Beware "The Bad Seed"

There's a girl in my daughter's third grade (going into fourth grade) class who is such a piece of work!!!

She's very pretty, and does some "modeling." She also has a very bad reputation for being very, very mean.

My daughter has, for the most part, managed to steer clear of this girl's wrath and I am so glad...some of the stories I've heard are BRUTAL.

Anyway, this girl goes to our pool, which makes it pretty hard to avoid her in the summer. She's nice enough to my daughter, they play a little together, and when they do I watch like a hawk!!

Today at the pool "The Bad Seed" was playing with my daughter (since none of her other "cool" friends were around), when she noticed another little girl that she knows. I saw her swim over to her, give her a hug and then push her under the water. The other little girl came up out of the water gasping for air.

THEN, "The Bad Seed" climbed out of the pool and offered her hand to the other girl. Still gasping for air, she grabbed her hand. Bad Seed proceeded to let go of her hand and let her fall backwards into the pool.

She then asked innocently"are you okay???" Her "friend" seemed okay and Bad Seed helped her out of the pool. She put her arm around her to give her a little bear hug and then PUSHED her back into the pool! I was floored.

She then proceeded to jump in next to her victim, grab her by the forehead and pull her backwards into the water. At this point I had to step in and reprimand Bad Seed. (Yeah, yeah, I let it go on a little too long-but I couldn't believe how far she was taking it...The lifeguards were totally oblivious, as was her mother who was busy sitting on a lounge chair socializing.)

She took it pretty well. Getting yelled at doesn't phase her at all. I know for a fact that she is used to getting in trouble, she even has her own personal chair at the Principal's office. It did, however, stop her momentarily.

I couldn't believe how badly her little friend wanted to hang out with her...she was willing to put up with so much abuse just to play with the cool supermodel of fourth grade. It was fascinating, in a sad way.

Luckily my daughter totally gets it! When we got in the car to leave she said. "I think Bad Seed pretends to be friends with some people, just so she can pick on them."


Let's just hope my astute little child remembers that the next time the little Queen Bee offers to help her out of the pool.

Footnote: Have you seen the movie "The Bad Seed?" It's from the 1950's and it rocks. It's all about this sweet looking little girl who turns out to be pure evil. There's really over the top bad acting and the plot is straight out of "The Twilight Zone."

Tennis Tuesday Two Days Early-Quotes From My Team Captain

When she lost a singles match..."She doesn't fuckin' belong on the court with me."

When she played doubles with her poor husband...(a beginner) "I hate bad tennis."

When she played against an Asian woman..."She plays that Chinese 'chop-chop' tennis."

When her best friend lost to a 60 year old woman ..."She's no good. She plays old lady tennis." (Hey she won didn't she??)

Working on the lineup for a match against a rival team..."She's going to shit her pants when she sees me come on the court."

When a doubles team lost in a big match..."What happened out there? Did you suck?"

After she ripped off her tennis tank and ran around in a sports bra after a big match..."Did you see that-I was slamming it...I had ORGASMS!"
You can't make this stuff up!

2001 Xiaguan Bao Yan Shu Brick

I received this sample for free with an order from Skip4Tea, a Malaysian pu'er vendor that appears to sell tea on consignment. I had ordered the 2001 raw Xiaguan Bao Yan brick, and so the cooked version from the same year does seem a fitting inclusion.

2001 Xiaguan Bao Yan Shu Brick - dry leafThe storage in Malaysia is usually rather wet, similar to storage conditions in Taiwan. In my experience, cooked pu'er that has undergone wet storage develops a smoothness in flavor, a weakening almost, or better put a sort of character change. It becomes more like aged sheng, insomuch as the storage enhances the clarity of the liquor and the sweetness and cleanliness of the flavor. The storage additionally builds similarity in that cooked tea often develops mei wei, or "mold smell", a common base aroma in older pu'ers.

2001 Xiaguan Bao Yan Shu Brick - liquor & bunnyI could smell the storage--the mei wei--even in the bag. In the wet leaf, it mingled with the woodiness of the cooked tea and it smelled remarkably like wet stored sheng. The liquor's reddish brown color mimicked aged sheng, and I began to second-guess their labeling. Even upon tasting, I wondered if my confidence that the is cooked pu'er came from my observation or from the labeling. Maybe the leaves were lighter fermented? Not a hint of pond/fish/grossness, sweet like lotus root, warming.

It didn't last long, though, only about 4 good infusions, becoming sweet water at the 5th infusion, drinkable for its physical effects but not so much for its flavor. In Kunming, I had newer Xiaguan Bao Yan shu that also lasted only 4-5 infusions, so I think the leaf itself is to blame, rather than the storage. Also, I brewed the sample in a gaiwan, though I nearly always make my shu in a thick-walled pot.

2001 Xiaguan Bao Yan Shu Brick - leaf in gaiwan

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors bangs...

"Bangs. We covet them. Long, sideswept bangs, heavy curtains of bangs (short AND eyebrow skimming), bangs that form a 'u'---longer on the sides than in the middle...there's no hotter trend right now."

Just don't try it at home!!!

2007 Ruipin Hao Jingmai Spring Cake

Another Puerhshop sample, I'm finally making headway into the reservoir of samples I ordered from Jim. The link to this cake is here.

2007 Ruipin Hao Jingmai Spring Cake - dry leafAs is obvious from both the vendor's picture and the picture here, one of the striking features of this cake is the distinctness of the leaf. You can see where every leaf starts and ends, and they shine with plump health. The grade is higher, maybe grade 2 or 3 leaves, with plenty of silver furry tips.

