Saturday, December 20, 2014

Tea Room Postcard #51 -- Old Carriage House Tea Room (Natchez, Mississippi)

I thought it was probably too much to hope I could find a tea room postcard showing some Christmas decorations, but I think I've come close. Check out the colorful strand of Christmas lights hanging from the tree in front of the Old Carriage House Tea Room in Natchez, Mississippi. Does that count? I hope so!

This card was postally unused, but the price was right so I got it anyway. And I was glad I did, because I learned that, happily, this place is still in business. According to their website, "Long famous for its Southern cuisine, The Carriage House Restaurant has been the site of many memorable weddings, rehearsal dinners, receptions, and parties since 1946. In days past, folks clamored for the fried chicken and buttery silver dollar-sized biscuits. Fried chicken and biscuits are still favorites at The Carriage House, but thanks to Chef Bingo Starr, our menu is delightfully varied. The Carriage House offers a Blue Plate Special Wednesday through Friday. The specials themselves vary from month to month and include soup, salad, and sandwich specials, Southern comfort food, and fresh Gulf seafood." Now first, do you not LOVE the chef's name, Bingo Starr? But I also love knowing this former tea room is still serving customers. Go here if you want to see what it looks like today!

Friday, December 19, 2014

A last-minute baking tip

Years ago I read a quilting magazine with a column by someone who called herself "The Goddess of the Last Minute." As a last-minute kind of girl myself, I could appreciate that sentiment. One day this week, I set aside a few hours to bake Christmas treats for some business clients. I was going to use some rectangular mini loaf pans, but at the last minute I discovered that I do not in fact own any mini loaf pans. I thought I did, but what I had was mini loaf pans shaped like Christmas trees, which is not what I had in mind. Then I remembered finding this Nordic Ware Christmas pan on clearance earlier this year. It would have to do. I had loaves of Cranberry Tea Bread to bake!

The mini loaves came out beautifully, but they sort of wobbled on the bottom because of that raised design featuring a bow, snowman, Santa, candy cane, etc. "If only I could cover up that indention," I thought, and then I realized I could! I simply snipped off pieces of parchment paper, plopped them into the pan as shown here, and voila, flat-bottomed mini loaves could be made in this pan. I was so proud of my solution to this latest baking blunder, I thought it was worth sharing here!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Teatime surprises from Colorado

It has been a fun week of opening the mail at my house. First I got an unexpected vintage teacup in the mail, and then I received the package containing the "little something" that my fellow tea blogger Bernideen had said she was going to send me. It included all of these great goodies. Want to see what's inside a few of them?

My favorite item, by far, was in this flat box from Younker Bros., Inc., a famous department store in Des Moines, Iowa. Bernideen knows my love for department store history (especially department store tea rooms), and in fact she has shared with me before that she went to Bible College in Des Moines and on two occasions attended events held in the Younkers Tea Room. The box was very lightweight and about the size of an old 45 record.

The piece of paper inside tells what item the box contains: 

"You may use this kerchief
For your little nose
Or let it in your pocket
Nearest your heart repose.

This little thing
Of brighest hue
At this Christmastide
We give to you

With kindest wishes
And bushels of cheer
For a merry Christmas
And Happy Newyear."

And inside is this pretty candy-cane-embroidered handkerchief in absolutely mint condition! I'll happily add it to my small collection of vintage Christmas hankies, but I'm definitely going to keep it in this box with a great bit of history behind it! (Do you suppose the store actually gave these as gifts to customers? It sounds that way… And I have to wonder how the hankie made its way from Des Moines to the antique mall in Denver where Bernideen found it!)

One of my favorite features in all of the blogosphere each spring is Bernideen's popular "tea in the garden" series, and in this tin she packed some dried goodies that actually came from her garden! Oh, how I wish I could click "insert scent" and let it waft its way to you over the Internet. Instead, you'll just have to trust me when I say the lovely, lemony scent of dried botanicals is so addictive I keep lifting the lid on the tin just to take a whiff whenever I walk by. I may display these in a pretty dish after Christmas, once the scents of cinnamon and apple cider candles have departed!

I'll bet many of you have seen these cute little teatime recipe books before, and this is one I've never seen before, so I am extra happy to have it! With lots of recipes for cakes, gingerbread, tea loafs and more, I'm sure I'll be baking something out of this very soon.

And last but not least, there was a tin of Republic of Tea's Dream by the Fire tea, a wonderful rooibos blend with cinnamon and vanilla (which I am sipping as I blog). Christmas is still a week away, but I must say I've already had a very, very good one, especially with some unexpected gifts from tea blogger friends this week!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A new Christmas teacup to love!

