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Sensual Summery Sangria with a Juicy Twist

Williams-Sonoma-Champagne-Fruit-Balsamic-Berries

Bursting with juicy flavor, a twist on Spanish Sangria and the Italian Bellini fills your glasses with sensuality from the farmers’ market using fresh seasonal produce. 

 

I’m driving through the winding road of Topanga Canyon toward the sparkling blue Pacific Ocean, swerving the rugged curves of the road with ease. Suddenly, the car in front of me slows, along with the other cars ahead, stalled in a little traffic on this morning drive. But it’s beautiful, I’m listening to flamenco guitar, and I have sangria on my mind.

The view is majestic through the canyon, as rays of morning light illuminate the foliage of trees and brush like a painting. Inhaling the faint scent of salt from the ocean, I take a moment to relax while visualizing the perfect twist on sangria. I want to get there early for the farmers’ market, on a quest to gather fresh produce for aphrodisiac cocktails. The long weekend is here and I can’t think of a better reason to open up a bottle of wine and start up the grill to cook with friends and family.

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Sangria is traditionally made with red wine like Rioja, steeped in its Spanish roots, only adding fresh fruit. It’s a festive party drink, chilled in the fridge, and easily poured to share. In the south of Spain, Sangria is called zurra, created with peaches and nectarines. Traditional Sangria is made with red wine, fruit juice, soda water, fruit and brandy. Once prepared it must chill overnight in the fridge to blend the flavors together. Rioja is the most authentic Spanish wine to use in this drink.

When we think of sangria, we may recall summer parties serving an iced wine poured from a pitcher, mulled with cut apples, oranges, lemons and limes, sometimes a splash of brandy, Cointreau, Triple Sec, and sugar. But I want something different other than Spain’s popular refreshing libation, something more descriptive of the California sun and sea. Of course, adding fresh juice makes it a West coast twist from Spain to our sunny backyards.

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Succulent freshly juiced peaches, herbs like basil, lemon verbena, hyssop, mint, a splash of balsamic and pomegranate spritzer. Drink recipes pour into my thoughts. White wine or champagne for a lighter version pairs well with the abundance of peaches and berries in the farmers’ market stalls. Especially champagne. It becomes a drink that Aphrodite might sip seductively. Bellinis and Botticelli’s Venus wander into my imagination, strewing edible flowers and basil leaves everywhere. Just as I saw the wide expanse of ultramarine blue ocean at the end of the road where Topanga Canyon meets the Pacific Coast Highway, my cell phone rang.

My friend Matthew Biancaniello called just as I was approaching the light. I’m still stuck in some traffic, albeit taking in the spectacular scenic drive, as he tells me he is leaving the farmers’ market. I’d miss him by minutes. I explained my passionate idea to make aphrodisiac sangria this weekend using fresh juice, champagne, and herbs. Matt suggested strawberry figs, watermelon, and other unconventional ways to mix up and create a cocktail spin on sangria. Whom better to ask than Matt, L.A.’s hottest mixologist known for crafting his magical creations using farm fresh organic produce. His talent for combining unusual flavors and textures with foraged herbs, fresh from the farmers’ market fruits, vegetables, homemade syrups, and seasonal ingredients is unrivaled by far.

I feel gratitude pour through my body like a glass of something delicious. My ideas for these drinks fizz with pleasure and I’m inspired. I wander the open air market with an eye out for those lusty strawberry figs. Then, golden raspberries call to me, among blue boxes full of blackberries and red raspberries. I’m seduced by the aromatic scents of basil and lemon verbena. My senses are heightened by the late August harvest. The vendor hands me flowering hyssop to apologize, as he’s sold out of the borage flowers I asked for. The blossoms are bright periwinkle, such violet blue. Gathering a handful of lemon verbena and basil, I inhale their fragrance, bury my nose into the green, and fill up my bag. The fig vendor hands me tastes of fresh strawberry figs. He tears figs in half with his hands and I eat each one, marveling at the flavor and texture. I take home everything I can fit into my basket.

Transcending the traditional sangria, when poured full of fresh fruit juice, it becomes something altogether marvelous. I prefer champagne rather than red or white wine, so I pop the bottle. Ice cubes clatter into the glass. I place a leaf of lemon verbena inside, a tiny strawberry.

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It tastes bright and fresh with juice, full of bubbly fizz, bountiful with blackberries, little wild strawberries, edible flowers, lemon verbena, figs. My cutting board scattered with mint, basil and lemon verbena leaves, my hands foraging among the golden raspberries, halving a fig with my knife, setting each ingredient into the bubbling champagne, gently pouring a touch of pear flavored balsamic into the glass. I’m having fun with this and want to eat the juicy fruits as much as I’m filling the glasses with them.