It smells smoky, and tastes a bit that way, too, not overwhelming. The best word I could use to describe the taste is balanced. The flavor and texture--not thin--coat the mouth, but thinly. The bittersweet flavor, not too vegetal, reminds me of jinggu tea but with more oomph: not as crass as big factory tea, but in the same style. Where factory tea tends to be bitterly floral, this tea has more subdued aromatics in the cup. The aftertaste remains long, giving it a liveliness that makes it easier to enjoy, despite its bitter, smoky elements that put me off. I'd become accustomed to milder, sweeter Yiwu and Yiwu-analogous young sheng; this Jingmai spoke itself boldly and brought back my awareness of pu'er's regionality.

2007 Ruipin Hao Jingmai Spring Cake - spent leaf comparison
A curious blend

The leaves did yield something odd: a blend of about 10-15% dark, larger, leathery, strange leaf. Perhaps aged maocha, perchance over-oxidized or over-fried, maybe maocha from another location, maybe wild tree tea, who knows. I picked these leaves out and put them next to the others to illustrate.

At $15.90, it's a cheap and interesting pu'er with some strength and few negatives.

Oops, I did it again... here's the end of the story. After I wisely walked out of Great Clips I went home and read my daughters a story. As I was reading, of all things, "Rapunzel", my mind went back to my hair. Bangs are all the rage these days, so I decided to sneak over to the bathroom and cut myself some bangs. I pulled a pair of scissors out of the cabinet and snip, snip-hey-they looked pretty good!

The only problem was the front sides needed a little trim. No problem. Snip...oooh, awesome. Now the other side, snip...OH SHIT. Too short. I'm screwed.


I have a lopsided dutch boy mullet.

I'm not going to touch it for 2 weeks, and I've made an appointment with a professional. I don't even want to hear what she's going to say when she sees the butcher job I've done on myself.

It's a sickness I tell you. I should have let them do it at Great Clips. I'm sure the drug addicts who work there would have done a better job than I did.

I decided to put the picture back in. The ones below are the cute ones, with the hair behind my ears. As you can see, when it's not tucked away, it's lopsided and just plain BAD. Hopefully I will learn from this!!! Duh.

Before and after...

The picture on the left is my hair after six long months without a cut.

The picture on the right is after I butchered it. It can look cute if I keep it behind my ears. The minute the wind blow, or it slips from behind my ear, it looks totally bizarre.


I've been tagged by "A Day in the Life..." Thanks for thinking of me! Here goes nothing.

What was I doing 10 years ago?

1) moving into a new house
2) preparing for my wedding (July 18th, 1998)
3) Working for the American Red Cross
4) Planting perennials and rose bushes in our yard
5) sitting in a lounge chair on the patio, reading books and magazines cover to cover
6) going to the beach with just a towel and a bottle of suntan lotion

What are 6 things on my to-do list for today:

1) take Meg to swim team practice
2) take Catherine to a birthday party at "Paint Your Own Pottery"
3) buy groceries so my family doesn't starve this weekend
4) clean out the filthy minivan so my husband doesn't freak out when he gets in it
5) return some long overdo phone calls
6) my usual housewifely duties including laundry, cleaning, cooking and all that other boring shit.

Snacks I enjoy?

1) Swedish fish
2) chips and guacamole
3) apple cinnamon rice cakes
4) graham crackers
5) apples with peanut butter
6) Edemame

Things I would do if I were a billionaire?

1) Allow my husband to retire at the ripe old age of 41
2) pay off all my extended family's debt
3) donate to charities including research to find a cure for breast cancer and ALS.
4) travel the world
5) work extensively on becoming the best over 40 tennis player in the universe!
6) Buy homes in St. John, Maine, Manhattan and Italy.
7) Pay a professional to cut and color my hair.

Places I have lived?

Hoboken, New Jersey
Rumson, New Jersey
Syracuse, New York
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Miami, Florida

How did you name your blog?

Last summer my sister in law mentioned that she might start a blog. I told her about some blogs I read on a regular basis and the wheels in my brain started to spin. I didn't give it too much thought. I just combined my love of all things caffeinated with my love of tennis. Sometimes I wish I had come up with something a little more clever. Oh well, what's done is done.

Who am I tagging and do I want to know more about ?

If you are reading this and haven't done the meme...go for it! Let me know if you do!

Divine Intervention

Picture this...only with piles of hair covering every inch of the floor!


As you may or may not know, I've been growing out a short haircut for about six months. It's been an long and grueling process, and I'm finally starting to see progress. Like a recovering alcoholic, I've been taking it "one day at a time." Today, I almost fell off the wagon. BIG TIME. 

I was at a strip mall with my daughters running errands when I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the plate glass window and realized that I needed to do something fast. I decided to go into Great Clips for a trim.

As I walked in I got a really bad feeling. There were piles of hair everywhere-it looked like no one had swept in days. The employees were beyond scary looking...bleach blond hair with black roots, faded tattoos on their ankles, bright blue eyeshadow and pissed off expressions on their haggard faces. Despite the frightening appearance of the salon and it's employees, I was still determined to get my hair trimmed.

I stood at the front desk with my two daughters, patiently waiting for one of the hairdressers to acknowledge me. My daughters started to whine immediately. "Mom, I have to go to the bathroom!!" No problem. I took them back to the FILTHY bathroom.

When we returned one of the very irritated looking Great Clips ladies finally spoke to me. "Can I help you?", she asked with absolutely no enthusiasm. I stood firm in my convictions, "Yes, I'd like to get my hair cut." She started to lead me over to a chair SURROUNDED by and covered with mounds of cut hair.

"Mom, we're hungry!" My daughters whined again. (Are my kids getting on your nerves yet?  Schools been out for a week and they certainly are getting on mine...)

