Saturday, June 25, 2016

My Country, 'Tis of Tea — Missouri

When I think of Missouri, I think of Silver Dollar City in Branson, a town I visited on vacation many years ago. So Missouri has an Ozark town that's famous for its many country music performers, but what else?

• One historic event I associate with Missouri is its hosting of the St. Louis World's Fair back in 1904. When I looked on the Library of Congress website, I found this image with the description: "Japan in America — pretty maids in garden before a Japanese tea-house, World's Fair, St. Louis, U.S.A." Did you know that these "world's fair" events are still going on? I thought they were a thing of the past until I looked here and saw that this year's is in Turkey. Who knew?

• When I wrote about my vintage tearoom postcards a couple of years ago, one of the ones I shared was this one from the McDonald Tea Room in Gallatin, Missouri. I had often seen black-and-white postcards of the tea room but never a color one. If you look at the unusual ceiling, you may realize that this tearoom actually began life as a hardware store! This very week, I came across an article about a newer Missouri tearoom in an intriguing space, and it is here. Cheers to Missouri for thinking outside the box with its tearooms!

• I have made a lot of recipes from old tearoom cookbooks over the years, and one of my all-time favorites (and one of the easiest!) comes from a tearoom in Missouri. It's this Quick 'n Easy Pecan Penuche (pronounced "pə-ˈnü-chē") from Barb's Country Tea Room and Yankee Peddlers in Osage Beach, Missouri (recipe is here). I may have to make some more of this fudge-like treat soon, because just thinking about it has me drooling!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Sherry R. wins a copy of "Dainty Dining"!

The winner of the "Dainty Dining" book giveaway is Sherry R. in Pennsylvania, who says she loves anything tea-related and is happy to add this book to her collection! If you'll send me your snail mail address via the email button at right, I'll get this headed your way. Congrats!

We're still commenting on Constant Comment

This must be my week to celebrate fun tea bag packaging! This Constant Comment tea bag was tucked into my latest letter from Sandy, my tea pen pal in New York, and I was tickled to realize that the image on the front is from one of the original jars of spiced black tea that Ruth Bigelow marketed. The story goes that one shopkeeper told Ruth he'd been allowing customers to actually smell the tea, and he said, "One whiff and they were sold." Ruth began including an extra "Open and Whiff" jar of tea with each case, and the rest is history!

I love that Bigelow has recalled this important bit of their tea history on their packaging, and I also love that Sandy was kind enough to share some with me!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

More teas from a tea friend in Canada

Recently I shared about that amazing "goldfish tea" I had received from tea friend Margie in Canada, and this week I got around to finally opening and trying three tea bags she sent me that were so pretty, I simply had to enjoy looking at them for a while! From Basilur, they included White Magic, a truly milky-tasting "milk oolong green tea" (a variety I'd not heard of); Strawberry & Kiwi, which tasted like a juicy piece of fruit-flavored candy; and the Exotic blend, which was a fruity, richly sweet tea. I enjoyed them all!

And yet I have to say, is this White Magic tea bag packet with roses not the prettiest thing ever? Basilur tea is from Sri Lanka but can be purchased on Amazon. I'm glad this tea is so delicious, because I think this tea bag packet is just the loveliest one I have ever received and I'd hate for it to surround a tea that wasn't worthy of such packaging! Have any of you tried Basilur tea? If so, got any more flavors to recommend? I loved the ones from Margie!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Some interesting news for Darjeeling lovers …

This is a screen grab from the NPR website yesterday. I was interested in the news that the last of India's Darjeeling tea auctions is going digital, but as I read on in this article, I came across a few other things that concerned me as a fan of Darjeeling tea.

According to the article, "there are new challenges on the horizon. Later this year, the Protected Geographical Indication for Darjeeling Tea kicks in. Like Scotch whisky or Parmigiano cheese, only 100 percent Darjeeling tea, grown in Darjeeling, will be called as such. As of now, about 88 million pounds of tea are sold as Darjeeling per year, five times what the Darjeeling tea estates actually produce. The new law will protect the Darjeeling name, but it's going to drive up prices by driving down supply, according to Jeff Koehler, author of 'Darjeeling - The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World's Greatest Tea.'"

