Friday, May 29, 2020

Introducing … Sweet-tea!

This won't be impressive to some of you, but for others, I must share the glorious news that I finally succeeded in making a sourdough starter, and this is my first round loaf of whole-wheat sourdough bread, which I hope will be the first of many!

I'm keeping my starter in a large jar I got from the Alabama Sweet Tea Company last year, and it says Sweet Tea on it. Well, I'd heard that people name their sourdough starters, and I named mine Sweet-tea (which I pronounce "Sweetie." It just seemed appropriate.)

Now that flours are more readily available at the grocery store again, I can't wait to experiment with more sourdough recipes, although I am going to have to get the hang of that feeding/mixing/resting combination of events. When I made my first loaf on Tuesday, I didn't consider all the resting/rising times, and so it happened that my bread was ready to bake at about 10:15 that night, which is a tad bit late to be baking. Still, since I have never made a successful yeast bread in my life (except using a bread machine, which is cheating), I was so-so-so excited at my first humble loaf of tasty sourdough bread. Alex and I have been eating it for breakfast the past few days, and I do think this is one new skill I am happy to have acquired.

So if you come across a good sourdough bread cookbook or article, please think of me and send along suggestions. I hope "Sweet-tea" will be making an appearance on this blog for many happy years to come!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

When things are not what they seem …

Remember Friday, when I shared this innocent little tearoom photo from the Library of Congress?

What I was most interested in was the two women taking tea. They're wearing pretty hats and appear to be enjoying their tea. Sweet, right? But then Vernona commented, "The woman in the plaid dress may look like a simple tea-room proprietress, but in her earlier life she was at the center of one of the biggest scandals and most-publicized murder trials of the 20th-century." WHAT? Vernona sent me to the Wikipedia article on Evelyn, and among other things, I learned that Evelyn had been a Wanamaker employee (for those of us who love old department stores) and later a model, chorus girl, and actress. And then there was the murder trial after her husband killed a prominent New York architect and socialite. What a sad but fascinating life she had … and I was totally oblivious to all of this until a tip from Vernona, who thought she recognized Evelyn Nesbit's name.

As if all that weren't enough, my friend Kathy wrote and asked whether I noticed that Evelyn appears to have only four fingers and wants to know what happened to the other one. I fancy myself a writer, and yet I missed all of this? Thank goodness I have sharp friends!

Friday, May 22, 2020

Evelyn Nesbit's New York tea room, circa 1921

I don't always remember to check the Library of Congress website for new-to-me tea photos, but I'm so glad I found this one. Who's having more fun, the tearoom guest at far left or the proprietress, Evelyn Nesbit, at far right? The lady in the middle looks a little coy to me, and I'm not sure about her. Maybe she's just shy.

This photo is from October 30, 1921, so nearly 100 years ago, these ladies were enjoying tea … and not too long after the Spanish flu pandemic, I note with interest. I hope we'll all be able to enjoy the same thing before too much longer!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

What's in your teacup?

Most of the women I know have been cooking more this spring, for obvious reasons, and a new recipe I tried recently was this sweet potato soup. I used this recipe, with a few tweaks such as halving it and substituting a total of two cups of whole milk for the stock and canned coconut milk. It was delicious! And yes, I served it in a Royal Winton Welbeck chintz teacup. I had planned to puree it so it would be pretty in my spring teacup, but when I tasted it, I loved it just as it was, and my husband did too. So, I had chunky soup in a chintzy teacup.

Want another recipe? Then some of you might like to read what I had to say about our cooking craze in my latest column for The Coweta Shopper, which is here.

And in other cooking news … my first attempt at a sourdough starter turned green in two days, so I tossed it out. My second one looks fine and *smells* like sourdough bread, but after seven days now, it still isn't rising. If any of you are sourdough starter experts, please send tips!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Further experiments in tea growing

During this time of social distancing, I've made the happy discovery that I have plenty of projects right here at home to entertain myself. I've been finishing a number of needlework projects that have been in progress for a while, including a small grandmother's flower garden quilt, which I finished piecing over the weekend. (I still have yet to actually do the hand quilting on a quilt, so teaching myself to do that is next.) And after seeing Marilyn's post about her tea crop last week, I realized I haven't tried to root my camellia sinensis plant in a while, so I thought I'd give it another shot. I got two healthy-looking cuttings and planted them in clay pots (one of which, appropriately, is teapot shaped), dipped them in rooting medium, and crossed my fingers as I placed the plants in soil.

While I was at it, I got a couple of cuttings of a rosebush nearby. I've heard that roses are difficult to root this way, but hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

And while I'm not holding out much hope for these old camellia sinensis seeds I had stored in a plastic bag,  I'm going to plant them anyway. (I've passed these around when speaking on tea, just to show those who are interested what the seeds look like.) Yesterday, I started the 24-hour process of soaking them. I gather I should have planted them several years ago when they were fresh, but I read over the weekend that adding boiling water might soften them and maybe allow them to root. Again, I figured I had nothing to lose here.