Back to the subject.  It was as if a higher power was throwing obstacles in my path-desperately trying to stop me from making a huge mistake.  And in case you're wondering, yes, I'm self centered enough to think that God really gives a crap whether or not my hair looks good. :) 

Suddenly, I snapped back into reality. What in the hell was I thinking!!!? I almost let the most heinous looking, hungover, nasty woman in the world near my head with a pair of sharp scissors!!!

Once I had my wits back I thought quickly. "You know what? I'm going to get lunch for the kids and I'll come back later."

The stylist was cool with it. She followed us out front and lit up a Marlboro Red.

Wow, that was close.

Unfortunately the story doesn't end tune in tomorrow for the ongoing saga of "Jill's Quest for a Normal Cut and Color." (And the perfect eyebrow arch!!)

P.S.  It doesn't have a happy ending.  :(

Why I LOVE tennis!

In case you haven't been watching the news lately-I thought I'd remind you that Wimbledon started on Monday...if you haven't watched yet-TURN IT ON.

It's on ESPN2 and The Tennis Channel (check you local listings). Oh what fun it has been! The personalities, the upsets, the DRAMA! (The good kind-not USTA housewife stuff.)

So inspiring-and one of the reasons I absolutely love the game.

Footnote: On "Tennis Tuesday" I'm sharing some of my horror stories, but for the most part, tennis is one of the highlights of my life. (Seriously.) I have met so many great friends, I've gotten in much better shape and I can't imagine not playing! Obsessed, yes...but in a good way. As for the idiots I talk about in my stories, they just make life more interesting!

Be an advocate

Nearly one-third of women in the United States report some kind of abuse by a partner in the last year.  This number is likely extremely low due to the victim mentality that is associated with abusive relationships.  Many victims are too afraid to come forward and expose their abusers due to psychological reasons beyond their control.  In fact, many psychologists relate the mentality of a domestic violence victim to "Stockholm's Syndrome", which occurs when a victim/captive develops a feeling of love or support for their abuser/captor.

Would you be able to recognize a domestic violence situation?  

  • Bruises (sometimes small, finger-shaped bruises) on upper arms, legs, neck, face, etc.
  • Repeated and frequent phone calls from partner
  • Mentions of partner's anger
  • Missed work
  • Personality changes
  • Isolation from friends or family

Stranger or neighbor:
  • Visibly aggressive arguments
  • Cowering or fleeing female
  • Loud yelling or screaming
  • Thuds, screams, or yelling coming from a neighbor's house
  • Isolation of certain family members from the rest of the neighborhood

  • Controlling partner
  • Accusations of infidelity without cause
  • Partner telling you that you are "crazy"
  • Partner controlling the finances
  • Partner blames anger on drugs or alcohol
  • Frequent and repeated phone calls from partner
  • Constantly having to account for whereabouts
  • Hitting, slapping, beating
  • Yelling, screaming, verbally attacking
  • Partner grabbing arms or legs to cause pain
  • Partner threatens suicide or self-inflicts to control you
  • Partner hurts animals, threatens to hurt or kill friends and family if you leave him or her

If someone you know might be in an abusive relationship:
Be aware, document things that you notice, observe the situation.  Even if you are still unsure, try to approach them about it.  Do so when you are alone and free from the embarrassment of disclosure in front of individuals.  If they deny it, continue to "be there" and available - let them know that they can call you anytime, day or night, if they need anything.  Let them know they are not judged.  Give them the national safe number 1.800.799.SAFE

If a stranger or neighbor might be in abusive relationship or domestic confrontation:
DON'T HESITATE - CALL THE POLICE.  They will not know who called, nor should you feel guilty about bringing the police into the situation.  Sometimes all a victim needs is intervention to have the strength to leave.

If you are in an abusive relationship: 
Call the National Safe Hotline 1.800.799.SAFE.  It's anonymous.  They can give you local numbers to seek help.  Get counseling.  When are you are ready, turn to family and friends. They will love you and support you.

...but, really, the most important message is: be an advocate.  Spread the word.  Stop domestic violence.

Tea isn't fast food

My first exposure to gourmet tea delighted me, and my efforts to duplicate that experience frustrated me. Quickly I realized that not only did I find a myriad of different teas coming from a dozen different locations, but no two teas sharing the same name were entirely alike. Making the same tea twice never produces the same result in the cup, owed to a tangled mess of factors including varying water hardnesses, water temperature, storage conditions, ambient temperature, tea equipment, pouring styles, steep times, and incidental leaf quality, amongst many others. One characteristic makes tea simultaneously exasperating and fascinating: tea is difficult.

"Learning" tea--learning to identify tea, select tea, use teaware, brew tea--takes patience, time, and care. This learning process takes shape mostly through trial and error, which solidify into some tea truths for the individual brewer. For example, early in my tea path I purchased my first oolong, a tie guan yin, and it delighted me. I finished off all I had in a week. Wanting more, I bought another tie guan yin, expecting equally delicious results. While enjoyable, the second tie guan yin was so different from the first, I could hardly believe they shared the same name: their tastes and aromas were different, one flowery and the other vegetal, and though when dry their leaves appeared identical, when brewed one had tender deep green leaves and the other leathery yellow-green leaves. Worse, I soon discovered that just because some tea claims to be something, doesn't mean it's true. In all likelihood, the first tea was tie guan yin, and the second was its poor substitute, ben shan.

