Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Making Iced Tea

My best friend L, like me, loves tea.  So I was surprised when she told me that she didn't know how to make iced tea.  I tried to explain how I do it, but she found it too confusing.  Hence this blog post!

Sometime last year, I decided to give up soda. I've been drinking diet soda daily since childhood.  Considering the possible side effects of all those sugar substitutes ... well, it just seemed like a good choice for me.  But I love having something flavored with meals, so what could I drink?  The huge stash of tea in my pantry gave me a really good idea: instead of only making iced tea in the summer, I could make it year-round!  I make a couple pitchers a week, and it's made giving up soda eminently more palatable! 

Here's my method: 

1. Get everything in place. You'll need: 
  • a way to boil water (I love the Adagio utiliTEA Electric Kettle; more about that later!)
  • Tea (either loose or in bags)
  • a way to steep loose tea (if using; I prefer t-sac's size 2 filters)
  • a container to brew your tea; I find a metal bowl works well, but you can use anything that is safe from heat shock)
  • a bamboo skewer
  • sweetener (if desired)
  • a spoon 
  • a pitcher (I use Sterilite's Gallon Pitcher, which stains badly, as you can see. Any pitcher that is safe from heat shock should work fine)
2. Ready Your Pitcher

Take the lid off and lay it aside (we'll use it later as a tea bag rest). Add sweetener to your pitcher, if desired. Add enough to sweeten a gallon of tea (or the amount your pitcher holds).  Keep in mind that any granulated or thick sweetener will dissolve better in hot tea, so if you add it now, you'll have perfectly sweetened tea by the time it cools. I use a combination of agave nectar and vanilla-flavored liquid stevia.  I can add more stevia later if needed, as it dissolves easily in cold liquid. One of the best things, to me, about making your own iced tea is that you can use healthier sweetening options!

3. Prepare the Tea 

There are two different options I use: loose tea and tea bags.  I'll illustrate how I use each.  

First, loose tea: 

As I mentioned before, I like to use t-sac's size 2 tea filters.  You could use a tea diffuser or other method; just make sure whatever you use allows you to include enough tea for about 8-10 cups (with room for expansion).  A general rule of thumb is one teaspoon of tea per cup, with an extra one "for the pot."  Some methods for making iced tea have you brew very strong tea, then dilute it with cold water or ice.  I find that brewing several pots with the same tea allows me to make a mellow iced version that isn't watered down.  In order to accomplish that, you need to use high-quality tea. It doesn't have to be expensive, but you don't want to use generic orange pekoe tea bags from the grocery store.  A great source for inexpensive quality tea is your local TJ Maxx, Ross, Home Goods, or other stores of that type.  There are, of course, local specialty stores, and even really expensive options like Teavana (which does have amazing tea that can be brewed repeatedly, if your pocketbook can stand the cost...).

Use the spoon to add tea to your chosen receptacle.  I usually fill the t-sac bags about halfway, shaking them down to make sure the tea fills the bottom completely. The bag on the left is full.

If using the t-sacs, fold the top down two times (see bag on left in the photo), then thread the bamboo skewer through the top.  See below for a close up of this method.

How to thread the skewer through the t-sac: weave it in back and forth.

Once you've threaded the two t-sacs on your skewer, rest it across your receptacle.  Make sure whatever you use is safe to receive very hot water without suffering from thermal shock, and that your tea will be immersed in the water when you fill the receptacle.  I use this metal mixing bowl that was damaged: the bend in the rim makes a kind of "spout," which I really like.

Or, Use Tea Bags:
I find that four normal tea bags is enough to make a gallon of iced tea.  Here's what I do to use them: using the paper tab at the end of the string, I tie the tea bags to my bamboo skewer.  I basically just make the beginning of a knot: the tab keeps them from falling off.

Step One: bring tab over the skewer so it hangs off the back.


Step Two: tuck the tab through the circle made just below the skewer.

Step Three: pull tight.

Do this for all four tea bags on the same skewer, then lay it across your receptacle. 

