Tibetan Butter Tea

I first tasted butter tea on a blustery spring day at Tsampa, a Tibetan restaurant on E. 9th St in New York City, named after the barley flour prevalent in Tibetan cooking. Although some people find its intense saltiness an acquired taste, butter tea, known as bo ja, is instantly warming and satisfying, with a rich and intriguing flavor. In Tibet, the drink is made by heating a portion of compressed tea in boiling water for up to 15 minutes. The liquid is then strained and yak butter, salt, and if desired, milk, are added. Traditionally, the brew is poured into a wooden cylinder called a dogmo and churned until frothy.

A group of Tibetan bells.

In Tibet, butter tea is always served as a gesture of hospitality, and consumed throughout the day. The drink is not only found in Tibet, however, and is widely consumed in other areas of the Himalayas such as Bhutan and Mongolia as it provides essential vitamins and antioxidants, thereby offering sustenance and fortifying strength in the harsh mountain conditions. Butter tea is also known in China, particularly in areas that border Tibet, such as Sichuan. In fact, butter tea recipes are recorded in Chinese publications dating to the Yuan (1271-1368) and Ming (1368-1644) eras (H.T. Huang, Science and Civilisation in China, v. VI: 5 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.). While Tibetan butter tea has a very different character from Chinese tea, it is actually closely related to early Chinese tea drinking practices of the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) periods.

Perhaps the first large-scale introduction of Chinese tea drinking practices to Tibet began in the Tang dynasty, when Emperor Taizong sent his daughter, Princess Wencheng to marry the Tibetan King Songzan Gambo, in the middle of the 7th century. During the Tang dynasty, tea was commonly prepared with salt in China. In his treatise Chajing (Classic of Tea), Lu Yu, the 8th century tea scholar, details the procedure for roasting and grinding tea cakes into a powder to which boiled water was added. Salt was spooned into the water as it boiled. Lu Yu also lists a porcelain salt cellar among the accoutrements necessary for tea preparation. When Princess Wencheng travelled to Tibet, she brought the arts of the Chinese court with her. Craftsmen skilled in areas from calligraphy, tea ceremony, and textile production, to metalsmithing and agriculture, brought their materials, expertise, and techniques to Tibet. In this way the elite Tang mode of tea drinking was transmitted to the Tibetan court.

Later in the Song dynasty, another wave of Chinese tea culture reached Tibet. During this period, China began trading silk and silver with Tibet in exchange for the robust Tibetan horses needed for China's military. As this system became economically unfeasible for the Chinese, they eventually traded salt certificates for horses instead. Tibetan traders could easily redeem these for commodities, such as tea, in Sichuan markets. Chinese tea, sold in compressed brick form, became very popular in Tibet. China strictly guarded its monopoly of the tea industry, however, instituting punishments for those caught selling tea seeds and shoots to Tibet. (Paul J. Smith, Taxing Heaven's Storehouse: Horses, Bureaucrats, and the Destruction of the Sichuan Tea Industry, 1074-1224 Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991).

By the Song period, little had changed in the Chinese tea making process, except that the final infusion was whisked to create a thick foam. The spumy surface was a point of aesthetic appreciation, believed to contain the tea's essence. Although among the Chinese elite tea was no longer made with salt, both the practice of salting and foaming tea are hallmarks of Tibetan-style tea. While it is likely that the Tibetan way of preparing tea was inspired by the Tang and Song Chinese methods, butter tea is uniquely suited to the Tibetan lifestyle, bracing the body and tempering a meat-rich diet with the concentrated nutrients of the tea plant.

Tibetan Butter Tea
Serves 1
Follow the proportions below to multiply the number of servings


1 rounded tsp dark Chinese tea, preferably pu' er
1 cup water
1 Tbs butter
1/4 cup whole milk or cream (optional)
1/4 tsp salt

1. Bring water to the boil and add tea. Simmer about 8-15 minutes.
2. Strain leaves and return brewed tea to the pot. Add butter, salt, (and milk if using) to the tea. Mix with an immersion blender until frothy.
3. Pour into cup and serve with something sweet.

Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Chrysanthemum at NYBG

For a short time through November 16th, the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) is displaying Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Chrysanthemum. It is the second year that the Garden has exhibited this extraordinary collection, a culmination of several years training with Japanese kiku masters in the style of kiku shown at the Shinjuku Gyoen Garden in Tokyo. The process of training each plant into its desired formation requires as much as a year of shaping through pinching and staking. Four kiku styles are on display, each one more beautiful and fantastic than the next.

