Orange Melange

I promised an OD friend that I would write about my favorite tea shop. This is it.

When I was very young, coffee was a tablespoon or so of my mother’s brew, mixed in with my milk, and tea was limited to mild herbal infusions like Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime or Pelican Punch, the latter a children’s tea laced with cinnamon and carob – sort of a loose precursor to chai – but not.

It wasn’t until I was fourteen or so that I switched to black teas, and was allowed real coffee, though the latter habit wasn’t actively encouraged til I was much older. Well, a little older. When I was sixteen my mother and I would, almost every Sunday, hit the fabric store, to feed her addiction, the library, to feed mine, and our favorite café, where we’d linger over strawberry and sweet cream cheese croissants and strong lattes.

I loved coffee, loved the romance of the bitter black brew, fancying myself to be Jo March writing home from New York, where she first met Professor Bhaer, or Anna Hastings (from Allen Drury’s novels) working late into the night on a story for the morning edition. I was neither, of course, but it was fun to imagine. Becoming a coffee drinker was natural for me, anyway, as I grew up surrounded by other coffee drinkers.

Tea, on the other hand, had to woo me. It began by turning up in songs – Joan Baez’s Suzanne, for example, with the line about tea and oranges from China – and stories – who could resist Alice’s reaction to the Mad Hatter and March Hare, after all?

But the thing that really made me fall in love with tea was a trip to Carmel when I was a teenager. I don’t remember spending the night, only that I had some pocket money, and it was a very walking-friendly town, and as my parents poked around at the Dansk outlet, I went in and out of cute shops, finally turning down a courtyard and finding myself surrounded by three very cute houses that now held shops, one of which was a Tea Emporium (I know this, because there was a sign).

Memory has become murky, and in my mind’s eye the outside of the tea shop has become muddled with the a-frame home owned by the librarian in some small town where we once lived, and that of my pre-school teacher Ray’s cottage in Golden. But inside…inside I remember with reverence.

Once inside the door of the Tea Emporium (it had a name, but I don’t remember what it was, and the store no longer exists, I’m afraid), I felt that I had entered a different world. Outside the sun was shining, but inside it was dark, and sort of smoky, though there was no actual smoke, not because this was California, but because it might affect the tea. I remember the dark wooden floorboards, the dark shelves with jars full of brown and green leaves, each labeled in perfect calligraphy, the black letters stark against the creamy white paper. I remember the wooden counter, higher than most retail establishments have, and the crusty old man in the green cardigan standing behind it.

“I don’t like children,” he told me gruffly. “Especially boys,” he added.

“I don’t either,” I said, meaning it. “Anyway, I’m a girl.”

“Noticed that,” he told me. “You’re a slip of a thing to be in here alone.”

I goggled at that, I remember. His language was like something out of a book, and it was bright and sunny and perfectly safe outside. But I think all I said was, “I’d like a quarter-pound of English Breakfast and a quarter pound of Earl Grey, please.” Or something equally lame.

I remember that he grunted, but moved around the dimly lit store, sniffing jars, and pouring leaves into opaque paper bags, just like the ones used for coffee. He warned me not to let things steep too long, and to put milk in the tea. He suggested I try a cup of Lady Grey, and I loved the hint of lavender, so he gave me some to take home. He also gave me a black tea laced with orange, that was labeled “orange mélange”. This is not a sweet cinnamon and orange tea, but a dark brew with the essence of citrus, and it was delicious. Lisa’s Tea Treasures makes something similar, I think, but theirs is too sweet, too light, too….wholesome. The orange tea I bought in Carmel had a mysterious air, as if by drinking it one would be transported to the Orient Express, to help Hercule Poirot solve a murder. Or something.

I left the store after about an hour. Or maybe it was forever. Or five minutes. I’ve never been sure. But ever since then I’ve loved tea as much as I ever loved coffee, and the store has had a special place in my heart and mind.

I went back two years later, and there was a tea shop in the same location, just as there is today, but neither shop is the same. No shop has ever been the same. And sometimes I almost wonder if my memory is real, or if it was an ordinary tea shop from the beginning, and my brain created the mysterious ambience, and the crusty clerk. Almost.

Time Travel

In his book On Writing, Stephen King suggests that reading is a form of mind reading married to time travel – that we are reading words offered from the past, and getting a mental image of a place or people we’ve never seen.

I agree with this idea, but I have to add that music often powers a trip through time, as well. Today, for example, I re-visited 1976.

Imagine a school cafeteria in Golden, Colorado. It is autumn, and it is the 70’s so the children are wearing a lot of earth tones – orange, green, red, gold. My six-year-old self is there, in the scene, between the Chinese girl with the fluffy pigtails (Her name is Yvonne, and she has those rubber bands with the beads on the ends that loop around each other – rubber bands for the rubber band impaired), and the boy wearing a Superman t-shirt (His name is Ben, and his mother lives with our pre-school teacher, and once, when we were having a sleepover, he showed his penis to Heather and me. We thought it was funny looking.)

