Monday, October 31, 2011

A trip to the mountains

To celebrate the fact we both completed some major deadlines at work last week, the DH and I decided to reward ourselves with a last-minute trip to the mountains. They say it's past "peak leaf season" in the mountains, and perhaps so, but I still thought it was quite beautiful in the area around Highlands and Franklin, N.C. and Tallulah Falls, Ga. I think I took this photo near Highlands, but don't hold me to that!

Sometimes, I see so much beauty in nature it makes me think God was really showing off when He designed, say, these mountains, or the oceans. (Or the creek behind my house, or the petals on a rose, or the star-shaped pieces of moss, but I digress!)

We have only yellow, green and gold leaves on our trees at home right now, so I think we're both drawn to the pretty red ones when we're away.

In Highlands, where we stopped for lunch and a little shopping, the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation offers a lovely welcome to visitors, including the historic part of the church ...

... and this newer addition.

Along the fence in front of the church, there is the most interesting plant. Is this a flowering vine, or the remainders of one?

I had to touch, and it's just as soft and fuzzy as it looks! I'd sure love to know what this is. (Ginger? Lynn? Or any other North Carolina readers who can enlighten me?)

My biggest shopping request was for some fudge (I found some Pumpkin Walnut, and it did not disappoint), but I also found a culinary shop with a ton of cute cookie cutters. Since I have a few more tea sandwiches to think about before the year ends, I got these three. I especially like the raggedy branches on the Christmas tree. I'm not sure if this will cut bread well, though, but if not I'll use it to make sugar cookies.

I also found this Bija Cranberry and Rooibos tea. Now, while I haven't *tried* every brand of tea, I sure seem to have at least *heard* of most of them, but I'd never heard the name Bija at all that I can recall. When I looked online, I saw that these teas are sold at a lot of health food stores (including some in my town) and spas.

I liked the graphics on the teabag packets.

And I'm happy to report the taste is great! Cranberry and rooibos is a great idea for a blend, and this tea is incredibly sweet and fully satisfied my sweet tooth. If you'll come by tomorrow, I'll tell you a bit about the teacup this tea is in, my final souvenir from the trip. It's a shape of teacup I've never had before, and it is, well, kinda dangerous, actually!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tea Sandwich Saturday #44 - Pear & Gorgonzola

This week I wanted to try a pear and cheese pairing of some sort, and what I ended up making was so easy it's almost a stretch to even call it a recipe! I simply creamed butter and Gorgonzola cheese, then spread it onto slices of bread and topped it with super-thin slices of a Bartlett pear that I got by using a vegetable peeler!

I used white bread to make open-faced sandwiches, topping them with a few crumbles of the cheese as a garnish.

I used that Very Thin Pepperidge Farm whole wheat bread to make stacked sandwiches, which I then cut into rectangular fingers. I love the salty bite of the Gorgonzola paired with the light sweetness of the pear.

Pear & Gorgonzola Tea Sandwiches

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
2 heaping tablespoons Gorgonzola

Blend well and you're done! This small amount yielded enough spread for seven tea sandwiches, and yes, I ate one that didn't quite make it on the plate! If you used an entire stick of butter and a 4-ounce container of Gorgonzola, you should have plenty for a tea party.

Friday, October 28, 2011

New uses for old tart tins

Suddenly, I'm seeing tart tins everywhere I turn. I saw some stored neatly in a glass jar in a magazine not long ago, and I decided that would be a tidy way of storing mine—and reminding me to use them! In the past, I've used them to bake teatime treats such as these Raspberry Financiers and also to cut out tea sandwiches.

In the 2011 Christmas with Southern Living book, they are stacked in the shape of a Christmas tree and used to decorate a tea tray.

In Christmas Ideas magazine, they're used as ornaments.

I still want to save mine for actual cooking and baking, but I do like these clever ideas!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Maple & Chai Tea Muffins

The other day I was marveling that here a month before Thanksgiving, the fall decor is already marked down everywhere I go. I was admiring a pan that bakes muffins in the shape of maple leaves when I suddenly remembered, "Hey! I have that pan!" I got it on clearance at Walmart for something like $3 late last fall. So, maple muffins I would have!

