When I was young, my parents had some very good luck with daycare providers. There weren’t after school programs or “amenities,” but there were very interesting people like Mrs. Gill and Mrs. DiAntonio, immigrant women with fantastic recipes who were at home all the time, cooking. And looking after me, I guess, but mostly cooking. And more often than not, they shared. From Mrs. DiAntonio, I learned about the other kind of amaretti cookies – the soft ones with the almond thumbprint in the centre, about how magnificent just tomato sauce could be on pasta, that mozzarella doesn’t come in bricks, and that wine is something that happens after you squish grapes with your feet. I never got to taste the wine, but Mr. DiAntonio would make it that way, and grew his own grapes to boot.
From Mrs. Gill, I learned about bright red tandoori chicken, still one of my favourite things, about samosas (and, incidentally, ketchup on samosas which is still the only way to have them) and potato pakoras and twisty orange jalebis and chai tea. At one point, Mrs. Gill and my mother traded skills – my mom taught Mrs. Gill to sew, and Mrs. Gill taught my mom about Indian cooking. Armed with spices Mrs. Gill had given her, my mom was able to make that chai tea at home. I still remember the taste of Mrs. Gill’s chai – it’s nothing like the Starbucks iteration, and nothing at all like what you buy in teabags labelled “chai tea.”
Today it rained a lot, and there was thunder (and I discovered that Molly is a scaredy cat), and I had a lot of housecleaning to do. A regular cup of tea would not quite have done. I don’t have Mrs. Gill’s recipe, but I remember the taste. If you don’t keep them in your kitchen, go buy the spices – you can buy them at Indian grocery stores, and you get a lot of them for not very much money. I buy most of my spices from Indian grocers (or from the Indian section of Superstore), because they are so plentiful and inexpensive.
So, here. A recipe for chai tea, which I’ll hope you enjoy anytime there’s thunder and downpour, even if you end up drinking it while cradling (and reassuring) a bawling kitten.
(Makes two cups)
- 2 cups cold milk
- 2 tbsp. honey
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 tbsp. whole green cardamom
- 2 tsp. whole cloves
- 2 tsp. black peppercorns
- 1 tsp. fennel seed
- 3 allspice berries
- 1 slice of ginger (sliced horizontally from ginger root, about the thickness of a quarter)
- 1 piece dried orange peel (optional, but if you have it, all the better!)
- 2 teabags of black tea
In a saucepan over medium-high heat, toast whole spices until just fragrant, about two minutes, moving them about the pan frequently. Reduce heat to medium, and add milk and honey, stirring to dissolve the honey. Add teabags once honey is dissolved, and allow to come very slowly to a gentle boil, about 40 minutes.
Once it begins to boil, remove the mixture from the stovetop and strain into mugs. Serve immediately.