Monday, December 11, 2017

A Christmas Tea with my neighbors

Two years ago, one of the best things possible happened. Our treadmill broke. It was Christmas, so we didn't rush right out and buy a new one. Instead, I started walking through the neighborhood on those cold afternoons, and I began to meet some of my neighbors I'd seen only in passing. Today, I am so thankful for that broken treadmill, because it led me to two new friends, Carol and Amanda, and a third friend, Amanda's sweet little baby Kelly, has joined our group as well. Yesterday, I did something I'd been wanting to do for a while and had them over for Christmas tea!

I must say, I love my neighbors and wish I'd gotten to know them sooner!

Our menu consisted of cucumber sandwiches and …

Pimiento cheese ribbons and chicken salad sandwiches cut into teapot shapes.
We had chocolate chip scones, and they were served with cream that I had in a Christmas tree–shaped dish (forgot to get a picture; y'all know how it is).

Our sweets included peppermint pecan fudge brownie bites …

White chocolate cheesecake balls …

And brown sugar shortbread (forever grateful that my pen pal Sandy shared this easy, never-fail recipe).

The three dessert plates (and I have only three) were perfect for this gathering, and I have them only because my tea-lover friend Joy up in Blairsville found them for me! (Thank you again, Joy! See, I'm putting them to good use.)


They matched the teapot and two-tiered server I already had, and Joy found me the sugar bowl as well. I think of her every time I see these! The teas I served were Victorian London Fog from Harney and Coconut Tea from Adagio. We drank many cups of each!
 
And in some news I did not even mention on Friday because I doubted it would actually happen, we got snow here in Georgia! Several inches!

 This snow-deprived child was quite happy to look out my office window yesterday morning and see … this view! We rarely, rarely get snow in the South, and certainly not several inches of it, and when they predicted a dusting, I thought it was another case of the boy who cried wolf and didn't even take the forecasts seriously. Happily, the snow came at the perfect time, and I wasn't worried about it ruining my tea because my neighbors are close by. Most of it has already melted, and oh, how I envy those of you who are blessed with this beautiful white gift on a much more regular basis. It made an already fun weekend extra special!

P.S. We did get a new treadmill, but I don't use it for fear I'll miss out on making a new friend. I'll stick to the roads!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Christmas teatime bargains

When Aunt Jane and I went in a Salvation Army store last week, I doubted I would find any good Christmas items at this time of year. The good Christmas stuff gets gone early, but lo and behold, I came across two goodies that delighted me in both style and price, including this vintage sleigh, which I suspect will appear on my tea table this weekend. The sleigh features what I have learned is known as "spaghetti" trim.

See the spaghetti?

And what about the sweet bells?

Or the holly? Could this piece BE any more Christmasy?

Oh, and it has crackling. I love crackling. And all this beauty for 70 cents? I was quite happy!

Then I found this pretty tray that I couldn't help noticing was exactly the right size for a loaf of tea bread. I thought the ribbon-and-bell design was pretty.

I was looking up a Mikasa pattern online and happened to discover that this crystal tray is by Mikasa, and if I wanted another just like it, I could get it from Amazon here. I like my price much better, don't you?

As if all that weren't enough, the cashier directed my aunt and me to two overflowing carts, where a distributor had dropped off loaves of bread, English muffins, bagels, and other baked goods, and she told us to help ourselves for free! My whole-grain bread and cinnamon English muffins were one of the best gift-with-purchase deals I've ever gotten, and that made it some merry Christmas shopping indeed!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Making Christmas teatimes special


I do believe Christmas magazines will always be some of my favorites, but I'm afraid I haven't come across very many new ones that tempted me this year. Vintage Holiday magazine was a treat with all its Shabby Chic and pink and vintage decor, but many of the others looked so similar, I usually left the newsstand empty-handed. Thank goodness I knew I could count on the new issue of Tea Time for something pretty!

One of the things I most enjoy seeing in this magazine each year is all their pretty Christmas china. This Johnson Brothers Victorian Christmas is a pattern that was new to me, and it is quite lovely, and I love the plaid accents on this table as well. Something about Christmas plaid is always so elegant and classic looking.