When I approached forums and chatrooms with this dilemma, "Why does this tie guan yin taste vegetal?" I received diverse advice and commentary. Some people advised me to adjust my brewing parameters: use less leaf, lower temperature, shorter steeps. Others advised the tea might have staled or was of low quality, and asked where I purchased it and how I had stored it. The answer, obviously, was complicated, prompting me to research online. There were several dozen tie guan yin teas for sale online. Some vendors put tie guan yin with green tea, some said oolong tea was "between green and black tea", others identified it without reference to green or black tea but within its own category. Tie guan yin was heavily roasted, medium roasted, light roasted. It was from Anxi, Zhejiang, Guangdong, and rarely in Taiwan. It could be fresh, slightly stale, or it could be aged. More confusion: China, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia all had their own fist-shaped oolongs, and within these countries more than one varietal of fist oolong (tie guan yin, ben shan, huang jin gui, fo shou, mao xie, etc.) could be grown.

Each vendor offered different brewing instructions, no two entirely alike. I absorbed what I could from the various sources and tweaked my approach in various ways until I could manipulate the tea into something I enjoyed more. Eventually, I bought better tie guan yin and made the vegetal stuff into iced tea adding a drop of orange blossom water for palatability.

Playing around with oolong parameters is a lot of fun. Learning about oolong's complexity is interesting and rewarding: frustrating, but worth it.

This confusing, often contradictory information, although it didn't fix that mediocre oolong, did bring a diversity of opinion prompting questions that ultimately helped me when identifying and brewing other teas. I changed my approach, and noted the results. Moreover, as more vendors' teas went into my cup, the "truth" of tea fractured further: vendors present a truth about tea with at least some "spin" to raise the consumer value of their teas. They present information to sell their teas as authentic, well crafted, and well stored. And who can blame them? The job of marketing any product is to increase its consumer value, and if they do so with anecdotal information about the tea or general information about the tea genre, they add to the knowledge of tea available to consumers. However, they often use catchphrases like "traditional production" and "proper storage" with a strong sell of assurance that implies consumers should doubt other vendors: you can trust our tea.

The worst example of this came from a vendor whose teas have never impressed me, but who carries teaware I've liked. At the World Tea Expo, one of their high level employees, talking about their pu'er, said it was from a mountain without roads, which ensured that the tea was from the old trees on said mountain. He warned that many villagers on other mountains were trucking in low elevation pu'er and pu'er processed from green and black tea varietals to sell at the same premium price of the real mountain mao cha. When I explained that the cakes I produced came from a minority family on Nannuo who I saw picking the tea they then processed into mao cha before my eyes, he had the (ludicrous) balls to say I had probably been taken advantage of in the manner he warned about. I shrugged it off, thinking to myself that it's just as easy to carry bags of maocha on motorcycles to any village on any mountain, and unless either one of us supervised the production from start to finish, neither of us could claim 100% security in our tea.

I mention this because it illustrates part of the problem in answering the question, "How do you pick pu'er that will age well?" An esoteric tea from an area considered a marginal region by the dynasties and even the PRC itself, we know little about pu'er, and what we know we know without certainty. The significant factor of security stands in addition to other significant unanswered questions surrounding pu'er and aging: the effect of varietal, the effect of new production methods, blended region cakes versus single mountain cakes versus single estate cakes. We don't even know what flavors to look for, nor how we should weight flavor when considering pu'er for purchase.

When someone asked, "what should I look for in an ageable pu'er?" I had a different answer last year than I did the year before, and so on. Today, I explain that there are many theories, that the answer is unclear, and that people should experiment for themselves and read as much as they can. I might have said, "long aftertaste, feeling lingering in the throat, whole leaves, if it's bitter it should be after you swallow, it shouldn't taste like green tea or oolong too much, it should make you feel something (qi), little to no huang pian, not too smoky, and it should preferably be from older trees in Xishuangbanna or Simao counties." But, we have decent old tea from Vietnam, and we know Thai leaf has been used in the past. Traditional minority productions used to occur entirely indoors around wood-fired woks and were usually very smoky, but seemed to age fine. I've had tea "golden age" and "classic era" pu'ers with huang pian that had wonderful flavor and mouthfeel. I've tasted machine-pressed cakes from the 70s that satisfied me despite their broken leaves and machine compression. So, ask again, "What makes a good pu'er to age?" I shrug. We don't know. I won't go into storage conditions and approaches; suffice it to say that the factors are numerous.

But we speculate. We try teas and describe their flavors, mouthfeels, energies, tenacities. We take pictures. It's fun. I relish thinking about my own stock and what it will yield in the future, and I speculate in writing on this blog with nearly every young pu'er I try. But every speculation has a caveat. I don't really know. Neither does anyone else, no matter what they claim. Frustrating that such an important issue remains largely subjectified--but still very fun.

For all these reasons, because "knowledge" of tea often largely is opinion, an open mind and the allowance for growth and change is necessary for tea. Someone once told me--over cups of tea, actually--that learning can't happen unless you allow that there's something beyond your current knowledge. It was humbling to hear, but good for me. I look forward to changing my mind.


Tennis Tuesday-A Babe in the Woods

Today is the first in my new series..."Tennis Tuesday."

Those of you who have experienced the absolute absurdity of USTA team tennis have probably had similar experiences. (Please share-I need to know I'm not alone!!)

If you haven't, trust me, for all the craziness, it's totally worth it, and I love it. (But hey-I'm a masochist...)

My goal for this whole experience is to find a team captain who is normal. So far that dream has been a little like searching for a unicorn, or a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Legend says it exists-but no one has actually seen it.

And so my story begins...

Three and a half years ago I found out about women's team tennis. "Cool," I thought, "what a fun chance to be on a team! Where do I sign up?"

I was very proactive and the owner of my tennis club introduced me to the captain of our ladies' 3.5 team. She sized me up and agreed to hit with me. After about an hour we left the court and sat in the lobby. "You can join." She informed me. I smiled. "You're IN." She repeated. I heard her the first time, and then realized that I didn't get excited enough. "GREAT-Thanks so much!!!" I replied, mustering as much enthusiasm as I could. She liked that much better. I didn't realize how grateful I should be for the honor.

