Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The winner of the teacup place cards is …

Susan K.! And since I already have your address, I'll get these headed your way ASAP. Congratulations!

Valentine's Week Giveaway #3

When I recently shared about finding this new Peppermint Bark tea from Bigelow at my local grocery store, several of you commented that you'd like to try it, so I decided to go back for another box to offer as one of this week's giveaways! If you'd like to win this box of Peppermint Bark tea, just leave an "Enter me" comment to this post before 7 a.m. EST tomorrow, February 11 (making sure I have a way to contact you if you're the winner), and you'll be entered to win.

The vintage valentine I'm sharing today is a recent eBay find, and I think it's just adorable. Such a pretty little teacup, she is, and although she's unsigned, she's in terrific condition, making her an especially lovely addition to my valentine collection.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Valentine Giveaway #1 sweet treats winner is …

Frances L.! And since I have your address already, I'll get these goodies headed your way. Congrats!

Valentine's Week Giveaway #2

I start shopping for Valentine's Day treats long before February arrives, and so I found these adorable teacup place cards weeks ago!

As you can see in the detail shot at upper right, you simply fill in the name and fold these teacup place cards tent-style before your next tea party! If you'd like to win this package of eight, just leave an "Enter me" comment to this post before 7 a.m. EST tomorrow, February 10 (making sure I have a way to contact you if you're the winner), and you'll be entered to win.

The vintage valentine I'm sharing today is a newly acquired one I found just a few weeks ago. I've had tea-themed valentines with plenty of other animals—dogs, bears, kittens, a bunny—but never before one with elephants. Sweet!

And this card is signed "From Sandra Kay" on the back. I wonder who she sent it to, and I hope they were as happy to receive it as I was!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Valentine's Week Giveaway #1

Happy Valentine's Week, friends! I always enjoy this week when I get to show my love for my readers by having a small giveaway every day of the week leading up to Valentine's Day! To kick things off, I'm offering this cute little sweet treats kit that includes 18 cellphone bags, 18 tags, and 2 types of ribbon. Just leave an "Enter me" to this comment before 7 a.m. EST tomorrow, Feb. 9 (making sure I have a way to contact you if you're the winner), and you'll be entered to win. I'm offering this gift first so I can get it in the mail Tuesday and have you packaging those treats by the weekend!

And of course I'm always excited to share more of my vintage valentines as well. The first one I want to share this week is very special to me for two reasons. First, it was actually a gift from tea friend Susan K. in Texas, who found this last year and sent it to me because she remembered my love of these sweet tea-themed valentines! Second, even though I've been collecting valentines with teacups, teapots, teakettles, and tea accoutrements on them for years now, I have never seen this particular valentine anywhere before or since Susan sent it, so I'm extra glad to have this one in my collection. Isn't this one of the happiest little teakettles you've ever seen?

Saturday, February 6, 2016

My Country, 'Tis of Tea — California

As I explore the history of tea in America this year, I'm well aware that some states may be a little more difficult to research than others. California was not one of them. I could easily write several blog posts about all the fun tea-related news out of California, but I've limited myself to one!

• Who can think of California without thinking of Hollywood? I sure can’t. I’ve seen lots of great photos of movie stars with teacups over the years, but this publicity still from MGM’s “Mogambo” in 1953 is one of the best yet. From left are Donald Sinden, Grace Kelly, Clark Gable, Denis O'Dea, Ava Gardner and Eric Pohlmann. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) Click here for another photo of Grace Kelly and Clark Gable taking what is described as “a coffee/tea break” on the set of this film.

• Is tea grown in California? I wondered. Why yes, it is, and the name of one grower is probably quite familiar to some of you. Roy Fong, who founded the Imperial Tea Court in San Francisco and is known for bringing quality Chinese teas to this country, apparently bought a 23-acre property and learned to grow his own tea. The screen grab above is from the website, where I found the post on "Roy Fong's Tea Farm." The site doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2012, but there are some great articles and photographs there if you have time to browse. And for a few more words about Roy Fong’s tea-growing operation, Fresh Cup magazine has a nice piece as well.

• Finally, when I wrote my book about department store tea rooms, "Dainty Dining," back in 2011, I learned about the old Bullock's Wilshire Department Store in Los Angeles where Mae West once shopped and Angela Lansbury once worked. (Who doesn't love Angela Lansbury? "Murder She Wrote" remains one of my favorite TV shows to this day.) The beautiful menu cover above is something from the Bullock's Tea Room I collected for my book, and after it was published, I found yet another vintage postcard of the tea room from yesteryear. I included a famous oriental chicken salad recipe from the tea room in the book, but I have since learned of something called Heavenly Pie (or Heavenly Lemon Pie) that was associated with Bullock's as well. Here's the recipe if you're as curious as I am!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Tea Tasting Notes

I just rediscovered a Christmas gift I'd set aside, this sweet little notebook for Tea Tasting Notes, a gift from my friend Deberah!

