Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Visiting the site of some beloved old department stores

While briefly in Chicago last week, I made a point of visiting a place I actually shopped at years ago and ended up writing about in my book "Dainty Dining," the former Marshall Field and Company department store on State Street. I love this old store's history for many reasons, chief among them the fact that the founder is the one who famously said, "Give the lady what she wants." Oh, that such customer service were still around today!

The store is a Macy's now, but I was pleased to see the old Marshall Field clocks are still on display. I like to imagine the ladies who strolled beneath them on their way inside for lunch at the store's tea room years ago. Perhaps one of them sipped from the little Marshall Field Tea Room cup and saucer I found on Etsy a while back. (Click here to see the set if you're interested.)

The other old store on State Street that I wanted to visit was the Carson Pirie Scott store, which I never visited in its heyday but whose old restaurant I have seen in postcard form. (Click here to see it.) I hadn't done any research online, so I wasn't even sure there was a tenant in the old Carson Pirie Scott building, known for its beautiful cast-iron ornamental work. But I got there and saw lots of people going in and out, and I wondered what it could be …

… and it's now a Target, for Pete's sake. I sort of died a little inside when I realized a fine old department store is now a Target, but I suppose I should be pleased that at least the building is still there!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A visit to David's Tea

My tea radar must have had dead batteries last week, because my husband actually spotted this tea shop in Chicago, David's Tea, before I did. "You ever heard of David's Tea?" he said. I told him that thanks to my Canadian tea friends, I am very much aware of David's Tea but had not had the privilege of stepping foot in a store before!

They sell some great little travel size tins of tea (two for $15) that were perfect for stowing in a suitcase. They had several varieties of these, and the ones I purchased were the Pumpkin Chai and the Peanut Butter Cup.

I was sold on the Pumpkin Chai because of the cute little orange pumpkins in this blend! This black tea is flavored with cinnamon, cloves, caramel, and the pumpkin candies. I believe it was the cloves I detected in this tea that gave it a different (but enjoyable) taste. Definitely a fun tea to try for fall!

And I was most eager to try this Peanut Butter Cup tea, as I had been wondering if anyone made a tea with peanut butter flavor. Could that possibly work? First, let me just tell you this: imagine drinking a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Uh-huh. Quite appealing, isn't it? Interestingly, this tea is actually peanut-free, according to the David's Tea website, and it's flavored mainly with almonds, cocoa beans and chocolate chips. I wish there were a David's Tea close to me, but since they charge just $5 shipping to the US for orders under $50, I think I'm going to be a regular here!

Monday, September 28, 2015

A tea room sighting in Chicago …

Last week, my husband and I spent a night in Chicago while on the way to visit our family in Wisconsin. After we settled into the hotel, we decided to take a stroll from the Grant Park area up to some of the old Chicago department stores I have researched over the years. On our way back, Alex actually spotted this place before I did, and I couldn't believe I'd never heard of it, Russian Tea Time, right there by the Art Institute of Chicago!

Did they serve tea every day? Why yes, yes they did. But it was long after 4:30 by the time we popped by, alas!

Apparently, Russian Tea Time is a legendary restaurant there in Chicago, and I still can't believe I haven't read about this somewhere before. I certainly wish I could have enjoyed afternoon tea there since it was just a short walk from our hotel. If any of you have ever had tea at this tea room, I would dearly love to hear about it before I pass through Chicago the next time!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Teatime Tale #39 - A Prize-Winning Quilt

A Prize-Winning Quilt

             Myrtle Mae McDaniel was determined to win a blue ribbon at the county fair that fall. She'd placed with every quilt she'd ever entered in the fair, but she was tired of red ribbons and white ribbons and honorable mention ribbons. It was high time she won the blue.
            With the war going on, she was surprised there were enough men left in town to even get the fair up and running, but thanks to the persistence of the Taylorsville Women's Club, the fair would go on as usual. The amusement company would arrive at the last of September, just as it always did, but instead of every men's club in town running all the booths and exhibits, the women would be in charge. Before Charles had gone off to war, she usually ended up helping with many of his county fair duties anyway, so she felt very comfortable in that regard. She sure did miss Charles. She missed her brothers, Lou and Lee, too, but in a different kind of way.

