Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas! Season’s Greetings!

Goodness this Advent by fast. We thought it mightn’t, what with the world coming to a standstill and all that lot. But it went faster than ever, and we didn’t have the usual scrabble for poems. Maybe we’ve recycled more than in previous years, or maybe after 4 years we’ve finally got the hang of the whole daily blogging thing. We like to think it’s the latter, but it could just as easily be the former.

Anyway, today began with another Ti Ora blend from our friend over in Germany. It just calls it Breakfast Tea on the packet and we added milk force of habit…with interesting results! Don’t get us wrong; we liked it very much but we did wonder if maybe there was fruit in there fighting the milk. After the third or fourth si[ we knew there was a flavour in there that was strong so we trotted back to the packet to find…manuka honey.

In one of those funny alignments of the cosmos we had just been hearing about manuka honey as the central tenet of a murder mystery over on The Brownwood Murders. We remembered it at once because the name is just so distinctive. The whole plot point of this murder had been that manuka honey had such a potent tate you couldn’t taste anything – not even poison – over the stuff. No wonder it was coming through the milk!

There were other things too; Manuka honey for instance comes specifically from the manuka plant, and is thicker than standard honey, and much harder to spread. We want to say it’s an Aussie-Kiwi specialty but since we were watching Brownwood for the mystery we could actually be wrong on that one.

Once we saw that we had the second cup without milk, and liked it much better. To be clear, it’s lovely both ways but the honey harmonises much better with the black tea when you leave out the dairy. If you like a strong honey taste though, by all means add milk. It’s quite the interesting, nuanced flavour. Even better, no one got murdered over this stuff.

We wrapped up work early so had our second tea a little after half eleven. This was another black tea, DavidsTea classic Secret Santa. It’s black tea with candy cane mixed in called Secret Santa. To our mind it’s the perfect blend of peppermint and black tea; a bit sweet, a bit sharp in just the combination that makes the odd candy cane a nice treat. Whereas unchecked maple quickly cloys in black tea the zing of the peppermint keeps the flavours in check and it’s got a hint of that cool, refreshing minty flavour we love.

So we have the old knocking shoulders with the new here as we conclude this Advent Tea and Poetry run, and to that end we considered giving you a new Christmas Eve poem. We’ve done it before. But in the end our Anglican sense of tradition won out, and you’re getting our tried-and-tested Christmas Eve poem. Look, we really, unapologetically love Thomas Hardy, okay? Only giving you two of his this year is some serious restraint. And frankly, no one else captures the magic of Christmas so beautifully and with minimum sentimentality. So here, as ever, for your Christmas treat is Thomas Hardy’s The Oxen.

The Oxen
Thomas Hardy

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
 
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
 
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,
 
“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
 
Happy Holidays and Season’s Greetings from all here at Chorister at Home. Dawlish Dachshunds and Miss Marschallin join me wishing you a lovely holiday and happy New Year. And who knows, maybe the oxen will kneel and the New Year will be better than this one flying by on bands of gold. After all, we’re getting some eleventh-hour snow for a white Christmas, so anything goes. Until then, we join Hardy hoping for kneeling oxen and everything else optimistic.
 

Happy Christmas!

Traditions in Tea and Other Things

We’ve just had DavidsTea’s offering – late because it’s been a long day. There was the usual mundane stuff to get on with. Afterwards we put the final touches on the Dachshund Socks for tomorrow. After that we wrapped gifts, which was a task and a half because you really need about four hands to be any good at it. We do not have four hands. Suffice to say we are not particularly good at gift wrapping. Our one really good florist is ribbon curls. We do those expertly. The rest is more or less ordinary.

Then we got watching tv after dinner as per the law of the Dachshund Cuddle. And that led us down interesting theological rabbit-holes, and other less ponderous, Christmassy ones. The other night it was The Holly and the Ivy, and after that it was Christmas in Connecticut. We have now reached the part of the holiday run where we watch The Blue Carbuncle. This is one of the great Christmas traditions. Tomorrow we will listen to the radio version as put on by the BBC; that is another tradition.

So anyway, somewhere between the theological rambling and the giftware, we realised we hadn’t actually had today’s DavidsTea. It’s called Sleigh Ride and it’s a perennial favourite with this calendar, but we first bought it before that, January of the year it came out. It was reduced, because we guess they’d manufactured it for Christmas and were doing some kind of post-holiday sale. It had a seasonal tin and everything. So we’re quite familiar with this one. It’s an apple-based herbal blend, and it’s really quite lovely. It’s tangy because of the fruit, tart because of the cinnamon, and tastes of Christmas. Less of Christmas than the peel-based black teas we favour, but it’s still a good tea, and we still go back to it often.