I don't normally share a lot of "tea news" articles on this blog, but this one struck me as something important for tea lovers to be aware of. If Darjeeling prices are going up and supply is going down, well, I think I may need to stock up on Darjeeling!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Olay Fresh Effects "Bead Me Up" Exfoliating Cleanser

The Ingles Market in Bremen has been the source of some fun finds lately, including this new Olay Fresh Effects "Bead Me Up" Exfoliating Cleanser.

When I saw that this product contained "Essence of Honeysuckle & White Tea," I knew I'd have to give it a try.

Did it really have camellia sinensis as an ingredient? Yes, it did.

And as another famous cosmetics commercial used to say, "A little dab'll do ya." A nickel-sized squirt (enlarged here to show the exfoliating "beads") lathers up nicely and left my skin feeling clean and smooth, so I expect that my $7 tube of exfoliating cleanser will last me quite a while. I'm in love with the light floral fragrance, which is just heavenly, and the exfoliating beads were very, very gentle, which makes me happy because I can use this product regularly. Have any of you tried this cleanser yet?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Giveaway: A signed copy of "Dainty Dining"

For some reason, I've been getting quite a few requests this year for my 2011 book, "Dainty Dining: Vintage recipes, memories and memorabilia from America's department store tea rooms."  I'm happy to report the book is back in print and now available on To celebrate the fact that it's in print again, I thought I'd do a giveaway!

If you'd like to win a signed copy, just leave an "Enter me" to this post between now and 7 a.m. this Friday, June 24, and you'll be entered to win! US and Canada only, please.

And may I ask a favor? If you've read one of my books and enjoyed it, I'd love for you to consider leaving a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. I've learned that reviews are essential for authors to be able to purchase advertising and other marketing services in the future, so I'm trying to get bolder about asking for them! Also, if you read *any* author's book, not just mine, please consider leaving a review, as reviews are extremely important to authors these days. Thanks, and good luck!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

My Country, 'Tis of Tea — Mississippi

M-I-crooked-letter-crooked-letter-I-crooked-letter-crooked-letter-I-humpback-humpback-I. Please tell me I'm not the only one who remembers that spelling hint from childhood. Whether you know that little ditty or not, here are some new things to know about tea and the state of Mississippi!

• Ever heard of the Great Mississippi Tea Company in Brookhaven, Mississippi? It's certainly got an intriguing heritage, as it was founded on the homestead of the great-nephew of pioneer Daniel Boone and the great-niece of statesman John C. Calhoun. According to the company's website, "We at The Great Mississippi Tea Company are setting out on a course to develop a working model for commercial tea farming in the First World as a beacon for the world to implement mechanization and innovative thinking to produce and sell an ethically sustainable crop for the masses while not employing the traditional labor standards so widely used in the industry. Through mechanization, revolution, and implementation of new industry standards at The Great Mississippi Tea Company, our hopes are that others around the globe will also take a look at their operations and decide to change their operating standards to become ethically sustainable not only to planet Earth but to their fellow man." The tea farm was the subject of a piece in Modern Farmer magazine last fall, and you can read it here. I look forward to following the company's progress on Facebook to see if the Great Mississippi Tea Company can achieve its vision!

• Vicksburg, Mississippi was once the home of the Old Southern Tea Room. It was definitely an Old South, southern-belles-and-hoopskirts kind of place, and the food even drew the attention of noted food columnist Duncan Hines. The story goes that he had returned from Europe and was asked what he would like to do first. He said he wanted to go to the Old Southern Tea Room in Vicksburg and have the stuffed garden eggplant and corn pudding. I made (and enjoyed) their Chicken a la King, and you can find that recipe here.

• Many states and cities have an iconic dessert, and I think if I were going to host a tea party that featured Mississippi, I would certainly try to include a mini version of Mississippi Mud Cake! On a trip to Mississippi several years ago, I came across a magazine with an article about this famous treat, and it said that the dessert's name may have been inspired by mud on the banks of the Mississippi River or simply by the thick mud which happens as a result of all the rain in that state. Whatever the case, here's a link to one of the many recipes for Mississippi Mud Cake, a wonderfully rich chocolate cake made with pecans and marshmallows.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Sampling Wild Alaska Chaga Tea

Earlier this year, when I wrote about Alaska in my new Saturday series, I mentioned discovering a new-to-me tea (or tisane, actually), Wild Alaska Chaga Tea, which is made from wild Alaska chaga mushrooms. I later received an email from offering to send me some of the tea to sample, so naturally I said sure! I waited until I knew I was going to be home for an evening to try it, because I had a teeny bit of trepidation about consuming wild mushrooms and heading out on the road!