It was a foreshadowing of things to come.

We held some team practices and for the most part everyone seemed nice enough. (Although there WERE a couple of girls who were totally sizing up the new kid (me) and seemed a little over the top) But that's a whole 'nother story.

Anyway, the day of our first match rolls around. I show up at the club in sporting my new team uniform wide eyed and ready to have some fun. Little did I know.

The first thing I heard was a gal from the opposing team telling a friend that she was so nervous that she puked on her way to the match. Bad sign.

The rest of the players started to file in. Their team...blond, clad in fancy sweat jackets and holding bags with at least two racquets in them.

Our team, a hodge-podge of hair dos and body types with one common denominator...none of us looked like we had just stepped out of hair and makeup.

I started to understand why that lady heaved out of her Lexus SUV on the way to the club.

My partner and I went to our assigned court and met our opposing team. A miniature blond, ripped like a mini Hulk Hogan and the only brunette on their team (who actually looked like she would fit in much better on our team!)

The match go under way, and it was a blur. All I remember is that every shot I hit was returned FULL FORCE by the little blond. She leaped, she dove, she sprinted. It was incredible. Occasionally her partner managed to get her racquet on the ball. Unlike the blond, the brunette made some mistakes. When she did, the blond berated her and told her exactly how to avoid f-ing up the next point. Ouch.

They beat us in 2 sets and we hit the lobby for some refreshments.

I noticed the brunette sitting on a couch looking sheepish while the blond wolfed down a plate of strawberries. I thought I'd be friendly and make conversation. ( I did mention that I'm a glutton for punishment didn't I?)

"Wow" I commented to the blond. "That was a great match. I wish we could have gone to three sets because toward the end I felt like I was starting to play much better."

Her reply, "No matter what you tried, I would have figured it out."

Okay...let me try again.

Me, "Were you a gymnast or a runner? You're in really great shape."

Blond..finger pointing at me. (No lie) "I'm a TENNIS PLAYER."

No shit bitch. Conversation over.

More craziness next week. Thanks for tuning in to "Tennis Tuesday."

Like Wimbledon-only without the manners.

Your assignment (if you choose to accept it)...

Let's face one likes a fat alcoholic. Skinny alcoholics, on the other hand, are all the rage...(think Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Amy Winehouse or is she a drug addict? Whatever, she's skinny isn't she? That's all that counts.)

Anyway, if you want to be super cool, like these gals, try these fab recipes for Low-Cal Cocktails-they look yummy. Let me know what you think!

104-calorie Mojito

6 oz. diet lemon-lime soda

12 mint leaves

1/4 lime sliced 1 1/2 oz rum

5 to 8 ice cubes

Pulverize mint and lime in glass.

Add soda and rum.

Stir well. Add ice. Garnish with mint and lime.

You save 146 calories!!

115 - calorie Margarita

6 oz. diet lemon-lime soda

1 1/2 oz tequila

1 packet sugar free lemonade flavored drink mix

2 tbsp. lime juice

5 to 8 ice cubes or 1 cup crushed ice

Stir first four ingredients together and pour over ice, or for a frozen version, place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

Garnish with a lime wedge.

You saved 625 calories!

P.S. You might want to mix up a pitcher of these before "Tennis Tuesday" my new series on my trials and tribulations on the courts of suburban Jersey. Trust'll need it.

If I failed my test, this is why...

Mother of the Year

Now there are some eyebrows that make a statement!!!

Conversation with my 4-year old this morning.

C: Do all ladies become mothers?

Me: Only if they want to have children.

C: When I have kids I'm going to leave them with a babysitter. Kids ask for too much stuff and I'll tell them they can't have my money. I'll be at Radio City Music Hall. (She wants to be a Rockette.)

What a heartwarming moment. I'm so glad I've fostered such a spirit of generosity in my child.

I've lost my mojo...

Just because my friend Doug "Just Did It" doesn't mean I'll be following suit. It's a really cute idea. But I don't think I have the mojo for it. My husband, on the other hand, has mojo to spare!

My husband thinks Doug is brilliant because every man in America is going to buy this book for his wife.

Once he reads the book, I'm sure I'll be hearing alot of...(insert British accent) "Should we shag now, or shag later?" (insert New Jersey accent) "Oy vey."

Okay, enough already with the INSERT. (Why..."does that word make you HORNY baby??")

Damn you Austin Powers and double damn you Doug and Annie!!!

Footnote: Even if you don't plan on doing the nasty every day for 101 days, you SHOULD buy the book. Doug is very entertaining and I'm sure his spin on this subject will make for great reading.

You go Doug!

My childhood friend (and my sister's prom date) wrote this book. Currently he and his adorable wife Annie are on a book tour and have appeared on "The Today Show," "The View" and various other talk shows. Fox Studios has purchased the movie rights, so we may all be going to see "Just Do It" on the big screen someday. Don't let the subject matter turn you off. This book is about relationships, love and reconnecting. JUST BUY IT!!! (Available June 24th at a bookstore near you.)

Here's a brief synopsis on the book:

Creeping into middle-age and saddled with work deadlines, child-rearing, homemaking, and fourteen years of togetherness, an ordinary, happy but harried couple set an outlandish goal: to have sex for 101 consecutive days--no excuses (not even the flu, late-night child wanderings, or flat-out exhaustion).

What ensued is by turns hilarious, tender, and seductive, including sexual romps in hotels (both cheap and classy), at an ashram, in a basement, atop boulders and unstable easy chairs, but most often in their own bedroom, which they dubbed the "sex den." As Doug and Annie Brown literally screwed their way through months of a cold Colorado winter, they turned up the heat by attending the Adult Entertainment Expo in Vegas (the Oscars of the porn world); taking Bikram "hot" yoga to get limber; and stocking up on candles, Viagra (just in case), lube, lingerie, and sex toys galore.