            "So Myrtle Mae, which quilt are you going to enter this year?" Charlotte Perkins had asked a few weeks ago. Charlotte was one of Myrtle Mae's neighbors—and some of her prime competition in the quilt contest at the county fair. In fact, Charlotte had won blue ribbons the past three years, a fact she did not hesitate to mention if the topic of quilting came up in conversation. And when Charlotte was around, somehow, it often did.
            "I haven't decided yet," Myrtle Mae said. "I've finished a half dozen new ones this past year, so I imagine it'll be one of those."
            "The judges seemed to like star design quilts last year," Charlotte said. "In fact, now that I think about it, I believe I got a blue ribbon for my Feathered Star quilt at last year's fair."
            "That was truly a gorgeous quilt," Myrtle Mae said. She didn't deny that Charlotte was a fine quilter; she just wished Charlotte weren't so inclined to toot her own horn.
            Myrtle Mae didn't see any need to tell Charlotte, but she was pretty sure she was going to finish her new appliqued teapot quilt made from flour sacks, and that would be the one she entered in the fair. Like a lot of women who sewed during the war, Myrtle Mae used flour sacks to conserve the "good" material for other uses, and the challenge was to use the colorful, cheerful flour sack prints in new and interesting ways. Myrtle Mae had seen flour sack appliques of baskets, flowers, and stars, but she'd never seen one made with teapots.
            She'd looked through her quilt books for a teapot pattern but couldn't find one. Finally, one night after she put Raymond, Harold, and Gloria to bed, she looked at the small cream-colored teapot on her kitchen counter and drew a freehand version of the pot onto a paper grocery sack. When she cut out the template and transferred the design to fabric with a pencil, she was fairly certain she'd discovered a new quilt pattern she would enjoy stitching.
            Like her mother, who was from England, Myrtle Mae had grown up drinking brisk black tea rather than coffee. Some of the women in her coffee klatch thought that was just plain odd. Too bad for them and more tea for her, that was Myrtle Mae's philosophy.
            Most evenings, she prepared herself a nice hot cup of tea while she worked on the teapot quilt. Myrtle Mae enjoyed selecting the most colorful of the flour sack fabrics to add to her quilt. As she stitched each teapot into place, she whiled away the hours thinking and praying. She thought about her young family, and she prayed for her husband, brothers, and all of those serving overseas, praying the war would soon come to an end so they could all be together again.
            As the teapot quilt came to life, Myrtle Mae found her worries and cares slowly slipping away, just as if they had been absorbed by the pretty cotton prints at her fingertips. Before she knew it, she'd created one hundred of those blocks and began stitching them into ten rows of ten each. The effect, she had to admit, was rather striking. She hoped the quilt judges at the county fair would agree with her.

            When the fair opened and all the quilts were judged, Myrtle Mae eagerly entered the quilt exhibit building and was thrilled to see that her teapot quilt had earned the coveted blue ribbon. To her astonishment, the quilt had also received the Best in Show Award, and the judges' comments made her beam with pride: "To Myrtle Mae McDaniel, in recognition of beauty, creativity, and workmanship, and also for patriotism in the creative use of flour sack fabrics, wisely conserving material at this important time in our nation's history."
            The other quilters had flocked around Myrtle Mae and congratulated her on the award. Even Charlotte offered congratulations, although she had added, "You know, I almost entered an applique quilt this year, but I went with another star quilt instead. You just never can tell what will strike the judges' fancy each year, can you?”
            Before leaving the exhibit building and going in search of her children—who were no doubt riding something that would make them dizzy and eating something that would give them a stomachache—Myrtle Mae looked at the teapot quilt, remembered the thoughts and prayers that had gone into all those stitches, and wondered when Charles and her brothers would get to come home.
            A blue ribbon was nice to have, but seeing all her family safely home again? That was the best prize she could ever imagine.

