Saturday, November 28, 2015

Teatime Tale #48 — Lunching at the Swan Coach House

Lunching at the Swan Coach House

           The week after Thanksgiving, Monica and Julie met for lunch at the Swan Coach House in Atlanta, just as they had for years. An elegant restaurant, gift shop, and art gallery, the Swan Coach House boasted an old-fashioned tea room ambience and was one of their favorite places to catch up with each other before the busyness of the holidays. In a former life, the space had served as the carriage house for the Inman family estate, Atlanta’s iconic Swan House, but today, the coach house was a beautifully appointed restaurant where the Atlanta blue hairs—and women from all over the region, as well as the well-informed tourists—enjoyed having lunch.
            The middle-aged woman serving them took their beverage orders—hot tea for Monica, ice water with lemon for Julie—and delivered a small basket of bite-size breads for them to nibble while deciding on lunch.
            “Did you see their new silver trays in the gift shop?” said Julie. “I love the one that says ‘Merry Christmas, Y’all.’”
            “You must have gotten here early,” Monica said. “With the traffic this morning, I barely made it in time to meet you, so I haven’t more than glanced at the gift shop yet.”
            “You better have your credit card handy, because you will go crazy in that gift shop,” Julie said. She took a sip of her ice water and paused to look at her friend. “I know how you are about Christmas decorations. You still can’t resist them, can you?”
            “This year, actually, I can,” Monica said, adding a packet of sugar to her tea.
            Julie looked puzzled. “This year? What do you mean, this year? Are you and Alan going out of town for Christmas?”
            “No,” Monica said.
            “Then why are you going to be able to resist the Christmas decorations?”
            “Because I’m not buying any more new decorations for Christmas.”
            “Since when?”

            The server returned for their orders, so the conversation paused. “I’ll have the Swan’s Favorite,” Monica said. The restaurant’s signature dish was chicken salad served in timbales—deliciously light pastry shells—along with a slice of their creamy, jewel-toned frozen fruit salad and Swan Coach House cheese straws. Julie ordered the spinach quiche, which also came with cheese straws.
            As soon as the server left, Julie pressed, “Spill it. What’s up with this no-new-decorations thing? You like to decorate for Christmas more than any woman I know.”
            “I’ve got a bet going with Alan. He bet me a weekend in Chicago that I couldn’t go the whole Christmas season without buying any new decorations.”
            “Is it worth it?” Julie swirled the water and ice around in her glass and took a sip.
            “Sure it is. It’s not as if I need anything new. Besides, the season will technically be over December 31, and if there’s anything I really want, I can probably find it on clearance somewhere. It’s win-win for me, because I’ll save enough for a real splurge when we get to Chicago.”
            “I don’t know. What if you see some Christmas decoration you just love? It sounds risky,” Julie said.
            And then their orders arrived on the restaurant’s pretty green china. Monica commented on how the presentation was always absolutely perfect whenever they ate at the Swan Coach House. She said her colorful plate of food had a simple southern elegance she absolutely adored, and Julie quickly agreed.
            “So, I guess you’ll be staying out of stores this Christmas?” Julie said.
            “Not at all,” Monica replied.
            “Isn’t that going to be torture for you?”
            “Not really. It’s just going to be a lesson in delayed gratification. That, plus I’ve always found a way to bend the rules a little.” Monica grinned as she took another bite of her chicken salad. “Mmm. I hope they don’t ever stop making this.”
            Julie was already halfway through her spinach quiche. “I know what you mean,” she said. “Say”—she tapped the plastic display stand on their table—“are you going to one of their Christmas teas here this year?”
            “I haven’t really thought about it,” Monica said. “Why? Do you want to go?”
            “Yes. Let’s make reservations for that last one right before Christmas. Besides, you’ll need some therapy after going almost a whole Christmas season without buying any new decorations.”