But besides the awe in their ability to get it on day after day--and actually enjoy it--they were more surprised and touched by how much closer they became, relishing conversations, holding hands, hanging out in hip coffee shops together instead of in the aisles of Target, and firming up (no pun intended) a relationship that already seemed as good as it could get.

Seeking out babysitters, getting fit, and dressing up, these two forty-year-olds began courting each other the way they did when they first met in their twenties, only seven moves and two pregnancies later. As Doug Brown lays everything bare--from his triumphs to his tanks (yes to making love on an exercise ball; no to Tantric sex tricks), we get an inside look at the male mind and discover that a good husband and a good dad can also be one hell of a lover.

The jolt that every marriage needs and longs for, Just Do It proves that even when it feels like there’s never enough time or energy, trust Annie and Doug...THERE IS.

2007 Yongpin Hao Yiwu Zhengshan (Spirit of Yiwu)

Another in the Spirit of Yiwu tasting from Puerhshop.

Fat whole leaves on the stem, loosely compressed, uniform throughout the cake, make the leaves of this cake the highest quality of the offerings in the sample set.

2007 Yongpin Hao Yiwu Zhengshan - dry leaf

One odd thing about the tea: it does very well in a pot, but gaiwans don't make this tea shine. In a pot, this tea is thick in flavor. In a gaiwan, this tea is thin, despite having the same aroma. I can't place what factor does this, but with many differences between pots and gaiwans, any of them could explain it: differences in heat retention, thickness, porosity, and/or pour time. Either way. In both cases, the aroma coats the nose with the usual straw smell, with finishing spice, maybe cardamom or cinnamon.

2007 Yongpin Hao Yiwu Zhengshan - infusion 3In a pot, the Yongpin Hao Yiwu Zhengshan offers syrupy texture, flavor of dry grass, and lingering sweet aftertaste. When it cools, rather than being bitter or sour, it becomes salty. The vegetal notes taste sweet, like the way grilled zucchini or eggplant is sweet, kind of gourd-like, and at times buttery. Oddly enough, I found no florals in this tea. It activates the sensors on the hard palate. Lovers of young sheng, like myself, would probably like this tea. Collectors, too, maybe: it tastes like "factory" tea without the bitter and smoke.

The only bad is it's a bit metallic in flavor at times, doesn't brew well in a gaiwan, and is temperature sensitive: anything under a full boil doesn't give the best flavor. But these are all small complaints. Actually, one thing that could be bad is that, while this tea tastes great, it tastes awful after eating something sweet, like botched green tea. Maybe, though, any sheng pu'er would taste that way after eating something sweet, like mixing cranberry and milk.

I really enjoy this tea. I've drunk almost all my sample.

2007 Yongpin Hao Yiwu Zhengshan - spent leaf

Who knew? (Not me)

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that my eyebrows were looking less than well groomed. Rather than go through the time and expense of a professional waxing, I took a tweezer to them and thought they were lookin' pretty good.

Little did I know...

My neighbor, who I love and who has great taste, told me that she had just returned from a visit to the "Arch Angels." The what??! Yes, the "Arch Angels." They are two women who all the ladies in the know go to to have their eyebrows done to perfection. Apparently the shape of your eyebrows can really make a huge difference in your appearance. I have to admit, my friend's eyebrows were a work of art. She opened my eyes to a whole new world.

I started noticing other people's eyebrows and now I GET IT! Sooo, for the next couple of weeks I will be growing in my overzealous pluck job, at which time I will truck my hiney over to the "Arch Angels" for a $28 eyebrow makeover.

This could change my life. (And it's sooo much cheaper than Botox.)

An Experiment with Pu'er Flowers, 1999 Menghai Mini Bing (Silk Road Tea)

1999 Mini Menghai Cake - wrapperMy guest reviewer from before, Davin, purchased some "Fleur de Pu Er" from Le Palais Gourmet. The same day, I received a package of tea I purchased from a friend who wanted to unload some of his surplus. He generously included a few freebies, amongst which was the 1999 Mini Menghai Bing from Silk Road Teas.

We decided to do a two-part experiment out of curiosity. Because some vendors have claimed that including tea flowers in pu'er cakes was "traditional" or the "indigenous" way of making tea (oddly enough, tea plants flower in fall, and pu'er is supposedly traditionally made in spring...hrm...), we decided to brew, side by side, the 1999 cake with and without tea flowers, to see how it fared.

Before the meat of the post, I'd like to mention that I have seen only 1999 Mini Menghai Cake - cake and flowersone cake include tea flowers, the 2004 Rongzhen Factory cake formerly offered at Hou De, currently on offer at Puerhshop. I have never tasted nor seen any aged tea from the 1920s or after that included flowers. In fact, the only tea I've seen that does is the 2004 Rongzhen cake. I can't trace the documentation, because almost nobody seems to be selling these flowers currently (only Rishi Tea and Palais Gourmet, the latter may have sourced from the former, and neither gives information). If anyone has any source information on the history of the use of tea flowers in China, please contact me.

Another bit of information: according to a 2002 study at the Institute of Biochemistry at National Taiwan University, tea flowers have nearly the same antioxidant levels, but far less caffeine, than actual tea leaves. If you want the benefit of drinking tea but are caffeine sensitive or want to avoid caffeine, these might be for you.

We used competition tasting sets and identical weights of tea, 7 grams of the cake. In the tea flower mix, we used 1.5 grams of tea flowers, about 8 blossoms.