4. Brew Your Water

 As I said before, I adore the Adagio utiliTEA Electric Kettle. It's the best gift I've ever given myself!  Although it brews water quickly, can be set down on the base facing any direction, and has a stay-cool handle, what makes it so exceptional is that it has a variable temperature gauge, made just for tea brewing! As you can see in the photo, the gauge goes from low temp (left) to high temp (right), which a special section for green teas (conveniently marked in green) and black tea (marked in brown).  I didn't like green tea until I finally made it with this kettle. It's amazing what a difference it makes when tea is made with the right temperature water, and this kettle makes it so easy!  Sadly, it's currently back-ordered everywhere. Guess it was just too popular!  But keep checking, and hopefully you can get your hands on one sometime soon!  Anyways, if you are making green or white tea and have a kettle like this, set it for that temperature.  If you're brewing black, turn it all the way to the right (or heat water to boiling).  This kettle makes four cups at a time, so that's what I make.

5. Start Making Tea (About Time, Right?)

 While your water is brewing, check out the time your tea should brew.  Many teas come with this information on the label or jar.  If not, consult a guide. I find that the information on the back of Teavana's bags is really useful, so I cut it out and kept it.  You can see it below, in case it's helpful for you too!  Keep in mind that the guidelines for iced tea on the chart assume you're brewing it all at once. Since we're doing a pot at a time, use the times for hot tea.

Teavana's tea brewing guide, with water temp and brewing time.

Using those time guidelines, when the water is ready, pour it over your tea and set a timer.  Refill your kettle and set it to heating again while your tea brews.  Sometimes the two take the same amount of time (score!), but if that's not the case, make sure you're nearby so your tea doesn't get that bitter tannic acid flavor from overbrewing!

6. Rinse and Repeat (well, just the latter, actually...)

Once your tea has brewed, lift the tea out and place it on the upturned lid.  Pour the tea into your prepared pitcher.  Then replace the tea in your brewing receptacle, and pour any tea from the lid into the pitcher, too. Repeat this process three times, so you've brewed four kettles (16 cups) of tea, total. You can be less vigilant about the time you brew the tea with your last batch; it will be a weaker brew to begin with. so a little more time won't hurt.

7. You Can Almost Taste The Refreshment!

Now all you have to do is wait for your tea to cool!  I like to put my pitcher on a trivet to elevate it so it cools faster.  

If, like me, you can't wait for your first glass, just fill a cup with ice and pour the hot brew over it.  It'll be a little watery, but still very good.  Once the tea has completely cooled, put the lid on and refrigerate. You'll have delicious iced tea for days...if it lasts that long!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

My Origami Owl Order Arrived!

My necklace came in a Chinese takeout box!
    I saw a picture of a gorgeous Origami Owl necklace on Pinterest; it was pinned from the Finding Normal blog, where the blogger explained how she had selected the locket, the charms and backplate, and showed photos of the finished product.  I was immediately hooked!

   Origami Owl's necklaces are called "Living Lockets:" you can select charms to put inside your locket, which has glass in the front and back to show them off.  You can also choose the size of your locket, whether it will be gold, rose gold, or silver; and whether or not it will be surrounded by crystals.  A hand-stamped metal backplate that can rest behind the charms is also available.  There are other customizable options, and since you can open up the locket to change or rearrange the contents at will, these really are "living" pieces of jewelry! 

My locket: what a great "fortune!"
    Although I almost never purchase special things like this for myself, I loved this idea so much, I immediately created my locket and ordered it before I could have second thoughts.  It arrived today and I'm so thrilled to see that it's all I'd hoped and more!  

    As the blogger at Finding Normal noted, the packaging is gorgeous.  The locket came in a darling little takeout container.  Inside were my charms and backplate along with a little fabric fortune cookie that contained my locket and chain.

The locket with chain and extra charms.

     I often have trouble with chains for necklaces: they seem to choke me more often than not.  So I was prepared to have to use another chain for my necklace, but was pleasantly surprised that the one that came with my locket was not only more than long enough, but beautiful and extremely adjustable for length, so I can wear it with a variety of necklines.
     I picked out six charms for my locket, but I can't use all of them at once without obscuring the backplate.  However, the metal plate is easy to remove, so when I want to, I can wear them all inside the locket. I also can switch out the charms depending on my mood.  Since I am easily tired of the same old thing, this is great news!


