Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Easter Egg Teapot

Cheesy or cheery? Depends on your view, I guess, but the other day I had the sudden thought, "Why not decorate an Easter egg to look like a teapot?" Last year I decorated some with teapots (shown here), but I'm not sure I've actually seen one decorated where the egg is the body of the teapot.

I had this leftover wooden egg from last year's efforts, already painted pink, so I just started gluing on seed beads and tiny buttons that were in my scrapbooking stash.

I made a handle and spout of scrapbooking paper. Getting these just right was the hardest part!

Next, more beaded bling. (Cupcake liners are good for holding beads during crafting.)

Finally, a round pearl "knob" for the top of the teapot. If I'd had this idea earlier I would definitely have made more of these, but I wanted to go ahead and share the idea in case some of you are in a crafty Easter mood this week! Next time, I think I'd like to use real eggshells (with the eggs blown out, of course) to make more delicate creations. And if I needed a craft for kids, I would use good old plastic eggs for making teapot eggs. This egg idea may be half-cooked, but I think it has potential!

(And if you want to see some truly beautiful handcrafted Easter eggs, go here!)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Celebrations" and Century Cake

It may be true that you can't always judge a book by its cover, but sometimes you certainly can! That was true on a recent antiques run with my mom when I saw the pretty cover of this 1995 National Trust book, "Celebrations," by Simone Sekers with illustrations by Joanna Isles Freeman. I have yet to see a publication from the National Trust which doesn't at least mention tea, so I had a hunch this one would as well. Let's just say it was $3.50 well spent!

Indeed, there is an entire chapter on Fine Teas, including a Yachting Tea, A Cosy Kitchen Tea, A Polite Tea, Holiday Tea and Nursery High Tea.

The artwork borders are simply beautiful, and of course who wouldn't be intrigued by something called "A Polite Tea"?

I was eager to try something from the book, and since it was my turn to bring the refreshments at Bible Study last week, I augmented my usual grocery store chips-and-dip routine with this easy and yummy Century Cake. My biggest fear was that someone would ask me what it was and I would have to say "a fruitcake," because although many of us like fruit and many of us like cake, for some reason the combination of the two usually results in that gummy, brick-shaped loaf that is the butt of so many Christmas jokes. This is NOT that cake! In fact, this one calls for plumping the dried fruits by boiling them in a cup of strong black tea. The cake met with good reviews, no one asked what it was, and it got a thumbs-up from one of the guys, who thoroughly blessed my heart by getting an extra piece to take home with him!

This is a dense and deliciously rich cake, and in case you'd like to try it yourself, here is the recipe as I made it.

Century Cake

1 cup strong black tea, infused and strained
2 cups assorted dried fruit (I used currants and cranberries)
1 cup light brown sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3 eggs
1-1/4 cups self-rising flour
1/4 cup ground nuts (I used pecans)
Grated zest of 1 orange

Pour tea and fruit into a saucepan, bring to a boil, let simmer about 5 minutes, then let cool. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake tin and line with foil or parchment paper. Cream butter, sugar and orange zest. Add eggs one at a time, sprinkling with just a bit of the flour each time. Stir in the soaked fruit (with tea), remaining flour, ground pecans and mix. Pour in cake tin and bake for 1-1/2 hours. Lower heat to 325 and cook for an additional 15-30 minutes, just until the cake has shrunk from the pan. Let cool for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. Cut into 12 wedges and serve.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Pretty in pink: My new tea station!

Several years ago I acquired a small, dilapidated old desk I'd discovered languishing away in a darkroom at the office. It was covered in chipped and peeling gray paint, but I loved the small size and the odd, not-very-deep little drawer and slide-out tray. Turns out, this piece was an old typing desk discarded by one of the high schools many years before. (If you remove the two trays, you can see two holes where a typewriter was once bolted down.) Over the weekend, my sweet husband painted it the precise shade of "Rose Buff" pink I had been envisioning, and now this once-sad piece is serving as a tea station in my crafts room.

Alex, like me, liked the fact you can still look inside the drawer and tell this piece once served in a schoolhouse, so we've happily preserved the fact that "Billy Flournoy loves Marilyn Cox."

I'm sure I'll switch things up a bit before I get it "just right," but here's what I pulled together as soon as the desk was dry. Happily, I have lots of pink things and teawares from which to choose!