The layout gives room to note the name of the tea, brand, type, etc., but what really charmed me is the little space at lower right to attach a tea label. I've been noticing tags on my tea bags lately, so this is a great place to save them or other labeling.

I also liked that the book had an example of how to complete a page. I didn't pay too much attention to this one until I noted that this person added four (!) spoons of sugar to their one tea bag. Have mercy! Do you suppose an actual tea drinker filled out this sample page? I have my doubts! Do any of you keep a tea tasting notebook?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Harney & Sons Valentine's Blend

One of the things I most enjoy about flavored teas is that there's a variety for every season and every holiday. At Valentine's, one of the teas I most enjoy sipping is the Valentine's Blend from Harney and Sons.

The graphics on the tin are picture-perfect, but it's the description that always gets my attention: "Chocolate Tea with Rosebuds." Ah, chocolate. Ah, rosebuds. What a combination!

I know some tea lovers don't care for "perfumed" teas, but I do. Jasmine tea. Lavender tea. Rose tea. I love to sip these teas with the lovely floral fragrance and flavor. Are any of you fans of the Valentine's Blend?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

My February column in The Coweta Shopper

For my February tea column in The Coweta Shopper, I couldn't imagine writing about anything but teatime valentines! If you're not a local resident but you'd like to read the new column, click here.

And thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Steep by Bigelow Organic Sweet Cinnamon Black Tea

Lately, the tea aisle of my local grocery store is an embarrassment of riches, and I'm seeing more and more teas on the shelf, loose leaf teas as well as tea bags. This new Steep tea from Bigelow, a premium line of organic teas, caught my eye, and the Sweet Cinnamon flavor is one of the best cinnamon teas I've ever tried. I'm definitely a fan!

I guess because I've focused on publishing for most of my life, I will always appreciate good graphic design. I love everything from the warm, cozy image to the typography of this design. Note how they kept the teapot of the "o" in "Bigelow," yet it's subtly included in the contemporary new packaging. (Someone at Bigelow deserves a pat on the back—or a raise. Possibly both.)

The entire box is well-designed, and I love this beach scene with a quote from Cindi Bigelow. Have you seen these new Steep teas in your grocery store yet, or is the Newnan Publix just lucky?

Monday, February 1, 2016

It's Valentine's Month!

Longtime readers of this blog know that I love-love-love to celebrate Valentine's Day, and next week, I'll be offering small giveaways every day of the week leading up to Valentine's Day! So if you're a new reader, I just wanted to let you know that February 8-14 is one week you do not want to miss on this blog, because little treats have been piling up here in anticipation of the fun! So this weekend, I decided to get started early by decorating my tea trolley with some heart-themed teawares and a few of my tea-themed vintage valentines.

Here are a few of the things on the tea trolley, so many of them very meaningful to me. At bottom right, there's a little Herend pink rose that was one of my first Valentine's Day gifts from my sweetheart. In the center at bottom, there's a teapot that was a gift from my late mother, and in the upper left corner, there's the darling carnation figurine that was a gift from tea friend Michele last year.

And beneath it all is the beautiful tablecloth I recently received from Margie, a design which brings out the blues that are in so many of the vintage valentines, I discovered! I so enjoy looking at all these goodies during Valentine's Month. Do you have any special Valentine's Day/Month plans?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

My Country, 'Tis of Tea — Arkansas

This week's featured state, Arkansas, is one that's very dear to me. Back during my single years, I had a girlfriend who was from Arkansas, and she and I made many road trips to Arkansas from Georgia to  visit her family. There are such lovely people there, and I have great memories of Arkansas to this day!

• Do you remember the first tea room you ever visited?  I wasn't keeping records (or blogging) back then, but I believe the Crumpet Tea Room in Rogers, Arkansas, was the first tea room I ever visited! My friend's mother introduced me to it, and I absolutely fell in love with the ladylike atmosphere, the mismatched china, the floral linens, and of course the delicious food. One of the foods they were known for was their Open Face Crab Sandwich on a crumpet (above), which I made and blogged about here using the recipe in their Crumpet Tea Room cookbook, a prized possession. The Crumpet, as locals called it, was also known for its legendary Orange Rolls, and that recipe is here. The Crumpet Tea Room continues today in two locations, so if you ever go to Arkansas and are in the area, be sure to look them up!