As you can see here, the bottoms are what actually look like maple leaves, and the tops (at left) look like regular muffins. I looked online for muffin recipes made with maple syrup, tweaked and added a few things, and here's my resulting muffin recipe. I really love the flavor of maple syrup, and you can definitely taste it in these muffins. Feel free to use "fall spices" if you don't have any chai teabags on hand, but chai tea is my new lazy substitute for them!

Maple & Chai Tea Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teabags of chai tea (about two teaspoons)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup slivered almonds (or other nuts)
1 egg
1/4 cup melted butter or margarine
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup maple syrup

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and spray muffin tins with cooking spray. Mix all ingredients just until blended. Pour into muffin tins 2/3 full. Bake for 17-20 minutes. Yield: About 14 muffins from this pan, which has slightly smaller cavities than a regular muffin pan.

I highly recommend this Nordic Ware pan, by the way, and my only regret is that I didn't think to buy two!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tea Forté Mojito Marmalade

Several times in recent months I have been tempted to try this Mojito Marmalade herbal tea from Tea Forté. When I stopped by Fresh Market this week and it was on sale ($8.99 on sale for $6.99), I took that as a sign it was indeed time to take some of this tea home with me!

Now this is a very shallow reason for trying a tea, but ... I liked the tin and think it could be useful for either Christmas packaging or a future art project!

This tea contains organic honeybush, organic spearmint leaves, organic orange peel, organic rooibos, organic sunflower petals and natural flavors. The sachets are said to be eco-friendly and biodegradable. And I would add, "pretty."

I had hoped this tea would indeed taste very orange-y, and it did not disappoint. The taste is citrusy, but not too much so, and it was just the thing for a quiet fall afternoon of reading a new novel.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cutest cupcake wrappers ever!

One more shopping report and then I'll move on to another topic, OK? But when I found these *gorgeous* miniature cupcake wrappers at a Marietta T.J. Maxx on Saturday (just $2.99 for 25), I knew I had to tell you about them! I found only one package in this design, but I will definitely be looking for more when I visit other T.J. Maxx stores in the weeks ahead.

The package says you can bake these on a flat oven tray and no muffin pan is needed. Aren't they pretty? At first I thought I would save these until next Valentine's Day, or spring, but then I realized there are indeed some red and green colors in this design, so these just may wind up in some Christmas treats this year!

You can see from the rim on the bottom that these would indeed stand on a pan without wobbling over like normal, thin paper cupcake cups. I've called these "miniature" size, but really they're about 1-3/4 inches tall and 2-1/4 inches in diameter, which makes them more of a "medium" size. Smaller than a regular cupcake, bigger than a mini-cupcake, prettier than both!

And on a final shopping-related note, I wanted to mention that JoAnn had these silver ornaments for 40 percent off when I was in there Saturday! Also, HomeGoods had the Spode and Portmeirion teapot and teacup ornaments out in case some of you are looking for them. Happy shopping!

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Tovolo Teago Mobile Tea Press

While at T.J. Maxx over the weekend, I came across a new style of tea infuser that was so intriguing I knew I had to get it. The packaging actually made it look more complicated than it is, but I do believe this infuser is going to prove quite useful.

"Enjoy loose leaf tea anytime, anywhere," it said. Upon closer inspection, I realized the plastic cover, at lower right in the packaging, is what makes this tea press "mobile." (It's BPA free, by the way.)

Here's what it looks like out of the package.

The tea press boasts of "small, fine holes," and indeed they worked just great.

Here's the infuser basket filled with a teaspoon of Harney's Cranberry Autumn tea. (I never tire of that blend!)

Here's an aerial view, looking down into the infuser basket.

Now it's steeping in the teacup. Note the green plunger at top has been extended to give the tea leaves room to expand. (My husband says this looks like a syringe. Well, yes, it does!)