Earlier we had had an absolutely gorgeous Sencha from Germany. It’s called Sencha Clause and we knew we’d like it as soon as we smelled it. It too has a range of ingredients but the predominant taste is of almonds. Almonds and sencha go beautifully together. It’s smooth, creamy, and sort of like drinking marzipan but without the sweetness. It’s supposed to emulate almond pastry and it hits the mark perfectly.

We had plans for another feline hymn this evening. It was going to save us all kinds of time choosing something tonight. But then we got on to The Blue Carbuncle, so naturally we had to go track down something to do with geese, just to see if there was anything. (Anything not the exasperating closing sentence to Orlando, we should probably clarify.)

We found this. No stolen jewellery, and no wild goose chases. Success!

The Geese
Jane Mead

slicing this frozen sky know
where they are going—
and want to get there.
 
Their call, both strange
and familiar, calls
to the strange and familiar
 
heart, and the landscape
becomes the landscape
of being, which becomes
 
the bright silos and snowy
fields over which the nuanced
and muscular geese
 
are calling—while time
and the heart take measure.

Cat on the Edge of Time

December is starting to addle our brains. We did the backwards-day thing again today, but with the other calendar. We managed to get Germany right. We got up and opened box 22, and in fairness, since that was the only horizontal box, it wasn’t all that hard to figure out. So after we finished up the last of the Winter Earl Grey for breakfast, and mourned its loss because that was a gorgeous tea, we had the darjeeling.

We poured our first pot at the end of a lunch hour mostly spent walking dachshunds and revelling in the sun. But after a morning on Zoom somehow getting out into the sun and the cool weather was more important than actually eating, and we had a lovely, muddy tramp through the ravine. Yesterday was so grey, and we’re just that bit sick of twilight rambles, always worrying about getting back before the light goes.

So anyway, we made the Darjeeling, which was Ronnefeldt Darjeeling, a lovely first flush blend. It’s floral and brews quite strong, but not so much so you can’t drink it without milk. And it got us through a long, dull afternoon. Then it revived us at 4 when the afternoon was finally over.

Now we are drinking Valerian Nights, which was apparently tomorrow’s tea, and we have no excuse because the numbers on the DavidsTea calendar are large-print friendly and everything. But Valerian is a weird one. We always debate getting Miss Marschallin to guest write this tea sample because whereas it makes humans sleepy, it’s Ecstasy to cats. No, really. Worse than catnip. Fill a toy with this stuff and watch them go truly berserk. Od course, it also stinks to high heaven – we’d forgotten just how badly until we did the weekly swap-round of cat toys and got out the valerian…then worried the attic was burning or possibly something had died in the roof. But no, just the reintroduction of valerian into the atmosphere.

This is probably why DavdsTea has revamped the stuff and bent over backwards to make it smell not of burnt fuses and/or dead animals. Weirdly, what seems to be blocking out the valerian taste is…coconut. Remember how violently we hate it? Yeah, well, we take it back. It works like a charm here. It doesn’t even taste of sunblock! There’s a whole other thwack of stuff in there too; hibiscus to turn it pink, blackberry leaves to keep it sweet, sugar, ditto – and we forgive them the sugar because with something like valerian you do need these outlandish extremes. In black tea not so much but when trying to make something quite that potent palatable, it balances nicely.

Everything combines so that the primary taste is of toffee, which isn’t at all unpleasant. The only lingering oddity, aside from the fact the valerian has swayed even us to its thrall, is that they feel a need to specify it’s dairy-free. That’s great David…but why wouldn’t this be dairy-free? (We long ago stopped asking when tea started having latent milk concentrate; DavidsTea have been doing it for years. With certain blends we even think it justified.) What about this rooibos–herbal hybrid was supposed to make me think milk was even in the ingredients? Ah well, you’ve worked a special kind of alchemy with this one and we cop to your superiority in all things tea.

Since it’s a cat’s tea we went looking for cat-themed poems for you. There are lots out there, but the one that peaked our interest came from Marge Piercy. Remember her? She famously authored Woman on the Edge of Time, featuring protagonist Connie’s might-be-visions-might-be-psychotic-episodes?.

