Monday, April 27, 2015

Finding tea … along the garden path!

Last week, our Chamber of Commerce had its monthly networking social at Something Special, the local special events facility known for its elegant weddings, meetings and other special events such as the lovely Christmas Tea I attended in December. I arrived early in hopes of getting a few "quiet" photos before the crowd arrived, and this lovely home and garden was at its springtime finest! Here, is one of the many scenic spots in the backyard garden where, not surprisingly, a great number of the guests chose to mingle.

It was hard to pick a favorite scene, but this fountain was certainly one of my favorites!

Then again, the gazebo was lovely as well.

As was this sweet spot with statuary, pansies and ivy.

But once everyone arrived and I did my customary mingling with friends in the business community, I knew I could head back up front and have this little corner to myself, the home of a gun cabinet which once belonged to owner Mike Meyers' grandfather — a gun cabinet now being used as the "tea party cabinet," as Mike put it!

I loved nosing around and admiring all the pretty teawares, in so very many colors and styles, like this iridescent set …

… and these floral teawares …

Nearby, a tea trolley was set up with a vignette promoting the upcoming Mother's Day Tea at Something Special.

If you're a local reader — or within driving distance of Newnan — this tea is set for Saturday, May 9, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and I can tell you from past experience that any tea held at Something Special is going to live up to the name. For $25 per person, including tax and tip, you can tour the home and gardens while treating your mother to a wonderful time of tea. (And I trust if you are blessed enough to still have your mother, you are doing something special for her, whether or not it's at Something Special!) Mike says he can reserve a spot for you if you call in with your credit card information, and he can be reached at 770-251-1206.

And even if you don't live nearby but simply want to see more of this lovely antebellum home, you can visit their website at sspecial.net!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Teatime Tale #17 - The Japanese Tea Set


The Japanese Tea Set
         Cathy loved to decorate, and while she wasn’t into high-end design projects, she dearly loved to spruce up a room. In the kitchen, she would regularly hang new curtains over the kitchen sink. In the living room, she liked to switch out the pillows seasonally to bring new color into her decor. That big skirted table in her bedroom? It was forever being redecorated, sometimes with vintage books or, in summer, seashells collected on family beach trips.
            But much as Cathy loved to decorate, in her dining room was one small vignette she’d been enjoying for months and never intended to change—ever.
            To the casual visitor, it was simply a handsome oak cabinet displaying some vintage Japanese teawares in front of sepia-toned photos. Cathy usually favored a more streamlined look over a cluttered one, but every time she walked by the busy little tea scene, it gave her no small amount of pleasure to know these teawares were out where everyone could see and enjoy them.
            The handpainted tea set featured a scene from a Japanese garden. The set had belonged to Cathy’s great-grandmother and, through various handings-down in the family, eventually became hers. While her closest friends were quite familiar with the tea set, new friends would see the prettily faded photos behind the tea set and ask if that sweet little golden-haired child with the big bow in her hair was an ancestor. “Yes, that was my great-grandmother, and this tea set once belonged to her,” Cathy would reply. And that was the truth. But it wasn’t the whole truth.
           
            The fact of the matter was, her great-grandmother—“Great-grandmother Lucille” as she insisted the great-grandchildren call her—was a stuffy old biddy. She wasn’t a loving mother to Cathy’s grandmother, she had never been very fond of Cathy’s mother, and Cathy remembered her simply as the unpleasant old woman who spent the last years of her life terrorizing the rest of her family. She never played with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren—“too rambunctious,” she always said—and family lore had it that she probably nagged her poor husband to an early death.
            Cathy’s mother once told her the real story behind Great-grandmother Lucille’s tea set. When Lucille married Cathy’s great-grandfather, a wealthy young banker named Harold, they’d gone on a tour of the Orient for their honeymoon. One of the many objets d’art Harold purchased for Lucille on that trip was a Japanese tea set that caught her fancy.
            Was the tea set used with her husband or perhaps her children and grandchildren? No. Had it provided hospitality at women’s club meetings and library fundraisers? No. Instead, Great-grandmother Lucille would pull out the tea set once a year to admire it, show off her priceless pieces of “art,” and reminisce about her and Harold’s honeymoon to any unfortunate relatives who happened to be within earshot. Then, she would wrap each of the pieces back in a soft cotton cloth and have the tea set returned to the attic for another year.
            While Cathy never had great reason to dislike her great-grandmother, she didn’t have warm feelings for her either, primarily because of the way the woman had treated her own daughter and granddaughter. Cathy often marveled that some of her friends went around pretending they had always had such perfect families when, in reality, everyone’s family was usually dysfunctional in one way or another.
           
