Monday, January 31, 2022

"In Hot Water" by Kate Kingsbury

Over the weekend, I finished reading the first novel in a promising new series by Kate Kingsbury, the Misty Bay Tea Room Mystery series. In Hot Water introduces us to the Willow Pattern Tearoom run by middle-aged widow Vivian Wainwright with the help of her younger employees, Jenna Ramsey and Gracie Jackson. 

Jenna is divorced from ne'er-do-well Dean Ramsey, and when his body is thrown off the balcony of a local hotel—a hotel where she was seen on the morning of his death—she naturally becomes suspect number one in his murder. Vivian and Gracie are determined to clear her name, though, and even Detective Lieutenant Tony Messina seems to have doubts about Jenna's guilt. When the women start asking questions around town, they turn up the unexpected news that the hotel where Dean died was running a secret escort service, which clearly could have had something to do with his death. But lots of folks in town seem to have known about that escort service, and quite a few of them could have wanted Dean out of the picture.

The Oregon town of Misty Bay sounds charming, and we get to know a few of the local entrepreneurs, including Hal Douglass, the sweet-on-Vivian gent who runs a pet supply shop, and nosy Natalie Chastain, the town's wine seller. As expected, the book has lots of teatime baking scenes and fun food mentions in the English-style tearoom. 

What I most enjoyed about this book was seeing the older-than-average main character and her concerns, which seemed quite realistic for a widow running a new business. It's refreshing to see a cozy heroine who isn't still in her thirties, and Vivian is someone I would like to know better. I look forward to checking out the next installment of this enjoyable series featuring a lovely tearoom owner and her friends.

Caution: A few uses of profanity, which could easily be omitted to make this book even better.

Review copy courtesy of NetGalley

Friday, January 28, 2022

A Goodwill grab bag

Thursday mornings after Bible Study are turning into "Thrifty Thursdays," and I'm trying to hit up a different thrift store each week. Yesterday it was Goodwill. And may I just say that if I had time, I would volunteer to go into their stockroom and inspect all the housewares to make sure they aren't accidentally splitting up matched sets. Yesterday, I saw the cup at right, which wasn't priced, but it was sitting next to this shrink-wrapped $2.99 pile o' dishes that clearly contained the matching saucer.

I found a clerk up front and asked him if he could price the cup for me since it went with the saucer. "See?" I pointed.

"No, it doesn't go with that. See, it wouldn't fit in the shrink wrap." (I think he thought I was trying to get it for free, which wasn't the case.)

"Okay," said I, "but can you get me a price anyway?"

He did—59 cents. I decided that yes, indeed, I would happily pay a total of $3.58 for the cup and saucer, although I was bummed that in the process of getting such a good deal, I also had to take home a stack of mystery dishes that I didn't need. (I seriously considered cutting it all apart in the store to get to the saucer and saying, "Here. Keep the rest.")

For the record—both pieces of this set were marked Mary Engelbreit. I knew they would be because I'd just read an old Mary Engelbreit's Home Companion magazine from the early 2000s over the weekend, and it had an ad showing these teacups, which I don't ever remember seeing before. "How did I miss those back then?" I wondered. So how interesting that I would spot one of the teacup-and-saucer sets just a few days later.

What else was in my mystery package, you ask? Well, first was this strawberry plate, which I would have used were it not sporting two large, very noticeable chips. Bummer. (Any thoughts on how I could repurpose this before I toss it?)

Next, a small Cookies for Santa plate. That's a keeper. If I need to give someone a small plate of cookies this Christmas, this will work.

And this plate? Now we're talking. Still had the Ross price sticker on the back, so I don't think it's ever been used.

And the last item in the mystery stack? A pretty red platter that will be a great Christmas cookie plate for someone this year. So while I was actually *hoping* to find some vintage valentine goodies, which are usually out right now, I was nonetheless happy to get a thrifty head start on my Christmas cookie plate collecting for the year.

Oh, and I did spend a whopping $1.49 on this Mikasa glass platter. This is the third one of these I've purchased (I paid $1 for the other two, and one of them even came from an antique mall). But if you ever see this piece cheap, grab it, because it's the perfect size for gifting a loaf of tea bread!

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Researching old recipes

Why do some of us love nostalgia so much? I've loved old things all my life. I believe I've shared here before that one of the first words I learned to read was "antiques," and I just find old things a great source of wonder as well as comfort. So when I saw an old tin full of recipes at a local antique mall last fall, I bought it. I was in that same antique mall the other day, and the seller on duty happened to be a woman I go to church with, and she asked, "Don't you like old recipes? Did you see those boxes of them in that case on aisle one?" Well, I did not see them, so I'm grateful for the tip that pointed me to the cabinet, and the yellow box is my latest acquisition.

