When Weather Isn’t Welcome
Ah, spring! Bulbs are sprouting and minor bulbs are already showing their colors, from snowdrops and snowflakes to winter aconite (Eranthis) and muscari to species iris and daffodils. Rhododendrons and camellias are bursting from bud to bloom. Hellebores are opening their dangling bells and the long arms of Mahonia Charity are tipped with spikes of fragrant golden blossoms. It’s hopeful and heady and exciting and… Uh oh. One look at my phone’s weather app sent my heart plummeting. Snow? Sleet? Freezing roads? Nooooo!!!!!
It’s a bit disconcerting to be so stricken by the threat of a cold snap (and not a truly awful one at that). Ok, fifteen inches is a lot but that’s the worst-case scenario. We might only get a sprinkle, and it probably won’t even last more than a few days, yet I’m as downcast as if a major snowpocalypse was coming our way. It isn’t that the winter was harsh (it wasn’t) or too long (well, maybe). It’s everything, really. After the past few difficult years, last year was so over-the-top awful in so many ways we ran out of descriptive words, not to mention energy. For me, the only really positive part was getting to have my young grandkids several times a week, after a way-too-long hiatus. Their cheerful matter-of-factness and endless curiosity prods me out of my petulance and digs me out of my doldrums. Ok, that and getting my first vaccinated shot (along with other volunteers and staff at our local Senior Center, now a local vaccination station). Ok, and learning that knitting with friends on Zoom is actually restorative. All that definitely feels both positive and hopeful. Maybe I feel better than I think I do.
Tea Time With Dragons
My granddaughter thinks snow would be awesome, the more the better. She just turned five and is fascinated by many things, including snow, unicorns, flower fairies, and dragons. She thinks it’s so cool that dragons can bake cookies with a single breath (who knew?) and they can also heat up a tea pot in a nanosecond. We just discovered a marvelous graphic novel called The Tea Dragon Society, written and illustrated by Katie O’Neill, author of several charming books with ecological and inclusionary themes. This book features small, cuddly tea dragons that purr and nip and require a great deal of grooming. They have little horns or antlers that produce flavorful leaves and fragrant flowers of various types. Harvested in tiny amounts, the foliage and blossoms make magical teas that offer shared memories the dragons carry for their caregivers (not owners!). This gentle, kind story captured our imaginations, and I’m very glad of that.
Cessa is the only girl in the neighborhood and I’ve watched her be drawn into war and fighting games when she only gets to play with the boys, a situation I remember all too well. Alone with me, both grandkids often play gentler games, snuggling their knitted stuffies and dolls rather than just crashing trucks and bombing space ships. I remember being appalled when my own kids abandoned their stuffed animals for trucks and toy guns once they started preschool and I’m relieved to see these kiddos balance the bold with the gentle. After we read the story this morning, Cessa drew a tea dragon she wants me to knit with roses and mint together. During a sun break, we picked garden herbs to make our morning cup of dragon tea. The pickings were on the slim side; despite my fantasizing, it’s really just the tail end of winter here (just heard we might get 15 inches of snow by this weekend, argh!). Even so, we found lemon balm and lemon thyme, rosemary and lavender, and mint. Lots and lots of mint-I think it’s ineradicable, but at least it smells good and tastes refreshing.
Cookies & Dragon Tea
We also mixed up a batch of cookies together. Cessa wanted to make “very vanilla cookies with just a little cinnamon” but said she doesn’t like Snickerdoodles because they are “too chewy and too sharp.” Alrighty then! We came up with a basic recipe that combines buttery vanilla flavor with a sparkle of sea salt but does not involve cream of tartar (which gives a tangy sharpness that we were trying to avoid). We formed balls with a melon cutter, then rolled each raw cookie in spiced sugar before baking them off. The result is just about perfect; crispy edges, a softer, almost creamy center, and a crunchy dusting of spiced sugar on the outside. What’s not to love?
Note: Whole wheat pastry flour gives baked goods a tender crumb, but you can use all-purpose flour if you prefer.
Very Vanilla Cookies With Spiced Sugar That Are NOT Snickerdoodles
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar, very lightly packed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and coriander **
** or use just cinnamon or any spice blend you prefer
Preheat oven to 375 degree F. Sift dry ingredients together, set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream butter with brown sugar. Stir in egg and vanilla thoroughly, then add dry ingredients. Mix sugar and spices in a wide, shallow bowl. Scoop dough by the tablespoon (or use large 2-tablespoon melon baller) into the spiced sugar and roll to coat. Put cookies on baking sheets at least 2 inches apart and bake for 10-12 minutes at 375. Makes about 30 small or 15 large cookies.
Tea Time With Dragons Winter Tea
1/2 cup mint springs (loosely packed)
1 tablespoon lemon balm springs
1 tablespoon lemon thyme sprigs
1 teaspoon lavender foliage
1 teaspoon rosemary foliage
Honey to taste
Put herbs in a tea pot and pour in 3 cups barely boiling water. Cover and let steep for 5-10 minutes. Strain into cups and add honey to taste. Serves 2-3