We had the misfortune to encounter this thing by way of a unit on eco-feminism. We knew it wasn’t for us when the first chapter evolved rapidly into the gorriest back-street abortion scene anyone will ever read by way of an inciting incident. And we say that coming off of Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony. We know our way around horrific literary do-it-yourself abortions, bizarrely. Anyway, Piercy also includes a utopia, possibly in compensation for that horrifying first chapter. The men nurse the babies, which we seem to recall grow in pods, and everyone is vaguely genderless anyway. But that’s only the first act! There then follows an alternate dystopia that possibly-delusional Connie has to somehow prevent, as guided by the androgynous angel messenger. It’s by turns horrifying, weird, and in places just downright perplexing. And we’ll never forget that opening sequence. We’ve forgotten great swathes of this book, but not that.

But anyway, the same author has apparently turned her hand to cat poetry, and the thing is, for as much as we run screaming from Woman on the Edge of Time, the poem works. We like it. It rings true to anyone who has ever owned a cat. This is less Miss Marschallin and more her predecessor, Keys, but still. So sit back, clear your head of all latent Marge Piercey associations, especially if they involve misapplication of kitchen ranges, and enjoy.

The Cat’s Song 
Marge Piercy

Mine, says the cat, putting out his paw of darkness.
My lover, my friend, my slave, my toy, says
the cat making on your chest his gesture of drawing
milk from his mother’s forgotten breasts.
 
Let us walk in the woods, says the cat.
I’ll teach you to read the tabloid of scents,
to fade into shadow, wait like a trap, to hunt.
Now I lay this plump warm mouse on your mat.
 
You feed me, I try to feed you, we are friends,
says the cat, although I am more equal than you.
Can you leap twenty times the height of your body?
Can you run up and down trees? Jump between roofs?
 
Let us rub our bodies together and talk of touch.
My emotions are pure as salt crystals and as hard.
My lusts glow like my eyes. I sing to you in the mornings
walking round and round your bed and into your face.
 
Come I will teach you to dance as naturally
as falling asleep and waking and stretching long, long.
I speak greed with my paws and fear with my whiskers.
Envy lashes my tail. Love speaks me entire, a word
 
of fur. I will teach you to be still as an egg
and to slip like the ghost of wind through the grass.

Old Friends

It’s Advent IV and the question has really become how we got here so fast. We never think of December as going fast, as say, February, but it does. Perhaps it’s because we spend the brunt of it counting down. One way or another though, we’re here with days, not weeks, to spare before Christmas.

Today featured two really lovely teas. We began with Winter Earl Grey. It tasted suspiciously like a pet St Andrean tea by the name of Arctic Fire. We used to get it from Glasgow, from Tchai-Ovna tea house, and it famously featured cornflowers in the ingredients. You could see them, all these little blue flowers in among the leaves. So on a white we chased up the ingredients to Winter Earl Grey because it tasted less of Bergamot and more of Arctic Fire’s cornflowers. Sure enough, they’re in the ingredients. There’s some peppercorns in it too for an extra-christmassy touch and the result is one of the best teas we’ve had from DavidsTea in a while. The calendar doesn’t feature any of it’s typical gift certificates or bargain coupons this year, but we’re putting it on our list of things to buy in larger quantities post-Christmas anyway.

After that we went off to church, where we have so thoroughly lost patience with the sequencing hymn being everlastingly Creator of the Starry Night all Advent long that we’ve gone well and truly rogue and started swapping in our own selections from the New English Hymnal. This, by the way, took us down a whole liturgical rabbit hole. We looked up the ecclesiastical guide to the direction of music in the Anglican Church of Canada and everything, just in case there was some obscure rule about how sequencing humans had to be in plainsong. They don’t. Unless you’re really, really Anglo-Catholic. We thought we were, but apparently musical instinct trumps theology every time with us. And the best part is that because Mass is virtual, no one is being tormented by our rejection of the prescribed music. We’ve even started swapping in communion hymns, because we just can’t be doing with staring at the ‘Act of Spiritual Communion’ slide mutely while the cantor and priest take communion. It’s been great.

Once we’d sung the Mass and thrown all the rules out the window we had the tea from Germany. This one was also an old friend, also from Tchai-Ovna. Only they, and we, call it Milk Oolong and this one was Milky Oolong. It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other though. It’s the same, creamy oolong we’ve been buying from Glasgow for years. Or at least it’s a version of it. We knew it was the same the minute we saw the leaves, which have a very distinctive burl to them. We suppose lots of oolongs have that but these have a very distinctive smell, because they’re trying for a certain creaminess. It’s a lovely, lovely tea. Indeed, we used to have it regularly when we hosted After Church After Church tea. (That’s not a redundancy, it’s the technical name for the tea you have with people after you have already had tea at the church Agape together.)

