The puppy is napping, after a wild squirrel chasing romp we just took in the arboretum behind our apartment. It’s gray and drizzly outside, the world has a muffled feeling, and I’m taking a quiet little break. There’s a pleasant empty stillness right now. It feels like a container for latent rejuvenating potential.
I feel as though I haven’t had that much to say lately. I mean, I could tell stories of the pup. About the number of times we trek up and down our three flights of stairs together so she can get out and I can watch her with a mix of admiration at how wondrous she obviously finds the world, and impatience because I can’t seem to let go of my own busybody agenda and feel my mind nagging at me to go back to my work.
I could tell you about the assortment of things she has hoovered up into her mouth. It reads like a bizarre post-apocalyptic still life: glass pieces, pottery shards, a screw, pinecones, styrofoam… I never quite noticed before how many little pieces of trash there are along the street. I could shock you with the story of how she seemed to think that she was an aerialist, or at least attached to some type of gliding device, and she leapt off of a 6 foot drop to crash on the sidewalk below.
Luckily, apart from shaken nerves, she was unscathed. But, I spent the next several hours fighting with tears of relief and feeling like a horrible, irresponsible puppy mom for not keeping her far away from that edge.
My days feel both frustratingly unproductive, with the puppy distracting me from my work every other minute (though, even when I am working, I find myself mostly staring at my pages of data and feeling unable to start) and pleasantly full with the little moments of annoyance, amusement, and joy that come with learning to take care of another life.
But, I feel as if I don’t have that much to say because I haven’t been feeling confident that these are stories worth telling. And, if you aren’t convinced your story is worth telling, it can unfortunately be a self fulfilling prophecy, delivered like a joke whose punchline comes out wrong, leaving everyone with quizzical looks rather than guffaws of laughter.
In the stillness of today though, my mind is shushed and resting in a corner, curled up like a puppy. It’s worn out from spending so much time bustling about in my head blustering about what I should be doing, and saying, and accomplishing, and getting on my case for letting me get on my own case. With my little bit of internal quiet echoing the external quiet, I’m encouraged that these little snippets of stories are worth something, that the everyday is the story as much as the absurdities and oddities are at other times. This is where I am right now.
And, I’m drinking a dirty chai latte that I made for myself. That doesn’t hurt either.
What is a dirty chai latte (besides a drink that sounds significantly less appealing than it is)? A chai tea (oops, that’s technically redundant) latte laced with a shot of espresso. Warm and soothing milk steeped with exotic spicy fragrance that wafts enticingly into your face. It has the rich, sweet winter flavors of gingerbread and the coziness of a cup of milk and honey before bedtime.
It’s no bedtime libation, though, as the bold, but not aggressively so, caramel bitterness of espresso asserts itself through the blanket of dairy. The flavors scuffle briefly, then resolve into a beautifully harmonious, complex, and aromatic drink. It’s like the beverage version of a rejuvenating back rub and aromatherapy…or something.
The recipe is basically my own rendition of my adorable friend Jenny’s dirty chai hot toddy, sans bourbon. Though perhaps if I did juice it up with a shot of bourbon I’d feel even more inclined to relax and savor the moment. It’s delicious and invigorating enough without it, though, and it’s definitely not 5 o’clock yet in my somewhere.
And it couldn’t be easier. Just steep a blend of spices (you could also use your favorite loose leaf chai tea) in whole milk until it is thoroughly infused. Strain the warm milk, and spoon in a drizzle of golden honey for sweetness. If you’d like to whisk and froth it up a bit, by all means do so.
Divide this into mugs, then upend a long shot of espresso into each. Or, to be a bit fancier, pull the espresso into the mugs, then carefully pour the flavored milk into each mug, raising the foamy chestnut colored crema of the espresso to the surface, like a barista would. Whatever your skill level with this, it will taste marvelous.
Sit, sip, and enjoy a bit of stillness, however brief it is.
Dirty chai latte (makes 2)
- 12 oz. whole milk
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 cardamom pods
- 5 peppercorns, pink or black
- 1 1/2 inch chunk of fresh ginger, peeled, and partially smashed with the flat of a large knife
- 2 Tbs. honey
- 2 sachets of black tea (or two scoops of loose leaf black tea)
- 2 shots of espresso
- Lightly crush the spices together – you can do this in a large mortar and pestle, or by putting them in a small, closed back and crushing them with a rolling pin. Put the spices and the milk in a saucepan, bring just to a boil, then turn off the heat and allow to steep 8 minutes.
- Add the black tea and allow to steep 5 more minutes. Strain the milk. Return it to the saucepan (get any remaining spices out of the saucepan) and gently rewarm the milk if needed. Stir in the honey.
- Split the spiced milk between two mugs and add a shot of espresso to each. Enjoy!