    Here are a few more photos of the locket.  I'm wearing it already, even though no one is here to appreciate it save me and the dogs.  I just love how it looks and feels! 

I chose a large silver locket with crystals around the edge, a gold backplate with the word "blessed," and six charms.

My six charms: butterfly (change and growth), an "amethyst" heart (husband's birthstone), an angel wing (protection and faith), a sand dollar (my love of the beach), a cross (faith), and a suitcase that says "NY" and "LA" (my two hometowns/states, and my love for travel).

Wearing my beautiful new locket!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Beet Burgers to Die For...

I cannot take credit for this recipe!  I got it from the fabulous farmers that run Muddy Fingers Farm and our CSA (not sure what a CSA is? follow the link...): Matthew and Liz.  They shared the recipe on the blog they write for our CSA.  Then Liz encouraged me to try them, saying they were amazing. Not only were they as good as she said, but my husband, who usually runs with the "it's not a meal if it doesn't include meat" crowd, loved them! Best of all, they're really healthy, even if they don't taste that way, and they're a great excuse to visit your local farmer's market, even at this time of year.  Carrots and beets may be available!

So that you can get your beet burger on, too, I'm sharing the recipe here and on Pinterest. My comments are in square brackets, while Liz and Matthew's are in parenthesis.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think...and what you decide to top your beet burger with!

Beet Burgers
Notes, in parenthesis, are from Muddy Fingers Farm
  • 2 cups grated beets
  • 2 cups grated carrots
  • ½ cup grated onions
  • 1 cup cooked rice (I make a little extra in advance, if I know I am going to be making beet burgers)
  • 1 cup toasted sunflower seeds
  • ½ cup toasted sesame seeds
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 3 T flour
  • ¼ cup oil
Minced fresh or dried garlic, cayenne, and parsley or other herbs to taste.

Toast seeds in a dry pan for several minutes, stir often. Mix all ingredients, form into patties and bake at 350*F. [they didn’t say how long to cook these. . .could take anywhere from 15-30 mins, or maybe more, depending on your oven. They get browned on edges and a much darker color overall when done. Flip them over after 10 or so minutes; they're yummier if you cook them on each side.] They can also can be make in a skillet (easier for just a few). Frozen ones can be reheated in a toaster oven.

(Since this is one of our all time favorite recipes, we will make a double or triple recipe at once and freeze the extras, then they make a quick meal when we are in a hurry. A food processor is your best friend for these!)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

More Fun With Pinterest...

   Per my last post about my current obsession with Pinterest and how much it's energized me, here's a quick peek at today's project: a paper heart garland in honor of Valentine's Day!  

    I was inspired by this pin to try making one of these to decorate my workplace, a writing center at the local community college.  Our room is a glaring cube of brilliant whiteness, and covering it in color has been an obsession of almost anyone who enters it.  I fought that for a couple years, but have recently become much more interested in decorating (Pinterest, again?), especially for holidays.  Crafting seems to reduce the stress level for us and for the students, too.  Near the holiday break in December, we were all making snowflakes, which we used to decorate the windows.  (Go figure, right after we took them down, we got a weekend-long snowstorm after months of unseasonably warm weather...)

   In order to do this project, I grabbed a bunch of valentine-themed scrapbooking paper and my trusty paper cutter (I have an older version of this one. It's so worth the cost...especially if you have a 40% off coupon...), then cut the 12" sheets into 1" strips. I also cut up a sheet of pink construction paper.  I shuffled the strips up, and got started.

Close-up of the heart garland...
   My coworker, S, joined me, and we made two long chains, using a glue stick and stapler as shown in the photos above. It was easy and fun!  Below you can see the finished product, hanging from our check-in desk.  It really added some festive flair to our area...and some color to balance out all those white walls.
Maybe I should have turned some of the hearts inside out so they weren't all white on the inside?

 Happy Valentine's Day!