Thursday, October 31, 2013

Some new fall teas from Canada

This week I have had Canada on the brain. Both the tea giveaway winners announced Monday were from Canada, and then I got to sample some new teas courtesy of my Canadian tea blogger friend Judith. These teas were both fall blends from David's Tea in Canada. Don't you love the way Judith packaged these with descriptions on fancy paper cutouts embellished by scrapbooking scissors? I may have to copy her idea!

This Pumpkin Chai tea with cute little pumpkin candies in it is rather appropriate for sipping today since it's Halloween, don't you think? I greatly enjoyed this spiced black tea and enjoyed it as my "late night sweet."

I tend to be a big fan of rooibos teas, so I was intrigued by the description of this Oh, Canada blend. It's sweetened with maple syrup and includes tiny little maple leaf candies, and oh my, was it good! It smelled and tasted very sweet and rich, a perfect "dessert" in a teacup! (And in case, like me, you're interested in trying some David's Tea for yourself, they ship to the U.S. for just $5!)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Feeling craf-tea with Somerset Studio

Do any of you get the crafting bug in the fall? I do. Something about those cozy nights indoors makes me want to *make* something. I've been working on a crocheted scrap afghan that is pretty rewarding, but I always seem to want to make something with paper as well. So when I came across the November/December 2013 issue of Somerset Studio the other day, I found it particularly inspiring. Why?

First, there are these Mixed-Media Cup Collages by Becky Shander. "Having grown up in an Asian household where there's a strong tradition of drinking tea socially," she says, "it is very likely that I've consumed multiple thousands of cups of tea to date." Cups were always kept full by her host, she says, and her memories of that "generosity and togetherness" are what inspired her to create her cup collages. The article runs five pages with step-by-step instructions, so some of you might be inspired by this piece just as I was!

Also, this Magic Tea Cafe is a piece of artwork from an article about Debrina Pratt, who left her day job a few years ago and became a working artist. Her story is quite inspiring, and several pieces of her artwork incorporate the vintage graphics and tea I so love. If you're a fan of handcrafted pieces yourself, this issue of the magazine is definitely worth a look. Are you working on any projects this fall?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Spice & Tea Exchange in Highlands, N.C.

While we were in the mountains last week, we took a day trip over to neighboring Highlands, N.C. I loved shopping there the last time we were in the mountains, plus the town is featured in Cassandra King's new novel "Moonrise," which I had just finished reading, so I was eager to return to Highlands. I would have been even more eager had I known a new spice and tea shop had opened up!

Ironically, it was the smell, not the signage, that lured me inside! Because I'm short I hadn't bothered to look up at the sign overhead, but the scent of those spices made me stop and head inside. I was quite happy to find teas on the wall and wanted some to go with the fudge I knew I would be buying (and did) at the Kilwin's fudge shop.

Are you a Tervis tumbler fan? I am, so I had to have this one with the store's logo on it!

And my new teas were just terrific! While in the mountains I enjoyed the Pear Caramel, which would make a fine dessert tea. Once home, I tried the Mint-Nilla Chai-Nilla, which was an exceedingly minty (and enjoyable) puerh tea as well. Fun, fun finds!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Whittard of Chelsea tea giveaway winners!

Blonde Catalogue has won the Whittard of Chelsea Earl Grey tea with the infuser, and Ikkinlala in Canada has won the Afternoon Black Leaf Tea! I've sent notifications to both your e-mail addresses, so hopefully we'll connect shortly on how to get your prizes headed your way. Congrats!

A visit to the Dillard House

You know how you hear about the New Yorker who's never been to the Statue of Liberty? That's a bit how I felt about never having been to the Dillard House, a legendary restaurant and lodge in the small town of Dillard in the north Georgia mountains. My husband and I enjoyed a few days there last week, and it certainly made for a lovely getaway. In fact, I think this needs to be a new fall tradition at our house!

The Dillard House tradition of hospitality dates to 1916, when Carrie Dillard first opened a boarding house called Oaklawn on the property. Today this stone house next to the current Dillard House dining room has a wooden sign with "Oaklawn" carved into it, a reminder of how it all started. We stayed in one of the hotel rooms at back of the property, and we loved the peace and quiet as well as the great mountain view from the rocking chairs on our back deck. We marveled that the housekeepers swept leaves off the deck every morning. In the mountains. In October. But then the whole place was just immaculate, and they obviously work hard to make it so!

