Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A 2013 planner I love

I'll bet I'm not the only one for whom the selection of the new year's planners and organizers is an all-important task. If I'm going to look at a calendar for a whole year, it'd better be pretty, and that's why I always get the Collectible Teapot calendar. When it comes to the planner I use at the office, I finally realized I could work with pretty much anything as long as it shows the month at a glance AND the whole week. And is pretty. And so this $7 find at Michaels the other day gets my nod for the new year. Plastic protector sheets on the front and back are a nice sturdy feature.

The artwork is by Lisa Kaus, whose work I have long admired. I've bought mini-journals and other stationery featuring these cheerful Kaus designs, and the new planner is about 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 inches, just right for carrying around in a tote bag or tucking into a desk drawer. Since I work for a newspaper-owned magazine, the newsprint graphics along with the teacups combined to sell me on this design. Also, I'm enjoying the fact that it's a 16-month planner and I can use it right now. In the magazine-editing business, Christmas is over, Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and I am at this writing thinking about St. Patrick's Day and Easter. And Halloween? What are you talking about? That's not for at least six more months!

This page of my new planner made me think of all my sweet "tea friends." (Not to be confused with "sweet tea" friends, ha.) So if you need a new planner, you might want to look for this one at Michaels. Happy planning!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sweet Potato-Pecan Tea Bread

Two things happened around the same time. 1) Donna's blog showed this gorgeous loaf of tea bread she had made with a wonderful decorative loaf pan from Williams-Sonoma. 2) My parents sent me home with some sweet potatoes fresh from their garden.

I wanted a pan like the one she used, but when I saw this old ceramic Crate and Barrel loaf pan for $5 at an antique mall, I decided it would suit me just fine!

It's got an interesting tapered shape, and I figured if it didn't release the cake very well, at least I didn't pay too much for the pan.

I am happy to report that I had success with my very first loaf, although I can't say my tea bread is quite as pretty as Donna's tea bread! But happily, I learned that mashed sweet potatoes make a fine substitute for pumpkin. This recipe from Crate & Barrel was actually tucked into the bottom of the loaf pan when I got it, but I made a few substitutions, such as omitting the raisins it called for. The DH and I both enjoyed this recipe, which makes two loaves of tea bread. If you don't have a decorative loaf pan, just use two regular size pans (about 9 x 5 x 3 inches).

Sweet Potato-Pecan Tea Bread

2-1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 cups cooked sweet potatoes (mashed or whirled through a food processor)
4 eggs
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare loaf pan with cooking spray.

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and salt.

In a separate mixing bowl, combine butter and sugar and mix well. Beat in sweet potatoes, eggs and water. Add the dry ingredients and combine just until blended. Fold in the pecans. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 55-65 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn out onto rack and allow to cool completely. (Or sneak a nice hot slice, as I did!)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Taking tea with Nora

You just never know when an unexpected tea-blogging opportunity will appear, so thank goodness I always travel with my camera in my purse! On Saturday, I attended a baby shower for Nora, the soon-to-arrive baby girl of my friends Liz and Jonathan. Some of you longtime readers may remember the bridal tea I hosted for Liz just about two years ago.

Now Liz is waiting for the arrival of sweet Nora, and on Saturday I got to join with some friends and family who gathered to help celebrate this much-anticipated addition to the family. I was delighted to see two of Liz's girlfriends I got to know when they served as her bridesmaids, Lezlee, at left, and Amy, right. Here they are helping unwrap and record the first of about a gazillion gifts.

The girls did a fabulous job of throwing this baby shower, and the decor and design were so exceptionally pretty, Liz said OK when I told her I wanted to blog about it. Here's the part where you all come in: check out the beverage station!

Yes, that was Pink Lemonade Punch and STRAWBERRY BASIL SWEET TEA! Basil and strawberry? And sweet tea? It. Was. Awesome!

I got the scoop from Amy on how she made it. Basically, she made a simple syrup, steeped some strawberries and basil leaves in the simple syrup, then strained them off. Once she mixed the flavored simple syrup with the tea, she then added fresh basil leaves and strawberries as garnishes before serving. She explained the hot strawberries got sort of whitish looking so that's why she strained them off, and as she described the process I totally got it. The basil taste was noticeable but subtle, not overpowering, so next spring when I'm growing herbs, you can bet I'll be growing some basil and trying this tea!

