Tea, Other Indulgences, and Working My Bum Off

Monday, August 29, 2016

The tea party went well. I managed to not poison anyone with allergies and the gals liked the cashew cream. They also seemed to like their prizes. Just enough ladies came that everyone was a winner. Each gift included one unique tea-related item and one or more of those microwaveable rice heat-packs in either mustache or dinosaur fabric, because you can never have too many of those. I've never made them in hand-warmer sizes before, so those will be interesting to try once the cold weather gets here.

So I just spent the last twenty minutes looking through Google calendar, my journal, my Facebook posts, and my text messages to try to remember what I’ve done these two weeks since I last posted. A lot of it was mundane, everyday stuff: work, budgeting, grocery shopping, getting into conversations with cashiers about anime, laundry, cooking, cleaning, cutting my husband’s hair, a fiasco with a bottle of soysauce…you get the idea.


Tami introduced us to Bigelow Plantation Mint tea, which I definitely needed in my life. It seems like every other mint tea in the grocery store is a mix of peppermint and spearmint, which is not the same at all. It was a challenge to find in the local grocery stores though. I discovered that while Roth’s tends to have higher prices than either Winco or Safeway, their tea selection is much better. Not only was I able to find the Plantation Mint, but also some seasonal teas, which Winco doesn’t seem to ever carry, even in the proper seasons. In the future I’ll probably bulk spearmint instead, partially to save on cost, partially because I need to order some other weird herbs, and partially because my husband prefers his minty drinks not to also taste like black tea. In case you can’t tell from this paragraph, I’ve been on a tea-buying binge. I literally have five types of chai in my cupboard, and so many other types of tea that I had to keep the chai in another box because having three bags of each type in the jar was too much to fit. As of right now, this is what I have for teas (not including things like thyme, whole cloves, candied ginger, etc. on my usual culinary spice racks and the minced/chopped ginger in my freezer):

Tea jar & box of chai varieties. You see the problem, yes?

In reading order:
Stash Vanilla Chai decaf black tea (love), Bigelow Vanilla Chai black tea,
Stash Double Spice Chai black tea (love),
Oregon Chai Energia Herbal Chai (has caffeine), and Twinings Chai.

The Stash Vanilla Chai is better than the Bigelow Vanilla Chai—just in case you were wondering. There definitely is a difference. My other favorite here is the Stash Double Spice Chai. Since I brew my teas pretty weak (half a death star tea ball of red raspberry leaf tea for female health and 1-2 tea bags for flavor) in my half-gallon teapot, I think it's just that there's some extra spiciness and flavor there that set it apart from the other two teas in the bottom row.

Top Row: Golden Bridge Oolong and Green teas,
Prince of Peace Pu-Erh and White Peony teas.
Middle Row (all black teas): Bigelow Salted Caramel (love), Stash Orange Spice,
Bigelow Plantation Mint (love), Twinings Earl Grey, and Stash Earl Grey.
Bottom Row (all herbal): Stash Chamomile Nights (love), Twinings Orange & Cinnamon Spice and Lemon & Ginger, Stash Peppermint (great aromatherapy for headaches),
and Good Earth Original Sweet & Spicy

Boxes of teabags that aren't individually wrapped.
Left column: Extra Strength China Slim Tea (pure senna leaf, an herbal laxative. Don't plan on losing a substantial amount of body fat with this, but it can be handy if you're a little constipated from eating too many PB&J rice balls) and Taja Tea Saffron & Orange Fusion Earl Grey. I seriously doubt there's any significant amount of saffron in this, but the extra orangey Earl Grey is tasty.

Right column: Celestial Seasonings Candy Cane Lane Decaf Green Tea (delicious with a bit of stevia--better than candy), Cinnamon Apple Spice herbal, and Wild Berry Zinger herbal.
Loose herbs! From left: Red raspberry leaf (this has been a huge help to me with female issues, especially PMDD), blueberries I dried myself, and "cinnamon" sticks (probably cassia bark) from Winco bulk section.
Matcha. I don't drink this myself, but the hubby was curious because of our anime habit.
He determined that he doesn't like it prepared either
but he does like matcha-flavored desserts, like mochi and ice cream

At least it’s a fairly healthy habit to have, since drinking weak tea all the time keeps me from snacking a bunch and I don’t add cream or sugar (I make my liquid stevia extract from 1 part pure stevia extract powder to 9 parts hot water and keep it in dropper bottles in my fridge). I’m pretty sure that I’m not a caffeine addict either, since I don’t care whether it’s real tea or an herbal infusion. I’ve also been trying to incorporate more turmeric into my diet. Some of the gals at Bible study reminded me of its anti-inflammatory and other good-for-you properties, so I finally tried these recipes from Frugally Sustainable:

Turmeric chai: I like the overall taste of this, but should have made it without the cayenne. Not a fan of the whole steeping and trying to strain ground spices thing either— it’s pain in the butt and not very effective. The resulting “tea” is kind of gritty. If your plan is to strain a tea after steeping, I recommend using bigger chunks rather than ground spices.

