Monday, March 30, 2020

A teacup fairy garden

And suddenly, I'm finding myself with more leisure time than I would have imagined. Saturday, I started redoing the flower beds at the front of the house. I already see improvement, but boy, were my legs aching that night from all the bending and squatting. So while I thought about continuing that work on Sunday after attending Sunday school and church (virtually), I decided to start working on my fairy garden.

Really, all I had so far was the teacup planter, two decorative signs (one of which didn't seem to fit well), and the little china tea set. So like all of us who are staying at home these days, I had to get imaginative. I didn't have a table or table base, so I used the tall cup from a tea tasting set I received from a tea vendor some years back.

The table top is a little Wedgwood dish that I believe I got from a thrift store. I think I bought it just because the pattern is called "Angela."

The tea set? I have no idea where I got this tiny tea set, but I've had it for a while and saved it for just this purpose.

I'd been meaning to pick up sheet moss from the craft store, but since I couldn't run to a craft store this weekend, I got some moss from the backyard (and thanked the Lord for having craft supplies on hand just when I needed them). I love moss!

I hope the fairies like their new home, and I hope they—and you—are sheltering in place and staying safe!

Friday, March 27, 2020

A "new" cookie recipe that's worth sharing

So in addition to finishing up my second cozy mystery and starting on a third, I am also this year aiming to publish a cookbook of vintage Christmas recipes. Yesterday, I made some coconut cookies using a Baker's Coconut recipe from the fifties, and these coconut cookies were great iced (they seemed to ice everything that moved back in the fifties), but the plain cookies would be great for teatime as well. Most of the women I know are baking more than usual these days, so I thought I'd share the cookie recipe here in case any of you are coconut fans.

Merry Christmas Cookies

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter or shortening (I used shortening)
2 eggs, unbeaten
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups Baker's Coconut

Sift flour, then add baking powder, salt, and sugar. Combine and sift again into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add shortening, eggs, 2 tablespoons of the milk, and vanilla. Beat by hand for 2 minutes. Add coconut and remaining milk, then beat for another half minute. Chill batter for two hours. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drop batter by heaping teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet, making sure the cookies are social distancing two inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges. Yields about 4 dozen 2-inch cookies.

Icing: Sift 2 cups of confectioner's sugar, add 2 tablespoons of milk, then combine well and tint using food coloring. Spread on cookies and, if desired, immediately sprinkle with more coconut.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

"There's a Murder Afoot" by Vicki Delany


"One of the things I most want to do in London is have afternoon tea. Where do you think's the best place for the whole experience?"

"They do a marvelous tea at the Orangery at Kensington Palace. You could tell everyone at home you had tea in Kensington Palace without adding that you had to pay an exorbitant amount for it and no one from the royal family joined you."

There's a Murder Afoot by Vicki Delany


If you're like me, you'll be using some of this unexpected time at home to catch up on your reading list. Yesterday (yes, yesterday), I read a new cozy mystery, the latest Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery by Vicki Delany, There's a Murder Afoot. This series features Gemma Doyle, who owns the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium as well as a bakery, Mrs. Hudson's Tea Room, in West London, Massachusetts. Gemma is originally from the UK, and this book has her flying back home to attend a Sherlock Holmes conference and visit her parents. Those joining her on the trip include her police detective boyfriend, Ryan, and her friend Jayne, who is the restaurant manager for the tearoom.

It's always fun when a cozy series sends the main character out of the country, and this time, it's particularly enjoyable to see the sights through the eyes of some first-time visitors to London. And if you're not a Sherlock Holmes fan, never fear. There's just enough of a Sherlock Holmes thread to intrigue Holmes fans, yet those who aren't fans will still be able to follow the plot just fine.

A big reveal happens early in the book when Gemma meets a black sheep family member she'd never even known existed. Soon, this relative is found dead at the conference, and someone close to Gemma is accused of murder, greatly complicating the trip for everyone.