The first surprise on Monday night was that the mailman came at all. I'd given up on mail delivery for the day when the mail still hadn't arrived at 7 p.m., so I went upstairs to do some writing. When the doorbell rang about 8 p.m., I heard the familiar revving of the postal truck backing out of the driveway. Good. I had ordered one of my nieces a piece of jewelry for Christmas, and it was a day late arriving but surely this was that package. To my delight, not only was her gift there, but there were also two gifts just for me. The first one I opened contained this Royal Dover teacup from my tea blogger friend Michele at Finch Rest! Isn't it lovely?

I think it is just beautiful! The holly and berry design is one of my favorite Christmas motifs (and the cup even has a sprig of holly inside!), and of course it means the world to me that a fellow tea blogger gave it to me.

The word "Dover" also pleases me for reasons that have nothing to do with china! In 1964, the year I was born, the Best Picture winner was "My Fair Lady" starring Audrey Hepburn. (Audrey and I share a birthday, May 4.) There's a famous scene in "My Fair Lady" in which the up-and-coming Eliza Doolittle goes to the races and bets on a horse named Dover. In the sort of social faux pas I would no doubt commit, she begins to yell, in a most unladylike fashion, "Come on. Come on, Dover. Come on. Come on, Dover, move your bloomin' ... (unladylike word for "hinder part")." For that reason, the word "Dover" often makes me smile. Seeing it on such a ladylike Christmas teacup will, I hope, help me remember to always act like a lady!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tea-themed Christmas books — and a fantasy one!

Because there aren't that many tea-themed Christmas books out there, I've made a custom of looking through the same ones year after year. The ones I currently own are, clockwise from left, "The Twelve Teas of Christmas" by Emilie Barnes, "Christmas Teas of Comfort and Joy" by Emilie Barnes (text is from the earlier book, but the artwork is different), "A Cup of Christmas Tea" by Tom Hegg and "A Christmas Wish" by Dee Appel.

I have to tell you that I have a *great* idea for a tea-themed Christmas book, but I don't want to be the one to write or edit it, so feel free to take my idea and run with it. I'd love to see a great big, beautiful, glossy hardback book featuring stories and photos of those Christmas tea table settings we've all enjoyed for so many years. Wouldn't that be neat, to have a gorgeous book with, oh, a hundred or more table settings from church and charity Christmas teas, and the story of how someone used Aunt Nellie's china pattern or Grandmother Louise's silverware? It would have to be a big-budget project to support quality photography (and the travel budget to fly someone to so many teas), but I think women across America would want a copy.

Meanwhile, do you have any other tea-themed Christmas books I should add to my list?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Holiday Tea at Something Special

On Saturday, I had the wonderful opportunity of attending a Holiday Tea at one of Newnan's finest old antebellum homes, the Banks-St. John-Meyer house, known around here as the special events facility Something Special.

At the tea are, from left, Joanie, Cynda, Robin and me. I've known Joanie for years, and she is such a joy to be around. I don't believe I've ever heard a negative word come out of her mouth (what must that be like?), and this was the second time she and I have enjoyed tea together at Something Special. Cynda is another tea-loving friend I got to know through this blog and then discovered we were going to the same church, so we cross paths a lot of places. Cynda's friend Robin is a well-known pianist in this area, and though I've had the pleasure of enjoying her music many times before, I'd never had a personal conversation with her and found her just delightful. It was so lovely to get to enjoy a Christmas tea with these ladies!

As soon as we were seated we were served Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup and Cheese Straws. What a wonderful, fresh-tasting soup this was, and of course we all agreed we absolutely love cheese straws in any shape, form or fashion. The cheese straws I make are never this fancy, so I appreciated the prettiness of these!

Our horizontal tiered server was one of those old-fashioned ones that has one tier up top and one on either side. It was filled with delicious sandwiches and sweets!

The sandwiches were terrific, and they included Cucumber, Pimento Cheese, and Chicken Salad on Raisin Bread. I've never served chicken salad on raisin bread before, but I thought it was a great combination. And just after I got through saying the other day that Cucumber Sandwiches are always my favorite, I agreed with my table mates that the Pimento Cheese Sandwiches were simply awesome. We agreed there had to be some secret ingredient in these. (I mean to ask the owner, but this may be a trade secret, I realize…)

The Cranberry Scones were fresh and hot, and though I failed to get a picture of the orange marmalade that was served with them, I must say that the combination was great!