So all round a bit of a nostalgic look back at old tea favourites, and we have absolutely no complaints about that. It’s always fun finding a new tea but sometimes nothing beats the tried and tested. In the same vein, here’s a well-beloved poem to go with well-beloved teas.

Design 
Robert Frost

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth —
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth —
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.

Some Like it Dachshunds. Sorry Hot. Er…Really?

The technological gremlins are back! But just lightly, you know, to tell me about the classic block, which we know about, WordPress, because it is the thing preserving our sanity as we try to cobble together this ongoing series of blogs.

It’s not just there, no! Back for a daring encore, the music is still being activated by the tv remote, and no, we don’t know why, either. We gave the headset very specific instructions about shunning the thing that is AirPlay, but apparently there was a loophole we missed. Tonight’s instalment has upped the security protocols on the laptop. Up next; we find out tomorrow if this was successful. We know you’re all on tenterhooks.

In all seriousness, it’s been a full day, and having the Advent teas at the weekend is always a bit tricky because Sunday afternoons are for familial tea and they don’t like tea as much as we do. We know, we know. You’re shocked. Quite a few relatives have this perennial refrain that ‘[They] don’t want anything too weird.’ So we keep the Advent stuff for us and stick to Yorkshire with them. There’s the one aunt that goes in for herbals, so we make those up for her but it’s covid so we’re not exactly meeting up routinely.

Consequently, to prove that multitasking was still alive and well we had today’s German tea while chatting with our academic sister over Skype. Simultaneously we made Christmas socks for the Dachshunds.

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To say we were drinking tea, sewing and chatting, these have turned out quite well. You almost wouldn’t guess we were new to working with felt, or that stockings are, as it turns out – and forgive us but there’s no better descriptor – really bloody awkward to sew pieces to. We sort of anticipated that, what with them being long and narrow, but anticipation had nothing on practice. In the end we stuck a bit of an ex-box down the middle to stop the thing sewing itself to itself. 

But you came here for the tea, not the stocks. The German tea involved a bit of time-travel back to yesterday, since those of you keeping up will recall we got our numbers all back-to-front on Friday. So the tea for the 18th of December was Gwendelina’s Baked Apple. It’s supposed to taste of piping hot apple pie and it does not disappoint. Now, our favourite permutation of this is currently conjured by Tealish, but this is a seriously close runner-up. It’s a blend of black and green teas with apple and cinnamon thrown in, proving once again that simple is best. And notice the green tea in there? As we said yesterday, if you want a good, fruit-flavoured tea that doesn’t cloy, you use green tea for a base. The black tea gives it a bit of extra heartiness and absorbs some of the cinnamon spice, and the result is a really excellent tea. We just wished we’d thought to ration this sample. Ah, well. It was a lovely accompaniment to sewing. And because Crumble Tea was a staple of our St Andrews teas, drinking this while talking with academic family was unwittingly nostalgic. 

We only got around to the DavidsTea offering late. This one almost justifies the poor familial cry of ‘Nothing too weird!’ because it really is an odd duck. It’s called Peanut Butter Cup but in an effort to be peanut-allergy friendly it has…no peanuts in it. Instead it’s a blend of almonds, chocolate, apple, and peanut flavour. Aside from anything else though, why go to this bizarre length? It’s still not nut friendly, and nuts take several hundred years to infuse a tea anyway. We’ve had this discussion before, usually around Forever Nuts. Add to which that while we love a good peanut butter cup as much as anyone, we’d never have one hot

And that’s really what this is. It’s as if someone has heated up and liquified peanut butter. The apple does come through subtly, but the chocolate not at all and the almonds in the ingredients list were a revelation. It’s a perfectly nice tea, in fact we quite like it. But we enjoy it the way we enjoy Jabberwocky or mirror-writing or the nuances of parallel universes. You sort of drink it a little, squint sideways at it, drink more, contemplate how truly strange and bizarre this tea is, and drink still more. The fact that it tastes of an ingredient that isn’t even present only heightens the through-the-looking-glass sensation. 

So in the spirit of the strange and whimsical, here’s an equally strange and whimsical poem. 

Jabberwocky
Lewis Carol

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.
 
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
      The frumious Bandersnatch!”
 
He took his vorpal sword in hand;
      Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
      And stood awhile in thought.
 