Parameters: 7g leaf, 7g leaf + 1.5g flowers, 120ml tasting sets, boiling remineralized RO water with bamboo charcoal. timing: 5s rinse. 10s, 10s, 15s, 10s, 10s

1999 Mini Menghai Cake - cake closeup Pu'er flowers

A couple of things stood out to me. First, the 1999 cake--looking far younger than 8-9 years old--had some aged taste to it. Second, the aroma of the leaves, without flowers, resembled bbq sauce: sweet, spicy, smokey. With the flowers, though, the aroma was floral, orchid, honey, and masked the smoke. Initially, the leaves-only mix tasted flat, and the leaves with flowers tasted rounder, softer, finished longer, and had a thick, syrupy texture.

1999 Mini Menghai Cake - comparison (red side is flowers)
Without flowers on left, with flowers on right

But which tea we preferred alternated from brew to brew. Some brews, the leaves-only brew offered aged flavor that hit the gullet the whole way down. Other times, the roundness and soft texture of the flowered pu'er softened bitterness and awkward adolescent flavors found in the leaves-only mix. Both, at times, were very astringent and drying, and both sometimes had none. In the fourth infusion, the difference in flavor and aroma was so subtle we couldn't distinguish one from the other. The fifth infusion then reversed this, and they were very distinct: the flowered version stayed on the palate much, much longer.

1999 Mini Menghai Cake - spent leaf (no flowers)
Without flowers

1999 Mini Menghai Cake - spent leaf with flowers
With flowers

Ask me which I'd prefer to drink, and I don't think I could say. Davin says the tea was more interesting with flowers, but not necessarily more enjoyable. I agree: the age of this tea gives it some strange pubescent flavors, so it was a weird comparison. Even without the flowers, this mini bing needs more time; it's not wonderful to drink, yet. With its interesting mouthfeel and relative power after 9 years of very dry storage, I think it has some promise.

As mentioned, we intend to experiment again. Next time we intend to test if the flowers, which overall lend a very muted flavor and subtle aroma, blend well with shu pu'er.

2007 Guanzizai Yiwu Zhengshan (Spirit of Yiwu)

2007 Guanzizai Yiwu Zhengshan - sample This Yiwu cake was one of four members of "The Spirit of Yiwu" tasting set. I visited their distributor in Kunming and tried a two of their cakes, and remember at the time thinking they were passable, not exceptional.

The leaves of this cake are of medium size. The sample I received was all one layer--the face of the cake--so I can't say too much about the leaf.

This "Yiwu Zhengshan" bing fits in with my opinion of their cakes from before. Thin, bland, but with decent energy/caffeine, it tastes more like good green tea than sheng pu'er, even though it shares sheng pu'er's fertile, nearly floral scent. When I encounter bland young sheng it rouses my curiosity, usually resulting in a test overbrewing. Overbrewed, the tea is floral, biscuity, smokey, and otherwise flat.

The flavor sticks to the sides of the tongue, but doesn't extend past the back of the tongue. It becomes bitter around the 6th infusion, an unpleasant full tongue bitterness like long jing brewed too hot. It does, however, get a bit lemony and sour. It doesn't cause salivation; instead, it dries the mouth. It does, though, have a heady qi that's obvious from the second infusion onward.

In later infusions, it gets a little meatier, as though what good maocha used in this cake has surpassed the weakened flavors of the lesser maocha. However, the dry mouth remains, sour remains in the initial taste, and, perhaps left over in the mouth from previous infusions, the unpleasant bitterness haunts the tongue after each swallow. 2007 Guanzizai Yiwu Zhengshan - brew

While it seems I'm being harsh with this tea, I have had worse. In the spectrum of pu'er, this is not that bad. Still, taking it for what it is, removing it from the context of other pu'ers I've had, I can't drink it with pleasure now, nor with fond thoughts of its future. But, not having aged my own stash for more than 4 years, I can't really say, nor can most anyone else.

The leaves appear blended, a mix of bigger, mostly whole hand-picked leaves with machine-harvested smaller leaves and bits. The bigger leaves show signs of oolong oxidation, with many reddened leaf borders and reddened central veins. It was odd to me that this tea's leaves displayed more oolong traits but tasted green, while the leaves of the Tongxing Yiwu from yesterday showed almost no oxidation but tasted sweeter. Looks are deceiving.

2007 Guanzizai Yiwu Zhengshan - spent leaf

Turn that frown upside down!

As you may recall, I was a bit P.O.ed yesterday. I had a pretty hard time letting it go, so I decided to try to do something positive.

Sooo, today I made some calls to some people in my life who I have been neglecting and I followed through on some favors I've owed.

Having someone break a promise to me was a wake up call. It hurts when people say they're going to do something and then they don't follow through.

I also received an apology phone call from the woman who did me wrong. Some people advised me to let her have it and tell her off. I chose not too. In the long run I have to see this person at least a few times a week, why create a battle? I don't really trust her anymore, but I'm not going to go for her throat.

I wonder if she knows how close she came to feeling the sharp thud of a rock on her cranium? Lucky for her I'm such a mature, level headed person-damn I love myself.

2006 Tongxing Hao Yiwu Gu Cha (Best of Puerhshop)

This is an offering included in the "Best of Puerhshop" tasting kit. Just an FYI, the tasting kit promotion ends June 30. Luckily, though, this and many other tea samples are still available separately.

2006 Tongxing Hao Yiwu Gu Cha - dry leaf

The dry leaves come apart easily; it was loosely compressed or has become so with 2 years of age. I notice this is the case with stemmy cakes like this one. They tend to fall apart with little pressure.

After a quick initial wash, poured over my pot as a thank you, I commenced a second tasting of this tea. I already tried it twice at work, and wanted to give it more attention.The wet leaves smell like dried out fallen leaves with some back notes of fruitiness.