I've needed a spot for the paints, glues and decoupage mediums I've had strewn all over, so a pink wicker tray holds them nicely. At front is the teacup-shaped pouch that holds my iPod.

A small teapot, some tins of tea and teabags, and the vase/container I found last weekend all seem happy here.

I was delighted to find a nice spot for the treasured cross-stitch picture made for me by ParTea Lady's husband!

Behind it, a pink feathered hat disguises the fact I have a Thermos full of hot water for making tea when I'm working upstairs.

When we bought the house, this room had been a little girl's bedroom and was decorated in pink and lavender in a Dora the Explorer theme. Fortunately, my many pink craft goodies seem to blend in just fine. This is also a happy spot for a Sandy Lynam Clough teacup print I've had tucked away. Beneath are two vintage rose plates that had been hanging in my bathroom.

This is what is on the back of the plate on the left. I found this at Lakewood Flea Market years ago and was intrigued that it says Jefferson Tea Co. since I happen to work on Jefferson Street!

The hardest part of this whole little project was deciding on the perfect shade of pink paint. I suppose we're all picky when it comes to our favorite color, and I'm pretty particular about my pinks. I didn't want mauvey pink or peachy pink or bubblegum pink. It needed to look "vintage pink" but it couldn't be too dark or too light. I was at Lowe's looking for paint when I learned the Laura Ashley shade I preferred couldn't be blended with the high gloss paint.

Could I find a Valspar shade that was similar? I told the salesclerk I would try. When I found this little folder of paint colors with a teapot on the cover, I decided it was a sign. The "Rose Buff" paint I ended up choosing was the same shade of pink as my "Little Pink Book" (address book), which makes me think this was the color I was supposed to have all along.

And finally, I discovered that a typing desk pull-out tray (with pencil slot) makes an excellent teacup holder!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Tea and Books Saturday #13 - "Taking Tea"

Taking Tea
By Andrea Israel with Original Recipes by Pamela Mitchell
Grove Press, 1987

Beautiful. Informative. Entertaining. Surprising. Those are all words I would use to describe "Taking Tea: The Essential Guide to Brewing, Serving, and Entertaining with Teas from Around the World" by Andrea Israel. This is another oldie-but-goodie I've had tucked away on my shelves of tea books. I'd remembered it as just another eBay find, a bargain cookbook I could consult sometime I ran out of anything else to try, so I was pleasantly surprised by the wealth of enjoyable information between these lovely covers!

Especially impressive for a tea book written in 1987, this one covers a heap of tea territory. I discovered quite a few tidbits I don't ever remember reading before. During the time when Russia began a caravan route to fetch tea from China, the author says, "Czarina Elizabeth encouraged tea's popularity by establishing her own private caravan." In the book's "Guide to Buying Teas," we learn that Darjeeling is good with jambalaya (I love jambalaya!) and that Jacksons (of Piccadilly) is said to have the original recipe for Earl Grey tea. And have you ever heard that when drinking tea with lemon, "the sugar is added first because the citric acid of the lemon would prevent it from dissolving"? I'm going to have to experiment with this myself to see what I can observe! Or what about this fun fact: Baked goods are crossed with a knife-slash "so as to release the devil." Hot cross buns, anyone?

The book is simply brimming with suggestions for themed teas, including recipes, decorating ideas and even musical suggestions. Teas include Afternoon Tea, Tea for Two, Nursery Tea, Victorian Tea, High Tea, Garden Party Tea, Farmhouse Tea, Exotic Caribbean Tea, Chinese Tea, American Tea, French Five O'clock Tea, African Farm Tea, Moroccan Mint Tea, Russian Evening Tea, Indian Tea and Japanese Tea. The recipes I most want to try include Banana Scones, Lemon Curd Bars, Applesauce Loaf and, to my surprise, Indian Samosas!

The book is beautifully photographed, and there are so many lovely things that will make you want to prowl the antique malls for similar finds. I was especially smitten with the breakfast set consisting of teawares whose exact same floral design was featured on the linens, including a teapot cozy and egg cup cozy! I greatly enjoyed this book and intend to consult it regularly now that I know what a fine resource it is.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Museums and teapot pins

It's been a while since I've shared any of my tea jewelry, so today I wanted to show my newest "museum pin," by which I mean not a museum-worthy piece but simply a piece that was, I believe, once sold by a museum gift shop. It's the gold pin at left (2 x 1-3/4 inches), which is said to be inspired by a teapot in the collection of the Worcester Art Museum. The sterling silver pin at right (1-1/2 x 1 inch) is from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and though I got mine for about $10 on eBay, one just like it recently sold there for $39, so I'm glad I found mine early!