And, as in uffish thought he stood,
      The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
      And burbled as it came!
 
One, two! One, two! And through and through
      The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
      He went galumphing back.
 
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
      Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
      He chortled in his joy.
 
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.
 
We promise English hasn’t gone away. It just looks like it has. To reassure you, we include these culinary Dachshunds. Remember we said we’d put the marzipan on that Christmas Cake today? Well here it is. There may or may not be a theme to the Christmas projects here at Chorister at Home. We couldn’t possibly comment.
 
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To Knowledge Much Inclined

It’s been a long day, wherein we did battle with rock salt, cross-referenced five days of work against each other and wrapped it all up with a battle with Apple TV. Mostly we’ve come away with questions.

Who, for instance, takes hundreds of pounds of rock salt to the road leading into the ravine where quite literally everyone and his dog goes walking? It sounds incredibly minor until you’ve got an intrepid Dachshund Adventurer screaming blue murder (pun not intended) while you try to extract said salt from wee blue paws.We knew he could squeal to rival a stuck pig, but this was something else.

Then there was the cross-referencing and we won’t bear you with the whys and wherefores of that because it was all so exhausting that we wilt thinking about it. But we do want to know why in the name of god Apple has preset the tv to tap into iTunes and play music while you are watching tv. It is a very first-world problem, but frankly, untangling the nuances of the Apple TV settings wasn’t how we felt like ending the evening. And much as we like Schubert’s lieder, it doesn’t exactly go hand in glove with, oh, for instance, Lost. Chopin, maybe, but iTunes couldn’t get past the As because we just kept telling it to go away, so it wasn’t to be.

In all of this highlights included Hazelnut Chocolate Tea, which might be the first chocolate tea we unconditionally love. We liked it so much we made a second pot immediately. (In our defence, we were still recovering from six hours of cross-referencing hundreds of documents.) Funnily enough, Hazelnut Chocolate wasn’t even supposed to be today’s tea but we got our dates all sideways and opened box 19 today. Expect the verdict on box 18 tomorrow.

It was clearly kismet though, because this was exactly what we needed at half four in the afternoon on the heels of our second ravine walk – this time with rubber over vulnerable paws because we just couldn’t face an encore to the squealing. It’s a beautiful black tea. We had perhaps half a cup black but then, on recommendations from the gifted, added milk and it got even better. Chocolate teas often do benefit from a bit of milk, and this one, which promises to stand up even to Swiss Chocolatiers doesn’t disappoint. It’s rich, creamy and incredibly smooth. The hazelnut gives it a distinct note that harmonies the tea and chocolate, so that they don’t fight for dominance in the teacup. This is often our complaint. It’s entirely too easy to concoct a tea that was really intended to be hot chocolate. Not so here. It’s well-balanced and altogether lovely. For extra decadence we had it with a couple of chocolate truffles that were going spare. It was that kind of day.

By the time we got to DavidsTea we’d sorted our dates out, so Organic Blood Orange Boost was actually prescribed for the 18th of December. It’s a green tea base, not that you’d know from the colour because the hibiscus turns it fantastically, deeply pink. But surprising no one, that makes it an excellent base for a citrus tea. We have never worked out why this is but green tea with fruit is a match made in heaven. In our experience it stops the tea going too sweet; our beloved crumble tea from DavidsTea was always superior to the black tea-apple crumble successor the company tried to foist on us in after years.

And Blood Orange Boost smells gorgeous. That was our first thought opening the tin, because, and have we mentioned this? – the tins are back! After two years of those awful, fussy plastic bags spilling tealeaves everywhere, the tins are back and we will never complain about how tightly the lids are stuck on ever again. Do you hear? We will faithfully lever them off with a teaspoon each morning, ye even until judgement day, have you got that? Judgement Day.

But we digress. Blood Orange Boost. It smells lovely, it tastes just the right mixture of tart, sweet and fruity, and we’d even be tempted to try it iced if it weren’t hovering at a steady -6 outside. But it’s the kind of tea that tastes like it would reward that treatment. The only really disconcerting thing here is that while it tastes of blood orange, we can’t find it in the ingredients. Orange pieces are there, and apple is there (we taste no apple), and various spices are there. No blood orange. Maybe it was faster to write orange. Maybe no one is making that culinary distinction. We don’t know. Anyway, we won’t hold that against it, because it really is a lovely blend.

We began by talking about the unanswerable, or at least the things we have no answer to. In the same spirit, here’s a poem by John Godfrey Saxe. We had forgotten we knew it until we took a second pass through the darkly whimsical Series of Unfortunate Events this year, and we have to say, we love both it and the poem all the more for coming back to them.

