Friday, June 13, 2008

Tea and Trade

It’s sometimes possible to ‘travel’ around the world without ever setting foot outside your hometown. Ten Thousand Villages is a nonprofit, fair trade organization that works with more than 100 artisan groups in 30+ developing countries. Artisans whose work reach the shelves of a Ten Thousand Villages store receive a living wage and full payment for their work, before shipment.

The local Ten Thousand Villages store currently displays a Nepalese tea set with hand-painted designs that originated from women’s wall paintings. The set reflects a thriving tea drinking culture. Located amidst the Himalayas – including Mt. Everest – Nepal grows aromatic teas that have become increasingly popular throughout the world, in recent years, because they are generally more flavorful.

But tea is more than a beverage in Nepal; it is a way of life. Sherpas awake mountain trekkers with tea, and ‘Have you had your tea?’ is a common question everywhere. When the Nepalese share tea, they are at their most hospitable. And, when foreigners return home, many suffer withdrawal from this gentle, pervasive practice.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Less is More

When your kids live halfway across the country, sending homemade baked goods that won't break in the mail can be a challenge. For my daughter's last birthday, I decided brownies might travel more successfully than cookies would. I took the best of two recipes and then made some additional adjustments.

Not only did my daughter and her friends go crazy for the 'birthday brownies,' but a friend's dad tried one and absolutely raved over it. "I consider myself a brownie expert," he said, "and these are the best brownies I've ever eaten."

Of course my daughter wanted the recipe and that's when I told her using less sugar, butter, and flour than in the original recipes had likely resulted in the very fudgy texture, and deep chocolate flavor. A few substitutions even made the brownies a bit healthier, including olive oil for some of the butter, and ground oatmeal for some of the flour.

For all you chocoholics out there, here are Ultra Fudge Brownies:

4 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 stick unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup ground oatmeal
1 cup chopped nuts, optional
1 cup white chocolate chips

Microwave chocolate and butter in large bowl on HIGH, for two minutes or until the butter is melted; or you may use a double boiler. Stir the chocolate until it is melted and then stir in the olive oil.

Stir in the sugar and mix in the eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, oatmeal, white chocolate chips and nuts. Spread in a greased 9 x 13 pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Pour chocolate chips across the entire pan of batter. Bake and additional 15-20 minutes and do not overbake. Cool completely before cutting. Makes 24 brownies.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Eye of the Beholder

My traveling partner and I had arrived in Taos on the previous evening. This day began with a sumptuous breakfast buffet of scrambled eggs with hot sauce, spicy potatoes, fresh fruit, and strong coffee, in the kiva-shaped dining room at our hotel, the Best Western Kachina Lodge & Meetings Center.

We spent the next several hours viewing art, buying souvenirs and gifts, and sampling New Mexico wines around the quaint Taos Plaza. At mid-afternoon we enjoyed enormous salads and iced tea in the shady courtyard of Caffé Renato, where I also snapped almost a dozen architectural photographs. After we paid our bill, my friend drove our car back to the hotel, and I set out on foot looking for more architecture.

As always, in New Mexico, several ornate doors captured my lens. I snapped some views of one with a curved top, against warm adobe and a cobalt sky. But when I moved closer to better capture the carved details, I found that this door led nowhere. It was merely laid against the wall – an optical illusion visible only at close range.