Last year my husband and I took a trip to Japan and had a thrilling 3 weeks there. We visited Kyoto and stayed at a traditional ryokan, (inn). Staying in the ryokan was an amazing/overwhelming experience that included getting naked in public (a story for another day), a 12-course dinner, beautiful sites and a traditional Japanese breakfast. We ate numerous meals, but the ryokan was the most interesting. The hubs and I visited the Otagi Nenbutsu-ji temple, which is a buddhist temple with over 1,000 quirky and interesting statues. We LOVED it! The statues were placed in 1981, so they aren’t particularly ancient, but they are still wonderful.I was especially happy to find a statue holding a camera. A kindred spirit!After site seeing we had a lovely experience at the ryokan and the next morning we were given the choice of a ‘western’ or ‘japanese’ breakfast. We laughed at the stupid westerners that couldn’t handle a Japanese breakfast and promptly opted for the most traditional breakfast possible! It seemed like a great idea until we sat down to the table and had NO idea what were were about to eat. I love trying new things, but this was definitely out of my comfort zone. You know that experience you have when you got to a fancy restaurant and suddenly realize there is much more cutlery than you are know what to do with. Why are there 4 forks, what is this mini plate for, am I supposed to use the small spoon for dessert, soup… ? This was just a taste of what it was like to eat traditional japanese breakfast. There were so many plates and ornate boxes with little treasures inside. I didn’t what was garnishment or food. At one point I managed to ask what to do with this cup of liquid only to discover it was just a cup of tea, which was the only thing I knew what to do with. It was beautiful and amazing, but we had no idea what were eating and what sauce went with what. A lot of it was delicious, but a lot of it we weren’t sure about. This could have been because we were pairing sauces with the wrong food. I did recognize rice, soy sauce, fish (pretty sure) and maybe.. tofu. The service was impeccable. Though the employees didn’t speak English, and we struggled with awful Japanese, they still took care of our every need and made it a great experience for us. The view was so beautiful it was surreal. Boats floated by and I kept feeling like I’d fallen into a movie. It was one of the highlights of our trip!We were awkward and confused, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
All North Alabamians know and love Piper & Leaf and now there is a second location in Madison!!You can’t pop into a local farmer’s market without seeing the long lines of smiling faces coming from the Piper & Leaf tent and for good reason. Their tea is, in a word, divine.With flavors like Apple Cart Blossom, Pumpkin Moonshine and Strawberry Shindig there is a tea for everyone. The new location is in the Sprout’s shopping center, tucked nicely against The Juicery, allowing you to get all of your healthy treats in one area. To kick of the grand opening Piper & Leaf threw one of their Splendid Shindigs, which included morning yoga, henna painting, contests, raffles and much more. Olivier and I arrived to the new location, which is light and modern. I’m so hesitant to use the term hip, as the hipster movement has such a bad rap, but the new location was all the good parts of hip. Clean, interesting, local, fresh and energizing. It was also very inclusive, accepting of all with judgement of none, which is very unhipster. There are lots of comfy sitting options throughout. You can enjoy your tea and nosh at the bar and watch the masterful tea artists at their best or in the overstuffed sofas in the back.The Piper and Leaf has amazing french cookies and house made pastries, so Olivier and I each got a savory pastry to pair with iced Piper Mint Blue at half sweetness (my favorite). My french husband said the pastries were the best he’d had.. outside of France of course, but still that is a huge compliment. Unfortunately, I went into complete glutton mode and forgot to find out what the names of the pastries were. They were delicious and I’d guess you really can’t go wrong. I will say they were presented on the most stunning wooden trays and I recommended eating them in-house for just that reason. The trays are created but the ultra talented artist Joshua Arney from locally produced Alabama hardwoods. Each one is a unique masterpiece so make sure you follow him at The Irish Crafter.Piper & Leaf also has dry tea and brewing accoutrement for the homebody and if you don’t need an entire jar they sell smaller bags. There are also samples if you can’t decide!Pop over today and enjoy the new location. It’s comfortably close to my house so I think I’ll be spending a lot more of my money on tea! You can also stick with the tried-and-true and visit the original Piper & Leaf at Lowe Mill Arts in Huntsville.
Alas, I could say that for the photos of this post were to pay homage to the photography greats Brassaï or Robert Doisneau, but that would be a lie. The truth is I was invited to a tea-themed cooking class and as an afterthought I brought my camera with me to get a few pictures. Much of photography is planning and I did not do that on this venture, so I ended up with dull, off-colored photographs. Oh well, it happens to the best of us and there are several courses of action when it occurs.
1. Spend countless hours attempting to color correct each image. Lame, who as time for that.
2. Use the off-colored photos and endure people telling you about how Instagram has really ‘professional’ editing features now. Also, knowing they are judging you for your bad photography, which is rarely fun.
3. Convert all the images to black and white and convince people it is because you are so artistic and deep. It helps if you say things like ‘The black and white removes all the distraction of color so you really SEE the image”, while rubbing your chin in an intelligent manner.
