How does cradling a hot cup of tea in my hands comfort me? The warmth reminds me of safety, of home. The steam relaxes me, as it transports the fragrance of the tea to my olfactory receptors. The silky taste of black tea with milk goes down smooth and energizes me. The combination of herbal tea with honey revitalizes my body and spirit and soothes many a cold or sore throat. This is the power of tea, but it also brings us together.
Whether it be the meeting of minds over the sharing of tea, a cup to welcome a friend, or a fancy tea party, the partaking of tea or coffee rests at the center of many social functions. Perhaps we let our guard down with a cup of something warm in our hands and become more transparent, or the fact of sharing the same, simple act drinking something binds us together somehow. What do you think?
In most of my books, I write a scene with a shared tea with friends, family, or neighbors in the storyline. Here’s a segment, pertaining to such a scene, from my book, Silver Moon, released in June. At the end of the book I have the tea recipe the friends share. I thought it might be nice to share it here with you. You will find it at the end of the post. I hope you enjoy the excerpt.
SILVER MOON EXCERPT:
Lily unwrapped her scarf and unbuttoned her wool jacket. “The leaves are about spent.”
“Yes, just a few hanging on,” Mauve said over Silvy’s yapping.
She ignored her dog and still held the door open, as if waiting for something or someone else. The fall air sent a shiver up her spine.
He’s not coming, she reminded herself.
A part of her always seemed to be looking for her missing link—her husband. She sighed and closed the door. Really, she was glad Lily had come to visit her. She picked Silvy up to quiet her and tried to be more congenial.
“How are you? I haven’t seen you for a couple weeks.”
“Busy. Pop and I are burning both ends of the candle. It’s all he can do to find enough workers to fill the quotas we have coming in.” Lily reached out and let Silvy sniff her. “As many times as I’ve come to visit, Silvy still barks at me.”
“Aw, just ignore her.” Mauve let down Silvy, who was all bluster, and took Lily’s jacket. After she had hung up Lily’s outerwear, Mauve directed her to the sitting room where a cozy fire blazed and a low table sat spread with tea, biscuits, canned oranges, and cheese sandwiches cut into little shapes.
“Mm, this looks good.” Lily sniffed at the tea pot. “It smells spicy.”
“Yes, it’s an autumn spice tea; Jenay gave it to me. I don’t know exactly what’s in it. I’ll pour you a cup, and you can try it.” Mauve poured them each a cupful and sat down. “Grab a plate and help yourself.”
Little Silvy positioned herself on Mauve’s lap to scrounge for any dropped crumbs.
Lily wasted no time in obeying Mauve. “I worked up an appetite on my walk.” She sipped the tea. “Mm, I taste cinnamon, clove, mint, apple, and . . . a touch of sage.”
Mauve laughed. “You sound like a tea connoisseur.”
“Hardly.” Lily took a bite of a biscuit. “Little Pearl napping?”
“Yes, I finally got her down. She’s been fussy lately and wanting to be held. Marm says she’s probably cutting teeth. Maang-ikwe gave me a salve with chamomile that I can rub on her gum line. It helps some.”
“Heard from Oshki lately?”
Mauve took a gulp of her tea and scalded her tongue. “Yes. He’s good about writing regularly. From what I can tell, he’s still in the trenches somewhere in France. It doesn’t sound like they have made much of an advancement, but, of course, he can’t be too clear on the details.”
She took a bite of sandwich and chewed. “I can tell he’s trying to keep his and our spirits up. He often tells some tale, old or new, or some funny thing the men do. He doesn’t give too much of a description of their existence in the ground, but I am sure it’s miserable.”
Lily nodded in agreement. She changed the subject. “Mr. Bellevue surprised Nessa. He finally took her up on her offer to move out here.
She picked him up from the dock a few days ago. I think his presence may help her. He always was a stabilizing presence in her life.”
“How nice. I’m happy for Vanessa.” Mauve wished she had a stabilizing presence in her own life. Just to have another body around the house would be comforting.
I do have Pearl and Silvy.
Yes, she did, but neither of them could talk back to her and tell her the comforting words she longed to hear—that it would be all right. She sighed and forced her mind to focus on Lily’s new interest.
“Well, I can’t do all the talking. Tell me about Jimmy.” Mauve stroked Silvy’s silky coat. The little dog shrugged off her attention, attentive at the possibility of a treat.
