Category Archives: food

Tea lab: the long slog of comparing two teas

In preparation for our upcoming workshop at the Huntington Gardens on October 20, Linda and I broke down several ways in which the differences between similar teas could be seen/smelled/experienced. As I have often said before, a great tea is only great in relation to the other teas at the table. Either of these teas on their own would have been extraordinary, where it gets interesting is comparing them side by side.

We were lucky to have two samples of extremely high quality Old Bush Water Sprite (Lao Cong Shui Xian) from Wuyi Mountain. Both of these sell for over $60/50 grams. Both of these name the tea master dude who made it, we’ll call them Mr. X and Mr. W. Old Bush Water Sprite is supposed to be picked from old bushes, and where these bushes are grown governs how much mineral content is absorbed into the roots and leaves. Wuyi Mountain is karstic and volcanic and has wonderfully porous rock that enables mist and dew to permeate easily. In some areas the cliffs suck up moisture from the river and excess water trickles down all day long onto happy tea bushes.

The leaves: On the left is Mr. X, on the right Mr. W.
Mr. X smelled slightly fruity, a little tangy like passionfruit, and Mr. W had more of a dark chocolate, roasted Cheerios smell, as if it were roasted for a longer length of time, even though it was actually lighter in color, with more variance across the leaves.

Mr. X

Mr. W

Sometimes the aromas change when you place dry leaves into a heated gaiwan. Sometimes darker, funky smells come out, and lighter, floral ones disappear. This wasn’t the case with these teas, both smelled incredibly rich and clean.

The color: Mr. X is darker, more amber red, compared to Mr. W’s golden brew. Both liquids are very clear, but the tea on the left (Mr. X) is slightly less so. Again, it’s interesting to note that although Mr. W smelled more roasted, the color of the tea is lighter, more orange than brown.

The first steep: Mr. X has a slight vanilla and ripe fruit flavor that happens right up front when you drink it, but there’s a rough edge afterwards, as if the flavor was somehow rushed, leaving a slight harshness behind on your tongue. It has an odd, thin flatness reminiscent of tea that’s been brewed with with tap water (we’re using Crystal Geyser).
Mr. W has wheat and honey notes which glide into your mouth slowly, the flavor is more noticeable after you swallow, which of course makes you want more. The tea is smoother and thicker compared to Mr. X, and becomes more viscous as it cools. There is a feeling that the gaps in between your teeth have been filled with some fancy lubricant.

The fourth steep: We lengthened the brewing time for the subsequent steepings, to see if that made any difference. Mr. X remained slightly edgy, until the fourth steep, when all of a sudden the slight roughness seemed to go away. Oddly enough the tea started to taste rounder than the previous steepings. Mr. W remained a smooth cool cucumber. It would have been interesting to continue brewing, to the tenth or twelfth steeping.

The cup: After five steepings we smelled the empty cups. The aroma from Mr. X was feint and barely perceptible. Mr. W smelled like flowers and honey, and this was still the case after leaving the cups alone for several minutes while we went on a tangent into Hunan Fu Zhuan, which quite literally is drinking tea with mold on it.

The yellow spots on the tea are spores from a fungus called Jin Hua that is cultivated in rice or wheat flour. The tea is inoculated with the fungus and gives it a very sweet taste. I’m not sure how tea is inoculated and why Jin Hua tea is associated with Mongolian Diet Tea but I’ll be sure to find out.

Tea Lab: the Best Tea House (China)

In 2001, my husband and I went to China to research tea and we saw a place on the map in Guangzhou called the Best Tea House (China) Co., LTD. We went in the front door, sat down with a woman named Rainbow, and stumbled out five days later. Some very old pu’er was drunk after hours one night, after the gals in the shop broke off a small piece of a mushroom/turdy looking thing in a very dark (and fragrant) storage room. We were all giggling so much only Rainbow had the steady hand to brew it. They claim it was from 1901 and I believe it. It looked older than dirt. The taste…honestly, does it even matter?


(photo altered to protect the innocent)

After we returned the the U.S. we sent Rainbow some money and she shipped over various teas, porcelain ware that never made it (no easy access to bubble wrap back then) and three-toed sloths made out of Yixing clay.

