Monday, July 31, 2017

Making Peach Tea Ice Pops

Friends, I am going to share the easiest recipe you will ever find on this blog: Make some tea. Add some chunks of fruit if you like. Freeze it in ice pop molds. The end.

I got this idea when a thoughtful tea friend sent me a recipe for Black Tea Cherry Ice Pops that she found in a magazine. As soon as I saw it, I couldn't believe that I haven't made tea ice pops before, and I made a mental note to be on the lookout for ice pop molds. I happened to be in Walmart over the weekend and saw one of those end-of-aisle displays full of these molds for just 92 cents each. Sold!

I didn't have the ingredients on hand to make the Black Tea Cherry flavored pops (but plan to; they're made with black tea and honey and pureed cherries and sound divine!), but I was eager to try the molds, so I plopped in some peach-flavored green rooibos. I filled the cavities half full of tea, added a few pieces of fruit, and placed the mold in the freezer. I filled each cavity only halfway because otherwise, I knew the fruit would all float up to handle level. After the mold spent a few hours in the freezer, I added the rest of the tea and let the pops freeze completely. Then I lowered the entire mold in a pan of hot water to help the molds loosen slightly, and the pops popped out beautifully. Can't remember the last time I had this much fun for 92 cents!

Friday, July 28, 2017

The winner of the Tea Party Chocolate Making Set is ...

Donna Z.! And Donna, I've just sent you an email to confirm your snail mail address so that once I have it, I can get this headed your way. Congrats!

Experiments in tea-shaped candies

Well, friends, I finally got around to trying the new chocolate mold I recently purchased, and I'm happy to report I give myself a solid B+ for my first effort! I melted the new Sea Salt Caramel candy melts (from Hobby Lobby), quickly poured the liquid into the cavities of the mold, and when I checked on them later in the afternoon, they popped out quite nicely. I do see what are probably "air pockets" (see the teapot and the teacup at bottom), so perhaps I need to jiggle the mold next time as they tell you to do with cake batter sometimes.

I did wonder how hard it would be to clean the mold, but as you can see, there's no candy left behind, just the bits on the back from where I tried to level out the melted candy once I poured it in. The mold washed absolutely clean in just seconds, so I'm quite happy with this new chocolate mold!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Some new tea goodies and some Tealeaves tea!

So the mailbox turned up a surprise package from Frances in California, and the goodies inside included this gorgeous tea towel and three new-to-me teas! 

Now a word about this tea towel. It's that beautiful aqua blue color I'm so crazy about these days, and look how it mirrors the pattern on my aqua teacup from Windsor Castle!

Once I got past my excitement over this charming tea towel, I realized I had three new tea bags to sample, all from Tealeaves, a Canadian company. So far I've tried only the "Relax" blend, which I assumed would have chamomile, and it did, but I must say it was the best chamomile blend I've ever had. All the ones I've tried before are one-note chamomiles, with that one distinctive taste and nothing else. This "Relax" tea, however, was quite complex and delicious. Here's the description I found on the Tealeaves website: "This herbal blend is widely treasured for the ingredients' soothing properties; the marriage of passion flowers and valerian root naturally soothe the nerves and relieve anxiety and tension, while boosting the immune system. Helps the body unwind with chamomile blossoms, french lavender, lemon balm, rose petals, and vitamin C." If you'd like to learn more about Tealeaves teas, click here. (And thank you, Frances, for the new tea towel AND for introducing me to a new tea vendor!)

Monday, July 24, 2017

July Giveaway: Tea Party Chocolate Making Set

I found these cute Tea Party Chocolate Making Sets at T.J. Maxx the other day for just $3.99, and I decided that in addition to nabbing one for myself, I also needed to get one for the July giveaway!

Disclaimer: I haven't actually had time to try mine yet, but at $3.99, I'm willing to give it a whirl. The molds have several designs, but of course the teacup and teapot are my favorites.

The set also comes with four teapot-shaped cards with recipes for various flavors of the chocolates. I'm pretty sure some tea-shaped treats will be showing up on my tea table soon! If you'd like to win the giveaway set, just leave an "Enter me" to this post between now and 7 a.m. Friday, July 28, and you'll be entered to win. U.S. and Canada only, please. Good luck!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Thrifty housewives

Today it's almost trendy to be "thrifty," and a few years ago, I began to see women write on their blogs about going "thrifting," which was their way of describing a shopping trip to their local thrift stores. But I found a video on the Library of Congress website that reminded me that being "thrifty" was once very much a necessity.

The video is titled "Food Thrift: Scraps from the Past," and in it, narrator Constance Carter shares some of the clever ways that housewives of yesteryear managed to feed their families during hard times. I was especially intrigued by the substitutions for tea, and if you click on the video here, around the 10:30 mark, you'll find out what some of these were!

