Warming Up

Hello again!  Please forgive my LONG absence.  The semester is done.  I had a fantastic time back in the classroom, but it’s also nice to have mental space for creative writing… and eating.

Now that I get the chance to write here again, I feel the need to warm up a bit, to flex that part of my brain that writes creatively rather than academically.  That is part of why I named this post “Warming Up.”  The other part is that it is COLD here!  We’re back from our short winter wanderings (which were awesome, by the way…), but it doesn’t take long in our home warmed only by a wood burning stove to reach near arctic conditions if the stove isn’t in use.  Just a couple of days without a fire burning or people cooking and it takes a solid day of big fires in that stove to make it possible (forget about pleasant) to walk on our wood floors without serious slippers.  The floors will suck your life force right out of your soles.

So that first day back as we unpacked, kept the fire burning, and tried to find the rhythm of our schedule again, all I wanted was a nice pot of this spiced Masala Chai simmering away on the stove.  Well… that and a nice scone to go with the chai… but one step at a time.  A shopping trip is necessary before the scones can be a reality, but the chai is ready to go.

Masala Chai is a hot, spiced tea inspired by Indian culture.  “Masala” more or less means “mixed” or in this case “mixed spice,” and “chai” means “tea.”  So the next time you order a “chai tea” at your favorite coffee shop, know that you are ordering a “tea tea.”  😉  Making your own chai gives you a double bonus, not only do you actually know what spices (and no additives or preservatives) are in your tea, but it makes your house smell awesome as well.

Here are just a couple of thoughts about making yourself a lovely pot of chai.  First, it might sound odd to add whole black peppercorns to your tea.  Don’t worry.  This won’t make your tea taste like pepper, but the peppercorns (like the cinnamon) add a nice, warm spice to the tea.  It’s the warmth that you feel in the back of your throat that feels like it’s warming you from the inside out.  Second, the spiced tea is finished with milk and brown sugar at the very end, so you can add more or choose to add less based on individual choice.  I generally make mine with skim milk, but whole milk would make a wonderfully decadent version, or non-dairy milks could be substituted in as well.  Coconut milk would be great, as would rice or almond milk.  Just be aware that if you use sweetened rice milk, you might want to hold back on some of the brown sugar so the chai isn’t too sweet.  Also almond milk can add a bit of bitterness to the chai, so you might want to add a bit more brown sugar to balance things out.  Enjoy!

Masala Chai
Ingredients
:
12 green cardamom pods
1 tablespoon fennel seed
12 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 ½ inch piece of ginger root
10 black peppercorns
7 cups water
6 bags of black tea (regular or decaffeinated)
3+ tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup milk (any kind will do: skim, whole, coconut, rice, etc.  Just know that almond milk can add a bit of bitterness)

Directions

  1. Gather all of your ingredients so you’re ready to go, but don’t combine anything yet since two of your ingredients need to be prepped. Crush the cardamom pods with the back of a large spoon to release more flavor during boiling. There is no need to peel the ginger (you can if you prefer), but slice it thinly into matchsticks.

    The spice ingredients for the chai.

    The spice ingredients for the chai.

  2. Combine the cardamom, fennel seeds, cloves, cinnamon stick, ginger root, peppercorns and water in a saucepan large enough to hold 8+ cups of liquid.

    Make sure your saucepan is large enough to easily hold the boiling liquid, as well as the sugar and milk added at the end.

    Make sure your saucepan is large enough to easily hold the boiling liquid, as well as the sugar and milk added at the end.

  3. Bring the spice mixture to a boil and let it bubble away vigorously for 5 minutes.

    The boiling spices will start to make your kitchen smell fantastic.

    The boiling spices will start to make your kitchen smell fantastic.

  4. Remove the pan from the heat and let it steep for 10 minutes.

    Not much is happening yet, but you can start to see the change to your tea base as the spices steep.

    Not much is happening yet, but you can start to see the change to your tea base as the spices steep.

  5. Add the tea bags to the pan, place it back on the heat and bring to a boil. Once bubbling reduce the heat and simmer the tea gently for 5 minutes.
    The color changes immediately after adding the tea bags.

    The color changes immediately after adding the tea bags.

    After the steeping the tea starts to have the gorgeous majogany color.

    After the steeping the tea starts to have the gorgeous mahogany color.

  6. Strain the mixture into a heat-resistant bowl, discard the spices and then return the tea to the saucepan.
    The spices have done their part, imbuing the tea base with amazing heat and flavor.

    The spices have done their part, imbuing the tea base with amazing heat and flavor.

    The strained masala chai tea base.  All that's left now is to tweak the flavor to taste.

    The strained masala chai tea base. All that’s left now is to tweak the flavor to taste.

  7. Stir in the brown sugar and milk. Taste the masala chai and add more sugar if you prefer it sweeter. Serve immediately.
    Oh yeah...

    Oh yeah…

    A delicious mug of masala chai.  All that's missing is the scone...

    A delicious mug of masala chai. All that’s missing is the scone…

  8. Left over chai can be stored for a few days in the refrigerator and reheated on the stove or in a microwave. This chai is great with a lightly sweet scone, like my Blueberry Cinnamon Scones.

Click here for a printable version of the Masala Chai recipe.

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11 thoughts on “Warming Up

    1. TheSheepAreOut Post author

      Awesome! I prefer to buy my whole spices from Indian grocery stores. They are much cheaper there and since Indian cooking tends to call for a good amount of spice, the product sold at Indian groceries is often fresher than that found at other mainstream stores. If you’re in So Cal, there’s the great Little India area off the 99 at Artesia (I think that’s the exit…). My favorite store is India Pak just past the Wendy’s on the right if you’re heading south. If you’re in DC… I’m less help. 😉 Happy new year to you!

      Reply
      1. TheSheepAreOut Post author

        In the States I was also a big fan of penzey’s spices. I do have to admit that they bought my loyalty since when you have spices shipped to you they include a small jar of a random spice or spice blend to try out. And that’s a good note about “thespicehouse.” I can only imagine that leaving out the “the” would be… regrettable.

  1. TheSheepAreOut Post author

    I’d be interested in hearing about your adventures with raw milk. I don’t know about the regulations up here, but in Indiana there were very strong laws against raw milk. I’d be very interested to try it. Isn’t it odd to think that something as common as milk, and I’ve never actually tasted the “real” thing…

    Reply
    1. Mr. Bright Wings

      The laws against raw milk in California are pretty heavy, too. What it comes down to is that the government can’t stop you from drinking raw milk from your own cow. So people do local herdshares. You pay a subscription to “own” a portion of a local herd, and in return, you get a regular share of their milk and/or dairy products derived therefrom.

      Reply
  2. TheSheepAreOut Post author

    Yes, I believe that’s what people did in Indiana as well. It’s so strange to think about milk as being such a dangerous thing. It would be interesting to see if there are any current stats on food borne illness related to raw milk consumption. I know there were definite issues in the past, hence the pasteurization laws… but I’m curious about modern times.

    Reply
    1. Mr. Bright Wings

      Foodborne illness can still be a problem for raw milk and raw milk products. If my reading is correct, then milk from cows grazed on high-mineral grass (i.e., grass grown on high-mineral soil) should be relatively safe. Pathogens come into play more in scenarios where the pasture is mineral-poor, their feed is supplemented with mineral-poor hay, etc.

      The hard part is going to be sourcing the good quality stuff.

      Reply

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