Monday, January 20, 2020

Cousins, cookies, cupcakes, and Callaway

For about the sixth year in a row, Alex and I joined the McRae side of the family for their annual "cousins reunion" at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Everyone pitches in and brings something for the meal or dessert, and this year, I was asked to help with a light "welcome tea" consisting of simply tea and cookies. I said to count me in, especially when reunion-organizer whiz Berta said she would provide the china teacups and sterling teaspoons, so I just needed to provide the actual tea and a couple of  teapots.

Berta (shown here wearing her McRae plaid skirt) had the much harder job, yet when I got there, she gave me a gift she'd picked up for me in London, some tea from my favorite department store in the world, Fortnum & Mason. How awesome was that! And it was some of their delicious Royal Blend Tea. I told her I even love their bags, and she smiled and said, "I know." Ha!

Two of the younger generation, sisters Sophie and KK, always look forward to the simple tea, and I am quite happy to assist in their love of teatime.

Here, I'm pouring some Orange Creamsicle tea, one of the varieties I suspected (accurately) would be a crowd favorite.

One of the cousins who is a, well, magnificent baker make some lavish chocolate chip cookies with flakes of some exotic type of sea salt on top. They were wonderful! I had offered to make my trusty brown sugar shortbread cookies in the shape of teapots, and they all disappeared too.

My other contribution was to make chocolate cupcakes for dessert following the Saturday evening barbecue dinner. I've made these so many times that I'm quite comfortable whipping these up, and this time, I even liked the way my icing looked. I started using the "1M" size Wilton tip, and by holding it vertically and piping one big swirl from the inside out, I got that "rose" look I was going for. Best of all, the entire batch of 30 cupcakes got eaten, so I didn't have to bring any home with me. It's become a delightful custom to meet up with my husband's cousins from all over the country each January, and I'm so glad we were able to join them again this year. (And since I was busy pouring tea and forgot to get photos, I'm also grateful that my sweet stepdaughter, Heather, took most of these photos and shared them with me!)

Friday, January 17, 2020

A salute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Can you believe it's about to be the 25th anniversary of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday? This photo of Dr. King with a cup and saucer before him caught my eye when I was at the LBJ Library in Austin over the summer, and I'm glad I remembered it in time to post before the MLK holiday.

In this photo, President Johnson discusses civil rights strategy with Dr. King (left), James Farmer, and Whitney Young on January 18, 1964. If you're at all interested in our nation's civil rights history, as I am, I highly recommend a visit to the LBJ Library and also, not that far down the road from my house, The King Center in Atlanta.

I often wonder what else he could have accomplished if Dr. King had lived longer, but I'm grateful for his life and legacy and am so glad that we have an annual holiday in his honor.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Deluxe Autumn Chai from Plum Deluxe

This is the rainiest January I can remember in recent years, and when I come in from running errands, nothing warms me up like a nice hot cup of tea. My latest new tea to try was this lovely Deluxe Autumn Chai from Plum Deluxe. 

I love that this blend combines black tea and rooibos, and the cinnamon, ginger, clove, and cardamom flavors are there but not overbearing. I also detected a sweetness from the almond flavor, which I love—and which gives this chai a distinctive taste.

A chai requires a spice-toned teacup, so I chose this Royal Albert Prairie Lily-patterned cup for this new chai, which I very much enjoyed. And if you're interested, you can check out the latest chais from Plum Deluxe by clicking here.

Monday, January 13, 2020

How to enjoy roses in January

Most years, my January tea trolley has been decorated in a palette of cream and white tea wares. I started to do that again this year, as that's what I've always done, but then I thought, hey, the tea trolley police are probably not going to come after me if I add a bit of color this year, right? And if they do, so be it!

 So, inspired by the lovely Jane Eastoe and Georgianna Lane book Vintage Roses, I gathered a few pink things … 

 … and was quite happy with the result!

My favorite pink teapot. 

A Fitz and Floyd (I think) creamer and sugar, collected at different times.

The sugar paste flowers from my wedding cake.

Turned a bit peachy over the years, but still hanging on …

A teacup stand, something that's always out on display.

 An old, old antique mall find.

 A gift from my old landlord.

An estate sale purchase last year.

 A favorite teacup, a gift from my friend Beth.

 A tiny little pedestal of china roses that belonged to the late mother of my friend Ann.

A tea trivet I found … somewhere.

I'm already plotting spring in my mind, and these lovely vintage tea wares brimming with flowers are one way I cheer myself up on the rainy, gray days of winter. That and a nice cup of tea, of course. Is there anything you do to keep things sunny through the winter? Tips are always welcome here!