I was also inspired by this little two-tiered server with Lemon-Ginger Walnut Tartlets and miniature Victoria Sponge Cakes. I'm having two of my neighbors over for Christmas tea this weekend, and I really want to do something special for them. Lord willing, I will have Friday free to make a few things ahead, so I'm pondering what that might be. Not the tea sandwiches or the scones, obviously, but maybe some special cookies or truffles or tarts? What would *you* find most tempting on a Christmas tea tray? Suggestions are most welcome!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Tea Lovers Book Club Pick #1: "The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane" by Lisa See

Where's my puerh? That's pretty much all I could think about this weekend as I finished reading The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, the first selection for our new Tea Lovers' Book Club.

Summary: Li-Yan is the only daughter in a family of tea growers in the Akha "ethnic minority" in China. From a young age, she witnesses hardship, poverty, and the superstitious rituals that are so integral to the animistic culture in which she is being raised. An unusual (and unlikely) opportunity for further education gives her a chance at a better life, but Li-Yan becomes pregnant by her fiancé, and her life takes quite another turn when she has a daughter, absent the fiancé, and travels to another town to abandon the child, a necessity because of China's infamous One Child policy. The daughter, Haley, is adopted by an American couple, and we learn her story through miscellaneous writings interspersed throughout the book, including letters written by Haley's doctors, her mother, transcripts from a counselor, and Haley's own writings. Over some two decades, we also follow Li-Yan as she marries her fiancé, is tragically widowed, leaves the village and gets her education, and goes on to marry a wealthy businessman, all while she adds to her knowledge of puerh tea production—yet always wondering about the baby girl she left behind.

My thoughts: It took me a while to get into this book. Fortunately, I soon got to a passage dealing with Li-Yan's mother, who was a midwife. I doubt I've ever had a reason to mention this here before, but I once seriously considered becoming a lay midwife. In my twenties and thirties, I attended about a dozen births (more than half of these were home births), and I've helped women push that baby out, cut umbilical cords for squeamish fathers, and hung around as the midwife examined the placenta to be sure all the pieces were there. So I happened to bond with the midwife storyline before I bonded with the tea storyline, but I'm sure it goes without saying that I loved the tea storyline in the book. Now I'm inspired to do a little research on puerhs myself.

The characters: Li-Yan was certainly an interesting young woman, and there were quite a few times I felt sympathy for her, but I feel that the author was holding something back, writing with the brakes on, as if she was afraid to delve too deeply into Li-Yan's emotions. My favorite character was Li-Yan's daughter Haley, and I enjoyed the passages that described what was going on with her here in America. I found the passages about Haley much warmer and more accessible than the ones about Li-Yan. Maybe this was by design and each woman was as open as her culture allowed her to be. What do you think?

Other questions for discussion (and please feel free to leave a comment on any or all of these):

• "Coincidence" is a theme that runs throughout the book, and its very first line, something often recited by Li-Yan's mother, is "No coincidence, no story." The book ends (and ends rather abruptly) with a near miraculous coincidence where three people end up in the same place at the same time. Did you find the ending plausible?

• Haley's advisor seems skeptical about some of the health claims being made about tea and says, "I'm not interested in marketing, anecdotal evidence, or supposition about tea that isn't backed by fact or reason." Was she being too harsh? Should all "anecdotal evidence" and "supposition" about tea be discarded in favor of only "fact or reason"?

• Li-Yan's world was incredibly different from ours. Do you enjoy reading about a culture that's different from yours? Why or why not?

The next book: For Christmas, I'm going with something lighthearted from across the pond, "The Cosy Christmas Tea Shop" by Caroline Roberts. (It's just $1.99 on Kindle.) I hope you'll read along with me and be ready for a discussion on Friday, December 29!


Friday, December 1, 2017

Dorothy's Tea Party, Christmas 1905

It is probably too much to wish that the Library of Congress would notify me every time they post a new tea-related image, wouldn't it? At any rate, since I've been in "vintage Christmas" mode this week, I was delighted to find an image there that I don't believe I've seen before, this one from 1905 titled "Dorothy's Tea Party." Look at the scale of that tree in proportion to the woman and the little girl, who I'm assuming is Dorothy. Wow!

This was one of those stereographic prints, and I still haven't quite captured the art of letting my eyes relax enough that the two images combine into one, but maybe some of you can. 

