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Italian Easter Dove Bread

Pleasant Tasks

The sky has been gray and stormy for the beginning of Holy Week in the Pacific Northwest. It is the perfect atmosphere for introspection. It is also great weather for appreciating the humble warmth of comfort foods. Cooking the collected beans from my exercise in eating our words turned out to be as delicious as it was nutritious.

Now I have the pleasant task of making something celebratory and wonderful with my raisins. Yes, there were a few handfuls of fruit to work with in that bowl too, enough to share a loaf or two of this special Easter Bread with friends.

I discovered the idea for this bread long ago. A picture of an almond studded loaf of sweet bread in the shape of a bird is taped in my old recipe book. I have wanted to try making it for many years but there was a problem: I did not carefully match the recipe to the picture. There are several recipes for Easter Bread taped on that page and the next but none of the directions match the dove shaped loaf in the picture.

Recipes in Abundance

Thanks to the Internet I am now able to find many recipes for Columba Pasquale, or Easter Dove Bread. I've learned that the recipe is Italian in origin and is made from a sweet, egg-rich bread dough that is laced with lemon and orange zest and sometimes includes dried fruit. I am not Italian but I love shaped cakes and breads and I wanted to make something special with the raisins I collected so I adapted this traditional Italian Easter bread to my own interests and design.

Though I found lots of recipes and even pictures as I searched for Easter Dove breads, I am glad to have that picture I taped in my old recipe book. Most of the recipes I have found for Columba Pasquale call for a dove-shaped mold to bake the bread in. I don't have one and, besides, I really liked the rustic look of the hand shaped loaf in the picture. I have had it in my head for years and a loaf like that one was what I hoped for.

The dough I tried turned out to be easy to work with. Without directions I tried to match the pictured loaf with some success. The almonds and sugar sprinkles along with the egg wash make a pretty loaf with just the right amount of sweetness, and the texture and flavor of the bread is wonderful. I will be making this bread again and again.

Easter Dove Bread (Colomba Pasquale)
adapted from a recipe at Suite101.com

½ - ¾ cup raisins
2 Tablespoons orange juice or whiskey

1 Tablespoon yeast
4½ cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
zest of one tangerine or orange
zest of one lemon
½ cup milk
½ cup butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 large eggs

1 egg white, at room temperature
1 Tablespoon water
Marcona or other almonds, whole, halved or sliced
decorative sugar crystals, vanilla sugar or white sugar

Place the raisins in a small microwave safe bowl. Pour the orange juice or whiskey over the raisins and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Set aside.

In a small bowl combine the sugar, orange zest and lemon zest. Rub the sugar and zest together with your fingertips to release the oil and flavor.

Place the yeast and the next nine ingredients listed in a bread machine. The ingredients are listed here in the order suggested by the manufacturer of my old bread machine but recommendations vary so follow the order suggested for your machine. Set your machine to the 'manual' setting so that you can take the dough out, when ready, and shape it by hand.

When the dough begins to form, or when specified by your machine, add the raisin mixture.

(The dough can also be prepared in the traditional way:

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Heat the milk and butter over low heat until warm, 115 to 120 degrees. Add the vanilla. Add mixture to the dry ingredients, along with the egg, and stir until a dough forms. Add the raisin mixture and work it into the dough. Turn the dough onto a well floured surface and knead for approximately 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turn once. Cover with a towel and let it rise in a warm place until double, approximately 1 - 1 1/2 hours. Continue as follows.)

When the dough is ready, transfer it to a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough setting aside about a third of the dough and dividing that third into two equal pieces. Cover all pieces and allow them to rest for 10 minutes.

Form the larger section of the dough in to a log approximately 12 inches long by 4.5 inches wide. Place the log on a lightly greased baking sheet.

Leaving about 1/3 of the log as it is, begin twisting the rest turning the dough three or four times. Turn the top twisted quarter of the dough to the side to form the head of the dove. The twisted portion is the body and the untwisted portion is the tail. Gently spread the tail portion into a fan, pressing it into shape with your fingers.