For tea lovers, there are so many cups and pots of tea in this book that you'll be grinning at how tea seems to be the cure for every British ill. And at a time when so many in the world are literally ill, and that's on everyone's minds, how delightful it is to spend a few pleasant hours across the pond with Vicki Delany's charming cozy mystery.

Monday, March 23, 2020

"A dip in a pool of calm"

Now that we're all hunkered down inside our homes (except for those who have to go out for some super-necessary reason), I am immensely grateful for that stash of tea I thought I'd never get around to drinking. In fact, last week, I polished off the last of a tin from Republic of Tea and got a little antsy until I went to the pantry and realized I have 30+ more varieties. So I'm good for a while. Still, when the mail brought a sample from Pukka Herbs last week, I was thrilled.

When I opened the flyer containing the sample and a coupon for $1 off a box of the tea, I saw that it referred to this Chamomile, Vanilla & Manuka Honey herbal blend as "a dip in a pool of calm." And don't we all need "a dip in a pool of calm" right now?

Interestingly, the sample said to infuse this tea "for up to 15 minutes," but I let it infuse for just 5, because I didn't want it to get cold. I greatly enjoyed the honey flavor of this tea and will happily buy a box when I next get the opportunity to do so. In the midst of all this uncertainty and scary news, aren't you glad that we all just *happen* to enjoy a beverage (the real camellia sinensis, anyway) that makes you both alert and calm? This year, I've started writing down at least one thing I'm grateful for each day, and I've decided that a global pandemic is not the time to stop. Today, among the things I'm grateful for are tea … and tea friends. Hope you all are doing well,  staying safe and at home, and enjoying some tea!


Friday, March 20, 2020

Surviving the flu with tea … in 1918

I'm such a news junkie that I've been reading everything I can about the coronavirus pandemic. Yes, I'm staying home (and blessedly, I am able to continue editing books for my clients), but I am quite fascinated by the vast amount of news on the coronavirus, epidemics past and present, and possible cures.

And I was fairly flabbergasted to find this article on the CDC's website as part of its "Pandemic Influenza Storybook." (Storybook? Seems closer to the horror genre to me!) Now, I'm by no means telling you to go make a "tea" like this family in Missouri did back in 1918, especially since, as I understand it, all parts of the pokeweed plant are considered toxic!

Still, I loved this sentence from the story about 96-year-old Sarah: "She credits her long life to frequent hand washing, drinking lots of water, no tobacco or alcohol consumption, and prayer." (Note to self: Request hand soap and hand sanitizer for birthday, anniversary, Christmas, etc. this year. And keep praying!)

Stay safe, friends!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A tea tin I *wish* I had

It wasn't exactly a normal St. Patrick's Day yesterday, was it? To be honest, I didn't even think about it until Monday night. I remembered that I had a cute new emerald-green top I had planned to wear this week, but alas, there's nowhere to wear it and no one to see it. (And if that's my biggest worry this week, I must be doing pretty well.) And as far as my traditional March 17 meal of corned beef and cabbage? Well, that just wasn't on my radar during my last brief trip to the grocery store, and it certainly wasn't worth going back out in public for! But I did go online to research some old tea tins, and I found this one from a past auction on eBay. (Special thanks to this eBay seller for granting me permission to use his photo of something that sold in December!)

Have you ever heard of Belle of Killarney Choicest Irish Style Tea? I had not, but boy, would I love to find one of these tins before next St. Patrick's Day, when, Lord willing, things are back to normal.

So did you do anything in honor of St. Patrick's Day? I'd love to hear it!


Monday, March 16, 2020

Baking banana bread during uncertain times

Well, it's been an interesting few days, hasn't it, friends? I figured there was no use showing up and typing "Isn't this a pretty new teacup?" because, if your house is anything like mine, all you're talking about is the coronavirus pandemic. I haven't left the house since Friday, and I "attended" my church service on a livestream on my laptop yesterday morning, something I gather I will be doing for a few more weeks, at least. Ironically, I'd been staying in a lot during recent weeks because of all the bad rain and flooding we've had here in Georgia. One gloomy day, I wanted to make some banana bread but was out of both eggs and milk. It was pouring down rain outside, and I just did not want to get in my car and drive to the grocery store. So I Googled and found this recipe for a banana bread that calls for no eggs and no milk, and surprisingly, it was one of the best loaves I've ever made.

