deal with chronic migraines); I want to give each tea its fullest opportunity to show off to me. So I am truly taking my time when I make my first cup or pot of each of the teas, getting the full experience of the dry leaves, the aromas, colors and tastes. It’s been really enlightening and completely enjoyable. I’ve kept The Tea Drinker’s Handbook by my side as both a means of educating my palate and testing my senses.

I decided to try the unflavored teas first so I could get a true feeling of what flavors I’d be encountering (and also to stay in my tradition of saving the best for last: in this case, teas I was more likely to enjoy). So here are my thoughts thus far, in the order I have tried them. I’ll start with the first three today.

Young Hyson: T2 calls this an all-rounder and good for drinking throughout the day. I’d have to agree. It has no tastes or aromas that sound at first unappealing to a new green tea drinker (I’m talking to you, marine and gamy aromas). It was also my first recognition of what astringency really was: a dry or powdery feeling in your mouth, particularly on the sides of the tongue. Astringency at first sounded like something I would rather avoid, but it actually kind of gave a fresh feeling in my mouth.
Sencha: The typical Japanese tea taught me that maybe those marine aromas in tea weren’t so bad after all. In fact, they could be quite pleasing when paired with the other sensations in the cup. I could see myself drinking this quite happily alongside a big bowl of stir-fried noodles.
Gunpowder: Because of what I’d read, I really wasn’t expecting to want to drink much of this past the first small cup. Learning that it is often made with mediocre leaves, I waited until I had received my glass gaiwan in the mail so I could at least get some visual enjoyment out of it. But I needn’t have worried. Besides the pleasure of seeing the little pellets (hence the name) unfurl in the water to reveal mostly whole leaves, this proved to be a good, sturdy drop.

So far, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised; I wasn’t sure that I’d actually like green tea enough to consider it a mid afternoon treat, but instead I look forward to more. The flavored greens are coming up, but these “straight” teas have been very welcome eye-openers.

What I Needed (WIN) #3: The little reminders

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YouVersion’s latest Instagram photo and tweet

It’s all so hard to remember–bring in the laundry, what to get at the grocery store, take a shower–those kind of things. And that God’s in control, that He’s got a plan that will happen, that I’m not alone, that He loves me as His child–yeah, those things as well.

That’s why I’m so thankful for the little reminders He puts in my path. Ever heard someone say something like, “I was having a big problem with [such-and-such], and then just out of coincidence [this-and-that] happened and it was fixed”? For a Christian, we don’t call that coincidence; there’s a word for it that was used years and years ago but we don’t hear much of it now: providence. That’s talking about what God does to change a circumstance (or our minds) in a particular situation: His intervention, protection, and guidance.

This is something I see happening in my life regularly, and more so now with such constant access to social media. At least once a day I’ll read something on Twitter that makes me stop and say a quick prayer of thanks to God for getting my attention so He can show His love for me. Then there are the Facebook posts, blog entries and other various things that reach my mailbox and my consciousness. Even the odd news story can come up on the TV or the Internet that brings a little blessing with it. I know you’re probably thinking, “What news is she watching and reading?” But take the current Olympics, for example. There’ll be an interview with a successful (or maybe not so successful) athlete, and you can be surprised by what’s on their mind: who they thank, what they had to go through to get there, and what they will do once they get home again. You can tell when someone genuinely gives thanks to God or when it’s just lip-service. What about an evening news story about a nightly ministry to the homeless, providing food, blankets, or even a roof over their heads if it’s available? Listen to what the volunteers say. Besides making us count our blessings, there could be a single sentence in the interview that grabs your attention, one that could really apply to something you’re feeling or dealing with at the present. The point is that if we just look and listen, God makes Himself clear and wants us to be open to hearing what He has to say and show to us.

So I thought I’d take this opportunity to provide you with some sources of these great little reminders as well.
YouVersion on the web, mobile device and Twitter. It was YouVersion’s most recent tweet, the above Instagram photo, that prompted this blog post. They don’t tweet all that often, so when they do it’s an unexpected blessing.
Paul David Tripp on Twitter. He also has a website for his ministry, but it’s his tweets that are daily reminders. Everyday he’ll post three consecutive tweets that almost always speak to something I’m thinking about or feeling.
Sermon Audio on the web, mobile device and Twitter. The name is rather self-explanatory, but the Twitter account will post links to a daily selected sermon on their site (and they have thousands), Bible verses and news stories of spiritual significance.
Bible Summary on Twitter. This is an individual (@chrisjuby on Twitter) who is summarising the Bible one chapter a day. Anything that brings God’s Word to mind is a blessing, and just under 25,000 currently are being blessed by this account daily. It’s really difficult to tell a story in 140 characters or less and still be understood; Chris does a very good job summarising the greatest story of all!
CSLewisDaily on Twitter. Daily quotes from the brilliant mind of the much-loved author of the Narnia series and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis.

