Shop updates

The past couple of months have been a whirlwind of packing, moving, and adjusting to life in our new home in Fredericksburg, VA.  We’re living with family while we wait for our house in the Poconos to sell, so space is at a premium, putting projects such as spinning and dyeing on hold.  After the Holiday season, I put several bins of yarn back in “storage” at our house and removed most made to order listings on the Etsy shop.

I still have a bag of yarns that have been calling my name, so a few new items may appear as they are ready.  Until we get settled in a new house, only the more popular items will stay as made to order.  The fundraiser octopuses were by far the most popular item last year, with $30 donated to CCFA to date from their sales (effectively more as I try to time donations with doubling campaigns).  I am still hoping to do some local vending once we get the lay of the land and I’ve found a few local shops that have handmade accessories for sale.

Learning to spin yarn

Farmhouse special
Farmhouse special

One year ago today, I posted a picture of my “new” spinning wheel on instagram.  Sadly though, I’ve still not had the chance to really get it going.  It’s a double drive, and while new models can cost $500-1000, I found this deal for ultimately around $100.  She was in rough shape, and the woman who had her before me had already done quite a bit of restoration.  The bits on it are leather, bone, and string, so I know it’s not one of the 1970’s reproductions.  While the history of it makes it very special, it certainly has had some fixes along the way that make it challenging to learn to spin on.

Greenbank Mills historic spinning wheel
Greenbank Mills historic spinning wheel

It’s very similar in appearance to a wheel we saw at Greenbank Mills, on a tour there last year.  With the double drive, it spins the yarn quite fast, which can be challenging at first.  However, using scotch tension is an option, at least on my wheel, and I’m still getting a feel for the different ways of spinning.  I moved her into my recently cleaned out office, so I’m planning to devote more time to getting her going.  The theory being like a guitar- you’re more likely to play it if it’s in your line of sight.  I can’t justify buying any more roving until I get some spinning done!  The Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool festival also has some fantastic spinning workshops I’ve been wanting to sign up for, but with our upcoming move, I was too slow and most are full already.

drop spindle
Drop spindle

A drop spindle is a much less expensive introduction to the world of roving, which (other than the equipment and time expense) is much less expensive than hand spun yarns.  Drop spindles are also a physically slower way to learn the concepts and principles of spinning in general, which I think make it easier than jumping onto a spinning wheel first thing.  Like wheels, drop spindles can vary hugely in price and style, I got mine on etsy for $21 including a ball of roving to get started.  My first attempt was a much thicker “art yarn” and my mother was very excited to see I had dyed a navy blue- always keeping an eye open for art doll materials.  Despite setting the twist, dyeing the yarn after spinning resulted in a fluffy single-ply yarn which would have been a good candidate for plying with another yarn or strips of sari fabric.  Knowing how the yarn performs “downstream” with thickness and degree of twist has been a valuable learning experience, and I’m currently drafting longer and spinning much thinner.

If you don’t have resources like a local spinning group or festivals nearby, there are loads of videos on youtube on everything from setting up a wheel, to using a drop spindle, even learning historical styles of spinning.  Happy spinning!

Summer evening tea menu

Tea tasting
Preparing for a tea tasting

While the Brits have very strict rules for light tea versus full tea, I needed to come up with a menu for my first tea tasting at the end of August.  With a 7 pm arrival, I knew that some of my guests would probably not have eaten dinner yet, or at least not come with a full stomach.  Doing a full tasting of six Great Big Teas takes about half an hour at least, so I anticipated that people would be hungry- I knew I would be!

With the addition of some delicious shortbread cookies brought by one of my guests, here is what the final menu looked like:

Summer Evening Tea
Summer Evening Tea

Jammie Dodgers, Italian cookies, and Green Tea Mochi
Jammie Dodgers, Italian cookies, and Green Tea Mochi

A stop by World Market on my way back from vacation the previous week yielded the scone mixes along with the Double Devon cream, orange marmalade, Jammie Dodgers, Italian cookies, and green tea mochi.  The melons were fresh from local Kittantinny Mountain Farm that afternoon, and were the most delicious of the summer.  I used Cabot for the white cheddar, and followed this easy recipe for the chicken salad cucumber bites.