A few years later we found out Rainbow’s boss (I’ll call him Chevy, since he looked like a Chinese Chevy Chase) had kyped the name “Best Tea House” from Vesper Chan, who had been doing business in Hong Kong under the same name. Copycatting is often seen as a form of respect in China, and Mr. Chan never thought he’d be doing business on the mainland anyway so he didn’t think much of it. A few years ago Mr. Chan decided to open up business in China, and found out he couldn’t use the same business name as his HK shop. So, Chevy’s a little shady. Oh well.

Two of the teas Rainbow sent over have the Seven Sons wrapper, the name for pu’er teas made by the Menghai Tea Factory, overseen by the China National Native Produce and Animal By-products Import and Export Corporation (otherwise known as CNNP), the official government agency in charge of those exact things in its name, (including pu’er) since the seventies. As with anything that old, especially from China, there are many variations in the paper, the font size, the printing, and the tea. Our tea, in the thin wrapping paper that’s very close to crumbling, is in this book.

Most of the pucks she sent were from that year, 2002, but a few of them came with this note, saying that it’s fifteen years old (from 2002, which places it at 1987). I thought it tasted delicious back then but now after another fifteen years this tea is crazy.

The taste is of rice soup with a little bit of date, but there’s an incredible sweet aftertaste that’s so rich and warming if feels like your mouth has been lined with a fleecy sleeping bag.

Next up was the “four gentlemen” set from Denong. The four gentlemen are plum, orchid, chrysanthemum, and bamboo. Each of these are picked ming qian from leaves from a single famous mountain but you aren’t told which one.

The plum tasted like white sugar, the orchid smelled like rock sugar, which made me think it was from an area close to Yi Wu, the chrysanthemum was the thickest tasting with a hint of citrus, and the bamboo, was, in a funny way, manly. Woodsy without being woodsy, a lot of fiber notes, no florals.

We left the pu’er world by trying a stuffed yuzu from Korea. The packaging says Yuzu Citron Tea but according to my handy dandy citrus chart, yuzu and citron are not the same thing.

The flavor of the yuzu is lovely and sweet, and the color of the liquid was like sunshine, but we couldn’t discern any tea flavor. The tea was very broken up, and when I chewed on some unbrewed pieces, and chewed and chewed, after about a minute it started to taste like black tea.

Black Magnolia from the Great Mississippi Tea Company is the third tea grown in the U.S. that I have tried, and it’s always exciting to see the the outline of a state under Origin on the back of the package.

Only problem is that the back of the package also called this tea an oolong, and it had two different brewing instructions, one that said 4 teaspoons for 8 ounces of water, and one that said 2 teaspoons, with a different temperature recommendation. This was all so confusing it left us with an argument of whether the average tea drinker sees “teaspoons of tea” and uses a kitchen spoon or a measuring teaspoon. In either case, I couldn’t heap ANY tea into the measuring spoon because the leaves were too large and 4 kitchen spoons of tea came out to be over 6 grams which is way too much tea to be brewing with 8 ounces of water for five minutes (as one of the instructions said).

To cap off the afternoon we pulled out Denong’s 2008 Lao Ban Zhang (picked ming qian). It looked so innocuous, but one sniff of the leaves (chocolatey) and I started to salivate. I didn’t need to drink any tea. I think my body just remembered what it was supposed to do. Your mouth turns into the best sugary garden hose you’ve ever taken a drink from. The best part of LBZ is that flavor wise it’s pretty unremarkable. This leads to possibly a taste comparison for an upcoming workshop at the Huntington (note to anyone who has managed to read this far, our October workshop is sold out!): a pu’er that has OK flavor and no gan, versus a pu’er with a similar OK flavor but all gan. Now that’s going to be fun.

Separated with my phone at the border of my mind

My friend Jeni Dodd, who used to be a lawyer, teamed up with Jason McDonald, another legalese–>tea leaves person, and headed down to New Mexico this week to help the NM Immigrant Law Center with reviewing, digesting, and writing briefs for the detained immigrants at the border. This is a complicted and nutballs situation, and as positive as one can be in theory I’m sure visiting the Cibola County Correctional Center in Grants and hearing the stories of the separated families and kids sucked.