I purchased both these pins on eBay, actually, and a card that came with the gold pin says it was made by "Museums by Procreations, Antrim, New Hampshire." The card says this: "WAM Teapot - This replica was inspired by a piece in a silver tea service that is in the permanent collection of the Worcester Art Museum. Crafted by an unknown maker, c. 1810, the oblong body, topped by a scaled and floral border, rests on a splayed foot stamped with a band of roses; cast paw feet are at each corner. The carved wooden handle sockets are in the form of cornucopias and the curved spout ends in an eagle's neck and beak. The original is engraved in script: 'Given by Joseph Henhaw Esq. to Joseph Allen.'" There is a Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Mass., so I'm guessing it's that museum that has the actual teapot. (Wouldn't you love to see that teapot!)

I have a third teapot pin from a museum, which I wrote about here, but I didn't mention at the time that it came from the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Fla., or at least that's my best guess since it came in a Cummer Museum gift box. I once wrote to the museum to see if they could tell me anything about the pin, but it has apparently been so long since this was sold there that there is no longer a record of it. Do you have any pins, tea-themed or otherwise, you purchased at a museum?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A cozy Christmas gift - in March!

I have a confession to make: Until this week I have never owned a fabric tea cozy. Yes, I've got one I crocheted, one I knitted and a beautiful mauve-pink knitted one that was a gift from a thoughtful reader, but I've never had one of those pretty, thick fabric cozies until yesterday. My friend Ruth and I were meeting for lunch at Holly Cottage Tea Room, and it was there she gave me my Christmas present! (Ladies at the tearoom kept asking, "Oh, is it someone's birthday?" and Ruth just laughed and explained we simply haven't had a chance to get together before now. Unable to catch my gardener friend at home last Christmas, I had left her gift, a teapot planter, on her porch.)

Ruth told me she found this gorgeous tea cozy in the Victorian Trading Co. catalog, and I just love it! When I opened it, I immediately had to touch the glazed chintz fabric.

When I reached inside to fluff it out, however, I touched rich, regal velvet. "It's reversible!" my friend proudly exclaimed, and so I proudly reversed it! This is really a two-for-one tea cozy, which I will enjoy using in its floral version now and in the lush red velvet version at Christmas, Valentine's, and if need be, the Fourth of July!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Teapot Terrarium

Ter-rar-i-um: A glass container, chiefly or wholly enclosed, for growing and displaying plants. (Courtesy of

Tea-rar-i-um: A glass teapot used for the same purpose. (Courtesy of my husband!)

A recent magazine article on terrariums reminded me I'd seen these made using glass teapots, so creating a teapot terrarium (or tea-rarium) has been on my "to do" list for a while. Yesterday evening the weather was so pretty that I went outside and gathered some materials to see what I could come up with.

First, I started with a layer of rocks, because I had read that is what you're supposed to do.

Then, a few pieces of moss. I loooooove moss! Have you ever really looked at moss? If you haven't, you might make it a point to do so, and soon. This moss, for instance, looks like it's made up of dozens of tiny green stars. I have no idea what variety it is, so I just think of it as Starry Moss.

Sedum may not be the prettiest plant I've ever seen, but it's like Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction" and simply will not die, so I figured it was a good, reliable choice for my latest gardening experiment.

Ferns! Don't you love ferns? The Victorians were crazy about them, and I can see why. I like to press fern leaves between book pages, too. (One of these days I'll actually do something with those pressed ferns!)

Clover. Three-leaf, not four, but the petals look like pretty butterfly wings, so I included it in my little teapot plant kingdom.

And if I did this terrarium thing all wrong, please don't tell me because I sure had fun doing it. Now I just have to get a spray bottle so I can keep it misted and, hopefully, alive!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tea in Texas Magazine - March/April 2010

It's my brother-in-law Brad's birthday today, and thanks to Brad I've learned a lot about his home state of Texas (the meaning of "Hook 'em horns," for instance). This week I've learned even more about Texas, the state's fondness for tea and its tea rooms by reading the issue of Tea in Texas magazine I recently ordered.