Chicken salad cucumber "sandwiches"
Chicken salad cucumber “sandwiches”

I’d never made chicken salad before, and never even realized that “salad” basically means adding mayo.  The day before, I cooked chicken breasts marinated in Stubb’s citrus and onion marinade (standard 30 minute room temp marinade in a casserole dish, followed by ~an hour at 350 F with foil removed for the last 15 minutes), and refrigerated a couple to use in the recipe the next morning.  Around mid-morning, I mixed the scallions, cilantro, and mayo with the now shredded chicken.  I let the flavors combine in the refrigerator while I went to the farm to pick up my CSA (including the melons and cucumbers).  It was pretty simple at that point to slice the cucumbers and load them up with the chicken salad (toothpicks highly recommended).  Leaving the skin on the cucumbers make them slightly more substantial and easier to eat.  The few that didn’t get consumed at the party, I quickly demolished the day after for lunch.

Chocolate and lemon scones
Chocolate and lemon scones

Originally, I had wanted to try out some grain-free scone recipes for the party, but with the prep for the actual tasting, one new recipe was enough.  The World Market mixes are very easy, and the gluten-free scones were surprisingly fluffy.  I don’t think I over stirred the chocolate scones, but they turned out with a consistency more like a cross between a muffin and a brownie (not the end of the world for chocolate).  I still have my eye on a few grain-free scone recipes, so I’ll come up with a reason to do some baking soon.

For the drinks, I wanted cool drinks since we’d just been tasting hot teas.  MoTEAto ices quite nicely and gave everyone the opportunity to try a seventh Great Big Teas, although I forgot to add the frozen MoTEAto ice cubes when serving.  If you don’t have time to freeze some tea for ice cubes the day before, brewing double strength and using regular ice cubes works as well.  Cucumber water is a refreshing favorite of mine that makes good use of a bumper crop in the summertime.

Overall, this menu has a variety of sweet and savory, gluten-free and vegetarian options, while highlighting summer produce and some international tea treats.  And I had no problem polishing off the leftovers!

The great tea mix-up: the real Kyoto Cherry Rose

It’s funny how even having experience doesn’t always make us question information.  We had a tea mix-up a couple of weeks ago and I ended up trying to convince myself that a black licorice tea was a Kyoto Cherry Rose green tea.  Silly, right?  I wrote it off to a mysterious cherry flavor that somehow darkened the tea leaves and brew color.  It’s amazing how we can justify our beliefs!  Today, I finally had the opportunity to sit down with a cup of Great Big Tea’s Kyoto Cherry Rose, and I feel absolutely silly for convincing myself that I had the right tea earlier.

Despite not liking licorice or anise in general, I found myself really liking the licorice tea last month, when I probably wouldn’t have tried it otherwise.  It definitely gives a candy flavor that may appeal to people who wouldn’t normally have tried it.

Kyoto Cherry Rose
Kyoto Cherry Rose- really.

Of course, now, with the right tea in hand, the confusion seems silly.  Kyoto Cherry Rose is a green tea with rose petals and a subtle cherry flavor that seeps like a classic green tea.  The brewed aroma is pleasant, the rose and cherry balancing each other to complement the green tea flavor.

My tea-stained every day mug doesn’t make for a pretty picture, but this brews light like a green tea should!  For now, you have my apologies and I’ll edit the earlier post so that the correct tea is referenced.  A couple of lessons can be learned from my embarrassment though, trust your instincts and try things you would otherwise avoid!

Seven teas in seven days: Day 7, Decaf Strawberry

For this final tea, I am cheating a bit in that I am actually testing this tea on the afternoon of Day 6 and scheduling the post for the morning after.  This is the sixth and final tea out of my tasting kit, Decaf Strawberry.

Decaf Strawberry Black Tea
Decaf Strawberry Black Tea

This black tea has been decaffeinated, which means that there may still be small amounts of caffeine remaining, but it’s probably not going to keep you up all night.  It’s better to go with a purely herbal tisane if you have to avoid caffeine entirely.

In addition to the decaffeinated black tea, this Sri Lankan tea from Great Big Teas has added pieces of strawberry and papaya, in addition to natural flavors.  The recommended brew time is 4-7 minutes with boiling (212 F) water.  I think I was somewhere in the 5 minute range and still didn’t get a strong bitter signal from the tannins.