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A splash of balsamic makes the fruit flavors sing with a sensuous bouquet — Williams-Sonoma’s d’Anjou pear flavored balsamic is quite extraordinary in sangria.

It’s easy to create your own homemade cocktails, mocktails, Bellinis and fresh juice sangrias at home. I love my Vitamix blender, so this was pure pleasure to add my otherwise smoothie mixture to champagne and/or pomegranate spritzer for a juice-infused drink. Using a blender turns nutrient-rich fruits into whole food freshness. No waste as with a juicer and plenty of good-for-you fiber. You can find juicers and blenders online or in store to make your own fresh fruit blends. I prefer Williams-Sonoma’s Vitamix, but they also carry other brands and types of blenders and juicers.

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Here are three drink recipes abundant in farm fresh produce made absolutely indulgent with juice, champagne, herbs, balsamic and fizzy spritzer. Use them for your own backyard party or an afternoon in the garden. Williams-Sonoma-dAnjou-Pear-Balsamic

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Aphrodite’s Garden Bellini

This sparkling sangria-inspired Bellini uses champagne and fresh peach juice, enhanced with the fragrant blend of orange blossom water and tangerine. I enjoyed using Williams-Sonoma’s Bellini Mix for a twist on the Venetian classic. Williams-Sonoma offers delicious cocktail and Bellini mixes, and they pair perfectly in combination with fresh juice. Coconut water lends a refreshing flavor to the peach blend.

Makes 4 glasses

Ingredients:

3 peaches, sliced

1 cup ice 1/2 cup Bellini mix (Tangerine and Orange Blossom)

1/2 cup coconut water, fresh or bottled

4 cups champagne, or as needed

1 tablespoon d’Anjou pear flavored balsamic vinegar (to taste)

 

garnishes

wild strawberries

figs, halved

raspberries

blackberries

peaches, sliced

edible flowers

lemon verbena

mint

basil

hyssop

ice for glasses, as needed

 

Directions:

1.) In a blender, place ice, fresh peaches, Bellini mix, and coconut water. Blend.

2.) In a glass, place ample amounts of  figs, blackberries, strawberries.

3.) Pour champagne halfway into glass.

4.) Strain the peach juice into a measuring cup.

5.) Pour blended and strained peach juice mixture into each glass of champagne.

6.) Dash of balsamic per glass as desired.

7.) Garnish with more halved figs, strawberries, blackberries, if you like, as well as the finishing touches of edible flowers and herbs such as lemon verbena, basil and mint, as desired and serve.

 

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Aphrodite’s Kiss Bellini 

Here’s another version of a sangria inspired Bellini recipe. Keeping this drink simple with the frothy fresh peach blend is just as intoxicating without the alcohol, as the scent of orange blossom mingled with peaches is truly a sensual pleasure. Coconut water, fresh peaches, over ice, garnished delicately with a few raspberries and/or strawberry. The froth is luxurious. If you want to add champagne and Aperol, it makes a lovely cocktail. Leave unadorned and non-alcoholic for the naked juice version that can only be suggestive of Aphrodite on the half shell, wearing nothing but sea foam and flowers.

 Makes 2 glasses

Ingredients:

3 peaches, sliced

1 cup ice

1/2 cup Bellini mix (Tangerine and Orange Blossom)

3 tablespoons or just a splash of orange blossom water (can be found in most Mediterranean/Middle Eastern supermarkets)

1/2 cup coconut water, fresh or bottled

two sprigs of fresh mint, leaves

4 cups champagne, or as needed, perhaps you’d like to share the bottle

 

Directions:

1.) In a blender, place ice, fresh peaches, Bellini mix, mint, orange blossom and coconut water. Blend.

2.) In a glass, place ample amounts of ice cubes.

3.) Pour the peach juice Bellini mixture over ice.

4.) Garnish with raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, edible flowers, and other fruits and herbs as desired.

Serve and enjoy.

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Pomegranate Peach Sangria

Here’s a refreshing sangria using juicy ripe peach juice, ice, coconut, orange blossom water that pairs beautifully with pomegranate spritzer, just add strawberries and raspberries as edible garnish. It’s a simple way to please your palate and you won’t miss the champagne or wine with this bountiful glass of goodness. Of course, if you add champagne or a sexy Spanish Rioja red wine, no one will blame you.