I went with a version of option 3 and converted to black/white… but admitted it was because I had taken crappy pictures. I guess sometimes honesty is the best policy. Please do notice the subtle influence of Brassaï‘s bar images reflected in the chaos of the tea party. You can’t see me, as this is text, but know that I am rubbing my chin intelligently as I type this.
I met CC last year at a blogging function. It was my first event with the group Rocket City Bloggers and every time I told someone I was a food photographer they would ask if I had met CC yet. Toward the end of the evening I finally did meet CC and he was worth all the hype. CC is a very talent chef that teaches cooking classes and has a food blog, in addition to his day job. Since then I have had dinner with CC and his lovely family several times, in addition to taking two of his cooking classes. Check out his blog and Facebook page. There is very premium and interesting information on both.
The class that I poorly photographed was his Downton Abbey High Tea Class.In addition to not planning my photo shoot, I should also mention that I showed up late and the class was well on its way by the time I finally arrived. I am a disaster. CC was mid way through making scones when I arrived. As he cooked and demonstrated the proper technique for each dish we sipped delicious teas, some of which he’d shipped in from Boston. After the scones were safely tucked in the oven he made pastry crisps and lemon curd. So delicious! My favorite desserts are alway citrus-based, so I was a huge fan of this portion of the tea.Whenever I take a cooking class I always feel like I am being shown the secret to a magic trick. Despite working in the food industry a lot of it is still a mysterious to me and I love when it is revealed. Photographing food and creating it are two vastly different things. We had more tea as the scones, pastry crisps and lemon curd cooked. Like a circus plate spinner CC added more dishes to the mix, salmon triple layered sandwiches and a cake. Whew! I was exhausted and I wasn’t even cooking anything, just sipping my tea and making the occasional comment. At this point the smells of the pastries and lemon curd were filling the kitchen. It was unbearable, like when your mother is making cookies but there are still 5 more minutes in the oven, plus cool down time. Finally we were able to have the pastries and more tea. The lemon curd, as I said was my favorite, but it was all very good. Next came the sandwiches, which I didn’t get a photo of, just take my word they were amazing.The last course was the cake, which was of course perfect. Even the Queen approved! And I imagine she is a stickler for good tea and scones.
Nothing is quite so idyllic as Sunday morning brunch. Just talking about it makes me feel like a Jane Austin heroine, but I’m pretty lazy on the weekends so it is rare for me to actually partake in the custom. Thankfully, on my last leg of Florence Restaurant Week I found myself at Imagine That Cafe & Bakery for brunch.
Imagine That is absolutely charming. It is a narrow, little restaurant but that only enhances the cozy, European feel. The restaurant is SO cozy that we actually walked past it twice not realizing where it was. It’s not really that hidden, but the business front is narrow and we were not paying the best attention. Apparently talking, walking and finding the restaurant was too much multitasking for my husband and I.
Our server let us sit where we wanted and immediately brought over menus and pleasantries. In typical annoying photographer fashion I asked lots of questions about how the food look and she pointed me in the right direct. Olivier order the Mother’s Day special, Ginger Peach Pancakes with house made syrup and I opted for the bagel and lox, and of course a coffee, which I have a pretty serious addiction to. I love it and I will not seek help for recovery. While we waited for our food I explored the restaurants nooks and crannies. I even shamelessly asked if I could climb into the front windows to get better photos. Dana, the owner, was very nice and accommodating and let me roam about the restaurant, including the windows. The more time I spent exploring the more fun details and features I found. For example, the mugs and chairs, though coordinating do not match, making you feel like you are visiting someone’s home, rather than a stuffy cafe. Street lamps line the cafe and glass cake stands filled with pastries and bagels add to the unique ambience.
Our food arrived in a timely fashion, so I stopped exploring and started tasting. My bagel and lox, which came with a side of fruit, hit the spot. It was fresh, balanced and most importantly delicious.
I would love to go back and try out their dinner selection, which includes citrus baked salmon with cilantro lime risotto, lasagna baked with house made pasta, and roasted pork tenderloin with mango and peach salsa! Yummy!
Disclosure: I was invited to participate in Florence Restaurant Week by Florence Main Street. My hotel was paid for by them to make it easier for me to participate and I received a $10 gift card from Imagine That Cafe and Bakery. I paid the remaining balance out of my own pocket and all thoughts and opinions about the restaurant are my own.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a tea brewing class with a local tea house, Piper & Leaf Artisan Tea Bar. We learned the art and subtleties of tea brewing in a causal setting with other passionate tea drinkers.While sweet, cold tea is guzzled throughout Alabama as a slight reprieve to our hot, sticky summers, coffee and, the less healthy option, Coke Cola rein supreme when it comes to a daily pick-me-up. But recently tea houses have started popping up around Huntsville and we are discovering what the rest of the world knew centuries ago: the magic of tea. Piper & Leaf has done an exceptional job to bring delicious tea to our community and has all of us flocking to buy their brew. When I learned about their tea brewing class I signed up right away, which was good, because it filled up quickly. While I won’t give away any of the classes secrets (you’ll have to sign up for the next session) I will say that we learned 5 different brewing techniques. I especially enjoyed brewing concentrated tea in the french press, and though I own a french press, it never occurred to me to brew tea in it. So obvious!