Surprisingly, the strawberry in this tea comes out mostly in the aroma.  The fruit flavor is relatively mild, especially in comparison with Day 1’s Blueberry Infusion.  Part of me wishes I had the time to go back through and test each of these again iced- I think both the fruit and rose flavors of this series would stand up well to the cold and be quite refreshing on these hot August days.

Brewed Strawberry
Brewed Strawberry

As suggested, this tea would pair well with a strong dessert, such as strawberry shortcake.  With the fruit mostly in the aroma, I would guess the flavors to be complimentary.  For those who prefer sweetened tea, this would be a good candidate for a “neutral” sweetener such as clover honey.

The pairing of honeys with teas is still a new area for me, and my main eating (versus mead-making) honey is a local honey which has quite a strong flavor, so it’s really not the best for taste testing these different teas.  Eating local honey is thought to have many health benefits, including improving seasonal allergies and anti-inflammatory effects.  I’m not sure I’ve seen an improvement in mine, but it tastes delicious and helps my local economy.  If you’re looking for a supplier, I recommend checking your local farmer’s market since many of the honeys you find in the grocery don’t always contain pollen and are imported from farther away.  The Bee Folks are one of our regional favorites as well, with lots of different options.

This wraps up my week long series previewing the teas I received in my tea tasting kit from Great Big Teas.  I hope you’ve enjoyed exploring these teas with me.  I’ve already got my eye on at least 15 other teas I’m keen to try for the coming fall and winter season, but I’m going to switch gears and try out some recipes and work on some crochet projects in the mean time.  Hope you enjoyed!

Seven teas in seven days: Day 6, MoTEAto

Today’s tea is actually the “bonus” tea of the set, my own personal purchase outside of the six tea tasting set.  As I’ve mentioned before, green tea and mint mixes are my favorite types of tea, and MoTEAto is no exception.

MoTEAto green tea
MoTEAto green tea

As you can probably guess from the name, this green tea is a play on mojito, a Cuban cocktail containing rum, sugar, mint, lime juice, and sparkling water.  The tea picks up on the lime and mint, adding a few other ingredients to round out the flavor.

The recommended brew time is 2-3 minutes at 175 F, but I used the lower “green” setting on my kettle, at 165 F.  Accordingly, I increased the brew time by a couple of minutes, still avoiding the bitterness of tannins from over steeping.  The flexibility of brew times has been a good discovery for me this week, especially since I’m prone to wandering off while my tea is seeping.

Brewed MoTEAto
Brewed MoTEAto

The tea color is very typical of a green tea, and the mint comes forward both in scent and taste.  Today’s breakfast included sausage and a coconut-banana-pineapple smoothie, so the lime was less noticeable than it would be otherwise.  When I first tasted it on a very hot summer evening, the lime flavor gave it a surprising twist that was very refreshing.

Having had a long day of exploring Wilmington yesterday, I’m regretting not having a pot here to make a larger amount of this tea- I think it’s an excellent candidate for a “whole pot” day or a pitcher of iced tea.  I’ll just have to keep enjoying it one cup at a time until I get back home.

Seven teas in seven days: Day 5, Blue Spring Oolong

Last night, we had a crazy thunderstorm and a house down the street actually got struck by lightning!  It looked like it had a lightning rod take off a chunk of the roof when it got struck.  The more immediate effect of this was that our internet was down for a bit this morning, hence the delayed post.

Blue Spring Oolong
Blue Spring Oolong

For day 5’s tea, I decided to go with Great Big Tea’s Blue Spring Oolong.  I knew I’d need a bit of caffeine to get me going with the day we had planned and I remembered this tea from the tea tasting I had attended.  Oolong is the tea many people associate with Chinese restaurants, and the puffed rice flavor of this tea is no exception.

The recommended brew time for this tea is 195 F for 3 minutes and I finally used a proper timer to ensure the right seep time for this tea.  Consisting of rare Ti Kuan Yin Oolong and mallow petals, this tea unfurls beautifully as it seeps.  Since my husband is a big oolong fan, I also made him a cup with the second seeping of the leaves, with no loss of flavor.

Brewed Oolong
Brewed Oolong

This tea has a lovely golden color, and the puffed rice flavor had no bitter tannin taste.  It was fun to have it first thing in the morning, reminiscent of but a great improvement over eating puffed rice cereal for breakfast.  This is definitely a drinkable tea and a good candidate for one of those “full pot” kind of days.

