Monday, October 31, 2016

Praise for Power of the Purse

While it wasn't a "tea" per se, I attended a wonderful luncheon last week that was so lovely and does so much good, I couldn't help wanting to share it here! It's called "The Power of the Purse," and it's an annual fundraising luncheon for the Coweta Community Foundation, which I assist with public relations and marketing. This was the second year of the luncheon, and it was a huge success! The "purses" are both literal and figurative at this luncheon. Local individuals and businesses open their purses by buying tickets to the luncheon, or perhaps sponsoring a Silent Auction item, and then many women get into a bidding war over all the great purses. This year, the Silent Auction alone raised more than $13,000 for the Foundation's Women and Children's Fund. Even the table decor gets into the "purse" spirit, since all the flower arrangements are created using vintage purses. The arrangements are for sale after the luncheon, and women seemed eager to claim their favorite before heading home.

The event is held at The Newnan Centre, our local convention center, which is a popular spot for local events. It's fun to walk in and see all that pink from the goody bags and printed programs!

Last year we started small with just a handful of purses for the Silent Auction. Women asked for more, and this year we had 41 items for bidding. It was fun to see women (including yours truly) checking out the bids to see how they were doing.

There were a few things for the guys (a Colonel Littleton bag, a golf bag), but most of the items were clearly for us gals, and they ranged from cute Vera Bradley purses to Kate Spade, Coach, Dooney & Bourke, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Louis Vuitton purses, so there was truly something in every price range imaginable.

We had an excellent speaker who talked about the problem of young women affected by sex trafficking, and it was good to see awareness raised for such an important cause. The other highlight of the luncheon for me was watching my friend Norma Haynes (second from left) be named Coweta's "Woman of the Year." Norma has been a part of just about every civic effort that has ever gone on in my county, and she is especially known for her many years of work honoring our local public safety officers. When she realized she was this year's winner, tears started spilling down her cheeks, which made me cry, and I'm pretty sure my mascara was gone by the end of the luncheon!

It was such a fun day, and I'm so proud to be part of a truly giving community! I was also pleased that after months of searching for just the right new black purse, I won the bidding for this one, and although you can't really tell from the photo, it has handy pockets on each end. (The first thing I look for on a purse is outside pockets for keys, etc.) I'm not that brand-conscious and generally favor function over style, because if a purse works for me, I don't really care whether anyone else likes it or not. But I guess if I had a favorite maker, it would be Ralph Lauren, although this year's Silent Auction made me realize I like Calvin Klein purses too. Just curious: What's your favorite brand of purse?

Saturday, October 29, 2016

My Country, 'Tis of Tea — Texas

"Come and listen to my story about a man named Jed, a poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed, and then one day he was shootin' at some food, and up through the ground come a bubbling crude. Oil, that is. Black gold. Texas tea." I'll bet many of you know exactly which classic TV show that came from, don't you? But it's another kind of Texas tea that's on my mind today, as you'll see!

"Texas Tea" is also the name of a January piece in the Austin Chronicle online (screen grab shown above) that explored the efforts of three local tea purveyors to source quality teas. The line that most intrigued me was this: "For those interested in a sustainably grown, energy-boosting beverage – and who aren't too hung up on vernacular – the most local 'tea' available to Texans comes from the native yaupon holly tree." Click here to read the article for yourself.

• As my Texas-born brother-in-law is fond of reminding me, everything is bigger and better in Texas. Perhaps that explains why, to my knowledge, Texas is the only state that has ever had a whole magazine devoted to the topic of tea! I can't remember when I first learned about this magazine, but I have collected several issues over the years and think somebody ought to franchise the concept and see that there's a similar product in every state. My tea friend Janet Pool in Texas has written for this magazine for years, and it's now available in an online version here.

• Want a fun twist on tea bread? Try the Banana Apricot Nut Bread from a Texas tearoom! In 2013, I assigned myself the challenge of trying a different tearoom recipe every week, and one of my favorites for the year was this delicious variation on a classic tea bread that I found in "The Peach Tree Tea Room Cookbook" by the late Cynthia Collins Pedregon of Fredericksburg, Texas. Copies are easy to find online, and by the time I got a copy, it was a 2005 edition and the book was in its ninth printing, with some 59,500 copies in print already. (Even the tearoom cookbook runs are bigger in Texas, apparently.) Click here for the recipe.