            When the women were nearly finished with their meals, the server stopped by to see if they wanted dessert. As was their custom, both ordered the famous French Silk Swan. A meringue base was topped with a filling of chocolate cream cheese mouse, all surrounded by whipped cream and then embellished with slivered almonds and swan heads made of pastry dough. The desserts had about a zillion calories each, but they were worth it.
            After paying their bill and leaving a tip for the server, the women headed out. Julie paused at the entrance to the gift shop. “I don’t suppose you want to shop today, do you?”
            “Why not?” said Monica. “You said they had some nice new silver trays.” Monica walked past Julie to a table topped with glistening silver gifts. “Oh, this is darling!” she said, picking up the scalloped-edge tray with “Merry Christmas, Y’all” engraved in the center. “I think I’ll get one of these for Alan’s mother. She’ll love it. And of course I want one for me too.”
            Julie shook her head. “So you’re giving up on that weekend in Chicago?”
            “Not at all,” said Monica. “Look.” She grabbed a linen tea towel, draped it across the center of the tray, and plucked a glittering ornament of faux grapes from a neighboring display. “There. It’s not a Christmas decoration. It’s simply a pretty silver tray for home decor, perfect for year-round entertaining.”
            “Isn’t that cheating on your bet?” Julie said.
            “Hey, what happens in the gift shop, stays in the gift shop,” Monica said.
            And so, fueled by cheese straws and laughter, the women browsed the beloved local shop, just as they always had—and always would.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Some Black Friday deals on tea!

Much as I love to shop, friends are sometimes surprised to learn that I am most definitely *not* a Black Friday shopper. I don’t enjoy crowds, and I much prefer to stay home and sip a cup of tea while reading about what’s going on at the malls and Walmarts all across the country on the day after Thanksgiving each year.

That said, I do still enjoy finding a good bargain online, so I’ve looked up some tea discounts for those of us who may be giving the gift of tea this Christmas! Here are a few discounts I’ve found so far this year.

Good Earth — 20 percent off for Tea With Friends readers! This one is fun because it’s an exclusive coupon code just for readers of this blog! From now through Cyber Monday, you can save 20 percent off your entire order at Good Earth Teas by entering this code: TFRIENDS20

Teavana — Free tin with $50 purchase. You can get a free Limited Edition 8 oz. red tin by using the code: FREETIN. Also, some teas are buy one, get one 50 percent off. I signed up for their newsletter online and got an instant coupon code for 10 percent off. Teavana is offering free standard shipping through Dec. 23.

Harney & SonsHarney is offering 20 percent off your order through Nov. 30, plus I got free shipping even though all I ordered was one tin of tea! Use the code: GETSTARTED15.

TeavivreTeavivre is a company whose delicious teas I have enjoyed often over the past few years, and they’re having a sale through Nov. 28 with as much as 40 percent off certain varieties.

Tea Ave — Tea Ave’s oolongs are on sale for Black Friday. You can get 10 percent off Tea Ave orders over $100, a Buy 2/Get 1 offer on all tea bags, up to 25 percent off select teas and teaware, and other deals as well.

TwiningsTwinings is celebrating Customer Appreciation Month with free Priority Mail shipping on all orders. Enter the code “Loyalty” at checkout. You can also win a trip for 4 to London to visit the Twinings tea shop and enjoy a private tea tasting with Stephen Twining. Now wouldn’t that be fun! I've entered, and I hope you will, too!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"A Cup & Author Afternoon" with a tea tasting is December 6 in Moreland!

So far I had not heard about any local Christmas events involving teatime, but then this week, my former colleague Winston Skinner contacted me about a new event he is involved with and asked me to help spread the word, which I am only too happy to do!

The Moreland Cultural Arts Alliance will host "A Cup & Author Afternoon" on Sunday, December 6, at the Historic Moreland Mill in Moreland. The line on this flyer that most caught my eye was "Tea Tasting," of course. I was intrigued that it said, "Relax & Savor 5 Yummy Holiday Teas," and the $10 price sounds wonderful. I was curious when I saw a mention of the Georgia Tea Company, a company I've never heard of, and I looked it up and learned it's a less than two-year-old online company based in neighboring Moreland! I'm very eager to try their teas at the Cup & Author Afternoon, and I'm also tempted by the "Authors and Artists Market" where "Pretty Tea Things" are going to be available. Who doesn't love "pretty tea things," after all!

