Top Ten Tuesday: Where There’s Tea, There’s Hope

When I was in high school, I discovered the incredibly delicious and fascinating world of tea. I read everything I could about the history of tea, its uses and types in different cultures around the world, and the wide variety of flavors and treatments it comes in. I became so enamored with the culture of camellia sinensis and its offshoots that my first job in high school was at Teavana, hustlin’ leaves and cast iron tea pots to unsuspecting passersby. In the spirit of warm, healthy beverages and an intense history of trade, war, and conflict, I offer you today’s Top Ten Tuesday: Where There’s Tea, There’s Hope!

In London near Buckingham Palace (in 2010).

In London near Buckingham Palace (in 2010).

1. Earl Grey. A black tea! It’s classic and timeless, it goes with breakfast, lunch and dinner. First appeared in England in the 1820s as a Chinese black tea flavored with bergamot (a citrus fruit like an orange found in Italy). There are lots of stories as to why it’s called after an English lord, but no one’s quite sure about the truth on that matter. These days there are tons of companies that produce Earl Grey black tea, some with added lavender, or rose petals, or other mixtures and flavorings. A variant called Lady Grey by Twinings is particularly delicious. I’m off caffeine permanently now, so I’m on the look out for caffeine-free/herbal alternatives to the illusive and mystical Earl Grey’s hazy bergamot flavoring.

2. Dragonwell. A green tea! Pure and simple, with no additional flavoring but for a kind of smoky, grassy taste natural to this particular tea’s process. The leaves are flat and dark green, and the steeped color is a bright, yellow-green. It’s a lovely alternative to sencha, which is a sweeter green tea that burns faster and thus turns bitter more quickly.

3. Genmaicha. Another green tea! It’s grassy and light, and mixed into the green tea leaves are kernels of roasted brown rice, which give a strange toasty flavor to the steeped tea – it’s a hint of popcorn (with no butter or salt, of course) along with a smooth green tea to compliment any meal. My favorite sushi places on the planet have genmaicha as their standard offering when you order ‘green tea’ with your dinner. Deliciousssss.

4. Pom tea from Argo Tea. Herbal tea! At any Argo Tea, I order a Pom Tea with a shot of ginger, and sometimes some lemon to go with it. It’s my feel good tea on sad days, and the shot of ginger kicks your insides up a notch when you’re feeling under the weather. Tart and sweet, it’s probably really good on ice, too, but I haven’t tried that yet.

5. Lemon Ginger from Bigelow Teas. Herbal tea! It’s got probiotics in, too, so your stomach is soothed and healthy after drinking. Strong lemon flavor is balanced with chamomile, ginger, lemongrass, a bit of cinnamon, and some rosehips to smooth it all out. Delicious and balanced. Obsessed!

6. Midsummer Night’s Dream from David’s Tea. Herbal tea! I did not think I’d like a combo of citrus fruits and mint… but I was wrong. This tea has everything: apple pieces, spearmint, gooseberries, marigold, rose, and safflower petals. It is so, so amazing that I can’t help but hold all other herbal teas to this standard of taste quality. GET SOME.

7. Sweet Fox from Adagio Tea. Herbal tea! The cool thing about Adagio is you can blend your own combinations right on their website with ease. I love making new combinations and imagining what goes best with what, and taste testing the results, of course. Adagio Tea has a huge online following of ‘fandom teas’ – folks who create blends online based on different geek fandoms, fictional characters, films, TV shows, comic books, etc. Sweet Fox is a toasty, sweet, dessert blend I made for myself at Christmastime this past year. Light hints of chocolate, almond, vanilla, and rose petals party with honeybush herbal tea. Click here to check it out!

8. Rooibos Earl Grey from Adagio Tea. Yeahhhh so I mentioned I’m off caffeine – this is my current go-to alternative for the classic Earl Grey. It’s got a great flavor and Adagio even offers it in tea sachets if you don’t have time to truck with loose leaves.

9. Tension Tamer from Celestial Seasonings. Herbal tea! I know Celestial Seasonings isn’t the most luxurious brand, but this ginger-based herbal tea includes a startlingly soothing mixture of peppermint, cinnamon, chamomile, licorice, lemongrass, eleuthero (some insanely zen herb), and more. Anyone who thinks herbal teas are boring hasn’t really pushed the boundaries, have they? Also there’s a lady riding a dragon on the box of this tea. A DRAGON. Okay.

10. Throat Coat from Traditional Medicinals. Herbal tea! Okay, I kind of did not want to include this. I have a love/hate relationship with Throat Coat, as do most actors, singers, and performers I know. It’s the number one go-to beverage when there’s a tickle in your throat, a voice hoarse from coughing, or any kind of vocal ailment or pain. It’s got licorice, slippery elm, and marshmallow root in it, each ingredient chosen for its natural ability to heal sore throats and coax voices back out of their hibernation. My personal end-of-sickness-weak-voice-cure is Throat Coat, honey, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper. KaBLAMMO, as the kids say. You’ll be back in (show)business in no time!

And on that note, kids, I’ll leave you with the immortal words of the international sensational chap Professor Elemental. Turn up the volume and get hooked on the Prof’s sick beats!

Top Ten Tuesday: Dat Badger State (ya der hey)

Hi folks!