Turns out, learning to bake with what's on hand was a good thing and a skill that may serve me well in the days ahead. So now, while I do once more have milk and eggs in the fridge, I'm happy to know I can use up those overripe bananas in the freezer by baking this recipe even when I don't. When I tried it yesterday, I used just one banana instead of two and added a cup of frozen blueberries. Delicious! (Note: I did add two extra tablespoons of oil this time since that is the only liquid in the recipe, and I seemed to be missing some moisture from that second banana.)

One other thing I've done since hunkering down at home is to increase my consumption of green tea. Why? This article lists 10 of green tea's benefits, and if you'll look it over, you might agree with me that anything that supports our health right now could be a good thing to consider adding to our diet.

I'm with those who initially thought we were probably overreacting to the coronavirus, and I still hope and pray that we are, but now I'm at the point where I want to be thoughtful in my comings and goings (if I do any "going") out of respect for others. As a Christian, I choose not to live in fear because God has told me many times in his word not to fear, but my faith also teaches me to live wisely, so I'm trying to do the best I can with the information I have at the moment.

How are you all doing with this thing? I hope you're doing well and keeping a chin up, because goodness knows, we're all in this together! If you get a moment, I'd love to hear that everyone is doing okay. If you're not and you need some encouragement, just leave a comment or shoot me an email (angelamcrae@charter.net) and I'll be glad to pray for you! And if there's ever been a time to share this slogan, it's now:


Stay safe, y'all! (And I started to add "and wash your hands," but I know without a doubt that my fellow tea lovers are already washing their hands religiously, ha!)

Friday, March 13, 2020

Tea Dance: 1920s, '30s, '40s Vintage Tea Party


Looking for something to distract you from all the scary coronavirus news out there? I found this wonderful Tea Dance album on YouTube, and you can't help but dance when you listen to these happy tunes! Start it at the 3:17 mark, and you can hear, "I Love Coffee, I Love Tea," a song that always makes me smile.

Click here to listen now (following the ad):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jwPqDVtsTU

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Ginger Peach Chocolate Truffle Dessert Tea

For Christmas, my stepdaughter gave me this tin of Ginger Peach Chocolate Truffle Dessert Tea from Republic of Tea. I imagine she found it at her local chocolate shop in Wisconsin, which carries a nice array of Republic of Tea products, and I'm so glad she did because I have enjoyed it so much that I've nearly polished it off in a little over two months!

This tea is one I've been enjoying as a sweet treat each day, and it contains "fine black tea, rooibos, roasted maté, cinnamon, natural ginger, peach and chocolate flavors, cocoa kernels, chicory, sweet blackberry leaves, ginger and bourbon vanilla." With all of that, no wonder it's so sweet!

I read on the Republic of Tea website that this is a "limited-edition, collector's tea," and I'm sure glad it got added to my collection. If you haven't tried this dessert tea, I definitely recommend it!



Monday, March 9, 2020

A weekend at the Paper Moon Crafting Retreat in Pine Mountain

When my friend Kathy finally moved back to Newnan after spending quite a few years in Savannah following her husband's job transfer, I often got to hear about how much she missed her crafting friends back in Savannah. In recent years, they started gathering for a crafting weekend at this lovely retreat cottage in Pine Mountain, just about an hour from my house, and when I was invited to join them for this weekend's edition, I was eager to sign up!

Because Kathy (the one standing beside me) had told me so much about these ladies, I had no doubt I would enjoy meeting Debbie, Janis, Lucia, Wendy, Christina, and Vicki, but what I didn't expect was that I would feel such an instant kinship with them! By nightfall on Thursday, we were already  talking about not just crafts but also life, family, our churches—even praying together, and it all felt so comfortable and easy.

