Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Chai Tea

Tea. It's something that we very much take for granted these days. When we want one, we just put the kettle on, whack a tea bag into a cup, pour boiling water over the bag, jiggle it a bit and voila - a good ole' cuppa!

But that's not the kind of tea we drank when I was a kid. We had a tea pot, a tin of tea leaves and a well weathered strainer. Tea bags were non-existent in my house! My parents loved a well brewed cup of tea. They also liked a good sleep in. So when I was about eight years old, I appointed myself the official maker of Breakfast In Bed.

The menu was simple: toast and tea. Toast was easy enough, but the first time I made a pot of tea to go with it, I was mortified by my father's reaction. "Cat's pee!" he exclaimed after one little sip. This of course would be enough to crumble the enthusiams of most kids, but not me! The following Sunday I set about working on my tea making technique - with a little bit of coaching from Mum, of course!

There were several very important steps vital to the perfect cup of pot brewed tea. Firstly, the old tea leaves had to be emptied from the pot. In retrospect I realise it was naughty, but we rinsed the rehydrated tea leaves down the kitchen sink. Next we filled the freshly cleansed pot (no scrubbing with detergent - it ruins the flavour) with hot water and set it on the sink. This served to warm the pot in readiness. As the kettle approached, Mum swirled the water in the pot - once - twice - then poured it into the sink. Three scoops of tea leaves were then added to the pot and the water from the kettle was poured in - still on the rolling boil.

Next, my mum told me, the lid went onto the tea pot, and it was time to let the tea draw. She explained that this was where the tea had a chance to develop its flavour. The leaves would soak up the boiling water, rehydrating and releasing their delicate flavour into a full bodied tea. At least three minutes were required for this - but five was better.

We set two tea cups out on the breakfast tray - not mugs! Those were for coffee. Into each a dash of milk was poured. This was the English way to pour tea - milk first so as not to scold it by adding it to boiling hot tea. Don't ask me why this matters - recently I've heard the Queen doesn't even put the milk in her tea cup first, so I'm not sure why we should either!

I positioned the toast, butter and jam on the tray alongside the teacups and the teapot, then carried the heavily loaded tray to my dad, who was still in bed. He placed the strainer over his cup, poured the tea into the milk, added one teaspoon of sugar then took a sip. I watched his face closely - he was a hard man to please back then. "Hmmpf!" he said, nodding his head, then picking up a slice of toast. "Very good." I was thrilled.

1 cup milk (soy is best)
1 tsp chai tea mix (Byron Bay Chai is my favourite)
1 tsp honey
boiling water

1. Pour milk into a heat proof glass jug (Fire King) and warm in microwave oven for two minutes.

2. Empty your kettle and fill it with fresh water. Fresh water contains more oxygen than already boiled water.

3. Prepare an individual sized tea pot by rinsing it with hot tap water. As the kettle boils, pour the water out and add chai tea mix and honey. Pour boiling water into tea pot while still on the boil. Allow tea to draw for a full five minutes.

4. Choose your drinking vessel - cup or mug. Fill one third of the cup with chai tea. Fill remaining two thirds of cup with warmed milk. Stir to ensure honey is well combined. Enjoy!

Apple Teacakes

I have very strong memories of our visits to Jimmy's Fruit Shop in the small town where I lived as a kid. Beresfield was about thirty minutes outside of Newcastle (I've got no idea of the direction!). We had a main drag, which of course seem endless to me because I was a little kid. I've been past that street in recent years - it's a block long!

On the main drag we had a supermarket. We had a Chemist, a hardware store, and a fruit shop. Jimmy was the owner - ethnic (one of few in our town) and a very friendly man, especially with little kids. Jimmy is responsible for feeding me endless mandarins as a kid - they seemed so absolutely delicious! The skin was loose and there was never a seed to be found in any of the individual segments. I've honestly never had a mandarins as good as an adult.

But there was one thing in Jimmy's shop that appealed to me above all else: cherry apples. Big fat bulbs of boiled confectionery coloured red and green jammed onto a little paddle pop stick. I remember one or two times when Jimmy just handed me one for nix. The rest of the time I had to pull all my resources together to find the five cents necessary to buy one for myself.

I'm sure my mother would have been a lot happier were I eating real apples instead of 'cherry apples'. But I was a kid with a sugar addiction to feed. I see those cherry apples around occasionally these days - they're still sold in the same tall glass jar with the black lid - usually on the counter of a corner shop. I think about the fillings in my teeth when I see them. But I have no regrets!

125g butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups self raising flour
1 cup milk
2 green apples, peeled cored and sliced into thin wedges
extra cinnamon and castor sugar

1. Pre-heat over to 180 degrees Celsius.

2. Place butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, flour and milk in the large bowl of your electric mixer. Beat on the lowest speed until all ingredients are combined. Then increase speed to cream the mixture for five to seven minutes (choose the seventh notch on a Sunbeam Mix Master, if you have one!). Mixture will become thick, pale and glossy.

3. Spoon tablespoons of the mixture into greased rectangular muffin tins (Baker's Secret sells an eight hole tin). You should have enough mixture for 12 holes.

4. Vertically insert three apple wedges round side up, side by side into each of the cakes. Combine the extra cinnamon and castor sugar (about two teaspoons of each) and sprinkle generously over tops of each cake.

5. Bake in moderate oven for 35 minutes or until tops and sides are golden brown. Turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool. Serve with a cup of tea! Cakes will last in an air tight container for up to five days.