When you drive up the winding mountain road, one of the first things you see is the dining room where you take your meals.

The Dillard House is rightly famous for its delicious all-you-can-eat meals, but these were a bit different from the sort of meals I was expecting. I had assumed we'd be seated at a large table with several other families, but no. They brought all the bowls of food directly to our table for two, about 20 different bowls and plates at dinnertime, as I recall, part of what you see here (the other dishes were in front of the DH, but I was trying to show the mountains in the background). In addition to my sweet tea (made perfectly!), I had fried okra, fried chicken, country ham, cabbage casserole, dressing, rice and gravy, green beans, a cheddar biscuit and a corn muffin. The stuff I didn't get to included baked pears, butterbeans, porkchops and lots more. They box up the leftovers for you, which is nice because you aren't gorging yourself in fear of leaving all this good food. We had country ham biscuits from our leftovers the next morning, and they were great! We waited until the day we left to enjoy their breakfast, which also lived up to its reputation. First was a fruit and pastry bar with the biggest blackberries and raspberries I've ever seen. Then, to our table came grits, scrambled eggs, more country ham, link sausage, sausage patties, pancakes, biscuits, muffins, sausage gravy, hash browns, baked apples and, happily, we had lots of leftovers to take home with us, including homemade doughnuts that were wonderful warmed in the microwave. At breakfast, we had just received our food when a large church group came in and gathered around four huge tables. The leader of the group asked everyone to join him in the blessing, and he suggested they *sing* it, so the group raised lovely voices in singing the Doxology. A heavenly sound indeed!

I naturally had to have a copy of "The Dillard House Cookbook," and the recipes and history it includes are delightful. Southern cooking has a reputation for being overly breaded and fried, and I've often thought about how that's not the sort of "country cooking" I grew up on. I love what John Dillard, chairman, says in the foreword to the book: "Southern cooking—true Southern cooking as we like to think it is experienced at the Dillard House—is some of the most honest cooking in the world. It relies on the freshness and true tastes of the foods themselves. It is simple, open, and wholesome." Right on, brother! I pored through my cookbook on the way home and was surprised to find several tea recipes in the book (Sassafras Tea, Catnip Tea, Rose Hip Tea, Sweet Birch Tea) as well as lots of great main dishes, salads, and sweets such as Grandma's Gingerbread with Lemon Sauce and their famous shortcakes, cobblers and pies. The trivia was fun to read, too, such as the fact the Dillard House provided catering for the movie "Deliverance." (Go ahead and hum the banjo music. You know you want to!)

And I just know I would have loved Carrie Dillard. According to the book, "Just across the old road on the slope leading down to the valley is a large flower garden with dahlias, sunflowers, mountain hydrangeas and roses. Carrie Dillard laid out this garden, and it is cared for today with the same attention she gave it. A guest, fresh from his mammoth breakfast, walks through it snapping photographs." And that is exactly what I did!

So today I'll leave you with a few photos of the dahlias just like those that graced the table during our meals at the Dillard House. What a lovely place this was—and I can't wait to go back!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Tea Room Recipe #42 - The Frances Virginia Tea Room (Atlanta, Ga.)

"That doesn't sound like a tea room recipe," my husband said when I told him the name of this week's tea room recipe: Steak Balls with Mushroom Sauce. I assured him this is indeed a tea room recipe, and in fact this recipe is from one of my very favorite tea room cookbooks!

"The Frances Virginia Tea Room Cookbook" was written by Mildred Huff Coleman, whom I first got to know when I was a journalist interviewing her, but later I'm happy to say she became a friend. I've even had tea at her lovely home in Atlanta! Thanks largely to Millie, the Frances Virginia will be remembered forever. It was a legendary tea room that operated in Atlanta from the late 1920s until the 1960s, and many older ladies in this area can recall eating there when they went to "the city" for an afternoon of shopping. Millie's aunt, Agnes New, was at one time a partner in the tea room, and one day she "dusted off her Tea Room files" and began helping Millie convert recipes once prepared in commercial quantities to recipes that could be used by home cooks. The recipes range from starters like muffins and soups to salads and sandwiches, luncheon dishes both hearty and light, and some dessert recipes I was thrilled to find, including several of those delightful "chiffon" pie recipes, including Coconut Chiffon Pie, Maple Chiffon Pie and Sherry Chiffon Pie. Best of all, the book includes memories of those who dined at this old-fashioned tea room, and it is a sheer delight to read. If I could keep only two or three of my tea room cookbooks, this one would always make the cut, it's that good! (If you'd like more info on the book, go here.)