Form the two smaller divided portions of dough into soft teardrop shapes and place them to either side of the twisted body portion of the dove, nestling them gently against the body section, to either side to form wings, spreading into shape.

Stud the wings and tail with marcona or other almonds.

Cover with a tea towel and let rise until nearly double (approximately 1 hour).

( Note: Two smaller loaves can be formed, if desired. To do this simply divide the dough in half before continuing to divide and form each half of the dough as described above beginning with a log of dough that is approximately 7 or 8 inches long by 3 or 4 inches wide. Check carefully while the bread is in the oven as baking times will vary.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

When loaves have risen, stir together the egg white and water. Gently brush the loaf with the egg white mixture. and sprinkle with decorative or other sugar as desired.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes (approximately 25 minutes for smaller loaves), or until golden.

Remove loaf from oven to cool on a wire rack.

Serve and enjoy!

Red Beans and Rice

I can't believe it has been more than a month since I posted my thoughts about beans and raisins and eating our words.

I don't know about you but my bowl of beans filled up more quickly than I would have liked. Now it is time to transform those hard dry beans into a nourishing dish that is both palatable and nutritious. Fortunately I have just the recipe.

This is a recipe I found many years ago. It was cut from a magazine, possibly Southern Living, and taped into my recipe binder shortly after I was married and moved to Texas. The pinch of cinnamon and the bay leaves sounded intriguing and were reminiscent of the chile I grew up enjoying back home.

Though I had probably never cooked dried beans before I tried this recipe and they were a hit. My friends enjoyed them and now my family does too. When I am looking for something simple and practical to prepare for a potluck or a snug weekend at home, I often think of Red Beans and Rice. They make a good side dish, as they blend well with many styles of food, but are also great as a main course rounded out with a simple salad and a big slice of cornbread.

Red Beans and Rice

1 pound dried red beans
3 quarts water
1 pound cooked ham, diced
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 bay leaves
Hot cooked rice

Rinse and sort the dried beans. Place them in a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Add enough water to cover 2 inches above the peas. Cover and let soak overnight.

Next day: Drain and rinse the beans in a colander.

Return the beans to the soup pot or Dutch oven and cover beans with the water. Bring to a boil.

Add the next 8 ingredients. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours or until beans are tender.

When the beans are tender, mash some against the side of the pan with a spoon (up to half the beans) and stir well until you achieve the desired consistency.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered up to another hour or so, stirring occasionally until they are done.

Discard bay leaves. Serve hot over rice.


You've Gotta Break a Few Eggs...

What is it they say? To make a cake you have to break a few eggs? It's the same with cookies, sometimes even more so...

I found this idea for making an eggs-tra special Easter treat on a page I tore out of “Family Almanac” a decade ago. I didn’t really end up following the suggested recipe, except in how I baked the eggshell cookies and in using ice cream for the yolks. I tried, but the cookie dough that was suggested slid down the custard cups and the edges lost their definition in baking. I was frustrated and ready to give up. Then I had another idea.

I recently posted about Green Tea Sweets. One of the amazing things about that recipe is that the dough holds its shape so well through baking. I wondered if that dough, without the green tea, would work well for these bowl-shaped eggshell cookies. It was worth a try.

The recipe for this new dough is made with three egg yolks, which set the stage for change number two. The original recipe used whipped cream to represent the white of the cracked egg. Since I had real egg whites left over I decided to try making an egg white shaped meringue instead. I followed a recipe for Meringue Ghosts that I posted about several years ago, simply changing the shape for this new application.

I also had to make a substitution for the lemon sherbet. I would have loved to follow the directions here but I could not find lemon sherbet at any of the local markets I haunt. The closest thing I could find was lemon sorbet and that was a very pale shade of yellow. To achieve the desired outcome I added a touch of yellow food coloring paste and stirred it into the sorbet right when I got it home and it was a little bit soft. That brightened the color of the faux yolk to just the right shade.