Anyway, I’m between Yvonne (We called her Ping-Ping, because her middle name was Ping) and Ben (Ray, our pre-school teacher, his mother’s lover, an all-around groovous guy, called him Jamin, and I vowed that if I ever had a son, I would name him either Benjamin or Christopher but call him Jamin or Topher – all these years later, I’m married to a Christopher, but I call him Fuzzy. He isn’t the Topher type.) I’m wearing a gold turtleneck and denim overalls with five pockets and lots of metal rivets and my favorite red ked sneakers, and my hair is in braids, and the teacher, who is not my teacher, but is Ben’s (we’re in different first grades)is playing a guitar, and teaching us this song:

Happiness runs in a circular motion
Thought is like a little boat upon the sea.
Everybody is a part of everything anyway,
You can have everything if you let yourself be.

It’s 1976 and we’re learning Donovan songs in school, and next we’ll either sing something by John Denver or Cat Stevens, probably “Morning Has Broken,” because what could be more adorable than a room full of six-year-olds singing about Eden? The teacher, whose name I don’t remember, but might be Mr. Williams, or not, has curly blonde hair, and later that year he’ll come to school dressed as a scarecrow (for Halloween), and for some reason the tufts of straw poking out at wrists and ankles will FREAK ME OUT, because even at six – especially at six – I have an overactive imagination.

That was the year that my friend Terry Bailey, who had a really small gold bike to match her golden hair, and I decided that we were telepathic because we always came to school with our hair the same way. If I had braids, she had braids. If she had a single high ponytail, like Pebbles or Jeannie, I had a single high ponytail. It couldn’t possibly be that our mothers were busy working women and had a limited amount of time to DO little girls’ hair, and so rotated between ponytails (in pairs), braids (in pairs) and high ponytails (or single braids). Clearly, we were sending each other messages. This power was enhanced by the ingestion of liverwurst, which everyone else thought was gross, but we both liked, though we liked Ben’s mother’s peanut-butter-and-honey-in-a-pita better.

I spent about twenty minutes in 1976 today, because that old Donovan song was used in a commercial. Then I returned to the here-and-now of 2005 and wondered if we had any clue that we were singing Donovan songs when we were six, or if any of us even knew who Donovan was.

The problem with this sort of time travel, is that it’s not like flying the Enterprise around the sun, or turning a magical hourglass. It’s uncontrollable travel in short bursts, when you least expect it. Music takes you back randomly, to your own memories, your own experiences, but on the fringes you can hear the whispers of other people, as they share the journey with you, but end in a different place. With reading, the trip is more stable. The destination is fixed.

Either way, these internal explorations are food for thought, sources of smiles, causes of wistful tears, and conversation starters, and after visiting 1976 today, I’m left wondering, when will I travel again, and what will my destination be?

Keeping Quiet

I’m not feeling chatty today, mainly because I’m peering at the world through a Benadryl haze. I’m not having serious allergy issues or anything, I’m just suffering from being bitten to death on my feet and ankles while enjoying a candlelight tea with Fuzzy last night, in the back yard. (Chants to self: I will remember to spray my ankles with OFF in the future.) Benadryl stops the itching, but knocks me out, so I’ve been cranky and groggy all day. However, I’ve just done tomorrow’s grocery order which includes a benadryl anti-itch stick. So, hopefully, only my feet and ankles will be groggy, in the future.

Or at least, I’ll be coherent.

I’ve just watched a great movie, though, Saving Grace, about a woman whose husband dies, leaving her with a pile of debt, which she pays off by growing marijuana in the greenhouse of her estate in Cornwall. It’s a quirky film, and a bit uneven, and but quite enjoyable. If you liked Calendar Girls, you’ll probably enjoy this. If not, well, there are some cool accents to listen to.

I’m playing with a piece of fiction that came out of a conversation I had over coffee the other day, and a prompt from WarriorPoet(2) at OD, two things that are totally disconnected, yet spin together nicely. When I’m done playing I might share it, or might not.

Time to drink more water, and go to sleep, as tomorrow’s a gym day, so I need to be well-rested.

The Ultimate Valentine

The things about you I appreciate may seem indelicate:
I’d like to find you in the shower
And chase the soap for half an hour.
I’d like to have you in my power and see you eyes dilate.
I’d like to have your back to scour
And other parts to lubricate.
Sometimes I feel it is my fate
To chase you screaming up a tower or make you cower
By asking you to differentiate Nietzsche from Schopenhauer.
I’d like to successfully guess your weight and win you at a fte.
I’d like to offer you a flower.