• If you've been to Arkansas, you've probably visited or at least heard about Eureka Springs. It's a beautiful tourist town in the Ozark Mountains, and I loved seeing all the wonderful Victorian cottages and homes there. Arkansas has clearly been blessed with tea rooms over the years, and when I devoted my Saturdays to exploring tea room cookbooks in 2013, I made quite a few dishes that originated in Arkansas tea rooms. Shown here are, clockwise from left, the Carrot Soup from the Victorian Sampler Tea Room in Eureka Springs (recipe here), Lemon Squares from the Yellow Daisy in Little Rock (recipe here), and the ridiculously easy and delicious Surprise Pie from Katy's Korner, the precursor of the Victorian Sampler (recipe here). So even if you've never been to Arkansas, you can dine as if you have! 

• Arkansas is also the home of a "new" brand of tea I'd not heard of before, Betsy Ross Tea, which was once packed by Plunkett-Jarrell Grocer Co. in Little Rock, Arkansas. The side of the Betsy Ross tea tins reads, "Betsy Ross Brand Tea is a blend of Fine Teas, selected especially for this brand from the early pickings of young and tender leaves, skillfully blended, which will produce a delicious beverage, rich in strength and flavor that will satisfy the most critical consumer." I haven't been able to date this brand just yet, but based on the 10-cent price, I'm not looking for this one on my next visit to the grocery store!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Mary J. wins the Amazon gift card!

Congratulations to the winner of the $25 Amazon gift card, Mary J., who just finished reading "Finding Noel" by Richard Paul Evans, is currently reading "Absolute Surrender" by Andrew Murray, and is daily reading her Bible and "Fifteen Minutes Alone with God - For Women" by Emilie Barnes! I've sent Mary an email and look forward to getting her gift certificate to her ASAP. A huge thanks to all of you who entered this giveaway. It was wonderful to learn what diverse reading interests this group has — and now I have a new reading list that will probably last me for years!

A Bangkok Tea Party

When I ordered some tea from Harney and Sons over Christmas, the package I received included a couple of samples I've not had the pleasure of trying before, and one of them was this Organic Bangkok flavored green tea. Now I would feel silly admitting this anywhere else, but I have this thing sometimes about matching my tea's packaging to the teacup. Kind of like playing paper dolls, but with teacups. (You understand, don't you?)

I've shared this Royal Chelsea teacup before, and while I don't use it often, when I went searching for a teacup with the colors in that tea sachet packet, I realized this one suited it perfectly. The design on the teacup appealed to me a great deal, and then when I saw the name …

Well, the name suits, don't you think? The Bangkok tea, by the way, is just delicious! I've been sipping lots of spicy teas, brisk black teas, and peppermint teas lately, and I suppose too much of anything can be a bore, so I was surprised by how delicious I found this green tea flavored with lemongrass, vanilla, coconut, and ginger. Coconut was the first flavor I detected, and I enjoyed my tea with some coconut cookies for a simple afternoon snack. So that counts as a Bangkok Tea Party, don't you think?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Dollar Tree shopping alert

Someone on the Afternoon Tea Across America Facebook group (sorry, I don't remember who!) recently posted about finding some new teatime linens at Dollar Tree. Since I was near one yesterday, I decided to swing by and see if the items were at my store, and they were. I bought a dish towel and two dish cloths, and they also have matching plastic placemats.

Granted, these are exactly the quality I've come to expect from Dollar Tree, which is to say, the towels and dishcloths are on the thin side. That said, they do have teacups and handwriting on them, so I had to have them.

And I like the graphics of the flatware as well. So if you need some cheap kitchen cloths with a happy design on them, I think these will do the trick, even if they don't last forever!

Southern Living and a salute to cakes

You probably don't have to live in the South to have heard of our beloved Southern Living magazine. This is a must-read for southern women, and though I didn't grow up reading it, I learned early in my career that I *needed* to be reading it. I remember being at a local gathering where one society-ish lady served a wonderful chocolate dip as a dessert. When I complimented it, she said, "Oh, it's in the new Southern Living. Have you got yours yet?" I knew immediately that I needed to start reading it—and I'm glad I did. This is the anniversary issue cover sent to subscribers …

And inside are two more covers. The one on the right is actually my favorite of the three, but I think they were wise to, according to a note inside this issue, select the one with the cake for the issue sold on newsstands. For Southern Living is known for its cake recipes, including what is lovingly referred to as The Big White Cake on the cover at Christmas.

