Random grumblings for a Sunday afternoon

Star WarsWhy can’t I buy Yorkshire Gold tea in town? I can buy Barry’s tea, from Ireland, and Morse’s tea packaged in Nova Scotia locally. As well as other brands. Surely someone can bring in Yorkshire Gold… and yes, I’ve gone to every grocery store in town and asked for it. Even Sobeys – where I had been told it was available – the staff there had no idea what it was. Never heard of it, I was told.

Barry’s tea is nice: a bit on the robust side, which we like, but the tea bags could use a tiny bit more to give it that oomph. Available at Metro.

Tetley has two new teas on the shelf: Bold and Pure Ceylon.The Bold doesn’t taste to me any different from their regular tea. But I like the Ceylon, albeit it’s not as full-bodied as I would prefer. Still, it has a nice flavour and may replace my regular Tetley. Available at Freshco.

What happened to Tazo Tea? I used to really like their full-leaf Awake tea, an English breakfast tea, and often ordered it at Starbucks. But the last two times I’ve bought a box for home consumption (one bought at a grocery store, the other from Starbucks), I’ve been greatly disappointed. The first time because the tea turned out not to be full-leaf (the box label was unclear…). The second because the full-leaf bags contained only a small portion of what they used to contain. The result in both cases is a weak, watery, insipid tea. No more Tazo for me, in future.

I prefer whole-leaf teas and tea bags because they seem fuller and richer than the broken leaf and leaf dust you get in the standard grocery-store tea bag. But they’re not the common product: most brands don’t offer full leaf. Most are called  “orange pekoe”  but are really broken orange pekoe – a low-level grading.

Lately we’ve taken to drinking Typhoo Tea. Even the decaf is pretty good. PG Tips, another Brit tea, is fair, not really much different from Tetley. Have to ask Susan to bring back some other teas from England when she goes across the pond this summer.

I bought a box of Choice organic English breakfast tea at Costco last week. Ho hum. Like the Tazo Awake, the bags or their contents are too damned small to make a decent, strong cuppa. Takes to bags for my large cup. Another one to avoid in future.

Costco (at least the Barrie store) has a limited and rather unexciting choice of teas (not to mention it seems to have dropped the green cerignola olives – the best olives they’ve ever stocked – and their superb vidalia onion salad dressing in favour of mediocre product . Which means we are on the verge of giving up on Costco entirely (well, maybe if they keep those large bottles of marinated artichokes, we’ll hang on, albeit grimly…).

Too many products we get to know and love that get dropped. Happens at local grocery stores, too.

Used to really like Costco, and made a trip there every three or four months. Now my respect has plummeted and the few times we do go there, we buy very little compared to the past. Even their selection of DVDs is flaccid, and their selection of books is sheer crap. But they do have good shirts and clothes. Still… why can’t they keep a single brand of olives in stock?

A few weeks ago, we were down in Brampton and visited an Asian food market. Great place, full of wonderful produce, fish, sauces… I ended up buying a bag full of green teas (and a hot sauce). One of those boxes was a Korean green tea, which I have not yet tried, but I have never sampled Korean tea, so I’m looking forward to it. As soon as I finish my current supply of Lung Ching (Dragonwell) green tea, I’ll open it.

Dragonwell is my current favourite Chinese green tea. The current box is from Golden Sail, but it’s only fair quality. There seems to be a faux market in Dragonwell teas, with some low-quality products being passed off as the real thing. I can’t tell which is authentic, but I can tell which tea tastes good; which has a full, rich body. Frankly, that’s all that really matters to me.

I enjoy some Japanese green teas, but not a steady diet of them. Sencha is my favourite, and matcha when it can be had, but I’m iffy about the roasted brown rice and barley in some other varieties.

In my experience, most of the green teas in the Asian markets are only fair quality; some are actually mediocre. It’s a guessing game, but because the prices are usually modest, it’s not a big investment. I buy several and hope for the best. Regardless, I usually use them all. The boxes don’t really give you a lot more than vague promises of quality, but now and then you get a treasure.

We used to buy a lot of tea and sauces at Soon Lee’s, in Scarborough (along with many great hot sauces), but since they moved, we don’t have a good substitute Asian market (although we did find a good one on Kingston Road last year). In Brampton, we went with a Chinese woman who translated the labels so i could pick products by description, rather than just guessing (which is why I ended up with a bottle of Uncle Chen’s “chilliciously hot” extra hot sauce when I would have otherwise overlooked it).

