You know those food bloggers who have the perky, joyous blog posts that inspire you to go out and conquer the world? I’m totally not going to be that chick for you right now. Right now I need you to sit with me and hold me. Tell me that life won’t suck this bad in a couple of months. I need to cry so hard that my nose starts running, but you can’t get grossed out and hurl. You and I are going to sit down with our mugs of Pumpkin Spice Chai Lattes and a box of Kleenex and do the damned thang. It is fall after all. I is a hot-mess after all, too.
I’ve been a downer these last few posts, I know it. Life around here isn’t always this sucky and gray, I promise. The latter days of summer, and going into fall while doing a deployment, though? That’s not easy because they’re full of birthdays and a special anniversary…mine.
Eighteen years ago, on a stormy September day, me and this stud were married. We didn’t choose the day because it was auspicious or meaningful; we chose it based on the fact that he’d always have a long holiday weekend. Smart, if you ask me. Never once did it dawn on me when I said, “I do,” that we’d spend so many of them apart. Long holiday weekends suck when half of the reason for your holiday is gone. I don’t try to count how many of those eighteen anniversaries were spent apart because it just pisses me off. Suffice it to say, it’s been more than I care for. But, one thing you learn as a military wife: missions don’t stop because you’re in your feelings. The Army- especially- keeps rolling along. HOOAH! and all that crap.
Another couple got married this weekend, Ryan and Kris, who are friends of the family. They bestowed the honor of making their cakes upon me. The drive down to Austin to deliver them was a much-needed release. Who am I kidding? Trying to deliver two cakes an hour-and-a-half away stressed me the hell out!! But, I had time to focus on things that didn’t have to do with kids, or deployments, or my anniversary. My focus had to be on the idiot that kept cutting me off on the highway.
Incompetent drivers aside, I- and more importantly- the cakes, made it in one, unshifted, piece. I was able to breathe again, and spend time with my surrogate family. Watching two people choose each other in holy matrimony is a blessing in and of itself. Remembering when you did it those many years ago (and realizing you’re still at it) makes it all the more special.
Alas, I had to come back to reality…alone. There was no way I was going to stay for the first dance. I jetted before I embarrassed myself, and had a cupcake and a can of wine after making it back home. Not only, because I was relieved that the drive was behind me sans tear-fest, but because I was just that pathetic. Back to the monotony of being a Blue Star Wife. Yay.
I needed something to warm my soul this week, so I figured I may as well bust out the Pumpkin Spice while I’m at it. It being September, and all, why not? Plus, since the Twinks and I all love Chai, whenever I make it I need to make it in bulk.
Pumpkin Spice Chai Lattes are just like their standard Masala cousins, with the exception of the added flair that nutmeg, allspice, and cloves bring to the party. A traditional Masala Chai is as varied as the family that makes it. Many people in the States mistakingly refer to it as “Chai Tea,” which is redundant. Chai is tea. There’s a misconception that there’s one specific recipe that must be used when making Chai. In India, families develop their own recipe for Chai and stick with it. So, I do as the Indians do, and pave my own Chai path. My favorite recipe includes ginger, cinnamon, green cardamom, and star anise. To create my Pumpkin Spice Chai Lattes, I add cloves, allspice, nutmeg and black peppercorn.
The latte in the name just refers to the addition of milk. Milk of any variety can be used. I prefer half-and-half in my Chai latte, but coconut milk is a great sub if you want a vegan option. Feel free to tailor yours, but this is a great springboard Pumpkin Spice Chai recipe to start you off with.
While you can, most certainly, use ground spices to create your Chai; I always prefer to use them whole. Realistically, no one goes through a whole ounce of ground nutmeg in a year (my recommended shelf-life for ground spices). Buying them whole gives me my money’s worth. I love the smell of spices toasting in a pan. This simple process heats the oils in the spice and draws out the essence to add even more flavor to an already flavorful recipe. Either toast them in a saucepan over medium heat for 5-10 minutes (or until you smell their fragrance), or warm them in a 300°F oven for the same amount of time.
Remove them from the heat and allow to cool slightly before grinding them in a coffee grinder dedicated to your spices. I say, “dedicated,” because coffee can be a pretty serious deal to some folks. I, for one, don’t play when it comes to my coffee, so having it taste like Pumpkin Spice may tick me off. Electric coffee grinders are pretty economical, so one that is used only for spices shouldn’t break the bank. If you can’t swing it, a good old-fashioned mortar-and-pestle works like a charm. That, or as I said before, go with the ground spices. Pulse them until you have a coarse powder. Your nutmeg seed may not break down fully, but you do want it ground smaller than what you started with.