A bamboo sculpture by ikebana master Tetsunori Kawana, commissioned for the exhibit.

As with all aspects of Japanese garden design, chrysanthemum cultivation is an art, requiring years of study and practice to master. The form, structure, and shape of each petal and each leaf is evaluated and balanced with the plant as a whole and the overall floral arrangement. The bombastic yet refined kiku blossom below is part of the Ozukuri, or "Thousand Bloom" style.

While the ordered profusion of blossoms appears to be an arrangement of many individual plants, the exquisite Ozukuri configuration is actually coaxed and developed from a single stem. Ozukuri are grown in traditional Japanese wood planters known as sekidai. To create the illusion, the plant is limited to five hardy branches. The shoots from these limbs are then trained to grow straight and blossoms are removed until only the strongest one remains on each secondary stem. The plant's nutrients are thus concentrated in one blossom, creating a quietly dramatic spectacle when all of the flowers are in bloom.

This Ozukuri, known as "Friendship" features 229 blossoms.

Another style on display is known as Kengai, or "Cascade." Again, the prolific display of each variety is achieved from a single stem. Hundreds of flowers are trained onto a wire frame which is bent into the display position once the flowers are about to bloom (about 10 months). In its final stage, Kengai recalls an exuberant image of wild flowers on a cliff's surface, thereby mimicking and perhaps surpassing the beauty of the natural world.

Using the exhibition style of the Japanese imperial flower show, the kiku are arranged in temporary bamboo structures known as uwaya. One thus views each style in it's own housing, a display aesthetic that not only protects the flowers from wind and rain, but also encourages the viewer to appreciate each plant as a living and therefore ephemeral work of art. Kiku are not simply natural wonders; their form is the result of careful human manipulation. Yet, rather than imposing an order onto nature, one persuades the plant's natural character into a vision of perfection.

Kengai housed in traditional uwaya.

The Kengai style resembles a rock face showered with wild flowers.

The Ogiku, or "Single Stem" style features a tri-color pattern of kiku. The combination of lavender, yellow, and white are associated with equine regalia of the Japanese court. The six foot high blooms are propagated from one cutting.

"Morning Clouds" in the Ogiku style.

Shino-tsukuri, or "Driving Rain," is a new addition to this year's exhibit. Thirteen pots are arranged in two rows, with 27 branches in each pot. The semicircular arrangement of each variety echoes the movement of falling rain. Edo, the variety on display, is composed of three types of petals, each kind growing in a different direction, lending the blooms a pinwheel-like appearance and the sense of a paused moment amidst their kinetic flurry.

"Glowing Clouds at Dusk" in the Shino-tsukuri style.

"Golden Bird" in the Shino-tsukuri style.

"Snow on Distant Mountains" in the Shino-tsukuri style.

The chrysanthemum was brought to Japan from China in the 8th Century CE. Over time it has become one of the flowers most evocative of Japanese culture, along with the cherry blossom. As a symbol of longevity and the season of Autumn, the chrysanthemum is commonly depicted in the arts of Japan, including painting, decorative arts, and literature.

The compelling quality of this art is satirized in a Chinese folktale that became popular in Japan. Known in the West as "The Chrysanthemum Spirit," the story was retold by the writer Osamu Dazai in 1941. In his version Sainosuke, a kiku-obsessed man, meets Saburo, a poor, younger man with an exceptional ability to grow kiku effortlessly. Although unable to control his jealousy, Sainosuke marries Saburo's beautiful sister, Kie. After years of living with envy and frustration over his inability to reach the level of Saburo's talent, Sainosuke accepts his own mediocrity. Soon after, while the threesome is on a spring outing, Saburo, at the peak of contentment after drinking sake, turns into a chrysanthemum seedling. Realizing then that his brother-in-law Saburo and his wife Kie are in fact supernatural beings, Sainosuke feels a new appreciation for them and plants the seedling in his garden. When autumn comes, a single bloom appears, tinged with a drinker's rosy complexion and the subtle fragrance of sake.

Playful stories such as this are one of the many examples where chrysanthemums appear in Japanese literature.

The richly hued kiku form a ground cover carpet. Combined with large stones the display becomes a small-scale autumnal landscape.

The mix of white and yellow kiku suggests a winter scene, with mountains towering over snow covered hills.

The kiku exhibit is complemented by the NYBG's beautiful Japanese maples, which are at the peak of their fall colors in November.