There were lots of people in the class and it was nice to be able to chat with people about their love to tea. People were excited to be there learning new things, which is always nice. I took the class with a friend, Kami, who as a true southerner with deep dixie roots was skilled in the art of reading tea leaves, a skill she learned from her grandmother. Kami instructed me to drink most of my tea, leaving a tiny bit of liquid in the bottom. She then had me place my cup upside down on a plate, turn the cup clockwise three times and then lift up my mug for inspection.
As Kami looked into the cup, a roadmap to my future, she raised her eyebrows.
“Don’t say a baby!” I said, reading a look on her face.
Kami said nothing.
“Dangit Kami!” I fussed.
Every time I get my tea leaves read the reader sees a freakin baby. I can barely handle my houseplants let alone a baby!
After a long pause Kami said, “I don’t see a baby, but I do see a toy dinosaur. That could mean lots of things.” But I am not convinced. I think it means a kid in the house playing with toy dinosaurs.
Kami showed the woman across our table my cup for a second opinion and she also sees a toy dinosaur.
Then Kami says, “Oh there it is, I see a baby right here.” The woman also sees a baby, but I just see a bunch of flakes in a random pattern. You can be the judge. Here is a photo of the ‘baby’ Kami and the other lady saw in my tea leaves.
It was a good thing I was in a tea house because after the shocking news that I may be having a future spawn I needed a calming cup of tea to relax. Piper & Leaf has numerous flavors, with lots of ingredients produced by local farmers.
After the class Piper & Leaf sent us home with their delicious Peaches and Cream tea, so we could go home and practice what we had learned. Though the class was supposed to end at 9:00 we all stood around chatting and I didn’t head to my car until almost 10:00 (on a work night, how irresponsible!).Please check out Piper & Leaf. Happy Brewing!
I’ve always enjoyed the occasional cup of tea, but I never really understood how people could be as passionate about tea as I was about coffee. That was until I was on a plane to Ireland. The flight attendant was doing the breakfast service and asked if I wanted coffee or tea and on a whim I selected tea.
“Would you like cream?” she asked. And though I had never had cream in my tea, I thought what the heck. The tea came in a Styrofoam cup, with cheap half and half and stirred with an ineffectual plastic straw, but it was the best tea I had ever had in my life. I couldn’t believe it. It was rich and flavorful, creamy and comforting, definitely a different experience than the stale bags of Celestial Seasonings that I was use to.My whole world expanded and I finally understood people’s passion for tea. I loved it (almost as much as coffee). I started drinking it more frequently and was very excited when I noticed a tea room, Tea with Thee, opened up near my house. I decided for this week’s post I would write about tea.
If you live in the North Alabama region you should definitely visit her wonderful tea room. You can also follow her tea room on Facebook no matter where you live.The duration and temperature you brew your tea is very important. It is possible, especially with more delicate teas like green tea, to scourge your tea leaves.
Green Tea – 2 to 3 minutes at 167-176 °F
White Tea – 2 to 3 minutes at 149-158 °F
Oolong Tea – 3 to 4 minutes at 176-185 °F
Black Tea – 3 to 5 minutes at 210 °F
Herbal Tea – 4 to 5 minutes at 210 °F
It is believed that Chinese Emperor Shen-Nun discovered tea 5000 years ago after tea leaves accidentally blew into boiling water and made a pleasant drink.
Tea is the second most popular beverage in the world, after water.
White, Yellow, Green, Oolong, Pu-erh, and Black tea all come from the same plant: the Camellia Sinensis. The differences in the tea come from how the leaves are processed.
Black tea goes through an oxidation process called fermentation. It is the most popular tea in the United States.
Green tea is much less processed than black tea and therefore has more natural antioxidants that help prevent a myriad of diseases.
Earl Grey Tea is named after a British Prime Minister from the 1830’s.
The United States actually has a tea plantation in Charleston, South Carolina called the Charleston Tea Plantation.
The spoon should not touch the cup when you stir your tea. Gently swish the spoon in the tea without clinking against the sides of the cup.
Do not put the spoon in your mouth or drink from the spoon.
After you have stirred your tea, remove the spoon and place it on the right of the cup on the saucer.
If you are sitting at a table, your saucer should always remain on the table. If you are not at a table, hold the saucer below the cup as you drink.
When all guests have arrived to tea, the hostess will signal the beginning of tea by placing the napkin on her lap; guests should follow suit.
If you must leave the table mid-tea, place your napkin on the chair not the table.
The hostess will signal the end of tea by placing her napkin on the table to the right of the teacup.
Eat a scone by breaking small pieces off and covering the bite with a condiment as you go. Scones should be eaten with your fingers and NOT a fork.
Scones are typically eaten with clotted cream, lemon curd or a jam.