No need for fancy tea kettles here. We’re doing something a bit different with this recipe anyway. Bring four and a half cups of water to a boil with your black Assam, or English Breakfast Blend, tea bags and the spice blend. As soon as it begins to boil rapidly, turn the heat off and cover the pot with a lid. Allow the tea and spices to steep for at least ten minutes whilst sitting on the warm burner. This process, I’ve found, eliminates the bitterness from the constant, rapid boiling of the tea leaves. My biggest disappointment with coffee houses, in general, is that their teas and coffees, alike, all tend to taste bitter. Turns out it’s mainly from the maltreatment of the leaves and grinds. Respect the grind, people!
What this?!?! Yup! I’m busting out the french press! The first few times I made chai, its lack of flavor disappointed me. I realized I wasn’t extracting most of the flavor from the spices that I had painstakingly prepared. Straining into the mug after boiling and steeping just weren’t cutting the mustard. When I glanced over at my french press, a choir of heavenly angels sang out in unison, “AWWWWW YEAHHHH!!!!” or something like that. It dawned on me that the only way to squeeze the very essence out of the tea and the spices, and not burn the hell out of myself in the process- was to use the press. So, press I did. Genius. Sheer flippin’ genius.
Pour your tea into the french press, give it a stir with a wooden, not metal (made that mistake with the last press), spoon and slowly press. Allow the tea to sit for a minute or two after you’ve pressed to let it settle and…
…get sweet. I use demerara sugar because I love the caramel-like flavor it gives my chai. It reminds me of the brown sugar I use in my pumpkin and pecan pies during the holidays, so it’s the perfect sweetener for this Pumpkin Spice Chai. Since it’s raw sugar, I also pretend like it’s healthier for me to consume. Whatevs. You can use granulated sugar, maple syrup, or even honey to sweeten.
Pour in your flavorful Chai.
Follow that up with your milk of choice. Again, I’m using half-and-half, because…well, I’m sad, I told you. Fat is irrelevant when I’m sad. If you care about your weight, kudos, use skim, or even almond or coconut milk. The latter two will make this a vegan chai latte- bonus!
Now, all that’s left to do is…read his card and CRY!!!!! No. All that’s left to do is enjoy.
I’m sad. Terribly sad because I miss my best friend. But, I’m grateful. When we first announced our engagement, I’m almost certain bookies were taking bets from some of our friends and family on how long our marriage would last. And, I don’t blame them. Hector and I were young, opinionated and immature. I had just turned twenty-one, for God’s sake! Our attitudes, coupled with the fact that we were going to be a military family meant the odds weren’t in our favor. Many- many– of our friends have since gotten divorces. So, I’m grateful. I’m sad, but blessed. Some people keep telling me, “He’ll be home soon,” seems like “soon” is a relative term. But! I do know that he’ll be home.
While I wait, I’ll enjoy this Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte as it warms my soul; I’ll read his card because that warms my heart. And, I’ll celebrate the fact that we’ve made it one more year.
Happy Anniversary, Sapo. Here’s to growing old together.
Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte
Yield 4 cups
A hug in a mug. The warm spices blend in the perfect way to comfort your soul.
Special equipment needed (both are optional):
2 cinnamon sticks (1 tbsp ground cinnamon)
1 nutmeg seed (1 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg)
4 cardamom seeds (1 tsp ground cardamom)
2" piece of ginger (1 tsp ground ginger)
2 star anise (optional)
1 tsp whole cloves (1/2 tsp ground cloves)
1/2 tsp whole allspice (1/4 tsp ground allspice)
2 black peppercorns (pinch of freshly ground black pepper, optional)
8 Assam or English Breakfast tea bags
4 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cup half-and-half (or coconut milk)
demerara sugar, to taste
- If using ground spices, proceed to step three. If using whole spices, over medium heat in a skillet, toast all of the spices, except the fresh ginger, until fragrant- about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
- Grind the spices to a coarse powder in a coffee (or spice) grinder.
- In a saucepan, combine the water, tea bags, ginger, and spices. Bring to a rapid boil and turn off the heat. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and allow to steep, on the burner, for 10 minutes.
- Pour the tea into a french press. Allow to sit for five minutes before slowly pressing to extract the flavors. let the tea settle for five minutes before pouring into mugs. Alternatively, if you're not using a press, strain the tea into the mugs through a fine-mesh strainer.
- Add the milk in equal portions to the mugs and sweetened with sugar as desired. Serve immediately.
Pin this recipe for those days you’ll need some lovin’ and check out these other soul-warming recipes of mine:
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