Friday, January 10, 2020

Oliver Pluff & Co. Gunpowder Green Tea

I received a number of new teas as gifts over Christmas, so this week, I tried this gunpowder tea from Oliver Pluff & Co. This tea company is based in Charleston, S.C., which always makes me think of Theodosia Browning's tea shop in the Laura Childs cozy mysteries.

I'm pretty sure I could pick gunpowder tea out of a lineup because of its tight little balls of tea that resemble gunpowder pellets.

 I always think, "What if the tea leaves don't expand?" And yet they always do.

I had sipped a lot of flavored tea this week, so this nice green tea (which doesn't look like green tea in the cup) was a most welcome change. I liked the slightly roasted flavor I detected in this tea, and I got multiple steepings of it. I'm hoping to try a new tea each week of January since it's National Hot Tea Month, and this one was a winner!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Tea Time … for your skin!

After having oily skin for most of my life, I find in middle age that I am, of all things, reaching for moisturizer. I ran out of the Clinique moisturizer I've been using, so when I was in Walmart the other day, I decided to see if they had anything that looked worth trying. And when I saw this Tea Time White Tea Day Cream from Earth to Skin, a new "cruelty-free" skincare line from Walmart, I decided to give it a try.

All of the products in this line are less than $10, which I found surprising. This four-ounce jar of day cream was just $8.94.

And I'm pleased to report that I absolutely love this day cream. I've used it after cleansing my face at night as well as under makeup during the day, and it works beautifully in both instances. It has a light floral fragrance that I was pleased to discover, as I don't like a medicinal-smelling skin cream. This one moisturizes without feeling at all greasy, and I couldn't be more pleased, especially since it contains camellia sinensis leaf extract. Have any of you tried this line? If so, are there any other products you'd recommend? I'm eager to try more!

Monday, January 6, 2020

Planning … for tea and other occasions

It's the first Monday of the new year, and I thought it would be a good time to talk about planning. I love getting new calendars for the new year — desk calendars, wall calendars, magnetic mini calendars for the fridge — and this year, I'm trying my hand at bullet journaling (also known as dot journaling), where you basically make your own planner in a blank journal designed just for this purpose. (I attended an Authors Guild workshop last January and received an emerald-colored Leuchtturm journal whose creamy ivory paper I immediately fell in love with, so this Nordic Blue model is a Leuchtturm journal as well.)

I'm strictly an amateur, but I managed to create my year-at-a-glance page without too much difficulty.

I have a Pinterest board devoted to bullet journal layouts I like, so I tried this snowflake-themed layout (my very rough version is based on this pretty one) for January. I haven't finished lettering "January" and need to up my skills, but hey, baby steps. (I also should mention that I'm hoping to see some *real* snowflakes this year, as 2019 was a bust in that regard.) And please note my little pink teacup sticker, which I'm using to mark the day whenever I'm meeting a friend for a cup of tea. (I'm also following the advice of Joanna Penn of and going to make a note of my accomplishments, even small ones, on a regular basis in 2020. I got to the end of 2019 and thought about all that I *didn't* get done, because I wish I could write my books faster, but instead, I'm going to focus on the small achievements along the way—"Wrote 10,000 words this week" or whatever. I like focusing on the positive!)

Back to the stickers, I found another one that I used to remind myself that January is National Hot Tea Month. There are usually some fun blog posts and giveaways online this month, so this is a reminder for me to check those out.

I found the little pad of stickers from Sweet Kawaii Design on clearance for $1.97 at Michaels last week. The critters aren't really my cup of you-know-what, but I'm going to pass those along to some kiddos when I'm finished using up all the tea-themed stickers.

Like some of these. And the heart flags are cute, too, aren't they?

The "Tea Time Me Time" stickers will have to be used for something important, although I'm not sure what just yet.

And these tiny little teacups will certainly come in handy. Are you cracking open a new calendar this week? I'll bet some of you have one of those pretty teapot wall calendars that Workman Publishing has produced for many years. Alas, I've never seen a tea-themed desk calendar/planner (although I have actually thought of publishing one, but I have too many other projects competing for attention right now). However you choose to plan your year, I hope it's a great one!

Friday, January 3, 2020

Chocolate Hazelnut Dessert Tea from Plum Deluxe

Usually, I reach for a solid white teacup in January, sort of a visual "palate cleanser" after all the bright, colorful tea wares of Christmas. But it was a gray and rainy day here in Georgia yesterday, and I decided to buck tradition and reached instead for a teacup that has me dreaming of springtime! This one is marked "Edwardian Collection, England," and I seem to recall finding it at a Marshalls or T. J. Maxx about 10 or so years ago.