I absolutely love reading through these old recipes and trying to discern who once owned them. These first ones were fun because they are written on index cards as well as odd scraps of paper, including a dry cleaning receipt from New Jersey back when phone numbers were just a few digits long!

And remember when we did indeed *write* our recipes on pretty cards to share with friends? This tea-themed recipe card—for Snowy Lemon Bars, appropriately enough—looks very seventies to me.

When I saw these recipes in the yellow box, I was intrigued that the woman (for surely it was a woman) who owned them had labeled each box on the side, which was a nice touch. The other boxes were cardboard, so I was delighted that the sweets were in the old tin box!

And I found a recipe for Lane Cake (thanks, Louise). I've always wanted to make a Lane Cake! My plan is to use some of these recipes as inspiration for the local cooking columns I write each month, so I'll be sure to share a link when I do.

I wonder if we're not going to lose a bit of our "food heritage" by our reliance on online recipes and online recipe files. I have them, too, mind you, but how does one pass down such a collection? Do you have a recipe box? Or old family recipes that were written or typed on index cards? I'd love to hear about them!

Monday, January 24, 2022

Finding Eleanor

Those of you who've read this blog over the years may recall that I like chintz tea wares. Alas, vintage chintz wares are usually far more expensive than I'm willing to pay, but I consider myself very fortunate to have acquired a full tea set of a newer chintz pattern, Royal Winton's gorgeous Welbeck chintz, many years ago. Those purchases were made largely thanks to my friend and eagle-eyed shopper, Sandra, who alerted me as pieces drifted in at our local T.J. Maxx. But vintage pieces? I just haven't seen them very often at all, and when I did, they were definitely out of my price range. So can you imagine how much I was jumping for joy when I found these two Royal Winton Eleanor chintz snack sets for just $5 each at a thrift store in Carrollton on Saturday?

It was one of those sightings where your heart speeds up, especially because that particular thrift store prices things very reasonably, so I had a feeling these pieces just *might* be affordable. When I got closer and saw they were $5 each, I literally sped to the back to get the manager to ring me up. I just knew some other shopper would be hot on the chintz trail!

I would have been tickled to find any vintage chintz pattern at all, but one with pink roses? I was beside myself! The sets have some crackling because of their age, which I actually like, but not a chip, dent, or ding is on the pieces.

At the store, I spotted the Royal Winton name and confirmed my suspicions. But when I got home, expecting to have to research the pattern name, I realized I'd overlooked it, and it was right there. So, meet my new friend Eleanor! (If you hear me speaking of Eleanor in the coming days, you can bet that yes, I'm talking to one of my new snack sets.)

And while I suspect the snack sets will end up being some of my favorite finds of the whole year, I also found a few other goodies at great prices.

This Salem China Co. English Village teacup and saucer ($1) and two delicate little bowls (25 cents each) are pieces that I'll use for styling food photos.

I also found a large heart-shaped candy tin (25 cents) that I wanted for storing small paper craft pieces.

Can you tell what really made me want this, though? (Hint: it's in the center of this photo.)

And of course, a 25-cent vintage Santa figurine was definitely going home with me as well. But if I had found nothing but those two Eleanor snack sets, I still would have been one very happy girl!

Friday, January 21, 2022

"Four Ladies Having Tea" by Thomas Fogarty

I hadn't checked for tea images on the Library of Congress website lately, so when I tried to play catch-up this week, I found "Four Ladies Having Tea," a pen and ink drawing by Thomas Fogarty. According to the LOC, it was created or published sometime between 1890 and 1938 and was published in the Ladies Home Journal (no issue date given).

I wish the image were a little clearer (click here if you'd like to enlarge it from the LOC website), but from what I can see, the lovely thing about this drawing is that the three women at left seem very eager to visit with the woman at right, and she looks quite happy to be addressing them.

But here's a question for you. That chair in the foreground … Dark-Dress Lady couldn't be perched on the very-very front of the chair, could she? I mean, she'd be tipping over into the tea table like a teapot, right? And her shawl is clearly spilling over into the chair, so no one else could possibly sit there, it appears. I have a feeling there's more to this drawing than meets the eye. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

A half-new teacup and saucer


When I bought this chintz saucer for 89 cents at a thrift store a few weeks ago, I was certain I had a teacup at home that matched it.

And I did! It was this Royal Staffordshire cup-and-saucer set. I've seen this pattern by many makers, and the chintz saucer is marked Clarence.

But I rather like this "married" set. For some reason, I like it even better than if the cup were chintz too.

The original teacup and saucer belong to a trio I bought at a friend's estate sale a few years ago.

I loved adding to my tea "wardrobe" for just 89 cents, and I must say I'm enjoying drinking my Twinings lemon and ginger tea out of my "new" set. Do you use mix-and-match teacups and saucers, or do you prefer that everything match?