And speaking of trees and teas, I've been busy trying to gather all of my teapot and teacup ornaments on one tree this year. I bought a 6-1/2-foot white tree at Walmart the other night ($39 lighted, and I like it!) after finally admitting I've outgrown the little pink feather tree I've used for many years. This new tree is almost full, and I've still got a few ornaments left to round up this year, so it's no pitiful wonder I could never get all of the tea-themed ornaments on my pink tree. Do you have your Christmas tree up yet? This may be the first year I actually started working on mine before December 1!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Christmas magazine, circa 1939

I was sorting some of my old magazines the other day when I came across a vintage one I'd forgotten about buying at an antique mall a few years back, the December 1939 issue of American Cooking, the Boston Cooking-School Magazine.

Several tea-related items inside caught my eye, including this ad targeting those interested in Tea Room Management.

This article includes a recipe for "Holiday Punch" with a "tea base." The recipe calling for strong tea, sugar, orange juice, lemon juice, and ginger ale sounds pretty tasty, but I think I'd skip the green coloring. (Would you?)

I suppose magazines have had question-and-answer columns forever, and I found it interesting that this magazine numbered its questions ("Query No. 6124"). The tea sandwiches sound … intriguing. I think this column must have been sponsored by a mayonnaise company.

And finally, the back cover featured a product I happily use myself. I found it interesting that the salt "costs a family only 2¢ a week," and I'm happy that Morton's Iodized Salt remains a good buy today!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017, the recap!

So Thanksgiving 2017 is in the books! This is at my sister's house on Thursday since it was her year to host. My brother-in-law was setting up the big family shot on a camera on a tripod, and apparently he didn't make it back in time! At any rate, we had a great time of feasting and enjoying each other's company, as well as visiting with some of my brother-in-law's family who joined us this year. Our meal consisted of turkey, dressing and gravy, yeast rolls, seven-layer salad, olives, macaroni and cheese, cranberry sauce, broccoli casserole, green bean casserole, pinto beans, mashed potatoes, and deviled eggs. For dessert we had a strawberry cake and pecan pie (both made by my dad), lemon pie, and chocolate chip pie. And of course lots of tea to accompany all of the above! Is there anything different on your menu?

I thought those of you who have enjoyed watching the children in my family grow up over the years might like to see a current shot of Matthew, Madison, Cari, and Amelia as they are today! (Photo by my sister, not me, by the way, but I don't think she'd mind my borrowing it.)

One of the Thanksgiving traditions I most enjoy is giving all the children in our family a Christmas ornament at Thanksgiving. Madison, at left, is about to leave the nest and get her first apartment with a girlfriend, so her ornament was a cross that says "God's love is always with you." Cari's ornament, by request, was Hallmark's latest with a "Pirates of the Caribbean" theme.

Amelia's says "Faithful Friend Forever" and has a photo of her with her latest canine addition to the family, a Great Pyrenees named Luke. Matthew is still a fan of Spiderman, so that was the character for his ornament this year.

And then on Friday, we had a visit from my stepson's family, so we got to see our Georgia grandkids, Bella and Owen, as well! Bella's ornament this year was a Madame Alexander doll, and Owen's was Luke Skywalker. It was a great kickoff to the holidays for my family, and I sure hope it was for yours as well!









Friday, November 24, 2017

The teapot calendar goes to ...

Christy of Lilbitbrit! Congrats to Christy, and thanks to all of you who entered. Now to find a fun Christmas giveaway!

Taking tea like Martha Washington (or not …)

When I was out Christmas shopping in Rome the other day (Georgia, not Italy), I came across a brand and variety of "tea" I'd never seen before, Cacao Tea.

"Martha Washington's Chocolate Shell Infusion" from Oliver Pluff & Co., it said. Intriguing! And it consisted entirely of "roasted cacao shells"? Hmm. 

The back of the tin mentioned that Martha Washington sipped this at breakfast, and I'd never heard that before, so if anything else, I figured the tin was worth the $9.95 for the new bit of tea-ish history. I asked the shopkeeper if there was a sample I could at least sniff (tasting would have been even better), and she led me to a display on another counter. It smelled like rich hot chocolate, so I decided to take a chance and purchased the tin.

The roasted shells looked like broken pecan shells. And the taste? Well, not for nuthin' is this blog's motto "We try all the bad teas so you don't have to!" (Not really, but it ought to be.) Imagine burning your hot chocolate so that it tasted bitter, then throwing out half of it and replacing it with hot water so that you ended up with watery and bitter hot chocolate. That's what this tasted like. Alas. So if you're out shopping today, remember, all that glitters is not gold, and all that smells like chocolate does not necessarily taste like it!