Friday, September 25, 2015

"Ming Tea Murder" by Laura Childs

I finally got around to reading the newest tea shop mystery from Laura Childs this week, and since it takes place in the fall, I'm actually rather pleased I waited until fall to read it. "Ming Tea Murder" kicks off with our favorite tea shop owner, Theodosia Browning, at a swanky soiree being held at the Gibbes Museum in Charleston, where her boyfriend Max works in public relations. The occasion is the opening exhibit of an 18th century Chinese tea house purchased by the museum, and Charleston society is out in full force. Alas, one of the museum's board members meets his unfortunate demise at the event, and Max himself ends up on the list of suspects. This murder is extremely personal to Theo since someone she loves is implicated, and she seems more intent than ever on ferreting out the killer.

From a tea standpoint, I quite enjoyed the fact that several new tea events were staged at the Indigo Tea Shop. There was a fun new Titanic Tea, a Tower of London Tea on Halloween, and in what I believe was a first for the tea room, it actually closed one weekday morning to host a post-funeral tea.

This book also introduced a couple of new characters I'd love to see return, including Delaine Dish's Aunt Astra and a fun transplanted Texan named Harlan Duke. As I was reading this book, the 16th in the series, it occurred to me that I have probably read more books by Laura Childs than by any other author. I very much enjoyed "Ming Tea Murder," and I firmly believe these tea shop mysteries are must-reads for any true tea lover!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Rooibos

On a recent trip to Trader Joe’s, I was delighted to find quite the assortment of pumpkin-flavored offerings. There were pumpkin bars, pumpkin toaster pastries, pumpkin chocolates, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin coffee, and pretty much any pumpkin delight you could imagine. What went home with me, however, was this Pumpkin Spice Rooibos!

A tin of 20 tea bags was just $3.99, and I thought it was a pretty tin indeed.

These were those nice pyramid tea bags, and they had a wonderful scent when I opened the tin. The steeped rooibos tea had a lovely fall flavor, with hints of pumpkin as well as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and it was a great fall teatime treat. I still haven’t had my first pumpkin latte of the season, but since fall is officially here, I’m happy that Trader Joe’s was able to ease me into the new fall flavors.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Furniture for tea lovers?

(Photo courtesy of Universal Furniture)

As if there weren't enough things for us tea lovers to want in this world, I recently discovered that I am tempted by the Paula Deen Home line for Universal Furniture, which features this charming whitewashed side table with those lovely turned wood legs that I like. And after seeing this in a local store and admiring it, I looked up some info about it online, and you'll never guess what it's called. (Click here if you're curious!)

So … is that a sign I'm supposed to have a couple of these tables?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Fall 2015 Upton Tea Quarterly

The Fall issue of the Upton Tea Quarterly has arrived, and once again I find myself tucking in to learn more about Sir Thomas Lipton. As you can see from the cover of the quarterly, Sir Thomas was featured on the cover of Time magazine's November 3, 1924 issue.

The article references a biography of Lipton that found that between 1910 and 1914, "Lipton's worldwide tea empire grew to staggering proportions, and that growth was directly linked to Lipton's genius for generating 'news.' Newspapers loved Lipton because he sold papers and it seemed that the American public could not get enough of him."

The account also notes that after Lipton lost his third quest for the America's Cup, he received "more loving attention than the men who had won." For some reason, that reminded me of Miss Colorado Kelley Johnson, who technically "lost" the Miss America pageant this year but whose story we'll never forget thanks to the publicity generated by her heartfelt monologue about the nursing profession—and the resulting brouhaha after the hosts on "The View" belittled her. I can't help thinking Sir Thomas Lipton was in pretty much the same position!