I like the hair upon your shoulders,
Falling like water over boulders.
I like the shoulders, too: they are essential.
Your collar-bones have great potential
(I’d like all your particulars in folders marked Confidential).

I like your cheeks, I like your nose,
I like the way your lips disclose
The neat arrangement of your teeth
(Half above and half beneath) in rows.

I like your eyes, I like their fringes.
The way they focus on me gives me twinges.
Your upper arms drive me berserk.
I like the way your elbows work, on hinges.

I like your wrists, I like your glands,
I like the fingers on your hands.
I’d like to teach them how to count,
And certain things we might exchange,
Something familiar for something strange.
I’d like to give you just the right amount and get some change.

I like it when you tilt your cheek up.
I like the way you nod and hold a teacup. I like your legs when you unwind
Even in trousers I don’t mind them.
I like each softly-moulded kneecap.
I like the little crease behind them.
I’d always know, without a recap, where to find them.

I like the sculpture of your ears.
I like the way your profile disappears
Whenever you decide to turn and face me.
I’d like to cross two hemispheres and have you chase me.
I’d like to smuggle you across frontiers
Or sail with you at night into Tangiers.
I’d like you to embrace me.

I’d like to see you ironing your skirt and cancelling other dates.
I’d like to button up your shirt.
I like the way your chest inflates.
I’d like to soothe you when you’re hurt
Or frightened senseless by invertebrates.

I’d like you even if you were malign
And had a yen for sudden homicide.
I’d let you put insecticide into my wine.
I’d even like you if you were the Bride of Frankenstein
Or something ghoulish out of Mamoulian’s Jekyll and Hyde.
I’d even like you as my Julian of Norwich or Cathleen ni Houlihan
How melodramatic
If you were something muttering in attics
Like Mrs Rochester or a student of boolean mathematics.

You are the end of self-abuse.
You are the eternal feminine.
I’d like to find a good excuse
To call on you and find you in.
I’d like to put my hand beneath your chin. And see you grin.
I’d like to taste your Charlotte Russe,
I’d like to feel my lips upon your skin,
I’d like to make you reproduce.

I’d like you in my confidence.
I’d like to be your second look.
I’d like to let you try the French Defence and mate you with my rook.
I’d like to be your preference and hence
I’d like to be around when you unhook.
I’d like to be your only audience,
The final name in your appointment book, your future tense.

–by John Fuller

Lent and Litany

Yesterday was the first Sunday of Lent, and the first such service I’ve experienced in the Episcopal church. The service, during Lent, varies greatly from the rest of the year, and includes choral chanting of the Great Litany. St. Andrew’s is fond of the 1928 version of the Book of Common Prayer, and both services are essentially Rite I, with the 10:00 service including music. That’s the one we attend.

I realize that much of Lent revolves around seeking attonement, and yet, rather than feeling like a supplicant, I found a great sense of peace during the chanting of the litany. There’s something sort of Zen about choral chanting, about a rote response to the cantor’s verse, about the half-spoken half-sung phrases that pushed thoughts of self out of my head and let me just be.

Fr. Young mentioned during his sermon that one of the old guys who attends the morning mass, the one without the music, commented that recitation of the litany was punishment for all wrongs, and that his response was, “You think it’s bad to recite it, at the 10 AM service they SING it.” We laughed, of course, because the line was offered in a way that elicited laughter, but I couldn’t help thinking that I like the singing. It’s so restful, hearing the chanting resonate in and around you.

This church community is small, and the congregation tends to be older, though that’s slowly changing, but it feels very homey to me – welcoming and thought-provoking, intellectually challenging, sincere. I’ve come to really like it.

Oh, and for the record: I’m giving up cheese. I thought about going off caffeine, but Fuzzy feared for his safety. And I’m far more addicted to cheeese than to coffee, anyway. But, because I also believe that this is a time to expand horizons and do Good, we’ve joined the “Drive for Life” community on LiveJournal (thanks Jacobine), which arranges transport for animals being adopted from rescue, or being moved from kill-shelters into foster- or forever-homes. We volunteered for a trip in March, but they said they’d filled it after all, so we’ll keep watching.

Walking in the Rain

It seemed as though every time I thought the rain had let up enough to take the dogs out, the skies opened up once more. I love rain, but I don’t love wet dogs, and Zorro generally sticks his tiny nose out the back door, and then retreats to the comfort of bed, on days like this.

At five, the rain had tapered to a refreshing drizzle, and I decided the dogs could deal with that. It was wet out, but it wasn’t cold, and they were so happy when they saw me move toward my windbreaker, retrieving it from the end of the bannister where I’ve taken to leaving it these days, that they didn’t even freak when I put the hood up.

Cleo’s got enough spaniel in her that the rain doesn’t phase her. Also, she’s mostly white, which means that she has an intense need to get as dirty as possible. Today, I won, and she only got muddy feet as we took a route that didn’t pass any of her favorite spots to roll in foul substances.