And what was in my teacup? This was.

I devoured every bit of this little sample of Chocolate Hazelnut Dessert Tea from Plum Deluxe! With sweetness from both the honeybush tea and the cocoa nibs, no doubt, the rich, smooth flavor truly made this one of those dessert-in-a-teacup drinks, and I was happy for the pick-me-up, rain or no rain. What are you drinking this first week of the new year?

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy New Year!

Wishing you all a year of health, happiness, and much tea!

Monday, December 30, 2019

"Tide and Punishment" by Bree Baker

Tide and Punishment takes us back to Charm, North Carolina, a coastal town on the Outer Banks, where Everly Swan runs Sun, Sand, and Tea, an iced tea shop, in her historic home. The holidays are rapidly approaching (a theme that especially resonated with me this year with the short span between Thanksgiving and Christmas), and her days are awhirl. She’s got a progressive dinner appetizer course to plan, cookies to bake for half the island, and her delightful—but unmanageable—elderly aunts to keep in line, Fran and Clara. Aunt Fran has recently gotten obsessed with garden gnomes and started painting them for everyone. 

Everly hosts a Christmas party where friends and customers can sample her delicious treats, hopefully tempting them to place orders before Christmas. Mayor Dudley Dunfree is there, being his usual vainglorious self, and Aunt Fran decides to let him and the other guests know that she is planning to run against him for mayor in the next election. But it turns out that the mayor’s re-election won’t be an issue. When guests leave the party, the mayor’s body is discovered on the snow-covered ground—and Aunt Fran is holding a bloody garden gnome nearby.

Detective Grady Hays is soon there to investigate, and he and Everly frequently tangle during the search for the killer—when they’re not busy keeping their feelings for each other in check. Everything sure looks like Fran had means, motive, and opportunity to kill the mayor, but in her heart, Everly knows her aunt couldn’t possibly have committed the crime.

Tea lovers will enjoy reading about a beachside tea shop that keeps twenty different varieties of iced tea on tap, even in December, as well as the occasional hot beverage for those who need warming up. When Baker writes about snickerdoodles, sugar cookies, and peanut butter cups filling the air with the scents of sugar and spice and everything nice, it’s easy to forget about the murder—but someone around town seems intent on framing Fran, and broken garden gnomes have developed an ugly habit of popping up all over town. Whether you’re ready to leave Christmas behind or not, I highly recommend that you prepare to be charmed by the Seaside Café Mysteries by Bree Baker, because I’m certainly looking forward to her next one.

(Book courtesy of NetGalley)

Friday, December 27, 2019

Free ebook of Okakura Kakuzo's "The Book of Tea"

Even though I've read dozens, maybe even hundreds, of books about tea and teatime, there are always books on my teatime reading list that I haven't gotten around to reading yet. One of them is the 1906 classic The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo, and I discovered this week that an ebook version is available for free from the Library of Congress!

If you can read epub files, just click here, look for the download button at left below the photo, and select "EPUB" to download the book. Happy reading!

Monday, December 23, 2019

The giveaway winner is …

Sandie of Crazy 'Bout Quilts! Congrats to Sandie, and there will be more fun giveaways coming in 2020!

A tea-and-cookie break

I don't know about you, but I have found that this Christmas has arrived at lightning speed. Something about Thanksgiving falling so late this year really put the Christmas season on fast-forward, and I didn't buy that last gift until Saturday, which is quite late for me. Still, by Sunday afternoon, I was looking around at the presents that still need wrapping, thought about a little more decorating that I didn't quite get around to, and did the only sensible thing a woman could do: I prepared a cup of tea and some cookies. And I even fancied it up by using one of my vintage tea-and-toast sets. The cookie sticks (I wrote about my new pan here) finally got dipped and sprinkled (which for some reason makes me think of Baptists and Methodists), and I made several batches of spritz cookies one recent weekend as well.

The spritz cookies, by the way, are a Christmas classic as far as I'm concerned, and they were the topic of my most recent column in The Coweta Shopper.

But you know what Alex and I have just devoured this weekend? Our neighbor Viveca makes these ridiculously delicious little treats at back that are simply a mini pretzel with a Rolo candy melted on top and a pecan pressed into the middle. That combination of salty and sweet just can't be beat, and we were so happy to receive these. Do you have a favorite Christmas candy or cookie? I'd love to know!