Makes 2 glasses

Ingredients:

1/4 cup coconut water

1 cup pomegranate spritzer

1 cup fresh peach juice, strained (recipe follows)

2 tablespoons balsamic (recommend Williams-Sonoma’s d’Anjou pear flavored balsamic)

1 (750-ml) bottle Champagne, Prosecco or Rioja red wine (optional if you want a non-alcoholic mocktail version)

garnish

raspberries

strawberries

blackberries

figs

edible flowers

hyssop

mint

Directions:

1.) In a glass, fill with ice cubes.

2.) Strain the peach juice mixture.

3.) Pour half the glass with peach juice mixture.

4.) Pour fresh coconut water in.

5.) Pour in pomegranate spritzer to just about the rim of glass, leaving room for fruits and garnishes.

6.) Dash of balsamic per glass, as desired.

7.) Garnish generously with figs, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, basil, hyssop, mint and edible flowers.

8.) Serve and enjoy.

Peach Juice Mixture

3 large peaches, sliced

1 cup of ice

1 cup of coconut water, fresh or bottled

1/2 cup Bellini mix (Tangerine and Orange Blossom)

– or –

2 fresh tangerines, peeled and segmented

1/2 cup orange blossom water

Directions:

1.) Place the sliced peaches, ice, coconut water and Bellini mixture or freshly segmented tangerines and orange blossom water into a blender. Blend well.

2.) Strain through a fine sieve into a large measuring cup or pitcher.

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Plums in July

plum tart

I’m creating a garden in my backyard. This is a dream come true for me. I took a day off to accomplish a list of things, but instead of recipe creating and taking photos, I’m drinking iced tea with lemon and mint, while instructing the gardener and crew around the yard, showing them where I’d like to plant the large pots of jasmine, bougainvillea and creeping fig. I’ve got my hands and feet in the soil, digging holes with a spade to plant lavender and rosemary. The scent of earth is alive and renewing my senses.

A green beetle flies around drowsily, then a butterfly. My bare feet sink into the damp grass. The budding fruit on the orange tree fills my heart with promise, and reminds me that only last year I lived in a cramped and dark two bedroom apartment with my three children, just dreaming of this moment.

Even my kitchen is a daily reminder that I am realizing what for many years felt impossible in times of single parenting struggles. Now I have so many recipes in progress, so much abundance tumbling upon my kitchen island where the bounty of farmers’ market produce is displayed, and I am overwhelmed with the harvest of summer. My colander filled to the brim with juicy cherry tomatoes hand plucked from a friend’s garden, the stems a-top like little green bows, such gifts of exploding sweetness on the tongue. I slice them in half easily and roast them very lightly with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of sea salt. Fresh pops of cherry tomatoes are just as good or perhaps better in a green bean salad. I serve it cold, simply dressed in a miso cashew vinaigrette and toss it together with quinoa. Parsley too, cilantro. I cannot believe my luck, and a rush of joy swells in my body.

The plums were just too beautiful for words.

In the fruit stall at the farmers’ market, stunned by their beauty, the dark purple plums heavy with ripeness, globes of crimson violet fit perfectly in the palm of my hand. Baskets full of such plums— Santa Rosa, Black Beauty, Yellow plums— bedazzled by the many jeweled colors as the waft of their jammy fragrance meets my nose, I’m in awe of their splendor. The farmer behind the table slices a plum, hands me a sliver of fleshy fruit, its juice drips down my fingers, as my lips and eyes close in bliss, tasting it. So sweet.

This is how I found the plums.

Soon I held plastic bags weighted full of them. The farmer hands them to me and gives a toothy grin, sprinkling change into my hands. I place the plums gently into my canvas grocery tote. He winks at me as if to say, enjoy.

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The hot sun beat down as I walked with the heavy loads of produce in each hand, gathering bunches of colorful sweet peppers along the way, bouquets of basil, mint, marjoram, rosemary, purple basil, and a wildly grown bunch of Malabar spinach. I found a bouquet of squash blossoms, but much to my dismay, they were too delicate and faded quickly in my refrigerator later.

I had planned to make something special with the squash blossoms, a raw vegan recipe using pistachios, cashew cream, pesto, purple basil leaves. Yet I didn’t have time to prepare such a dish within a day after buying them. They wilted, turned dull and looked gray. I was too slow to use them immediately, too busy, driving all over the city running errands, driving my children to summer camp, working my day job, and you know, the things that take time away from the simplest pleasures in the kitchen. Busy life. Sometimes there’s just toasted bread with almond butter rather than the grand idea of creating a special recipe or making homemade vegetable soup, if only to use up all of the richness from the open market. It seems I’m always in such a rush, watching the clock, the days, weeks, how they go so quickly.