The cool weather once again has me wanting to try new recipes for dinner, so this week it was a yummy sounding meat dish that caught my eye. The recipe was very easy to make, and it was quite a hearty meal when served over whole wheat egg noodles. My husband and I both loved it!

Steak Balls with Mushroom Sauce

1 pound ground beef
1 can mushroom soup, undiluted
2/3 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 tablespoons shortening or oil
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine beef with 1/4 cup of the undiluted soup, bread crumbs, onion, salt and egg. Shape into 10 balls (about 2 ounces or 1/4 cup each), and brown in shortening. Drain. Arrange steak balls in a shallow baking dish. Combine remaining soup with water and Worcestershire sauce and pour over steak balls. Bake for 30 minutes. Yields 5 servings.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Oxo Good Grips Twisting Tea Ball

There were many neat looking tea infusers at the Sur La Table store in Atlanta last week, but I've gotten pretty good about resisting most tea infusers, no matter how cute, because I'm rarely satisfied with how they steep my tea. This Oxo Good Grips Twisting Tea Ball ($10) struck my fancy, however, and I'm glad I decided to give it a try.

The big draw with this infuser was that, instead of having to unhinge a messy, sopping wet spoon style of infuser, this one opens and closes by twisting the lower part of this little black knob on the bottom. My hands never have to touch the tea to empty this infuser.

Here's the infuser completely open.

And here I've twisted it halfway as if closing it around the tea leaves.

Happily, the holes in the infuser were small enough to keep the tea inside but large and plentiful enough to allow for proper steeping. I'm so glad I decided to test this great new style of infuser!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Letterbox Fine Tea's Anthology blend

Why didn't someone tell me there was a Sur La Table store in Atlanta? After lusting over the lovely Sur La Table catalog for cooks for many years, I stumbled upon the news one of the stores had opened at Phipps Plaza in Atlanta last year, so off I went to check it out. Happily, the store was just as wonderful as I'd hoped, with teas, tea infusers, teawares and lots of great baking accessories I may have to acquire before Christmas rolls around. So what did I come home with? Well, for starters, this Anthology blend of tea from Letterbox Fine Tea.

This is kind of goofy, but I couldn't decide which of the teas to try so I finally just opted for the one with my initial on it! This sounded like a good, hearty black blend, and that's exactly what I found it to be.

The dry leaf had a fresh woodsy scent, and the tea was the perfect afternoon tea flavor I so enjoy as a pick-me-up. It had only slight astringency, so I can easily drink several cups of this and be perfectly happy. Here are the tea leaves in a new infuser I also found at Sur La Table, and tomorrow I'll show you how it works!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"The Vintage Tea Party Year" by Angel Adoree

Just about this time last year, I came across a British book, "The Vintage Tea Party Book" by Angel Adoree. I loved her young, hip, quirky take on tea parties, and I very much enjoyed reading this fun book. When I stopped by Anthropologie in Atlanta last week, I was delighted to come across her follow-up book, "The Vintage Tea Party Year," especially since it was on the sale table!

I mean, really, can you look at this flame-haired British lass and *not* smile? I can't. Angel has a business, The Vintage Patisserie, that hosts all kinds of tea parties celebrating everything from weddings and bar mitzvahs to bachelorette parties and baby showers.

This book has a heap of photos in each of its 12 chapters, and I was especially smitten with this one of a Street Tea Party. Check out the pretty Union Jack cake in the lower right corner! Many of the desserts in this chapter feature red, white and blue, so with the exception of the Union Jack cake (whose stripes we would need to rearrange a bit!), we could use those here in the U.S.