A girlfriend and I are already planning to go, so if some of you local tea friends decide to attend as well, I'll see you there! For more information, visit morelandadventure.com

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A column by Mr. Tea With Friends

Many of you know that my husband and I are both writers, but I don't believe I've ever shared anything he's written on here. Since my baking is the subject of his Newnan Times-Herald column this week, I thought some of you who aren't local readers might be interested in it — and many of you can probably relate! Click here and enjoy!

Monday, November 23, 2015

My first experience as a tea blender!

I found the absolute coolest tea product ever in the tea aisle at Publix the other night, this Chocolate Orange Black Tea Blending Kit from Celestial Seasonings.

My good, practical angel said, "You do NOT need to spend $9.99 on any more tea, especially right here at the holidays when you have hardly even started Christmas shopping yet." But my more fun-loving angel said, "Oh, heck. You know you're going to come back and get this if you don't go ahead and buy it now, so save yourself some time and put it in your cart." I loved that the package design allows you to see a hint of what's within!

When I opened the box, this is what it looked like inside.

The packages aren't ziplock bags (though that would have been nice, Celestial Seasonings!), but the adhesive labels on each one did allow me to reseal them.

Now you can, of course, blend this tea any way you like, but on my first attempt at tea blending, I decided to follow the directions precisely and blend 1 teaspoon of Assam with 1/4 teaspoon orange peel (dried orange peel smells heavenly, by the way) and 1/3 teaspoon each of cocoa nibs and rock sugar.

I was so pleased with the end result! After steeping the tea for just four minutes, I got a nicely brisk cup of tea with just a hint of orange and cocoa, and it was only slightly sweetened from that small amount of sugar. Later this week, I want to double up on the orange peel and, separately, double up on the cocoa nibs and see what the result tastes like. You can also find these kits for blending Gen Mai Cha and Hibiscus Sangria. I'm still a bit surprised to have found these at Publix, because these teas seem a little more upscale than something you usually find at the grocery store, but I'm sure having fun with my new tea blending kit!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Teatime Tale #47 — A Family Thanksgiving

A Family Thanksgiving

          Was it wrong to be glad your sister-in-law couldn’t come to Thanksgiving dinner? Kathy felt guilty, but secretly, she was thrilled that Lisa, wife of her older brother, Ted, would be away on her girlfriends’ cruise and couldn’t make it.
            Lisa was so competitive. No matter what was being discussed, Lisa could top it. If Kathy was praised for a recipe, Lisa knew how to make one that was tastier. If one of Kathy’s children had earned an honor in high school, Lisa’s college-age children had earned something better. No matter how hard Kathy worked to make Thanksgiving special, Lisa always managed to spoil the day.
            That year, no Lisa at Thanksgiving meant no drama, and Kathy was so pleased. Even after waking at five a.m. on Thanksgiving so she could stick her hand up a half-frozen turkey’s rear end to get it ready for baking, she was humming Christmas tunes and cheerfully assembling sweet potato casseroles when Stan got up.
            “Why are you in such a good mood?” he asked.
            “No reason,” Kathy said.

