Saturday, March 29, 2014

Spirituality of Tea: Buddhism, Christianity, Daoism

Consider, for a moment, how times, places, and everyday objects can influence our faith practices. Religion or spiritual traditions are not created in a vacuum. For example, Jewish Passover might include congee instead of unleavened bread if the Hebrews had exited ancient China instead of Egypt. How does a Christian missionary translate the import of Jesus’s “I am the bread of life” statement to a people who live without bread? The intertwining of foods, culture, and spiritual practice have taken place with tea, Buddhism, Christianity, and Daoism. Let’s take a look at how tea shapes, and is shaped by, faith practices.
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Tea Review 514: Yezi’s Tie Guan Yin Master Grade

Walker Tea Review- a tea blog with tea reviews and tea tastings.

Tea Review 515: Jalam’s Jing Mai Autumn 2011 Shu

Sample provided by Jalam Teas.
Walker Tea Review- a tea blog with tea reviews and tea tastings.

Product Review: Banko-yaki kyusu, Shofu kiln

The Banko-yaki kyusu, Shofu kiln is a thing of beauty to behold and use.
Teas of Japan ( offers this teapot made by Yamamoto Hiromi of the Shofu workshop. The Shofu studio was originally the collaboration of three brothers. The teapot was created by the youngest brother, who now focuses on works shown in art  galleries. Don’t expect new teapots to come from the Shofu kiln.
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Tea Review 516: Teavivre’s Superfine Ali Shan

Origin: Ali Shan, Jiayi, Taiwan. Above 1,000 meters elevation
Harvest: 1 Aug 2013
Score: 90
Price (as of post): 7 g sample = $3.00

Celebrating Simple Thai Food Book – Giveaway #1 Wüsthof 21cm Cleaver

I met (and fell madly in love with) this Wüsthof cleaver back in 2012 when the folks at SAVEUR gifted me with one — monogrammed too! — when was named the best regional food blog by the magazine. The cleaver and I have been inseparable since.
It’s not like I hadn’t cooked with a large, heavy cleaver before. But weighing in at a tad over 2 pounds (almost a kilo!) and featuring a blade that measures 21 centimeters, this is not just a cleaver; it’s a CLEAVER. (You can read its description here.)
Cutting through bone-in pieces of meat (for the rustic version of tom kha gai, for example) is easy with this cleaver. There are a few recipes in Simple Thai Food that call for ground meat which you can, of course, buy from the supermarket. However, your minced meat has better texture when you chop it by hand on a sturdy chopping block with a cleaver like this. For what it’s worth, that’s what I often do.
To celebrate the launch of my book, I have teamed up with the awesome people at Wüsthof (they’re such a great company to work with!) to offer you a heavy-duty Wüsthof 21cm cleaver to a lucky reader. No purchase necessary; anyone who sees this post before the giveaway deadline gets a chance to win. We only ask that you follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Please note that the giveaway is open to everyone, but the prize can only be delivered to an address in the United States. This means, regardless of where you live, you can enter to win and, if you do win, you can have the prize sent to a friend who lives in the US. Sound good?
Enter below. You have 7 days to do so.

Celebrating Simple Thai Food Book – Giveaway #2 – Gardening Set with Seeds for Thai Herbs and Vegetables from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

n continuing our week-long series of giveaways in celebration of my first little book, Simple Thai Food, which is now ready for preorder, I’ve collaborated with Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, my long-time trusted source of non-GMO heirloom seeds, in order to bring you Giveaway #2.
Because of all my travels, I don’t get to garden much these days. But for years, rare seeds from Baker Creek were my best friends. You want cilantro that grows strong, fragrant roots (that’s an essential ingredient in Thai cooking)? They’ve got cilantro seeds for you. What about Thai lemon basil which, as far as Thai cooks are concerned, is irreplaceable? If you can’t find it at the store — and that’s most likely the case — grow it; it’s easy. Of course, they have the seeds for it too (along with every type of basil you ever need for Thai cooking).
In Simple Thai Food, I have made suggestions on what everyday produce you can use in lieu of some herbs and vegetables that may be hard to find in some areas. However, if you’re interested in growing these herbs and vegetables yourself, has hundreds of high-quality seeds available just for that purpose.
Baker Creek Home Gardener's Collection
Photo credit