Crafting is what brought us all there for the weekend, and Paper Moon has a wonderful three-story design that is perfect for that. Upstairs was the loft with some sleeping accommodations, and the main floor had a living room (shown here), dining table, fully stocked kitchen, and two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

I thought the coffee station was so pretty.

And I was delighted to discover it had tea (even though, naturally, I had packed a whole hamper full of teas myself, just in case).

I would guess that the owner of the cottage, who I believe is a crafter herself, must have some tea-loving sensibilities too.

I loved the dessert plates displayed above this quilt …

And these framed butter pats made me want to start collecting them.

Of course, much of our action occurred downstairs in the crafting studio, where each of us had our own table for whatever crafting we chose to pursue. Even though I had taken quilting, crochet, and paper crafts to work on, I must confess that I talked and visited with the others more than I actually crafted, and I came home with lots of new ideas and much inspiration.

And also on the tea front, I did make a rustic-looking teacup card, which was new for me, and it really summed up the way I felt: that these new friends were just my cup of tea! Have you ever been on a crafting retreat? This was my first, and I sure hope there will be more of them in my future! (If you're a local and want to check out the place for yourself, click here. Their rates are quite reasonable!)




Friday, March 6, 2020

Marietta Daisies Mango blend tea

I have a new favorite tea blend, and it is so exclusive that I'm pretty sure this is the only blend exactly like this one in existence. That's because I blended it myself when I spoke to the Marietta Daisies Garden Club two weeks ago, and I loaded it up with my beloved mango and coconut flavors!

It turned out that garden club member Katryn Taylor is the proprietress of Camellia Estate teas, and she brought different tea bases and flavorings so the ladies could blend their own tea. I realized quickly that my favorite will always be a flavored black tea, and while I'd had plenty of mango-flavored teas, I'm not sure I'd ever had one with just mango and coconut, so that's what I opted for.

I love that Katryn's company has "Camellia" in the title, and her packaging and brochures are just beautiful. I thought she was incredibly generous to allow all of us to plunder her teas, herbs, fruits, and flowers. When I added just a spoonful of mango to my blend and told her how much I enjoy the flavor of mango, she said, "Keep going." I added another spoonful. "Keep going." She waved me on, and I added some more. Without her guidance, I would no doubt have skimped on the mango, but after adding plenty of it and coconut, I am sold on this blend and love the idea of personalizing my own teas. 

And if you happened to read this blog two weeks ago, you may recall that I was gifted one of the floral centerpieces in a teacup. It was this one, and I just love drinking tea out of it now.

Because neither the cup nor the saucer is marked, I went on eBay to see if I could find a similar peony design, and to my surprise, this is apparently a new set from Gracie China! I absolutely love it, and I've been using it exclusively as I sip my Marietta Daisies Mango tea. If you'd like to know more about Camellia Estate teas, click here.


Wednesday, March 4, 2020

A magazine to spark your creativi-tea

Last year, I rediscovered Somerset Studio magazine while on a summer trip to Wisconsin, and it generated so many creative ideas that I have made it a point to look for each new quarterly issue. The February/March/April one has, obviously, been out for a while now, but trips to two different Michaels stores and my local Barnes and Noble were unfruitful. I really, really wanted this issue, though, because of that lovely vintage typewriter on the cover, so when I was near the Barnes and Noble in Rome over the weekend, I walked in with my fingers crossed, and indeed, they had one copy left.

Although I'd seen a preview of a few articles online, I had no idea of what features I was going to find in this issue. And when I spotted the supply list for the very first article, I had to smile.

 I think I see some tea stains. Don't you?

As I thumbed through the issue, tea kept appearing, such as this article titled "My Artful Tea Bags." (The artist seems partial to Harney & Sons tea, so I heartily approve.)

And then when I noticed the "ink" splotches on this feature about some whimsical owls, I realized the ink is again tea, and the owls are painted on tea bags! So if you're inspired by this kind of fun art, you might want to look for this issue of Somerset Studio yourself. It's a keeper!