This is what the tea bags look like. The paper is much thicker than that I usually find in tea bags, and I suppose that's a good thing since I was instructed to steep my tea bag for 15 minutes! The tea didn't have much of a scent, and it had only a slightly mild taste. Because it isn't made from camellia sinensis, I knew that it wouldn't taste like true tea, but it does have a mildly tea-ish taste, perhaps like a tea that hasn't been steeped very long. From what I gather, chaga tea is consumed not for its taste but rather for its health benefits. According to the company's website, "Recently, numerous beneficial compounds have been discovered in chaga including: high levels of antioxidants, triterpene sterols, betulinic acid, polyphenols, phytonutrients (superoxide dismutase, beta-glucans, melanin, polysaccharides, etc.), adaptogens, amino acids, and numerous vitamins and minerals." So since the tea doesn't taste bad and boasts so many benefits, I'm going to drink this for a while and see what happens! Have any of you heard of chaga tea before? Have you tried it? You can learn more about Wild Alaska Chaga Tea (and see a photo of the wild mushrooms) by clicking here.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Teavivre's Keemun Aromatic Snail Black Tea

My friends at Teavivre recently sent along some fresh new teas to try, and the first one I sampled was this intriguingly named Keemun Aromatic Snail Black Tea.

No, there are no snails in this tea, but as you can see from this detail photo, the leaves are rolled into tight little curly shapes that do indeed resemble a snail. As I scooped out some of this tea for sampling, I couldn't help noticing the fine texture. Those spiral shapes have a lot of air in between them, and the dry leaf very much reminded me of pencil shavings, especially since I've been coloring so much lately that I've had to sharpen my coloring pencils quite a few times!

And here is what the steeped tea leaves looked like in my infuser basket. I haven't had a Keemun in some time, and I think that made me enjoy this delicious tea all the more! It had that rich, sweet, grape-like flavor I associate with Keemuns, and I greatly enjoyed it. If you'd like to learn more about this tea yourself, click here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Blue Willow cup and saucer

Last week, I purchased a new Blue Willow teacup because I needed one to photograph for an upcoming Coweta Shopper column, and a few years ago, I (sadly) broke the only actual Blue Willow teacup I owned. I have a few Blue Willow-ish pieces, but no actual Blue Willow teacups, so I used part of an Amazon gift card to order this cup and saucer from Johnson Brothers. No wonder the pattern is such a classic; it charms me the more I look at it!

After recently discovering a photo of the tea house said to have possibly inspired this pattern, I decided that any Blue Willow I collect will need to have that tea house on it. I visited two local antique stores before I finally ordered the cup and saucer from Amazon. While I found Blue Willow teacups at both places, either they didn't picture the tea house or the transfer was too blurry.

I knew to look for the doves, said to be the star-crossed lovers in the famous legend of the Blue Willow pattern (go here if you'd like to read it).

And I read somewhere years ago that the three gentlemen on the bridge have been nicknamed "the Communists" because they're always leaning left, but I found that not all Blue Willow pieces show the Communists (or "the Buddhas," as I've also seen them referred to). If you happen to own any Blue Willow, I'd love to know if you spot the tea house, the doves, and the Communists/Buddhas on your pieces!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Library of Congress Video: "Plant Hunters"

Recently I began reading a new book about how to create a period garden. It's research for another novel I've got swirling around in my head, not any new project at the McRae home, but it did make me nosy about when camellia sinensis plants began to appear in home gardens in this country. I decided to look through old seed and nursery catalogs on the Library of Congress website, and while I didn’t find the particular information I was looking for, I did come across an intriguing video.

This video, “Plant Hunters,” discusses famous plant hunters of yore, including the Scottish botanist Robert Fortune. The video notes, "He successfully discovered the coveted secrets of propagating, processing, and packing tea. Fortune helped to end the Chinese monopoly on tea by obtaining tea plants, equipment, and tea experts to establish government tea plantations in the Himalayas.”