            Years after Great-grandmother Lucille passed away, her tea set eventually got handed down to Cathy. She was determined those lovely old pieces were going to have a new life. She set them out in plain view on the oak cabinet in her dining room so that she and her family would see them every single day. She and her 12-year-old daughter, Mallory, had already enjoyed a few impromptu teas using the tea set. If one of her teenage sons or their friends happened by one day and knocked a piece off, so be it, she said. What was that great old saying? “Love people, not things; use things, not people.”
            When Cathy inherited the tea set, she knew immediately that the revered pieces of “art” were going to have a new set of house rules. Cathy invited her mother over one Wednesday morning for brunch. They had a delicious quiche and some fresh fruit, and in the center of the table—right there in front of God and everybody—sat the infamous honeymoon souvenir that had spent a lifetime largely in hiding, Great-grandmother Lucille’s Japanese Tea Set.
            Her mom had stared at the set wide-eyed when she first realized Cathy was actually using the sacred teawares. She never said a word about it, but Cathy suspected her mother was quietly pleased.
            The photo of the smiling little blonde—the photo tucked behind a teapot on the old oak cabinet—had more than one story to tell. There was the story of a happy young child who grew up to be a very different sort of older woman. And then there was the story of the woman who overvalued her things. Cathy could honor her great-grandmother for being part of her heritage, but she could also learn from the mistakes her great-grandmother had made. Lucille had valued things more than people, and Cathy wasn’t about to follow in those footsteps.
            Every time she walked by the oak cabinet, she was assured that the Japanese Tea Set would have a new story, a better story, to tell the generations to come.


Friday, April 24, 2015

A few details for new readers … and old!

Today I wanted to address a couple of questions that have come my way in recent weeks. Now some of you are going to say, "Well, duh? Who didn't know that?" and the answer is, "I didn't … not always, at least!" Occasionally someone asks about a post they saw on this blog in the past but can't remember when it ran. The great thing is, that small box above my name — the rectangular box to the right of the orange Blogger icon and with the little magnifying glass icon inside, is the search bar. I outlined it in red above to show you where to look, because it's a very helpful tool and one I use all the time. On my blog as well as others, I find myself wanting to revisit a blog post from the past, and this search bar makes that easy to do. Not long ago, for instance, I wanted to revisit some of my friend Phyllis' many posts about "Downton Abbey" on her Relevant Tea Leaf blog, so I simply went to her search bar and typed in that name, clicked Enter (or Return) on my computer, and up came all those great posts!

A couple of people have told me they are sharing my Saturday Teatime Tales with their friends (thank you, thank you, thank you!), and those are all labeled "Teatime Tales" and can be accessed by scrolling down the lists on the right-hand column on this blog. Under the heading "Labels," you will find a number of my Saturday projects from the past, such as the 52 weeks of tea room postcards and 52 weeks of tea room recipes. If you click on one of these titles, it will bring up ALL of the posts under that particular topic.

So there you go! These are some search techniques I didn't know when I was a new blogger, and for new readers, I thought it might be helpful as well. Happy searching!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

My earliest tea influence

This week I finished a big editing project, so I celebrated with a little downtime, which meant reading something a bit more leisurely — my beloved back issues of Victoria magazine. My custom for years now has been to reach for issues originally published in the month at hand, and I best love — and cherish — those early ones. So this week I'm looking at the April 1993, 1994 and 1995 issues of Victoria. Can you think of a 20-year-old issue of *anything* that you still read? Other than these magazines, I can't, and I'm so pleased I've kept them all these years.