P.S. Click here if you want to hear that old TV theme song that mentions "Texas tea."

Friday, October 28, 2016

Tiesta Tea's Nutty Almond Cream Herbal Tea

New tea packaging always catches my eye when I’m walking down the tea aisle in the grocery store. This week, Publix turned up a brand I’d not heard of before, Tiesta Tea. Several varieties looked intriguing, and I'll no doubt go back for the mango one soon (why didn't I just go ahead and get it?), but the "Relaxer" blend was singing to me.

And when I read "Nutty Almond Cream," it was a done deal, since I love almonds and I love cream! This blend contains apple pieces, almonds, cinnamon pieces, and beetroot, and as soon as I opened the package, I thought, "dessert tea." And when I steeped it?

Friends, I felt like I was drinking a liquid version of a HOT-OFF-THE-LINE KRISPY KREME DOUGHNUT. There. I've said it. Somehow, magically, this berry-colored brew tastes like Krispy Kremes. I tried a second cup, just to be sure. Still reminded me of those beloved Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Do I really need to say anything more?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Cranberry and Pumpkin Spice Muffins — and a matching tea!

Karen in New York commented the other day that she likes to mix Harney's Cranberry Autumn Tea with their Cinnamon Spice Tea, and that is her go-to fall tea, of which she usually drinks at least a cup each day. I remembered her unique recipe when I was making some Cranberry and Pumpkin Spice Muffins this week, and it dawned on me, "What if I mixed cranberry- and pumpkin-flavored teas?"

And so I did! I feel a little sheepish about mixing two different brands, but the Cranberry Autumn is the only fall-flavored Harney tea I have at the moment, so I brewed one of those tea sachets along with one tea bag of Republic of Tea's Pumpkin Ginger Tea. The result was great, and I could taste the Cranberry Autumn Tea that is my favorite along with a little extra something from the Pumpkin Ginger Tea. Not every tea-blending experiment I've tried has turned out well, but this one did!

And if you like the combination of pumpkin and cranberries, you might like these muffins, which Mr. Tea With Friends deemed "excellent."

Cranberry and Pumpkin Spice Muffins

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons milk
1/4 teaspoon each of ginger, allspice, and nutmeg (or more if you like)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners. In a large bowl, combine first seven ingredients. In a smaller bowl, combine spices, baking powder, salt, and flour. Add flour mixture to liquid ingredients and stir just till combined. Fold in cranberries. Using an ice cream scoop, spoon a nice heaping of batter into each cupcake liner, about 3/4 full. Bake for 22-26 minutes, just until muffins feel firm on top. Yields 12 muffins.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Christmas wish book from Bettys Café Tea Rooms

For those of us old enough to remember the sheer joy we felt when the Sears Christmas Catalog arrived in the mail each year, I must tell you that I had a similar feeling when I recently came across the Christmas catalog for Bettys. Now I know that some of you have had the pleasure of visiting Bettys Café Tea Rooms in the UK, but I, alas, have not.

What I discovered online the other night, though, certainly makes me want to visit even more: their 2016 Christmas catalog. Oh, the yummy offerings inside, and what gorgeous Christmas cakes! But what I most fell in love with was their cute Bettys mug on page 24 and the pretty Christmas tea tins on page 25.

They do ship overseas, by the way, but the shipping cost is pretty pricey, so you may just want to send your wish list via a friend who's headed across the pond soon. And if, like me, you're still dreaming about taking tea at Bettys and having one of their famous Fat Rascal scones, click here to see a sample menu. It certainly makes for some fun reading for those of us who aren't heading to England in the near future! (And if you come across some neat Christmas catalogs online, please let me know because I love catalog shopping!)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A delicious trip to Wisconsin

Last night we got home from our latest trip to Wisconsin to visit with my stepdaughter's family, and this time we had the fun opportunity to be on hand for the sixth birthday party of grandson Michael! It was a fun trip, as always, and this one was also quite delicious in many, many ways. Alex and I usually take a day to go off gallivanting and see something new, and this time, he wanted to introduce me to a place he'd visited with one of the guys previously, Uncle Mike's Bake Shoppe. Apparently this place is known for its award-winning kringle, a pretzel-shaped pastry that is oh-my-goodness-how-did-I-not-know-about-this delicious. My town, I'm sorry to say, can never seem to support a bakery for very long, so I am like the proverbial kid in the candy shop when all these delicious baked goods are before me!