Chapters feature a New Year's Eve Tea Party, a Children's Tea Party, a Coming of Age Tea Party, Tea for Two, a Bachelorette Party, a Wedding Tea Party, a Mom-to-be Tea Party, a Gentlemen's Tea Party, a Street Tea Party, a Picnic Tea Party (these Rosemary Scones with Cheddar Cheese are from that chapter), a Fireworks Tea Party and a Christmas Tea Party. I absolutely love this new Angel Adoree book and hope there will be many more from someone who is truly a hostess with the mostess!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New teas & a gaiwan from Teavivre

Have you ever used a gaiwan? I have, and I was surprised the other day when the nice folks at Teavivre in China sent some new tea samples and included a gaiwan with their logo on it! If you'd like to know more about how to use a gaiwan, go here for a simple tutorial.

The first tea I sampled was this Nonpareil Taiwan DaYuLing High Mountain Cha Wang Oolong Tea.

Tightly rolled bundles of tea leaf were in the sample, and as always, I like pausing to enjoy the visual pleasure of tea as much as the taste of the tea!

This oolong had a surprising fruit-like note to it, and I wondered if I was imagining this. Then I went to the website and read the description of this tea: "Taiwan Da Yu Ling High Mountain Oolong Tea is planted over the altitude of 2500 meters, which is a high altitude production place of oolong tea. The unique high mountain climate makes this tea mellow, refreshing and fragrant with strong fruity aroma." Yes! Even with several subsequent steepings of the same tea leaves, this lovely tea retained that unique fruit flavor. Also, I think I enjoyed the tea even more by brewing it as I did in the new gaiwan. Have any of you used a gaiwan? If so, did you find it enhanced your tea brewing experience?

Monday, October 21, 2013

A giveaway from Whittard of Chelsea!

A package from England landed on my doorstep last week, and guess what? It wasn't for me, it's for you, dear readers! The famous tea purveyor Whittard of Chelsea wrote to ask if I'd be interested in helping them promote their teas here in the U.S. by hosting a giveaway, and of course I agreed. They sent not one but two of their beautiful tea pouches, so that means there are going to be TWO lucky winners!

First, there is this Afternoon Black Leaf Tea, "an elegant blend of black leaf tea scented with jasmine and the flavour of bergamot." The website includes the fun note that "Mr. Whittard created this house blend in the 1940s especially for those long lingering afternoons when tea taken on the lawn was the most British of rituals." I think that this "Ascot" packaging is absolutely gorgeous!

And so is the one for this Earl Grey Tea, "a fine black tea scented with bergamot to delight the senses." This one comes with an infuser, again in some lovely, lovely packaging. Would you like to be one of the winners? Here's what to do: If you would like only a particular ONE of these teas, by all means specify when you leave a comment. But if you'd be happy to win either variety, let me know that, too, and I'll announce the two winners next Monday morning. Just be sure to leave your comment before 7 a.m. EST on Oct. 28. (U.S. and Canada residents only, please.) If you want to check out the Whittard of Chelsea website whilst you wait, go here to see all their offerings. Good luck, and Happy Monday!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tea Room Recipe #41 - The Russian Tea Room (New York City)

New York City's Russian Tea Room is legendary. Though I've never been there, I've wanted to, but I thought I remembered hearing it had closed. Well, it did for a few years, but I was pleased to learn it's open again today, and my fellow tea blogger friend Linda and her family enjoyed tea there quite recently! (Go here to see the wonderful pictures of today's Russian Tea Room on her blog.)

"The Russian Tea Room: A Tasting" by Faith Stewart-Gordon is a small 1993 book I got by mistake. I thought I was ordering "The Russian Tea Room Cookbook" (still on my never-ending Wish List), but when this book arrived I thought the artwork, including the cover design, was simply charming so I kept it! This week I wanted to try a nice, hearty, fall-weather kind of dish, and the Russian Tea Room's Beef Stroganoff recipe fit the bill.

Actually, they call it Beef à la Stroganoff. Where did the name originate? "In honor of Count Pavel Stroganov, his Parisian chef created a special beef dish by adding sour cream to a French mustard sauce." Now I like the low-rent version of Beef Stroganoff made with ground beef and cream of mushroom soup just fine, but I have to tell you my more highbrow palate *greatly* enjoyed this much nicer version made with filet mignon. This may be one of the only times I share a red meat recipe on this blog, and I must say this dish was mighty fine. Enjoying it once a year ought to be about right!