Zorro impressed me. He was so antsy that he didn’t even curl his tail between his legs and demand to go home, when the rain increased halfway through our hour romp. He kept his chihuahua-plume happily looped over his back the entire time.

As for me, well, the windbreaker wasn’t marketed as rain-resistant, but it seemed to do a fairly good job, although I had to stop and roll the hood back so that I could see – a tricky maneuver when one has a leash wrapped around each wrist.

On the homeward leg of our excursion, a neigbor who was out checking her mail flagged us down. “Where are their raincoats?” she asked, grinning at the sight of us – wet and happy.

“I’ve tried sweaters and stuff on them,” I told her. “They always end up glaring at me with mortified expressions and refusing to move.”

She laughed and nodded. “Mine are the same,” she said.

We finished the block with bounces in our steps, and my smile wasn’t just because of the rainwater facial provided by nature, but because I have a neighbor who understands life with small dogs.

Cole Slaw, Enigma, and Fred

Today I’m writing about Fred. He died last year, and today was his memorial, in Florida. His wife picked a date near his birthday, telling us it was a party to celebrate his life, because that’s what he wanted. We would have attended, but couldn’t, so I’m writing this instead.

I didn’t really know him very well, but he knew me all my life, which is both weird, and normal, I guess, in extended relationships between families. Relationships that go back so far there may as well be a blood connection.

When I moved back to California in 1998, after three years in South Dakota, it was to work for my mother again, but in the process I was re-introduced to life-long family friends Cheryl and Fred (to me they were a unit), and got to meet them as a grown up. (I know Cheryl better, of course, because I SAW her every day for a year, at work. But this is about Fred.)

He was a large man, with a personality that was at once forceful and gentle. His opinions were always offered laced with sardonic humour. His voice reminded me of the baker from the old Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood show, sort of phlegmy and creamy: New Jersey mixed with the filling of a chocolate eclair. And really, since he was a cook, it was the perfect sort of voice to have.

He spoke the language of food as casually as the rest of us chat about last night’s episode of The West Wing, but he produced culinary wonders, running the gamut from braised lamb chops and garlic mashed potatoes, to barbecued ribs and cole slaw. (In fact, I, who detest cole slaw, LOVED his version.)

He was more than just a chef, though. He spoke two other languages that I responded to: geek, and music. It’s the latter that floored me more than the former, however, because he got me hooked on music I’d never expected someone of my parents’ generation to appreciate. Specifically, he introduced me to Enigma, music I’d previously only heard at a few skating shows. Clubby, dark, sensuous music with an almost tribal pulse running through it, married to Gregorian chant, of all things.

I never knew much about him, and for most of my life he was little more than a name, and a presence at the periphery of my world, but the presence became a person, someone I could listen to forever, just because I liked his voice, and someone I’ll always remember with fondness and respect.

I’m sitting here now, listening to Enigma, and drinking strong coffee, toasting to Fred. I’m pretty sure that he’s someplace where the cheesecake is the perfect texture, the espresso is divine, the net never lags, and the music never stops.

Ordinary Bravery


For this Blogging for Books, write a blog entry (2,000 words or less, please) about a time when you took a risk in your life on someone or something – a new romance, a new career, a new home, etc. Were you successful beyond your wildest dreams – or did you crash and burn?

“I can’t get over how brave you are,” my aunt told me on the phone a few weeks ago.

“I’m not brave,” I said. “I make Fuzzy kill spiders for me, and I’m still horribly shy.”

“But you picked up and moved from California to Texas,” she responded, her tone implying that Texas was about as foreign as Mars. “That’s brave.”

“No,” I said. “That was necessity.”

That conversation has been echoing in my brain ever since, as I’ve tried to figure out what about our move from California to Texas is brave.
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Noodles and Beans

Last night, I posted a ‘bits and pieces’ entry that amounted to post-it note-sized blurbs. One of them mentioned the dish that I grew up calling “Basta Fazool” (and note – the b in basta is barely a b – it’s not quite a p, though…if you haven’t heard Southern Italian accents filtered through New Jersey, you will NOT understand this sound. But there it is.) Progresso makes a canned version, but it’s so salty it’s really scary (this is a problem with MOST canned soups, actually). If you want to be all proper, the correct name of the dish is ‘paste e fagioli,’ where really just means ‘noodles and beans’.

I don’t usually surf the net looking for recipes when I’m making something I grew up with, but I did last night, and found that the version of Basta Fazool that I grew up with, which is meatless, is not the standard version. Apparently it’s much more common to use chicken stock as a base, and include bacon or pancetta in the soup. I don’t do this, but Laura who has a groovous blog called Cucina Testa Rossa does, and the recipe she uses can be found in this entry.

My own recipe is in the extended entry.
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