Pumpkin, pumpkin!

The week before Halloween, the weather turned fast. In the span of a weekend, I turned off the pool and the sprinklers and turned on the fireplace! I had to laugh at the response I heard around me; I can’t begin to tell you how many people told me about their new-change-of-season night-time apparel. It is cozy flannel and comfort food season and even though the summer wasn’t terribly oppressive or long, there was a sense of excitement at the rejuvenation that the rain brings to the sun-baked hills of the East Bay. The earth and the people seemed to be sighing collectively in relief.

I’ve been drinking West Cape Chai like it is water. Nothing warms my insides better! I love the creamy milk and the spices make my mouth sing. My son, Joseph, thought I was drinking hot chocolate on the way to school one morning this week and feeling left out grabbed my mug. Instead of being upset to discover it wasn’t hot chocolate, he was elated. “This is so good, Mommy!” he repeated over and over as he consumed my chai. I nearly had to resort to fisticuffs to get my mug back before it was all gone!

Do you know what else I love about this time of year? It just screams pumpkin! Adding pumpkin to pancakes or making pumpkin muffins or bread or cookies or pie or lattes… it is the rule of the day. I can’t get enough of pumpkin! I just stumbled across a recipe for Pumpkin Swirled-Cream Cheese Brownies that looks decadent (I’ll let you know if it is as good as it looks!) and another for Pumpkin Risotto Bites (which combines two of my favorite foods in one… hooray!). Recipes forthwith pending the tasting board of approval.

I have to confess something. I have been dying to somehow combine West Cape Chai (the organic, fair trade rooibos-based chai that Compassion Tea recently added to its line-up) and pumpkin into something. BUT WHAT!

A walk through the Halloween candy aisle at the local grocery looking for candy corn led me to the solution! Pumpkin Spice Hershey Kisses! I tweaked the thumbprint recipe a bit using chai instead of peanut butter and this is what I got!

• 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature (next time, I might try browning the butter first to add that nutty flavor)
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1/4 cup West Cape chai prepared (I made 1 cup milk, 1 cup water, 2 tbsp. of chai, simmered on the stovetop for 5 minutes. That way, I could have my chai and drink it, too!)
• 1 large egg
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/2 tsp baking soda
• 1/8 tsp salt
• 1/2 tsp West Cape chai ground with mortar and pestle
• approximately 24 Pumpkin Spice Hershey’s Kisses
Cream the butter and sugar for about 2-3 minutes. Add the egg, prepared chai, and vanilla. Mix until combined. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt, scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl as necessary. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Using your hands, roll the dough into approximately 24 1 inch round balls. Place the dough balls on parchment paper lined baking sheets and sprinkle ground chai lightly over cookies.
Bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes.
Remove the cookies from the oven and immediately place pumpkin kisses in the center of each cookie. Don’t press too hard or the kisses will melt into pools of orange. Cool completely. Enjoy!

As you can see, they are festive and fun and très delicious. I really like how light they are, almost like a shortbread.

Do you have a favorite pumpkin recipe? Please share!

Nuts About Coconut!

On one of our weekly paths to and fro, the kids and I drive past a sign that advertises “Cherries, Coconuts, Fruts.” No, that is not a typo on my part. The hand-painted-on-cardboard sign is wrong. Yet, it has provided the kids and I a steady topic of conversation from “what is a frut, mommy?” to “why don’t they change it?” I love to hear my kids giggle and passing that sign always inspires a giggle.

Then, there comes the inevitable, “Can’t we stop to buy a coconut?” I wish I could pinpoint the moment when coconut became the flavor-of-the-day for my kids. Coconut spread on toast, coconut milk, coconut in cookies or granola bars… they love coconut. The only time they weren’t thrilled with coconut was at the bagel shop when they picked up tetra-paks of coconut water. I managed to drink it for them (because I can’t stand waste), but I really couldn’t blame them. Blech!

Imagine the excitement then when I announced that Compassion Tea would soon be carrying a new tea… Coconut Oolong! Although this oolong, like all other oolongs, has caffeine, this has become an early-in-the-day-only treat for the kids. As we would say if we were still in the Netherlands… LEKKER!

I first tried the coconut oolong at Ed and Wendy’s house when we were all gathered for a Compassion Tea director’s meeting. Chris and Anne were taking us through the intricacies of cupping. Think wine tasting only with tea. First, you inspect the leaves, notice their color, smell, are they curled or cut, rolled or shaped. Then the tea is steeped for the proper amount of time. In a flick of the wrist, the leaves are left on the cup lid and the third step is to inspect the infused leaves asking yourself what has happened to them in the steeping process. How much have they uncurled? If the curl or roll is still fairly tight, you can probably get another couple of infusions out of them. Having done that, it’s time to look at the liquor, the tea itself. Cupping your hands over the cup, take a deep breath. Note the nose. My favorite part comes next! Remember your mom telling you not to slurp? Well, in tea tasting, slurping is necessary! Breathing in, slurp up some tea, let it roll around on your tongue before you exhale and swallow. The full flavor of the tea should hit and linger. Like wine, you can then assess whether the tea has tannins, how it finishes, and eventually what it takes like cooled off.

When Chris and Anne announced the coconut oolong, there was an audible collection of breath, one of those oooooooo moments you might hear from a crowd expecting an amazing magic trick. The excitement filled the air. As we cupped our way through this tasting, the excitement grew. My notes indicated that the leaves had “beautiful curls” and were “consistent in color.” Both dry and steeped, the leaves gave off a rich, chestnutty aroma with a hint of a floral bouquet too subtle to completely identify. But, it is the lingering notes of coconut that make this tea truly marvelous. All of the Compassion Tea directors were making notes and rating the teas we tasted over the weekend. Wendy steered us to a quick way of marking the teas we wanted to carry… smiley faces. How funny it was to watch all 8 of us furiously scribbling smiley faces with hearts and extra smiles in our notes!

I didn’t know much about oolong tea going into this experience. Here is a little of what I’ve learned. Oolong is primarily produced in China and Taiwan, although India and other tea producing regions are beginning to produce it too. Like green, black and white teas, oolong comes from the camellia sinensis plant; the difference is in the oxidation process.

The Coconut Oolong is a tea blend. It’s base is a Taiwanese tea called Bao Zhong flavored with a creamy and smooth coconut flavoring. The Bao Zhong teas are known for their floral character, which comes from a unique natural process. Any time a tea leaf is bruised or cut in any way, it exposes the enzymes in the leaf to oxygen thereby beginning the oxidation process which gives the different teas their unique qualities. In the case of oolong tea, there is a green leaf hopper bug that visits the camellia sinensis plants and nibbles on the tea leaves. Those little nibbles begin the oxidation process before the leaves are even harvested. Once the bugs have left the tea garden, heading for another, the tea leafs, usually a bud and two leafs, are plucked, withered and dried, sometimes steamed, sometimes roasted, often rolled or shaped into pearls, and then finished off before heading to your tea pot.

I should note that we also tasted and are adding Jade Cloud – an organic Fair Trade green tea, West Cape Chai – an organic Fair Trade rooibos that includes ginger, star anise, clove, fennel, cinnamon, cardamom, peppermint, black pepper, and ramon nut (a coffee-like flavor) to create a warm and spicy happiness, and the Bai Hao oolong without the coconut flavoring. Stay tuned! I intend to mix the West Cape Chai with some half-and-half and a splash of rum. I’ll tell you how it goes!