I think the improvisation turned out well. I liked the way the dessert looked when assembled and my son agreed it tasted good; similar to a Lemon Meringue Pie but with more contrast in the textures.

I think this makes a fun dessert, one that children might enjoy helping to assemble. I also like the way it speaks to me, the way it celebrates things that have been broken, and yet in being broken offer us opportunities to find joy or salvation. Isn't that the message of Easter?

Broken Egg Desserts

Cookie Dough:

3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
10 Tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
1 3/4 cup flour
3 egg yolks
splash of vanilla
coarse decorator sugar (if desired)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover 4 ovenproof custard cups with aluminum foil and turn upside down on a baking rack set on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.

Place butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. At medium speed beat the butter until smooth.

Add the powdered sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy.

Add the flour and continue mixing until well combined.

Add the egg yolks mixing just until combined.

Remove the dough from the bowl. Divide it into four equal pieces. Flatten each piece into a disk and refrigerate until firm. (Approximately 30 minutes.)

Roll dough, one piece at a time, into a 1/2 inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Trim to approximately a 6-inch circle. Sprinkle with colored decorator sugar, if desired, and roll over it lightly with a rolling pin to press the sugar into the dough.

Turn the circle of dough over the bottom of a custard cup. Gently shape the dough around the cup and trim at the bottom edge to create a cracked eggshell effect.

Repeat with each circle of dough. (You may have enough dough left over to make another eggshell after refrigerating and re - rolling, or roll the leftover dough into a 1/2 inch thickness and cut cookie shapes from the remaining scraps to bake on a regular baking sheet.)

Place the pan in the oven and bake the eggshell shaped cookies at 350 degrees for 12 - 15 minutes or until very slightly browned at the edges.

Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes. Then gently remove the cookies from the foil and let them cool completely on a wire rack.

Meringue Whites

3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium mixing bowl beat together the egg whites and cream of tarter at high speed with an electric mixer until soft peaks form.

Continue to beat adding the sugar slowly, one tablespoon at a time, until the meringue forms stiff peaks and a little of it rubbed between your fingers no longer feels gritty. Beat in vanilla.

Heat oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, dabbing a small bit of meringue between the corners of the parchment and the pan to help the parchment lay flat.

Scoop 1/4 to 1/3 cup of meringue onto the parchment paper shaping and swirling the meringue with the back of a spoon to a roughly oval shape approximately 3-4 inch long and 3/4 inch thick, resembling the loose form of an egg white from a cracked egg. Make a depression somewhere in the middle for the yolk to rest.

Place baking sheet with meringues in the preheated oven. Bake until the meringues are set and begin to turn golden, approximately 1 1/2 hours, turning the pan halfway through. Turn the oven off and let the meringues sit in the closed oven for another hour before removing.

Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

Ice Cream Yolks

1 pint lemon sherbet
1 pint lemon sorbet
yellow food coloring, as needed

Check the color of your ice cream. If the color is too pale for the desired effect then set the sorbet out for a few minutes until it softens slightly.

Add a few drops or dabs of food coloring and stir until well combined.

Store the ice cream in the freezer until ready to assemble the dessert.

To Assemble Broken Egg Desserts:

Place one broken eggshell cookie cup on it's side on a dessert plate.

Position one egg white meringue inside the cookie cup, as if flowing out of the shell, and resting on the plate.

Place one scoop of lemon ice cream onto the depression in the meringue.

Serve and Enjoy!

Tropical Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes are one of my favorite vegetables. Nutritional powerhouses, packed with vitamins B6, A and C as well as potassium and even fiber, they are bright and cheerful, sweet but with a hearty, earthy savor.

Sweet potatoes have so many associations they are almost bound to tell a story at the table. Serving sweet potatoes will send some to the warmth and comfort of a holiday dinner while for others it will take them to the tropics. What other vegetable is such a notable traveler, traversing the seasons and the globe with such strong associations?