As I look through these old issues, it occurs to me, repeatedly, that Victoria is truly what turned me on to tea. As a good little southern girl, I grew up drinking only sweetened iced tea, so the very concept of drinking hot tea seemed a little odd to me. But I loved all the pretty teawares in Victoria, so the teacup and teapot–collecting bug hit — and, naturally, an interest in tea books. Looking back at tea-themed artwork in this April 1995 Victoria, I see that I missed a tea book, the one by Maryjo Koch.

In this April 1994 issue, there's a feature titled "Woodland Confections Good Enough to Charm," which is about baker Gail Peachin, who made confections out of bark, rosebuds, pinecones and other natural elements. I can't help wondering if this "cake" with teacups nearby inspired some of the nature-themed creations that are still in style today.

In the April 1993 issue, a feature on Harriet Beecher Stowe's cottage in Hartford, Connecticut, caught my eye with the teapot and pitchers shown here.

Also in the April 1995 issue was a feature on Dr. Stewart's Botanical Teas, which I remember enjoying many years ago and which I learned are still around today. Reading these old issues is rather like having a visit with a long-lost friend, a friend forever welcome in my home.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Teas from the Native American Tea Company

Recently I was contacted by the Native American Tea Company with an offer to sample some of its teas. I was unfamiliar with this company, and I learned that its founding family "would listen to the old ones tell stories of herbs, flowers and roots — where they came from and how they came to be put on the earth." The company was started in 1987 and began formulating herbs into tea one tea bag at a time. My sample package arrived this week and contained four different varieties of tea. The first two I tried were the Warrior's Brew and the Teepee Dreams.

The Warrior's Brew contains Orange Pekoe tea, orange peel, rose hips, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, rosemary and star anise. This spice tea reminded me of Constant Comment but was lighter and with a softer, almost creamy quality to it. There's a real art to crafting a spice blend of tea that's exactly right — not too spicy, not too weak — and I think this tea gets it just right.

The other tea I tried is the Teepee Dreams, a caffeine-free herbal tea which contains peppermint, chamomile, catnip, strawberry leaf, linden, passion flower, scullcap, licorice root, Valerian root and natural flavor. I do enjoy chamomile tea, but sometimes the chamomile flavor is overpowering. This one is blended well with the peppermint, and I was pleased that I could taste both peppermint and chamomile in equal measure.

I also think it's noteworthy that this company donates a portion of its profits toward scholarships at Sitting Bull College. If you'd like to learn more about the Native American Tea Company, just click here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

From Bath and Body Works: Georgia Peach & Sweet Tea products

My tea friend Janet P. in Texas sent me an alert that Bath & Body Works has a new fragrance line, Georgia Peach & Sweet Tea, so naturally I was inspired to pay a visit to my local store.

I asked the sales clerk about this new line. She said a new shipment of that very fragrance had just arrived and fetched some from the back for me. The travel sizes were three for $12.

I got all three travel-size products of the Georgia Peach & Sweet Tea fragrance. It was a wise choice, because this fragrance is one I love-love-love, and I don't triple-love very many cosmetics. The mist in particular somehow captures just the right peachy notes of a peach, yet it's light and pleasant enough that no one will mistake you for, say, a Peach Cobbler. And while camellia sinensis isn't on the ingredients list, I still love the idea that I'm *wearing* a little tea when I use these fragrances!

Monday, April 20, 2015

It's Azalea Season!

On Saturday, some members of my garden club braved the on-again, off-again rain to go tour my friend Joan's azaleas. Joan has what some say is the largest personal collection of native azaleas in the US (some 6,000 plants!), and even in the rain, these flowers are absolutely stunning! I'm pretty sure it was after touring Joan's gardens some years ago that I was inspired to acquire the only azalea teacup I've ever found. Roses, daisies, daffodils, chrysanthemums and lots of other flowers are regularly seen on teacups, but I don't believe you'll often see azaleas on one!

