Ginger Tea with Friends and Strangers

In addition to Mark Bittman, I have another new crush. It's on the poet Naomi Shihab Nye who Emily and I saw last night as part of this season's Seattle Arts and Lectures series at Benaroya Hall.  I am still basking in everything she said, her haunting poems, sweet smile (she signed my book), sense of humor, and the way she uses language to promote peace and reconciliation.  Emily and I have been exchanging little remembrances and bits of poems all day via email.  I just love that, in a world of tweeter (I know it's Twitter.  I was making a joke) Seattleites are still packing out halls to hear poetry.  I cut her picture from the program and put it on my bulletin board. Then I took a picture of that.  I'm leaving it up for awhile as a reminder of how I want to be in the world.

She read a poem called Red Brocade, and I knew two things immediately.  1) I had to have the book no matter what and 2) This poem was going in today's post.  Thankfully, 19 Varieties of Gazelle:  Poems of the Middle East was in paperback for just $6.99.  Also, thankfully, some of you now trust me enough to let me talk about poetry instead of food.  Don't worry.  This is still about food.  And so much more.

Naomi (we're sort of friends since she signed my book, so I'm dropping formalities) is Palestinian-American, and has lot of relatives and friends in Palestine who are suffering.  She writes about the human cost of war in a way that makes you put down the book and cry.  And yet she's not a pessimist--not even close.  She celebrates the smallest, most intimate beauties in everyday life, honoring people she loves and strangers she's never met.  

This poem praises the power of food to bring people together and the magic of hospitality. And it gives us a little chiding about the curse of busyness.  It's my new anthem.

Red Brocade
Naomi Shihab Nye, from 19 Varieties of Gazelle

The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.

Let’s go back to that.
Rice? Pine Nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.

No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.

I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.


I refuse to be claimed!  I refuse to be claimed by a culture that says achieving is more important than loving. I refuse to be too busy to eat together, refuse to wear busyness like a badge of honor.  I want to lay out the "red brocade pillow" for friends and strangers.  I'm a long way from always doing it without hesitation, but I'm getting closer.

I love the line "We will snip fresh mint/into your tea."  Maybe because I just planted a little mint pot last weekend (and you know my obsession with mint).  Or maybe because offering a drink to someone is the first thing I do when they walk in the door.  Or maybe because it gives me a simple, delicious way to make this poetry posting into a food posting.

I've been noticing lately how many people in my life don't drink coffee, caffeinated tea, or alcohol.  This is something I can offer them that's still a treat, something that says, "Here--sit on the best pillow."  You don't have to use fresh mint.  I've made it many times with just lemon, ginger, and honey.  You can also brew peppermint or green tea and use that as a base instead of water.

This won't surprise some of you, but I'm tearing up as I write today because this blog has given me unimagined ways to lay out the red brocade pillow.  Thank you for sharing tea with me so often even if we can't be in the same kitchen.

Ginger Lemon Tea with Fresh Mint
(double if more than two people are drinking it)

3 cups boiling water
juice of one lemon + 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
one inch chunk of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
at least 4 Tb. honey (can make it sweeter if you want)
handful fresh mint leaves

In a tempered glass beaker or teapot, put lemon juice, lemon slices, ginger, and honey.  Pour hot water over and stir.  Add mint at the last minute.  It will get brown, but still look and taste delicious.  You can also let this sit around to cool and then pour it over ice later.