When I was in the seventh grade, before middle schools were invented, my elementary school class walked to the high school one morning each week for Special Subjects. As the Women's Movement was still embryonic, we were segregated by sex. The girls went to Home Ec , while the boys had Shop. This , of course, meant deprivation for everyone, but the poor boys really missed out. I loved cooking class, partly because I loved to cook, and partly because it was so funny.
A major goal of the home economics curriculum must have been to introduce middle class refinement to the uncouth . At least as much time was spent on manners, tidiness, and playing house as on food preparation. 0ur class was divided into all female "families", and each had it's own little area with a sink and a stove. One area had an attached "dinette", where one family each week could dine on a (properly set) table with china dishes. At the beginning of each class, the teacher distributed a menu with recipes, carefully divided into individual tasks for of each one of us and all of our temporary relatives. These were planned in a weekly ascending order of difficulty, culminating in the complex and unspeakably dire ladylike classic, "Creamed Peas in a Patty Shell."
The first week, however, we made "Tea and Toast." The instructions ran to two mimeographed pages, and included a great deal of information about hygiene, as well as admonitions concerning drying the stainless steel sinks after use, to prevent unsightly spotting. But it was the concept of codifying something we nearly all knew how to do, dividing it into miniscule subactivities, and insisting that each of these be performed correctly which delighted and amused my twelve year old self.
Sadly, following the instructions, more or less to the letter, resulted in lukewarm Salada teabag tea with chunky lemon wedges, tan Wonder Bread spread with margarine, and, of course, shiny sinks. I had suspected it would turn out that way. I had a mother who was a very good cook, and was also English; I knew a bit about making tea. But in the midst of the almost hysterically awful food, and quasi-scientific jargon, was something I secretly found endearing. That was the idea that ordinary things, including making home food, were worth notice, consideration, and special care.
Since that time, I've made alot of tea and alot of toast. I was pleasantly surprised, years ago, as a graduate student and young mother, to find that it was possible to read about both topics. Tea, though I had no inkling of this in seventh grade, turns out to be as much a topic for the experts as wine.
I am certainly no tea expert, but like most dyed in the wool tea drinkers, have favorites of the long standing and of the personal fad sort. Many people stick to black tea or green, but I like both. My current favorites are Williamson and Magor Assam for black tea, and Genmai Cha (which has toasted rice in it) for green. The W and M Assam, in addition to being delicious, is now available in my supermarket, and even comes in tea bags for when I'm lazy, which is often. I first tasted Genmai Cha at the Ferry Building branch of the Imperial Tea Court while visiting San Francisco. This tiny outpost somehow managed a quiet atmosphere, despite its location smack in the middle of the disconcerting Saturday morning foodie hubbub.
Louise, my visiting English cousin/friend and I rested there and had Genmai Cha and tea snacks, which included Gingered Almonds (in their shells) and little peanut-sesame cookies. I have had no luck trying to figure out how to make the almonds, but I have found and made a recipe for Vietnamese tea cookies which are very nice, and awfully similar.
To follow, soon I hope: Tea Cookie Recipe, Reading about Tea, Reading about Toast (really), and Special Toasts, not necessarily in that order.