Monday, January 15, 2018

A family reunion tea at Callaway Gardens

For several years now, Alex and his cousins (and spouses!) have been meeting at Callaway Gardens for a reunion. This year we stayed at the Lodge and Spa, which was a wonderful way to spend a chilly January weekend!

I stepped out onto our balcony just long enough to snap a photo, and that was plenty of time in the cold weather for me!

Even in January, there is lots of beauty at Callaway Gardens!

And one of the most fun things about this year's reunion at Callaway was that I was among the family members who had agreed we wanted to provide a *tea* for everyone upon arrival. Two of the cousins rented one of the cottages so that we could all congregate in a homelike atmosphere when we weren't in our individual rooms. One cousin brought all the china and treats for the children, another made some treasured family pound cake recipes and decorated with her prize-winning camellias, and I brought the teas (a caramel rooibos, an Earl Grey, and a plain black tea) and finger sandwiches. It worked out beautifully, and we've already decided to do this again next year!

Aren't these ruffled camellias gorgeous?

Here's my sister-in-law, Marilyn, and her grandson, Angus, who is eagerly awaiting the arrival of his young cousins.

This is the McRae family plaid (and the sterling flatware that one cousin brought for the tea, a nice touch!).

This pound cake was delicious, and it was served with a lemon curd sauce that was just amazing. I got the recipe and plan to try it myself!

I realized I had made too many sandwiches and ended up squeezing them onto the servers, but everyone seemed to enjoy the chicken salad mini croissants, cucumber cream sandwiches on teapot-shaped bread, and pimiento cheese ribbon sandwiches. I was happy to see even the men eating these with gusto!

Oh, and I also decided to make my friend Sandy's brown sugar shortbread, which was a big hit. Everywhere I take it, people rave over this! (Recipe here.)

And the rest of the pictures of the grown-ups are on other people's cameras or iPhones, but I was happy I managed to capture one of young cousins Sophie, at back, and KK and Angus. All three of them drank tea, and it turns out that Sophie and KK are big tea lovers all the time. In fact, I'm told that KK, who I believe is four, is like "a little old lady" who wakes up each morning and pads around in her old bathrobe and bunny slippers, holding out her teacup as she awaits her morning tea. And at gatherings with other kids, while they're getting soft drinks, she's off by herself and preparing her own cup of tea. Don't you love that! It was such a great weekend, and if we didn't all live so far apart—Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and Connecticut—I'm sure we'd do it much more often!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Green Tea Scented Soap from Italy

This seems to be one of those weeks for sharing teatime shopping alerts! In the latter half of 2017, friends of this blog alerted me to both tea sachets and tea soaps they had found at Tuesday Morning, but my visits there turned up nothing similar. Then over the weekend, I visited the Tuesday Morning store in Douglasville and found this truly yummy Italian "Tè Verde," or Green Tea Scented Soap with Coconut Oil.

It's one of those huge bars that is about the length of your hand, and oh, does this soap smell divine! It's slightly floral, slightly musky, and the combination is one that is completely new to me. While it's more expensive than grocery store soaps, I don't mind paying a little more ($4.99) for a bar like this because it will last a long time. Plus it's pretty!

And to be honest, I wanted it for the box too! Have you seen any pretty and yummy smelling tea-ish soaps lately?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A shopping alert to knock your socks off

On Saturday, Aunt Jane wanted to visit Charming Charlie, a costume jewelry store at the mall. I finished checking out the jewelry pretty quickly, so I was wandering around the store killing time while my aunt looked at earrings. And guess what I spotted?

Teacup socks! Are these cute or what? They're marked $6 or 3 for $15, but mine rang up $4. Score!

I just think they're cute. So if, like me, you're not a regular at Charming Charlie and happen to have one of these stores nearby, you might want to check it out!

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Bake from Scratch magazine winner is ...

Robin Coxon! Congrats to Robin, and thanks to everyone who entered! I'm busy gathering prizes for my annual Valentine's giveaways, so stay tuned for February when there will be even more fun tea-related treats you can win!