They have a gofundme set up, but being from New Mexico I wanted to try and arrange for a catered lunch to be sent to the entire staff at the Center. I asked my dear old friend Michelle, from high school, who runs a catering business making her own pastas and amazing Italian food, if she could swing something at the last minute. I texted Jeni to give me the total head count.

Then, the screen on my old iPhone lifted off. The battery had swelled up like a giant zit, rays of lights could be seen shooting out the sides of the phone, but until then it was hobbling along just fine. I took the phone to my pals at UbreakIfix, who were in the middle of dealing with a crazy lady from Miami speaking in rapid fire Spanish. The UbreakIfix guy kept typing into the computer and shaking his head and pointing to the back of the lady’s phone. Her child kept complaining that the password to the free wifi wasn’t working. The woman kept insisting on something, and finally the guy turned the computer to face her/me and I saw that he was showing her a map of Miami, proving there were lots (tons!) of places for phone repair. She was incredulous but finally grabbed her son and left.

The guys replaced my battery, but as soon as I left the store my phone began restarting every few minutes. They wanted to run additional tests and put in yet another battery so I had to leave my phone for an hour. ONE HOUR!

Things I noticed without a phone:
– I had no idea what time it was so I didn’t know when the hour was up.
– Everyone is on their phones
– Going shopping for shirts and sucking down a root beer float takes half an hour, even though the lady who scooped the ice cream confessed she tends to put way too much ice cream in the cup.
– Worrying about missing messages is super intense when it’s 100 degrees out.

Sadly the tests pointed to a motherboard issue, and even putting the old battery back in, cantilevered screen aside, caused the phone to continually restart. Bleh.

At least I was able, back home on my computer, to finalize everything, and sure enough lasagna, garlic bread, ceasar salad, lemon ricotta cake, and ice cold drinks were delivered today.

Hooray for old friends, hooray for the internet!

Tea lab – new and better teas

For those interested, 1001 Plateaus and Bana Tea Company will be hosting a Tea Presentation and Tasting at the Huntington Gardens, on Saturday, May 12, 2018 at 9:00AM. We will have a presentation on the history of Chinese tea and taste something like nine different teas. Why so many teas? Because we can.

Also, it’s spring and that means we’ll have fresh green teas on tap and there’s nothing like drinking the stuff straight off the plane. Unless the trade war throws a wrench in our direction. We’ve heard that exporting goods and shipping logistics have been mired in more silliness than usual. (I remember several years ago trying to ship a small piece of furniture home from China and having to buy bubble wrap at the post office one square at a time. There are a lot of hand signals used in China but I have yet to find the one that means “keep it coming.”)

Apparently the post office in China opened up all of our bags of tea for “inspection” and our contact had to follow the workers around bag by bag to reseal. We can only hope he got to all the bags. It’s just like when I dropped an enormous jug of maple syrup on the kitchen floor and as I tried to mop it up I realized my dog, well trained enough not to lick it but not careful enough to avoid stepping in it, was following me around.

A few years ago we ordered a batch of pressed Big Red Robe tea from our friend Mr. Wang. The tea was inexpensive, as it was made from broken leaves of Authentic tea (only the tea picked from bushes grown in the Wuyi National Scenic Area can be called Authentic) and the guy who pressed it (not Mr. Wang) thought it would be interesting to add some yellow leaves, which are older leaves with good flavor but are not valuable because of their looks. We ran out of these bricks so we ordered a new batch but asked our guy to skip the yellow leaves. (See the difference between the two, obviously the darker one is the new tea)

Not sure what happened but this tea is so unbelievably good it’s not clear what’s going on. I’m pretty sure I like it better than the Jade Buddha Oolong, which is a lot more costly. (The new bricks are $20/18 bricks (8.5g), and you can brew several rounds with half a brick).
This is the MOST VISCOUS tea I have ever had. I’ll just leave it at that.

