Savory Tea Biscuits (shortbread cookies with carom seeds)

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It’s not often that the world changes so dramatically in a span of just a few weeks. When I started this tea pairing challenge a few weeks ago, none of us had any idea what was coming our way. In most parts of the world at this point in time, life as we know it is upended. In some parts of the world, people are fighting for a chance to live in the resources their hospitals can afford them, while elsewhere, others are separated from their families, far far away. Such stories are normally reserved for third world countries, but it is heartening to see it happen in US and Europe. This pandemic has brought the world to its knees, and we don’t know how life will be in its wake.

Whoa, not something you would expect to read if you were browsing for a nice teatime biscuit recipe, huh? Well, it is rather uncomfortable – talking about tea and biscuits like everything is alright in the world. I’ve written myself into a corner here – there are no elegant segues from this topic to tea pairing, so I’m just going to put a pin in it for now (as we are all trying to do by self-isolating…here I go again!), and talk about my favorite thing in these bleak times: tea.

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Baked Mandazi (Swahili Sweet Bread)

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One of the things I’m loving about this tea pairing adventure with Simple Loose Leaf is the opportunity to think beyond the usual pairings that we are so comfortable with. Nothing wrong with reaching for Parle-G biscuits with your hot and sweet milk tea, but every so often you come across something so new and different, it stumps you, and in a good way.

The tea that stumped me this week, was Simple Loose Leaf Purple Jasmine Tea: a very unique blend of Tumoi purple broken leaf tea from the Nandi hills of Kenya in Africa, and Jasmine green tea, presumably to round out the intense fragrance of the purple tea. This was the first time I had purple tea, and I found it to be fragrant and very delicate. Combined with the Jasmine green tea, it took on a floral quality, and made me wonder why I had overlooked an entire continent in my tea adventures!

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Russian Cabbage Soup (Shchi)

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This soup is essentially a warm hug.

Russian soups tend to be meat-heavy for all the good reasons so it’s difficult to find something vegetarian and light in the soup category; I do make a vegetarian Borscht from time to time but this time I wanted something light, bright and clear, and this Cabbage Soup, or Shchi, totally hit the spot.

This soup is basically a Russian mixed vegetable soup starring cabbage, carrots and potatoes, in a base made with onions sautéed in butter. Bay leaves and whole peppercorns are added, leaving the soup clear, bright and sharp (not muddled due to addition of ground pepper). Sometimes sauerkraut is added, as are greens, but I’ve added neither to keep it simple. I also used this soup as a vehicle to use up odds and ends in the fridge (I’m looking at you, diced celery and turnip from 2 weeks ago).

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Finding Pho!

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Did you know that all the good “Pho” puns are taken? What the pho!

Anyway, over a year ago, we traveled to Sri Lanka through the always-amazing Black Swan Journeys based out of Pune, India. Since then we visited 3 more countries with them and I’m still working off the pounds I gained from (cooking and) eating my heart’s content in those fantastic countries (Maldives, Georgia, and Azerbaijan)! Black Swan Journeys specializes in highly customized, curated tours (culinary tours being just one of the many types), and their famous culinary tour in Vietnam entitled “Finding Pho” is coming up next month. After seeing these videos, I want to jump on the next flight out to join them! But considering we came back from Hawaii not 2 months ago, and the fact that our wallets and waistlines don’t always allow last-minute escapades half way across the world, we’ll have to settle for finding our “Pho” bliss here.

Luckily, we recently acquired an Instant Pot that makes “Finding Pho” both cheaper and faster than getting to Vietnam from California! But if you are anywhere near Vietnam, you have no excuse! While the folks on the culinary tour will find things much bigger than Pho in Vietnam, we’ll temporarily make our peace with the Pho concocted here, with some Vietnamese Spring rolls for company (and crunch). This will do for now, although I hope we get to find ourselves (and Pho) in Vietnam soon enough!

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Confessions of a Wonton Addict

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In an effort to formally learn some kitchen skills (and if we are being very honest, in an effort to feed myself delicious wontons any time I want), I recently took the amazing “Wonders of Wonton” class with Chef Lorraine Witte at San Francisco’s newly minted pop-up cooking school: “The Civic Kitchen“. It was my first time in a cooking school and boy was I in wonderland – state of the art equipment, cleavers so sharp you could cut yourself just looking at them, wonderful atmosphere and very helpful instructors!

I’ve been known to hightail to San Francisco’s many amazing dumpling places, and also down to Din Tai Fung in San Jose (whenever they’ll let us in, that is – typically that  happens once a year) to get my Xiao Long Bao/Scallion Pancake/General Dumpling fix from time to time. Life has its way of getting in the way of my love for dumplings. Also, traffic on highway 101. So I figured a lesson on wontons would help bring them closer, and also give me an opportunity to fill them with the things I want to eat (less pork, more shrimp, some chicken), alongside other things I want to eat with them (1/4 cup chili oil, anyone?).

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