Lily swallowed and washed the food down with another drink of tea. “I can tell he’s trying to spare me the nasty details too.” She smiled, and a dreamy look rested on her face. “His letters are simple, but nice.”
“That’s it? Come on, this is me you’re talking to. I know you better than that.” Mauve narrowed her eyes and pointed her finger at Lily. “You like him, I mean, really like him.”
Lily actually blushed and shrugged in a noncommittal way. “Maybe.”
“This nice guy is the same person who used to nail your hair to the school desk?”
“To be fair, it was only one time. And he’s grown up now and has repented of his ways.”
“Has he indeed?” Mauve enjoyed teasing her friend. She was glad Lily had a potential beau. She had feared Lily would be an old maid, but, then, Lily probably wouldn’t have minded that all that much.
I would though, Mauve thought.
Mauve knew she needed people. As feisty and fiery as she could be sometimes, she understood most of that to be bluster. She took comfort in a group of friends or family. She was glad she’d married right away. She hadn’t wanted to be alone, but, ironically, that’s how it had turned out.
I have family, Pearl, and Silvy. I’m not alone, she kept reminding herself daily.
“I think I’m . . . in love with Jimmy,” Lily confessed as she looked at her lap and blushed some more.
“I’m glad, Lil.”
Just then, Pearl started crying. Silvy stirred and looked concerned too.
“Oh, I thought she would sleep longer.” Mauve couldn’t keep the disappointment out of her voice.
“Let me go get her.” Lily stood and persuaded Mauve to finish her tea.
“All right. If she needs her nappy changed, there are clean ones on the stand by the dresser I use as a changing table.”
“Who said anything about changing diapers?” Lily winked and laughed at Mauve’s odd look. “Just kidding.”
When Lily had taken care of Pearl, she brought her to the sitting room and settled the baby on her lap.
“Who’s my good girl?” Mauve asked in a high-pitched, baby voice as she tickled her daughter under her chubby chin. Pearl giggled and smiled with delight.
“Aww, she’s a charmer.” Lily pet Pearl’s new crop of red hair, sprouting from her head like alfalfa. “I thought you said she was cranky.”
“She has her moments. Trust me.” Mauve looked at the clock on the wall. “She should be getting hungry soon. Want to feed her a bit of applesauce and oatmeal?”
Mauve set Silvy down and readied herself to mix up Pearl’s food.
“Definitely.” Lily picked Pearl up and followed Mauve into the kitchen.
Mauve washed her hands at the sink and heated some water on the stove. When the water turned warm, she added a little ground oatmeal and a spoonful of plain applesauce. Pearl started to whimper, and Lily jiggled her up and down in her arms. Mauve transferred the mixture to a small bowl and set it on the table.
“Here, I’ll hold her, and you can shovel it in.” Mauve grinned as she handed Lily a spoon.
“Alrighty, little miss. Your Auntie Lil is gonna give this a try.” Lily scooped up a tiny portion of the cereal with the tiny spoon and deposited it in Pearl’s mouth, although half of it came back out again. Pearl quieted and concentrated on eating.
Silvy watched attentively from her domain on the floor. What fell to her kingdom was hers.
“You can catch her dribbles with the spoon and send them back in,” Mauve pointed out.
“Ah, here . . . we . . . go.” Lily exaggerated her actions. Pearl’s eyes got bigger with anticipation when the loaded spoon got close to her mouth. When Lily wasn’t fast enough with the food, she squealed.
“Someone knows where their bread’s buttered.”
Mauve laughed. “Yes, indeed. She knows what she wants.”
“Don’t you get tired?” Lily asked frankly. “How do you manage it all, this house, the baby, and all the washing and cleaning and feeding?”
“My sisters and Marm help some. But sometimes . . . it’s lonely.” Mauve looked around the kitchen and then at Lily, “Even with Pearl here. We weren’t meant to be living here alone.”
The laughter and light spirit defining their time together suddenly left. Sadness took its place. Lily met Mauve’s eyes, but she didn’t smile. I’m glad she understands. Mauve helped Lily finish feeding Pearl.
“I should nurse her a little now.” Mauve wiped Pearl’s face with a washcloth and picked her up.
“While you do that, I’ll clean up the tea things and the kitchen.”
Mauve walked back to the sitting room and settled herself on the couch with a pillow propped under her arm to help support Pearl’s weight. Silvy hopped up next to her mistress. While her daughter nursed, Mauve stroked her soft cheek and spoke quietly to her.