While I'm still staying close to home, I had a very "social" Saturday by Zoom crafting (a virtual event) with friends in Savannah and Newnan, and that evening, my Sunday school class virtually attended the wedding of a young couple in our class. They decided not to postpone their wedding but instead got married in the backyard of the bride's parents' home, around the pool (which actually made me a little nervous!), and Alex and I watched the lovely event on Facebook Live. It reminded me that those million-dollar weddings have nothing on a young couple so in love who are determined to build a marriage with God at the center. I have high hopes for them!

So there you go. Quilting, crafting with friends, and some (maybe) tea growing. I've read that many of us have used the pandemic to revisit old crafts and hobbies or perhaps pursue a home renovation project. That's true here with the gardening and crafting. What's going on at your house? I'd love to know!

Friday, May 15, 2020

Recommended reading: "London in Bloom" by Georgianna Lane

A lot of travel plans have gotten canceled for this spring and summer, so if we want to go abroad, many of us must settle for being armchair travelers for a while. I can't help thinking about that as I've gazed longingly at the beautiful pages of a new picture book that recently arrived, London in Bloom by Georgianna Lane. Lately, I find that I can consume only so much of the news before I get antsy and want to move on to more pleasant thoughts. And I can't imagine having anything but lovely thoughts while looking through this charming book.

Since the topic was London, I wasn't terribly surprised to find a teacup pictured in the book.

I was, however, surprised to see such a great collection of chintz wares!

And oh, how I'd love to go visit this petal-pink telephone booth! Wouldn't you? This book is brimming with roses, which I'm quite passionate about, and if you are, too, you might want to get a copy. Outside of Mother Nature herself, this book is absolutely the prettiest thing I've looked at in months. What about you? Where are you going these days when you need a beauty break?

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Salada's Citrus Medley Green Tea

Now that a trip to the grocery store has become the retail equivalent of a day at the mall, I simply had to find a new box of tea to try when I was in Ingles on Saturday. I'd often thought about trying Salada tea, so I purchased a box of their Green Tea Citrus Medley blend. I'm not bothered by caffeine, but this flavor of Salada tea happens to be decaffeinated, which may appeal to those of you looking to avoid caffeine.

I'm always happy to see tea bags in individual packets. If I like the tea, I can share it when sending cards to tea-loving friends.

When I sipped the tea, I was expecting just lemon and orange flavors, so I was surprised to discover a bit of a sour taste. Then I looked at the box and realized that I'd overlooked the lime. And then I read the ingredients, which include grapefruit juice concentrate, so perhaps that's the sour note I detected. It was fine as a hot tea, but I suspected I would like this tea even better over ice. Instead of making a whole pitcher of iced tea (which involves a bit of a commitment), I've started putting a single tea bag in a glass of water in the refrigerator to cold-brew overnight. As I suspected I would, I liked this tea even better over ice, and this will be a nice spring and summer tea to have on hand. I believe this was my first time trying a Salada tea. Are any of you familiar with this brand?

Monday, May 11, 2020

Inspired by Flea Market Garden Style magazine

I hope all of you had a nice Mother's Day weekend, even though I suspect many of the celebrations were a bit different this year. On Saturday, Alex and I went to visit my dad and Aunt Jane for the first time in two months, and I was so happy to see them. We picked up Chick-fil-A from a drive-through on the way, and when we got there, the two of us ate at one end of their huge dining table in the formal dining room (a holdover from my late mother), and Daddy and Aunt Jane ate at the other end. We had planned to just sit on the porch and visit, but the weather was in the fifties, which is considered "freezing cold" to lifelong Georgians. Still, it was a relief to get a visit in with them and my sister, who stopped by, and see that everyone is doing well. On the way home, I ran in Ingles for a few groceries for the week, and I was thrilled to find a magazine I didn't think I'd be able to get my hands on this year, the annual issue of Flea Market Garden Style.

Most years, I find at least a few tea-inspired ideas inside, and that was the case this year as well.

One of the prettiest pages in the whole lovely issue was this one, where they've used tea tins as flower vases. I've done that before but not in a while. I'm waiting on a particular pink rose to bloom, and then I think I'll dig out just the right tea tin for it!

Reading that magazine reminded me that I'd been meaning to try a decoupage fix-up for an old watering can that had a faded design on the front. Now, I must confess I'm chintzy about using these pretty tea-themed napkins (a gift from my friend Joy, I believe), but with a little Mod Podge, it took only one of them to cover up the faded design on my watering can and get a little more mileage out of it.

Ta-da! So now I'll keep using this watering can until it fades again, and I'm loving the vintage look from this decoupaged paper napkin. Also this weekend, I made a sourdough starter, so if that works, maybe one day soon, I can truly use one of my tea-and-toast sets for … tea and toast! 

Friday, May 8, 2020

Afternoon tea with the nurses

These days, my morning prayer time begins with a petition for the protection of all the nurses and health care workers. I guess I think of "nurses" first because I have three first cousins, a stepdaughter, and several friends (one recently recovered from the coronavirus) who are all RNs, and I know how much they appreciate being in our prayers. And since it's National Nurses Week, which runs May 6-12 this year, I thought I'd share a new-to-me vintage photo I found on the Library of Congress website.