The Blind Men and the Elephant
John Godfrey Saxe

It was six men of Indostan, to learning much inclined,
who went to see the elephant (Though all of them were blind),
that each by observation, might satisfy his mind.

The first approached the elephant, and, happening to fall,
against his broad and sturdy side, at once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the elephant, is nothing but a wall!”

The second feeling of the tusk, cried: “Ho! what have we here,
so very round and smooth and sharp? To me tis mighty clear,
this wonder of an elephant, is very like a spear!”

The third approached the animal, and, happening to take,
the squirming trunk within his hands, “I see,” quoth he,
the elephant is very like a snake!”

The fourth reached out his eager hand, and felt about the knee:
“What most this wondrous beast is like, is mighty plain,” quoth he;
“Tis clear enough the elephant is very like a tree.”

The fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, Said; “E’en the blindest man
can tell what this resembles most; Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an elephant, is very like a fan!”

The sixth no sooner had begun, about the beast to grope,
than, seizing on the swinging tail, that fell within his scope,
“I see,” quothe he, “the elephant is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan, disputed loud and long,
each in his own opinion, exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!

So, oft in theologic wars, the disputants, I ween,
tread on in utter ignorance, of what each other mean,
and prate about the elephant, not one of them has seen!

Having sat on the sidelines of more than one theological discussion, and God alone knows how many bizarre sermons, Saxe is on to something with this one. But then, sometimes that’s half the fun.

Nocturne Upon St Lucy’s Day

Two lovely black teas today. DavidsTea offered us a breakfast blend, so we had that with our oatmeal this morning. We’ve saved some of it for tomorrow too, because we love a good loose leaf breakfast blend, even if we’ve been living off of Yorkshire for months. There’s nothing wrong with Yorkshire tea, to be clear. We’re just infamously snobbish about tea and aren’t about to change any time soon.

Then we had Spring Darjeeling from Germany. This never got very dark, but insisted on pouring out in a lovely golden colour. But it still brewed up strong, so we checked to see if there was any green tea mixed in, because sometimes that happens with Darjeeling blends. Not this one. This is uncomplicated Indian black tea, thanks for asking, and that was or reminder that Indian tea always pours out lighter. We forgot because see above about all those months of Yorkshire.

(Fun fact: we can’t drink Twinnings any more. We thought at first it was the decaf blend up at the lake that was giving us headaches but it’s all Twinnings all the time. It just doesn’t have enough caffeine next to Yorkshire.)

But we were talking about Darjeelings. This one was a lovely blend. There were two packets and we used them to bookend the day; one at elevenses and another after a walk through the ravine in the dying light. The sunset was particularly lovely. We always try to catch the last of the light on St Lucy’s Day just because there’s so little of it. It’s not like Scotland, where the sun was down by half three, and no doubt even that is more than other places. Still, when you’re stuck at a computer talking into a camera all day you start to get starved for sun.

So we ran the dogs in the last of it and then we came back and gave them their tea (Northern English usage) while we had our tea (standard usage).

Because it’s St Lucy’s Day, here’s what Donne has to say about it. You really want to read this with the light dying at half three on the East Coast of Scotland, but ah well. We can’t be choosy.

Nocturne Upon St Lucy’s Day
John Donne

‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
         The sun is spent, and now his flasks
         Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
                The world’s whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compar’d with me, who am their epitaph.
 
Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
         For I am every dead thing,
         In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
                For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.
 
All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
         I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave
         Of all that’s nothing. Oft a flood
                Have we two wept, and so
Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.
 
But I am by her death (which word wrongs her)
Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
         Were I a man, that I were one
         I needs must know; I should prefer,
                If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; all, all some properties invest;
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light and body must be here.
 
But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
         At this time to the Goat is run
         To fetch new lust, and give it you,
                Enjoy your summer all;
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival,
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s, and the day’s deep midnight is.

Beware the Flotz!

I began today with an offering from Germany called Nepal Initiative. It was a first flush organic black tea, so the leaves were the first harvested off that particular plant. I drank it with plenty of milk and some rock sugar as directed. Well, strictly speaking I was told add rock sugar. The plenty of milk was my particular touch because I’d taken yesterday off black tea – I always do when I’m under an attack of cramp.