With no further ado, let’s look at the gardening gift set, worth over $100, which the kind folks at Baker Creek Rare Seeds have put together for one of you. It includes:
1. The Home Gardener’s Collection, a collection of seeds, geared for the home gardener or container gardener, featuring 20 full-sized packets of seeds and a Clyde’s Garden Planner. Everything is all packaged in a burlap bag with a drawstring closure. Varieties in this package are chosen to be productive in both Northern and Southern climates.
2. Seeds for 12 varieties of herbs and vegetables which I have specifically requested from them (thank you, Baker Creek!), because they are used in the recipes in my book (not all required). They are:
Thai hairy lemon basil
Thai holy basil (the indispensable ingredient in pad kaprao)
Thai Chao Praya eggplant aka Thai round eggplant
Thai Siam Queen basil, a type of Thai sweet basil, typically used in red and green curries.
Thai Burapa pepper
Thai kang kob pumpkin (what they usually use in Thailand, though kabocha or Red Kuri can be used)
Lemongrass (You can use it to make Thai curries and salads; You can even use it to make slushies!)
Bonanza 141 gourd aka angled luffa gourd (which — be warned — can show up in unexpected places)
Culantro (Sawtooth coriander, sawtooth cilantro, Vietnamese coriander, etc.)
Pickling cucumber
Zwolsche Krul celery (okay, so this doesn’t sound very Asian, but I’ve found its young, tender leaves to be a good sub for Chinese celery which is different from Pascal)
Chinese kale or Chinese broccoli (kai lan)
culantro chinese broccoli
(Left) Culantro aka sawtooth coriander/cilantro; (right) Chinese broccoli/kale aka kai lan

The giveaway is open to everyone who lives anywhere in the world (the only requirement is that you follow both Baker Creek and on Twitter and Facebook), but the gift can only be sent to an address in the United States. So those living outside the USA, have in mind a favorite US-based friend and relative to whom you’d like to have the prize sent as a gift in case you win.
You have 7 days to enter.

Celebrating Simple Thai Food Book – Giveaway #3 Lodge Pre-Seasoned Sportsman’s Charcoal Grill and Lodge Cast Iron Nation Cookbook

We keep going with the celebration of the launch of my book, Simple Thai Food, and our series of giveaways.
Here’s number three on the list of fabulous things that are up for grabs this week: a pre-seasoned cast iron charcoal grill from Lodge as well as a copy of Lodge Cast Iron Nation Cookbook.
I’m a fan of cast iron cookware. I have been since I was in grade school when my mother picked up a cast iron skillet, something extremely uncommon in everyday Thai cooking, from a garage sale hosted by an American family in Bangkok. Admittedly, it’s a pain to season, maintain the patina of, and care for cast iron cookware; it’s also a pain — literally — to carry it from place to place because of the weight (which means that even if cast iron cookware were a thing in Thailand, I doubt that street cart vendors would be inclined to use it). But what you get out of it, in my opinion, makes up for the inconvenience and extra burden.

Remember when I recommended Lodge’s 17-inch cast iron skillet to you as my favorite pan to make pad thai in? Its pre-seasoned cast iron Sportsman’s charcoal grill is another cool product you may want to consider getting.
If you need to grill several chicken quarters or hamburger patties for a crowd, a large barbecue grill or kettle grill would serve you better. But when it comes to smaller things, especially when they come on bamboo skewers, a hibachi-style grill is more appropriate. Look at the photos of street vendors in Thailand above to see why: a small hibachi-style grill cooks and chars just the meat, sparing the bare parts of the bamboo skewers for you to use as “handles.”
If you look at the photos of my grilled pork on skewers (mu ping) and grilled Northeastern sausage (sai krok isan), you’ll see that the way I grilled them is not the most ideal way — definitely not the way these things are grilled in Thailand. But it’s necessary, because all I had was a kettle charcoal grill. This means that I need to use a pair of tongs to flip the skewers as they rest directly on the fire and get too hot to handle. It also means that unless I’m extra careful, I can easily burn the “handles.”
Not a deal breaker. Just something I had to put up with.
With this cast iron charcoal grill from Lodge, you don’t have that problem. As with all cast iron items, this grill needs some TLC and takes a bit longer to heat up. But once you got it going, it goes for a long time. Cast iron’s ability to retain heat, as you know, is legendary. Note also, that the cast iron grate can be flipped over so that the cooking surface could be closer to the fire — something you want when grilling Thai-style skewered meat dishes.
To help me celebrate the launch of my book, the folks at Lodge has offered one pre-seasoned Sportsman’s charcoal grill (MSRP $145) to one of you along with a copy of Lodge’s newest cookbook, Lodge Cast Iron Nation (cover price $24.95).