Next we tried our newest tea (after three weeks mired in customs), our 2017 Mengsong, with a drawing of mine on the label, and after many years of spelling Mengsong incorrectly we finally got it right just before going to print. This is a classic autumn tea. It’s quiet, moody and delicious.

We wrapped up the tasting by trying the “second red” pu’er stuffed mandarin. It’s called second red because the fruit has been on the tree longer than the green mandarin, but not as long as the big red mandarin. The flavor has lost some of the green mandarin’s limey tangy flavor but hasn’t taken on the more medicinal “eau de grandma” of the big red.

So I was on a panel

Here’s me signing copies of The Illustrated Wok, an illustrated recipe book from the creators of The Cleaver Quarterly, along with cookbook author Diana Zheng, Chef Johnny Lee, and Cleaver managing editor Lilly Chow.

The awesome team at Now Serving LA were our gracious hosts serving up beef tendon noodles (from Johnny Lee) and intriguing questions.

Every recipe was assigned to a different illustrator. I was given a zongzi recipe handed down to Chef Danielle Chang by her grandmother (I’m thrilled that her grandmother’s recipe, like my grandmother’s, does not use peanuts).

For the book signing, I had an idea to sign my page with a chop, which actually already has my chop printed on it, but not wanting to be so meta I asked people what their favorite food was and “tried” to draw that.

Here are some snippets:

“Burmese food.”
“That’s a tough one for me.”
“OK. How about a salad.”

“Can you draw me a food pyramid?”
“Yes, but I’ll put butter and cheese on the bottom.”
“OK.”
“What else do you like?”
“I love this store.”
So I drew the window of Now Serving LA on the second level of the pyramid, and on the top I put a golden goblet.
“Oh good, that will be for my boba.”

“Anything not tech related.”
“How about spaghetti and meatballs?”

“Pig. Pig. Pig.”
“Unfortunately all animals I draw tend to look like my dog.”
“That’s fine, I’ll recognize it by the nose.”

“Shrimp… It’s OK if it looks like your dog.”

“Anything baked.”

“This is for my mother-in-law. Oh God. You need to give her a whole fish.”

I’m biased but there are many reasons this recipe book is so cool. Besides the recipes from chefs trying to push Chinese food into a more contemporary space. Besides the illustrations of fantastical eggplants and cherubic soup stirrers. Besides giving up the secret for achieving the best Hainan chicken texture. Besides completely avoiding cultural tourism and Chinese weirdness and potentially fetishistic iconography. It’s brilliant.

Here’s the California bear, looking like… you know who.

(panel photo: Diana Zheng)

Tea lab – relative teas

Linda and I are getting ready for another Tea Lab at the Huntington Gardens in November, so we figured we should drink some tea. We never really plan for what we brew at our tastings, we sort of start with lunch and go from there, fitting in the teas we want to offer in the upcoming workshop, getting distracted with ideas for interesting comparisons, and brewing away the day. Today’s tastings started with a little business and ended with a jar of mother-in-law tea, and us being convinced that whatever we drank today was going to be good. Some days are like that.

We started with a fall-picked Mengsung raw pu’er from our friend Xiao Cao. He had given us a sample of his spring-picked Mengsung, which was great, so great that by the time we drank it, it had sold out. Comparing spring to fall picking is a great way to understand the price difference between the two, or why some teas fail to mention the harvest season at all. Don’t even get me started on what summer-picked tea tastes like.

We decided to pass on the fall tea, and try to elbow our way to the front of line for next year’s spring tea.

Our first comparison was between two relatively inexpensive (and brand new) raw pu’ers that use different methods to bring the cost down. The first tea (Bana Tea’s Little Bing Dao) is made from old trees from the region adjacent to Bing Dao. Bing Dao has become a very famous region lately (ie. $$$$), but sunshine and soil tends to bleed so if you’re lucky some tea trees can score the benefits of a particular mountain without having to bear the price tag.

The second tea is Denong’s Mountain Oasis, made from trees on the young side (300 years, LOL) and not from a particular region.

The LBD was more floral, with a taste of rock sugar whereas the Mountain Oasis was rounder, with a smell of chocolate, less high notes. Nothing surprising here, just good stuff. (LBD on the right, MO on the left, below).

