General-Leia Updates and Other Teas-es

Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of the passing of Carrie Fisher. She can be seen in her last big roll as General Leia Organa in the new Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi. Jedi has been pulling in big bucks at the box office but has a hugely mixed reaction from Star Wars fans.  One thing is fore sure, it’s great to see Carrie Fisher in her roll of Princess Leia, now as General Leia Organa. I would have loved to know what she thought of this as her final roll.

The movie itself seems to spark love or hate reactions, and I’m feeling a little of both. Overall I really liked it and thought it was a fun movie. Lots of entertainment value there! Adam Driver goes shirtless and other stuff. There are really only a few scenes and plot twists that I have problems with. I can deal. (But I would fix those if I could.) Overall, I think it depends a little on which of the previous Star Wars movies are your favorite.  Folks who love Return of the Jedi probably really like The Last Jedi. Folks who love original Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back or even The Force Awakens may have a few problems with it. But it’s going to vary based on personal tastes and expectations, so just go see it for yourself.

I saw it on opening day, December 14, at an AMC Theater where we paid extra for the Fan Event. “Fan Event” really just translated to get-to-see-the-movie-one-hour-earlier-than-other-people, get a small popcorn, and a pack of three “collectible cards.”  Plus there was a few minutes of film on the music of John Williams in Star Wars. We didn’t know exactly what to expect. The description was pretty vague.

When we purchased these “special” tickets I really pictured this as being more of a fan event. Like perhaps they would have something special going on. And at the time of purchase we knew we’d get a “concession stand offer,” but didn’t know what it would be. Previous fan events have had large popcorns and drinks included. The John Williams film was advertised as “special content.” Plus I pictured something more substantial for the collectible cards. We’re used to Magic The Gathering card packs where you might get 15 cards in a pack plus a foil, etc. So overall, this Fan Event seemed more expensive than others we’ve read about and with fewer goodies. It felt like AMC was trying to take advantage of big Star Wars fans. I’ll think twice about doing another Fan Event with AMC and will explore other theaters in general for that matter. AMC grabbed enough of our movie money for a while thankyouverymuch.

That said we enjoyed the actual theater where the fan event was held. It was a Dolby Cinema theater with laser projectors, great sound, and comfy reclining seats. I would see a movie in a Dolby Cinema showing again. That part was nice and worth a few extra bucks. The only down side of the Dolby Cinema was that we had middle-of-the-row seats, so when everybody else was reclined with their feet up, it was nearly impossible to squeeze down the row to our seats. I let the family sit while I went back out to get our popcorn. There was a break in the rows right behind us, so I just climbed over the backs of the seats. It was faster and inconvenienced fewer people.

Fast forward a bit and Christmas 2017 has come and gone. I don’t know how it manages to come and go faster each year, but it does. We had a nice Christmas split between home and visiting my mom.

I got to see Santa very briefly as he exited an elevator I was entering. He’s our favorite mall Santa and was returning from his dinner break. A few minutes later I saw that he was saying “hello” to the kids standing in line. I waved and told him how many years of photos we have of him. He was kind enough to pose for a selfie with me, but my phone died before I could take the picture. Ugh.

I searched high and low for an Etch-A-Sketch for my daughter for Christmas. Ya know, red plastic rectangle and turn the white dials to draw a picture? One dial for vertical, one for horizontal. We had these as a kid. They could be fun and frustrating. It was super easy to draw a staircase! Not so easy to draw a circle. Modern kids can see Etch-A-Sketch featured in the Will Farrell movie, Elf. My daughter is one of them. So she wanted one for Christmas. I think everybody else must have felt this way too because I could not find one anywhere. I visited no fewer than six Targets! Walmart! Craft stores! And two regular toy stores and asked many questions of employees along the way.

But it was like gremlins visited each store right before I arrived. I searched online websites to see who might have them in stock before I visited each store, yet they disappeared by the time I got there. Amazon had them for a while, but reviews were mixed, so we worried about quality and cheap knock-offs. Yet I would have purchased from Amazon if I knew it would be so hard to find them in an actual store. In the end, I was only lucky enough to find two mini-Etch-A-Sketches that we’d have by Christmas. These will have to do. One is the “World’s Smallest” and one is a little larger with a clip that allows it to be attached to backpacks, etc. My daughter liked both and appreciated  tales of the Etch-A-quest. I braved traffic, quicksand, and the darkest asphalt jungles!