I want to savor each day like a ripe plum eaten from the market stall.

Then I had a conversation with a man I met at a friend’s cafe about the importance of being present. He was a spiritual guide and counseled couples. He sat next to me during lunch and chatted about food, the appreciation of eating, and what is good for our soul. I expressed my understanding through nods to him and bites of my seaweed salad. He told me that he had gone to a meditation retreat once where the food was so marvelous, he actually tasted the love given to it. The chefs gave silent prayers over every dish as they created them in meditation. This made so much sense. After awhile, we really understood one another and everything he shared rang true.

“Today, standing in my kitchen, grinding fresh-roasted spices with a mortar and pestle, holding those ancient implements in my hands, watching, feeling, hearing, touching, inhaling and imagining my friends enjoying the flavors, I thought: This is it. This is life. What else could I want?” ~ Rob Ackerman

Love, the essence of it, whether it is self-love, maternal love or romantic, and all the many colors of love, is an essential ingredient. Your fingers, while cooking, infuse emotion, which is why I cannot allow myself to cook if I am sad, upset, frustrated or angry. For instance, at the end of a relationship, I over salted a quiche. It was inedible. Salt water is represented as tears during a Jewish Passover seder. I had cried more tears during that last year. It began to change my face and my cooking. We sat at the table that New Year’s Eve, pushing aside the quiche. He mumbled, pensive and downward glance. I sighed and looked away. Inedible. But in the springtime of our romance, all we did was cook and eat together.

There was once, like a ripe plum, juicy kisses and sweetness in his touch. But he never liked stone fruit. It bore a childhood memory of eating the rotten selection at his family fruit stand, because they didn’t have much, so his mother insisted that he and his brother and sister eat the mealy peaches, the bruised apricots, the sodden and moldy plums. It was all he knew of harvested fruit, and perhaps, love.

I’ve over-seasoned things, undercooked dishes, while tangled in muddy thoughts of depression, frustration, annoyance. In those cases, I could not serve dinner, nor would I feed my children and partner such disasters from moods where I could not add the taste of love, joy and happiness.

“Tita knew through her own flesh how fire transforms the elements, how a lump of corn flour is changed into a tortilla, how a soul that hasn’t been warmed by the fire of love is lifeless, like a useless ball of corn flour.”
~ Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate

It comes through our fingers and hands, emotions. Being present and completely attending to the act of making something, such as a tart dough, is a meditation. You can give everything to it. You have the time. Being present brings us to the center of our heart.

The sweetness of ripe plums. It becomes love from the earth, from the tree, from the sun.

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Part of this recipe is to give it love. I contemplate the happiest moments of my life while I cook and prepare. Pinch of salt, meditate on what I am grateful for and how am I using the difficulties I’ve had in the past to season my appreciation for where I am. Cup of sugar, the birth of each one of my children, witnessing their eyes opening for the first time, looking deeply into their newborn face. Pure joy. Add two teaspoons of vanilla, remembering the way my lover kisses the back of my neck so softly, feeling his warm hands upon my skin. Alright, add more of that vanilla, will you? To add kindness, don’t over mix your dough. Feel the texture with your fingers, skip the mixer.

Since the essential ingredient for this recipe asks for very ripe plums, please use them right away. Eat them in the kitchen as you decide upon exactly how you want to make this dessert. This is important: taste the plums first. If they aren’t anything special, consider blueberries or raspberries instead.

If you are overwhelmed and daunted by recipe given below, or maybe just too darn busy (I understand this), you can make a crumble rather than the tart. It’s a suggestion here, because I find that the plums, while so sultry and ready for you to eat, as lovers the throes of passion, cannot wait another moment. You must taste pleasure now.

Plum Tart with Hazelnut Crust

FOR THE PÂTE SABLÉE (Hazelnut Crust):

2 1/3 cups all-purpose whole wheat flour, plus more for dusting

1/3 cup hazelnut flour

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/3 cup coconut sugar

6 ounces French-style butter (such as Plugrà), plus more for greasing pan, at room temperature

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract (always add more if you desire)

5 egg yolks

zest of 1 lemon

 

 

ASSEMBLY:

1 tablespoon Chambord liqueur to thin the jam (optional)

½ cup plum jam (mixed berry jam if you can’t find plum)

5-6 ripe plums

powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)

ground hazelnuts, for dusting

 

PREPARATION

To make the hazelnut flour: Place hazelnuts on a sheet pan lined with parchment and roast for 15 minutes. Keep your eyes on them, don’t let them burn, please. Roll the hazelnuts on the sheet pan by giving them a shake. When toasted, remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes. Place in a bag or a dish towel. Seal bag and gently roll over nuts with a rolling pin. Put the hazelnuts into a high speed blender (Vitamix) and pulse until a fine powder.