I was surprised by how many varieties of fruit were on the tray: grapes, strawberries, blackberries, oranges, kiwi (not showing, but they were there). And oh, those pastel cream cheese mints (I believe that's what they were) were melt-in-your-mouth good. I haven't had those in years, and they were such a welcome treat. I didn't get a good closeup of the iced carrot cake (in the decorative paper cups), but it was a hit as well. As is often the case at afternoon tea, I felt myself getting full way too soon!

I loved that our plates and cups and saucers were all Christmas designs. We all had pots of hot water and got to select our tea bags from a variety of flavors in baskets that were passed around. I selected Twinings English Breakfast tea to begin with, then later switched to a berry-flavored Stash tea. There were plenty of varieties to make everyone happy.

Tea was served in several areas of the house, but this is the large room where my friends and I enjoyed tea. Our table was the round one at lower right.

The photo of me and my friends, by the way, was graciously taken by the owner himself, Mike Meyer. Mike is a class act if ever there was one, and I'm so happy to have gotten to know him over the years. On Saturday, he showed me he still has hanging in his library a copy of a newspaper article I wrote about him and Something Special way back in 2001. Imagine!

The whole house was beautifully decorated for Christmas. For sheer holiday beauty, I think it's rather hard to top a red velvet sofa and a gracious mantel in an old antebellum home!

And this sideboard and other pieces of furniture displayed some of the many glasses used for serving. But check out the cranberry glass up top, which actually lined several walls in one room. It's a treat to get to enjoy a delicious holiday tea with friends, and it is definitely "Something Special" to get to do so in such elegant surroundings!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tea Room Postcard #50 -- Maple Cabin Tea Room (St. Johnsbury, Vt.)

I've been to all kinds of tea rooms in all kinds of places, but I've never been to one that looks as if it were made of Lincoln logs! Still, I think this Maple Cabin Tea Room looks quite fitting for a town in Vermont in 1941.

At least I *think* that date says 1941. Do you agree? This card is interesting to me because it was apparently some sort of postcard exchange. It was addressed to Miss Theresa Zimmerman of Huron, Ohio, and reads, "Dear Theresa, Thanks for the swell card. Am willing to exchange postcards with you. You are the only one in Oho who I exchange cards with. Sincerely, Alvin W. Gold," and it includes his address in St. Johnsbury, Vt., site of the tea room pictured on the postcard. So, how did Theresa and Alvin become postcard-exchanging pen pals pre-Internet? (Perhaps there were ads in some national magazine.) And is it just me or do you think this handwriting looks like a female's? I'm wondering if Alvin's mother penned this postcard and sent it for him. I think a postcard exchange sounds like a fun idea, and I'm a little surprised I've never heard of one before now. Have you?

Friday, December 12, 2014

"A request from the Palace ..."

If you're like me, you probably find a lot of e-mail solicitations in your in-box at this time of year. Some companies seem to quadruple their marketing at Christmas, and while it can be overwhelming, there's one company I always enjoy hearing from, Fortnum and Mason in England.

That 307-year-old firm remains the store of my dreams, and though the international shipping keeps me from ordering, I always enjoy seeing what they have "on offer." Teas often make their list of suggested gift items, and this week I was scanning my screen when I thought I saw the word "Smoky" before the words "Earl Grey." So I enlarged the screen and yes, that's precisely what it said.

But in case that description of the Countess Grey/Smokey Earl Grey set is too small for you to read on the device you're viewing it on, here's what it says: "Smoky Earl Grey was created in response to a request from the Palace, and combines traditional bergamot with a touch of Lapsang and Gunpowder tea, combining the best qualities of all three. Aromatic and distinctive, it is superbly refreshing in the afternoon." Now don't you love the subtle way that the royal request is couched: "A request from the Palace." I've read before that the Queen likes Earl Grey tea, so do you think perhaps she is the one who requested the Smoky Earl Grey? (And go here if you happen to wish to order some.)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sampling teas from Korea

Recently my friend Ginger in North Carolina e-mailed with an intriguing offer. The mother of a son's classmate gave her some Korean tea to try, and she was willing to share with me if I was interested. Naturally, I was happy to accept her kind offer. Clockwise from left are a packet of Matcha Ginger Latte, some roses and what I think may be chamomile flowers, pumpkin and yam tea sticks, and green tea.

I must say that "Pumpkin and Yam" is a new flavor to me, so I went for this one first. I opened it, poured the powder into a clear glass mug and thought, "Hmm." It smelled a little funky.