Several years ago, I read a book by British author Jane Brown titled "Tales of the Rose Tree: Ravishing Rhododendrons and Their Travels Around the World" which helped me understand the difference between rhododendrons and azaleas. My main takeaway from the book: "All azaleas are rhododendrons." And if you really like to split hairs, as I sometimes do, the UGA Extension Service says, "All azaleas are rhododendrons, and both are in the genus Rhododendron. The term 'rhododendron,' however, is commonly used to refer to the group of plants usually with large, leathery, evergreen foliage, while 'azalea' refers to those with smaller, thinner leaves."

Like a lot of southerners, I have long loved our spring azaleas, and when I read this passage in Jane Brown's book, I loved them even more: "Old as they are, rhododendrons are descended from the more ancient magnolia (Magnoliaceae) and tea (Theaceae) families and so have ancestral connections to the tulip trees (linodendron), camellias, stewartias and the franklinia." So next time you're enjoying the beautiful colors of spring azaleas, you can derive a little tea-lover satisfaction from knowing that the camellia sinensis plant we're so fond of is also a relative of the azalea. And just because the flowers are so pretty, I thought I'd share a few more photos from Saturday's tour. Are any of you azalea fans?






Saturday, April 18, 2015

Teatime Tale #16 - She Dreams in Roses


She Dreams in Roses

            Helen was out back tending to her irises when Malcolm walked up beside her.
            “What are those things called again?” he said.
            “Irises,” she said. Malcolm was a lawn-mowing fiend when it came to keeping the grass cut, but he would never be mistaken for a Master Gardener. “And I just noticed some rosebuds, too, so hopefully we’ll have roses soon.”
            “I saw where one of your pink roses bloomed out front this week.”
            “Where?”
            “You know, over there with your rose bushes.”
            Helen walked briskly to the front of the house and looked at her David Austin English rose bushes. No buds. No blossoms.
            Malcolm had followed her there. “It’s that pink one”—he pointed to a corner of the flower garden—“although it looks a little bent-over right now.”
            “That’s a tulip, dear,” she said, but she wasn’t disappointed. Roses were welcome whenever they decided to arrive, and Helen didn’t mind having to wait for something so lovely to appear.

            As a gentle mist began to fall, she went inside the house to warm herself with a cup of tea and read her new issue of Country Gardens magazine. As she looked on the pantry shelf where she kept her tea tins, it occurred to her that she had been drinking more and more tea lately. Earl Grey and Lady Earl Grey. Darjeeling. Hot Cinnamon Spice. And there in the corner was a tea she’d forgotten about—a gold foil packet labeled Springtime Rose, a rose-flavored black tea she’d purchased at a tea room a few months earlier.
            Helen had recently invested in a teacup and saucer rack that hung in her kitchen. From it, she carefully removed a pretty bone china teacup with a salmon-pink rose on it. She fingered the cup while the stovetop kettle boiled the water.
            The slow, leisurely ritual was one she never tired of. Helen measured a spoonful of tea into her stainless steel infuser basket, placed it in her teacup, and waited for the kettle to signal that her water was ready.
            She fingered the cup and studied the rose. So simple. So lovely.
            Helen had loved roses ever since she was a little girl, and she never forgot the woman who taught her to love them.