Set aside.

Make the pâte sablée: Sift flour, hazelnut flour and confectioners’ sugar into separate bowls. Place butter, salt and sifted all-purpose whole wheat flour in the bowl. Mix with your fingers and use your hands to crumble the butter until the flour and butter just come together. Add sifted hazelnut flour and confectioners’ sugar. Continue to crumble and mix with your fingers until ingredients are lightly fluffed and blended.

Here’s where it gets sticky and sensual. Add vanilla extract and egg yolks, mixing with your fingers until ingredients come together. Scrape dough out of bowl with your hands and a spatula. Press into a 1/2-inch-thick round shape. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to rest.

 Unwrap dough and cut into two equal pieces. Wrap one piece and refrigerate or freeze for use in another tart.

Prepare the tart shell:

Butter a 9-inch metal tart pan with a removable bottom very lightly and evenly. Place parchment paper on a work surface and dust lightly with flour. Pound the dough gently with a rolling pin to make it soft. Roll dough out carefully to about 1/4-inch thickness, frequently rotating it to roll evenly. Work it at a steady pace so the dough doesn’t warm up and get sticky. Dust with flour if necessary.

Cut a circle around with a knife that is a little larger than the tart pan. I use the tart ring as a guide by setting it on top of the dough. Keep the excess dough on the side for shaping the crust edges. Lightly dust dough with flour. Wrap dough loosely around rolling pin to lift it up from work surface, then immediately unroll it onto tart pan. You can also turn the tart pan upside down upon the dough and flip it into the pan.

Gently guide dough down the sides of the pan with your fingers, making sure that dough leaves no gap between the bottom edge of the sides of the pan and the bottom. Shape the edge of the crust by pressing and pinching the dough into the mold of the tart pan. Trim away excess dough hanging over edges. Refrigerate tart shell, uncovered, for at least 1 hour to rest, preferably overnight.

Assemble the tart: Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Remove tart shell from refrigerator. With a fork, poke holes in the dough, 1 inch apart.

Bake tart for 20 minutes, until crust is golden and the tip of a paring knife comes out clean when inserted. You can check on the tart shell to make sure it isn’t over-baked. You will want the crust to be like a shortbread cookie texture. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes.

Remove tart from the ring, leaving the base intact to support the tart. With a small spatula or brush, spread jam over surface in an even layer (If jam is too stiff to spread easily, place it in a small saucepan and warm it slightly first on top of the stove. A dash of Chambord liqueur gives it dimension and thins the jam).

Arrange fresh plums on the jammy surface. Just before serving, sprinkle with ground hazelnuts among the plums and dust with powdered sugar.

The tart is best when eaten the day it is made, but can be refrigerated for a day.

 

YIELD One 9-inch tart, plus dough for an additional tart shell

Adapted From Martha Rose Schulman’s “Raspberry Hazelnut Tart” recipe via original recipe from “The Art of French Pastry” by Jacquy Pfeiffer

 

 

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vegan_nectarines-vegan-dessert-cashew-cream
“… a paradise of fruit: white peaches like globes of perfume, pesche gialle, juicy and orange, grapes, figs, green and purple, cherries, melons, then plates of anguria: crisp and succulent at the same time, like love, sex, food…”
 (Ode to Italian Fruit, Barbara Hamby)

 

It’s summer and I’m in heaven when I see beautiful nectarines by the bountiful basket loads in the market. I just love summertime!

Here is a recipe that is simple, takes little effort to combine juicy fruit and a creamy vegan version of zabaglione. You won’t miss the eggs, though I do love them and the traditional Italian version of zabaglione, a frothy custard.

It’s a light, creamy vegan cashew-based cream flavored with sweet Marsala. All you need to do is generously spoon the ‘zabaglione’ over juicy nectarines for this delightful summery dessert. Garnish with fresh basil leaves and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

If there is an aphrodisiac ingredient in this dish, it’s definitely the cashew cream. Coconut blended with honey and spice is actually considered an aphrodisiac in India, so I’ve heard. Basil is fragrant and makes a seductive garnish. Nectarines are suggestive with their juicy ripe flesh. I’m confident that you’ll be pleased, and pleasure is all the ingredient you need.