Fallen maple leaves decorate the lotus and water lily pond.

See highlights from the 2009 exhibition here.

Halva: A Sweet of Worldly Delight

In India, halva (halwa) is just as varied as it is in Western and Central Asia (see Part I: Judeo-Arab Origins). Northern Indian specialties include dry halvas made from grains and nuts such as semolina, wheat, and almonds, and fruit and vegetable halvas made with carrots, beets, and winter gourd. Southern India and Sri Lanka are often known for denser confections made from grains, potato, or coconut.

Like most Indian sweets, halva is associated with many Hindu festivals, often appearing as a temple offering. While the observance practices for events such as Navarathri, the festival of nine lights, and Deepavali (Diwali), the festival of lights, differ from region to region, sweets like halva play an indispensible role. But how did halva, a sweetmeat originating in Western and Central Asia come to be included among the repertoire of classic Indian desserts?

As with many dishes that are considered to be quintessentially Indian, halva came to India from Central Asia via Mughal influence. With the establishment of Mughal rule in 1526, many aspects of Indian culture came to incorporate the Mughal emperors' Central Asian aesthetics and ideals. In Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), Lizzie Collingham illustrates the impact of Mughal economic policy on Indian agriculture. Farmers were encouraged to cultivate cash crops such as cane sugar, making a previously rare commodity quite common. As a result, standard temple food donations became largely sugar based. As Collingham points out, sweets were much easier to transport than soupy dals and rice. They also lasted longer, could be divided into small portions, and could be decorated with coloring or moulded into shapes to suit the occasion. Because halva was a dish favored by Muslim royal families, it is not surprising that the Mughals would have instructed their cooks to prepare the delicacy for them in India, thereby introducing halva to the Indian palate. According to Copeland Marks, Suji Halwa (Semolina Halva) was purportedly a favorite of the fifth Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz (Indian & Chinese Cooking from the Himalayan Rim, New York: Penguin, 1996).

A variation of Suji Halwa, made with fine ground semolina and coconut.

Modern Indian halva recipes appear to be more related to the recipes for puddings, or khabis, given in the Kitab al-Tabikh (see Part I). Khabis are made by heating sesame oil, adding finely ground flour, sugar, fragrances, and spices, and cooked on low heat until the mixture comes away from the pot. Many dishes including Khabis al-Qar (Gourd Pudding) and Khabis al-Jazar (Carrot Pudding) use the same recipes as classic Indian recipes for gourd and carrot halva.

Loki halva uses grated loki, or winter gourd (also known as white pumpkin) of the Benicasa hispida variety, common to India and China. It can be found at produce stalls in your local Chinatown. I served it here as a custardy pudding but the mixture may be reduced until a fudge-like consistency is reached.

Halva was inducted into Indian cuisine along with an increase in sugar cultivation that was directly related to Mughal government. Thus the Arabic name, literally meaning sweet, became a term that describes a variety of Mughal sweets. And although it was introduced to India by foreign rulers, halva is seen as an authentic Indian dish. Halva may be served at various festivals in different religious contexts, yet this tasty confection, redolent with spices and aromatics acts as a mnemonic reference for culturally-specific experiences, like a piece of music, articulating a society's elusive, collective memory, something easily displaced in modern society.

The following recipe combines the dense nuttiness of Judeo-Arab halva with the rich aroma of Indian Chai tea.

Almond Chai Halva
(top photo)
Serves 2


3 Tbs butter or ghee
1 cup almond flour
1 Tbs whole-wheat flour (optional)
1 tsp whole leaf chai tea blend*
1 Tbs sugar or honey
1/8-1/4 cup milk (optional)
pinch of salt

1. Melt butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat until hot and bubbling.
2. Add flours and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Stir frequently so that mixture does not stick to the pan.
3. After about 3 minutes add the tea and stir to distribute evenly throughout the mixture. Continue to stir for another minute or two.
4. Mix in sugar or honey and stir continuously. At this point you can leave the halva on the heat (stirring frequently) for as little as 10 minutes or up to an hour. The flavor will deepen the longer it is heated but you must be very careful not to let it burn even slightly.
5. If you would like a more pudding-like consistency, add the milk a little at a time until the desired texture is achieved, continue stirring.
6. Allow to cool slightly and serve, or wrap in parchment paper and freeze or refrigerate until ready to reheat.
It is delicious topped with a dollop of honey and a splash of rose water.