Next up, Brother/Sister teas from White2tea. These teas are made from the same source material (Nannuo), the only difference in taste is the person doing the processing. A perfect comparison to show how the taste of tea can be changed by small differences in personality. “The sister brick is material processed with a shorter kill green phase at a lower temperature, where as the brother brick is processed with a higher flame and fried for a longer time.” It’s not clear whether there were any differences in the kneading/rolling stage.

The brother’s tea was darker (in color and taste) and slightly thicker, rounder (which surprised me, this difference, though I don’t know why), with a hint of honey. The sister’s was sweeter, brighter and just a little rougher around the edges. Fiesty sis.

Last time I was in Yunnan I didn’t get to do the killing green, but the guys let me put some sweat equity into the rolling.

Next we headed into the world of old pu’er, old as in from the 80s and 90s but also old enough to not know exactly what we were drinking.

This bag is from the 90s, and is sort of called half ripe half raw. Say what? I guess there are a few ways pu’er becomes this halfling. It’s possible back then the tea was only partially fermented, sort of. It’s also possible back then things were willy nilly and teas sort of mixed in with each other. Most likely, for this bag, it’s a raw tea that was stored in HK until the early 2000s, which means it was “wet stored,” a term nobody likes to say anymore, preferring the euphemism of “traditional stored” or “half ripe half raw,” or even “great for dimsum.” (Forget the fact the bag says a totally different tea).

This tea was actually really good, much more interesting than this “traditionally stored tea” from the 80s from Ying Kee, which was bland and watery in taste, super thin in viscosity. Makes it a no brainer which tea to keep around.

Finally we got to the mother-in-law tea! Lots of people tell me their parents have an old stash of tea and wonder whether it’s worth any money. Some of these people even show me photos of the tea, in the cabinet next to old mushrooms and dried jujubes, expecting me to give my opinion on the spot. They never want to actually taste the tea, they’re just waiting for the Chinese Tea Roadshow to come to their town.

But this mother-in-law tea was crazy good. It wasn’t earthy at all, tasted like wheat/rice soup, had a very sweet aftertaste, a rich grandmothery warming sensation you only get from old teas, and gan! Who knows what it was (possibly a Yunnan/Guangdong blend, based on other teas she had), but for sure we’re going to take it out of that glass jar and drink it… and drink it and drink it and drink it.

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Acid reflux that is good for you

For those interested, 1001 Plateaus and Bana Tea Company will be hosting a Tea Lab focusing on pu’er tea at the Huntington Gardens, on Saturday, September 9, 2017 at 9:00AM. We will talk about why pu’er is so unique, and why pu’er made from old trees has a lot of gan, the sweet, sometimes cooling sensation that is experienced in the mouth and throat (yup, like acid reflux) after an initial bitterness, and if you can’t taste the gan you shouldn’t be paying the money that is charged for old tree pu’er.

First, a head’s up. The brilliant Cleaver Quarterly will be publishing an essay I wrote on gan in the very near future so I won’t get into it now. It explains everything. Stay tuned!

As with any kind of tasting, one of the best ways to highlight a certain flavor/effect is to drink it side by side with something that lacks that flavor/effect. So in preparation for our Tea Lab we compared a tea with gan to a tea with no gan.

The crazy thing about gan is that if you drink some tea with a lot of gan, it will infect all the teas you drink afterwards. Best thing is to drink the no-gan first and then wait and see if anything happens. And wait and wait and wait.

After a few minutes of waiting you can probably assume there isn’t going to be a delayed reaction so it’s safe to try the second tea.

The no-gan tea was a 2004 terrace-grown raw tea (with a lot of tips rather than leaves) that had a lot of things going for it taste-wise: it was round, thick (being 13 years old), had a good dried jujube taste, almost like a strong white tea. But without the gan it became more like raisin-juice, which just shows that drinking pu’er is more about flavor and sensation put together, rather than flavor alone.

The tea with gan was a 2017 Mengseng made by our friend Xiao Cao. Here he is in his tea room in Yunnan with a tea table from Laos that took ten people to move.