A gift from New York that's a new name in tea (to me!)

My friend Susan is one of the best shoppers I know. She is not only a great bargain hunter but also a judicious shopper who is determined to find just the right thing for each friend or family member on her gift list. She loves to travel, so I'm also very fortunate that she keeps me in mind when she's traveling and sees teas she thinks I might like. Not too long ago, I got some delicious and exquisitely packaged teas that were in her hotel room as a gift from a resort where she stayed in Hawaii. This time, I was fortunate enough to be on her mind when she was visiting Rockefeller Center in New York City right before Christmas. So my gift this year wasn't in a Christmasy bag, she said, apologetically—and there was definitely no need!—but she wanted me to have the bag in case I wasn't familiar with the tea company T2. I had not heard of this Australian tea company before, so I was especially thrilled with this gift and, yes, the great packaging too!

She even made sure to protect the tissue since it had the company logo on it!

She also did something very smart for someone who is not herself (alas for her, yay for me) a tea lover: she asked someone at the store what their top sellers were and got me a box of each!

These teas are from the box marked "Fruit."

These teas are from the box marked "Tops."

And when I first opened a packet, expecting perhaps a tea sachet, I realized I had not actually *read* the packet, and so I quickly learned that each one contains loose leaf tea! Have you ever seen individually packaged loose tea before? I have not, and I think this is simply brilliant! Now, I'm still trying to drink up my Christmasy blends before I slowwwwly allow myself to indulge in these lovely and delicious teas from Susan, but I can tell you that the ones I've had so far are quite delectable. I started with a wonderful chocolate one, and this is the Strawberries & Cream tisane that is the best strawberry tea I've ever tasted.

This tea had no tartness at all, and it does indeed taste creamy. I'm so enjoying this tasty and thoughtful gift, and I wanted you to know so that you can a) check out T2 for yourself! and b) perhaps stop by the next time you're in New York City!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Fortnum & Mason's "The Cook Book"

As longtime readers of this blog have heard me say quite a few times over the years, the tea- and teaware-filled Fortnum & Mason department store in London is my idea of the perfect store, so when my husband asked for suggestions for Christmas gifts, I told him I'd like Fortnum & Mason's The Cook Book by Tom Parker Bowles. (And yes, he's the son of the Duchess of Cornwall.) I love everything about this book, from its gorgeous cover in eau de nil, the signature blue-green color of Fortnum & Mason, to its beautiful photography and witty narratives. The recipes aren't bad, either!

I was delighted to see inside the book some of the whimsical archival drawings I've seen in Fortnum & Mason advertisements before. I was especially delighted when I flipped through my new book and realized it has chapters on both Morning Tea and Afternoon Tea! Were you aware of Morning Tea? I was not, and this is apparently a cup of tea served with a cookie (or "biscuit," to use their terminology).

And I was irrationally happy, I suppose, to turn a page and discover a photo, preparation advice, and recipes for the very tea sandwiches I've eaten and loved at Fortnum & Mason! Here's an excerpt from  "The Art of the Sandwich" page: "The process is as strict as it is unbending. Fresh bread, obviously. Fillings mixed fresh every few hours. Not too soggy or wet, as this would stain and sully the bread. And just the right amount of filling, about a quarter to half of the sandwich. Then they lose their crusts, and are sliced into soldiers of exactly the same proportions before being gently pressed, for 30 minutes, beneath a light wooden tray. Nothing is left to chance." Who knew!

These are the sandwiches I had at Fortnum & Mason on my 50th birthday in 2014, and indeed, they look as uniform as the ones in the book. The sandwich recipe I'm most pleased to have is for F&M's Coronation Chicken, as I plan to make this when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle wed this year!

And I'm suddenly interested in ordering a Battenberg cake pan so I can make one of these beautiful cakes! I can see I'm going to have a lot of new recipes to try out in 2018. For fellow Anglophiles interested in some new "Morning Tea" and "Afternoon Tea" recipes, I highly recommend this book!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

January 2018 Giveaway: Bake from Scratch magazine's British Issue

Happy New Year, friends, and welcome to the first giveaway of 2018! I'd intended to start this year's blog posts by sharing some of the great books and teas I received for Christmas, but then I came across this wonderful magazine and wanted to tell you about it so you can be on the lookout for a copy before it sells out—but only if you don't win the copy I'm giving away here!