These are people and groups dedicated solely to delivering blessings from God’s Word, but that’s not to say that they are the only online sources for these little reminders, far from it. Many, many people on Twitter write about their lives and goings-on, and God uses them to occasionally provide a little blessing to their followers. A sample of these people that I follow includes: Tom Achtenberg (@BarefootTom), Luke Foster (@bloodpaid), and Jonathan Pait (@jpait). Why not follow them, too.

To make it even easier, subscribe to my public Twitter list Little Reminders. You’ll get tweets from the above “Big Five” Twitter accounts automatically sent to your Twitter Lists feed. If there’s a Twitter account that you think should be added to the list, then feel free to let me know. Get ready for a blessing through these little reminders!

Happy Birthday, Me

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As much fun as it is having the surprise of opening a present, admit it: it’s pretty fun to pick your own. This year that’s what I got to do, so I chose T2’s Nine Green Tea pack and this gorgeous little Japanese-inspired tea cup.

I want to learn more about different kinds of tea, having mainly stuck to flavoured teas up to this point. So I figured the best way to start was with a sampler of several teas of the same general type, and decided to “go green”, if you will. This pack has nine tiny tins of tea, all snugly fitting into a larger tin embossed with the T2 logotype and then cleverly wrapped in a folded box. On the inside lid of the big tin are a full description, ingredient list, and steeping instructions for each of the teas. Opening the tin I got a massive attack of floral, mint and fruit scents as each tea did its best to reach me first.

Now let me be honest. I do think the price for this pack is steep, considering there is between 22g to 38g of each tea. (By my calculations, there’s just over $30 worth of tea included.) I accept that the packaging is especially nice for a gift, but if you’re just wanting to try a bunch of teas yourself, you don’t need all the extra cost of packaging. You’d much rather spend that money on more tea! Each little tin is filled to the brim with tea, but since it is only a small amount of tea in the first place, you can’t very well use the tins later for more tea unless you want to store the same tea in multiple tins. Not to mention the fact that it is rather difficult to scoop out tea from the tin without making a mess.20120725-160939.jpg

Also, for unexplainable reasons, the two free single-cup samples (that T2 customarily includes in packages) this time were for two teas that were already part of this sampler! I had planned on asking for a sample of either Buddha’s Tears or Sencha Sensation when I placed my order, but there was no place to leave a comment. So I trusted that I would be given a sample of something else to entice me to make another purchase. Oh well. That’s not so much a complaint, but it doesn’t really do any favours for a customer or the company.

All that being said, I do love T2. Their tea is great. My current tea stash includes eight different teas from T2, including three quite large tins, and that’s of course not including this new sampler! They do a good job of marketing and their newly launched Tea Society features brilliant special events. I just wish they added an option of purchasing samples of about 3-4 steeped cups’ worth and put them in little ziplock bags–like they used to give me when I visited in store. For ordering online, the samples wouldn’t need to be posted in the nice big black boxes; the padded or tough bags are fine. I’d buy a ton more samples then and naturally that would lead me (and many others, I imagine) to more and bigger purchases. Just a thought.

Right now I’ve just finished my first pot of Young Hyson. T2 says that it’s a “medium-bodied all-rounder” and that sounded like a good place to start. We’re both right. All in all, I’m sure going to enjoy this. You’ll know more of how it goes as I do.

BTW: The underside of the cup says it’s by Alison Appleton. A gorgeous design, and lovely to hold and use. I’ll be looking for more from her in the future. No website launched yet, but her Facebook page is here.

Update (Aug. 7, 2012): Alison Appleton got in touch with me via Twitter following this post! She was able to direct me to her so-newly-launched-that-it-wasn’t-there-two-days-earlier website, alisonappleton.com. There’s too much that’s too gorgeous!

Baking With My Baby

20120720-212527.jpgFor a treat on my birthday, I decided that Charlotte and I would make some sugar cookies. We would both appreciate doing something different and it was sure to be an enjoyable mother-daughter activity, right?

First of all, my mom must be a saint. I certainly don’t remember seeing her grit her teeth or hear any anguished pleas for wisdom on how to get her child to understand simple instructions. She was even a professional cake decorating instructor; I must have been so frustrating to her in the kitchen! But perhaps Charlotte just won’t remember my gritting teeth.

We used the sugar cookie recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. Let me say, I have never had a dud from this book, and I’ve made at least half the recipes in it. (Their blueberry muffin recipe is the best I’ve ever come across.)

In the end, Charlotte was excited about her creations, I was relieved, and the kitchen not too much worse off. I’m sure to be finding sprinkles and colored sugar under my feet for a while no matter how many times I think I’ve got it with the vacuum, but that little girl’s smile will more than make up for it.

 

It’s a tool, not a toy.

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A very necessary tool, I’m finding. It’s our new Breville One-Touch Tea Maker. I got it for us (yes, us) for our anniversary a couple of weeks ago. Now that I’ve had some time with it I can tell you, without a doubt, this thing is awesome. It means that Hubby can go to work in the cold, dark mornings with something to keep him both warm and awake. It’s so easy to use that he only needs to press two buttons and can have tea while still in half-asleep. Or to make it even easier for him (as any wife will tell you is important), I can set it to automatically start for him before I go to bed! And because it can keep the steeped tea warm for an hour, I don’t have to reheat my tea during my nonstop mornings while wrangling a baby and toddler. This is practically life-changing!