Since Spring has arrived I wanted these sweet potatoes to whisper of warm climates and soft breezes without getting too fussy. I baked them, dressed them simply with banana and coconut as well a hint of ginger and brown sugar, then topped them with macadamia nuts before putting them back in the oven to brown. The result is an easy side dish with a sweet hint of paradise.

Tropical Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes

4 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed
6 Tablespoons lite coconut milk
1 cup mashed banana
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon brown sugar

2 Tablespoons chopped macadamia nuts
2 Tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut

Pierce the sweet potatoes and rub the skin with a few drops of olive oil. Place them in the oven and bake at 350 degrees until tender, approximately 45 minutes though this will vary according to the size of the potato. Remove from oven when they are easily pierced with a fork. Place on a wire rack to cool.

When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut a slice from the top of each potato and scoop out the insides of the potato into a small bowl leaving a shell 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick around the outside of the potato next to the skin. Set aside.

Mash the removed sweet potato pulp with a fork or potato masher. Add the coconut milk, banana, ginger and brown sugar to the mashed sweet potatoes until well blended. Spoon the mixture back into the reserved sweet potato shells mounding a little so that the filling is evenly distributed.

Arrange the stuffed sweet potatoes on a small baking sheet. Sprinkle the macadamia nuts and shredded coconut over the tops of the potatoes. Place them in the oven and bake at 350 degrees for another 30 minutes or so, until the nuts and coconut begin to brown.

Remove from the oven and serve warm.


The True Flavour of Irish Coffee

After celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with a good Irish dinner there’s nothing like a nice hot cup of Irish Coffee to cap off the evening.

I’ve given this part of the meal quite a bit of consideration over the years. I have a tea towel of Irish linen printed with a recipe for Irish Coffee and even a picture of it being prepared by what might be leprechauns themselves.

While the recipe on the tea towel recommends a stemmed whiskey goblet for this drink I don't care for coffee served in glass. Instead I shopped for the perfect Irish Coffee mugs. I came up with these pedestal mugs made by Hall.

They are made of a thick ceramic that holds the heat well. I adore the elven ear shaped handle that puts me in mind of the wee folk pictured on the tea towel. They add a touch of whimsy to my St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

Once you've found a suitable goblet or mug all you'll need is a good stout cup of strong brewed coffee, a smidge of brown sugar and some heavy cream to keep company with your Irish whiskey.

Irish Coffee

Makes 4 servings

4 heaping teaspoons brown sugar (or 4 - 12 sugar cubes)
a pot of hot strong coffee
1/4 - 1/2 cup whipping cream
5 ozs Irish whiskey

Heat your coffee mugs by filling them with very hot water and letting them sit as you collect the ingredients.

When ready, dump the water from the mug and assemble your drink:

1. Place a heaping teaspoon of brown sugar in the bottom of a mug. (You can use 1 to 3 sugar cubes if you prefer, but I like the taste of brown sugar best.)

2. Fill the mug to within an inch of the brim with hot strong coffee.

3. Pour about 1¼ ounces of Irish whiskey into the coffee and stir.

4. Pour heavy whipping cream over the back of the spoon and onto the top of the coffee. Or froth the cream lightly before spooning it on top to help keep it afloat. Do not stir in the cream. My tea towel assures me that "the true flavour is obtained by drinking the hot coffee and Irish whiskey through the cool cream."

5. As you raise your mug this St. Patrick’s Day don’t forget to have a proper toast at the tip of your tongue. It is perhaps the toasts and Irish blessings that add the truest taste of Ireland to your St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

Here are a few good choices:

May you have the hindsight to know where you've been,
The foresight to know where you are going,
And the insight to know when you have gone too far


May God grant you always...
A sunbeam to warm you,
a moonbeam to charm you,
a sheltering Angel so nothing can harm you.
Laughter to cheer you.
Faithful friends near you.
And whenever you pray,
Heaven to hear you.”


Chocolate Potato Cake

It’s already the Ides of March and I’ve hardly given a thought to St. Patrick’s Day. While I have posted about something green as well as greens this month, the Irish influence has definitely been lacking.