2006 Tongxing Hao Yiwu Gu Cha - brewThis Tongxing Hao has a few characteristics worth mentioning. First, it has a wonderful smooth, round, silky texture, similar to great soy milk. Second, aside from its light fruitiness (which borders on oolongishness in middle infusions), it has a distinct creamy/milky flavor that reminds me of Vietnamese leaf after wet storage. Third, like the "truly wild" cakes, this tea also tasted sour at the finish, mostly as the tea cooled.

There is some old tree material in here, though I don't know how much; the wet leaves are uniform, showing no visual evidence of blending. The brew never became bitter, and like good old Yiwu tea, it caused a lot of saliva production and could be felt in the throat. A fleeting mintiness appeared at the tip of the tongue and disappeared as quickly.

All in all, at its current price of $17.50/cake, it could be a good buy. It's sweet enough to drink now, but has the "feel" of a tea that could possibly age well, assuming things like throatiness, salivary activation, mintiness, and aftertaste are markers of such things.

2006 Tongxing Hao Yiwu Gu Cha - spent leaf

Temper Temper!!

Since I fear certain parties might read this blog, I can't give details about why I'm upset. All I can tell you is I feel really pissed about something right now.

If I were a five year old I'd stomp my feet and scream "IT'S NOT FAIR!!!" I'd probably cry and lash out. But I'm not five. I'm a grown up, and I know that life isn't always fair. So I will grin and bear it. I'll count my blessings, things could be worse. Life is pretty good and I should be thankful for that.

Sometimes when friends don't play nice, you have to find some new friends, or lower you expectations for the ones you have.

(And all those other cliches we tell ourselves when things don't go our way.)

I'll remain calm and move on with my life.

But every once in awhile I'll fantasise about being five, and hitting the person who dissed me in the head with a rock. A REALLY BIG ROCK.

Reuniting with Marshaln...

The last time I saw Marshaln was in Shanghai in February or March of 2007. I was spending hours and hours with Thom, Action Jackson, and alone at the Tianshan and Jiuxing tea markets there, and gaining lots of weight eating a dozen red bean cakes everyday. The last time I'd seen Marshaln before then was in Beijing, at the very beginning of my journey through China, frittering our time away at Maliandao:

L & J at Maliandao

The first time I met Marshaln, Phyll Sheng was there. Wet met at Chado in Pasadena to share some tea and get to know each other:


Phyll Sheng disappeared, and Marshaln had been to Taiwan and back doing research.

This past weekend, Marshaln was back in LA for a quick trip, so some of us got together Sunday afternoon and rejoiced in his arrival and shared some tea. Phyll Sheng rose from the dead to join Danica, Nick, Davin and me at the home of Will and Louise, where we drank a slough of teas.

Tea Affair for LZ - Sassy Danica

Danica's drunk on tea. Nick is comparatively serious.

Danica took the helm at first and brewed us some green teas from ITC, an anji baicha and a long jing. The baicha was mild and vegetal; the long jing steeped into something strange, almost rotten tasting.

Tea Affair for LZ - ITC Imperial Green 1 Tea Affair for LZ - Bottoms up!

Left: Anji Baicha Right: Bottoms up! (LZ's and Davin's hands)

Lawrence made some approx. 20-year aged oolong in a beautiful three-footed pot, both of which he purchased in Taiwan, then some 1980s baozhong from Houde. Will ended the day's brewing with some tasty "old tree tea" Wuyi oolong. We ended with a Da Hong Pao from Teacuppa, which brewed better in Danica's pots the first time I tried it.

Tea Affair for LZ - LZ with Kitty 2 Tea Affair for LZ - Danica, relaxed

Left: LZ, Nick & Cat Right: Danica relaxes

It was excellent to see him again, and rewarding to hang out with a small part of the LA Tea Affair gang.

These kinds of tea meets offer the valuable opportunity to learn about tea from several people in a single meeting, discussing their approaches to gongfu brewing, tea ware, water, and the like. When confronted with a diversity of opinion on subjective matters like tea brewing, I consider myself lucky to have the opportunity to soak it all in and supplement my education. Because this learning loosens the foundation of my tea brewing, I leave their company ambivalent about particularities of tea and brewing tea, eager to experiment, while waiting to meet up again.

Pooh Hoo!

Today my daughter's third grade teacher sent home a newsletter with all the upcoming activities for the last two weeks of school.

At the end of the letter she put a quote...

"If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together...there is something you
must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you
seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if
we're apart...I'll always be with you."

-Winnie the Pooh

I don't tend to get choked up very often. (It's amazing how Valium and vodka mellow me out! ) :) But this quote brought up alot of emotions for me.

First of all, I cannot believe how much my 8 year old has grown and matured in the past year. It hit home for me that before I know it she'll be a teenager. My five year old starts kindergarten in September and I will miss her terribly! She's ready and I know it's time.

As my girls grow up, I hope they remember those wise words from that cute little bear. That they are brave, strong and smart and that even though they are growing up, Mom is always with them and loves them more than words can say.

Haiku Friday-Sad Little Machine

Haiku Friday

The days are longer
Temperature's a risin'
Lonely computer

How I neglect you!
You sit alone and untouched
The hours tick away...

So many late nights
In the deep freeze of winter
You sat on my lap

You entertained me
I lovingly tapped your keys
You knew my secrets

Now I've replaced you
With surf and suntan lotion
Family comes first

Be patient...and wait...
Labor Day will soon be here
And I will be back...

Footnote: This doesn't mean I won't be blogging, it just means that it's getting harder and harder to sit down at my computer now that the weather is so nice! I miss it.