I added the amount of boiling water as Ginger had advised, and the result was a thick, creamy looking concoction. I looked. I sniffed. Again I thought, "Hmm." But then, what the heck, I took a sip. Interesting! This really tasted like a pumpkin bisque or broth, and I found myself looking for some saltines to go with it. So though I wouldn't necessarily scarf down this tea as I might a cup of Earl Grey, I did enjoy it in a "soup" kind of way.

The Matcha Ginger Latte was also a nice surprise. I can take matcha only in small doses, but I do like ginger (the tea as well as the tea friend, ha!). Here's what the powdered mix looked like in the glass tea mug.

I added hot water—you could also make it with cold water, the directions said—and whipped it up nice and frothy with a whisk. It didn't have that vegetal taste I associate with matcha, and it had heaps of ginger (you can't over-ginger anything for me), so this was a real hit! The plain green tea was good as well, though not nearly as exotic as these other new treats. Thanks, Ginger, for the new tea tasting experiences!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

American Girl Dolls who enjoy teatime

Our trip to the American Girl Doll Store Monday definitely sent me on a trip down memory lane to the dolls of my youth, dolls like Crissy and Velvet, whose belly buttons you pressed to make their hair grow out, and Dancerina, whose crown you pushed to make her dance the Nutcracker Ballet. There’s always been Barbie for the fashion-minded little girl, but I must confess I have mixed emotions about Barbie. She can never seem to make up her mind whether she wants to be prom queen or an astronaut, and at 55 she really ought to be able to come to a decision. What I like about the American Girl Dolls is that they are just normal American girls, and I absolutely love that they come in all shapes, colors and sizes. Dark hair, light hair, dark skin, light skin, eyes in every color. I noted on Monday you can get a wheelchair for the doll (imagine what that would mean to the little girl who rolls around in one), and there was even a doll on crutches wearing a cast. Some of the dolls represent certain eras in history, such as the first American Girl Doll I ever saw, Samantha, shown here. Although she was discontinued for a while, she’s back and lovely as ever.

And of course her accessories are mighty tempting to me. Samantha is the 1904-era doll, and if I ever get one (which, yes, I am actually considering; what are you laughing at?), this is the doll I’d want.

But then I discovered the Rebecca doll and fell in love with her too once I saw some of her accessories!

This sideboard was just adorable, and I certainly give the American Girl designers points for the box of Orange Pekoe Ceylon Tea and the teapot! Oh, to be a little girl again ... What dolls do you remember from your girlhood?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tea with Amelia and Jessica at the American Girl Doll Store

For the second year in a row, my niece Amelia's Christmas gift from us was a visit to the American Girl Doll Store at North Point Mall to select a new doll and enjoy afternoon tea in the store's restaurant. Here are Amelia and the newly adopted "Jessica Lauren" enjoying tea.

Amelia loves the fact she gets her own teapot when having tea at the American Girl Doll Store.

The server brought us a selection of Tazo Teas. I was in the mood for straight-up black tea and had their English Breakfast Tea while Amelia chose the China Green Tips Tea. The server was impressed that a young girl would choose a) hot tea and b) green tea. As you can see, Amelia takes her tea preparation quite seriously.

And she also adds enough sugar to choke a horse. The server said, "You know, the green tea has antioxidants in it that are so good for you!" "Yes," I said, "but do you think they're canceled out by the five packets of sugar she put in it?"

Here Amelia pours some tea for Jessica. To our surprise, we got to take Jessica's little cup and saucer home with us as a favor!

Our three-tiered server arrived and we were definitely ready to eat!

On the bottom was a cup of strawberry yogurt (for sharing), along with two fruit kabobs and two blueberry mini muffins. Amelia particularly liked the muffins.

The savories were mini turkey burgers, a puff pastry "pig in a blanket" and a cucumber tea sandwich. I guess I will always love cucumber sandwiches as good as anything on the tea plate, but that turkey burger was very good too! (The turkey was Amelia's favorite.)

Our sweets included "dirt" cups (chocolate mousse), mini cupcakes and iced sugar cookies. I'm again impressed that they keep tea at a very reasonable $12 per person.

Last year Amelia got the character doll "Julie," but this year she wanted a "My American Girl" doll, the one they say "looks like you." So Jessica was chosen for her long brown hair (no bangs) that is just like Amelia's. The hair is very important, I learned. Amelia had to touch Jessica's hair before she agreed this was the doll she wanted.

It was another fun day of shopping with my very fun niece — and I hope she'll remember these trips for many years to come!