We sampled a few different flavors while at the shop, and the one we came home with was the Sea Salt Caramel Pecan Kringle. Oh, it's a good thing I don't live near Uncle Mike's!

And I trust I can safely share this here without inciting a political riot, but I was amused that they sell cookies with the likenesses of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The sign on the counter, which was already a week old when I was there, reported "Clinton 48.5 percent, Trump 51.5 percent." (But in fairness, I have to tell you that I saw far more Clinton yard signs than Trump ones as we drove around Green Bay, though I always wonder whether such signage indicates actual voting patterns, especially in an election year as bizarre as this one has been.)

Alex and I didn't purchase either of the presidential candidate cookies. As two former newspaper reporters, we HAD to try the New York Times Chocolate Chunk Cookies. These were rich chocolate cookies with a liberal sprinkling of sea salt, and they were great. (But not as great as the kringle. Oh, was that stuff good!)

Our other culinary adventure up in dairyland took us to Scray Cheese, where Alex wanted to purchase a gift box of cheeses to send to a friend back home. The actual production of the cheese occurred behind a glass window at the shop, where visitors can watch them at work, and I was most intrigued to see these huge vats in which liquid was being swirled around, then eventually turned into the cheese curds I have so grown to love. (If you've never had real Wisconsin cheese curds, my friends, you have missed out.)

Even the grocery store in Wisconsin did not disappoint, because a trip to Festival, a grocery store we don't have in my neck of the woods, turned up some great new-to-me Stash Tea in the White Chocolate Mocha flavor. I enjoyed quite a few cups of this lovely dessert tea alongside slices of kringle!

And I'll close with a photo of the two most delicious little faces on the whole trip, Michael and Andrew, shown here beating me at the matching game with their "Minions" cards. The only thing I don't like about Wisconsin is that it and they are so far away!

Monday, October 24, 2016

The "Tea & Scones" book goes to ...

Frances Lamparter! Frances, since I have your current address, I'll get this off to Hoffman Media and let them know to get the book headed your way.


"The Tea Planter's Daughter" by Janet Macleod Trotter

For those who enjoy good old-fashioned romance alongside a heaping helping of history, I highly recommend the fine book I finished reading this weekend, "The Tea Planter's Daughter" by Janet Macleod Trotter, a title I found on NetGalley. (Go here if you'd like to learn more about NetGalley for yourself.)

The book begins in 1904 in the lush tea hills of Assam, with a widowed tea planter named Jock Belhaven and his two daughters, Clarissa ("Clarrie") and Olive. The heartbroken planter seems unable, or perhaps unwilling, to continue living without his beloved wife, the Indian woman he fell in love with and married, and Clarrie finds herself looking for ways to save both her father and the Belhaven tea plantation itself. She even considers a marriage proposal that would be more of a business merger than a love match.

Eventually some sad circumstances send Clarrie and Olive from India to England to live with family, but what at first appears to be their salvation ends up becoming yet another sad and trying set of circumstances for the two sisters, who are basically employed as slave laborers with the "family" they had hoped would embrace them. When an unexpected reprieve comes in the form of a surprise assignment in an upperclass home, the two hope their fortunes are finally improving. Trotter is a master at having us feeling a sense of relief one minute and then fearing for the worst in the next.

In one particularly enjoyable plot twist, Clarrie develops an alliance, you might say, with someone who supports her longtime dream of opening a tearoom for the middle class folks in town. The tearoom workers and Clarrie seem to prosper at first, but against the backdrop of the coming of war, the women — and the country — find themselves suffering much economic hardship as well as the all-too-common fears of all who wonder whether war will mean the loss of a loved one.

