Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Nice Cup of Tea

I like a nice cup of tea in the morning
For to start the day you see
And at half past eleven
Well my idea of heaven
Is a nice cup of tea
I like a nice cup of tea with me dinner
And a nice cup of tea with me tea
And when it's time for bed
There's a lot to be said
For a nice cup of tea 

Chorus from A Nice Cup of Tea by Binnie Hale

If you know anything about me, you know I love coffee. Coffee is the fuel that stokes my day. However, I started off life as a tea drinker and I still love a nice cup of tea.

One of my childhood rituals was going to Nana's for breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays. At first it was a very short trip. Nana Nash and Grandma Bruce had rooms in our house. Each had a tiny kitchen (built by my father by splitting a bedroom in half), a sitting room and bedroom. They shared the upstairs bathroom. Nana's kitchen had the window. Later, they moved out, but Nana only went as far as across the road where she had a larger flat in a widow's house.

From toddlers to teens, my sister and I would sit at Nana's kitchen table and have a bowl of fruit followed by tea and toast. When we were younger, we'd stay to watch cartoons on her black and white TV. She'd bring us elevenses - more tea and a snack - before sending us home so she could have her lunch.

For the English, tea makes everything better. Tired? Have a cup of tea. Can't sleep? Have a cup of tea. Sad? Mad? Need to pour your heart out? Pour the tea first.

Every family dinner, celebration and crisis included tea. Some of my fondest memories and best conversations were held around the table, after dinner, drinking our second or third cups. At family gatherings, making the tea was my job and I kept the pot full. (One of my father's favourite quips was "He was so poor, he didn't have a pot to tea in.")

Until I was in my teens, I had tea in the traditional English way - strong with milk and sugar. Then I had gastric problems and I was told I couldn't have milk or sugar or strong tea. Well, I wasn't going to give up my cuppa, so I learned to like tea weak and clear. (You have your coffee black and your tea clear.)

In high school, tea became my hallmark. I had a spare locker outside the Chem lab I used as a tea pantry. I had mugs hanging on the coat hooks and a travel kettle. In addition to a canister of tea, I also kept containers of sugar and powdered milk for anyone who wanted to adulterate their brew. At lunch I'd put the kettle on in the lab and serve up. The science teacher kept a beaker marked "arsenic" for the occasion.

It wasn't until university that I became a coffee drinker. Ironically, it was because I couldn't get a good cup of tea. At Ryerson, I used to bring my own mug and tea bags and was able to get hot water for free. At University of Guelph, the cost of boiling water was the same as a cup of tea - but the tea was horrible. (Things have changed, by the way. There are more teas available and the rest of the world is catching up with bringing their own mugs - something I've been doing since high school.)

Now I am known for being a coffee drinker. I only have tea in the morning if I'm sick or I'm visiting someone who thinks instant is coffee. On the other hand, "When it's time for bed, there's a lot to be said, for a nice cup of tea."

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter - The Usual Suspects

Spring has sprung
The grass is riz
I wonder where
E. Bunny is

The Easter Bunny is no spring chicken. He - or more likely she - has been around a long time. Eggs, rabbits, chicks and lambs - all symbols of  fertility - were part of spring celebrations long before the Christian festival. Even the word, Easter, is derived from the Latin oestre, meaning egg.

This year, in honour of these ancient symbols, I'm breaking with family tradition.

When I was growing up, we spent the significant holidays with family. This meant the extended family of my mother and her sister. At Christmas we drove to  Beaconsfield to be with Aunty Yang, Uncle D and my cousins. On Thanksgiving and Easter weekends, they would drive to Toronto to be with us. The holiday meals for all three were similar: turkey, potatoes, two veg and, when my cousin Amanda stopped eating meat, a vegetarian entree. The next day we'd have cold turkey and french fries for lunch.

I've maintained the tradition and, while I might consider cooking a goose for Christmas, turkey will always be a must at Thanksgiving. If I'm going to break the mold anywhere, Easter is it. So, it's lamb, chicks, eggs and rabbit this year.

One of my all time favourite street foods was lamb skewers in Athens. We stopped for a snack and made a meal of them. I'm going to try to recapture the flavour with marinated lamb skewers cooked on the grill. Rosemary chicken should nicely complement that. For eggs we have egg bread (and chocolate eggs of course). We'll have salad instead of steamed veg, but my kids have drawn their line in the sand. There must be mashed potatoes.

No bunnies shall be roasted, broiled or stewed for this meal. Rabbit meat isn't cheap and I've never cooked it before. I don't want a rabbit to die in vain because of my cooking. Besides, there will be plenty of chocolate rabbits. However, if E. Bunny should show up, we'll have a bowl of raw carrots on hand.