            Grandma Mary lived out in the country in a rambling white two-story house with a wraparound porch that Helen remembered for its rocking chairs and the cousins who were usually filling them. The house was frequently a gathering place for her father’s side of the family, and a visit to Grandma Mary’s always meant Helen would get to visit with some cousin or other she didn’t always get to see back in town.
            Helen’s grandmother loved her flower gardens, and Helen could never think of her grandmother without remembering her Mason jars and roses. Inevitably, the springtime porch would be perfumed with the scent of old-fashioned roses packed into Mason jars, spilling forth their sweet fragrance onto whichever family members happened to be visiting.
            One spring when Helen was about six or so, her parents had to go out of town on business, and so she got to spend a week visiting her grandparents. That was back when Grandpa Harold was still alive. He’d been working the farm all day, so Helen helped her grandmother with the housekeeping and meal preparation. She could still taste the sausage from those hearty country breakfasts. Grandma Mary’s sausage was legendary, and none Helen had tasted since had even come close to comparing to her grandmother’s.
            One day, the household chores were finished early. Lunch had been prepared and served, and the dishes had been cleared from the table and washed. Grandma Mary had dried her hands on her apron, taken Helen by the hand, and said, “Come on, sweetheart. Let’s go visit my roses.”
            Grandma Mary had a special basket she liked to carry on her arm when she was tending to her roses. She would examine one blossom, then another, and eventually select one that she’d cut off with her pruning shears and place in the basket.
            “See these thorns, child?” her grandmother had said. “Don’t fear the thorns. They can hurt you only if you’re not careful around them, and they’re quite helpful to the roses. If there weren’t any thorns, animals might eat the roses or climb up the bushes, and there we’d be—no beautiful roses for us to enjoy.”
            It was such a simple lesson, and Helen never forgot her grandmother’s practical country wisdom.
            Helen never forgot the scent of her grandmother’s roses either. Grandma Mary liked deep red roses, and hers had those lush, velvety petals that smelled so sweet, the fragrance always lingered in the mind long after the rose itself had dropped its petals and withered away.
            The whistle of the tea kettle told Helen it was time to stop daydreaming and start steeping her cup of tea.
            Malcolm walked by the kitchen and paused when he saw the teacup. “Now that’s a rose and not a tulip,” he said.
            “That’s correct, dear,” Helen said.
            Malcolm smiled and headed to the den.
            Helen lingered over her teacup and inhaled deeply. A fragrance reminiscent of her grandmother’s country roses wafted through the air.
            And Helen realized it didn’t matter at all whether she had roses blooming in her garden, for she would always have them blooming in her soul.
            

Friday, April 17, 2015

Happy Sweet Sixteen, Cari!

Sixteen years ago today, my second niece, Cari, was born. I love all four of my sister's kids — three nieces and a nephew — and each one of them holds a special place in my heart. Cari was definitely the funniest of the four, and I can remember so many cute things she did as a little girl. Once, I arrived at my mom and dad's to find Cari waiting at the door for me. I said, "Hey, what're you doing?" and she looked at me as if I wasn't very bright and said, "Letting you in." My mom told me about the time Cari was 3 or 4 and got caught sneaking her mom's razor and attempting to shave her legs. Cari got in huge trouble for that, and my mother, trying to discourage this particular grandchild's early shaving habit, asked, "Now, Cari, was it worth all the trouble you got in for that?" and Cari said that yes, it sure was. That's the kind of kid she was, but I'm happy to report she has blossomed into a sweet and thoughtful young lady!

I know that many of you, like me, have enjoyed special teatimes with the young ladies in your life. This is one of my favorite photos of Cari, at right, and her big sis, Madison, at tea at my old house.

This was a tea party celebrating a past birthday, and I believe this was the year she was into "Little House on the Prairie" DVDs judging from the gift.

When "Alice in Wonderland" hit the big screen, my nieces were happy to go with me to see it. For Cari, the draw was Johnny Depp. For me, it was tea! (An early birthday gift for Cari was a surprise trip to Hollywood with her dad. She thought they were headed to Texas to see grandparents, but actually they flew to LA for several days of studio tours and sightseeing. I was not at all surprised when one of the first photos she posted on Facebook was with a Johnny Depp lookalike from "Pirates of the Caribbean.")

Oh, how I loved those years when little girls still liked to dress up!

And this is a photo from the formal tea party we had when Cari became a teenager. I am hopeful that the tea parties will never end!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The winner of the earrings is …

Margie in California, whose tea-loving 84-year-old mother still wears clip earrings! Margie, I believe I have your address already, so I'll get these headed your way. Congrats!

A pimento cheese recipe from 1964

Whenever I get in the mood to cook something new, I like to look through one of my old tea room cookbooks and see if anything catches my eye. This week, I was intrigued by a Quick Pimento Cheese recipe I found.

This 1964 book is "Woman's Exchange Cook Book Volume 1" from The Woman's Exchange of Memphis, Tennessee, which I first wrote about here.

