Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes"

Not long ago I came across a copy of the book "Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes" (2000), a collection of short stories by Deborah Smith, Donna Ball, Nancy Knight, Sandra Chastain, Debra Dixon and Virginia Ellis. I usually don't much care for short stories, preferring to read a novel or non-fiction book on a single topic, but I must say I thoroughly enjoyed reading these stories over the weekend!

Of course one reason I enjoyed them so much is that they're southern, yet I have a feeling the memories of home, family, community and growing up will resonate with readers no matter where they are from. The first short story, "The Jesus Shoes" by Sandra Chastain, recalls a memorable session of Vacation Bible School. Her memories took me back to Mrs. Jenny Newbern's VBS class where I sang "Onward Christian Soldiers" and learned to make crafts out of popsicle sticks and dry macaroni pieces, beginner craft skills which have served me well in life.

My favorite story in the book was the last one, "Sweet Tea" by Debra Dixon, which tells of a snooty northern visitor who belittles her southern hosts and gets, shall we say, a little something special in her dinner beverage. I won't spoil the surprise in case some of you decide to read this book, but I have always loved watching an "uppity" person get her comeuppance. In my experience, snobs come in all shapes and sizes and certainly from all regions of the country, including mine, but snobbery is simply a sign of bad character no matter where the person's from. The simple life lessons shared in this book were just plain fun to read, and now I'm looking forward to reading the follow-up to this book. Are you a fan of short stories?

Monday, September 22, 2014

A State Fair of Texas Treat: Deep Fried Sweet Tea!

It's fair and festival time across this great land of ours, and here at home the Coweta County Fair is already underway. Soon, I'll be looking into a day trip to one of the various apple and pumpkin festivals found in the mountain region of the state. But it was the State Fair of Texas that caught my attention last week, and the reason was one of its new food offerings I read about: Deep Fried Sweet Tea! Now the fair runs Sept. 26 through Oct. 19 in Dallas, so would one of you Texas readers please go check this out and report back? Here's what the Texas State Fair website says about this new treat: "The South’s #1 beverage has been deep fried! Home brewed sweet tea is blended into a custard filling. The custard is given a graham cracker crust, deep fried, & topped off with homemade sweet tea syrup. The crispy, golden graham cracker crust gives way to a warm & gooey center that’s packed with sweet tea flavor." Ohhhhh, would I love to try this! (These photos appear courtesy of the State Fair of Texas, which generously gave me permission to share them here!)

Other treats at the Texas fair this year will include this Texas Fried Chicken in a Waffle Cone. "This tasty treat," they say, "starts with a large crispy waffle cone layered with Texas Fried Chicken and Sausage Gravy until it's piled high and when you get to the bottom of the cone you have a sweet surprise. You get a meal and dessert all in one. Enjoy!" The first time I heard about chicken and waffles was in the pages of an old tea room cookbook, so I certainly raise my glass of sweet tea to this fun idea.

Now pork rinds, I realize, are not going to be a hit with everyone, but I like 'em. The good people of Texas are, as always, outdoing the rest of us by what they've done with pork rinds for this year's fair, Deep Fried Pork Rind Nachos. Their fresh pork rinds "right out of the fryer" are topped with cheese, chili, pico de gallo and jalapenos. If you don't like the sound of this, fine. I'll eat yours!

And last but not least, the item I would most like to try after the Deep Fried Sweet Tea is one of these Deep Fried Milk and Cookies on a Stick. Read this description and try not to drool: "Whole milk, half & half and heavy cream are blended with sugar, cookies and slow cooked to make a creamy custard that is chilled for 6+ hours. The finished milky/creamy product is then sliced in thin sections, dipped in an egg wash and rolled in Japanese Bread Crumbs. It is then deep fried and served hot with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and choice of chocolate or strawberry sauce." Oh. My. Goodness. Now I know that mentioning all these *fried* treats will cause some folks to get the vapors, but I would submit to you that we certainly don't eat this way every day and it's OK to splurge a little every now and then! Alas, the fanciest thing I've ever eaten at a local fair or festival is a Deep Fried Oreo (which was OK, but a little mushy). Unless I can come up with a really good reason to visit Texas in the next month, I guess I'll just be content to dream of Deep Fried Sweet Tea. Have you ever eaten any unusual fried foods at a fair or festival? If so, please share! And if you'd like to read about the rest of the new food treats at the State Fair of Texas, visit here.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Tea Room Postcard #37 -- Sweetheart Tea Room (Shelburne Falls, MA)