This lovely magazine, which I first saw in 2007, is blessed with lots of advertising (which keeps a magazine in business, believe me!), and I learned of quite a few tea businesses in Texas, including many that sell online. I enjoyed reading about an exhibition of tea infusers and strainers at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, and I liked the Q&A style interview with the owner of the Mustard Seed Tea Room in Baytown. While I do have a difference of opinion with the young lady who insists Texas Bluebonnets are superior to roses (as if!), I admired her enthusiasm for her state's wildflowers and found her article just delightful. I also liked the recipes and a small chart on different ways to slice tea sandwiches.

The 40-page magazine was printed quarterly when I first discovered it but is now published six times a year, which is certainly a happy fact for tea lovers in Texas. A subscription is just $18, and even though I don't live in Texas I'm thinking of subscribing. The calendar of tea events made me quite jealous that they have so many fun tea things going on in Texas, and I wish Georgia had as many tea rooms so we could support a tea magazine here! Lucky Texas! If you'd like to check out the magazine for yourself, visit

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tea finds at the antique malls

It's been quite a while since I've found any fun things at antique malls, but Saturday I had luck at several places. On the way to Buchanan to visit my parents, I stopped by a new antique mall in Carrollton, Feather and Twigs, I had recently heard about. They do it right here: low prices, nice variety, pleasant displays, a lovely scent (from candles, I learned), and store owners who don't hover! I'd actually been looking for a cute spoon rest to use during cooking, and this one was just perfect, bearing a "Kitchen Prayer" like I've seen on many vintage pieces over the years.

This little pair came home with me because it made me smile, but I don't know what the pot at left actually is. There aren't any holes up top, so it's not a salt or pepper shaker. It sure seems to match the teacup napkin ring at right, but ... why? Is this a cutesy set for the breakfast tray? Why would you have only one napkin ring? And is it just me or is that teacup lady on top of the napkin ring a wee bit seductive looking? At any rate, these pieces made me smile, so the mystery will have to remain.

Finally, I got some pieces we'll call "adaptive use" teawares. Obviously this was some sort of planter or vase, but I love this shade of green, the pretty roses, and I am simply wild about old glass and pottery pieces with ruffles on them, which I rarely see. Three dollars for this, with every sweet little ruffle intact? Oh yeahhhhh! At first I thought of using it to hold teaspoons, tea infusers and the like. Then I decided no, it will hold scissors and rotary cutters in the craft room. Or soaps in the bathroom. Then I realized it would be great for holding those sample-sized packets of tea I'm always crowding into a drawer. So really, I could have used about four of these, so I will just have to make up my mind which use wins out.

This matching piece was marked free, and I assumed it was a vase, until ...

I got home, took the stickers off, and realized that it's an orphaned (I assume) candleholder. Still, the price was right! So I left my inaugural visit to Feather and Twigs with a whole bag of goodies for just $10, which is my kind of shopping. (And local readers, this store is located in the same building as Fabric Peddler in Carrollton, near the Maple Street Mansion, in case you're interested in going. Happy shopping!)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tea and Books Saturday #12 - "A Guide To Tea"

A Guide to Tea
By Chris Cason
Published by Adagio Teas

When I began exploring loose leaf teas years ago, one of the first online vendors I tried was Adagio Teas. Their tins began piling up as I tried their delicious flavored teas, then pure black teas, a holiday sampler of teas and more. One day, I noticed they offered their own book, "A Guide to Tea," but I didn't have time to read it when it arrived and recently discovered it on shelves between some other tea books.

The book is just 88 pages and an easy read, so I would definitely recommend it to any "tea beginners" who want to know more about the basics: what is tea, how to prepare tea, the different types of tea, etc. Even though I knew most of the information in the book, it never hurts to be reminded of the basics. Occasionally someone new to tea asks me "where do I begin?", and I have to remind myself they are not asking for the history of tea since the beginning of time and probably don't want to hear my tongue-tied explanation of what SFTGFOP stands for (Special Fancy Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe -- and Cason does a good job of explaining even that!).