Trotter has a lovely writing style that is tender, touching, and period-appropriate without being treacly. She pulls our emotions in a million different directions, very often in ways we did not see coming. Only when the book reaches its surprising and satisfying conclusion do we fully realize the magnificence of the journey that Clarrie has completed. As the first in a trilogy, this excellent book is one I know will appeal to the hearts of many of my fellow tea lovers, and this may well be one of my favorite books of the whole year!


Saturday, October 22, 2016

My Country, 'Tis of Tea — Tennessee

I realized this week that I really don't know too much about my neighbor to the north, Tennessee, but I did manage to gather a few tea-related Tennessee tidbits that I thought were interesting, and I hope you will, too!

• The Woman's Exchange of Memphis, a group founded in 1885, has an award-winning tearoom that is still going strong today.  I love to read old tearoom cookbooks, and in this one, I found the first (and only) pimiento cheese recipe I'd seen that calls for melting the cheese. (It was delicious!) Go here if you'd like to see what the Woman's Exchange is up to today. While it's not an English-afternoon-tea type of tearoom, it still sounds like a lovely place to visit one day!

• The M & O Tea Room in Gatlinburg (postcard circa 1940) was a tearoom and craft shop that billed itself as "a good place to rest or play!" Like a lot of southerners, I grew up going to Gatlinburg, Tenn. on family vacations. For that reason, I was intrigued when I found this vintage postcard for the M & O Tea Room and Craft Shop and The Rossmore in Gatlinburg. The back of the card is blank, and I wasn't able to find out anything about this tearoom except that it was in operation around 1940 and some local weavers sold their wares here. Newer hotels had come along by the time I was a child visiting Gatlinburg, but I'll bet the M & O served many a happy tourist in the tearoom in its heyday.

• It's closed now, but one of my all-time favorite tearooms was Miss Mable's Tea Room in Dickson, Tennessee. I visited with a girlfriend more than a decade ago now, and to this day I can remember the beautiful tearoom, the exceptional service, and the delicious food including some scones that remain among the best I have ever eaten. Happily I have some cookbooks from the tearoom to help me keep those memories near! I was dismayed this week to find that I apparently never put my Miss Mable's photos in my official tearoom scrapbook. I know they're somewhere in all the boxes of paper and photos I have squirreled away, but meanwhile, my friend Phyllis blogged about Miss Mable's here. (I had forgotten about the PT Cruiser with "Driving Miss Mable" written across the back!) I think there's a lot of truth to that old saying about how people may forget what you've said to them but they will never forget how you made them feel. Miss Mable's made me "feel" as if I were family, and I'll never forget that wonderful experience!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Cultivating tea … in 1848

"No plant is more simple in its cultivation, and none requires less skill and attention than the Tea Plant; any one who can cultivate a cabbage can cultivate the Tea Plant."

— Junius Smith, "Essays on the cultivation of the tea plant"

My latest discovery on the Library of Congress website? This 1848 (1848!) book titled "Essays on the Cultivation of the Tea Plant." I couldn't believe a book on US tea cultivation was written this early. I'd seen the 1899 book on tea cultivation by Dr. Charles Shepard, founder of Pinehurst Tea Plantation in South Carolina, whose plants were later transferred to the Charleston Tea Plantation.

But the discovery of an 1848 book on growing tea strikes me as quite a discovery, so I've downloaded it to my iPad and started reading!

For those of you who share my passion for tea history, here's a link!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

In the holiday mindset

I don't know about you, but I really feel like Christmas is on the way when I start finding Christmas magazines in the mail. And since the November/December issue of Tea Time just arrived in my mailbox, maybe that's one reason I ordered my first Christmas gift of the season this week!

There is always much to love in the holiday-themed issue of the magazine, and as usual, I find myself drawn to the gorgeous blue-and-white decor featured in the Hanukkah Celebration.

Equally charming is the "Winter Wonderland" spread featuring frosty whites and silver and lots of white foods. The photography is incredibly lovely, and since I've been thinking about hosting a Christmas tea for the ladies along my street, this new issue is providing me with inspiration galore. Have you started your Christmas preparations yet?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Recreating a "London Fog"

 Have you ever had a London Fog tea latte? I've had this drink at both Starbucks (so-so) and a local tea and spice shop (excellent), and recently I saw several recipes for the drink being shared on the Afternoon Tea Across America Facebook page. I decided it was time to experiment, so I did!