I found the entire 24-minute video quite enlightening, but if you’re interested in only the “tea” part, tune in right at the 10:00 mark and you’ll quickly see the relevant info. Click here to watch.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Drinking like a fish …

If you hear a rumor that I was drinking like a fish this weekend, it's true! And we can blame (or credit) tea friend Margie in Canada! She recently was kind enough to send me some wonderful new teas to try, and I knew this Charm Villa Goldfish Tea was so special, I wanted to wait until I had a nice, relaxing weekend so I could enjoy this tea in a leisurely fashion, and I most certainly did!

I'd heard of these luxury tea bags before, but here in the US they sell for about $20 to $25 each (yes, each), so they were not exactly on my list of everyday tea bags to purchase. Fortunately for me, Margie has a friend who got these at a better price on a recent trip to Taiwan, so I was thrilled that Margie shared one with me. The perforated top zipped right off, and inside I found …

This! The top of the packet stays attached to the fish, as a sort of fishing pole, I suppose.

And boy, did I have fun once I put my little guy in the teacup and added boiling water! I used the string to pull him this way and that for the entire five minutes that the tea was steeping! So how did the tea taste? Well, I am very, very sorry to report that … it was amazing. To my almost dismay, this Champagne Oolong was absolutely divine and some of the best tea I've ever had. It had a delicate oolong flavor with a sweet finish, a very sophisticated taste that isn't quite like any other oolong I've had. So why the dismay? As I resteeped the fish and sipped cup after cup (because certainly I was going to get Margie's friend's money's worth out of this tea bag), I mourned the fact I can't drink this every day! Still, I am delighted to have experienced a new type of tea that I might never have gotten to enjoy otherwise. Thanks again, Margie!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

My Country, 'Tis of Tea — Minnesota

Minneapolis, Minnesota. It's the home of a new editor friend, and it's also the home of Mary Tyler Moore's TV show in which she famously threw her hat up in the air, one of the iconic moments in 1970s TV history. And Minnesota also has some teatime stories I think are worth sharing …

• I continue to research the department stores of yesteryear, and another of the ones I so wish I could have visited was Donaldson's Glass Block Department Store in Minneapolis. Doesn't the name alone make you want to know more? Why "Glass Block"? Turns out, the store was so named because of all the glass used in its design. (Click here to see a photo.) But of course what I really enjoyed learning about was the store's Japanese Tea Room, which is shown here in this postcard mailed in 1908.

• Several years ago, I had a project of cooking a recipe each week from a different vintage tearoom cookbook. This delicious Chicken and Artichoke Salad was from Just Like Grandma's Tearoom is Osakis, Minnesota. Just for fun, I checked this week, and guess what? This tearoom is still open! In a day in which so many tearooms have closed, I'm delighted to find a tearoom with some longevity, so good luck to Grandma and friends!

• Teatime during the Civil War? I love to check the state archives and historical societies for any tea-related tidbits I can find. The Minnesota Historical Society website (screen grab shown above) had this Diary entry by First Lieutenant Myron Shepard of the 1st Minnesota Regiment. The entry for Sunday, February 7th, 1864, reads, "Very warm and pleasant generally. We prepare to get off at 9 am but delay along the road and do not reach Baltimore until tea time. The regt. is marched to Sanitary Commission and get supper.  Then march through town to [Far] Central Depot and go aboard the cars and remain there all balance of eve. The officers go up to Barnums Hotel. Get Supper and stay in Col. Colvil’s room until after midnight.  Everybody feeling pretty good. “Ben” and [Laueb] accompany us to Baltimore and are our principal chaperones." Of course, what I found quite intriguing was that line about not reaching Baltimore "until tea time." Are you as surprised as I am that a lieutenant in the Civil War referred to teatime in his diary? How interesting that the hour for tea seems to have been a marker in the lieutenant's mind!

Friday, June 10, 2016

The herbal tea book & teas giveaway winner is ...

Tea Grandma! If you'll send me your snail mail address via the email button at right, I'll get these goodies headed your way. Congrats!

What's up in my book world …

For those of you who've asked about my writing life, I thought I'd share what I've been up to lately. As you know, I released "A Year of Teatime Tales" a couple of months ago, and I've been delighted to have the book for sale on Amazon since that means I no longer have to package and ship books myself! Getting the book on Amazon was so easy, in fact, that I set about getting my out-of-print 2011 book, "Dainty Dining," for sale there as well. I have no idea why, but I have been getting more and more requests for that book this year. This week I got the proof back from the new printer, and I'm happy to report that DD will be for sale again very soon. Once it is, I'll announce it here and do a giveaway to celebrate!

