Saturday, October 07, 2006

Confessions of a Domestic Goddess

It doesn't happen very often, but every once in a while, I get a craving to be crafty. It's kind of like that once a year craving I get for ice cream sandwiches. Usually one big trip to the store will satisfy it and I'm left with half a box of Klondike bars in the freezer. Who knows if it's the change of seasons or all the Halloween candy, but this weekend, the craving to be creatively domestic hit me. At a lack of ideas for anything to do my house, I turned to the kitchen.

I usually think of the kitchen as that room where I make coffee and get food from the freezer. It's where the microwave lives. But it's also where, when inspired, I can dig something adventurous from a cookbook and let loose. Today, I was in the mood to make preserves. After a good read through a few favorite cookbooks, I pulled down the jars, lids, rings and other accoutrements for making jellies, jams, and chutneys. I took a quick inventory, made a list, and hit the farmer's market. Apples, tomatoes, squash -- it's all in season and I made some recipe adjustments to match. After that, I hit the spice aisle at my favorite market, then Cost Plus for clever jars, then Marsh for lids, rings, and pectin. I've made a cup of tea, unpacked the fun, and I'm all settled in for a big Saturday night. (Well, really, a big Saturday night is making pate or pulling out the food processor, but this will work.) This recipe isn't jelly or chutney, but it's the first crafty thing I made today inspired by the great little flat jars I found at Cost Plus.

Chai Mix

We've all received various spiced tea mixtures as gifts over the years, some better than others. I'm a little partial to the Tang/lemonade/instant tea mixture from the 70s, myself. But this morning I stumbled across a great recipe for chai which also looks like a good way to use some of my favorite spices before they get stale. The original recipe comes from Food for Friends: Homemade Gifts for Every Season (Ten Speed Press 2000) but I made some adjustments. I also doubled it, so this can be halved:

10 tablespoons whole cardamom pods
4 tablespoons whole cloves
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons juniper berries
8 whole, long cinnamon sticks, broken up into pieces
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
4-5 whole star anise
2 teaspoons ground ginger

Toast all spices except the ginger in a dry skillet over medium heat for 2-3 mintues. Make sure you keep stirring. After a few minutes, you'll notice the spices getting very fragrant and even popping a bit. Combine the spices in a bowl with the ginger. Then in small batches grind in a mortar or pulse in a spice grinder. (I use a small coffee grinder as a spice grinder.) Grind until the spices are a coarse blend with a few recognizable whole pieces. Yields about 1.5 cups.

Spoon the spice mixtures into clean, airtight jars or containers, label, and add to a basket with scones, scone mix, small cookies, or as the book suggests, a book of poetry. You can even put it in a small cellophane bag if you're going to give it away quickly. I packaged mine in small jars with a tea strainer and mug which may go in a basket. You could also probably add an actual plain, mild tea to this mixture if you were making more and wanted to economize, although you can find some of these spices fairly inexpensively at ethnic markets around town.

If you wanted to be *really* creative (and don't laugh but I almost did this), you could use fine mesh cheesecloth and make small ready-to-dunk tea bundles -- homemade tea bags. Just cut them in 3x3 inch squares, put about 1 teaspoon of the chai mixture in the cloth, then fold or gather up the bundle. Just make sure you tie them with culinary string that can go in hot water without bleeding color or chemicals. (We all remember the Bridget Jones' Diary blue soup scene.) Small tea bags would be great to pack in a mug and you could stretch one batch of mix a long way if you needed to make multiple baskets.

As the book notes, blending teas (and I use the term loosely since this mixture actually contains no tea leaves, but "chai" means "tea") is a bit of an art. I think I'd like mine a bit more tangy next time, so I'll try adding more coriander and some lemon or orange zest. I added juniper berry and extra ground cinnamon to one batch for a great scent and darker flavor. If you like sweeter teas, it would be good to try adding more clove, star anise and even some fennel seed.

One teaspoon or less of the mixture in a tea strainer makes a fine cup of spicy tea. Perfect for keeping this domestic goddess inspired.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love me some chai!