Anyway, it was a lovely way to wake up, and it gave us the energy to survive this course we’ve started. It runs for six weeks and it turns out being switched on to Zoom for six hours every day is up there with parties that blare loud music in terms of circles of hell we would like the right to never visit again ever, thanks ever so much. But the tea helped. It was like being hugged awake and on a cold, winter morning, that was exactly what we needed.

Later in the day we switched over to DavidsTea, who have updated the perennial Forever Nuts with a light touch of marshmallow and renamed it Forever Frosty. Basically it’s the same tea but now it tastes of pink, which is always a bit of a weird feeling, mostly because pink doughnuts and the pink wafer are the only two things legally allowed to taste quite that shockingly pink. But that’s not to say we disliked it. The marshmallows do not, thank God, go to gloop in the infuser, so that was a revelation. (This has been an issue in the past; you’ve probably read the rants. We fully support whatever workaround David is using this time.) And they give Forever Nuts some of the ballast we have previously felt it was missing. So all told, this one is a win. Sweet, fruity, not too cloying. The sugar gives you a late afternoon lift but there isn’t any caffeine to contend with, making it good for anyone who struggles to sleep if they take caffeine past four o’clock.

And they both got us through a discussion on editing and editors. With that in mind, here’s the charmingly tongue-in-cheek I am the Flotz. Our grade 5 teacher made us learn it by rote years ago and we’ve never forgotten it. If only we had that kind of memory when it came to the important stuff!

The Flotz
Jack Prelutsky

I am the Flotz, I gobble dots,
indeed, I gobble lots and lots,
every dot I ever see
is bound to be a bite for me.
I often munch on myriads
of sweet, abundant periods,
I nibble hyphens, and with ease
chew succulent apostrophes.

From time to time, I turn my gaze
to little dotted “i’s” and “j’s,”
and if I chance upon a dash,
I soon dispatch it with panache.
I chomp on commas half the day,
quotation marks are rarer prey,
a semicolon’s quite a treat,
while polka dots are joys to eat.

When I confront a dotted line,
my tongue flicks out, those dots are mine,
Morse code becomes a feast, and yes,
I’ve snacked upon an S.O.S.
For I’m the Flotz, who gobbles dots,
I gobble them in pails and pots,
And you’ll not like my brief embrace
if you have freckles on your face.

Mulled Wine, Christmas Cakes and Camomile Lawns

One of the great and unanswerable mysteries of tea has always been, at least to us, why anyone likes camomile tea. Oh, it’s very soothing, and it makes you drowsy, but it doesn’t smell particularly nice and it tastes worse. It’s also in our DavidsTea calendar today. That said, it’s perhaps the best permutation we’ve had of it. Or maybe we’ve just had the kind of long and miserable day that is only solved by tea that tastes the way we imagine hay might taste. Hard to say.

Or maybe the real mystery was the way everyone in Mary Wesley’s Camomile Lawn waxed rhapsodic about the smell. Honestly, it’s nothing to write home about. Perhaps the blooms are nicer. Because we’re sipping camomile in the mug with the quilted cats, and you know, it’s now awful. We even, improbably, like it. Maybe we finally acquired the taste for it. We’re increasingly thinking whoever taught us to add honey to camomile was wrong. It’s not a tea that should be sweet.  And it’s growing on us by the sip. Apparently we’ve overbreed this one for years.

The German tea was a very definite hit, though. It’s called Advent Fruit Tea, and if you, like us, wondered just what makes a fruit Advent-y, think mulled wine. It was a beautiful sample. Orange peel, cloves, cinnamon, apples, and raisins. There’s hibiscus and reship in there too, but the thing that really makes it distinctive is the elderberry. Last year DavidsTea tried a version of this. They called it Mulled Wine, and you know, it was good, we liked it. But we liked this better. The elderberry is inspired. And you could just see it wasn’t a herbal tea to go bitter.

It makes us think of Christmas Cake, maybe because that’s always what you pair mulled wine with in lieu of minced pies over here. Maybe it’s because they share ingredients. At any rate, we haven’t mentioned the cake yet, but ours is quite the tradition. We bake it with our aunt and double the recipe, which always leads to a dough so thick you have to kneed it. But we’ve long since been at the ‘feeding the cake’ stage, which involves rubbing it with brandy every night. We’ve slipped up the past few nights and neglected it, but it’s no real matter because at this point the cake is cracking the way cakes do from absorbing more brandy than is reasonable. Bring on the marzipan next.

So here’s a poem about Christmas Cake, or at least plum cake, by which we assume Williams means plum pudding, and  which is near enough to make no difference.  It gets bonus points for being one long stanza. Frankly, we just don’t have the energy for the technical gremlins tonight.