The book confirmed my long-held belief that every tea book I read will have at least one new thing to teach me. In this one, in the chapter on tisanes/herbal teas I learned that in ancient Greece, peppermint was rubbed on dining tables to make the meal more pleasant. Fun! The book also includes some great close-ups of various tea leaves (such as White Peony, Sencha, Silver Needles) as well as photos of tea rituals and tea plants from around the world. Cason seems passionate about encouraging others to explore the world of tea, and I really like this quote: "A complete renovation of the Western mindset on tea may seem like a long shot, but remember this: there once was a time when your choice of coffee ranged from Folgers to Sanka. Then, Starbucks came along to show how much better it can be. The same is true of tea." I really enjoyed this book, which I no longer see listed individually at but it does appear to be included for free with certain gift sets.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A new tea mug for spring

Spring officially arrives tomorrow, and I have a cheerful new pastel tea mug to celebrate! It's one of Lilly Pulitzer's colorful prints, the "Later Gator" pattern, and I'm happy to say it both performs well and travels well. In addition to taking it on the road, I've taken it upstairs to my craft room where it keeps my Sencha nice and hot for as long as it takes me to sip it!

Oddly, perhaps, I have a real interest in alligators, and the ones on this tea mug are some of the few "cute" alligators I've seen. Did you know that the swampy water alligators live in is sometimes called "Swamp Tea" because it is tea-colored from the tannic acid in the water, a result of the vegetation that has decayed? When I learned that, I felt a lot better about my interest in alligators. Do you have any offbeat interests/hobbies that are reflected in your teawares?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"For All the Tea in China" by Sarah Rose

At last! For years I've read in tea history books that Scottish plant hunter Robert Fortune disguised himself as a Chinaman when first sneaking tea plants out of China in the late 1840s. I knew that he worked for the East India Company but little else about him, and yet I always read that bit and thought "You know, there's got to be a story there." Yes, there is, and Sarah Rose tells it superbly in the book just released today, "For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History." I know it's only March, but I simply can't imagine a better and more important tea book will be published this year, it's *that* good.

A "tea history" book for those who don't like history, this book reads like a novel and will take you on a rollercoaster of a ride from first page to last. It begins innocently enough: Robert Fortune, born of humble means, first learns about horticulture from his farmworker father before earning a certificate in horticulture himself. An ambitious man eager to advance in English society, he accepts an offer to explore China in search of plants at the request of the Royal Horticultural Society. Successful on that mission, he is then hired by the East India Company, which wants to grow tea in the Indian Himalayas. They hire Fortune to, as Rose puts it, "enact the greatest theft of trade secrets in the history of mankind."

The tea-making industry in China was so secretive, so safe-guarded, that the East India Company knew it would have to steal the plants and the tea-making technology if they were ever to grow their own tea in India. Fortune was apparently the ideal candidate for the job, and he was willing to dress the part. He had a coolie shave the front of his head and weave a ponytail extension to the nape of his neck just so he would be more likely to fit in. We know that Fortune was successful in his efforts because we drink the fruit of his work today. What we might not know, however, is how very perilous his journey was, how he faced betrayal by his Chinese assistants, the dangers stemming from the opium dens, the occasional threats to his life and, most significantly of all, the many threats to the plants and seeds for which he risked such a journey.

While the book is a fast read and quite an entertaining one, it also manages to educate the reader on tea cultivation, history and customs. Gardeners will enjoy learning about Fortune's other contributions to plant life in the West, such as his discovery of the bleeding heart, winter-blooming jasmine, white wisteria, corsage gardenia and Fortune's Double Yellow tea rose. We also have Fortune to thank for first relaying to the East India Company that black tea and green tea are grown from the same plant, and for unearthing the secrets of their preparation. The author quotes from Fortune's own writings about his travels in China, and he comes across as a man of humor and grace as well as of much tenacity.

When the press release described this book as a "thrilling narrative (which) weaves together the larger historical, geographical, and scientific stories of this unique adventure" about "one of the greatest corporate thefts of all time," I frankly had doubts the book could live up to such a claim, but it did. Sarah Rose deserves much praise for such an outstanding addition to the tea literature available today.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The wearing of the green!

Happy St. Patrick's Day, y'all! Shortly I'll have corned beef and cabbage going in the crockpot, and I must confess I cheated this year and got some Irish Soda Bread at the grocery store to enjoy with the meal and with tea. Do you celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a special meal or treat? If so, please tell! Today I thought I'd show some of my green-colored tea goodies, including vintage salt and pepper shakers, above, a favorite mug, tea and toast set, a crocheted teapot, a needlebook, tea books, and even a paint swatch, all inspired by St. Patrick's Day and the color green. Enjoy!