* If your chai contains large particles like whole cardamom pods, remove before adding to the mix. Alternately you could brew a 1/4 cup of strong chai and use the strained liquid for a smoother texture. However, the flavor may not be as pronounced.

Part I: Judeo-Arab Origins

Halva: A Sweet of Worldly Delight

Halva is a simple dessert of almost universal appeal. Although indigenous to the Judeo-Arab regions of Asia, halva became a familiar treat in Europe and the United States, following the Muslim and Jewish diasporas as they spread throughout the world. It is known in variations throughout West, Central, and South Asia, for it can be adapted to include local ingredients that are available in large supply.

Some of the earliest recipes for halva appear in medieval Arab cookbooks such as the Kitab al-tabikh (known as The Book of Cookery), written by Muhammad b. al-Hasan b. Muhammad b. al-Karim, a 13th Century scribe known as al-Baghdadi. (Charles Perry, trans. A Baghdad Cookery Book. Totnes, UK: Prospect Books, 2005). Yet, halva likely predates Islam, as ancient Sumerian cuneiform tablets from Mesapotamia describe similar confections, made as offerings for temples and festivals.

Halva (also transliterated as halwa) is the Arabic word for sweet. Indeed the dish is based on sugar or honey, sometimes mixed with a binding agent such as cornstarch or grain flour, and oil or butter fat. Judeo-Arab halva is often distinguished from halva made in other parts of Asia by the use of sesame oil, which imparts a memorable nutty flavor. Although halva is a general term that can describe a variety of wet and dry sweets, the Kitab al-tabikh only mentions the dry type under this category.

Most of the halva recipes from the Kitab al-tabikh do not mention the use of flour. Eight recipes are given in which sugar is dissolved in water, heated until thickened, cooled, then turned onto a tile and kneaded until the right consistency is reached. This basic approach could be embellished with fragrances and spices such as various nuts, dates, cardamom, camphor, musk, and rose water, which would be added during the cooking or kneading process. Once the halva was ready, it could be cut into individual servings or moulded into shapes. Engaging the senses through visual and aromatic appeal was thus part of the culinary experience.

The components of halva can be adjusted to serve as many or as few people as desired. As it is easily sliced into bite sized portions, and keeps well, the sweet lends itself to large scale entertaining. Before the second half of the 20th century, halva gatherings were common in the Konya region of Turkey, a practice that is said to date back to the Seljuq dynasty (1037-1194) (Nevin Halici, Sufi Cuisine. London: Saqi Books, 2005).

At many Jewish festivals and celebrations, halva is a familiar yet enticing presence, evoking memories of past occasions. Gil Marks considers the importance of such food associations in Jewish culture in The World of Jewish Desserts: "It [Jewish desserts] is food that evokes the spirit of a Jewish community as it celebrates its festivals and life-cycle events. It is a dish that conjures up the joy of millions of Sabbath dinners or resounds with the memory of the mellahs (Jewish quarters in Moslem countries), ghettos, and shtetlach, in which for millenia Jews struggled to eke out a living. It is tradition." (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000). When Sephardic Jews serve halva for occasions such as Purim, the Sabbath, and Hannukah, they are using food to support a sense of cultural continuity, not only preserving tradition, but defining and reinforcing the experience as an inextricable part of Jewish cultural identity as well.

Continue reading Part II: Halva Travels East...India

Piquant Cucumbers & An Early Autumn Picnic

A bouquet of seed heads

Whenever I need a tasty side dish, I like to use my own recipe for quick pickled cucumbers seasoned with turmeric, mustard seed, asafoetida, and sumac. They are slightly pickled in vinegar and kosher salt, but maintain their crunchiness. I recently served them alongside homemade lovage and cheddar bread, heirloom tomatoes, fresh Camembert cheese, and delicious Italian pear preserves infused with the pungent flavor of mustard seeds, for a simple picnic lunch at Battery Park City in lower Manhattan.

Piquant Cucumbers

A simple and delicious side dish that can also serve as a dressing for a fresh green salad with tomatoes.


1 kirby cucumber, cut lengthwise into quarters
1 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbs white vinegar
2 Tbs grapeseed or other neutral oil
1/2 Tbs yellow mustard seeds
dash of asafoetida (optional)
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground sumac (optional)

1. Heat oil and mustard seeds gently in a small saucepan until mustard seeds begin to pop.
2. Meanwhile, put cucumbers in a shallow bowl and sprinkle with salt, turmeric, and sumac.
3. When mustard seeds are ready, remove from heat and sprinkle with asafoetida. Pour oil and seeds over the seasoned cucumbers and toss. Serve immediately.