To make up for this oversight I woke up this morning determined to make a chocolate cake that would be fitting for the occasion. While the obvious choice for St. Patrick’s Day would be a Whiskey Cake or a Chocolate Stout Cake, I’ve already posted about both. Fast running out of obviously Irish ingredients I reached for a recipe I found years and years ago for a Chocolate Potato Cake.

This recipe makes a 9 X 13 inch cake that I generally serve straight from the pan. The frosting is simple and is the kind that is poured over the top while the cake is still warm. If you have some leftover mashed potatoes (or have instant mashed potatoes on hand) this cake is fairly quick and easy to prepare for a special weeknight meal. I is also easily transported to a potluck, cookout or other festive gathering.

Chocolate Potato Cake

2 cups flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ cups sugar
¾ cup (1½ sticks) butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
¾ cup firmly packed, unseasoned mashed potatoes
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 cup chopped pecans (if desired)

Chocolate Frosting:
6 tablespoons butter or margarine
¼ cup milk
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 13x9 inch baking pan. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and salt.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the sugar, butter and vanilla on high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Lower mixer speed and beat in the melted chocolate and mashed potatoes.

Alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients and beating on low speed after each addition just until blended. Fold in the pecans, if desired.

Spread batter evenly in the prepared pan, smoothing the top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 55 minutes or until the cake springs back when touched in the center and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove the pan to a wire rack to cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the Chocolate Frosting:

In a small bowl combine the cocoa powder and Confectioners' sugar. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a small heavy saucepan over low heat. Add the milk. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer gently for 2 minutes.

Pour the milk mixture into the sugar mixture, whisking until smooth. Stir in the vanilla.

When the cake has cooled 15 minutes, pour the frosting evenly over top. Smooth the surface with a spatula and decorate as desired. Let the cake stand at least 1 hour before cutting into squares.


Sunshine Cupcakes

Fighting the Gray

These are cups of sunshine for the sun-starved. I first made these delicious cupcakes a year or so ago. They were pretty and sooo good but, though I tried, my pictures were nothing to post about. Winter days in the Pacific Northwest are not only short but often depressingly gray. Last year's photos definitely reflected the sun-starved and depressing part.

This winter is better, and hopefully I have gotten better at photographing my food and compensating for low light situations. I think my attitude has also improved a bit. I think I have gotten better at compensating for those low light days in the corners of my own mind. They no longer lend such a depressing palor to my general mood.

A Sunny Lemon Lift

One way to counteract the descending gray is to think of sunshine and how to bring a little of it into my day. Sometimes I write about vacation days and my experiences in a sun drenched land. Sometimes I find sunny yellow blossoms, like a branch from my witch hazel tree or a handful of daffodils, to set on the table. And sometimes I make something in the kitchen that reminds me of warmer days in the sun.

This recipe is just that kind of perfect antidote to the gray. Cupcakes themselves hint at happy sunny smiles and summer fun. Add to that the fact that these are made with olive oil which whispers of exotic coasts, and lemon, the flavor of sunshine itself. And then there is the dusting of thyme which reminisces with the scent of spring planted herb gardens. Yes, these do my mood a world of good. Try them when you need to lend a sunny lemon lift to your outlook.

Lemon Olive Oil Cupcakes with Thyme
from Cupcake Project

2 cups flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
3 large eggs
½ cup lemon juice
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
½ cup chopped hazelnuts, if desired

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 12 cupcake tins with cupcake papers. Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt.

In a mixing bowl, combine sugar and lemon zest, rubbing them together with your fingertips to release the oil.

Add the olive oil and, using an electric mixer (with a whisk attachment if available), beat on high speed until well combined.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

On low speed, beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture. When combined add half of the lemon juice and beat until well mixed. Continue adding another third of the flour mixture, the second half of the lemon juice, and then the remainder of the flour mixture until the batter is smooth.

Stir in the thyme, and hazelnuts (if desired).

Spoon batter into the cupcake liners, filling each 3/4 full.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until cakes springs back when pressed lightly in the center.