So it's more than a little fitting that this gigantic 50th anniversary issue includes a tribute to southern cakes, and that's what I wanted to talk about today. I love cakes. I love how cakes show up at all kinds of celebrations (including teatime!) and make an occasion special. My favorite cake in the world, and the one I request for my birthday each year, is my Daddy's coconut cake. He recently sent me home with a nice big chunk of coconut cake he'd had left over from Christmas and frozen. It was just as good as ever, especially when a slice was served alongside a nice hot cup of tea. Southern Living has updated five classic southern cake recipes of its own, and they are: Coconut Chiffon Cake, Red Velvet Cake, Lane Cake (the liquor- and fruit-filled cake famously mentioned in "To Kill a Mockingbird"), Jam Cake, and Lemon Cheese Layer Cake. You can bet I'll be making one of these soon, and I'm pretty sure it will be the Coconut Chiffon Cake. I'd love to know if southerners agree with these selections. (Personally, I'd have included a Hummingbird Cake and a Caramel Cake.) For those of you who live in another region of the country, is there a special type of cake you love that's not on the Southern Living list?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A new teatime tablecloth!

Just when I think I've said all I have to say about tea and I'm wondering how many blog posts I could possibly have left in me, a spark of inspiration always, always arrives in a most unexpected fashion. A few days ago, it came in the form of this utterly charming, new-to-me vintage tablecloth from tea friend Margie in California. Isn't this adorable!

This is a printed design that simulates old-fashioned embroidery, and I absolutely love it because I don't have one like it at all! I have a few embroidered tea-themed tablecloths, but the embroidery is no longer in good condition, and while I don't necessarily mind that, I do love the pristine shape this tablecloth is in.

Here's a detail of one of the teacups, and the same design is repeated in all four corners. Because of the red in this tablecloth, I was also inspired to start thinking about this year's teatime Valentine's Week display. I think I've found the perfect tablecloth to use as my backdrop this year, don't you?

Monday, January 25, 2016

January giveaway: $25 Amazon gift card for tea and books

I make my living as a writer and editor, but as an aspiring novelist, I must say that one of the most important things I do each day is read! For some time now, I've been wanting to know what *you* are reading in the way of books, and I'm not above bribing you to tell me! So if you'd like to be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card, just leave a comment by Friday at 7 a.m. EST telling me the last book you read, the current book you are reading, or the book you would like to be reading! (Overachievers may feel free to share all of the above.) The winning entry will be chosen by a random number generator and announced on Friday.

In case you're curious, I thought I'd go first and share what I'm currently reading! Although I didn't photograph my Bible, technically that's the first book I read each day. As columnist Cal Thomas once said, he likes to read his Bible along with his newspaper each morning so he'll know what both sides are up to. I agree!

And now, my reading stack for the week, from top to bottom, includes:

• "Death Crashes the Party" by Vickie Fee. Since cozy mysteries are what I'm trying to write, I try to keep a cozy in my reading stack at all times, and I just finished one over the weekend (which I didn't really care for), so I'm hopeful about this new series. Plus, the author is a former journalist, like me, so I'm betting I'll enjoy her book!

• "Now Write! Mysteries," edited by Sherrie Ellis and Laurie Lamson. This is a book of writing advice for mystery writers of all stripes, and I'm allowing myself to read just a chapter or two at a time. Lots of meaty stuff here.

• "Breathing Life Into Your Characters" by Rachel Ballon. I've decided some of my characters are a little dull, so I've been reading this book to learn more tips for making them more likable, readable, relatable, etc. This book feels like homework, but I rather suspected it would.

• "Soul Harvest" by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Remember when everybody was reading those "Left Behind" books years ago? I didn't. I have this real ornery streak where I don't like to read what everyone else is reading (unless it's a tea book; then I don't mind). But then I read Jerry Jenkins's excellent book of writing advice, "Writing for the Soul," in which he critiqued some of his own early writing in those books. Out of sheer nosiness, I was going to read just one book to see if it was as bad as he said. (I didn't think it was.) And now I'm hooked and have to read the whole series.

• "Medicinal Herbs" by Rosemary Gladstar. My friend Deberah gave me this book for Christmas, and I was so happy to get it because even I know that Rosemary Gladstar is a rock star of the herb world. There are also instructions for making a number of herbal teas in this book, so you may be hearing about this title again before the year is over.

• "Sisters on the Fly: Caravans, Campfires, and Tales from the Road" by Irene Rawlings. I have this idea for a character who buys and restores a vintage camper, so I'm reading this book to learn more about the sort of women who inspired the vintage camper craze. Research is one of the most fun parts of writing for me.