Turmeric milk: This is one of my new favorite things. I drink it before bed a lot, when drinking tea with caffeine would just be a bad idea.

I’ve also been drinking a lot of Stash Chamomile Nights before bed, and it has easily become my favorite before bed relaxation tea (much tastier than Celestial Seasonings' classic and vanilla Sleepytime teas ). I think it’s the lotus flavor that really makes this tea, though it could just be the overall blend of chamomile, spearmint, and lotus. Whatever. It’s delicious.

While I’m on the topic of sleep, I recently got a Fitbit Charge HR for tracking my exercise/activity, and am thoroughly enjoying the sleep tracking feature. It seems that my sleep is actually pretty efficient most of the time unless I just straight-up have insomnia (like after I made the mistake of drinking a very strong cup of Lord Bergamot at the coffeehouse where my writers' group meets...on the night that I drafted this post. Not smart). The sweet spot for me seems to be about 7-7.5 hours. Much less than that, and I need a nap in the afternoon. Much more than that, and I’m groggy and tired the next morning.

With the heatwave and just being busy with grocery shopping and such, I hadn’t done my regular workout in almost two weeks. Did it Saturday, and I’m still sore.  It’s going to be extra important that I keep on top of it in the upcoming weeks, since I picked up a couple of new cleaning clients and need the upper body strength from all of those push-ups and stuff to keep my back from hurting.

With the addition of those two new cleaning clients, my schedule is pretty packed, and starting this week I won’t be able to hang out with the church ladies for Bible study. Went on a picnic with them last week and had a blast. The teaching was on the tongue, the damage it can do, and how “out of the heart, the mouth speaks.” In our time of reflection and prayer, God spoke to me  in a very specific, yet weirdly general way. It’s a message I plan to hold on to as I step into my crazy, busy life.

On Saturday I also got a lovely note in the mail from one of those sweet church ladies. It’s not uncommon for them to send me thank you notes or birthday cards (they're very considerate and a few of them do it as a specific ministry), but this one was a kind of random “you’re special and I like your attitude and outlook on life” card. Literally one of the weirdest and nicest notes I’ve ever received. Totally made my day.

With the increase  in my work schedule, I’ve been looking for ways to save time on my most time-consuming home activity: cooking. Have I mentioned before on this blog how much I love my Instant Pot? If not, it needs to be mentioned. I have the six quart model with the yogurt maker and low pressure functions. I love it. Seriously, it is one of my favorite kitchen appliances. I take it with me to hotels and stuff and it’s like my own portable kitchen. The only counter top appliances in my house that I use more are probably my blender (if I had that purchase to do over again, I'd probably save up for a Vitamix because the jar has issues) and hot water kettle. Recently discovered some Facebook groups dedicated to the Instant Pot (including a vegan one), and have bought myself some extra accessories and a cookbook to play around with, so that'll be fun.

Instant Pot in its new place of pride under the stove vent
(my apartment has humidity issues and the IP helps a ton, but so does the fan).
I'd seriously rather have this than a stove.
Saturday before last, Will and I went to a ton of garage sales (it was city-wide garage sale day in several of the towns nearby at the same time) and hunted for a clear glass lid for the Instant Pot. I carried the inner pot with me everywhere trying to find a match. Didn’t have much success at the garage sales, but a local thrift store was having a 50% off sale and I managed to pick up the perfect lid for $1.50—much better than the $17-19 price I’ve seen on Amazon for the one designed specifically for it.

The wet-erase marker on the bottom reads,
"This pot is mine. I'm searching for a lid and a few items to use inside."
Only one garage sale tried to charge me for it.