And oh, do I love this magazine! It's one of those pricey ($12.99) ones from Hoffman Media, but this one is definitely worth every penny. The issue is guest edited by Edd Kimber, who won the first season of The Great British Bake Off. I so enjoyed reading about him, and the magazine also takes us to places like the Pump Street Bakery in a Suffolk village and a cooking school in rural Lancashire. But my absolute favorite feature was "Baked to a Tea," and I'm just drooling over some of these tea-infused recipes, from this incredible Battenberg cake baked with matcha to a tart made with Assam tea to a Lady Grey Tea Jelly.

The photos in this issue are stunning, including this one of English Breakfast Orange Marmalade Roly Poly, a roulade. And with my newfound love for Harney's Victorian London Fog tea, I'm also intrigued by the recipe for London Fog Cake with Salted Caramel Drizzle. The issue discusses scones and English muffins, and there's a most helpful glossary that lists British baking terms and American equivalents, which will be welcome to anyone who's ever picked up a British cookbook and been puzzled by some of the ingredients.

If you'd like to be entered to win a copy of the magazine for yourself, just leave an "Enter me" to this post between now and 7 a.m. EST on Monday, January 8, 2018, and you'll be entered to win. And you can enter from anywhere in the world! But to save me some time, I do have a few new requirements for giveaways this year. First, you *must* include a way for me to contact you if you're the winner, and comments without an email address or a link to this information will be deleted. (If you've been regularly emailing me and commenting for years, you may safely assume that I know how to contact you!) Second, to save me some time in tracking down winners, you'll have 48 hours after  my notification to "claim" your prize by sending me your snail mail address, and after that I'll award the prize to someone else rather than sending repeated emails asking for a reply. So please enter away, and good luck! I can't wait for other tea lovers to discover this great magazine!

Friday, December 29, 2017

"The Cosy Christmas Tea Shop" by Caroline Roberts

This month’s selection for the Tea Lovers’ Book Club, The Cosy Christmas Tea Shop by Caroline Roberts, wasn’t quite what I'd expected. The book was a bit edgier than I’d imagined, and it had some serious moments I didn't expect because of the book’s chick-lit cover, but overall I thought it was an enjoyable read.

Summary: Fall is on the way, and castle tea shop proprietress and wedding caterer Ellie Hall is busy trying to drum up more business at Claverham Castle, which is owned by her curmudgeonly father-in-law, Lord Henry. The book begins as Ellie is faced with a real Bridezilla who has suddenly decided she’s intent on a unicorn-themed wedding. It sounds perfectly ghastly, but Ellie manages to make the best of it, pulls it off, and explores even more ways she and her husband, Joe, can help keep the cash flowing to the old castle. As Christmastime approaches, she and her staff decide to hold a Christmas fair at the castle, and the baking and entertaining ramp up once again—especially when there's a Christmas wedding for a favorite couple who’d experienced a near tragedy and had to rebook.

My thoughts: While the author has a nice descriptive writing style, the book caused me to stumble at times because it contained so many grammar and punctuation errors and typos. I got the impression this was a book no one bothered to proofread, and that’s a shame, because the author clearly has the potential to be top-notch with some very basic cleanup of the text. When I forced myself to focus on the story itself, I found the tale quite enjoyable.

The characters: I very much enjoyed getting to know Ellie and Joe and found their relationship genuine and believable. I was surprised to see the early focus on their troubles getting pregnant, but that struck me as a very real plotline, and it didn’t overtake the coziness of the book. Of the other characters, one of my favorites ended up being cranky old Lord Henry, never more than when he got roped into performing as Father Christmas and was kind to a little girl with Down syndrome. Kindness—especially to children—scores you a lot of points in my book!