Lately I've had a bit of a challenge finding *mailed* postcards with messages I wanted to share. Bladder problems? Kidney ailments? Two tea room postcard senders had all the details out there for all the world to see! Now I've thought for years that there's a lot of "oversharing" going on with Facebook, but the vintage postcards I've seen lately have reminded me that whining and complaining is nothing new. I read somewhere recently, though, that people who post negative messages on Facebook reinforce those negative emotions, and people who post positive messages multiply their happiness. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out which is the better method, does it? For that reason, I decided not to buy the quaint postcards whose senders were discussing physical ailments and chose this one instead, an RPPC ("Real Photo Post Card") sent from the Sweetheart Tea Room in Shelburne Falls, Mass. in 1918. Do you suppose this was the entrance to the tea room? Is that a little money box, perhaps, sitting on the table with the vase holding a flower?

The anonymous sender writes to Miss Helen P. Lane of Medford, Mass., "Do you remember this Rose Arbor Tea Room at the end of Board Walk? Received your letter today. Thank you for kind words. Sorry not to see you before you leave for New Bedford. Glad you obtained a desirable position." That "desirable position" makes me think Helen got a teaching job. What do you think?

Friday, September 19, 2014

The stationery and tea giveaway winner is ...

Tina Simicsak! If you'll send me your snail mail address via the e-mail button at right, I'll get these goodies headed your way. Congrats!

Let's have tea — at Dollar Tree!

Oddly enough, it was through a friend that I learned a new Dollar Tree had opened just around the corner from my house. In my defense, it's in the direction of Peachtree City, not Newnan, so that's why I rarely head that way. Thanks to my now-frequent visits to this store with my aunt, I've become quite a fan of DT and love to stock up on all sorts of things like dishwashing liquid, toothpaste and, of course, books. When I visited this new Dollar Tree this week, I found a few tea-ish things I thought I'd share.

First, I think these little tea sets would make great stocking stuffers. When I saw them, it was a reminder to start shopping for toy tea sets for our local Christmas toy drive for foster children. If I pick up a few of these every time I'm in Dollar Tree, that's a lot of little girls who may be converted to future tea drinkers!

And the other item that made me hit the brakes was this cute box of Disney tissues with a "Tea in the Garden" theme. Funny enough, I'd seen these on my friend Nancy's Rosemary's Sampler blog earlier this week and yes, I coveted her tissues. I admit it. She had said her sister found them at a local dollar store, and I assumed it was some exotic dollar store (is there such a thing?) that we don't have here in Georgia. When I saw this familiar design for just a dollar, it made me so happy I almost cried into my box of tissues!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A tea catalog with a fine tribute

A new Harney & Sons tea catalog arrived in the mail this week, and it struck me that this is the first one I've received since we heard the news of John Harney's passing back on June 17.

For that reason, I thought it was especially nice that you open this catalog to find a lovely tribute to the founder. "It is with great sadness," write sons Mike and Paul Harney, "that we acknowledge that our Founder, our Father is no longer with us to give us advice and love. Without him there would be no Harney family, nor Harney & Sons Fine Teas. We are blessed that he helped us so much." The letter also notes that he "has left us with an awesome responsibility: to walk in his shoes."