Monday, March 2, 2020

"Lavender Blue Murder" by Laura Childs

Lavender Blue Murder, the latest tea shop mystery from Laura Childs, begins with a bang—literally. Charleston tea shop owner Theodosia Browning and her tea sommelier friend, Drayton Conneley, are attending an English-style shooting party at Creekmore Plantation, the home of one of Drayton’s well-heeled Heritage Society friends, Reginald Doyle. When the host himself ends up as the victim of a fatal gunshot that day, Doyle's family is thrown into turmoil. The suspects are legion. There's the neighbor who dammed up his creek, a family member who turns out to have despised him, and more than a few business associates who stand to gain from Doyle's death. Then Doyle's distraught daughter-in-law goes missing.

Doyle's widow asks Theodosia to use her sleuthing skills to help solve the murder of her husband and disappearance of her daughter-in-law, and as always, the Indigo Tea Shop in Charleston remains the epicenter of the investigation, even while Theodosia, Drayton, and chef Haley Parker add a few new themed teas to the shop's schedule. This time, the events include a Gone With the Wind–themed tea and a lavender-themed tea, both of which are described in exquisite detail, from the menu to the tea wares, favors, and decor. The victim's widow also uses the tea shop as the site of a séance, which is the source of much grumbling from Drayton, who doesn't at all like the idea.

The book has plenty of red herrings, and Childs does her usual fine job of leading us down lots of dead-end paths. Surprisingly, local shop owner Delaine Dish, a character we love to hate, has only a small role in this book, but Drayton has a larger one. Theodosia and Drayton even enjoy a few dinners together that are totally unrelated to work, a fitting evolution in their friendship over some twenty-plus adventures together. Childs remains the queen of the tea-themed cozy mystery, and it's nearly impossible to finish one of her books without reaching for another cup of tea and, once again inspired by the charming world she has created, planning an event of your own.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley

Friday, February 28, 2020

A Tea House at the 1904 World's Fair

Despite the blooming jonquils and the rose bushes that are leafing out, it's turned freezing cold again here in Georgia this week. And since I can't play outdoors, I've been looking up gardens old and new on the internet, including tea gardens of yesteryear, which led me to this photo of the Chinese Pavilion at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition held in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1904. I love seeing the ladies' fashions as they're walking toward the pavilion. It's hard for me to imagine a time when such an outfit was as casual to them as a comfy pair of slacks and a blouse or top would be to us today.

I found an interesting video here that said that the rest of the world didn't know much about China in 1904, and the Chinese Pavilion at the World's Fair that year was an attempt to change that. All interesting, but I still failed to detect the word "tea" anywhere in this information, so I wondered why it came up in conjunction with this photo when I searched the Library of Congress website.

Then I found this photo on Wikimedia Commons, and I think this explains it. That gorgeous building to the left was the tea house of the Chinese prince's reconstructed, scaled-down summer house. Looks like it materialized right off of some Blue Willow china, doesn't it?

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

A thrifty teacup ornament

It's never too early to start looking for tea-themed Christmas ornaments, and I found an oldie but goodie at the Blake House Thrift Store in Carrollton the other day, this Hallmark Keepsake ornament called Friendship Time.

I guess my tea radar was working properly, because I spotted that curve behind the 49-cent price sticker and thought, "Is that a teacup handle?"

Indeed it was. The ornament doesn't appear to have ever been taken out of the box, and it dawned on me that 1989 was more than 30 years ago now. And by the way, I did not pay 49 cents for the ornament because they were having a half-off sale, so I got it for 25 cents. This is probably the fourth or fifth vintage Hallmark ornament I've found over the years, and it's early in the year, so maybe I'll find some more before Christmas 2020!

Monday, February 24, 2020

"In Cold Chamomile" by Joy Avon

"People didn't appreciate just the sweet taste of Iphy's creations but also her decorative imagination, and often took photos of her treats that they then shared online, bringing new visitors to Book Tea and new reservations for booking tea parties."