Meanwhile, a lot of things have happened since I wrote my first book back in 2011. Back then, I'd never heard of Goodreads, sort of a Facebook for those who love books. Out of curiosity, I decided to give away a copy of "Teatime Tales" on Goodreads to see if that would prompt any new readers to add it to their virtual bookshelves. Happily, many have, and when I checked my giveaway entries this week, it reminded me that I should encourage any of you who would like a copy of the book to enter as well, since the giveaway runs through June 18. US and Canada residents can enter by clicking on the box in the top right column of this page.

And what's on the horizon:

• Because I need to have the thing ready to pitch at a mystery writers conference I'm planning to attend, I have until August to finish editing my first cozy mystery, which is about a young jewelry designer (and former newspaper reporter) who haunts garage sales and antique malls for junk jewelry with which she makes her one-of-a-kind "upcycled" jewelry creations—when she's not solving murders.

• In May, I finished writing my second cozy mystery, the first book in series number two, which is about two middle-aged sisters who enjoy "glamping" and run a junk emporium and solve murders on the side. They're a lot of fun!

• And on the nonfiction front, looking back at "Dainty Dining" reminded me of how much I enjoyed researching that book, and I've got almost enough recipes collected to start baking away in preparation for a second book, tentatively titled "Dainty Desserts." (Or as my husband has referred to it, "Dainty Diabetes." Humph.)

I hope I haven't bored you with today's bookworm news, so thanks for reading, and if you entered the Goodreads giveaway, good luck!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Some intriguing news in the new Upton Tea Quarterly …

I have often written about the intriguing cover stories appearing in the Upton Tea Quarterly, but this time, the most interesting news to me was something that appeared on page 3. (You can read the full issue for yourself by clicking here.)

If you've read this newsletter/catalog over the years, you may be aware that the Upton folks are fans of the patented Chatsford Strainer System in teapots. (Go here to see one in bone china.) Well, Upton got a license agreement with the London Teapot Company to use the strainer system, and so all they needed was to find a U.S. manufacturer of ceramics. They approached the Homer Laughlin China Company, which I did not realize was still in business, and that is who they've chosen to make their "20-ounce Chatsford teapot from Homer Laughlin." I want one! But they're not quite ready yet. Upton says that the samples they recently received were of "exceptional" quality, and later this year they'll be introducing three colors of these new teapots: red, white and blue. I'm not sure I have very many U.S.-made teapots in my house, so I'm quite excited to hear about an American teapot that will use a British strainer system. I'm thinking I will "need" a blue one. You?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Sampling Samovar Tea from Anchorage, Alaska

I absolutely love it when a friend surprises me with a gift of some new tea to try. This week, I got to sample some Samovar Tea that tea friend Ruth picked up on her recent trip to Alaska!

 The scent when I opened the package was absolutely divine. It was redolent of cinnamon and immediately made me think of red hot cinnamon candies. I looked at the label and saw that this blend contains black tea, cinnamon and orange oils, clove, granulated lemon and orange, and orange peel.

I'm happy to report that it was every bit as delicious as it sounds! I've been drinking more iced tea than hot tea lately, but this tea was so good, I immediately added it to the week's tea rotation. With the sweetness of the cinnamon and citrus, this would be a wonderful "dessert tea," and I'm so grateful Ruth thought of me with this delicious gift!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Original Long Island Iced Tea

I've always heard of "Long Island Iced Tea" as an alcoholic beverage, but the "Original Long Island Iced Tea" flavors I picked up at Ingles over the weekend were made with camellia sinensis instead. I had actually been looking for the Jimmy Buffett teas I like to sip in hot weather, but alas, they had none on the shelves. Happily, though, I found a new brand of bottled tea to try.

The mango flavor was quite a sweet treat and did indeed taste like mangoes. This tea boasts non-GMO ingredients and "a pinch of pure cane sugar."

The Diet Peach flavor was also good but had a hint of that tartness I sometimes find in diet teas, probably from the sucralose sweetener. I liked it, but I definitely preferred the mango flavor. I seem to drink bottled teas primarily when I'm on the road (such as when I'm on vacation or when I'm heading from my Dad's house back to Newnan). Do any of you drink bottled teas more often than that?