Ah, winter. The magic hush of the first snowfall. Snowflakes blowing across new fallen snow like powdered sugar across a freshly frosted cake. The refreshing -15 degree wind that greets me like a lover’s kiss on the front doorstep every morning as I leave the house. The sun zooming across the sky, racing to the horizon by 4:30. The long nights.
You didn’t fall for that, did you? I hate winter. I hate shoveling, frozen finger tips, frozen toes, the dirty slush that pools on the floor of the bus. I hate having to keep my mouth shut when the winter-loving Minnesotans get excited about the first snow-fall, or when my colleague chirps, “Cold enough for ya?” at me first thing in the morning. If I could hibernate and miss the whole damn season, I would.
Unfortunately, it seems my lot in life to go farther and farther north each time I move. As if the long New England winters weren’t bad enough, I’ve now moved to a place famous for harsh, long winters.
I was doing okay until the first snowfall. But then I realized that unlike in Boston, where the snow melts between snow falls, the snow on the ground is here to stay for five long months.
My general grumpiness about the weather was much relieved by a discovery last week on Rambling Spoon: Freshly brewed chai. Because I’m one of those lactose-intolerant people who never seems to have Lactaid on hand (especially when traveling) I never had chai in India. Chai in western coffee shops tends to be over-spiced and sickeningly sweet, especially when prepared with soy milk. But Karen’s description of chai on the streets of Calcutta, brewed simply with ample fresh ginger and a subtle kiss of cardamom had me. Where had this chai been all my life?
Real chai is the perfect thing for Minnesota winters. It’s almost worth the long, dark walk from the bus stop through the frozen landscape just to come home and put a pot of chai on the stove. Simmering the spices over the stove fills the house with the warm scent of ginger, which makes me feel like my mom is preparing a cup of ginger tea. Ginger and cardamom are both warming herbs in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines, and somehow, chai prepared this way tastes much hotter than the actual temperature of the liquid. It’s like taking the warmth of the tropics into my body. The ginger and cardamom blast the cold right out of my fingers and toes, warming me up for the rest of the evening.
So if winter has you down, I prescribe the following remedy: Smash up some ginger, crack open a pod of cardamom, and put a pot of chai on the boil. Curl up with the latest issue of the New Yorker and your snuggly-est cat. And try to enjoy the moment, because it’s going to be a long, long winter.
Home Brewed Chai
Do not use your finest leaf-tea here. In fact, this is the perfect time for “dust tea,” cheaper tea that’s been swept off the tea room floor. Avoid tea bags, though, as ounce for ounce, they are actually a lot more expensive than any loose leaf tea.
Some insist that tea should never be boiled, and with your finest, loose-leaf tea, I absolutely agree. In this preparation, when I’m already using second or third rate tea, I like the stronger flavor that comes from boiling as an accompaniment to all that milk, sugar, and ginger.
1/2 c. water
3-5 thin slices ginger, either smashed in a mortar and pestle, or crushed with the flat of a knife
1-2 pods cardmom, split in half (if you’re using a mortar and pestle, go ahead and grind it with the ginger)
1 c. milk (I use lactose-free milk)
sugar to taste
1 heaping teaspoon tea
Boil water, ginger, and cardamom for 15 minutes. Add milk, and return to a simmer. Bring to a boil, add tea, and simmer five minutes.
Strain into your favorite mug, curl up with a good book, and make the most of the winter.