Other things I learned from this article:

• During the Spanish-American War, Lipton made his fortune in the pork trade.

• Lipton was involved in scandal when, "early in 1914, a case was opened that implicated Lipton Limited in an illegal bribery scheme to secure contracts for provisioning military canteens." (The article notes that "Lipton appears to have been unaware of the bribery system until the case was opened," but as the well-known figurehead of the company, he was naturally called to account.)

I can't help being fascinated by the tea merchant whose name remains on tea products I sip today. If you'd like to read this article for yourself, or to subscribe to the free Upton Tea Quarterly, click here.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A most useful idea for a leaky teapot

Months ago, someone shared this cute pin cushion idea with me, and I'd been meaning to try it. Now that fall is here and needlework is calling my name once again, I decided it was the perfect time to "upcycle" a leaky little teapot that I find simply beautiful but unsuitable for liquids.

I actually bought this tiny little one-cup teapot in an antique store in Gainesville, Ga., and got home with it to find it leaked. So I've been using it to hold cotton balls, but when I heard about the pincushion idea, I knew that's what I wanted to do.

And mine is not nearly as neatly made as the lovely original, but I basically just wanted mine to be a pretty place to stick needles and pins, not necessarily to be a showpiece of tea crafting.

Also, because this teapot is so small, I needed my cushion to poof up a bit so it would be big enough to actually house the pins. So, all I did was find an ounce or two of fiberfill stuffing, place it in a scrap of floral fabric, and then tie it up like a little potpourri ball. Then I hot-glued that baby into the lid of my teapot, added a little pink trim, and voila!

The leaky teapot is useful once again, and once it's served its purpose for the afternoon, who would ever suspect what is inside!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Teatime Tale #38 — Art and Inspiration

Art and Inspiration

            Teresa's mother had given her that first teacup, a simple Blue Willow cup and saucer. When her grandmother passed away, Teresa inherited a pretty cobalt-blue cup and saucer by Royal Albert. A girlfriend who often sat in her kitchen sipping tea noticed the blue teawares and began to give her blue teacups for Christmas and birthdays. And so a collection began.
            While Teresa enjoyed drinking tea from the pretty teacups, she got the greatest pleasure from admiring their beautiful colors and patterns. She marveled that such miniscule pieces of art appeared on such thoroughly useful vessels.
            Teresa was taking art classes at the local rec department, and she’d made excellent progress with her watercolor painting. Her instructor had encouraged her to enter a local juried art show, but Teresa didn’t feel she was ready for that.
            One sunny fall afternoon, Teresa decided to go outside on her patio to paint. First, she focused on the last of the morning glories in the backyard flower garden. The periwinkle color was glorious, and Teresa painted several blossoms, but the result was lackluster. She turned her attention to an autumnal display of white and orange pumpkins. A fall-themed piece of art would be nice to have in her home, but Teresa painted the pumpkins and found them unbearably boring.