No purchase necessary. We only ask that you follow SheSimmers and Lodge on Facebook and Twitter. Also, even though the giveaway is open to everyone, the prize can only be sent to an address within the United States. So if you live outside the USA, you can still enter and have the prize sent to your US-based friend or family as a gift.
You have 7 days to do so. Good luck!

Celebrating Simple Thai Food Book – Giveaway #4 Kaffir Lime Trees from Four Winds Growers

The level of excitement I experience at the sight of fresh, plump, inexpensive kaffir limes and tender, fragrant, plentiful kaffir lime leaves every time I visit Bangkok verges on irrational. As Thai cook in the US can tell you: unless you live in warmer states where you can grow citrus fruits in your backyard, forget finding fresh kaffir limes when you need one. And if you plan on making Thai curry pastes from scratch, you will need one.
But that is about to become a non-issue for three of you.
In continuing our week-long series of giveaways to celebrate the launch of my book, Simple Thai Food, I have teamed up with the California-based Four Winds Growers, a company which I have trusted for years, to bring you a solution to the problem of lack of fresh kaffir limes in your life.
We have three 3-year-old, barely-rooted kaffir lime trees for three lucky readers of SheSimmers.

The giveaway is open to everyone who lives anywhere in the world. But the trees can only be shipped to a US address (except TX, AZ, and FL due to agricultural quarantine laws; an APO address and US territories are also excluded). This means that if you live outside the USA, you can still enter. But start thinking of which favorite US-based friend or family of yours you would like to have your prize shipped to in case you win.
No purchase necessary. The only requirement is that you follow both SheSimmers and Four Winds Growers on Facebook and Twitter. You have 7 days to enter. Good luck, everyone!

Celebrating Simple Thai Food Book – Giveaway #5 Zojirushi Induction Heating System Rice Cooker & Warmer

It’s been an exciting week — well, for me, anyway. First, I got to tell you about my book, Simple Thai Food. Then I got to team up with some really cool companies in order to bring you things that help make cooking Thai food easier for you.
Our week-long celebration concludes with a giveaway of a cooking tool that is found in practically every household in Thailand: a rice cooker. But I have teamed up with Zojirushi USA to bring you a free 10-cup induction heating system rice cooker and warmer (MSRP $430) which is a high-end one, something more fancy than average.
One of the questions I get asked all the time is: What is the best way to cook rice?
I’ve discussed this topic in my book, so I won’t repeat it here. Suffice it to say, I have tried several methods of cooking rice from the traditional to the unorthodox. And I haven’t found any that is so exceedingly excellent and ingenious that it obliterates any value in the convenience a rice cooker brings.
You put raw rice and water in rice cooker. You close lid. You push button. You wait. You go do things. Rice cooker goes ding. You eat rice.
This rice cooker does more than just cooking, though. Using induction heating technology, it makes precise temperature adjustments to cook various types of rice from the germinated whole grain rice to all types of white rice. It also keeps the cooked rice warm automatically. You can read more about Zokirushi rice cooker, NP-HBC18 model, by following this link.
This rice cooker could be yours!
No purchase necessary. We only ask that you follow SheSimmers and Zojirushi USA on Facebook and Twitter. Also, even though the giveaway is open to everyone, the prize can only be sent to an address within the United States. So if you live outside the USA, you can still enter and have this fancy rice cooker sent to your US-based friend or family as a gift.
You have 7 days to do so. Good luck!

What To Do With Dried Figs? Dried Figs & Frozen Berries Smoothie

What to do when your parents send you a ginormous bag of dried figs? Well, I shared a few with a friend, ate some as a snack, and decided to use a good portion of them to make a smoothie. Figs have a great amount of natural sugar and add a different texture to a smoothie.