Those are the everyday helps, but here are more of the details. It has a 500mL (2 cups) minimum, but you get this machine because you’re a big tea drinker, so one little cup won’t do for you anyway. You put the loose tea into the basket and put the basket lid on that, then the basket is placed on the jug post and held there magnetically. Select one of five preset steeping temperatures (for green, black, white, herbal or oolong tea) or set a custom temperature. Then choose your preferred strength or go custom again! It gets the water to the right temperature and then lowers the tea basket into the water, steeps for the set time, and then raises the basket again, giving a good loud beep to let you know your cup of serenity is ready! What’s more important is this makes really good tea. I get more flavors coming out of each sip. Even a couple of teas that I hadn’t been so keen on before are really enjoyable now.

This of course means that I drink even more tea now, but that’s no bad thing. This morning’s treat: Terrific Toffee from T2 with just a spot of milk. But I remind you, it really is for both of us.

Checking In

I know it’s been almost a week since my last post. Had a couple rough days this week and I’m also starting to really feel the lack of sleep from watching the Tour de France. On that note, the Tour’s just come on for tonight. Look, if not Cadel, then please, anybody but Wiggins!

What I Needed (WIN) #2: Fear and Trust

I’m on Day 20 of 35 in the Soul Detox Reading Plan from YouVersion. In fact, this whole week in the plan is about toxic fears. I normally consider myself not terribly fearful. I don’t mind trying new things and normally enjoy a challenge; knowing something will be tough doesn’t put me off it. But on some hard reflection over the past few days, I realized that I do in fact let fears of the “what ifs” determine my mindset and, as a result, my life.

Fear is, like so many things, an act of faith, but it is placing your faith in things or people that can’t make the situation better. So where does our faith belong? Take a look at Psalm 34: 4-10. We’ll find the solution there.

We have to play “hide and seek” in a way: hide ourselves away in God’s Word and seek His face. God promises that if we cry out to Him that He will answer and deliver us from our fears. That doesn’t mean that we won’t have to face them or that the situation will change to remove whatever the thing is that we’re afraid of, but that we won’t be conquered by the fearsome thing. We will be delivered from the fear itself. Then we will “see that the Lord is good!” We will not be without any good thing that He has planned for us. So if I place my trust in God and what His Word says, I not only can be relieved of my fears, but I also will receive all the blessings He’s got in store for me. That’s a pretty good promise!

What’s my other option? I can cling on to my fears, thereby saying God can’t handle it. And since He’s promised that He can and will deliver us if we let Him, my doing anything else but trusting Him is the same as calling Him a liar.

In the end, I need to have a greater fear of sinning against God by not trusting Him than the fear I have of any thing or situation.

Happy Fourth!

Callum says "Happy Fourth of July!"

As American as baseball!

South Carolina-Style Crockpot Pulled Pork (or, How winter in Sydney tastes like summer in Charleston)

South Carolina BBQ

Looks good, huh?

It’s the Fourth of July, Independence Day, and the easiest way to do celebrate it from the other side of the world is through the food. Every year except one since I moved to Australia, I have made a South Carolina-style pulled pork BBQ in my crock pot. Just about every US state that does BBQ has its own take (or more than one) on the meat and/or the sauce, and South Carolina BBQ sauce is based on the condiment of heaven, mustard. I don’t use a recipe to make the sauce, I just know how it’s supposed to taste, but this recipe from Food Republic looks a lot like what I do. I just used sweet paprika instead of the cayenne pepper, and didn’t add any butter. I made 2 cups’ worth of sauce.

 

So to start, I made my sauce in a saucepan turned on low, and then let that sit while I got the pork ready. I used a 2kg/4lb shoulder roast that already had been de-boned. You just need any sort of joint/roast with or without bone. I just got what the first grocery store had since I was in a rush. Cut off as much fat as you can or are willing to put in the effort for. You don’t want a greasy feeling in your mouth, but you don’t want to spend all day trimming the thing either. Then put the meat into the crockpot, pour over about a cup of the sauce, put on the lid and let cook on low about 7-8 hours. I normally turn it over a couple of times during the course of the day, to make sure all the meat gets to spend some time cooking directly in the sauce. When it’s done take the meat out and put on a plate. Any bones will just pull away from the meat, and you’ll also want to check for any chunks of fat that are remaining together and get rid of that. Then just pull the meat apart with a couple of forks. Dump the shredded pork back into the crockpot to mix it in with the cooking sauce and juices, and you can add another 1/3 to 1/2 cup of the remaining BBQ sauce. The rest of the sauce you can pour over the pork on your plate, or on a bun if you’re making a sandwich with it.

Then just sit back and taste the sunshine!