The photo, a gift of the American Red Cross, shows a group of French and American nurses sharing afternoon tea in Belgium in 1918. That date caught my eye since, as we all know by now, that was the first year of the great Spanish influenza pandemic, also known as the "Spanish Lady," according to a book I'm currently reading about the pandemic.

I love so much about this photo, from the blurred movement of a couple of the nurses to the uniforms to the tea wares on the table. And note that nurse who is looking straight into the camera here. What is she doing with her hands? Is it just me, or does she look like she's talking on her not-yet-invented cellphone?

If you're a nurse or know a nurse or love a nurse, I hope you/they are having a very happy National Nurses Week!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

When celery is hard to find …

Have you had trouble finding any particular groceries during this pandemic? All-purpose flour is about as prized as toilet paper in my town, but my husband found some self-rising flour that has served us just fine. Like all the other wannabe Martha Stewarts out there, I've been reading about old-fashioned bread baking and am eager to make a sourdough starter. Alas, I cannot find the whole wheat flour it requires, but it's on my list for whenever I next spot a bag of it. The missing item that gave me most pause, though, was celery. When Alex came home from Publix one day last month and said they were out of celery, I couldn't believe it. Celery? Celery? I *need* celery to make some of the soups I enjoy, not to mention the most beloved tea sandwich spread of all time—chicken salad.  (This week, we have celery once again, so I was able to use up some extra chicken and turn it into a dill chicken salad for lunch.)

But that got me to thinking, what if there's a celery shortage one day? Can I grow my own celery? And then I remembered being in a garden club years ago with a woman who could have rooted a popsicle stick and made it grow. She said she didn't throw away her celery root when she was done with the ribs but simply planted the root. So I'm not sure I should have done it this way, but I plopped my celery root in a pot of the only soil I've got lying about and, well, something is coming up in the middle. What do you think? Is there hope?

Fortunately, I came across a new book at just the right time: Regrow Your Veggies by Melissa Raupach and Felix Lill. I've already learned that I should have started the celery in a jar of water first (next time!), and thanks to this book, I didn't throw away my last onion root but plopped it into some dirt as well. I've heard that just as we had victory gardens after World War II, many of us as a result of this pandemic will be starting home gardens after seeing the very practical value of growing some of our own food. Have any of you rooted onions or celery before? All tips are welcome!

(Review copy courtesy of NetGalley)

Monday, May 4, 2020

Weekend crafting with Stampin' Up

Much as I love making cards, I am very bad about actually sitting down to complete them by the time a friend's birthday rolls around. But since I have two close friends with a birthday this week, and I'm still not ready to go hit the stores just yet, I knew I needed to make a few cards this weekend. This one is for my friend Ruth, who is turning 81!

The colors are a little off on my computer, but in real life, the pinks blend beautifully, and I think Ruth will like this card. I enjoyed stamping and die cutting all the little rose buds to fill this teacup. And I wanted to mention that if any of you want this stamp and die set, it appears to still be available from Stampin' Up online, but since they release a new catalog in June, you might want to look at this now. (And if you don't have a demonstrator, you can use my friend Kathy and find the stamps and dies on her Stampin' Up page here. She didn't ask me to say that, by the way, but I always like to be able to make a purchase without having to find a demonstrator, and some of you may feel that way too.)

And since I had those teapot and teacup stamps handy, I went ahead and tried an idea I found on Pinterest, which was to stamp the designs onto patterned paper. I liked the result and decided to go ahead and make a thank-you card while I was at it.

And I don't think the friend this card is for is reading the blog lately (she works in the medical field and has had her hands full, to say the least), but I enjoyed making her a paper "cake" since she is well-known for making cakes for others. (If you like that "Happy Birthday to You" stamp set, it's sold out at Stampin' Up, but you can find it for sale from a few eBay vendors at the moment). So in addition to card making this weekend, I knit a dish cloth, worked on a needlepoint pillow, took several nice walks, and enjoyed some Chinese takeout.

By my count, I'm entering my eighth week of "sheltering at home," and while I know the country has to get back to work sometime, I'm enormously grateful I get to work from home. So how about you all? Going stir crazy yet? Making cards or knitting or taking long walks? I like hearing what you friends are up to!

Friday, May 1, 2020

Some seeds that were 'mint' for a tea lover

Earlier this year, tea friend Susan B. in North Carolina sent me a lovely card and tucked inside of it a little packet  of mint seeds as a gift. I'd almost forgotten to plant them but came across them this week and decided I'd best hurry up and get them in some dirt! But check out that artwork on the package. If you look closely, you'll see that the teapot is painted on a tea bag by the talented Ruby Silvious, whose unique book of tea bag art I reviewed here a few years back.

This package design is charming, and I like that it tells about both the plant and the artist.

Who knew that mint seeds are so tiny? Wish me luck, as I've got my fingers crossed that I'll be enjoying fresh mint in a few months. The seeds, by the way, are from the Hudson Valley Seed Company, which says it is experiencing "unprecedented demand" for seeds right now. I guess I'm not the only one spending some of my days playing in the dirt. (And thanks to the kindness of Susan, I already have some of these sought-after seeds!)