            She walked into the house to make a cup of cranberry tea. Out of habit, she reached for the Blue Willow teacup from her mother. Teresa caressed it and fingered the rim. It still had that small nick in the back, but if she painted the teacup, who would ever know?
            Forgetting the cranberry tea, Teresa headed outside with the Blue Willow teacup and began to compose a scene. Something bothered her, though. The single teacup looked a little too perfect, a little too stiff. She went inside, retrieved three more blue teacups, and headed back outside.
            Teresa stacked them haphazardly, staggering the handles and giving the teacups a casual appearance. Bright blue watercolor paints began to fill the paper, and soon, Teresa was quite pleased. Despite the inspiration of nature around her, Teresa had found beauty right in the middle of her kitchen with everyday objects she used and had taken for granted.
            For once feeling satisfied with her work, Teresa took the teacup painting to her next art class to share. The instructor, Harriet, asked to speak with her after class.
            "Thanks for staying, Teresa. I'm quite impressed with this painting. What do you plan to do with it?"
            "I haven’t planned to do anything with it," Teresa said. "Hang it in my kitchen, I suppose."
            "Are you very attached to it?"
            “I like it, obviously, but … do you have something in mind?”
            “I do, actually. Have you heard about the new women’s shelter in town?”
            “I saw a little about it on Facebook.”
            “They’re holding a fund-raising tea next week, and I’m gathering donations of local art for the silent auction. I would love to have this piece if you'd consider donating it. I’d be very surprised if this didn’t bring more attention to your work and perhaps get you a few commissions as well.”
            “I don't know about all that, but sure, I'll help. What if it doesn't sell, though? I wouldn't want my painting to fall flat in the silent auction.”
            “You let me worry about that,” Harriet said, smiling. “And of course I want you as my guest at the luncheon on September twenty-fourth. Are you free?”
            “Yes,” Teresa said, “but again, I hope someone likes the painting as much as you do.”
            “Great. I'm listing an opening bid of one hundred twenty-five dollars, but I bet it'll go for much more.”
            Teresa gulped. She had never sold a painting in her life. One hundred twenty-five dollars for a watercolor by an unknown artist? Would an auction goer ever pay that?

            The day of the luncheon, Teresa arrived and was pleased to find a few of her friends were there as well. She sat with Harriet. After the shelter’s director welcomed everyone and tea sandwiches were served, the first silent auction item went up. The beautiful oil painting, a fall landscape, was an instant hit, and bidding shot up to three hundred dollars. Teresa began to get nervous. They had announced the name of the artist, so if her own name was announced when her piece went up, she would be embarrassed if there were no bids.
            After the scone course, some flower arrangements were auctioned off, followed by another oil painting that sold for six hundred dollars. Teresa began to wonder if her painting had even made the lineup, but following the sweets course, a shelter volunteer brought out the teacup painting and paraded it around the room.
            Finally, the auctioneer held up her painting. “May I have an opening bid of one hundred twenty-five dollars?”
            A hand went up. The bidding quickly shot up to two hundred, two fifty, three hundred, then three fifty. Before she knew it, Teresa had watched her painting sell for eight hundred dollars. She sat speechless, tears filling her eyes.
            “I told you!” Harriet said smugly. “I had a hunch this would be the hit of the auction, and I also think you need to seriously consider painting more works in this style.”
            “I’m thrilled it did so well, and yes, I’ll absolutely think about painting more works like this,” Teresa said.
            And she did. She went home and thought about how much joy the actual painting of that piece had brought her. Maybe she would create a few others and see if she could place them in local galleries. Maybe she'd create some notecards and prints for sale, too. Suddenly, her artistic possibilities seemed endless.
            But first, Teresa sat in her kitchen, where she sipped a cup of cranberry tea, looked at her Blue Willow teacup, and again admired its beauty, so pleased she had helped others see it as well.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Teavivre's Premium Grade Dragon Well Green Tea

Before I delve into pumpkin- and spice-flavored teas for the fall, I decided I needed to finish sampling the green teas that Teavivre was kind enough to send me recently. This one was their Premium Grade Dragon Well Green Tea. I'm not sure I'd ever have been much interested in that tea until I read the tea shop mystery "Dragonwell Dead" by Laura Childs! These tea leaves smelled very fresh and spring-like, which I found an interesting observation here at the onset of fall.

One thing I love about green teas is that you can steep them at different temperatures and get different taste experiences. I much prefer a milder green tea, so I steeped mine for just two minutes.

Steeped, this tea had a vegetal scent that made me wonder if it would be a grassy tasting green tea, but I needn't have feared. This was what I call a buttery tea, one with a very rich mouth feel, and it was a most enjoyable Dragonwell tea. And really, how many times in a typical week does a tea lover get to use the word "dragon" in conversation? 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Finding creativi-tea in Paris (the book … and the city!)