The 2004 no-gan is the tea on the bottom (on the left in the second photo). The color of the leaves is lighter, due to all the tips, but the color of the brewed tea is darker because of its age.

Next we revisited one of my favorite teas, Young Jade from Denong, which I tasted in 2012 when it had just come out. It’s a blend made from old trees grown in three crazy famous regions – Jing Mai, Xi Gui, and Lao Ban Zhang, picked before the spring rain.

Back then it was a little tricky to brew, it easily went bitter if you used too much or brewed it longer than 5 seconds. I had given some of that tea to a friend who promptly brewed it incorrectly and told me he thought the tea wasn’t very good. So much for that friend. Now five years old the tea has a super sweet gan on top of the last remnants of its floral flavors. Five years is roughly the time the date and plum flavor start emerging so there’s a lot going on in this tea. I think because it’s a blend all the sensations happen at different times, or even on different levels of your mouth. There’s a slight puckery taste at the sides of your mouth, and a sweet, vaporous sensation that floats above your tongue like a cloud. My suspicion is that it’s the Jingmai doing that, levitating, since the next tea we tasted was the 2017 Jing Mai (Meng Ben area) also from Denong, so smooth and floral and crisp we stopped drinking tea altogether and switched to water. Those few grams of leaves next to the gaiwan is all we have (for now) of this tea, and when that last little bit is gone that paper towel will be worth rolling up and smoking.

Updated December, 2017 with link to the essay on gan.

Tea lab and snorting catechins

tealab

For those interested, 1001plateaus and Bana Tea Company will be hosting a Tea Lab at the Huntington Gardens, on Saturday, November 5, 2015 at 9:00AM. We will be doing side by side tastings of several factors that can affect how a tea tastes.

Tea tasting is comparative, like running in a marathon. In a race, no matter how small or large the field, you can only win against the other people who have entered, much like how a tea can only be compared to what else is at the table. It’s fairly common to do a tea tasting comparing different types of teas or different price points, but what about brewing the same tea under different circumstances? Beyond the obvious ones like using a porcelain gaiwan versus a Yixing pot, or varying the temperature or type of water used to brew. What about the harvest season? How about if we introduce some vibration to the water molecules? Or compare the same tea which has been stored on different continents?

In preparation for our upcoming Tea Lab at the Huntington Gardens, we thought we would brew a few comparisons. But first, because we knew one of the tests would be a tea brewed with tap water, and we’d also have to drink a tea harvested in the summer, we treated ourselves to some *@@&#^#!! jasmine tea.

That’s right. Haters are going to hate. I hate jasmine tea also, but I mean the stuff that’s known around the world as “jasmine tea” – bitter and smelling like Jean Nate. Those tea leaves have never seen a jasmine flower in their life, their jasmine scent has been sprayed on, much like the machine that coats dog kibble with flavors.

jasminetea

jasminetea2

The real stuff is made by spreading fresh leaves on the ground in a thin layer and covering the leaves with jasmine flowers. The flowers only bloom for one night so in the morning the flowers must be picked out. (BTW – that pretty jasmine tea at the store which still has flower petals mixed in with the tea? The flowers are not adding any flavor to the tea, but they are adding weight. It’s the equivalent of the deli guy resting his thumb on the scale when he sells you bologna but tells you it’s prime rib. Not to knock bologna, but still.)

This process is repeated many many times until the tea has absorbed the scent. The jasmine we drank was made with small tea buds, whose fuzzy hairs absorbed more smell. Probably too small to roll into the usual pearl shape, which is good, since I have a bad connotation with that visual.

jasmine

jasmine-brewed

Sure it tasted flowery but in a subtle way, like you’ve already walked past the house with the flowers blooming in the front yard. There was no astringency at all, no resemblance to drinking something at a Chinese restaurant, and actually it didn’t taste like tea either, more like a precious juice.

