Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Tea Time for the Soul
Sometimes life knows better than I do about what I need.
Recently, I came home to a phone message from my Turkish friend, Saleha, inviting me to an afternoon tea the next day. I called her back to decline. I love Saleha and I love her cooking, but I had a hectic weekend scheduled.
When Saleha mentioned the tea was at 1 p.m., my food loving self piped up: ha, you’ve to drop the kids off at art class about that time anyway. How often do you get Turkish food? My writing self countered: you’ll actually have some peace and quiet, and you planned to write. How often do you get that chance? So they negotiated down to: just go for a little while.
Since the invitation was just for ladies, the Cowboy ended up taking the kids to art class and I went to tea (yes, I brought back goodies for the wonderful man). Saleha had prepared a feast: a red lentil soup, bulgur salad, and two different types of breads. One lady had brought a chocolate-covered Hawaiian bread and another had bought carrot cake. And of course there was hot tea, a beautiful, translucent burnished orange tea. Mine came in a traditional short glass with its tiny metal platter and spoon. I added my sugar and stirred, took a sip. One taste of that sweet, warm tea and my entire being relaxed.
Now I’d chosen my seat specifically to be able to keep an eye on the clock Saleha had hanging on a wall. But then the eating and talking began. I reached for a perfect round bun, shiny and brown, decorated with a sprinkle of black nigella seeds. I bit into the soft, buttery bread and discovered a delicious surprise: cheese and parsley hidden deep in the heart. The Turkish pogca (pronounced poh-cha) is a perfect treat.
Saleha shared the good news of her son’s engagement. Hearty congratulations rang out and more tea was sipped. We teased her about how worried she’d been about finding someone to take care of her son. We talked about our respective countries – Turkey, Jerusalem, Bangladesh, commiserated over bad politics and the expense of air travel.
We spoke of our new year celebrations. A friend spoke of her disappointment when ill health kept one of her children from travelling, but her other children rallied the family and off they escaped to the serenity of Big Bend. They hiked, they laughed, they celebrated family.
Somehow talk turned to fears. One lady treated herself to a spiritual retreat to celebrate the new year and drove to a hill country resort all by herself, terrified that she’d get lost. Well, she made it there and back. We told her, “You did it” and drank more tea.
My friend, Ara, told us about jumping off a cliff to paraglide. I think all the eyebrows around the table jumped to the ceiling and back. Why, we asked her.
“I didn’t have much choice,” she said, adding that she’d been in the company of her youngest daughter and so had to think about what message she wanted to communicate, what kind of example she wanted to set. “Plus,” she added with a shrug, ”all my kids are grown, I had a good life and so I decided what happens, happens.”
I shared my fear of heights and a story about a terrifying car trip to Aspen, where we had to travel a narrow and steep winding mountain road with no protective barriers. And Ara said, “But you’re a journalist and you’ve done so much.” Yes, but I’m also human. And part of being human is being afraid. What we are afraid of is as different as the different shades of human skin –some could be afraid of something as small as a common spider or something as big as death. Do we let fear stop us, or change our course? Do we face it down and work through it? Or do we thumb our noses at our fears and become daredevils? How each of us deals with our fears is what defines us.
Of course, talk turned to tea. The process of tea making, the different types of teas, the use of loose-leaf teas vs. tea bags. I’ve since learned that green tea, oolong and black tea are different classifications determined by how the leaves are processed. However, there are many sub-species of the tea plant and white tea is produced from the mature buds of a rare tea bush found in China.
Saleha shared that in Turkey women often come together for tea parties and wished her friends in San Angelo could visit more often.
Her words reminded my childhood home in Bangladesh. Tea was served at least twice– at breakfast and at tea time (4 p.m. precisely). Tea was made whenever guests dropped in, whatever the time. The Bengali’s tea-drinking habit is one of the few positive leftover legacies of British colonialism and we brew it strong and take it with milk and sugar. With garam cha (hot tea), there had to be some nashta (nibbles) and, of course, adda –a discussion that covered any and every topic under the sun.
So an impromptu invitation to tea by my Turkish-American friend took me half-way across the world and back in time when life was as sweet and nourishing as a cup of hot tea. I left Saleha’s house hours later than I’d intended but full of stories, full of good food and full of happiness. On the drive back, I made myself a promise: I must have more tea parties.
Whenever my mother heard any of us sniffle or cough, she’d rush into the kitchen and brew us some ginger tea to sooth the throat and chase off the cold. As a child, I thought it vile. But as I grew up, I grew to enjoy it. Now I make it if either Alvin or I are feeling under the weather or just to warm us up on a cold, gray day.
½-inch piece of ginger, peeled and crushed
1 cup water
1/8 teaspoon of black tea leaves or a tea bag of your favorite tea (a fruity flavored tea works good)
Sugar to taste
Lemon slices (optional)
Place water and ginger in a small non-reactive sauce pan and bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for about 2 to 5 minutes. Take off heat and add tea leaves and brew to desired strength (I prefer a bright rich color). Using a strainer, pour into a cup. Add in sugar and a squeeze of lemon (if using), stir and serve.