I also managed to pick up another silicone whisk, my bajillionth silicone spatula, a bunch of nice Rubbermaid containers (for free!) a back scratcher, a flour sifter (important for all of those tea party goodies), a Corningware 1.5 qt round French casserole (which I already had the lid for--and it fits in my Instant Pot), a heavy-duty stainless steel spoon rest, a notebook,  a couple of nice baskets, some headbands, Vegetables by James Peterson, and The Veganist by Kathy Freston (featured on this episode of Oprah which *warning* also features a tour of one of the cleanest, most technologically advanced slaughterhouses in the industry at the time of filming).

I also got the chance to meet one of my writing accountability buddies at her store, and to do a critique for another friend. I seriously need to do more critiques for other people—they make me better at fixing my own writing. My own writing (which has mostly been notebook brainstorming the last month or so) also hasn’t been happening much in the last week or so. With all of the grocery shopping, etc. I’ve been busy all day and, for the most part, collapsing into bed at night with just enough energy to read for awhile.

Recently a friend introduced me to Vanilla Brown Sugar lotion from April Bath & Shower.  The scent is kind of similar to the seasonally available Vanilla Bean Noel from Bath and Bodyworks—but much, much cheaper. Unfortunately, if the local Dollar Trees are any indication, the scent may have been discontinued. So on my last grocery shopping trip, I hit up several Dollar Trees and stocked up on lotion, bodywash, and body spray. Lets hope that stuff never goes bad ‘cause I bought a lot…but even if it does, I spent no more on it than I would have a single bottle of each of the Vanilla Bean Noel products, so it’s still a win.

After that victory, I called my grandma to ask about visiting her before heading home. Recently I bought a larger ice chest so that I can go visit her after grocery shopping without having to worry about all the frozen vegetables thawing in my car. Like, the previous month I bought an entire case of frozen spinach that wouldn’t fit in my existing ice chest—no way was I going to visit her with that on my back seat. Unfortunately, the day of this shopping trip was the day for her lunch out with her red hat group, so she wasn’t there. Got to visit with Pop though, and he managed to convince me that I needed to take home most of the remaining apples from their tree. I got home and realized that there was no way that apple pie filling or anything of the sort would fit into my freezer with the groceries that I just bought, so I am now I'm teaching myself to can. Thus far I’ve done apple butter (with lots of cinnamon). Tested out the sugar free apple pie filling recipe that I found (Doubled the cinnamon. Used 1 tablespoon of my stevia solution and even then I think it could have been sweeter). Waiting for my Clear Jel to arrive from Amazon before I actually can any.

Started with this recipe, and added a bunch of extra peels from the pie apples to increase the pectin content.
Slow-cooked a few hours after blending.
Also added:
2 cups apple juice (instead of water--1 cup would be better)
5 tbsp my stevia solution
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp cinnamon (2 would have been better)
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
Added more cornstarch to this than I would if I were canning it, for ease of slicing.
Ended up being about 150 calories per 1/8th of the pie.

My dehydrator also seems to be running a lot lately with everything from wild herbs I’ve picked in local parks to tofu jerky. The tofu jerky that I made seems like it should have been a little more salty. Next time I’m going to try this recipe.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently. It’s my go-to wind down activity to cope with all of the crazy—with a cup of herbal tea, of course. On top of that, with the addition of more work, that means more time to listen to audio books! I am truly the luckiest girl in the world. Finally finished The Federalist Papers. Not the most interesting read, but insightful where early American politics is concerned. After that, I needed a break from historical documents and listened to A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas and The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which offered some amusement. I kind of binge listened to them—they each took me only a day or two, because I working all day. Thoroughly enjoyed that the Sherlock Holmes stories are told from Watson’s perspective, allowing the author to conceal some of Holmes’ insights from the reader while the story is unfolding. Meanwhile, I read Tea Bliss: Infuse Your Life with Health, Wisdom and Contentment by Theresa Cheung, Tea-Time Recipes by Jane Pettigrew, and Healthy Teas by Tammy Safi. Tea Bliss was jam-packed with good advice for a peaceful life. Tea-Time Recipes was not super useful to me, due to dietary restrictions, but it gave me some ideas of types of recipes to look for or to make my own equivalents of. I’m thoroughly impressed with Healthy Teas—so impressed that I’ll probably pick up a used copy on Amazon sometime.

That’s about it. I have several recipes that I mean to share eventually (including Instant Pot recipes and the one for my pie crust), but I need to get some pictures of the dishes and figure out how to insert a “printer friendly version” button/link into my posts.  I hate finding a good recipe online and having to either copy and paste it into a word document or print the whole web page. So someday, maybe. But beware…my hairless ghost lemur will haunt your tea cupboards.

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