Along with a lot of other holiday shopping I visited a Teavana tea store a couple of times. If you like Teavana, then know that some stores will close by December 31, so they are having clearance sales. Those stores now have EVERYTHING in the store 75% OFF!  Tea and tea ware is selling very quickly at these prices! I got a great price on some really good Oolong a few other things.

Some Teavana locations will remain open into February and possibly March. Those locations may have some sale prices, but not everything 75% off. Those locations will, however, have a much larger selection of tea and tea ware for now. So if there’s a favorite that you really want then visit a location that is scheduled to remain open longer. You should be able to call stores to find this out. If nothing else, visit the closest Teavana and ask them questions. There are some great deals in tea! But I’m still a little sad to see Teavana leaving.

That’s it for now.

May The Force Be With You … Always! And Happy Holidays!

 

 

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Tea for Tuesday (on a Wednesday) – Just Peachy III

With Thanksgiving upon us, everybody is probably thinking about food, but maybe not about beverages.

Ice tea is a good classic beverage option. It can be made from scratch for pennies per serving, and it’s a lot more elegant than a glass of sofa pop next to a plate of turkey and all the trimmings.

Here’s one way to make classic sweet iced tea. Click here.

A variation is fruit tea — peach tea is one of my favorites. Click here for that. Include cranberry juice for a Thanksgiving variation

But if you find you have zero time for either of those and want to offer something other than soda pop, fruit juice, or milk, then powdered drink mixes might work.

I tried a lot of powder drink mixes over the summer in my search for a perfect peach tea. (And for convenience because sometimes, I just don’t have time for anything else.)

While scratch is oh-so hard-to-beat, there are some drink mixes that I actually enjoy. The iced tea drink mix that came out on top for me was Crystal Light Peach Iced Tea. I tried many others. I’m not always a fan of Chrystal Light. But this Peach Iced Tea won me over because I can taste the tea and the peach. It has a light, refreshing flavor with enough tartness to taste fruity without overpowering the flavor of the tea or peach. Some mixes add so much malic acid, that it’s hard to taste much else. Those tend to taste tart and nonspecific fruity.

Crystal Light Peach Iced Tea is a sugar-free option that uses artificial sweeteners (Aspartame). That may scare some away (and make others happy). If you don’t drink aspartame, this isn’t the drink mix for you. It nearly kept me away, but in the end that nice peachy tea taste won me back. But I’m hoping they come up with a version using Stevia.

Crystal Light Peach Iced Tea is available in boxes of single-serving, on-the-go pouches or pitcher size packets. Either one is handy in a pinch.

Tea for Tuesday on a Thursday – Just Peachy I

Along with classic iced tea and sweet tea, I especially love a good peach tea. So began a search for a great peach tea that I could make at home.

There are three major roads to peach tea.

1. Scratch recipe with real tea and fruit.
2. Peach-flavored tea leaves in tea bags or loose.
3. Instant, peach tea powder or liquid drops.

Today’s blog covers peach tea from scratch. There are still some excellent peaches to be found. Get ’em while you can!

Peach Tea from scratch. 

The process is fairly simple. This makes about 3 cups of peach iced tea. It partly depends on how juicy your peaches are. (Scale up the recipe for more tea.)

1.) Make 2 cups of iced tea concentrate. My process is here. Let the tea cool some while you work on the peaches.

2.) Peaches! Start with 3 cups of cut up juicy ripe peaches. (Cut out any bruises.) This is a great way to use up super ripe peaches.

3.) Finely chop peaches in a food processor or blender.

4.) Add about a half tablespoon of lemon juice to the peaches as you blend. This perks up the taste and helps keep the peaches from oxidizing (turning brown) too quickly. (I know the tea is brown, but …)

5.) Strain the blended peaches. If you like it pulpy, use a mesh strainer with larger holes. If you hate chunks and pulpy bits, then use a fine mesh strainer or a even strain a second time through a coffee filter (it will drip through slowly though). The leftover peach pulp can be used for frozen ice pops or peach purée in baked goods or peachy apple sauce, etc.

