For beginners and experienced cooks
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To Make and Keep Your Livin' Easy —
Particularly in the summer, I always cook our everyday meals with the additional creation of picnic fare planned-overs in mind. This seasonal slant on keeping a freshly stocked pantry full of ready possibilities means I'll already be prepped to easily pack up for a breathe-deep full day of it whenever the opportunity arises. So even if we can only manage to capture that proverbial day off at the beach now and then, this expansive approach is a casual recipe for putting more delicious fun and spontaneity into your life—which can sometimes just mean moving outside under the shade of a tree or inviting friends over to share in your instant plein air feast.
And in more recent history whenever possible, we've also taken to packing the car with all the non-perishable gear the night before for a greater sense of relaxed anticipation, instead of the typically hectic last-minute assembly, packing and then forgetting something on the morning of departure. Believe me, it works. You wake up on the day with a smile already on your face, because you know all you have to do is get dressed, make coffee, put the chilled filled containers in the cooler, grab your sunglasses and go—which is exactly what we did yesterday.
Here's what we took with us and I hope will inspire more impromptu menu ideas of your own.
BREAKFAST: We just covered bowls of our wholegrain cereal to dowse there with the mixture of milk, yogurt, bananas, blueberries, sliced peaches, and a little drizzle of honey I'd put together for the purpose once we got our site secured and set up. Beautiful morning.
LUNCH: It doesn't get much simpler than this—sautéed chicken breast strips, quinoa cooked with lightly caramelized shallots, raw sugar snap peas, cucumber slices, baby peppers, cherry tomatoes and a bowl full of cherries. And don't forget the barely hard pear cider!
TEATIME to tide us over: A thermos of my iced Black and Lavender Tea with a tin of oatmeal spice cookies.
DINNER: Meatloaf with barbecue sauce, braised potatoes and red onions, grilled yellow squash, castelvetrano olives, little gem lettuce leaves, and heirloom tomatoes barely dressed with balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil. A glass of rosé for me, please. Watermelon and a sea salt caramel dark chocolate bar for dessert.
In fact, the fog rolled in to shroud and dampen the scene, but not our spirits. So we decided to pack up and take our picnic dinner home, where the sky was still blue and the air had cooled down enough from those ocean breezes to provide us with a prettier and more comfortable setting around the table in our front cobble courtyard. That also meant when we sat down to eat, we'd already unpacked the car, put everything away, and still had the whole evening to enjoy at home ahead of us. And today we ate the combined remains for lunch after we got back from the farmers' market with a fresh round of ingredients.
Since all we actually ever have or know for sure is in each moment, why not set ourselves up to make the most of it now when we can, while also creating possibilities for plenty more to come?
Here's to more and plenty for us all.
Bon Appetit! Kay
Related Link: Kay's Black and Lavender Tea Blend
So Let's Make the Most of It—
With simple appetizers and aperitifs to relax and linger over at the end of our otherwise busy days. You know that magic moment when it's started cooling down outside and the sun's making water colors out of the sky. As far as I'm concerned, summer's all about truly vine-ripened tomatoes and sweet peach juice sticking to my lips. It's also all about making everything cool and easy. So here are a few of my favorite things to keep on hand for a festive summery spread that anyone can quickly gather together. Let me also draw your attention to my sidebar Seasonable Posts links for related casual recipes that will help feed your need any day of the week.
Now Available at Petaluma Coffee and Tea Company—
It was indeed a dark and stormy night now decades ago, when I took that red-eye flight heading east from San Francisco to Hartford. By the time we reached our Chicago layover, I found myself wondering if it would actually prove lucky for me to be one of those few passengers left on the last plane allowed to take off in the horrific storm we'd just landed in there. Once airborne again, news of yet more dicey weather ahead ended up re-routing our already rattling flight on to Boston instead, where we waited and waited even longer to board an alarmingly small plane that would supposedly take us the last leg to Hartford. After that came an improvised bus ride to my final destination. It was all a bit surreal, already the next day's midnight, and blustery icy cold both outside and in. Talk about needing a nice cup of hot tea!
At least I'd finally arrived at the right place for such a classic cure-all, even though the lights were long out on the opening night dinner and reception. I'd come this far for a Harney and Son's tea conference, eager to learn all I could about this legendary drink at a time when choices on the west coast didn't extend much beyond Lipton's tea bags. Would it be worth all it had taken to get there? Over the next three days well-traveled experts in the field guided us through the entire process of tea production from the ground up. All was revealed through a series of detailed talks, slide shows, specific tutorials, and designated tastings that introduced us to a mind-boggling number of varieties, terroirs and blends as we also made our way through a multi-room labyrinth of clarifying cups.
At that point in my developing career, I was considering the idea of opening a classy yet cozy tea house here in town—one with the added comforts of both sweet and savory treats, cushioned chairs, a fireplace inside, tables in the garden I imagined outside, and a children's storybook reading room to give all ages some inviting time out. And although my professional cooking work suddenly took me in a different direction, I continued to research the world of tea and quite naturally discovered, and then developed a taste for what I liked best within it, which was quite a lot.