Cool on a wire rack.

Frost with Balsamic Whipped Cream, or dust with powdered sugar.

Yield: 12 cupcakes

Note: I baked some of the batter in mini loaf tins. I think the baking time was close to the same as for the cupcakes but I didn't make a note, so watch them. They will be done when the top springs back when pressed lightly.

Balsamic Whipped Cream

2 cup heavy cream
½ cup sugar
3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar

In a medium mixing bowl combine cream, sugar and balsamic vinegar.

Beat at medium to high speed with an electric mixer until peaks form.


Kale Chips - Finally!

I really have been wanting to make Kale Chips ever since Lelo posted about them over a year ago. I had just discovered kale at the time and wanted to try it every way possible. Kale Chips sounded like a perfect snack, a healthful version of packaged potato chips that even my son might find interesting.

And then I got distracted.

Recently Alanna reminded me when she posted about Crispy Salty Kale Chips wondering why she too had waited so long to try them. Then, at the market, I found some beautiful white and red kale with pretty chip-sized leaves that looked perfect for this recipe. I knew it was time.

Besides the kale all you need is some olive oil, vinegar and a sprinkling of salt. You can experiment with high-end flavored balsamic vinegar and sea salt or use plain old apple cider vinegar and kosher or even table salt. I tried it both ways. The chips were delicious every time!

Kale Chips
inspired by recipes at A Veggie Venture and Lelo in NoPo

1 bunch of kale
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon salt

Wash and dry kale, removing stems. If the leaves are large cut or tear them into chip sized pieces, approximately 2 or 3 inches across.

In a large bowl whisk together the oil and vinegar. Toss the dried kale leaves in, stirring and mixing with your hand to thoroughly coat the leaves.

Scatter the leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, turning and checking at 5 minute intervals, until the desired crispiness is achieved. (I baked mine just over 10 minutes.)

Serve warm.


Green Tea Sweets

Falling in Love

For many years I resisted my husband’s suggestions that I travel to Japan. I thought there were other places I would rather invest my interest, rather spend my time, rather practice the language. I was wrong.

When I did finally set foot in Japan, what happened was, I fell in love! Everywhere I looked Japan radiated charm and mystery. Ignorant of the language, I was beyond the realm of words both spoken and written. That left me open to a new sense of acute observation. Though I was on the outside looking in, Japan offered this curious tourist a beautifully complex pageant of life to observe.

Wordless Observations

And what did I observe? To name a few...

  • The storybook perfection of Japanese architecture viewed through an arch of cherry blossoms against a clear blue sky.
  • The radiant warmth of soft, worn, sun drenched wood on a temple terrace as you sit at its edge admiring the surrounding gardens.
  • The beauty of a well planned garden from every viewpoint, no matter where you stop along the winding path.
  • The small smooth delight of a hot can of coffee from a vending machine. Being warmed to the bone as you hold it in your pocket for a few moments before you open it, then drink down the potent liquid enjoying the warmth from the inside out. As a bonus, the way it helps to clear the fog of jet lag from your mind.
  • The honest refreshment of a single cup of tea when you are truly tired and thirsty. The way a sweet poetically enhances that refreshment, especially when you are hungry and there is just one, beautifully and thoughtfully prepared, to complement the tea and reflect harmony with the season.

Tea on Mt. Shosha

On our spring trip to Japan there were two occasions when we intensely enjoyed the simple peaceful refreshment of a casual afternoon tea. The first was at a small inn on Mt. Shosha near Himeji. It was behind the temple complex where a number of scenes from “The Last Samurai” were shot.

I was tired, depleted and amazed at the quiet peacefulness of this cloistered space. We sat on cushions on tatami mats at a low table as we were served traditional Matcha accompanied by a beautiful seasonal sweet. The garden view was engaging as I gratefully drank the warm tea and let each bite of the sweet melt in my mouth. There were only a few other guests present to share the peaceful ambiance. The experience was immensely satisfying.