From the looks of this catalog, the Harney legacy is going to be just fine, and I was pleased to see many of the flavors I so enjoy, such as Pumpkin Spice, above, and my longtime favorite for fall, Cranberry Autumn. I don't always keep tea catalogs anymore since I'm trying to cut down on paper clutter, but this one is a special keepsake I'm hanging on to with fond memories of a very special man.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Some new teas from Taylors of Harrogate

Recently I heard from Brands of Britain with an offer to try some new teas from Taylors of Harrogate. I believe I was first introduced to Taylors of Harrogate teas when the old Holly Cottage Tea Room here in Newnan offered their Tea Room Blend as their signature tea. Naturally, I was happy to receive the new tea samples!

When the box of tea samples arrived, I found that the flavors included English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Lemon & Orange, Naturally Decaffeinated Breakfast Tea, Pure Assam, Organic Peppermint, Organic Chamomile, and Green Tea with Jasmine. So far I've sampled the Lemon & Orange (a bright, clean flavor with equal amounts of lemon and orange), the Pure Assam (a great brisk, malty tea) and the Organic Peppermint (a lovely caffeine-free tea which reminds me very much of my beloved Candy Cane Lane Tea). Now I can't wait to try all the others!

And since they generously sent me so many samples, I've decided to include a sample of each of the eight flavors in this week's giveaway (see Monday's post), so if you haven't entered yet, be sure to do so! Learn more about these teas at the Brands of Britain website here!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The U.S. League of Tea Growers

It was with great interest that I recently read about a new tea group, the United States League of Tea Growers. The group was founded in 2013 to support, just as the name says, the growth of tea here in the United States.

I have enjoyed reading their blog (found here) and discovered all sorts of useful information, including a guide to germinating camellia sinensis seeds (it's here).

The USLTG project I am most interested in is their support of the tea mapping project at the University of North Carolina. This project will create maps of the mean annual precipitation, soil pH and temperature for tea plantations in the continental U.S. as well as a map of tea plantations in Hawaii. If you'd like to read more about the project, click here. I look forward to learning more about U.S. tea growing efforts thanks to this great new resource!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Time for a September Giveaway!

The other day at Michaels I noticed they had just one of the cute little teacup zippered pouches like I bought for myself earlier in the summer. I decided someone who appreciates teacups really needed to have this last one, so I got it to include with the September giveaway, which includes the goodies shown here!

In addition to the zippered pouch, the winner will receive this package of 10 teacup-themed cards from Hallmark. Cute, eh? (Got these at Marshalls, by the way, so don’t you dare think I paid full price!)

And then there’s little pad of 50 sticky notes from Carol Wilson Fine Arts with her lovely teacup designs on them. Want to win these teacup-themed treats? Just leave a comment to this post between now and 7 a.m. EST Friday, Sept. 19, and you’ll be entered to win. (U.S. and Canada only, please.) Good luck!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Tea Room Postcard #36 -- Oribe Tea Room (Jaffrey, N.H.)

Sometimes I find a vintage tea room postcard online and purchase it not knowing what the message on the back says. In such cases, it's always interesting when the card arrives so I can see what story it tells. That was certainly the case with this card mailed to Miss Grace Norris in Massachusetts in 1910.

“A sad thing happened here this morning early. The P.O. and store burned entirely down. Mrs. S. & I walked down to see the debris, and there (?) our joy this new Tea House. It is very attractively furnished & they also offer beautiful little (fusion?) of handicraft. Come up & see it for yourself. If you can come on the seventeenth do - There is lots of room for you. Lovingly, Grace." I was so sorry to hear the local post office and store burned down, but at least there was a nice new tea house in town!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sharing tea with friends

When my friend Liz was over for her daughter’s tea on Saturday, she sniffed a lot of my teas and wanted to try two in particular, this Cranberry Blood Orange Rooibos from The Boston Tea Company and the Tupelo Honey Fig from Tea Forté.  Alas, as soon as she left with the bridesmaids I realized I’d failed to send her home with the samples. It’s a pity, too, because remember those cute little mini tins I found recently? (They’re here.) Those would have been perfect for sending her home with some samples! Instead, I grabbed some of my handy make-your-own teabags and popped two samples in the mail, storing each blend in a different plastic bag.