One of the ducks in the lotus pond, Battery Park City

Ancient Rome & Concord Grapes

A few years ago we started growing Concord grapes in our garden. The grapes were planted in front of a tall mixed privet and rose hedge that borders one side of our small orchard of dwarf fruit trees. In our eagerness for grapes we hadn't decided upon a support structure for the grapevines. Soon the grapevines began reaching into the fruit trees. I later learned of archaeological evidence that suggests that grapevines may have been supported by fruit trees in ancient Pompeii.

Located in western Italy, near the Bay of Naples, the city of Pompeii was buried in lava after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE. Excavations unearthed many properties with attached gardens. The House of the Ship Europa for instance, is one of many households destroyed and preserved by the lava, that had a market garden behind the house. The preserved root cavity formations reveal that fruit trees may have supported young grapevines, not an uncommon practice in gardens at the time.

Roman scholar, Pliny the Younger (c. 61-112 CE), describes a similar arrangement in his garden in Laurentum (located in the countryside outside of Rome), with ivy twining around the trunks of plane trees planted in rows, forming elegant swags as the ivy linked tree to tree.

It wasn't a new idea even in ancient Rome. Depictions in Assyrian bas-relief sculptures from the 7th-8th centuries show grapevines trained along cypress trees, joining to create an arbor.

In our garden, the grapevines twined into the fruit trees on their own and they look rather attractive and are producing well, so we've left them this way for now. The trees offer a rustic alternative to more formal supports and allow a pleasant surprise as grapes peek through the leaves in September, well after the trees' summer fruiting season has ended. Of course Concord grapes are a North American variety and were not used in ancient Rome, yet any variety will work with this method.

Unripe Concord grapes in early August

Ripened Concord grapes, ready to be picked in early September

The grapes are delicious on their own, warm from the sun. But because there were so many I decided to try a recipe for grape pie that appeared in Bon Appetit. The pie was delicious with an unusual flavor, rich with the muskiness of Concords. The filling also turned a vibrant amethyst color in the oven.

Concord Grape Pie, from the September issue of Bon Appetit

19th Century Capodimonte Urn, Italy

Peranakan culture is a blend of Malay and Chinese traditions, practices, and tastes that developed in the Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca, and Singapore. Many Peranakan families can be traced back to the 17th and 18th centuries, when Chinese tradesmen and merchants (usually of Teochew or Hokkien extraction) began marrying local Malay women. The mix of cultures is vividly realized in Peranakan cuisine as the women (known as Nonyas) combined traditional Malay ingredients such as asam (tamarind), daun kesum (Vietnamese mint), belacan (shrimp paste), and pandan (screw pine) with Hokkien style noodles, rice, and dumplings.

Nonya cuisine is an art that traditionally required years of practice to master. Despite regional differences, the basis of all Nonya cooking is a delicate balance of spices and herbs, augmented with local fruits and vegetables such as starfruit, banana buds, jackfruit, and long beans, traditionally grown in gardens behind the kitchen. Coconut milk, cane sugar, and candlenuts add richness, creating complexly flavored dishes that are at once sweet, spicy, salty, and sour. Most dishes can be grouped into the categories of rice, salads, soups, gravy, and curry dishes. A typical meal consists of several such choices.

A young banana plant

Nonya desserts are just as enticing, the most common of which is kueh (steamed cakes or puddings), readily available from hawkers, street vendors, and bakeries in Singapore and Malaysia. Kueh come in a variety of forms including kueh sarlat (rice cake with custard), kueh bongkong (rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves), kueh dadar (coconut rolls), kueh bangket (tapioca cake), and kueh lapis beras (rainbow layer cake), to name a few.

Kueh Lapis Beras

Ang Koo Kueh

I decided to experiment with kueh sarlat, a glutinous rice cake steamed with coconut milk and topped with pandan-flavored custard. Usually the custard is dyed green, contrasting with the white rice below like the colors in a hard-edge painting. Finally, the cake is cut into elegant diamond shapes. The traditional method for making kueh requires hours and involves many steps. I wanted to make a savory kueh that could be served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, that would be quick and easy to whip up using ingredients on hand. I came up with coconut rice and curry custard kueh, steamed in individual egg cups that allow stove to table serving. The curry flavor evokes the Indian influence prevalent in South East Asian cooking and works beautifully with the coconut rice. And the golden hued custard doesn't require any dye.