I’m trying out a thing where I do some themed blog posts. In previous blog incarnations, I’ve had a hard time keeping up with content and this time I’m shooting to plan way ahead so I don’t run out of things to say so quickly. That being said, here’s my first go at Top Ten Tuesday with… drumroll please…. WISCONSIN STUFF! I thought I’d start with the basics, since I’m currently at home taking care of my Dad while my Mom is in surgery.

I have lived in Chicago for the last seven…wait… nine? Nine years? Crap. But I was born in Milwaukee, WI, and proud of it. Here’s ten things (in no particular order) that I freaking love about the Badger State.

1.) Frozen Custard. Gilles Frozen Custard opened on Bluemound Road in 1938, and is the oldest custard stand in Wisconsin. It’s my personal favorite, since my parents’ house is within walking distance, but other quality choices include Kopp’s, Oscar’s, Leon’s, Robert’s, and of course, the bigger chain of Culvers. Gilles and Kopp’s are my custard stands of choice, though. Each stand has enormous, flat burgers, incredible custard, shakes and malts, and a rotating Flavor of the Day (or two, or three). Sometimes, when I’m homesick, I’ll check the FotD for both stands online just to see what I’m missing out on.

2.) Summer sausage. Okay. I know this is also about food. But. SUMMER SAUSAGE, guys. Usingers Beef Summer Sausage is the absolute best. It’s good by itself, it’s good with salty crackers, it’s good on a sandwich with sharp cheddar cheese, mayo, and mustard. I’m just saying. Gotta get some.

3.) Irish Fest. Milwaukee is known for being the City of Festivals. Starting with Summerfest, the summer months in Milwaukee are filled with weekend after weekend of music and cultural festivals at the Henry W. Maier Festival Park right on the lakeshore downtown. Milwaukee Irish Fest happens the third weekend in August every year, and is the world’s largest Irish music and heritage festival. I’m a little biased; for several years in middle/high school I sang in the Milwaukee Irish Fest Choir, and it was a hugely formative experience for me. Irish Fest is a big ol’ party with incredible food, booze, live music, and history packed to the brim. It’s where all the craic (Gaelic for ‘fun times’) is!

4.) Milwaukee Rep. The Milwaukee Repertory Theatre is an outstanding example of regional theatre with quality design, quality venues, and fantastic performances each and every time. Founded in 1954, the Rep produces an 11-play season in a three-theatre venue in downtown Milwaukee. I grew up going on field trips to see various productions there, and it was their high-quality productions and charismatic performances which inspired me to go on to study theatre myself. Also, I love their annual Christmas Carol more than the Goodman’s in Chicago. So there!

5.)Milwaukee Public Museum. Another quality place for all ages to visit and wander! The Streets of Old Milwaukee and the European Village are filled with dioramas of homes from 33 different European cultures that fed into the early settlement of Milwaukee, everything from Irish to Lithuanian to Swiss. It is so cool to look inside the windows and see the clothes, toys, tools, utensils, and furniture from different cultures. The rest of the museum is full of more incredible dioramas and historical details from every continent on the planet. It’s a gigantic game of eye spy that never gets old for me.

6.) Yeah, yeah, okay, fine, Door County. Door County is picturesque, quiet, full of delicious wine, delicious fudge, quaint shopping, and relaxing lakeside inns, B&Bs, cottages, etc. It’s for retired folks and affluent people who can afford a house ‘up North’. But those folks ain’t wrong; it’s lovely at different times of year (I like the fall) and it’s certainly romantic. Also the Peninsula Players is up there – check out some more great regional theatre!

7.) Sprecher. HOME OF THE GREATEST ROOT BEER IN THE WORLD. I refuse to accept any substitutes. No really, it’s my favorite root beer and I don’t like anyone else’s recipe. Founded in 1985, Sprecher also makes a variety of amazing beers and a ton of delicious gourmet sodas! Taking the tour of their brewery in Glendale, WI gets you a couple of free beer tastings at the end, and unlimited soda tastings!!! There’s also a cute ‘beer garden’ with foodstuffs and appropriately German music.

8.) Milwaukee County Zoo. I love this Zoo! Many very happy hours have been spent wandering this park. We went all the time when we were kids, and we still like to go once in a while to enjoy the sunshine and check out the amazing animals. The zoo is awesome to hit up in the winter, too – the animals are strangely more active when there’s less folks in the park.

9.) The House on the Rock. (The website doesn’t do it justice!) Hard to describe, even harder to forget. If you haven’t been to the House on the Rock, you need to go. It’s a bucket list type thing, unless you are near enough to go multiple times – I recommend going a couple of times if you can. There is always more there than you think, and you can spend hours upon hours wandering your first time. It is a stunning collection of weird and eccentric things, a highly unique experience. The House is part architectural wonder, part museum, part abandoned circus. For the uninitiated, check out Neil Gaiman’s novel “American Gods” and prepare for your mind to be blown.

10.) NATURE. So this one time in high school, our earth science teacher took us on a field trip to the Kettle Moraine (that open, sloping part of Wisconsin where the glaciers used to be during the ice age) and we literally ran around in nature all day. It was the best day of high school. Wisconsin’s natural beauty is exquisite, especially in spring and summer. I’m a sucker for fields of wildflowers, pastures of cows and sheep and horses, old barns and farmhouses. I love the occasional wetland reserves and the lush forests. Rural Wisconsin: it’s more fun than other rural Midwestern states!