This pimento cheese recipe (by a Mrs. Walter L. Berry) is intriguing because it calls for melting the cheese. I decided to make this to use for a lunchtime sandwich spread, and out of curiosity, I sliced my regular old wheat-bread sandwich into five ribbon-style finger sandwiches (cutting away the crusts) to see if they'd be pretty this way. I think so! I like seeing the colors from the pimento cheese when these "ribbons" of sandwich are displayed on their sides. The pimento cheese firms up nice and thick in the refrigerator, and my husband and I both liked the slight hint of smokiness it gets from the Worcestershire sauce. I can see all sorts of possibilities for this spread on a teatime menu. If you'd like to try this for yourself, here's the recipe.

Quick Pimento Cheese

1 small (5-ounce) can evaporated milk
3/4 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 small (2-ounce) jar pimentos
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon onion juice
Tabasco sauce and salt, to taste

Over medium heat, heat milk and add cheese, stirring until all cheese is melted. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients. Allow to cool. "Will keep in refrigerator indefinitely," according to the cookbook, which also notes that it "makes a very tasty sandwich and also good for stuffed celery." Yields 1 pound of spread.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A quickie teapot earrings giveaway!

I've been cleaning out some old jewelry and found a pair of gold teapot clip-on earrings I bought on eBay years ago when I was thinking of writing a book about teatime collectibles. I've since decided I'd rather work on a novel than a book about collectibles, and it occurred to me that one of you might enjoy having these earrings. I know that if you wear clip-ons, it can be hard to find some in cute designs, so I'd love to send these to a happy home!

If you'd like to win, just leave an "Enter Me" to this post by 7 a.m. EST tomorrow, April 16, and you'll be entered to win. Open to U.S. and Canada residents. Good luck!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tea Ave's Jasmine Oolong Tea

I read an amusing headline in Tea Time magazine last week that said "Why can't we all just get oolong?" It reminded me that I still have a few oolong samples from Tea Ave that I've been meaning to try, and with the rainy weather yesterday —and rain in the forecast for the entire week ahead—I decided some floral teas are just what I need to drink this week to keep a "spring garden" mindset in my head despite the rain!

Here is what the loose tea looks like.

Steeped, the tea has a pale yellow color. I steeped it in boiling water for the 1 minute recommended, wondering if that could be enough time, and it was. I greatly enjoyed the smooth, jasmine-flavored oolong. The package said this tea could be steeped up to three times. On second steep, the tea had an even richer, more buttery mouth feel. The third steeping was delicious as well, though I didn't detect the buttery quality I did with number two. If you haven't done so before, I must say it's fun to try a tea and compare notes about the different steepings. If you'd like to know more about Tea Ave teas, click here. Are any of you fans of jasmine tea?

Monday, April 13, 2015

New Teapot Collector Mystery: "Shadow of a Spout"

For years now, many of us have been enjoying the teashop mysteries by Laura Childs. Last year, I was delighted to learn there would be yet another series of tea-themed cozy mysteries, and in June came the first in Amanda Cooper's new Teapot Collector Mysteries. Over the weekend, I finished reading "Shadow of a Spout," the second book in the series, and it was especially fun because this was a signed copy I won by leaving a comment on a blog, a giveaway just like I have here sometimes.

I also won a tote bag that I was absolutely delighted to receive because of the pretty teawares in the design!

This book again features Rose Freemont, who operates Auntie Rose's Victorian Tea House in Gracious Grove, N.Y., and her granddaughter, Sophie. In this book, Rose travels to the Stone and Scone Inn in Butterhill, N.Y. for the annual convention of the New York State division of the International Teapot Collectors Society. The division president, a most obnoxious woman who manages to offend many of the teapot collectors almost from the moment they arrive, is soon found murdered, and through a string of unfortunate incidents, Rose ends up becoming one of the prime suspects.

The storyline of this whodunnit is fast-paced and full of red herrings. Just about the time you decide you know who the killer is, there turns up a fact proving that person couldn't possibly have done it after all. The other thing I enjoyed about this book was imagining getting to attend just such a convention and signing up for, say, a session on silver hallmarks, as some of these teapot collectors did.

Have any of you read the first book in the series, "Tempest in a Teapot," or the new one? I'd love to hear your thoughts!