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Nectarines with Cashew Coconut Zabaglione

1 1/2-2 cups raw cashews

1 coconut, opened– use entire contents of water and meat

3 ripe nectarines, pitted and sliced

1/2 cup (4 fl. oz.) sweet Marsala

5 tbs. maple syrup (to taste)

3 tbs. raw honey (to taste)

dash of vanilla

dash of grated cinnamon

fresh basil leaves for garnish

 

In a high speed blender, put the cashews and add the entire contents of coconut water and coconut meat inside. If possible, allow to soak for an hour. Blend. Add cinnamon, honey, maple syrup, Marsala. Blend again until creamy. Set aside in refrigerator.

Slice the nectarines and place them in bowls. Spoon zabaglione over the fruit, and add more slices of nectarines if you please. Garnish with basil leaves and grated cinnamon. Serve.

You can save the remaining zabaglione for other uses, such as a decadent cream for fruit and granola in the morning for breakfast, or a sumptuous treat over more nectarines, peaches or any other fruit if you’re in the mood. I’m tempted to try it with coffee and chocolate, perhaps some kind of tiramisu creation. Maybe a crumble of dark chocolate over a small bowl of zabaglione with cherries? I’ll leave it up to your wildest dessert imagination.

Bon Appetit!

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tea-flowers-iced-tea-glass copy

My obsession with tea began in childhood. Coffee was never appealing, too strong for my blood. A cup of tea soothed and comforted when I needed it, and it kept me company in a hot mug in between the palms of my hands. Coffee is harsh and jolting, masculine and too yang for me. In the heat of summer, iced tea quenches my thirst most. Freshly squeezed lemons with black tea, or green tea stirred into ice. I can’t get enough. Coffee smells wonderful, though drinking it jars my nerves.

Tea, even in its strongest form, affects my senses in a gentle manner. It gives my palate delight to taste its fragrance, and some teas, smoky and mysterious, call my soul back to an ancestral cellular memory of brewed leaves over a fire. Tea is liquid consciousness.

I feel awake, alive, and aware with a cup of tea.

Tea brings me back to my childhood daydreams, lazy afternoons in my grandmother’s garden, nothing else to think about but to observe the way light shifts through the leaves of trees, to notice the many colors of things— the tree bark and shapes of stones, and tea swirling inside a ceramic cup. Tea glittering with light, chilled in a glass of ice.

PalaisDesThesIcedTea

I open one package of Palais des Thés iced tea blend. The kettle whistles. I pour the boiling water into a large Pyrex pitcher. The oversized muslin teabag sinks then settles into the hot water. The fragrance captivates my senses, and soon the color deepens into a pale green gold. “What kind is this?” I ask the box it came in. Thé du Hammam, the tea tag reads. It’s a Turkish blend of green tea, rose petals, green dates, berries and orange flower water. The aroma is intoxicating, beautiful. I lean my face into the steam for another waft of its romantic scent. Marvelous. It has fruit and berry notes, a hint of rose, just enough to make you want, but not too much to overpower the senses. Seductive. Once it cools, I pour it over a glassful of ice cubes.

tea Palais Tea iced tea

Reverie. I taste the iced brew of Thé du Hammam tea, and contemplate.

Memory of sunlight sparkling upon the surface of the pond, the orange koi swimming drowsily through the water. Bamboo stalks and maple trees filter the warm light of day. In this memory, I’m with a man I loved deeply. It’s our first date. He ordered a pot of Darjeeling tea served with ginger scones, jam, lemon curd, cream and strawberries. The side of my head rested on his shoulder. I felt so peaceful, so completely present in the moment, just quietly sitting with him, drinking tea.

The tea was light and infused joy within us.

tea-menu

The tranquil atmosphere of the garden enchanted, tucked away from the bustle of the city, just the two of us at our little table underneath a shady umbrella. The menu listed white teas such as Chinese Yin Zhen Silver Needle, White Peony, and white tea pearls, Indian whites, the Sri Lankan white teas— and while all the teas appealed, we wanted Darjeeling tea.

Loose-leaf teas, blooming teas, tisanes, herbals, green teas of many kinds, from Sri Lanka, India, China and Japan. Japanese Sencha, Houjicha, Mattcha, Bancha, Genmaicha. Moroccan teas, exotic blends.

Being quiet, sitting next to each other, taking in the afternoon breeze, holding hands. Darjeeling tea in a flowered teapot. I’ll remember the glimmer in his eyes, studying the detail of his eyelashes, the curve of his eyelids, the color of his irises, golden amber, the color of steeped Darjeeling. Our first date, an afternoon tea.