            The doorbell rang at eleven a.m., and Kathy was still humming when she opened the door to find Ted on her doorstep—until she saw Lisa beside him.
            “Darling,” said Lisa, air-kissing Kathy. “Our ship had engine trouble, so all of us on the girlfriends’ cruise made it home for Thanksgiving. I told Ted it would be a surprise.”
            “It certainly is,” Kathy said.
            “Besides, I didn’t want you to worry about having enough food. I don’t eat as much as you all anyway, you know.” Lisa was fond of letting the family know that her “fat” clothes were a size four.
            Kathy laughed. “It’s Thanksgiving, Lisa. One more mouth would hardly be noticed around here.”
            “Oh, you’re sweet,” she said, “but I do remember that year you ran out of dessert and Ted couldn’t have that second piece of pumpkin pie he wanted. Ah, family memories. Right?”
            “Right,” Kathy said, grimacing. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to check on the turkey.”
            “No problem. I know how hard you try to cook one that’s not too dry,” Lisa said.
            Kathy bit her lip and walked away. She had a troubled look on her face as she scooted Stan away from his nibbling around the stove.
            “Something wrong?” he said.
            “Just something Lisa said,” she replied.
            “Honey, don’t let her get to you. If you can’t ignore her, just give it right back to her. There’s no use letting her ruin your Thanksgiving.”
            Suddenly, Kathy thought, He’s right.

            By noon, the dining room was full, and everyone was standing around enjoying appetizers. In addition to Stan and Kathy and their teenage sons, Sean, fifteen, and Lee, thirteen, there were Ted, Lisa, Stan’s parents, Kathy and Ted’s parents, and three assorted aunts. Stan’s Aunt Mabel, a real sweetheart, had already complimented Kathy on setting the dessert table with the pretty harvest-themed teapot Mabel had given her as a hostess gift last Thanksgiving. Kathy had known Mabel would notice that. Every time Kathy used the teapot, she recalled the gracious woman who had given it to her. Soon, everyone was seated around the table. Stan blessed the meal and carved the turkey, which Kathy noted was slicing with ease.
            “Mmm,” said Ted. “This is the best turkey you’ve ever made, sis.”
            “Yeah,” said Sean. “Dad, can you cut me another slice?”
            “Can I have another roll?” asked Lee.
            “Kathy, your green been casserole is especially tasty this year,” said Aunt Mabel.  “Did you grow the green beans?”
            “Oh, heavens no. Those are straight from the produce aisle of Kroger,” Kathy said.
            “If you want some good green beans, the organic ones at Publix are great,” Lisa said. “They’re not that much more than the ones on sale at Kroger.”
            Kathy had had enough. She cleared her throat, took a sip of her iced tea, and said, “Lisa, what’s really bothering you?”
            Lisa sounded surprised. “Bothering me? Nothing’s bothering me. Why would you say that?”
            The men around the table looked nervous. The women looked intrigued.
            “Every year, you make these comments about the meal, or the house, or the groceries, and I’m just wondering if I’ve done something to upset you.” Kathy’s voice wasn’t shaking, her face wasn’t red, and she was perfectly in control. It felt great. “If I’ve done something to bother you, let’s clear the air and get it settled. If I haven’t, then what can I do to get you to stop your criticism?”
            “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Lisa said, getting up from the table with a stunned look on her face. “I’m feeling rather nauseated, probably because I’ve just returned from sea. I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’ll be able to finish this meal. I think we need to go, Ted.”
            Looking embarrassed, Ted rose from the table.
            “Are you sure that’s all it is?” Kathy asked.
            “I’m sure,” Lisa said. “Please forgive me.”
            Kathy looked her in the eye and said, “Of course I forgive you.” And to her brother, she said, “Let me at least send you home with some food. We’ve got enough to feed an army.”
            She sent Ted and Lisa off with a shopping bag full of Tupperware and then returned to the table. Everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time.
            After lunch, the men headed off to watch ballgames while the women helped tidy up. Mabel walked over and squeezed her arm. “You handled that beautifully, dear.”
            Kathy smiled. “Did I?”
            “Lisa has never had anyone stand up to her, and you did it kindly but firmly. It was just what she needed.”
            “Thank you,” Kathy said. “That means a lot coming from you, Aunt Mabel.”
            Mabel gave her another squeeze and said brightly, “Now, let’s use that pretty teapot to make us all a nice pot of cranberry tea—to celebrate a most happy Thanksgiving.”
            “I’ll drink to that,” Kathy said. And she did.