Amy humbly (I thought) gave credit to Pinterest for many of the cute ideas. Now Pinterest is groovy, and I can certainly kill a few hours there myself every now and again, but Pinterest doesn't buy the groceries, prepare the food, assemble an eyecatching table and design cute signage. Of course it helps that Lezlee happens to be a wonderfully talented graphic artist who has already, at such a young age, had her work licensed for numerous products. (Go here if you'd like to see a sampling.) She designed our invitations for the shower, which carried the same lovely design as the signs on all the food, such as this fun Popcorn Bar. Note the little fill-your-own bags. I loved sampling all those fun flavors of popcorn!

Raspberry Lemonade.

Key Lime.

White Cheddar.

And I'm glad I had the good sense to skip lunch, because they also had Ham and Cheese Sliders …

Parmesan Pinwheels.

And Spinach & Artichoke Poppers, all just as yummy as could be. "Pop" was a key word used quite humorously in the decor.

"Ready to Pop" read this banner.

And Liz's baker/crafter mom Cheryl contributed these fabulous cake pops as well as the lovely platform that held them.

More of Lezlee's fabulous graphic work is on the cake pops. (Don't you want to hire her to design the goods for a tea party? Imagine!)

"Dip and Pop" said the fruit and vegetable platters, so I did.

And where on earth did they find this cute wire form, shaped just like Liz? Loved it.

They also made bright, cheerful tissue paper flowers that hung from the ceiling. Liz joked that she didn't want to take them down after the shower! (At least I *think* she was joking. Wouldn't swear to that.)

And I'll end with my gift for Nora, a filet crochet baby blanket that is my favorite thing to make for the new little ones I hope to take tea with one day!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Teatime Giveaway #43 - Teapot Tape Measure

The winner of the tins of tea from last week is Crescent Moon, so congrats! If you'll send me your snail mail address via the e-mail button at right, I'll get these headed your way. And for this week's giveaway, I'm offering a small but (hopefully!) useful treat, this Teapot Tape Measure. I gave away several of these in some giveaways a few years ago, and recently I came across one more I had tucked away.

It's a very small, lightweight tape measure on a key chain, perfect for tucking in your purse so you can measure the height and width of tea tables, tea cabinets, etc. when you're out antiquing or thrifting! If you'd like to be entered to win, just leave a comment to this post between now and noon EST on Friday, Nov. 2. Good luck!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Finding teawares in Alabama

On our way to Tuscaloosa the other day, my husband recalled an antique mall we had shopped on a previous trip and asked if I wanted to go. An antique mall? Am I breathing? Of course I wanted to stop! And I must say, I do believe I may have gotten one of my best "tea buys" of the year there at the BAMA Flea Mall and Antique Center in Leeds, Ala.

I have long collected tea and toast sets, those nice little teacup-and-snack-plate combos with the indentations for the cup. This one's design featured a basket of flowers with a bow on top (I *love* bows), and the design was on both cup and plate. The dangling price tag? It read $24.99. A pretty average price for such a nice set. Hmmm.

But then I realized it was $24.99 for the entire set of eight tea-and-toast sets!

And then I realized the booth was offering 40% off everything! So, I got these 16 pieces of Lipper and Mann china in the Bristol Garden pattern for $14.99, and I am absolutely delighted with them. Tea and toast, anyone?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Mississippi Delta Sweet Tea Tour

Today I am focusing on my southern roots and sharing a few sights and sips from what I'm calling my Mississippi Delta Sweet Tea Tour. My husband had been wanting to visit Oxford, Miss. and Memphis, Tenn., so once I got the latest pesky magazine deadline out of the way, off we went! Our first meal on the road was a stop in Tuscaloosa, Ala. at the legendary Dreamland Bar-B-Que for ribs.

Now I should tell y'all that barbecue is wasted on me. Oh, I like it just fine, but I've never been what you might call a barbecue connoisseur, although I can say that the sauce was nice and vinegary with a little kick to it, which I rather liked.

My beverage of choice on the entire trip was, of course, sweet tea! One of many-many-many things I enjoy about living in the South is that when you go to a restaurant, you don't have to ask if they serve sweet tea. Of course they do! Now I know we tea blog-reading types are all sophisticated tea drinkers who prefer our beverage fancy and hot and served in a nice china teacup or perhaps a nice gaiwan. But I have a good bit of redneck country girl still flowing through these veins, and I *do not* turn down a good glass of iced sweet tea, ever. I know, I know, I've heard you dear northern and west coast friends say, "That stuff is so thick and sweet you could serve it for pancake syrup." To which I always think, "What a bunch of sissies!" "Well bless your heart, you just haven't built up a tolerance for it yet!" But I will admit it takes a lifetime in the South to fully develop a palate for the nuances of sweet tea. Big Daddy's Iced Tea at Dreamland, for instance, I grade a fine A+. It was sweet but not too sweet, and you didn't take a swig and choke on sugar granules.