On to our taste tests:

– Organic Wild Peony (ming qian) White tea from Fuding brewed with Crystal Geyser versus Los Angeles tap water.
This comparison is the crowd pleaser. You’re pretty certain one of these will taste better, but it’s plenty surprising how salty and gritty that tap water can be.

whitetea

– 2011 Treasures of the Five Mountains raw Pu’er. Stored in Hong Kong, vs. stored in Los Angeles. The larger puck is HK, the smaller is LA. There’s a pretty noticeable difference in color.

la_5mountians

hk_5mountians

This is one of those tastings where it gets personal. Sure the HK stored tea seems more aged, is generally darker in appearance and has more plum flavor. But the LA one is more floral, more complex, in a way, with hints of different flavors, probably due to the fact that Five Mountains is a blend. Aging a tea will flatten the differences out and since the LA tea is “younger” there are more differences to taste.

hk-la1

hk-la

We over-brewed these teas for fun to see what that would do, and the HK one showed it’s age. It was definitely less astringent, and more mellow than it’s twin other. Another great example of how a tea is brewed is just as important to how or where it’s stored, and since most of us don’t have a choice on where our tea is stored…

We ended the day with some magical white powder called catechin. This is the phenol or flavonoid that is responsible for gan, that sweet or minty taste you get after drinking Pu’er teas with high mineral content (and eating bitter melon, ginseng, and a few other foods. More on gan coming very soon). What a better way to experience gan than to lick it off a wet finger?

catechin

The sensation was purer than when you get it through tea, more direct, no tea flavors diluting the experience, and the sweetness lasted a good fifteen minutes or so, especially noticeable when we drank some water. That water, good old plain water, tasted incredibly sweet I wanted to floss my teeth with it.

catechin-wrapper

mo-smello-tea

You can’t pick your neighbors like you can’t pick your family

This being Los Angeles, a home is not a home without a fireplace. I’ve been told that a working fireplace bumps up a home’s value more than a working garage. That’s great because we have neither. Our house is over 100 years old and has a firebox that’s out of code (made for little people who wore the clothes that can fit inside our little closets) and topped with old sandy mortar and bricks which any small wind, pale fire, or decent earthquake could bring down… on top of our neighbor’s driveway, and their cars, and their tenant’s cars, and their tenant’s whatever’s cars.

When we first bought the house the guys from Boston Brick and Stone (of all places) told us that to rebuild the entire chimney to code would require use of the neighbor’s driveway for 2-3 weeks. Ha! We don’t need a stinking fireplace, we said.

Since then, the owner-lady next door has called David a bitch for asking her to remove a dirty mattress she leaned against our house, her ex-gang-banger son has gotten out of jail and moved in, occasionally launching into vile and manic threats interspersed with Trump-fueled immigrant bashing, Spanish love song crooning (he’s not half bad), and the magic car alarm that goes off like a timer. My favorite incident was the night he screamed at another neighbor who just happened to be walking by to call the police because he saw some sketchy people go by. This reminded me of my favorite childhood book called The Monster at the End of this Book, starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover.

The_Monster_at_the_End_of_This_Book_Starring_Lovable,_Furry_Old_Grover

Basically, Grover is terrified to learn that there’s a monster at the end of the book and tries to keep the reader from turning the pages. Turns out… you can probably guess.

The idea of that slight wind, pale fire or decent earthquake bringing down the bricks was weighing on us, so recently we decided to take the easy way out: remove the top part of the chimney (being mindful of the house value, ahem), keep the old firebox, and install an Eco-Smart fire, since we are certainly both Eco and Smart. The chimney guys said they still needed permission for two full days of scaffolding in the neighbor’s driveway. We sighed. We fretted. We considered moving to Topanga.

Finally I asked a man next door who turns out to be the current husband of the owner-lady for permission and he said, “No problem, feel free to knock on the door and let us know which days you need the driveway. Any time.”

I almost shit my pants in surprise. I couldn’t believe it. In fact, I didn’t. The first day we needed access to cut some trees they forgot to move the cars. I don’t know how the gardener got around the situation but he managed.