What To Do With Dried Figs? Dried Figs & Frozen Berries Smoothie
Ingredients for 2
8 ounces Greek yogurt 
8 dried figs
1 cup frozen berries (I used a mix of blueberries, raspberries and blackberries)
1/2 cup milk
1 cup crushed ice

1. Put all the ingredients into a blender. Puree until you get the consistency you desire.
2. Pour into glasses.

Confession: these paper straws are super cute, but they aren't incredibly useful. I ate my smoothie with a spoon ;) You can add more liquid and drink your smoothie through a straw. There's no need to add sugar unless you have a very big sweet tooth. Isn't the color gorgeous?

Any other ideas for using dried figs?

Recipe in Under 30 Minutes: Crazy Feta Pasta with Spicy Shrimp

If you don't have a ton of time to cook or prep, you will love this Recipe in Under 30 Minutes for Crazy Feta Pasta with Spicy Shrimp. You start with pasta, add a few vegetables, crazy feta and top the entire thing with spicy shrimp! This is a wonderful weeknight dinner or weekend lunch.

Recipe in Under 30 Minutes: Crazy Feta Pasta with Spicy Shrimp
frozen peas, defrosted
artichoke heats, quartered
grape or cherry tomatoes
crazy feta
olive oil
shrimp, peeled and deveined

1. Cook pasta in salted water. Drain. Add defrosted peas, artichoke hearts, tomatoes and crazy feta. Mix to combine.
2. Meanwhile, heat a bit of olive oil in a skillet and sauté shrimp with harissa until shrimp is cooked through. Add to the pasta with vegetables and crazy feta and serve.

Have a wonderful weekend! I'm excited to try a few new places for brunch: be sure to come back next week to see where I went and what I ate!

Get Your Kids to Eat More Vegetables: Green Goddess Dip

I had way too many green beans in my refrigerator and wasn't motivated to cook them. Then someone on twitter suggested I simply blanch them and eat them with a dip: brilliant! What kind of a dip should I make? And that's when I remembered I had a container of Greek yogurt and a bunch of cilantro that I needed to use up. That's how I ended up making my version of Green Goddess Dip.

Green Goddess Dip
7 ounces Greek yogurt
1 garlic clove, smashed
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 cup cilantro leaves
salt & pepper to taste

1. Add everything to a food processor and puree.

I served this dip with green beans and red peppers, but it'll be equally as good mixed into a potato or pasta salad or served on top of salmon or chicken.

I bet your kids would love it too!

Brunch at Casa Oaxaca

I love brunch!!! What's not to like about a delicious meal with boozy beverages, coffee and a choice of both breakfast and lunch food? When I was invited to check out the new brunch menu at Casa Oaxaca this past weekend, I was happy my schedule was free to say si!

I've been to Casa Oaxaca, located in Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC, for dinner with friends, a date, drinks and even a cooking lesson! The restaurant is colorful, the music makes me want to dance, and the food is flavorful and filling.

If you live in DC and want to check out the new brunch menu at Casa Oaxaca, get there Sunday March 30th at noon!

Below are photos of some of my favorite dishes and beverages.

Bloody Mary Michelada
Michelada with tomato juice, spices, pickled jalapeños.

Not your typical bread basket: Mexican version of cornbread served with soft (very important!!!) butter and pepper jelly.

Mango mimosa: of course ;) I loved the pretty glasses

Avocado Toast
Creamy avocado butter, cotija cheese, refried black beans, bacon, bolillo bread.

Huevos Pochados
Poached eggs, corn masa biscuits, poblano rajas, red tomato salsa. Choose side of fresh fruit or potato hash brown.


And don't miss out on the Casa Oaxaca coffee: it's strong and sweet and has a tiny hint of cinnamon.

Disclaimer: I was a guest at Casa Oaxaca; all opinions are my own.

Would You Eat at a Stranger's House? Brunch at Bookalokal in DC

Would you eat at a stranger's house? That's exactly something I had to consider when I was invited to check out a relatively new idea that started in Europe and has moved to DC: Bookalokal

"At Bookalokal, we live, work and travel the world. No matter where we go, it’s always food that brings people together. Our aim is simple: to make it easy and safe to share an authentic meal with people anywhere in the world."

The brunch was hosted by the founder of Bookalokal, Evelyne, which made me feel safe, but just to be sure I'll feel even more comfortable, I brought my friend K with me ;) Safety in numbers!