Monday, January 17, 2022

Recommended viewing: "Mary Berry's Country House Secrets"

(Image courtesy of Acorn TV)

My friend Joy emailed the other day to say that she was enjoying the BBC show Mary Berry's Country House Secrets and thought I might like it, too, and I had actually just finished watching it! And that reminded me that I'd been meaning to share my thoughts about the show here. I can't believe I hadn't yet heard about this 2017 show, because tea fans will absolutely adore it. The first episode features Highclere Castle, known to most of us as the home of Downton Abbey. Fiona, the Countess of Carnarvon, was so down-to-earth, and I even started following her on Instagram after watching the show. Mary, a well-known food writer in the UK, even featured teatime (I'll let the specifics be a surprise in case you haven't watched the shows yet), and this show was the perfect wintertime entertainment. 

So I thought I'd give the next episode a shot, and Alex, who had been upstairs working, came down and got interested in the show, which is about Scone Palace in Scotland. Since Eilean Donan Castle, ancestral home of the MacRaes, is in Scotland, I wasn't surprised that he was interested, but I was surprised that he ended up watching the rest of the series with me. I guess I shouldn't have been, because each episode has lots of history, and we're both big history buffs.

The "country house secrets," by the way, always feature behind-the-scenes recipes from each house, and quite a few of them are appropriate for teatime. Here's a screen grab from the BBC food page featuring Mary's scone recipe (click here if you'd like to print it).

In other news, it did snow for a few hours here in Newnan yesterday, but alas, it didn't stick. Still, we haven't seen snow coming down in about three years, so this was a real treat. For those of you lucky enough to actually be snowed in somewhere this winter, I hope you'll enjoy Mary Berry's Country House Secrets, which I watched on Acorn TV and Joy watched on PBS. Who else has viewed the series?

Friday, January 14, 2022

A belated but very special Christmas gift

Do you ever get a belated Christmas gift from someone? I almost always do, and I must say I like it. How fun to get an unexpected gift on a wintry post-Christmas day. And this gift was especially meaningful to me because the giver, my friend Susan, really had every reason in the world NOT to get anyone a Christmas gift this year after losing her home in our devastating March tornado. She and her husband had to live in a hotel for months while a completely new home was built on the site. There were delays from the builder in addition to all the other aggravations of life we've all dealt with during the pandemic. So to get a gift from her at all was extra special this year, and my sweet friend never forgets that I love tea!

I'd seen similar Rae Dunn mugs but not this one, and I just love it. It's huge and is perfect for all that tea I'm drinking these days.

And it's always fun to get a surprise assortment of tea bags. When I'm in a hurry or working on a big project, I don't always take time to make my tea with loose tea, so it's super convenient to have some fun flavors of tea bags to reach for.

Did any of you get a belated Christmas gift?

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Cocoa Mint Chill from Tiesta Tea

Any of the rest of you put on a few "pandemic pounds" over the last two years? Alas, I've regained some of the weight I'd worked so hard to lose, so I started the year by challenging myself to go a month without eating sugary treats, my big weakness. I'm perfectly fine with skipping dinner if I can have a fudge brownie or a Snickers Bar, so this has not been easy. I was looking online for a sweet-ish tea, and I found this Cocoa Mint Chill chocolate peppermint blend from Teaista Tea and placed an order. It couldn't get here fast enough!

This blend contains rooibos tea, peppermint, cocoa shell, cocoa nibs, natural flavors, and cornflowers. When I popped open the tin, I got a nice whiff of chocolate and peppermint, just as I'd hoped.

And it was so good! I find rooibos blends to be some of the sweetest, most dessert-like teas out there, and that was definitely the case with this one. I still want a fudge brownie, but I've almost made it to the halfway point of the month, so I'm trying to do that form-a-new-habit-in-21-days thing by refraining for another couple of weeks. What's your best trick (if you have one) for avoiding sweets?

Monday, January 10, 2022

Roses in winter

Winter is officially here, because it's turned cold, wet, and gray, which has me looking for loveliness and candlelight to dispel the gloom. Thrift stores so far in 2022 have been good spots for finding new rose-patterned tea wares, and these are some of the fun thrifted finds I found during this first week of the new year. (I've been buying goodies for my annual Valentine's Week giveaways as well, so don't miss them this year!)

The rose-strewn Japanese teapot, with a sticker on bottom that says Nasco, doesn't appear to have ever been used. I wasn't looking for a teapot, but it was just $1.99, and since I occasionally loan out my teapots to friends who want to borrow them for a tea, I realized this would be a happy loaner. 

This chintz saucer? Well, I couldn't resist a Clarence Bone China saucer that was 89 cents. Besides, it matches a tea trio I've got somewhere around here, and this will make a nice "spare" for that set.

Finally, on Saturday, the Goodwill in Rome, Georgia, turned up this rosy 99-cent tea trivet. I'd been wondering where to store all the tea trivets I've collected, and then an idea struck me: Why not just go ahead and put each one underneath a matching teapot? Problem solved.