First, a nice big scoop of Cranberry Blood Orange Rooibos, making sure to send some bits of the dried berries.

And then a much different looking tea, the Tupelo Honey Fig with its mossy green colored bits. I’m not sure I’ve ever mailed loose leaf tea before, so I do hope it survives the trip. And will the two scents compete by the time they arrive at my friend’s home? I hope not. Have you sent samples of loose tea in the mail before? If so, how did you do it?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Southern Pecan Tea

When my aunt and I went to Marietta’s Vineyard Cafe and the “Gone With the Wind” museum a few weeks ago, I made two purchases which I see as companions: a new copy of the novel from the museum gift shop, and some of the Vineyard Cafe’s Southern Pecan Tea.

I’ve had a bee in my bonnet for a while now to re-read GWTW and focus on the food and decor, so I bought a paperback copy I can feel free to mark up. And as I read, it just seemed appropriate to have a “southern” tea, so Southern Pecan sounded perfect! I couldn't find the ingredients for this tea listed online, but it's what I'd call a traditional "dessert" tea with sweet notes and appears to contain black tea, pecan pieces, mini white chocolate chips and flower petals (sunflower, perhaps). It's a very tasty combination!

Do you try to match teacups to teas and books? I do sometimes, and the only china I could think of that would be just right for Scarlett O’Hara would be something Irish, which I don’t happen to have, but I do think of all those green dresses when I think of Scarlett, so I settled on this green teacup. If you were re-reading GWTW, which teacup would you choose?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A wonky new tea mug

After seeing this $3.99 tea mug a few times at both T.J. Maxx and Marshalls lately, I decided its wonky personality would come in handy on those days I'm feeling a little offbeat myself!

It's a little hard to tell from the photo, but this tea mug is purposely (I think) misshapen, like someone grabbed the ceramic before it had quite settled into its shape. There's a wonky shape to the rim and a wonky little dip in the base, too.

It's a little easier to see from overhead here. I don't know why exactly, but this imperfect tea mug makes me smile. If you're feeling a little wonky yourself, maybe you'll want one too!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Teatime with Ollie's

Buying tea at a discount store can be iffy, but the prices at Ollie's Bargain Outlet are so cheap that I'm willing to give some new items a try. I got an entire bag of stuff for just $4.29 (including tax) on a recent visit there with my aunt. That included a box of 100 Earl Grey teabags, a box of Lipton's Tea & Honey Peach Apricot tea mixes, and a package of Tea Biscuits. The tea biscuits tasted rather like graham crackers but without the personality, if you know what I mean, so I ate mine with Nutella, which makes everything better. I loved the Peach Apricot iced tea, and I also liked the Alokozay Earl Grey tea.

I was happy to find the Earl Grey tea tasted very fresh and brisk. I have some loose Earl Grey, but it's never a bad idea to have some extra Earl Grey teabags around. This brand is packaged in the United Arab Emirates and imported from Canada.

But what really got my attention is the freebie that came with this $1.99 box of tea, as I probably wouldn't have been as tempted to try the Alokozay Earl Grey if it hadn't come with a free glass tea mug. All in all, a fine four-dollar purchase that day. Do you have an Ollie's near you?

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Bridesmaids Luncheon & Tea for Cydney!

You've heard me talk about it for months now, and on Saturday it was finally time to host the Bridesmaids Luncheon and Tea for my sweet friend Cydney and her maids!

What a lovely group of friends she has, and to my delight they were all eager to try all the teas I prepared! From left are Angela, Alley (sister of the bride), Cydney, Brandi, Lauren, Abby (sister of the groom) and Miranda (cousin of the groom).