His reflection in the glass window of the teahouse, his hand touching mine upon the white tablecloth, then underneath, a gentle caress of my thigh. His warm hand awakened me as the sun sank into my skin, shifting from high noon in the brilliant sky to two thirty something. Time passed, floated like a breeze.

The tea cup held light and shimmered.

TEAdarjeeling-tea

My thoughts drift into tranquility. Like discovering a treasure of old letters in a forgotten box, leafing through memories, recalling what it’s like to just be, without doing.

Tea calms the mind and asks us to take pleasure in the moment.

“Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the sighing of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.” Okakura Kakuzo, Book of Tea (1906)

Tea leaves floating in water. I’m brewing another iced tea. This time, Thé des Alizés. I open the lid of the teapot, the fragrance brings me to my grandmother’s garden. The beech tree swaying its leaves toward the wild strawberries in the damp soil, the marble patio cool underneath my bare feet, I am young, a little girl, wearing a sundress. In this memory I recall the whooshing slide and click of the glass door as I go into the house, and the tea waiting there for me on the table. The cup of tea served with the sugar pot and spoon, the ceramic cat pitcher of cream, its paw up to pour.

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Another day. It’s Sunday and I’m in my kitchen. It’s summer, there’s jazz playing brightly through the house in a Brazilian rhythm. I pour a cool glass of Thé des Sources, Chinese green tea, bergamot, mint. The honey sticks to the rim as I drizzle some over the ice cubes. It’s cool and light, refreshing. I’m sipping it through a straw while turning on the hose for my daughter in the backyard. She runs giggling through the arc of water that I make with my thumb against the water pressure from the hose, my glass icy in my other hand. We are laughing in the strong beating sunlight.

I inhale the fragrant tea, my face close to the glass, bergamot and mint notes rising like a happy song.

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My grandmother, lovingly called “Nana,” always offered me a cup of black tea. She’d prepare it with cream and sugar, the British way. “Would you like more ha-ah-lf and ha-ah-lf?” she’d enunciate clearly in her British accent, steeping the black leafed brew, the whistle of the kettle first thing in the morning, helping myself to spoonfuls of brown sugar swirled into the steaming teacup. Gazing into the tea, a reflection of childhood memory emerges; radiating its happiness throughout that day, sunlight showering its halo of beauty everywhere.

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
~ Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

Recalling the moments of tea and childhood, sipping tea, remembering a day blowsy and dappled with brushstrokes of light, painted in Impressionist style by my wandering and wondering eyes, fascinated with every color shimmering in the China cups and saucers, elongated chiaroscuro of shadows melting into sunlight like sugar in hot tea.

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My Nana came from England when she was eighteen. She cried all the way across the ocean— so my great-grandmother told me— and made enough tears to float the big Norwegian freighter ship they traveled across the Atlantic upon. Nana didn’t want to come to America, but as soon as they arrived in California via the Panama Canal and all the way around to San Pedro, the first thing she asked for was a cup of tea. It cheered her right up, right as rain. Sunny California was her new home. Oranges, palm trees, iced tea.

My grandparents lived in a large, two-story home, a Spanish-style built in the 30s, way up in the winding hills of Los Feliz. The kitchen was equipped with a large kettle, the whistle a call for rich, sturdy black tea as strong as you could handle, served with cream and sugar. I’d be upstairs in the bathtub and hear the piercing screech of the water ready for tea.

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Oolong tea, iced. I pour some boiling water into a glass pitcher, add lemon slices, and put it outside in the sunlight. This is what my Nana used to do. Oolong, Wu Long 7 Agrumes, or Seven Citrus Oolong tea, a blend flavored with lemon, lime, sweet orange, bitter orange, grapefruit, bergamot and mandarin. Woodsy oolong with citrus notes.

PalaisDeThesIcedTea

 The backyard was wide with an expanse of thick green grass that asked for bare feet and running through sprinklers. Summer came with warm abundant breezes as my Nana placed a big glass jar full of several teabags, lemon slices and water out in the direct sunlight to make sun tea. The jar sat out in the middle of the grassy yard, turning golden, then amber-brown, then burnt sienna glinting brightly as the sun shone through the glass.

Iced tea, a ritual, brewed in the backyard, steeped in sunlight.

I’m taking pleasure in exploring new types of tea, so I opened a box of summery iced teas by French tea brand Palais des Thés. All natural XL Iced Tea Bags in four signature blends (flavored with fruits, flowers and spices) appealed to me not only because I’m a tea lover, but also because of their aphrodisiac nature. Just the scent of these teas will inspire your senses. 