So how does it work? You go to the Bookalokal website and browse events by your geographical location. There are baking lessons, brunches, bartending classes and ice cream parties hosted by people verified by Bookalokal founders. You sign up and pay for the event you like and show up, meet new people, eat delicious food and learn something new.

The brunch K and I attended had a never ending amount of mimosas with mango, peach, apricot, orange and grapefruit juices, and I loved the idea of adding frozen berries and fruit to your glass to keep the beverage cold. 

The food spread was quite impressive: salads, quiches, breakfast casserole, roasted potatoes, BACON (I was just craving it a few days earlier and my craving was definitely satisfied), bread, coffee, tea and a delicious crumble made by Evelyne's co host Jackie.

I think Bookalokal is a great way to meet new people if you are new to a city or just want to find those who have similar interest: food! At brunch there were both men and women, although women definitely made up the majority. What I loved most was how international and diverse the group was. We were born in different countries, spoke different languages and had occupations that would have never brought us together, but that did not matter because we all loved brunch and trying something new!

If you have specific questions, you can read this very thorough Q&A!

Go see if there is a Bookalokal in your city, find an event that sounds interesting, bring a friend, and meet new people over food and drinks. Who knows, maybe you'll love it so much you'll open up your home and host the next event?

Disclosure: I was invited to check out the brunch event free of charge and bring a friend. I was under no obligation to blog about it. All opinions are my own.

Fake St. Patrick's Day Recap

Another Fake St. Patrick's Day has come and gone...and it could not have been more fun. We saw tons of friends and friends of friends at Ryan's Daughter on Saturday - it was, as always, an absolute blast filled with funny jokes and lots of Irish props and funny t-shirts.

This year, the addition of a philanthropic element was an important one. We raised $750 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society - just from people donating and from the raffle for a Ryan's Daughter gift card.

My high school friend Rasim won the gift card, which was fitting since he was both the biggest donor overall and also the person who, last year, suggested we make it a charity event.

As soon as it was over, we were all already talking about next year. It's such a really great time - and just keeps getting better.

Suddenly Everywhere

Swordfish and dessert courses.

But thankfully, not together. (Yet.)

Seriously - both swordfish and dessert-for-dinner seem to be everywhere these days. Swordfish is old school (what's next - pasta with sun-dried tomatoes?) and dessert-for-dinner is straight elementary school (in the best way).

Those Weeks: March 4th to March 14th

It's been busy times around here - and not just because of Fake St. Patrick's Day (though that was the most notable event going on during the past week and a half - and where the oysters, in the shot above, came from).

Last weekend, we followed Fake St. Pat's with brunch at Petit Louis with my parents and grandmother. The restaurant's consistency, both in food and service, never ceases to amaze me. As a group, we were unadventurous - quiche and salad for the ladies and croque monsieurs for the men. Pasta for Dixon (talk about unadventurous). But it was all just right.

After brunch, we had a quiet afternoon then hit Ridley Field for the Loyola vs. Duke lacrosse game, which Loyola won, handily. It was packed, cold and very exciting, especially for Dixon, who is about to start his third season tearing up the field for Kelly Post. This year, he told me this morning, he's planning to stick with defense but maybe also give goalie a try. "I like defending things that are important," he explained. "Like the goal. Or against zombies." Noted.

I've been too busy to cook much but I have given a couple recipes a try. The first, pictured on the top right of the photo above, was a roasted shrimp and gremolata dish from Bon Appetit.  I thought it was great - easy to make and super flavorful. Cooper, however, did not love it - too much parsley for his parsley-averse taste buds.

Food and Wine's spinach carbonara also received somewhat mixed reviews. It was quick and certainly healthier than regular carbonara but it didn't really wow me. Still, not a bad dinner and there's something to be said for putting a bunch of antioxidants on the plate.

This weekend, our annual celebration of all things Irish continues. Tonight, we go out in Annapolis with my high school friends - not for St. Pat's but because my friends Pete and Liz are in town from Maine. Tomorrow, rest and then Sunday, Irishy brunch here with family and friends.

I am celebrating already, by eating soda bread for breakfast (pictured bottom left). No, I didn't make it. I imagine I might make it through my whole life without ever making bread from scratch. I bought it at Trader Joe's. And it's good!

I hope everyone celebrating this weekend has a wonderful (and safe) time. Slainte!