“Let me tell you about your daddy. He’s handsome, strong, a bit wild, but quiet. He likes animals and nature. He loves you very much and can’t wait to get home to see you. He wanted me to tell you this story . . .”
Mauve whispered the Ojibwe tale Oshki had sent in his last letter to Pearl. It was one of Mauve’s favorite native stories . . .
Now, Waynaboozhoo needed to leave his camp, but he wanted it watched while he was gone so he asked Wiigwaas, Birch Tree, to watch it for him.
“Now, I go hunting, Wiigwaas. Will you watch my camp and see that no harm comes to it?”
“Oh yes, Waynaboozhoo, I will be your eyes.” So off went Waynaboozhoo, but Wiigwaas did not keep his word. He let Coyote, the trickster, come and mess up the camp.
When Waynaboozhoo came back, he shouted with anger. “What has happened, Wiigwaas? Why did you not watch my camp?”
Wiigwaas’s branches drooped, and his leaves chimed in the wind. “I am sorry, Waynaboozhoo. I will be more careful next time.”
Then Waynaboozhoo spanked Wiigwaas with some pine boughs and scratched his bark for not watching carefully.
Some time passed and again Waynaboozhoo had to leave his camp.
“You must watch the camp again, Wiigwaas. This time be careful and watch and listen for trouble.”
“I will,” Wiigwaas said.
But Coyote came again, tricked Wiigwaas, broke down Waynaboozhoo’s wigwam, and broke apart his ring of fire stones.
Waynaboozhoo was angry when he returned and saw what had happened. He grabbed some crows and swatted their big, black feathers against Wiigwaas to teach him a lesson. The black rubbed off into the scratches Waynaboozhoo had made in Wiigwaas’s bark, and they are still there today.
Wiigwaas has learned to be a better helper, and every part of Wiigwaas is used by the Anishinaabe: the bark for shelter, canoes, baskets, and paper, the sap for oil, the inner bark for food, and the leaves for tea and medicine.
Pearl finished suckling, and Mauve sat her up to burp her as she finished the story.
Lily leaned against the doorway of the sitting room with a towel in her hand, drying a teacup. “Telling stories?”
“Yes. Oshki sends them in his letters. I tell them to Pearl. This one was How the Birch Tree Got Its Marks. It feels like a part of him is here with us when I tell his stories to her.”
“Oshki always was a storyteller. He learned from his aunt, I guess. Well, this is the last.” Lily held up the dried teacup. “I probably should be headed back before the light starts to fade.”
Mauve wished Lily didn’t have to go. She enjoyed having another person in the house.
“Of course. Thanks for coming, Lil.” Mauve got up to say goodbye. “Come again soon.”
“I will.” She kissed Mauve on the cheek. “Bye, sweet Pearl. I’ll see you soon.”
Lily kissed Pearl, wrapped herself in her warm clothes, and headed back home. She turned and waved at Mauve, watching through the kitchen window.
Mauve held Pearl for a while after Lily left. She couldn’t bear to empty her arms yet. It felt comforting to have Pearl’s warm, little body against hers. She knew she’d been down the last few months, but she was starting to feel better.
The tale of Wiigwaas reminded her of how she dealt with Oshki’s absence. She played the role of Wiigwaas, and Oshki, Waynaboozhoo. She had the job of keeping watch over their home and life while Oshki was gone, but she’d let the old trickster come in and tempt her with a deep sadness.
I am tired of it! Mauve yelled inwardly.
Oshki wouldn’t want her to succumb to the melancholy she’d been entrenched in.
I’ll keep a better watch over our camp, Mauve promised Oshki in her heart. She snuggled next to her daughter, slept, and dreamed good
dreams of the three of them around a cozy fire in the midst of the woods.
AUTUMN COMFORT TEA:
This is a recipe for a hand-blended tea from ingredients that I grew, except the spices.
It’s simple, light, and comforting.
1 and 1⁄2 T. dried apple 2 t. dried sage
2 t. dried mint
1 t. dried chamomile
2 T. cinnamon bark chips 1⁄2 t. crushed clove buds
Chop dried ingredients separately before measuring. After chopping mix together well.
Store in airtight container away from light.
Use 1 t. per 8oz of boiling water.
Steep for 4-5 min. in an infuser.