So what's the weather like in your neck of the woods?

Friday, January 7, 2022

Celestial Seasonings Vitamin C Shine

So what are you all sipping for National Hot Tea Month? I'd like to try something new, and preferably something citrusy (black or green, I don't care which), so if you have a favorite, please share! Meanwhile, I picked up an interesting new herbal blend from Celestial Seasonings at the grocery store this week.

Not too many years ago, I resisted the idea of choosing a tea for its health benefits. But now that I'm older and now that I'm trying to eat and drink smarter, I not only no longer resist that idea, I pretty much embrace it. So when I saw this Vitamin C Shine blend that claims it provides 130% of the  recommended daily value of Vitamin C per serving, I thought, "I'm in." According to Celestial Seasonings, the blend contains "bright oranges, floral rosehips, fruity blackberry leaves and tangy hibiscus."

As soon as I opened the box, I inhaled the scent of oranges. (And am I the only one who always opens that Celestial Seasonings box and irrationally hopes to find individually packaged tea bags inside instead of those for-some-odd-reason double tea bags?) When I sipped the tea, I couldn't decide whether it tasted more like hot orange juice or a heavy-on-the-oranges wassail. But don't be mistaken: I liked it! And I sip so many hot beverages over the winter that I'm perfectly fine with sipping some Vitamin C. Have any of you tried this blend?

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

A tea-themed shopping alert …

Let's see a show of hands: How many of you took typing in high school? Yes, you, you, and I see you, there in the back. Very good. So I am going to assume that like me, you learned to type this sentence: "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country." (Yes, we still said "men" in those unenlightened days.) Well, I have another sentence for you: "Now is the time for all good tea-loving women to check out the sale racks at Talbots." What's in this shoebox, you ask?

Why, it's the amazingly cute shoes that Alex got me for Christmas thanks to a well-placed hint. Are these not the cutest shoes EVER?

One has a teapot!

And one has a teacup!

Have I worn them yet? No. They fit beautifully, but I need to wear them somewhere special, and I haven't been anywhere special yet in 2022. But Lord willing, I will. They're called the "Ryan Novelty" flats), and though they were $129 originally, they were reduced to $55 by the time I ordered them for Alex to surprise me with at Christmas. In addition to the shoes, the most recent Talbots offerings included quite a few tea-themed items, among them a sweater, a blouse, and a scarf (the scarf is now sold out online, but I'm going to look for it next time I'm near a Talbots store). So if any of these items are shouting to you as well, I'm happy to inform you that Talbots is having a 60-percent off sale, so now is a good time to head on over. Happy shopping!

Monday, January 3, 2022

To new beginnings!

I always love the first week of a new year, full of possibility, good intentions, and perhaps a little more reflecting on the year past. One thing I am grateful for and have been for almost 15 years now is those of you I've befriended through Tea With Friends, and I marvel at how well some of you know me even though we've never met face to face. Before I move on to all the fun 2022 things, I wanted to show you three lovely gifts I received from tea friends this Christmas. Susan B. sent something I'd never seen before, some Sweet Tea soap! It smells absolutely scrummy (yes, I've been watching lots of British TV), and I love that it was made there in her state of North Carolina.

And this tiny little teacup with the basket (or compote, maybe) of flowers? Michele in Ohio sent that for my desktop tree with the mini ornaments. Isn't it darling? I have always loved artwork depicting floral arrangements—in paintings, on dishes, and anywhere, really. Since I am slowly building my collection of mini ornaments, each of these is quite meaningful to me, and so far, I can remember how I acquired all of them.

And last but by no means least, Cara in Iowa surprised me with this darling ornament that immediately went on my full-sized tea-themed tree (which, alas, I failed to photograph this year). I had never seen this particular design, dated 2007, which she assures me she found at a thrift store for a good price.  How clever that the designer used forks, spoons, and sugar cubes for the limbs and feet. I *love* thrifted ornaments, and I greatly value thrift store gifts because of the thoughtfulness that goes into finding them.

Along with the ornament, which arrived on Christmas Eve, she included some fun stickers with the timely message to "make time for tea." These went straight into the pocket of my new bullet journal for the year. The plan? I'm going to try to create more tea "occasions" this year, even if (thank you, pandemic) they don't include a full-fledged tea party for a while. Maybe I can use them to mark giving someone a special delivery of scones? Or maybe I'll mark the day I come across a longed-for teacup? Or maybe I'll write a tea-themed short story and submit it for publication somewhere? Whatever the case, these charming stickers will be used to mark tea milestones in the year ahead, and I am delighted to have them.

One milestone I'm looking forward to: Tea With Friends will be 15 years old in March. I'm planning to mark the anniversary in some unique ways that I hope you will appreciate, so stay tuned!