St. Nicholas Traditions and Chai Tea

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Some history about the feast of St. Nicholas. Nicholas, born in a section of Greece which is now part of Turkey, came from wealthy parents who died when he was young.

They taught him good Christian values, and he used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. Each night, Nicholas would disguise himself and deliver such items as food, clothing and money to the people of his village.

Of all the townspeople, Nicholas felt the closest bond with one specific family. This family had lost all their money, and the father needed to support his three daughters who could not find husbands because of their poverty. In those days a dowry was necessary to marry. Nicholas became informed of this, and anonymously took a bag of gold coins  and threw it into an open window of the man’s house in the night. The legend is that it landed in a pair of shoes or socks that were left by the fire to dry. He gave the other 2 daughters enough gold for their dowrys, too.

This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas.

The stories of his miracles and work for the poor eventually led him to the status of a saint. He was known as the protector of children, among others and that’s why we honor him with simple gifts on his feast day.

At beginning of Advent, we celebrate his feast day on December 6 by filling stockings with small gifts and also we put in fruit: a pomegranate. When we were kids, we put our regular socks on the bed posts. Now we hang fancy stockings on the mantle. And some European folks still put shoes by their bed in hopes St Nick will fill them with goodies.

Some families have a tradition of doing a St Nicholas “deed”. But it has to be in secret, so it’s in the spirit of St. Nicholas.

Is there someone in your neighborhood who will need their snow removed from their sidewalk? Is there someone who you know needs food to eat? How about leaving a bag of food on their doorknob or porch.

Why I’m sharing a Chai Tea recipe: In different parts of Europe, particularly Czechoslovakia Advent marks the beginning of holiday baking (actually, in the US too!) and cinnamon and star anise are 2 spices that are popular in baked goods there.

Traditional Chai Tea Recipe

Chai tea is made mostly of spices. Making your own blend of Chai allows you to be creative and “customize” the blend. Here’s a basic Chai tea recipe, and I will tell you that mixing the spices is like blending a perfume. You decide what to add to make it more to your taste, whether it’s some dried orange peel, fennel seeds, or even dried lemon herbs.

This chai tea recipe makes a special gift.  Place the roasted and coarsely pounded blend into a decorative jar and tie a gift tag on it with instructions.

Ingredients

  • 5 tablespoons green cardamom pods or 1 tablespoon cardamom seeds
  • 2 tablespoons whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 7-8 cinnamon sticks, 2” long each
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Instructions

  1. Combine all of the ingredients except the ginger and nutmeg in a non-stick ungreased heavy skillet. Over low heat, toast the spices for about 3 minutes, until fragrant. Inhale the intoxicating aroma! If using cardamom pods, they may start to split and release their seeds.
  2. Add the ginger and nutmeg and blend. Let cool.
  3. Pound everything briefly, just enough to crush the spices coarsely. I like to do this with a mortar and pestle, but you can do it in a spice/coffee grinder, or put the spices in a plastic bag and pound with a mallet or rolling pin.
  4. Transfer to an airtight container where the mixture will keep up to 3 months.

Coffee Shop Latte Style

  1. Combine 1 cup milk with up to 1 tablespoon Chai mix and sweetener to taste.  (Cane sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey or stevia are all good choices).  Bring to a simmer and then turn off heat.
  2. Cover and let infuse for 10 minutes while you brew a pot of Assam or Darjeeling (these are Indian teas – you could also use black  tea) using 2 cups boiling water and 2 teaspoons tea or 2 bags of tea. Let tea infuse 5 minutes, then strain.
  3. Reheat the spiced milk if necessary and strain it into 2 large teacups. Froth if you choose. Pour in as much hot tea as you like.

Why Chai tea is good for you

  • Cardamom is an anti-spasmodic and a digestive stimulant.
  • Cloves are antiseptic (dentists used to use clove oil to soothe gums) and are a warming, healing spice. Cloves are good for gastric discomfort.
  • Cinnamon is pungent and warming and is good for the digestion. It is also anti-spasmodic and antiseptic
  • Ginger helps the circulation, is an expectorant, and is very calming to the stomach.
  • Star anise is the star-shaped fruit of an evergreen native to China. It tastes a bit like licorice and is a stimulant and diuretic, and is thought to relieve sore throats.
  • Black pepper has anti-inflammatory qualities.
  • Coriander seeds aid in digestion.
  • Nutmeg helps lower blood pressure.

Chai Tea Mix in a Jar

Let the little ones help mix this up. Awesome gift for teachers, neighbors and service people. This Chai tea recipe makes a rich, creamy drink and is one of my most requested. Write instructions for storage and serving on gift tag if you are giving this to someone.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup powdered milk
  • 1 -1/4  cups non-dairy powdered coffee creamer
  • 1- 1/2  cups powdered French vanilla flavored coffee creamer
  • 2  cups sugar
  • 1 -1/4  cups brown sugar, packed
  • 2 cups plain instant tea, unsweetened
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon or little more to taste
  • 1 -1/4  teaspoon ea: ground cloves, ground cardamom
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 3/4  teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon white or black pepper, finely ground

Instructions

  1. Whisk  all ingredients together.
  2. In blender or food processor blend 1 cup at a time until mixture is consistency of fine powder.
  3. Makes about 9 cups of mix. Store tightly at room temperature.

To serve:

Stir 2 heaping tablespoons Chai Tea Mix into mug of hot milk or water. I like milk for its creamy texture.

Tips

  • What’s the best milk for Chai tea? That’s up to you. I use whole milk. Half & half, low fat, evaporated, fat free or dairy free works, too. (My neighbor uses milk from the Jersey cow he owns – lucky him!).
  • Why froth? To get coffeehouse quality Chai tea, frothing the milk is essential. It lends a creamy and light texture to the tea. Evaporated milk doesn’t froth as well as other milks, but makes for a nice, thicker beverage.
  • Froth the milk with an immersion blender, a battery operated frother, or a whisk.

Gilding the lily

Top your Chai tea latte with a dollop of whipped cream, then sprinkle with cinnamon and/or nutmeg if you like.

“Instant” Chai Tea Recipe

Start with Chai spice tea bags and  you’re good to go!

Ingredients

  • 2 Chai spice tea bags
  • 1/3 cup boiling water
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • Sweetener to taste
  • Cinnamon and/or nutmeg (optional)

Instructions

  1. Infuse the tea in boiling water for 3-5 minutes, then strain.
  2. Heat milk, then froth if you like.
  3. Combine Chai tea and milk, sweeten to taste, then sprinkle with cinnamon and/or nutmeg if desired

Pumpkin Chai Latte

You can turn any Chai tea latte into pumpkin Chai.

After straining milk mixture, whisk in pumpkin puree to taste. Start with a tablespoon or so and go from there. Top finished Chai with whipped cream and a sprinkling of pumpkin pie spice.

 

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