Beef à la Stroganoff

4 ounces peanut oil
2 pounds filet mignon, cut into strips (I cut mine a little smaller than the recommended 2-1/2 x 1/4-inch thickness)
1 medium onion, diced fine
1/2 pound button mushrooms, sliced into quarters
1/2 cup dry white wine (I substituted white grape juice with great results!)
1 tablespoon tomato puree
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
2 cups beef stock
1-1/2 cups sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat 2 ounces of the peanut oil in a sauté pan until oil reaches the smoking point. After seasoning the meat with salt and pepper, sear half of it until cooked evenly, then remove with a slotted spoon to another dish. Repeat with remaining oil and other half of meat. (Cooking must be done in two batches to cook the meat evenly since the pan won't be large enough to cook it all at one time.)

Reduce heat to medium and pour off most of the oil, leaving just enough to sauté the onion. Cook till translucent. Add mushrooms and cook. Deglaze pan with the white wine (or grape juice), reducing liquid until almost gone. Add tomato puree and mustard. Add the beef stock and cook until liquid is reduced by two-thirds, stirring constantly. Lower heat and whisk in the sour cream. Add the cooked meat to the pan and slowly heat. Serve with rice. Yields 6 servings.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Some November magazines to check out

When the Christmas issue of Tea Time arrived in my mailbox this week, it was a nice reminder that I need to get hopping on planning and shopping for the holidays! All the "good" decorations seem to get scooped up early, so I need to quickly decide what sort of tree I'll have and how I want things to look. I haven't even thought about what treats to make this year, so this November/December 2013 issue is most welcome. It's also the biggest holiday issue ever for them, and it has plenty of great ideas as always. I loved the Hanukkah tea menu, the Yuletide Tea menu, and the Christmas Splendor menu featuring "dainty tea delights." If you're not a regular reader, this is an issue I definitely think is worth purchasing!

My favorite non-food feature in this issue is titled "A Unique Collection of China at Auction." If you haven't read this yet, you will probably be like me and think, "Why, oh why, couldn't I have been there?" Some 2,000 pieces of china once belonging to the Spode and Copeland families were sold at auction. Now wouldn't you have loved to pick up one of these amazing tea sets? I sure would have. I console myself only by the thought that the $7,000 Spode set I most admire was "a little" out of my tea budget!

And there's another magazine I wanted to mention, the November issue of Martha Stewart Living, although I suppose I could be personally offended since Martha mouthed off about bloggers this week and invoked the wrath of cyberspace. "Who are these bloggers?" she said. "They’re not trained editors at Vogue magazine." Now that just made me laugh! Martha knows very well who bloggers are, and if she is smart she will court some of those wildly popular lifestyle bloggers out there today to her team, not tick them off. At any rate, I still like Martha's recipes!

Ever heard of Cranberry Curd? I had not, but I love the idea! The recipe is in MSL's new issue, and I will definitely be trying it … whether or not Martha continues to stick her well-heeled foot in her mouth!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

First teacup ornament of the season

This may sound silly, but going to T.J. Maxx for the first time since my mom passed away was a bit of a "thing" for me last week. We went there so, so many times together, and I found myself tearing up at the jewelry counter, always her first stop upon entering the store. Also, I often felt my mom brought me luck when we shopped together. Last week, however, it was just me and my Aunt Jane when I stepped inside the store, and I told myself, "You can do this." To my delight, the Carrollton store was just putting out the Christmas ornaments, and look what I found!

I've never even seen an Old Country Roses teacup ornament before, so this was a great find! And at $9.99, I thought it was a great price too. (This also happens to be my mother's china pattern, interestingly enough.)

While I'm well aware only the Lord can heal our deepest, truest wounds, I'm still a believer in a little retail therapy every now and then, and my mother was too. She always felt there was nothing a little shopping couldn't make better. When I visited her after I called off a very misguided engagement many years ago, she sent me off with a card and told me not to open it until I got home. Inside was a $100 bill and the note, "When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping!" I thought of that when I saw this tote bag at the T.J. Maxx checkout counter. Somehow, I think my mom would approve!