Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Crafting meets Cooking

This weekend was my birthday! I got dressed up, got some books, ate some great food, and got lots and
lots of tea! (lots of tea). I love tea, I love drinking it, serving it, making pastries to go with it, and when it comes to English tea I have it pretty much down. This year however I'm looking to play out more with green teas.

They still work well with my usual tea service, but felt like it would also be fun to try bringing in some new tea traditions to the party. On the way are some first pieces toward a small Japanese tea set (and people thought I had run out of tea-wear to collect!),  and today I started taking a few baby steps into the world of wagashi, traditional Japanese sweets, often made specifically to go with green tea. Something a little different from my usual cream tea with  killer scones and home made clotted cream every now and then.

A while back we were lucky enough to try a few different kinds of wagashi from a wonderful shop in LA, and some others from Minamoto Kitchoan in Mitsuwa to get a taste for them. While I' await a big old book on the subject to drop on my doorstep, this weekend I took to the internet for some recipes and got my hands sticky trying to make a type of wagashi called nerikiri.

 The first step was to make a batch of sweet white bean paste, the second, to keep half the bean paste for fillings, the other to create the neriki, a kind of marzipan texture dough which shapes and colors like a dream. The result just like my first scones was a little spotty, but life is all about practice!

The whole process took somewhere over 3 hours, so it's not something to whip up the day you plan to serve them, but the bean paste and dough are freezable, so possible to keep on hand for faster making when the mood hits.

Typically served with matcha ( powdered green tea), the sweetness of the cakes is to play well with the bitterness of the tea, so if you go towards the top end of the sweetness scale from the online recipe, it's dialed right up to one hundred. In the future for full leaf green teas like I usually drink, I think I'll dial the sugar back a little.

The big thing with wagashi is they are supposed to be a treat for all the senses. Silky textures, good flavor, and candy for the eyes. Shaped to match the seasons, wagashi specialist's sweets look like perfect works of art! Mine, so far, maybe not so much. Had a go at hand shaping some like the pinks currently gowning in my front garden, and experimented using a petit four mold in place of the traditional wooden kashigata to see how that went (not brilliantly).

Certainly looking forward to learning and trying more when my book comes. It would be smashing to bring a bit of the surroundings to the tea plate this summer drinking tea outdoors. Next up "jelly" type wagashi. The retro hostess in me can't resist a pretty treat that wobbles!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Tiny Tree Take Out

Every year right after the cherry blossoms fall, the apple blossom tree in our back garden bursts into life! Spreading a white canopy over my outdoor tea spot, it's one of my favorite couple of weeks during Spring. I'll admit it, I've hugged that tree, and the thought of leaving it behind when we move is one of the things that makes the idea of picking up sticks that little bit harder.

I might not be able to take the whole tree with me, but maybe, just maybe I can take the son of apple blossom with me?

Out and about town this past week with my sister and her awesome fella, we stopped by the national arboretum to take in the spring blossoms and national bonsai museum. Tucked in one of the twists and turns of their bonsai collection (which is breathtaking by the way!), was this incredible little apple blossom  bonsai! Perhaps fate? I've always wanted to grow a bonsai tree, and what better way to take my favorite tree with me? Right now I have a few cuttings lined up around the house, and going to also try growing from seed once the big tree produces fruit, as well as some late summer cuttings further down the line.basically I;m trying everything for the best chance of there being at least one that will make it to become a tree.

A great site my sister's fella, out pal and bonsai enthusiast Martin put me onto is this one bonsai4me.com, it has some great information of just about every stage. Beyond that crossing my fingers for tiny tree success, just think of the decorative and DIY possibilities in this amazing living art form?


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