Seven teas in seven days: Day 4, Sonoma Cabernet

Sonoma Cabernet White Tea
Sonoma Cabernet White Tea

I decided to go a bit mellower this morning, in keeping with the grey skies and looming thunderstorms off the coast today.  This is the third rose tea in this set, and the last.

Great Big Tea’s Sonoma Cabernet is a white tea, the least processed type of tea, made from the youngest leaves.  It is recommended to seep at 190 F for 3-5 minutes, but I used the white tea setting on my electric kettle, which is 180.  To make up for the slightly lower seep temperature, I brewed for the full 5 minutes.

Brewed Sonoma Cabernet
Brewed Sonoma Cabernet

White tea seeps much lighter in color, and this one is quite floral, due to the inclusion of jasmine flowers and rose petals.  Like the rose black tea I tried yesterday, this tea can be seeped twice.

With the low caffeine content, this white tea would be ideal for a lunch or evening tea.  With the mild flavor, it should be paired with more delicate flavors that won’t overpower the tea.  The floral components of this tea make that slightly less likely, but just like wine, it’s best to use a stronger tea with more hearty foods.

Seven teas in seven days: Day 3, Rose Black

While I usually avoid black tea due to the higher caffeine content (and my Crohn’s), I decided to jump in and try the Rose tea this morning.  Great Big Tea’s version contains rose petals and rose hips along with blackberry leaves.

Rose Black Tea
Rose Black Tea

As a black tea, it is recommended to brew with boiling water (212 F) for about 3 minutes.  This particular tea can be seeped twice for a second cup of tea, if so desired.  Longer brew times would both increase the caffeine as well as the bitterness from tannins, but less so on a second seeping.

As to be expected, the tea has a pleasant rose aroma.  The flavors carry over into the brewed the tea, and I had the first half of my cup without any sweetener. Out of curiosity, I added some of our local honey to the second half of the cup.  While the honey has quite a strong flavor on its own, the flavors of the rose and the black tea stand their own, retaining the flavor.

Brewed Rose
Brewed Rose

Rose is a personal taste, like many types of tea.  For me, it reminds me of rose pastilles, a French candy that a friend of mine introduced to us in middle school, years ago.  I think it’s always worth trying new types of teas (baring any allergies), particularly as our tastes continually change.

Seven teas in seven days: Day 2, Licorice

This afternoon, I needed a small shot of caffeine.  As a predominantly green tea drinker, I didn’t want to jump right into a black tea after lunch.  With my husband requesting that I wait to try the Oolong, green tea was the best choice.  And so, today’s tea is the Kyoto Cherry Rose (or so I thought).

While I certainly have been known to pour boiled water into my ceramic to-go mug with a bag of Tazo Zen, letting it seep until I drink below the level of the bag, I wanted to be sure to get the optimal taste while trying this tea.  My variable kettle has both a “green” and “delicate” setting which it recommends for certain types of green teas.

Both harvest time and quality of tea determine the best brewing temperature for green teas, ranging from 160-180 degrees Fahrenheit.  Generally, mixed green teas and those with a bit darker leaves can be brewed warmer.  I went with the 165 setting (check out this article for getting the right temperature without a specialized kettle).

Brew time should be around 1-3 minutes, and I estimate that I ended up brewing somewhere around 3 minutes today.

Licorice tea
Licorice tea

I’m having trouble coming up with an adjective to describe this tea besides “yummy.”  (It turns out, it was because I had the wrong tea!  My stubborn brain tried to convince me that this was a green tea with heavy cherry flavoring, when it turns out it was licorice!  And I’m usually not fond of licorice!)  I’m not getting any bitter tannins and it turned out to be a perfect fit for the afternoon.  It’s very drinkable and doesn’t require any sweetening.  I must admit to being skeptical initially since my sizable tea collection tends to center around mixtures of mint and green tea.

Brewed Licorice
Brewed Licorice

This tea turned out to be a very nice follow up to the double scoop of ice cream that I polished off after lunch.  And while a nap wouldn’t be terribly inconvenient on a Sunday afternoon, I think I’m awake enough now to enjoy reading a book on the porch instead.  Happy brewing!

Editor’s note: due to a mix up the real Kyoto Cherry Rose is reviewed on this later post.  My deepest apologies!