I'm happy to say this all eventually resulted in my creating my own lavender-enhanced blend of black teas to provide a full-bodied yet not overbearing brew with balanced layers of subtle smoke and floral notes. It's the daily afternoon refreshment I drink black, but it also holds up well with milk added if you take yours white and/or at any other time of day. Many of you have joined me for a cup in class and responded enthusiastically with questions about how to be able to make it for yourselves at home.
So now the ever accommodating Sheila Bride, owner of Petaluma Coffee and Tea Company and constant community supporter all around town, has offered to put together my proprietary blend to help me make it available for you to purchase directly at her central location downtown. And this is a photo of her with our first batch all bagged up.
Just ask for:
Kay's Black & Lavender Blend
Petaluma Coffee & Tea Company
212 2nd Street (near D Street)
Petaluma, CA 94952
By the way, this is also where you have already long been able to request Kay's Blend of Coffee Beans, which is a completely fair trade, half decaf, versatile dark roast combination that works equally well for making espresso, press pot or drip coffee. It's the morning cup I always look forward to.
So now that we've got us all covered for both morning and afternoon, I hope you'll agree that no matter how bumpy whatever happens in between might become, the journey continues to prove worth it when we're in this together.
For a Clarifying Cup—
Buyer beware. Pre-packaged tea bags are certainly convenient and easy to use, but you might not realize that when the tea leaves are harvested for this purpose, they are mechanically buzz cut off the plants and later ground up, stems and all, for an overall lower quality and less expensive product. Whereas, "loose leaf" tea leaves must be individually picked by hand and purposely left whole to unfold and release their full flavor potential only once in contact with that boiling water. You can, of course, buy empty tea bags sold to fill with your own favorite loose leaf, but once you get used to this two pot method, you'll find it's not only simple enough, but also gives you the best possible result. No matter what, it's essential that you start with freshly boiled, good tasting water.
LOOSE LEAF TEA MAKING GUIDELINES:
Green Teas: Usually use water 3 minutes off the boil, and only steep for 3 minutes.
Herbal and Red Roibus Teas: Use boiling water, but steep for 5 minutes.
*Water sources vary tremendously depending on where you live and/or what you buy. Trust your taste buds, but if you were in a lab, you'd be testing it for a neutral pH, and no heavy minerals, metals, chlorine, or other added chemicals.
Now here are a few of my favorites teas, all of which you can find at Petaluma Coffee and Tea Company:
I realize here in Sonoma County, we already live in what many have begun to refer to as the New Provence. But if you're lucky enough to find yourself in Paris, then don't shortchange the experience by missing out on taking tea at Mariage Frères, which first opened its doors in that enlightened city on June 1, 1854. After marveling at their seemingly countless tea possibilities, you can linger over a hot pot to slowly sip your careful selection and look around to watch the precise and artful tea brewing masters at work. And you might as well take advantage of the fact that lightweight packages of tea pack well and also make great gifts to extend the pleasure once you get back home again. I couldn't possibly choose only one variety, but if I had to, it would always be their:
You are in Paris, after all.
Cheers and Bon Appetit! Kay
And Other Classic Creature Comforts—
Even though I always look forward to my steaming hot cup of French pressed dark roast first thing in the morning, no matter how long I might try to make the moment last, coffee is typically more of a get-going drink. Tea, on the other hand, is steeped in timeless traditions that extend an inviting command to linger. To settle in with your beloved puppy, kitty, pillow, and/or blankie, no matter how old or young you might be. To read, write, knit, ponder, listen to music, chat with a friend, or simply stare out the window—none of which can or should be rushed. No wonder we love putting on the kettle for that reviving break in the middle of the afternoon.
Tea time provides us with a life supporting pause button, that chance to step back and let go of limits. To breathe deep, rise and release. It's a collectively cultured sigh, a reconnecting cure-all. Apparently no matter what, "What you need is a nice cup of tea." Even on this side of the pond, that practiced advice is an echo of the similarly age-old prescription for a change of air. It's also wise preventive medicine. Because regularly taking time out in the good company of soothing tea and sympathy will give you the natural lift in a refreshed perspective, a way to warm cold hands or feet, help mend a broken heart, listen to the silence, and/or indulge in a riotous gossip, while also satisfying any tummy rumblings—all of which are primal needs crying out to be met.
So whether you might most long to reach out for soft savory finger sandwiches, melty cheese bites, buttered toast and jam, tea biscuits, tiny fruit tartlets, crispy nut cookies or slices of moist cake to accompany your nice (or naughty) cuppa, rest assured that taking tea is full of grace. It's a tried and true recipe for lasting happiness with yourself and anyone else you choose to share this precious time with. So...
Sit, Down, Stay!
What a good girl.
Bon Appetit et Bonne Vie!
Kay (and Maggie B.)
“So much more than a cooking class…. it is a relaxed community sharing love, joy and fantastic food around your family table…
Just magical!” R.R. More feedback...
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