6.) Add the nectar (juices) to tea that has cooled some.

7.) Sweetener or sugar can be added to bring out the sweetness of the peaches. Start with about a tablespoon or two of sugar. Adjust to your liking. Mix in the sugar before you put the tea in the fridge so it can dissolve well. You can also use a non-sugar sweetener, but keep in mind the peaches add a lot of sweetness on their own. So taste as you go.

8.) Keep your fresh peach tea in the fridge.  Serve over ice. Yum.

Variation Z.

Zombie* Peach Ice Tea

I make what I call Zombie* Peaches anyway and this makes it easy and quick to make real peach iced tea. This yields about 2-1/4 cups of peach tea (not including ice).

1.) Make iced tea.

2.) Make Zombie Peaches. (You’ll want to make them ahead of time by several days if possible.)

3.) Pour the tea over ice. Zombie Peaches already have sugar dissolved in them, so you don’t need to add more. But you can adjust to your liking by adding extra sweetener. If you add extra sugar, add it before the ice.

3.) Stir peach liquid into tea. Add about 4 or 5 tablespoons of the syrupy juice from a jar of Zombie Peaches per 2 cups of iced tea. Use more or less to taste. You can add some peach chunks too (or not). And you can add a squirt of lemon too. Stir well. (Keep in mind that remaining Zombie Peaches should always have enough liquid to cover any peach chunks to prevent mold, so it’s best to use some chunks as you use up the liquid. Chunks can be frozen into super yummy home made Popsicles. Served as a topping for ice cream. Or just spoon them in your mouth because, yum.)

The beauty of Zombie Peach Iced Tea is that it is usually fairly clear and not cloudy like blended peaches. Zombie Peaches last for weeks in the fridge so it’s easy to make ahead of time and whip up a glass of peach iced tea when you like.

This same process can be used with other fruit like raspberries and strawberries.

Enjoy!


*I know the name “Zombie Peaches” may not sound very appealing. When I originally named them, had been thinking “zombie” because the fruit seems like it should be dead but it lives on and on. Zombie, right? Plus my daughter had a zombie ranger summer camp that she loved! So we had zombies on the brain. But zombies get pretty yucky looking. Vampires, on the other hand, stay relatively youthful and well preserved. And this is about preservation. So maybe I should call it Vampire Peaches? Both zombies and vampires are forms of the undead, right? Humm. Maybe I’ll post an updated recipe with a new name.
Copyright 2016 Debora Kapke

Tea for Tuesday – Ice Ice Baby

I know it’s not Tuesday. I almost finished this on Thursday. I thought maybe I could call it Tea for Thirstday. (Get it?) But now it’s Sunday. So … I’m just leaving it Tea for Tuesday. 

A class reunion in August and trip to visit friends near Nashville, Tenneessee, and later my dad in the Carolinas, reinforced my love for southern cooking and beverages. I visited a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store one too many times. 

I drank a lot of iced tea all summer long. Iced tea is almost as favorite a beverage as its hot counterpart. 

In the south, iced tea is almost always served sweetened. I’ve said before that in the south if it isn’t sweet then it’s just a hot beverage gone cold. I’ve been to restaurants that didn’t even carry unsweetened tea. Those that carry both varieties sometimes call sweet tea “Iced Tea” while the plain version is called “Unsweet Tea.”

I may not like sweet tea as syrupy as some (blame my Northern / Midwestern origins), but I love a good iced tea with the right balance of astringency, flavor, and sweetness. This Labor Day weekend is a good time to drink even more! 

Iced tea is natural and real brewed tea even has health benefits. It can be very economical. Plus you can control the sweetness when you make it yourself!

Not all tea is created equal — true for hot and iced. The tea matters! There’s a specific flavor I want. 

Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a lot of money. Lipton and Luzianne both give a lot of the flavor I’m looking for. I’m sure I could make excellent iced tea using expensive, loose-leaf tea. But for me, nostalgia rules where iced tea is concerned. Why spend the extra money?

That said, I like several variations on iced tea — peach tea, strawberry tea, hibiscus tea, and half & half tea aka an “Arnold Palmer” (1/2 tea, 1/2 lemonade). All can be yummy. I’ll save those for another post.