Not long ago, I was in a cute gift shop out of town when I saw a 2012 book that appealed to me, "Paris: An Inspiring Tour of the City's Creative Heart" by Janelle McCulloch. The author writes that Paris is a great source of inspiration, and "because of this, the place has become something of a modern mecca for the world's aesthetes and creative innovators, who make the pilgrimage here each year to witness its splendid displays and quirky collections." While I've seen many guidebooks about Paris, I do believe this one is the first I've seen devoted entirely to the city's creative life.

It wasn't until I started reading the book that I noticed it was organized not only by arrondisement, or administrative district, but also by Design (bookstores, stationery stores, antique stores and flea markets, homewares, florists), Style (fabrics, ribbons and trims; vintage and affordable French style; fashion and accessories); and Flavor (tea salons, bistros and cafes, patisseries and chocolateries, gourmet stores and food markets.) Naturally, by the time I flipped to the section on "Tea Salons," I was already quite smitten!

And of course I was not surprised to see macarons from Ladurée within the book, the macaron being one of the iconic sweets in Paris. Only five tea salons are on the list, but all are still in business. I realize guidebooks listing specific stores often become dated the second the ink hits the paper, but this one's emphasis on creative and stylistic Paris strikes me as a guidebook out of the norm. My husband and I pretty much just breezed through Paris during our trip to Europe last year in our haste to get to Normandy. We'd like to go back and get to know Paris, and I think I've found the perfect armchair travel guide to help with my plans!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Pumpkin season: Is it officially here or not?

So, friends, is it pumpkin season or not? I've seen on Facebook where some friends have actually had their first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season. I'm wanting one, but it's just not quite cold enough yet. What about you? Have you had a pumpkin treat yet, and if not, are you waiting for a particular weather or calendar event? Lord willing, I'll be going up to Wisconsin to visit family soon, and I have a feeling the cooler temps there will help speed up the arrival of my "fall."

I do love all the pumpkin treats of fall, so I was inspired to search old blog posts for pumpkin recipes. If you're looking for a new one to try, here are some I've enjoyed!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Lipton's Sparkling Iced Teas

The Ingles grocery store in Bremen, Georgia, continues to be the mecca for tea lovers in search of the new and different. Over the weekend, I stopped by for my weekly bottle of Jimmy Buffett's Pineapple-Coconut Island Tea, and I was rounding the tea aisle when I hit the brakes and went, "Whoa, Nelly!" I had heard about Lipton's sparkling teas but had never actually happened upon them before. So these two cans jumped into my grocery cart, lickety-split, and came home with me.

The two flavors I got were Raspberry and Peach.

Oh, my, these were tasty! Were they delicious? Yes! Do they taste like tea? No, not really. But they do indeed contain black tea, so there's that. (And here's a link to nutrition info for the curious.) My husband asked what they tasted like, and I said peach tea- and raspberry tea-flavored Sprite.

I all but stopped drinking carbonated drinks about two years ago, and these days, I may drink two or three Cokes in a year. So it was kind of a novelty to taste carbonation when I poured these drinks over ice. These drinks will never replace my "everyday" teas, but as occasional treats, I sure enjoy trying all the fun new tea products!

Monday, September 14, 2015

The weekend's tea treats

Over the summer, I added to my handwriting-themed teaware collection with a great new teacup from Gracie Bone China. Over the weekend, I found at Marshalls a tea mug that looks like a companion piece with brightly colored roses that immediately told me this should be my new fall tea mug!

The handwriting appears to be Italian, although I can't actually read or speak Italian, so I just hope it says something uplifting!

I'm wondering if perhaps this pattern comes in a teacup and saucer, too, so if anyone sees such a set while you're at the T.J. Maxx/Marshalls/HomeGoods family of stores, please let me know! All these pieces have this pretty rose backstamp on them.

I also found a new tea treat I really liked, this Chocolate Chip Scottish Shortbread from Duncan's of Deeside. The cookies were thick, rich, and substantial, just as good shortbread should be, and were even more enjoyable since they were accompanied by tea sipped from a pretty new tea mug!