Questions for discussion:

Food. In a tea-themed book, I expect to see lots of great descriptions of the food and beverages, and this book did not disappoint in that regard. I was happy to see a few mentions of Garibaldi biscuits (or "cookies," to us) since one of my Christmas gifts was a British cookbook that has a recipe for them. I also enjoyed reading about the stacked cake made of cheeses and thought this would be a wonderful treat to have at a wedding or other large social event. Do you like to read about the food in a book like this?

UK differences. While reading a book by an author in the UK, I enjoy noting the differences in some of our terminology, such as the fact that they say "biscuit" instead of "cookie." And I could not even type the title of this blog post without first typing "cozy" instead of "cosy." Did you note these differences? Did you enjoy spotting them?

Sense of place. The author did a fine job of creating a real sense of place with the descriptions of the old castle and its advantages (history, beauty) and disadvantages (the wiring, the plumbing). When a deep snow falls right before an important wedding, I could truly picture the magnificent scene. Did you have a vivid picture of the setting in your mind?

Our next book: Now that we’ve read two novels in a row, I think it’s time to go for some nonfiction, so I’ve selected Darjeeling: A History of the World's Greatest Tea by Jeff Koehler. I'd love to have you read it and join in the discussion on Friday, January 26!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Grateful for family, Christmas 2017

Did you have a lovely Christmas, friends? I did. Alex and I particularly enjoyed the Christmas Eve  candlelight service at our church. I love this time when the church is packed with worshippers sitting quietly as our college students lead us in songs and carols before we end by all singing "Silent Night" together in the dim light. After all the busyness of December, it's great to pause and reflect before Christmas actually arrives. And as the years roll on, I'm increasingly aware that second to the gift of Christ ("Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!"), my favorite Christmas "gift" is simply having a healthy and happy family and friends. Here I am with Alex at my dad's house for the big family celebration on Monday.

Here's my sister, Rhonda, and me with Daddy.

Aunt Jane *loves* to have her picture made with Alex.

And while I do enjoy receiving presents, I most enjoy giving them to all the kids in our family, so here are a few shots of my nephew and nieces, starting with the youngest, Matthew.

Then there's Amelia, who received lots of clothes and horse-themed goodies for her room.

Cari is an Auburn fan (sorry, Alabama friends) and had requested this T-shirt commemorating their win in this year's Iron Bowl.

And Madison, the oldest, who now has her first "grown-up" job, has moved into a townhome with a girlfriend and had requested a coffeemaker.

And we're still eating leftovers from yet another wonderful family meal! My sister and I join in for what we like to think of as a modified Thanksgiving menu. This year that meant a ham Daddy baked as well as dressing, sweet potato casserole, potato salad, broccoli casserole, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, olives, and rolls. Dessert was a coconut cake, pound cake, chocolate chip pie, and pecan pie. All was accompanied by lots of sweet tea! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and enjoyed a happy, healthy family celebration yourself. How did you celebrate?

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas!

"For, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."
— Luke 2:10, 11
Merry Christmas, tea friends!

Friday, December 22, 2017

The tea-themed tree, circa 2017

Christmas is just around the corner, and I realized I never shared any photos of my new white tea-themed Christmas tree. After buying a much taller tree than my little pink tabletop tree, I had assumed I wouldn't have enough teapot and teacup ornaments to decorate it, but it turns out that wasn't a problem!

I have to say, the white background really seems to make the ornaments pop this year, and I love it.

One of my newest additions is this handmade ornament from my tea blogger friend Lynn, the only ornament I've ever seen that actually contains real tea! Isn't this clever? By the way, click on her name to visit her blog and get some great ideas for last-minute tea gifts. She's got some very creative ideas!

And below, I'll close with some other teapot and teacup ornaments that were gifts from friends in this lovely world of tea. Hope you all are getting ready to have a wonderful Christmas celebration with family, friends, and all those you love. Are you doing anything special this weekend? The thing I'm most looking forward to is the candlelight service at church on Christmas Eve. However you plan to celebrate, Merry Christmas, from my home to yours!