(And for my fellow history lovers, you can also find a link to the transcript here.)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Christmas in July—the annual reminder

As I do every year, I like to issue my annual Public Service Announcement and remind everyone that when you hear about those Christmas-in-July sales, please don't forget that *now* is the time to start looking for tea-themed Christmas goodies if you want to get the best prices—and selection. A case in point? I bought a "Cup of Christmas Tea" teacup and saucer in mint condition at Goodwill the other day for $2.52.

This set is in such great condition that even the sticker on the bottom of the saucer appears pretty unworn. I was delighted to find this lovely set, and it will join another of these sets found at an antique mall for $12.99. (And I had thought that was a great price!) I note with interest that it's the 25th anniversary of the Tom Hegg book upon which this pattern is based, A Cup of Christmas Tea. Maybe those of us who consider ourselves fans of the book—and of tea—should do something special to celebrate. (Ideas?)

And since I obviously had Christmas on my mind that day, I also found a new teacup Christmas ornament at Hobby Lobby. Yes, my friends, the Christmas decorations are already out, and you know that if you snooze, you lose, so ... keep an eye out. These cute ornaments are $4.99 but only $3 if you use the 40-percent-off coupon, which I typically pull up on my iPhone as I'm standing in line. Anyone come across any more tea-themed Christmas goodies we need to know about? Christmas will be here before we know it!

Monday, July 17, 2017

A visit to the Steep Tea House in Canton

On Saturday I tried out a new tea spot in Canton, Georgia, along with my tea friend Joy, her friend Sandy, and a new friend Joy had met on the Afternoon Tea Across America Facebook group, Trisha. When we first heard of it, the tea house didn't appear to serve afternoon tea, only lunch type offerings and an extensive list of teas, and that was fine. Late last week, however, Joy discovered the Steep Tea House was now offering afternoon tea some days, including Saturday from 2-4 p.m., so we all agreed we'd rather change our "lunch" plans to "afternoon tea" plans, and as it turned out, that made Trisha's tea-loving husband, Jeremy, decide to join us as well.

And here we all are: Trisha, Jeremy, me, Sandy, and Joy.

They have about 50 teas available, I believe, and we each ordered a different one. The teas were served in small individual teapots with warmers, and I liked the crisp, clean look of the white teawares. I ordered the Apple and Fig Tea, which was excellent. Because we were all sharing, I also got to enjoy some of Joy's Southern Belle blend and Jeremy's Assam tea. I liked both of those as well, and I was particularly impressed that the Assam was prepared properly and not oversteeped.

Frankly, I'm not sure any of us had any idea what this particular "afternoon tea" would be like, we just knew we were game to try it. To make sure I was good and hungry, I'd eaten only a pastry for breakfast, so I was famished by the time 2 p.m. rolled around. The sandwiches came not on a three-tiered server but on individual plates. The flavors were chicken salad on mini croissants (my favorite), a cucumber and dill cream cheese, and pimiento cheese. They were quite filling.

Interestingly, our server then came back to take our "scone order." I don't guess I've ever ordered my scone at teatime, so I found that intriguing. (Not bad, mind you, just different.) Our choices were Apple Crumble and Strawberry Shortcake, and three of us ordered apple, and two, including me, ordered the strawberry. These were the Apple Crumble scones.

And these were the Strawberry Shortcake scones. Both were served with lemon curd and cream. They tasted good, but we all agreed these were not traditional, light, biscuit-type scones. They were so crumbly (both flavors) that we ate them with our forks, yet I happily polished off every bite of mine. I didn't mind so much, but I have a feeling those who've had typical scones might not have been pleased with this type of scone.

I was a little surprised when no sweets course followed, yet after eating all of the tea sandwiches and the large scone, I was quite full. When we got our checks, I was also surprised to realize our tea was only $15, which I thought was fair considering that the amount of food was less than you usually get at afternoon tea. So while the Steep Tea House is not the sort of place I would visit if I were in search of a traditional white-gloves-and-bone-china-teacups type of experience, I did enjoy the food, the atmosphere, and, of course, the excellent company! I probably won't be a repeat customer for their afternoon tea unless they decide to go with an expanded, traditional type of tea service, but I would gladly return for lunch there if I were in the Canton area. And the employees (especially the beautiful young lady who was our server) were quite accommodating and attentive. I'd classify this as a new and more modern type of tea experience, and best of all, it was another happy day enjoyed with tea and friends!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Souvenirs from our visit to the Grand Hotel

Souvenir shopping is always fun, and I thought I'd share the goodies I came home with as mementos from my recent visit to the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island! I always like to pick up those inexpensive guidebooks, and in the one above, I learned that Somewhere in Time wasn't the only film featuring the Grand Hotel. Esther Williams (for whom the Grand Hotel's swimming pool is named today) starred in 1947's This Time for Keeps, which was also partly filmed there.