For classic iced tea I use Family Size tea bags. It takes a lot of tea to make really good iced tea. One puny, single-serving tea bag will tint your water brown, but not much else (unless you want a really small glass of iced tea). 

As a busy mom, I find it easiest to make the tea in a 4-cup glass (Pyrex type) measuring cup with a pour spout. I usually heat the water in the microwave. (Be careful if you add tea to super-heated microwaved water. It can boil over. Use a container that is larger than you need.)

Directions on both Lipton and Luzianne are similar. I don’t change much at the beginning. 

1.) Heat 2 cups of water to a rolling boil (Again, be careful if microwaving. The boil may not actually roll until you add the tea, but still be hot enough.)

2.) Add 1 Family Size tea bag.

3.) Steep 3-5 minutes. (I leave it for about 7-10 minutes. Any longer can make the tea bitter.)

4.) Remove tea bag (squeeze gently) and sweeten to taste. (More on this, below.)

So here’s where I mix things up.

Luzianne’s instructions say to add an additional 2 cups of cold water and then chill (ya know, just relax a little). Lipton’s iced tea instructions start with 4 cups of water and 2 Family Size tea bags, but the ratio of water to tea bags is the same as Luzianne’s. Then Lipton says you should stir in 6 cups of ice cubes (or 4 cups cold water) and refrigerate. 

What? Water down my tea on purpose?

I personally don’t add extra water or ice to the tea until I’m ready to drink it. I let the tea concentrate cool some on the counter before refrigerating, or I just pour the concentrate over ice in my glass (some ice will melt). Even better than a glass, I often use an insulated stainless steel bottle with ice. It will stay cold for many hours and not “sweat” (no condensation on the outside). (I have too many stainless steel bottles. That’s another story.) Most of my stainless steel water bottles hold about 17 ounces, so I get a full bottle plus extra with 2 cups of tea concentrate plus ice.

It’s easy to add water later if you find the tea to be too strong. Adjust as needed. It’s not easy to make tea stronger if it gets too watered down. Plus if you keep the tea in the refrigerator, adding more water just takes up more space in the fridge. 

So just make the tea concentrate and be happy! And chill.

I usually like iced tea with a little squirt of lemon. Sometimes I add it, sometimes I don’t. I also like it sweetened. Individual sweeteners may vary.

It’s practically impossible to dissolve sugar in ice-cold tea (it takes a very long time). So add any sugar while the tea is still very hot.  About 1 to 2 tablespoons of sugar for each cup of tea seems to be standard for sweet tea. But use more or less to taste. Stir well. Or make a simple syrup to add to the tea later. Simple syrup is just a lot of sugar dissolved in boiling water. Make sure it’s still a liquid when it cools (not hard candy). 

I don’t always want real sugar in my tea. I know. In the south, I’m probably considered a heathen. But sugar is bad for my teeth and not great for my waistline either. I already eat too much of it.

So what do I like? I like a mixture of sweeteners.

The following amounts are based on about a 14 ounce serving of tea concentrate served over ice (ice that will partly dissolve). Some of the water comes out with the tea bags, so it’s not a full 16 ounces any more.

If I’m going sugar free, then I like 2 packets of Stevia in the Raw plus 1 packet of sucralose (like Splenda). Stevia on its own tastes a little too weird to me. The sucralose seems to even out the taste nicely without adding too much weirdness of its own. Plus this way it’s mostly natural. Just 1/3 mystery ingredient! Both dissolve fairly easily even in cold tea. 

If I’m going to go a little wild (I know how to live it up, don’t I?), then I like Truvia Baking blend. It’s a mixture of sugar and Stevia. Since it has sugar, it’s best to add this while the tea is still hot. The flavor is close to real sugar, thanks to the, you know, real sugar. I’ve also mixed this combo with sucralose for a good sweet tea flavor that has very little sugar. That would be 1 teaspoon of Truvia Baking blend plus 1 packet of sucralose. Using Truvia alone, I’d go with 2 teaspoons. Adjust to taste.

Try some variations yourself and see what you like best. Enjoy and have a cool Labor Day weekend!