It was, as this neon sign attests, the absolutely perfect beverage to enjoy with ribs, and I highly recommend a glass if you are ever by Dreamland.

Next stop: Taylor Grocery in Taylor, Miss. Not my usual tea room, eh?

Here's Alex and myself against the backdrop of the store's famed graffiti wall. It's fun to see all those signatures!

My lunchtime fare was a meat-and-two plate of meatloaf, lima beans and fried okra. (You were just waiting for me to get to the word "fried," weren't you!) Happily, the okra was lightly battered and fried, and neither the limas nor the meatloaf were swimming in grease, which made this a perfect lunch plate for me. Excellent, excellent stuff.

As was the peach cobbler Alex and I split for dessert. (I didn't think to take a photo until after I'd taken a hunk out of the side.)

And the Taylor Grocery Sweet Tea? Another A+, not-too-sweet beverage. A delight, as was Taylor Grocery itself. (You may have read about it in last week's Wall Street Journal. No lie. I ain't whistlin' Dixie here, friends.)

Before we left, I snuck a peek through the windows of the gallery next door to the restaurant, which was closed Monday when we visited. But isn't this a cool tea set!

That afternoon we shopped in downtown Oxford, Miss. At city hall, I took a photo of this sculpture of William Faulkner, Oxford's native son who was a writer and Nobel Prize laureate. Ironically, Alex and I had just met the sculptor himself at Taylor Grocery earlier that day. For the evening's dinner, in downtown Oxford, we chose Ajax Diner. It was dark by the time we left and dark inside, so I didn't get photos, but I am here to tell you that black-eyed peas, smoked catfish and toasted pecans make wonderful salad toppings! (Yes, we were both craving leafy greens by this point.) I was also in a hurry to get back to the hotel room to watch the presidential debate. If I'd known it would be so dull, I'd have lingered at the Ajax Diner! The sweet tea was, I must admit, a little too sugary, so it gets a B+ on my Sweet-Tea-O-Meter.

Into the blues? Before we headed to Memphis, my husband wanted to visit Clarksdale, Miss. where legendary blues guitarist Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil in order to be able to play the blues so well. Some say he might have sold his soul in the shadow of Abe's Barbecue, where we both ordered the classic Delta dish of tamales.

Did you know tamales were associated with the Delta, and not just Mexican cooking? I did not. The things you learn while traveling! (They were quite delicious, by the way, served with soda crackers and some especially fresh-tasting cole slaw.)

The tea here was an A-. Not quite as perfectly sugared up as my faves, but not as sugary as some that overdo it. All in all, I was quite pleased with my eats and drinks on this trip. And you know I bought a souvenir, right?

At a cute gift shop in Clarksdale I found this tea shirt, and it was half-priced (just $10). Perfect for a southern girl to wear next summer, wouldn't you say? (An aside about the Mississippi shopping: Across from a folk art gallery featuring a giant cross made of found art including Budweiser caps—which I liked, by the way—I saw a high-end gift shop with a new name in china to me: Philippe Deshoulieres Limoges. Mercy, was this stuff gorgeous!) And hey, friends, with all southern joking aside, thanks for coming along on my little road trip today. If you're ever in the neighborhood, let me know and I'll be glad to offer my services as a travel planner for your own Mississippi Delta Sweet Tea Tour!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ricola Green Tea & Echinacea Cough Drops

It really doesn't take much to amuse me. My friend Deberah came up to me at work the other day and held out this package of cough drops. "Green tea! Where'd you get 'em?" I asked. Publix, she said, and these were for me. They were a BOGO item (Buy One, Get One), plus she had a $1 off coupon, and she comes from a family of coupon queens so I think she may have actually made money off the deal. So I didn't feel too guilty for taking some cough drops off her hands.

Naturally, I had to check the ingredients list. I have become accustomed to buying such items as "green tea" lip balm and "green tea" shampoo that do not, in fact, contain any green tea, but these cough drops certainly do.

Here's what they look like unwrapped, not that you necessarily buy your cough drops based on looks, but here you go. I don't have a cough at the moment, but I tried a cough drop anyway and it had a pleasant, minty taste. I just love knowing that if I get a cough this fall or winter, I'm ready to go with my new green tea cough drops. Have you tried these, and if so what did you think?