I have a few different brews of these teas in my fridge, some with fruit in the infusions like blueberries and edible flowers, slices of lemon and lime. It’s refreshing and uplifting. There are chilled glass mason jars stored in my freezer so when I pour a glass, it’s iced and deliciously thirst quenching. 

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“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.” ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky

A few thoughts on health benefits and aphrodisiac qualities of tea

Tea is an ancient drink and has a great amount of history and lore. There are lovers of tea and rituals surrounding its preparation, such as “tea ceremony” in Japanese culture.

Oolong tea has antioxidants as well as metabolism boosting benefits. Oolong tea contains polyphenols, like most other teas, such as green tea.

Green tea is high in antioxidants and polyphenols. It is anti-inflammatory and has a plentitude of healthy reasons to drink it, such as lowering blood pressure, improving skin with anti-aging properties, plus many other beauty and mood boosting benefits.

The downside? If you are avoiding caffeine or keeping the intake low, the recommended 2-5 cups a day may contain more caffeine than you want. How else can you enjoy teas? Look for the herbal blends. There are so many varieties of tea you are bound to find something that appeals to your taste and senses.

Beautiful scents and flavors are natural aphrodisiacs in tea blends. There are some tried and true “aphrodisiac” teas such as ginseng, ginger root and damiana, however, I found the act of pouring hot water over Thé du Hammam and inhaling the essences of rose petals, green dates, berries and orange flower water mingled with green tea to be quite an aphrodisiac to all of my senses.

Sensual and delightful, tea is my panacea and daily ritual.

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Summer Afternoon {Green Garden Gazpacho}

GreenGazpacho

The first time I had “green garden gazpacho” was at Superba in Venice. Made of asparagus, peas, cucumber, yogurt, olive oil. How Chef Jason Neroni made this recipe exactly I could only guess by taste. The yogurt was spooned artfully into a wide bowl, a pillow on top of the verdant green purée, surrounded by a wreath of delicate edible flowers in white and yellow, a sprig of asparagus, with a voluptuous drizzle of olive oil dappled upon its velvety surface. The beauty of that soup captured me.

I went home with it on my mind, dreaming of the balance and texture, wanting to recreate that very soup. Even the name, Green Garden Gazpacho. Everything about it made me lust over its primavera suggestion. Gazpacho is a summertime soup, when it’s too hot to cook or stir a pot. Cool and refreshing gazpacho.

While I cannot give you the recipe to the gazpacho that carried me away into a summer dream, I can give you my own experiments in the essence of summery green gazpacho, and you can take it wherever you’d like, adding more of what tastes good to you. Gazpacho isn’t an exact science, but has many variations, so play with the ingredients until you find your own pleasurable bowl of green goodness.

 

INGREDIENTS
1/2 cup raw shelled pistachios, unsalted

1 bunch cilantro, leaves

1/2 head Romaine lettuce

1 bunch parsley, leaves

1 small bunch asparagus

1 ripe avocado

1 small jalapeño, more for extra zing

1/2 yellow onion, sliced

2 cloves fresh garlic, crushed

2 pounds sugar snap peas

1-2 cucumbers, peeled and chopped

2 cups tomatillos, peeled and chopped

3 tablespoons lime juice, more or less to taste

1/3 cup olive oil, more or less to taste and garnish

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup plain Greek (or vegan substitute) yogurt, for serving *tip: keep Greek yogurt in freezer, let thaw a bit before spooning into soup

2 tablespoons crushed pistachios

Cover the pistachios with water and soak for a few hours to overnight to soften. Combine the half the bunch of asparagus, onion, and garlic in a pot. Cover with about 2 quarts of water, bring to a boil, simmer low for 15-20 minutes. Strain liquid into a pot.

Simmer the strained broth in a pot. Add the other half bunch of asparagus with the peas and simmer on medium low until bright green and barely cooked, about 3 to 5 minutes. Strain, save the liquid on the side, and cool in an ice bath to stop them from over-cooking. Purée the asparagus and pea mixture with the tomatillos, avocado, cucumber, cilantro, parsley, lettuce, jalapeño, pistachios and olive oil in a high speed blender, adding the cooled broth (and more olive oil if needed) to reach the desired consistency and taste. Season with lime juice, sea salt and pepper to taste. It may take some experimenting before you find the perfect flavor balance.

Pour the soup into a large pitcher and chill in the fridge.

To serve, spoon a dollop of yogurt into a bowl and pour in the chilled soup. Garnish with crushed pistachio dust, cilantro, parsley, thin cucumber slices, olive oil and jalapeño slivers. Even a shred of bright purple cabbage. If you can find edible flowers at your local farmers’ market, they look beautiful with this summer soup.

 

 

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