Monday, November 20, 2017

November Giveaway: The Collectible Teapot & Tea Calendar

For the November giveaway, I thought I'd choose something that is a favorite item for many of the tea lovers I know, the Collectible Teapot & Tea Calendar! So if you don't have the 2018 edition yet, don't order it until you enter this giveaway and see whether you've won.

If you'd like to be entered in the giveaway, just leave an "Enter me" to this post between now and 7 a.m. Friday, November 24, making sure I have a way to contact you if you're the winner, and you'll be entered to win. (US entries only, please.) Good luck!


Friday, November 17, 2017

"When the Bishop Needs an Alibi" by Vannetta Chapman


Emma heated the kettle on the gas-powered stove. As they waited for the water to boil, she told Sophia about her family, hoping to put her at ease. She'd made it through all of the grandchildren when the kettle let out a whistle. She jumped up to pour the hot water over bags of herbal tea. "Gut for the nerves," she murmured, setting a mug in front of Sophia.

— "When the Bishop Needs an Alibi," Vannetta Chapman

Did you ever think about what the Amish eat and drink? I didn't until I happened to read this new Amish cozy mystery that I so enjoyed, I thought some of you might want to check it out as well! To be honest, I've never read an Amish mystery. I know there's a slew of them out there, but the topic never appealed to me. But when I came across this title on NetGalley and saw the intriguing cover with its old-fashioned diner stools, I downloaded it.

Henry Lapp, a widowed Amish bishop in Colorado, keeps finding himself in the middle of murder investigations. This is the second book in the series and frequently references a "Monte Vista arsonist" he helped find previously. This go-round, the bishop is drawn to help a young waitress in the  local diner he frequents. Sophia seems nervous and on edge, and Henry feels drawn to help her, even getting his lady friend, Emma, involved. They sense something very dangerous is going on in Sophia's life, but she won't reveal what it is. Still, Henry and Emma feel compelled to help, especially when a body is found.

It's quite fascinating to consider how Amish people might help solve a murder. They are definitely not much help when it comes to technology (a subplot involving a flash drive is quite fun), yet their common sense and people-watching skills more than make up for what they lack in modern-day know-how. Henry and Emma's faith, naturally, is a big part of this story, and the author does a fine job of weaving in the spiritual elements without seeming preachy. Her characters come across as authentic—and authentic in their struggles—and watching these Amish folks solve a mystery was more delightful than I could have imagined. I'm hooked and look forward to reading other books in this series!





Wednesday, November 15, 2017

"Suited to a T — A Christmas Story for the Little Ones at Home"

Want a nice little pre-Christmas treat? I found "Suited to a T — A Christmas Story for the Little Ones at Home" on the Library of Congress website, and it's a darling tale in which tea features quite prominently.

In this scene, we're told that "Dear grandmamma" was a woman who "often sipped her tea and smiled when listening to the happy child."

And I won't spoil the story by telling you what "Dear grandmamma" got from Santa Claus, but since this booklet was published by the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, I'll bet you can guess! Click here if you'd like to read this tale for yourself.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Victorian London Fog from Harney & Sons

Tea companies are wise to send out emails about their new offerings. I got one from Harney & Sons last week about their new Victorian London Fog tea. Now, they had me at "Victorian London Fog," but when I also got an offer to receive $5 off plus free shipping, I started clicking like mad, knowing full well I was going to place an order.

First, a few words about this thoroughly delightful new tea. I've had "London Fog" drinks in several tea establishments over the past few years. Harney says this tea was the winning blend in their Tea Blend Sweepstakes (how did I not know about that?), and that "the beverage called London Fog originated during the Victorian era. It is traditionally an Earl Grey served with steamed milk." So I added milk to mine and loved it!

As you can see from the loose tea, this tea has lavender buds blended in, along with bergamot and "hints of vanilla." If you like Earl Grey with a twist, this is definitely a great tea to try.

Harney is also offering a new line of Madison Bay transferware teacups and saucers. I ordered the blue and white set (it's really more of a blue and creamy ivory color), and I think the patterns are lovely. You can see all five colors by clicking here.

Have any of you tried this new tea? I'm a fan, and if you haven't tried it yet, I bet you will be too!