For my London Fog, I placed one Earl Grey tea bag in a mug and added boiling water, then added three shakes from my bottle of McCormick lavender, and let it all steep for about four minutes. While it was steeping, I microwaved some milk. After straining off the lavender from the tea, I added about three tablespoons of the hot milk to my drink, along with a few drops of vanilla extract and one teaspoon of sugar. I must say I enjoyed my homemade version of this rich, sweet drink! Have any of you made a London Fog? If so, any tips you'd care to share?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

In praise of poke cakes

Over the weekend, the Webster side of my family had its annual family reunion at a state park in Crawfordville, Ga. It was great to get together again with my dad's side of the family, and for me, one of the highlights was that several of my aunts — whom I consider some of the best cooks God ever put on this earth — asked for the recipe for the Pumpkin Caramel Cream Cheese Poke Cake that I took!

I've long been a fan of the "poke" cake, the out-of-a-box cake you bake, poke holes in, and then fill with yummy stuff like, in this case, caramel ice cream topping, whipped cream, and cream cheese. Not exactly a diet-friendly recipe, but then I tend to make a poke cake only once or twice a year.

I found the recipe on Pinterest, naturally, and was quite pleased with my first effort at making a herringbone pattern by dragging a toothpick back and forth through the caramel. I froze my cake overnight so it would still be cold (and thawed) by the time it arrived at the reunion two hours away. If you're a fan of poke cakes, give this one a try! (And tell me, how can we adjust this for teatime? I absolutely love the moist texture of poke cakes, and the creamy toppings, but other than scooping up individual bits and making mini trifles out of them, I cannot think of a cute and clever way to present this at the tea table. Can you?)

Monday, October 17, 2016

A giveaway from Hoffman Media: "Tea & Scones"

Once again, I am delighted to host a giveaway courtesy of our friends at Hoffman Media, and this time it's a hardback book I know many of you will want, "Tea & Scones: The Ultimate Collection of Recipes for Teatime." I've received a copy from them myself, and now one of you can win a copy as well!

If you haven't made scones in a while, I can assure you that this book will get you in the mood for baking. Since I regularly have one cup of canned pumpkin left over from something or other in the fall, I was happy to find a recipe calling for precisely that amount of pumpkin. And since my dad has been sending me home with sweet potatoes far more often than we are able to consume them at this house, I was equally pleased to find several recipes for sweet potato scones. The caramel ones shown in the book had me drooling, but then blueberry is a perennial favorite type of scone, although I could easily be swayed to try something new like Rooibos-Infused Cherry Scones, one of the savory scones (perfect accompaniment for fall soups!), or the gluten-free Vanilla-Pear Scones I could enjoy with a friend who eats gluten-free foods. In other words, there is pretty much something for every taste!

The book also includes recipes from 12 different tearoom owners, all of whom tell the story of how they came to open a tearoom. I was so happy to see Miss Spenser's Special-Teas of Longview Farms in New Virginia, Iowa, included. Even though I've not yet had the pleasure of visiting, I've "met" owner Donna Hardin in cyberspace and consider myself a fan!

This book was originally published in 2011 as "Scones & Tea," and this updated version has an expanded gluten-free section as well as some great how-to photos. I particularly enjoyed seeing the step-by-step photos for how to prepare fruit scones so that fruit is incorporated throughout. Very helpful!

So if you'd like to win a copy of this book, just leave an "Enter me" type comment between now and 7 a.m. EST Monday, October 24, and you'll be entered to win. (US only, please.) I'll collect your contact info, and Hoffman Media will mail the book directly to the winner. And if you can't wait and would like to go ahead and order a copy of this book for yourself, just click here!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

My Country, 'Tis of Tea — South Dakota

Earlier this year, I came across a book that mentioned a town called "Tea, South Dakota." Now I thought that was just a fun bit of fiction until I learned that there really is a town called Tea, South Dakota!