My most intriguing souvenir purchase was this Dessert Notebook, which is fastened together sort of like a book of index cards. Frankly, I wish they'd just made it a spiral-bound book, because this is not going to be very convenient to use without bending the stiff cardboard pages, but ... recipes. So I had to have it, right?

You won't be surprised to hear that my favorite souvenir from this trip is the one I'll bet every tea lover gets, the teacup and saucer ornament in the signature Camellia Rose pattern.

And as a writer, I am absolutely nuts about pens, so this one was a must for recording thoughts and ideas from my trip. What's your favorite souvenir to look for? Books, teawares, and pens are mine ... not necessarily in that order. I'd love to know what you look for!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tea Garden at the Grand Hotel

I enjoyed my visit to Mackinac Island in late June, but I must say that my favorite place was not even the parlor of the Grand Hotel where I had afternoon tea. No, it was this beautiful tea garden and fountain so lavishly spread out on the grounds below the hotel! I entered via the staircase you see at far left above, and that's where I immediately saw tucked away … 

These beautiful peonies with a gorgeous piece of artwork in the background.

I adore peonies and love to admire them on the rare occasions I see them.

This bright pink one was simply breathtaking!

The foot of the staircase led me to the lawn, where a game of croquet was in progress.

From this angle, the croquet players could see Lake Huron in the distance.

On the advice of my scouting husband, I headed back behind the tea garden and found a lovely greenhouse filled with geraniums, the hotel's signature flower. I read on the Grand Hotel website that the front porch flowers include 2,500 geraniums, and more than 5,200 geraniums can be found in all of the flower beds combined. That's a lot of geraniums!

Now I didn't actually see any tea plants in the garden, but the so-called "tea gardens" of yesteryear were also designed for drinking tea and strolling, and they were sometimes called pleasure gardens as well. Who wouldn't find "pleasure" in seeing a giant topiary in the shape of one of the island's famous horse-drawn carriages? Below are a few of the other tea garden snapshots I took that day, and as you can see, I do love flowers. And considering that it was almost July when I took these, I remain astonished that the mild climate there in Michigan makes these lovely flowers possible at this time of year!

And if you enjoy tea and gardens, you'll enjoy Bernideen's "Tea in the Garden" link-up party today. You can find it here!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Afternoon tea at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island

One hundred thirty years ago today, the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island first opened its doors to guests, so I thought today would be a good time to tell you about my recent trip there for afternoon tea. I think it's true what they say about how if you have only a short time in a place, you'll actually accomplish more sightseeing, because Alex and I were there for just one day, yet I took more than 700 photos. And I am still humming the theme song from Somewhere in Time, the 1980 movie with Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve that was filmed there!

Most of the photos I took were in the tea garden, but today I thought I'd focus on teatime.

We arrived by ferry that morning, having taken the advice of my Michigan friend Phyllis and booked a trip on Shepler's Ferry. On the way over, we had driven over the Mackinac Bridge, one of the longest suspension bridges in the world (nearly five miles!), so it was fun to sail under it on our way to the island.

As we approached, many of us on the ferry were busy snapping photos of the Grand Hotel, which I learned was built in just 93 days. Can you imagine? Alex noted that today, you couldn't get the permit to build it in 93 days!

The harbor view was quite lovely.

And I was pleased to see one of the shops on Main Street featured Somewhere in Time memorabilia.

After wandering around the tourist areas for a bit and checking out one of the local museums, we headed up to the Grand Hotel. We'd eaten a good breakfast at our hotel in St. Ignace, but since afternoon tea wasn't until 3:30, we were feeling a little hungry and decided to try Sadie's Ice Cream Parlor. I'm not just a huge ice cream lover, but I must say I devoured every bite of my Bananas Foster ice cream, and I enjoyed checking out the cute decor at the shop as well as the beautiful gardens surrounding it.

We also toured the tea garden prior to teatime, and I'll show you more of those photos later in the week, but this is one of the areas I found at the foot of the stairs. I was quite smitten with their peonies and artwork!

Before going to tea, we had to check out the hotel for a bit.

And I loved this lady outside Carleton's Tea Store. 

Soon, Alex and I were seated in the Grand Hotel parlor, where they were setting up for afternoon tea.

I don't usually find a harpist at afternoon tea, so that was a nice touch!

The service was excellent, and soon we were enjoying our hot tea in the hotel's signature teacups and saucers.

Now you would think I would have made a point of writing down which tea sandwiches I had, but alas, I did not! Turkey, cucumber, salmon, roast beef, and ... one more that I can't recall, but I enjoyed them all.

The sweets (including a soft scone, a truffle, some tarts, a chocolate-dipped strawberry) were elegantly presented as well.

And by the time I got to the strawberry mousse for dessert, I was stuffed and couldn't eat more than a bite or two.

Alex and I greatly enjoyed our afternoon tea experience at the Grand Hotel, and I can certainly see why it's a hit with so many people. Coming later this week: Why I fell in love with their tea garden!