Here's a closer view of the steeping.

When the tea has finished steeping, you press down on the plunger and voila, a cup of tea. Here, I've placed the infuser cover on.

This is going to be handy for travel, and I also think this will be great for when I want just one cup of tea but am not quite ready to dispose of the leaves just yet. All in all, a fun find for $7.99!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tea Sandwich Saturday #43 - Dill & Crab Salad

Isn't it funny how our taste buds can shift gears at a moment's notice? My fixation with pumpkin flavors has gone bye-bye, and this week I wanted something savory and decided to look for a new seafood salad recipe.

One of the great things I've learned during this year of tea sandwich experimentation is that it's perfectly OK to look up recipes on the internet or in magazines and then add and subtract ingredients at will. Once I noticed that the basic ingredients in many seafood salads are imitation crabmeat and mayonnaise, I realized that endless variations can be made. I liked the sound of dill, so that's what I focused on in this recipe.

Dill and Crab Salad

8 ounces imitation crabmeat
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/4 teaspoon dried minced garlic
1-1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh onion
Dash of white pepper
1/4 cup mayonnaise
Salt to taste

Place all ingredients in bowl of food processor and process until mixture reaches desired consistency. Tastes great served on sourdough bread! Yields 1 cup.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Christmas baking & decorating ideas

It's time to begin thinking about the Thanksgiving and Christmas baking we want to do, so today I thought I'd share a few mini-reviews of some of the new reads I've come across this fall. First, the 2011 Christmas with Southern Living book arrived and I just love it! The two things I most want to make are the Caramel-Pear Cake and the Baby Bananas Foster Cheesecakes. I absolutely *love* the idea of the bite-size Bananas Foster desserts—each just big enough to hold the glazed banana slice on top—and in fact these would make a great treat for a tea tray! The office Thanksgiving luncheon is just around the corner, and I'm thinking either the cake or these mini cheesecakes will be my contribution.

Christmas Cookies is a special issue from Better Homes and Gardens. As you might expect it's a winner, even though it's a bit pricey at $9.99. There are lots of pretty decorated sugar cookies, and there are also some lovely rolled, shaped and two-tone cookies. There's a great feature on thumbprint cookies and how to make variations using one simple basic dough. That's an idea I particularly like because it's such a time saver! I talked to some of my friends at work and was happy to learn they think an office-wide Cookie Exchange is a good idea. I'm going to start organizing it now!

Christmas Ideas is another Better Homes and Gardens special issue, and this one is just $5.99. I quit automatically buying these Christmas titles every year because some of the issues were starting to look alike to me, but this one had enough new ideas that I knew I wanted it. The blue-and-brown color combo is still popular, and so is the natural look with burlap and greenery. An article on "Tiny Tanenbaums" shows tiny evergreens planted in small bowls, and it struck me that teacups would work well for this idea too. There's also a cute packaging idea using paper doilies painted in bright, fun colors. That could be useful for those of us who have paper doilies left over from the year's tea parties! I know I'll be picking up more Christmas books and magazines in the weeks ahead. Do you have any to recommend?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Seeing a teacup in a new light

Four years ago, a friend of mine went to the Czech Republic and brought me back a beautiful boxed set of two pink and gold teacups and saucers. I came across them, still boxed, the other day and wondered why on earth I haven't been using them. I used to save my "best" pieces for special occasions, but in recent years I've come to realize that each new day is special occasion enough—and worth celebrating!

For the first time, I believe, I noticed the lovely gold design sitting there at the bottom of the teacup. Must be hard to paint or decorate the interior of a teacup, wouldn't you think?

I've been drinking lots of black tea and spiced tea since the weather turned cool, but with this newly-rediscovered teacup I decided to have some green tea. The taste was so lightly refreshing and satisfying, and I also enjoy how the tea's pale color allowed me to continue to enjoy the beauty of this teacup. Sometimes, I think I just need to slow down long enough to pay attention to the simple pleasures in life!