• If there was ever a place that begged a visit from tea lovers, it would surely have to be Tea, South Dakota.  I found this community guide to the town online, and I was just fascinated by all the fun names. You can read about the town in the Tea Weekly newspaper, and anyone with small children might want to look into MyTea Tykes or Tea Tots, two local childcare facilities. I for one would enjoy wearing a T-shirt in support of a child playing Tea Soccer, and I know I would enjoy a visit to the Tea Area Historical Society. The best time to go to Tea, clearly, would be the third weekend in June, when Teapot Days are held, an event which includes the crowning of Ma and Pa Teapot.

• In June of 2006, Tea, South Dakota, was honored in the US Senate upon the occasion of its 100th anniversary.  If you have difficulty reading the above image from the Congressional Record, the part I was most interested in was this: "Tea’s unusual name was discovered when the community was asked to submit 10 town names to the Postal Service but only 9 could be decided upon. A recess was called during a town meeting at which tea was served. Someone suggested the name 'Tea' be added to the list. Shortly after, this tight-knit community was informed that their new name would be Tea. Tea was officially incorporated in 1906."

• In 1885, the Ladies of the Presbyterian Aid Society in Woonsocket, South Dakota, gave a benefit Tea Party at the church. This bit of ephemera comes from the Library of Congress, and I love how it says, "A Good Supper will be served from 6 to 9 o'clock" and that afterward, there would be "Music, Charades, and Magic Music." Can anyone tell what that last handwritten line says? I'm thinking it reads, "Proceeds for Mr. Currant." Just goes to show that benefit teas have been around for a while!

Friday, October 14, 2016

A 1910 book of "Candlelight Tea" recipes

I really need to make a list of all the great tea resources I'm finding on the Library of Congress website. This week it was a charming vintage book that's in the public domain, "Candlelight Tea" by Lina Dunlap.

This book was published in 1910 by Transylvania Printing Company of Lexington, Kentucky, and it features recipes for beverages, salads, and sandwiches.

Here's one page from the sandwich section, and I think two of these three recipes sound just fine (you can probably guess which ones). I'm intrigued that the Neufchatel sandwich recipe is quite similar to one I make today, 106 years after the publication of this book. (It's here.) I just love looking through old cookbooks, and some of you may as well!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Teavivre's Organic Nonpareil Ming Qian Dragon Well Long Jing Green Tea

I was in the mood to sample a new green tea, so I turned to some samples I recently received from Teavivre and tried their Organic Nonpareil Ming Qian Dragon Well Long Jing Green Tea.

The dry tea leaves seemed to have only a slight vegetal scent, but that might have had something to do with my sniffer being out of whack thanks to fall allergies. Still, I always enjoy admiring the unique flat shape of Dragon Well tea leaves.

I was surprised to inhale the aroma of the steeped tea and find I could indeed smell the distinct aroma of something akin to steamed asparagus, a scent that past experience told me meant this would be a tea I'd enjoy. Indeed, yes! The smooth-tasting tea had only a mere hint of astringency, no grassy aftertaste, and I drank (and enjoyed) several cups of it. I do find myself trying to drink more green tea these days simply because it has so many great health benefits, including weight loss and lower risk of cancer. I don't think I've mentioned it here, but I'm happy to report that by eating less and walking more, I've lost 16 pounds over the spring and summer and hope to shed a few more by Christmas. So if green tea will help me with that, I say, bring on the green tea!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Aunt Martha likes Tea Time

So I was in Hobby Lobby to pick up some supplies so I can make the needlebook from the kit I picked up at the quilt show last week. Among the supplies was a particular size and type of thread, and what did I find nearby but this darling book of Aunt Martha's Embroidery Patterns featuring Tea Time designs!

These are iron-on embroidery patterns, and they are designed so you can use each one more than one time. I may try to trace them to make my book of designs last forever! Here's a snippet of one spread, and as you can see, you have to read them backward or read through the opposite side of the page.

If you don't happen to live near a Hobby Lobby, I regret to say that you won't be able to use your 40-percent-off coupon and get your $4.99 book for $3 as I did, but hey, it's just $4.50 online straight from the publisher, Colonial Patterns, Inc., and you can find it here—and see images of all the lovely designs!