The first and the lengthiest (I promise!)

by Arina on April 20, 2010

in Tea Recipes

Merchant Woman Drinking Tea - Boris Kustodiev, 1918 - from www.artrussia.ru

Merchant Woman Drinking Tea - Boris Kustodiev, 1918

Hi there!

My name is Arina and with this post I’m going to add my alto to a chorus of food blogs out there. I have to tell you, my knees are raw and fingers slightly trembling from excitement and solemnity of the moment, but come on, I’m not the first one out there and definitely not the last one to tiptoe out onto the Internet with my bla-bla-bla!

And dear guest, please be prepared, as this first post might turn out to be the lengthiest as well!

I was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. Actually, in my childhood and teenage years it was still called Leningrad and Soviet Union respectively, and the country was a sort of culinary Taklamakan. Seriously. At an average grocery store, you could find just about fifty different ingredients, half of them canned. Quite often, one had to queue up for hours to get them. At bad times, some items were rationed. And at home everyone seemed to cook using a couple of dozen identical recipes, with minor twists. Today this may sound a bit surreal and exaggerated and for sure there must have been ingenious gourmets around, but I had never been lucky to meet one. My own lovely mom was not an avid cook and fed us more by necessity than for pleasure (Mom, I love you still!). With not much excitement or inspiration to cook, I preferred to stay away from the stove.

My taste buds had been hibernating till I left home for abroad in the 1990s.

First, my interpreting jobs brought me to the ends of the world. And if it is appropriate to speak about culture shock when going abroad, my taste buds and my nose were its epicenter. My God! I could not believe in such abundance of flavors, aromas, textures, names. There was life on this planet! I still did not cook, because I was not really settled down, but how delighted was I to make my daily discoveries of new cuisines, cooking styles, drinks, you name it!

Then, I dropped my suitcase for couple of years in Switzerland and France to continue with my university studies. I’ve become addicted to good wine, cheese and chocolate ever since. What intrigued me most was the alchemy behind food and wine pairings. But I did not really try to learn about it then, as I was fixated on a pairing of a different kind: in those glorious days I fell in love with my one in a million French husband-to-be. I remembered the Russian (?) wisdom that the way to the man’s heart is through his stomach, but it took me all my guts to grab cooking utensils. I tried, albeit awkwardly, to impress a French guy (tu parles!) with my “mouthwatering” dishes. That actually kicked off my passion for cooking. Now I realize I must have been taking huge risks, as most of my first culinary creations were indigestible. Tactful as my man is, he never complained. We’ve been together for almost ten years now, and are happy parents of two three gorgeous voracious boys, 0+, 3 and 5. This boy band needs to be fed, so cooking has become part of my daily life.

In our family cooking, we privilege whole food ingredients (if you see a canned food in my pantry, it must be my hubby who accidentally went food shopping and succumbed to a charm of tomato sauce or pineapple chunks in syrup). I have a strong penchant for lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, although I’m not (yet?) vegetarian. I prefer to buy local and seasonal produce – yes, those green leaves and red berries that I’ve chosen to be the name of my blog.

Obviously, I cook by necessity, but now that I truly love doing it, it is not a burden, but (almost) daily pleasure. And I try to be inventive, to explore new territories and to maintain a taste for adventure. It is not difficult, especially since two years that we have been living in Beijing, China.

China has probably been the greatest cultural and culinary discovery for me so far. It amazes me how elegantly food and cooking fit into the entire system of Chinese philosophy and Chinese view of the world. I’m impressed by the infallible logic with which the ingredients and flavors can balance each other to perfection in a given dish. I’m astonished by Chinese ingenuity and capacity to make a culinary gem with a minimum of ingredients and utensils. I’m certainly not alone among expats living in China who have come to appreciate Chinese cuisine. But if I were to choose one single thing that carries me away most, I would name Chinese tea.

I preferred tea to coffee before coming to China. But I was an average tea drinker for whom tea “naturally” came in tea bags (now it sounds for me as an absolute heresy!). Only in China I realized that those green leaves (another reason for my blog name!) can actually turn into no less than six main tea types. And that tea in itself represents a whole universe, with a millennial history and an extreme diversity and subtlety of aromas and flavors – much as the wine that I adore (hence, red berries in the blog’s name). Tea also has an unparalleled spiritual dimension. By now, I’ve gathered a nice collection of books on tea and tasted its many varieties, but have not been able to consolidate those disparate pieces of knowledge. That leaves me with a sense of incompletion.

After this lengthy introduction, do you still have patience to learn what my blog will be about within the next few months?

· To begin with, it will be about Chinese tea. Most probably, our family will stay in China for another eight to twelve months, and I would like to build up my tea knowledge by doing a project that I would baptise a “tea marathon”. What is it? I would try to source and taste 214 varieties of Chinese tea highlighted in the Chinese book on tea I have in my library.

· In my loftiest dreams I think of finding a Chinese tea master or local school to expand my knowledge on tea. I have been learning Chinese for a year now, and hope it will greatly help with communication. I’m just worried I will not have enough time for that before we leave China. Yet if I do have such an opportunity, I’ll try to document this adventure on my blog.

· Tea, of course, can be enjoyed on its own. Yet another book, this time in French, “Thé et Mets”, inspires me to explore the territory of tea and food pairings, the essential of the “tea sommelier” job. I’ve already stumbled upon some interesting resources on the subject, and would love to explore it more. Whenever I test a pairing proposed by others or try to find a perfect match myself, I’ll try to provide a recipe.

· I’m not a tea purist. One of my favorite pastimes is to blend my own infusions, mainly inspired by Chinese local leaves, berries and roots, which do not necessarily include tea. From time to time, I’m going to post recipes of those too.

· I love traveling through China. Yet, having a new baby in tow, my capacity to do that will be somewhat limited for the next few months, and I’ll mainly stay in Beijing. Therefore, I’ll have to source all the tools, teas and other ingredients in the capital. That’s why I was thinking of documenting my experience in a sort of tea lover’s Beijing shopping guide.

· And last but not least, I would love to use this blog to learn and practice food photography. In the beginning, there may/will be some pictures taken by others (I will not forget to attribute them). But I’m planning to become self-sufficient quite soon.

Although English is not my mother tongue, I’ve decided to make it the language of my blog, mainly because I would like to maintain it on a decent level and because much of the community and resources are in English too. I hope not to offend anyone with possible spelling / grammar / style mistakes. You may also stumble upon Chinese terms from time to time, as I won’t be able to control my passion of learning Chinese.

So I hope you will enjoy reading my blog it as much as I am enjoying making it. Thanks for stopping by – I’d love to see you here for another cup of tea.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

LK May 24, 2010 at 5:56 am

Arina,
What a great idea to do a tea marathon! Like you, I’m Russian, now living abroad (US). I travelled to China in 2008 and was absolutely fascinated with the country, its food and tea. My tea taste has developed quite a lot since then, and now I wish I’d gone to more than just a couple of tea shops while there. Oh, how I dream about going to Wu Yu Tai in Beijing, or the tea market in Shanghai… For now, I’m resorting to buying tea online from Chinese vendors. I’m also dreaming of a trip back to China once my baby son is a little older.
Good luck!
Leila

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