Day 1.
I wake up early to see five cars in their driveway, including one that is usually always parked on the street, and I think about putting on my heart rate monitor to stay calm. I try not to take it personally, take a deep breath, and try to be grateful for the small things, like, I just got my new night guard from my dentist. Sometimes a certain behavior is not necessarily a declaration of war.
bingbing-wrongbed

Just before the agreed upon time they come out in their cute P.J.’s, and slowly the cars move out, into the street.

chimney-guys2

chimney-guys

The chimney is half taken down (and it’s an easy job, just a slight tap with what looks like a toy hammer and the brick comes loose) when who should come by but our neighbor’s neighbor, who we call the hoarder. Because he is one. He’s got his little wheelbarrow filled with our bricks and he’s carting them back to his safe little place next to his house. Last year he got rid of all his crap and told us “No more! What was I thinking?”

hoarderhouse

Day 2.

chimney-hole

Things are going well so I decide to make some lemon bars for the neighbor. I know they like lemons. How do I know? Apparently they used to take them from the tree in the back yard when the previous owners lived here. That’s before the previous owners put up a fence in the back. Last summer our bamboo sent a shoot underneath this fence and up into their yard. The owner-lady hacked it down and sent it flying back at us like a spear.

lemonbars

They’re not as pretty as they could be, but hey, I’m building bridges, not walls.

I pack the lemon bars up and bang on the door. And get thoroughly rejected. REJECTED! She says, without even opening the screen, that she doesn’t want anything. Nothing.

This being Tuesday there’s no place a lemon bar feels more at home than dog agility class, and there’s something very funny about Lemon Bars in Cars.

lemonbars-incars

dog-agility

Next project: the fireplace itself. Stay tuned. The tile guy says, “Heath tiles suck.”

fireplace

Thank GOD for In n’ Out

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Every weird family wedding is weird in its own way. We attended one last weekend up in San Simeon, and apparently we were not the only ones starving by the end of the night. So we took a few people, including the daughter of a baroness in stunning baroness jewelry who I later found out chose to ignore some “go with moderation” advice from Dennis Hopper, and two nephews of the bride, who deserved their animal style fries by being champions earlier at escorting the bride for her entrance. She had to descend a spiral staircase with her bum knee and tight dress, and with each incremental turn of the staircase the train of her dress twisted and crawled more and more underfoot.

This In n’ Out had a fantastic person manning the grilling station. I’ll admit it was the best double double I’ve ever had, and I was ready for a second one when I was done. But I restrained myself. It may be true that In n’ Outs don’t have freezers, but this one had an arctic themed dining area that could’ve easily stored the patties. And no napkins! So stingy with the napkins. The nephews removed their ties and untucked their white shirts, revealing the bar code stitched to their rented outfits. The shirts stayed white for the duration, proving that only when you care about the clothes will the sauce dribble.

We returned to our warm and dimly lit hotel room around 3 in the morning, which led us the following day to take the easiest route to dinner, the Mexican place not twenty feet from our hotel, with a nice garden and view of the ocean and bad reviews on Yelp.

Turns out our host with awesome pomaded hair was just the beginning. Here, in the middle of nowhere was a place offering New Mexican fare: flat enchiladas, sopapillas, menudo with posole, and a spicy salsa with tons of cilantro. Next to us were two ladies with a mishmash of kids, including a set of twins and a dwarf with no lower legs. One of these twins did not like something (he was maybe 8) and one lady asked the waitress to take it off their bill. When the waitress hesitated, the lady said she didn’t like her taco either. The bill arrived and the two ladies went over each item discussing whether the dish had been worth the amount they were being charged. After deciding they had been over-charged, they agreed not to leave a tip and very slowly started to count their cash, the children watching over their shoulder.

This made me nervous enough to really want dessert, as I watched them leave the table, and the waitress picked up the folder and carried it, loose coins and all, to the register.

Next came the part of the evening where some guy starts to pontificate, and it’s always the guy with the bluetooth still in his ear, and the camera still around his neck. Our man was going on and on in Chinese, about Costco, mostly, and about how important it was to understand what he was saying, and then repeating himself because his friends were not getting it. I really wanted to go over and tell him next time to order the menudo.

stevie_face

The following morning at the free hotel breakfast he was still at it, enjoying the hard-boiled eggs, weird bagels with Down’s syndrome, and orange juice. His friends said that they still didn’t get it, and he said, it was because it had been so late when he was explaining it last night, that they’d get it, eventually, because it was so important.

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