Curry Kueh Cups
Serves 4


1 cup rice, preferably glutinous
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water
2 tsp sugar

1. Cook rice in water, coconut milk, and sugar. Set aside to cool while you make the custard.

2 eggs
4 Tbs sugar
2 tsp of your favorite curry powder
3/4 cup coconut milk

1. Heat eggs and sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepan over very low heat, stirring constantly so as not to cook the eggs, until sugar dissolves.
2. Remove from heat and add coconut milk and curry, stirring well to combine.
3. Fill about 3/4 of each of four heat-proof egg cups or ramekins with rice and press down to compress rice.
4. Heat custard over very low heat for about a minute, stirring continuously. Pour custard over rice.
5. Place egg cups in a deep pot and carefully pour in enough water to come up about an inch around the sides of the cups.
6. Bring to the boil then simmer and cover. Steam for 1 hour or until a knife inserted into the custard comes out clean.

Note: You can easily cook the kueh in ramekins and serve in decorative egg cups. Simply line the ramekins with parchment paper to make the transfer easy.


Ho Wing Meng, Straits Chinese Porcelain. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2004.

Khoo Joo Ee, The Straits Chinese: A Cultural History. Amsterdam: The Pepin Press, 1998.

Lee Chin Koon, Mrs Lee's Cookbook: Nonya Recipes. Singapore: Eurasia Press, 1994.

Lee, Peter and Jennifer Chen, The Straits Chinese House. Singapore: National Museum of Singapore, 2006.

Leong Yee Soo, Singaporean Cooking. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press.

Midsummer and Black Currants

I've come to sense the arrival of midsummer by the fragrances and sounds that fill the garden. The unabashedly heady scent of Oriental and heirloom species lilies and the drone of cicadas are two of the most vivid indicators of late July.

Lilium “Black Beauty”

Black currants, with their distinct yet subtle woodsy aroma, are one of my favorite summer scents. And their tart, assertive flavor makes them an excellent foil in sugary desserts.

This vitamin C-rich bush berry is from the Ribes family and is commonly grown in European gardens, less so in the United States. Since they're easy to grow, bountiful producers that don't take up much space, they would make an excellent choice for small gardens.

I rarely find recipes that feature black currants in a prominent way so I decided to try them in pancakes. Maple syrup (or any other sweet topping) would mellow the berries' assertiveness without sacrificing that lovely tartness. Whole-wheat flour in the batter added a pleasant nuttiness that helped balance the currants as well.

Whole-wheat pancakes with black currants
Serves 4


1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk, adjust with less for denser and more for thinner pancakes
3 Tbs butter, melted and cooled
4 tsp baking powder
4 Tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
neutral cooking oil, such as canola or grapeseed
1/2 pint black currants. Take the time to gently pull off the little 'tails' at the end of each currant. It's okay (and probably unavoidable) if the skin breaks a little while doing this.

1. Beat eggs, sugar and butter in a large bowl. In a small bowl, mix flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Heat 1-2 Tbs of oil in a large pan.
2. When hot add spoonfuls of batter to pan. When bubbles form in batter around the edge of each pancake, scatter a small handful of currants over each one. Cook for about 2 mins. on each side until golden brown. Place under cover while you cook the next batches, adding more oil to the pan as necessary. Serve with maple syrup or confectioners' sugar and some creamy yogurt.

An Introduction...

The study of food and culture is compelling because everyone experiences and interacts with some aspect of the food process, from cultivation to consumption. As a result, food is one the most potent means of communicating social and cultural identity.

I've named this blog after a piece of flatware that serves as a symbol for this concept. Distinguished from the average teaspoon by its diminuitive size, the five o'clock teaspoon was a requisite accoutrement for the afternoon tea ritual that became popular in Britain and America in the second half of the 19th century. Many other superfluous and specific table accessories of the time, such as grape scissors, moustache spoons, and strawberry forks, were articles of conspicuous consumption that reflected the owner's social status.

This blog is an exploration of culinary and garden arts, inspired by such objects of material culture. Topics range from the kitchen garden and arts of the table to historical and contemporary foodways and original recipes. Some upcoming highlights: Tibetan tea traditions, 'halwa' in both Indian and Jewish contexts, Chai Khana (Central Asian teahouses found along the Silk Road), and new variations on some old recipes.
Comments and discussion are welcome.