— From In Cold Chamomile by Joy Avon

The third "A Tea and Read Mystery" from Joy Avon was recently released, and I'm once again enjoying this delightful cozy series about a tea business offering book-themed tea parties. This time, Callie Aspen of Heart's Harbor, Maine, is helping her great-aunt Iphy with a Valentine's-themed event at historic Haywood Hall. Among the offerings at the event is a baroque orchestra's performance, and when the singer who performs with the group arrives, he turns out to be a mysterious man from great-aunt Iphy's past.

As preparations for the Haywood Hall event get underway, one of the offerings that seems sure to attract visitors is a book appraisal featuring an expert who sounds much like one of the antiquarian book dealers from Antiques Roadshow, except that this one is dishonest and likes to stir up trouble. When he's found stabbed to death, there's no shortage of suspects who might have had it in for the man.

Finding the book expert's killer is no easy task, and Callie and her aunt both have their hands full trying to keep their tea business running while attempting to nail another killer. Relationship issues abound in this book, including Callie's own growing relationship with Deputy Ace Falk, who grows increasingly frustrated that Callie keeps inserting herself into his murder investigation.

The book has lots of red herrings so that the killer isn't discovered too soon, and Avon's winsome writing style makes this a quick and enjoyable read. It's a pleasure to find another cozy series that features tea on so many pages, and now I can't wait to follow up on a few relationship cliff-hangers that definitely left me wanting more. If you haven't checked out this new series yet, I highly recommend you get caught up before the next book comes out!

Friday, February 21, 2020

Taking tea with the Marietta Daisies Garden Club - Part 2

My friend Lorelle had told me that the Marietta Daisies Garden Club tea on Monday would include an area where members could blend their own tea, so I envisioned a few small bowls where perhaps everyone would whip up their own individual tea bag for the refreshment time. But no, this was much, much more elaborate than that. Turns out that the lovely Katryn Taylor of camelliaestate.com is a member of this garden club and is a tea vendor herself. Here, she explains to a group of ladies how to select a base for the tea (black, green, or herbal) and then add various flavorings.


I got to meet Deanna, a friend of my friend Lorelle (and now Deanna and I are Facebook friends), and here she is blending her tea in the glass Katryn provided. These glasses (in case you ever need to know this) fit perfectly in those little rectangular bags of tea that we have probably all purchased at one time or another.

Here are some of the flower petals …



And here are some other photos from the blending station. After my presentation, I blended my own tea using black tea, mango, and coconut. I named it "Marietta Daisy Mango" blend!

When I started admiring all the elegant touches on the tea tables, I learned that these flower lollipop favors (see the rosebuds?) are also Katryn's handiwork. Beautiful!


I absolutely loved how the ladies mixed and matched vintage flatware and tied it with velvet ribbon. So pretty!


And the food? I was quite surprised when the plated food came out. The menu included:

• Vanilla bean and rose panna cotta with orange-blossom-infused toasted pistachios
• Poppy seed-dressed oven-roasted mini roast beef sandwich with melted cheese
• Goat cheese cherry-lime preserve with fresh basil and pansy flower rice roll ups
• Cream cheese fresh basil sliced carroty Argentina red shrimp rice roll ups
• Open-faced cucumber sandwich
• Tea-baked roast beef sliders with horseradish
• Chicken salad sandwiches topped with muscadine jelly and lavender petals
• Southern deviled eggs
• Fruited scones
• Mediterranean cheese balls (black olives/sun-dried tomatoes, rolled in walnuts/rosemary)
• Fig pepper preserve cheese balls (rolled in bacon/parsley - with a kick of cayenne)




Afterward, Lorelle asked if I had time to go to lunch, and I told her that while I had the time, I was stuffed and couldn't eat another bite! She felt the same way, it turned out, so instead, we went to an antique mall and a Goodwill store together.

 The Marietta Square store I used to know as Dupree's is now Park West Vintage, and wow, did they have the teacups and plates and …


Chintz!

I left with a couple of vintage Christmas goodies that I'm sure I'll be sharing later in the year, and I found a new Santa mug for my collection at Goodwill. So from beginning to end, my day with the Marietta Daisies—and particularly my friend Lorelle—was a wonderful treat and just the thing to brighten another rainy, cold week here in Georgia!