Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Rooibos Tea and a Good Book

93px-rooibos_tea_2.jpgIMG_0001 smith

Jenn over at The Thrift Shop Romantic has asked me to do a meme - and before you go any further, go look at her blog, which is very cool and fun! The deal is that you are supposed to share the book you are currently reading a quote a few paragraphs from it.

Well, luckily the book I am reading now has a lot of tea-drinking in it - and an intriguing tea at that. So not only am I going to share a bit of my book with you, I will (a) find out what the tea is and (b) end up with a teatime recipe, which, OK, is not in the book, but you can see the tenuous connection, right?

I did read a couple of mysteries over Christmas where the detective is a caterer or something, and there are recipes at the back of the book, after the mystery is solved, but I read those in December so they do not count. And I decided not to count my cookbook reading, which consists of me making the recipes in my head, or flipping around at random in the Larousse Gastronomique. Mind you when I read at night, reclining gorgeously on a couch, the Larousse is WAY too heavy for me. I need a light paperback to hold in my exhausted hands. Mysteries are perfect for this sort of half-conscious, do-not-bother-me-for-I-am-covered-by-a-blanket reading moments.

So what I am reading right now is one of Alexander McCall Smith's mystery series about the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, which is run by Precious Ramotswe, the first female detective in Botswana. This one is called The Good Husband of Zebra Drive. As always in this series, several small mysteries are solved in the course of the book. The titular one concerns a rather rude and abrupt lady who suspects her husband of having an affair, and wants him followed and found out. All is solved in the end, naturally. I am looking forward to reading more in the series, as they are quietly witty, and I like the premise of having several smaller mysteries to solve rather than one flashy extraordinary one.

It is hard to choose bits of the book to quote - and I won't tell you too much about the plot, because that would spoil it. Here is a little exchange in Chapter 1 that gives you an idea of the style of the novel:

"He cannot shut doors quietly," said Motholeli, putting her hands to her ears.

"He is a boy," said Mma Ramotswe. "That is how boys behave."

"Then I am glad I am not a boy," said Motholeli.

Mma Ramotswe smiled. "Men and boys think that we would like to be like them," she said. "I don't think they know how pleased we are to be women." [p. 8]

Mma Remotswe's favorite drink is "red bush tea," and I thought i didn't know what that was. But it is rooibos tea, which has become popular partly through the Smith books and partly from its delicious taste, which is mildly nutty and sweet. It has high levels of antioxidants and low levels of caffeine and tannin - how could you not like that? Celestial Seasonings makes several kinds, including my favorite, Madagascar Vanilla Red Rooibos.

There are two kinds of tea consumed at regular intervals at the detective agency. There is regular tea for everyone but Mma Ramotswe. She prefers traditional red bush tea, which is seen by many people in the series as rather old-fashioned. This takes place in "A Short Chapter About Tea" - here is a bit which will give you the flavor of these wonderful books: smooth, gentle yet sharp writing, humorous and though quite relaxing to read, strangely absorbing. I picked this book up thinking I might get bored, and did not put it down until I had read it all. In this scene, the secretary, Mma Makutsi, has returned after quitting for one morning, and the two women are being careful with each other. However, they still want their tea:

Mma Ramotswe made a placatory gesture with her hand. "Oh no, Mma. Anybody can make that sort of mistake. One can be thinking of something else altogether and not notice that the tea is getting low. That has happened many times before."

"Here?" asked Mma Makutsi. "Are you saying that it has happened here? That I have forgotten many times before?"

"No," said Mma Ramotswe hurriedly. "Not you. I'm just saying that it has happened elsewhere. Everybody makes that sort of mistake. It is easily done. I cannot remember a single time you have done this before. Not one single time."

This seemed to satisfy Mma Makutsi. "Good. But what are you going to do now? Will you have ordinary tea, Mma?"

Mma Ramotswe felt that she had no alternative. "If there is no bush tea, then I cannot very well sit here and not drink any tea. It would be better to drink a cup of ordinary tea rather than have no tea to drink." [p. 171]

I agree entirely - and I am about to get myself a cup of Madagascar Vanilla Rooibos right now. But before I do, here's a recipe for a little something to go with your tea - whatever kind you prefer. It is Scottish, in honor of Alexander McCall Smith, who is Zimbabwean by birth but of Scottish descent (I am too, a little - one ancestor was from Dumfries and one further back came from the Isle of Skye). It is from Recipes From Scotland (1960), by F. Marian McNeill:

Edinburgh Gingerbread

8 oz. flour
4 oz. butter
4 oz. treacle
2 oz. sugar
4 oz. raisins
2 oz. almonds
1 level teaspoonful Bicarbonate of Soda
1 level teaspoonful Cinnamon
1 level teaspoon Cloves
1 heaped teaspoonful Ginger
2 Eggs

Sift the flour, soda and spices into a basin. Clean and stone the raisins, blanch and split the almonds, and add to the flour mixture.

Put the butter, sugar and treacle into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Beat the two eggs, and pour the boiling treacle over them, stirring vigorously. Pour this mixture on to the dry ingredients and beat thoroughly. Put into a battered cake-tin and bake for an hour or longer in a very moderate oven.

Image of a glass of rooibos tea from Wikimedia Commons. And I tag any one of my readers who would like to do this - please do, it is really fun. And I love to hear about what other people are reading.

Note: BBC1 is about to start a series about the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - I hope this will come out on DVD sometime!

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