You can get a nice, organic green tea called Uncle Lee’s, from both Metro and WalMart. It’s almost as robust as Ten Ren green tea, but not quite. Ten Ren you’ll have to get out of town – we buy ours in Chinatown at a tea shop on Dundas Street West. To my palate, Ten Ten makes the very best green tea. I have tried a few of their black and herbal teas, too.

I was at the wine shop in Metro today looking at their margarita mix. Made with wine, not tequila. I was gobsmacked by that idea. How can you call it a margarita without tequila? I even recoild at the thought of a margarita made without 100% agave tequila. But wine? That’s like a beer made with eggnog instead of barley. Unimaginable…. and somewhat offensive that it should be labelled as a margarita.

Trying to talk tequila with most people in Ontario is like talking string theory at a wrestling match. There’s still that 1970s’ fraternity attitude and misunderstanding of the quality and product controls. The LCBO doesn’t help – it brings in a few good brands like Tromba and Espolon now and then, but mostly sells the crappy mixto for party drinks. That’s like pumping sugary wine coolers over pinot grigio and cab sauvignons.

Boy, have do-it-yourself wines improved since we first started making them. We used to make our own wine at home, in our basement, back 30 years ago. Today we make them at Livery Lane in town because the quality is hugely improved. Our latest batches – an old-vine ZInfandel and  a Semillon-Sauvignon blanc are both equal to anything we buy at the LCBO. The bargain-priced wines, of course.

My favourite reds are zinfandel and primitivo – but the best of the best to my palette is the Californian Cardinal Zin. Simply outstanding wine for a very good price. We recently had a bottle of the Georgian Hills white at a local restaurant and I was really impressed by its quality. Available soon at the local farmers’ market.

Back to tequilas. I have a bottle of Don Julio 1942 anejo tequila to try; brought back from Mexico for me recently. I’ve not tried this tequila, but it has been spoken of highly by aficionados. Very good reputation (as Don Julio has always had).

I have had other extra anejos – aged more than three years in oak barrels – like Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia and the Casa Noble seven-year-old anejo (to my palette the best anejo I’ve ever tasted). I’ve even had a 13-year-old tequila at a private tasting in a bar in the town of Tequila, but it didn’t hold a candle to the Casa Noble.

I’ve also had a JCRF straight from the barrel… sampled in the cellars of Cuervo’s private bodega, and it was superb. Pictures on my tequila website.

I’m just waiting to get a few friends together so I can share the 1942 with them (and a couple of exquisite bottles I’ve saved for this occasion). No point is opening it alone. But the temptation is strong. So a private tasting is in order. Which means making up a mess of Mexican food…

Meanwhile: Star Wars was released more than 30 years ago. Can you believe it? I saw the original film 11 times in the cinema. A geeky obsession, I suppose. I enjoyed looking at the gallery of off-screen images recently put online.

Why do so many people let their dogs crap on lawns, in parks and on the boulevard without picking up? This is basic hygiene, the wash-your-hands-after-you-pee type of elementary cleanliness. Are so many people dirty? Or just anti-social? I’m tired of seeing dog crap everywhere.

Someone recently asked me “what are those people so angry about?” in response to some vituperative letters and website comments. My response was that there are always negative people out there, and what we need to focus on are the positive, optimistic people. Remember the Golden Rule…

We’ve been watching the American TV series, The Unit. About halfway through season two. So far I’m impressed that it;’s a lot better than I expected: it combines a variety of styles and a wide range of issues. It mixes soldiers in war, soldier at home and families (wives and children). Strong female roles, too. I’ve ordered seasons 3 and 4. If you’re a friend, I’ll be happy to lend you seasons one and two. (Also have The Wire, The Shield and Fringe among other series, particularly some great BBS series, if you want…)

Other than that, we have several movie and series DVDs to go though in the next few weeks. Since we gave up cable TV, we have much more time for reading – and for conversation, personal interaction and social activity. But I have bought many movies and shows – both in DVD and streaming format – to watch during dinner. Last week I gave another bag of watched DVDs to the Collingwood Library., maybe 30 pieces We’ve donated at least 100 DVDs to the library in the past two years, along with a few dozen boxes of books.

Several new loaves of bread to write about since my last baking commentary. My first attempt at cheese bread in the machine was a mixed success. Next time: in the oven. I’ll post photos in a subsequent piece.

Just a bunch of random notes for a Sunday evening while I work on the songs for out next ukulele group session. This week: Streets of London by Ralph McTell and Spoon River by Michael Smith/Steve Goodman. More on that later, too.

And tonight we’ll watch a movie from the $5 bargain bin – which contains a wealth of good films, like Coriolanus and J. Edgar.

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