So that's what I'm reading this week. Your turn — and don't forget, comment by 7 a.m. EST Friday and you could have $25 toward your next Amazon purchase of tea and books. (And please make sure I have a way to get in touch with you if you're the winner!)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

My Country, 'Tis of Tea — Arizona

• This week in "My Country, 'Tis of Tea," my year-long research project focusing on tea in America, I couldn't wait to explore Arizona and learn more about that great Arizona company, Arizona Tea. Because of course it's an Arizona company, right? Imagine my surprise when I learned that Arizona Tea was "born in the heart of Brooklyn" in 1992. Whaaaaat? They seem to realize that people may be curious why a New York-based business named its product Arizona Tea, because one of the questions in the FAQ on their website is, "Why did you name the product Arizona?" and the answer is, "John Ferolito and Don Vultaggio, the two owners of the company, looked at a map to see where it was hot. At first they thought of naming it Santa Fe, then they focused on Arizona, and the rest, as they say, is history." I wonder how the people of Arizona feel about seeing their name on a tea that isn't made there. Despite the misleading name, the teas above are some of the Arizona Tea products I have tried, and I've learned that there is a great following of that classic Arizona Green Tea in the tall green can. Click here and here to see some of the surprising products featuring this iconic image. (Just remember: It's not really "Arizona" tea!)

• Quite a few other kinds of truly “Arizona tea,” however, can be found in the 1942 USDA Publication “Flowering Plants and Ferns of Arizona” by Thomas H. Kearney and Robert H. Peebles. In this publication, I found quite a few references to plants used by Native Americans and “early white settlers” to made medicinal tonics. One of these was made from certain types of the ephedra plant and was known as Mormon tea or Brigham tea. (Perhaps that was because such “teas” aren’t actually camellia sinensis, which I understand that Mormons do not drink.) There were also references to plants known as Spanish tea, Mexican tea, Hills tea, and Navajo tea, so these portions of the book make for interesting reading. Click here to download a copy for free yourself.

• Hotel teas can vary in quality, but in Googling tea in Arizona, I found several references to afternoon tea at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. I was delighted to come across this video featuring their tea sommelier and showing some of their lovely offerings. If I'm ever near Phoenix, tea here will be a must! The hotel, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, was built in 1929, and Frank Lloyd Wright was the consulting architect.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Caress Emerald Rush Body Wash with Lush Gardenia and White Tea Essence

It's been a while since I've come across any new tea-ish cosmetics, so I was happy to come across this Emerald Rush bath gel from Caress with …

Lush Gardenia & White Tea Essence. Or so it says.

When I checked the ingredients panel, I could find no camellia sinensis listed, so maybe it's in the "fragrance" ingredients, but I did note that they mention that this body wash is infused with "white tea essence." The body wash had a pleasant scent, but it was surprisingly woody and not what I expected from something with "gardenia" in the name. I detected no gardenia fragrance, which was a disappointment, but the body wash lathered up really well, so all in all, it was … a wash.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Oh, the ease of Cake Mix Cookies

I meant to share this recipe last week after I had my small tea party for two friends, but since I found this recipe still sitting in a folder on my computer desktop, I knew that meant I'd forgotten to post it! I'm betting many of you have made Cake Mix Cookies before, but if you haven't, this is a super easy recipe it's good to have on hand. The ones I made here were with the Betty Crocker Party Rainbow Chip variety of cake mix.

I'd made some cookies from a boxed cake mix years ago and enjoyed them, but I forgot about them until my pen pal, Sandy, favored me with a few recipes in her last letter. This one, she called Fudge Crinkle Cookies, and she used the Betty Crocker Supermoist Devil's Food Cake Mix. Because I wanted to send some of the leftover cookies home to two little girls, the daughters of my friend Angie, I thought the colorful sprinkles in this variety would be nice to use for the girls. But to my surprise and delight, it was my other friend, Amy, whose young adult sons raved over the cookies I sent her home with, and one of them asked if she knew me well enough to request the recipe. I thought that was amusing considering how easy these cookies are to make! So here they are as I made them, and next time, I'm making the chocolate ones as Sandy does.

Crinkle Cookies

1 box cake mix (I suspect any flavor will do)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix (by hand) cake mix, oil, and eggs until a dough forms. Dust hands with powdered sugar, roll batter into 1 inch balls, and place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Refrigerate 10 minutes. (Sandy notes that this step gives cookies the “crinkle” look and keeps them from absorbing the sugar.) Then bake for 10-11 minutes or until set. Deliciously easy!