Friday, February 8, 2013

This is Not a Recipe for the Best Spiced Pumpkin Chai Latte You'll Never Have

Some of my dietary restrictions include caffeine, sugar (including honey and maple syrup) and dairy.  All the good stuff!  What's the point of living right?  Well, though giving up coffee was tragic, I have survived and after a year and a half without it, I don't even miss it.  Very much.  I do however still really like rich, dark and creamy, full-bodied, bitter and sweet, hot drinks.  Root coffees are the perfect thing to fill the two shot Americano sized void in my soul.

All winter long I've been seeing various flavoured lattes in the coffee shops.  "Come in and warm up with a chai latte!"  "Winter special: pumpkin spiced latte."  "Cinnamon mocha."  I have to admit to coveting them just a little bit as I ordered my ginger mint tea.  Then the slow, no longer fuelled by caffeine light bulb went off and I was all like, "I'll make own damned latte thank you very much!"  And that's just what I did.

First I simmered some dandelion roots.                                                                                        
Then I took a couple of tablespoons of butternut squash that had been roasted the night before and added to that the water in which I had soaked a bunch of dates (the one sweetener that I seem to do ok with). Next I tossed in some chai spices. Ginger, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg.

Into that I poured my homemade almond milk (store bought's no good because of all the extra ingredients and preservatives.) This mix got blended up with a hand blender and heated up in a pot with the brewed dandy coffee.  I poured myself a piping hot mug and sprinkled some more cinnamon on top. Et voilà! My very own pumpkin spiced latte.  It was delicious.
Is it worth it?  All that work?  Some of you may be asking.  The short answer is: not at all.

To unpack that a bit; I don't see it as work.  I see it as escape from the cult of convenience and instant gratification.  I see it as the rhythmic unfolding of a life in tune with the seasons, that revolves around a stocked pantry, embraces slow food, makes do with what is at hand and honours the body by nourishing it with what it needs.

To try and write a recipe for this cup, that someone could follow step by step, would be ridiculous.  It would have had to have started a year or two ago, with the encouraging of dandelions to grow in the garden, and include the digging up, washing, drying and roasting of those roots in the fall.  There'd need to be instructions on gathering and storing winter squash before the snow flies and keeping a close eye on them over the passing months, making sure to cook up first those that start to develop soft spots.  Then there would be a whole other meal to discuss when the squash gets cooked up the night before for dinner, saving the leftovers, knowing they'll go into the cup the next day.  There needs to be acknowledgement of the knowing that this isn't an every day sort of thing, being content with that and choosing the day to craft this treat.  Like maybe your birthday.
There is the satisfaction and security of knowing that the only ingredients in the almond milk are almonds and filtered water.  There is the remembering of the farmer that grew the squash.

There can be no recipe, and no one will be able to make this cup.  And that's great!  It means that you can create something that is completely unique and reflects the rhythm of your own unfolding days.  Maybe dairy and sugar are your life's blood and you have a raw milk, cow share and gallon of maple syrup.  I think that would be amazing!

Maybe you roasted and pureed all your pumpkins months ago and you just need to   pull some out of the freezer to defrost.  Maybe you grew them in your own garden and your memories are of long days and the whine of cicadas.

Heck.  Maybe caffeine is the only thing that gets you out of bed in the morning and your cup will be full of the finest organic, shade grown, fair trade brew.  Go for it!

Where I recommend you do not falter, where the strength of this non-recipe lies, is in fostering a connection to the land, your bioregion and having a fairly in depth understanding of the source of all your ingredients and the impact of your choices.  Make sure you can pronounce those ingredients, and if some of them can directly call up images of an earlier season or put dirt under your fingernails, so much the better.  Try to have something at the end that you will compost. It's a lovely way to participate in the closing of the nutrient loop.

But most importantly, make sure to enjoy and savour every last drop in your cup.  Share it with a loved one, sip it slowly in a chair with a good book.  If your non-recipe includes a fireplace in a cabin in a snow-filled forest I am so jealous!

Whatever ends up in your cup, wherever you enjoy it, may it nourish you and bring you warmth.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful and thoughtful expressions here. Thanks

Amber said...

Thanks anon! Of course a few days later I opted for convenience and had a pizza party for my birthday, ordering from a local business, but with no idea about where the ingredients came from! Most of the time I live by my own advice, but occasionally I'm learning it's ok to relax a little too! :)

Heather said...

I read this the day you posted it, but I keep coming back to it in my head. I love this for so very many reasons. I love creating a one-of-a-kind treat in the kitchen with "found" ingredients. I love the freedom that moving away from processed foods provides. Though I have not graduated to growing my own ingredients, the staples I buy can be transformed into beautiful nourishment for my family, limited only by imagination. You provide such gentle inspiration on my journey to feed my family seasonally, simply, naturally.

Amber said...

Thank you so much for your lovely and kind words Heather! I really believe that nourishment comes not just from what we eat, but how we gather (grow or buy), prepare and take in food. :)

Susan said...

Beautifully written!