So what teas did the girls drink? First we began with some "Celebration" Blend from Fortnum and Mason, which was a big hit, with multiple refills requested and served. I made another pot of that, and then they wanted to try the Harney & Sons Lingonberry Green, which was also a hit. (I let the bride's mother, my friend Liz, sniff teas straight from my tea rack and help me choose what to serve. She obviously made good choices.) I also served an iced fruity tea called "Lady Hannah" blend in honor of the bride's flower girl, her cute niece Hannah, who unfortunately couldn't be with us because our event conflicted with cheerleader pictures up in the mountains where she lives. But I sent some of the tea to Hannah so she'll know she was missed!

For our savories, we had Pimiento Cheese Hearts, Smoked Salmon and Dill Tarts, Ginger Chicken Balls, and Cucumber Cream Sandwiches. The girls were very complimentary about all the food, and I loved it when I walked past and heard several of them moaning that they were so stuffed!

On the tea trolley we had Cranberry Scones (I also made Chocolate Chip Scones but forgot to get a picture; you know how that goes!), Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes, Orange Madeleines, Caramel Apple Tea Bread and Lemon Bars. Besides all the savories, the Lemon Bars seemed to be the other item that got the most positive comments, which I found interesting. (Maybe it's because that's a classic southern sweet for luncheons and such?)

I was trying to incorporate a few subtle touches of "vintage" into the decor, so I used these vintage print scrapbooking paper flowers on the cupcakes. I wasn't sure if they'd melt into the icing, but they held up just fine!

Liz came early to help me assemble sandwiches and get things on the table, and then we agreed we'd head to the living room and allow the girls to gab freely. I loved hearing them laugh and enjoy themselves!

And though I failed to take all the photos I intended, at least I did think to get a few photos of the girls before they left the table!

The bride's gift to her maids was these monogrammed shirts which they will wear as they're getting ready the day of the wedding. I loved these! Liz hung them from my living room window, and I thought they were actually rather pretty there.

Now can you guess what my gift was to these sweet girls?

Yes, everyone left with a vintage teacup, and they seemed so happy with them. I was more than a little pleased that Liz reported that later that day, when they were at the seamstress' house getting their dresses fitted, they were all chatting about the luncheon and how they are all going to drink more tea now! (Yes -- score one for our team, tea lovers!)

I've been having tea with Cydney and Alley for quite a few years now (here they are at a tea 18 years ago with our little friend Jordynn in the background), and it was fun to see that tea is still such a sweet part of our friendship!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Tea Room Postcard #35 -- Studio Tea Room (Camden, S.C.)

I love the pretty, almost watercolor looking image on this week's tea room postcard, which features the Studio Tea Room in Camden, S.C. This card was mailed in 1924, and indeed this quaint tea room doesn't at all look like one we'd see here 90 years later, does it?

This card was mailed to a Mrs. Ralph Bristol of Montclair, New Jersey, and it reads, "Love it here, although I can't say I agree with Ralph, I don't think it compares with Bermuda. Play golf in the morning and drive in the afternoons - Weather yesterday a little chill - Today perfect -- Love to you, Elizabeth Child (?). " Odd things strike me about all of these cards, it seems, and on this one I'm wondering if two female friends both had a husband named Ralph. What do you think?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Christmas thrifting looking good

Those of you who mind my leaping ahead to fall are probably really aggravated that I keep leaping ahead to Christmas, but I am just so excited about all the great buys I've found at Goodwill this year that will make for some really lovely food gift presentations!

I think this $1.91 silver tray I found over the weekend will polish up nicely, and I do love that it's etched with "Merry Christmas" and a few touches of red and green. Obviously, this tray is crying out for some red and green cookies on it.

The half price color at Goodwill for the week was green, so I was happy to find the 2-cup green teapot had a "G" written on the bottom in China marker. It was $1.41 at regular price, so at half price that's what, 71 cents for the teapot? It looks brand new, like it's never been used, and has no chips, cracks or crazing. If I tuck this into a tea-themed gift basket, the recipient will really think I've gone all out, won't they? Maybe I'll tip my hand by including a note that says, "Peace on earth, GOODWILL to all!"