To Mrs K__On Her Sending Me an English Plum Cake at Paris
Helen Maria Williams

What crowding thoughts around me wake,
What marvels in a Christmas-cake!
Ah say, what strange enchantment dwells
Enclosed within its odorous cells?
Is there no small magician bound
Encrusted in its snowy round?
For magic surely lurks in this,
A cake that tells of vanished bliss;
A cake that conjures up to view
The early scenes, when life was new;
When memory knew no sorrows past,
And hope believed in joys that last! —
Mysterious cake, whose folds contain
Life’s calendar of bliss and pain;
That speaks of friends for ever fled,
And wakes the tears I love to shed.
Oft shall I breathe her cherished name
From whose fair hand the offering came:
For she recalls the artless smile
Of nymphs that deck my native isle;
Of beauty that we love to trace,
Allied with tender, modest grace;
Of those who, while abroad they roam,
Retain each charm that gladdens home,
And whose dear friendships can impart
A Christmas banquet for the heart!

New Favourites and Old Friends

No German translation needed today as the tea in that Advent Calendar haled from New Zealand. The company, called Ti Ora, is big on environmental conservation and we half wonder how we haven’t run across it before since the last friend we sent out the way of the Kiwis was big on both tea and environmentalism and should surely have loved this stuff.

Never mind. This might be our favourite so far of the German selection – and no, not because we don’t need crib notes! (This whole thing has done wonders for our working vocab, honest. We can now point out words like ‘almonds’ and ‘cinnamon’ which means next time we’re in Germany we might be able to order cake as well as tea!) Anyway, the blend is called Forrest Fruits and New Zealand Black Currants. It features strawberries, blueberries, and the eponymous currants.

We were unorthodox and kept the teapig (this was the St Andrews local name for reusable triangular teabags) in the mug so were able to track the way the strawberry went from sweet to tart, becoming steadily more subsumed by the other flavours. We liked the tea in all stages.

DavidsTea gave us Snow Day, which was a chocolate and mint affair. We’ve had it before and it’s always a hit. It was our first foray into tea with chocolate, so we’re probably a bit nostalgic that way. It was also our first or second Advent Tea full stop. There’s definitely nostalgia on that score. But it’s a good tea if you like chocolate and mint. We happen to. It’s more mint than chocolate, and that’s probably the right balance when drinking tea, because honestly, if we wanted something really chocolatey we’d make cocoa.

The name of this tea always makes us think of school, and specifically how few snow days we got growing up where we did. The rule was that if the principal could get to school, so could we, and she lived on site. So over 14 years we accrued a whopping 2 snow days. Once the doors had quite literally frozen shut. Such is life in Canada. Or, in the fabulously immortal words of Sunday’s sermon, ‘We have our own equivalent desert…Canadian Winter.’

Not that it’s been particularly snowy. It’s snowing now, aptly enough, and we’ve had two or three other bouts of snow, but it hasn’t stuck. All our ravine runs are full of leaves and muds as much as snow. The Dachshunds of Dawlish are not amused. In the spirit of this winter then, here’s a poem about just that kind of weather. It probably won’t amuse dachshunds either, but only because it’s not edible. But maybe non-dachshunds will approve.

Falling Leaves and Early Snow
Kenneth Rexroth

In the years to come they will say,
“They fell like the leaves
In the autumn of nineteen thirty-nine.”
November has come to the forest,
To the meadows where we picked the cyclamen.
The year fades with the white frost
On the brown sedge in the hazy meadows,
Where the deer tracks were black in the morning.
Ice forms in the shadows;
Disheveled maples hang over the water;
Deep gold sunlight glistens on the shrunken stream.
Somnolent trout move through pillars of brown and gold.
The yellow maple leaves eddy above them,
The glittering leaves of the cottonwood,
The olive, velvety alder leaves,
The scarlet dogwood leaves,
Most poignant of all.
In the afternoon thin blades of cloud
Move over the mountains;
The storm clouds follow them;
Fine rain falls without wind.
The forest is filled with wet resonant silence.
When the rain pauses the clouds
Cling to the cliffs and the waterfalls.
In the evening the wind changes;
Snow falls in the sunset.
We stand in the snowy twilight
And watch the moon rise in a breach of cloud.
Between the black pines lie narrow bands of moonlight,
Glimmering with floating snow.
An owl cries in the sifting darkness.
The moon has a sheen like a glacier.