Sunday, May 25, 2008

My cup of tea

Maybe I'm a little slow on the uptake, but though I always knew that tea was made of dried leaves, it really didn't hit me til recently that they're really just dried leaves. I guess I had always assumed that something special had to be done to them...why else would you pay money for a bunch of dried leaves? A co-worked of mine who is a bit of a tea freak went to a tea tasting in San Francisco Chinatown, walking out with several $30 bags of tea. What was so special about these teas was that they were whole leaves -- so when you pour boiling water over them, the leaves reconstitute and open up (unlike the shredded bits of leaves you get in standard tea bags). He said that leaves that do that actually haven't been dried for very long, and thus are lower in caffeine. I haven't verified that claim -- just putting it out there.

As you may have noticed I'm a little obsessive about efficiency (this drives my apparent zeal for things like recycling, composting and energy conservation, but refer to my previous post for the real story). I get a lot of dried lavender blooms and fallen-off rose petals in my garden. Mostly I throw them into my makeshift compost pile, or chuck them around the garden for slow decomposition, but I'm always looking for new things to do with garden refuse. So I decided to try making my own tea.

My criteria:

  • It shouldn't kill me. Before gathering dried leaves for tea-making, I looked online to make sure there were like things on the market (e.g., other people had tried them, hadn't died, and thought well enough of it to market it to a broader audience).
  • It shouldn't taste disgusting. I also looked online for combos of leaves that, as in the first bullet point, people tried and liked enough to keep making.

I have a little teapot with a strainer for tea leaves, so I didn't have to bother with sewing tea bags or anything of the sort. So far I've made a couple of teas:

  • Lemon verbena. This one gave off a really lemony smell, and was very light. It was a little lemony for my liking, but hey, it was free and didn't kill me.
  • French lavender and rose petals. This one tasted like it smelled. I added honey a little bit of cream to it, but I think I went a little too heavy on the lavender.
  • Ginger. This didn't come from my garden, but I plopped a chunk of raw ginger root into boiling water and added a bit of sugar -- this was delicious. It was a little spicy, and really soothing.

I put in approximately 1 teaspoon dried leaves for every cup that I brewed. My conclusion: you can definitely make your own tea. Do a little research before dropping the leaves into your pot (hemlock, for instance, might be a bad choice), but for the most part, there's nothing to it. Of course there are always leaves not readily available to you that are worth buying from tea manufacturers, but it is another way to use up the stuff in your garden.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

When cleaning should suck

I'm not a vacuum-cleaner hobbyist. I don't particularly like to clean. But I found myself recently in need of a new vacuum, after my old Kenmore lost its suction despite making Darth Vader type noises. Those of you who know me won't be surprised that I spent hours doing research to find my optimal vacuum cleaner -- one that balanced performance with value. (I will spare you the details of my analysis, but for those of you in the market for a great professional-level flat iron I would recommend the Sedu:

Here were my criteria:

  • Vacuum cleaner must be lightweight. I don't like cleaning as it is, and can be easily deterred by something as simple as lifting a heavy vacuum cleaner up the stairs.
  • Vacuum cleaner should last a long time -- 10+ years. I don't want to be researching vacuum cleaners again any time soon.
  • Cleaner should work on both hard surfaces (wood floors, slate) and carpet (I have relatively low-pile carpet).
  • Bonus points if it's cute.
  • Less than $500. I'm not a cleaning pro.

My research resulted in the purchase of a Miele S4 Galaxy Series Carina S4210 cannister vacuum. I love it. It is quiet. It is cute. It's yellow. It sucks like nobody's business. At $389, it's the lower-end Miele but all the reviews point to its reliability (I almost went with an Electrolux cannister -- my parents have had an Electrolux for the past 30 years that is still going -- but read that since Electrolux was purchased by Eureka, they suck a little more and not in a good way. Apparently, leaving the vacuum plugged in when not in use can cause shorts, resulting in a need for frequent repairs). It's good on both floors and low-pile carpets / rugs, and has six settings. If you have shaggy rugs, you'd probably want to upgrade to some of the higher end models. Even the guy at the Oreck store said that he liked Mieles.