Warmed at Daisen-in

The second was at Daisen-in, a subtemple in the complex of Daitokuji in Kyoto. There we viewed the zen gardens in the late afternoon. When we came inside we lingered for a casual tea ceremony. We felt very comfortable and welcome as the tea was whisked in tea bowls and offered along with a small Japanese tea sweet. We were instructed to eat the sweet first, then drink the tea, but no more fuss was made to observe traditional tea ceremony practice.

As we sat down the weary chill of the late afternoon shadows became palpable. With wonder I discovered that beneath the worn carpet in the tea room there was a heating element that subtly radiated warmth to those sitting on it. The realization of this simple yet intense comfort beneath my feet as the cool air rested on my face and arms was bliss. It is the small blessings, the ones that the pace and demands of a journey leave you open to and ready to appreciate, that are the greatest and most memorable things about travel.

Japanese Green Tea

Tea was an integral part of our experience of Japan, from the formal tea ceremony we learned about in Kyoto to the simple ones we participated in along our way, from the warm tea we enjoyed daily in our guest rooms to the cold tea we often purchased from vending machines that could be found at almost every corner. As a souvenir of my journey I wanted to bring some Japanese tea to my home in the US. To that end we stopped at Ippo-do in Kyoto, a tea merchant that has been providing green tea to residents of Kyoto for nearly three centuries. There I purchased a small box of Matcha, some Sencha and a bag of Gokujo houjicha. When we got home they were a delightful reminder of the our journey and the things we had experienced.

Since then I have come to enjoy a new sense of refreshment in an ordinary afternoon cup of tea. Though my tea usually comes from more local sources it was in Japan that I was reminded of the simple joy of holding a beautiful cup filled with warm fragrant tea on an afternoon that is cool, damp and darkened by blankets of clouds, as is many an afternoon at my home in the Pacific Northwest.

Tea Sweets

In Japan I also learned that green tea is perfectly complemented by first eating a seasonal tea sweet. The lingering sweetness on the tongue blends with the bitterness of the tea creating a pleasing combination of taste sensations. In Japan these sweets are often made from ingredients, such as sweet bean paste or green tea, that seem unusual to American tastes. In my search to find an appropriate recipe for tea sweets I could make at home I found this recipe for a beautiful cookie that uses Matcha powder to flavor and color a sable dough.

These cookies, from Kelli at Lovescool, are award winners. They have a fine texture and a wonderfully interesting flavor. The dough rolls out and cuts beautifully. The cookies hardly spread at all during baking leaving a clearly defined shape to complement your tea tray. I sprinkled coarse clear decorator sugar on top to add a slightly sweeter edge to the lingering taste. I also found that these freeze well. That makes it easy to put them away after baking and then pull out just enough for a sweet taste with tea any afternoon.

Green Tea Sweets
from Lovescool.com

3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons Matcha tea powder
10 Tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
1 3/4 cup flour
3 egg yolks
granulated sugar or coarse decorator sugar (for finishing)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper. Set aside.

In small bowl whisk together the Matcha and the powdered sugar until thoroughly combined.

Place butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. At medium speed beat the butter until smooth.

Add the powdered sugar mixture and continue beating until light and fluffy.

Add the flour and continue mixing until well combined.

Add the egg yolks mixing just until combined.

Remove the dough from the bowl. Flatten it into a disk and refrigerate until firm. (Approximately 30 minutes.)

Roll dough to a stout 1/4-inch thickness on a floured surface. (I use a silpat silicone mat)

With a small to medium sized cookie cutter, cut seasonal shapes, such as flowers or leaves, from the dough.

Place the cut cookies on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle coarse decorator sugar evenly on top of each cookie. (Or, dredge each cookie in a small bowl of sugar, turning to coat evenly, before placing it on the prepared baking sheet.)

Bake at 350 degrees for 12 - 15 minutes or until very slightly browned at the edges.

Cool on a wire rack. When cool store in an airtight tin or freeze for later use.

Taste. Sip. Enjoy!