Monday, October 30, 2023

Snack sets & a book talk in Auburn, Alabama

Since I have spent my entire life in West Georgia, the Alabama state line has always seemed more like a suggestion than a boundary. My old high school, Haralson County High in Tallapoosa, was less than ten miles from Alabama, while Atlanta was over an hour away. Many of my classmates turned out to be University of Alabama fans and not University of Georgia fans. When I moved to Newnan to accept a newspaper reporting job after college, I found that lots of folks here had gone to Auburn University, which is only a little over an hour away. Last Wednesday, I got to spend the afternoon in Auburn while I talked about The Roots of All Evil, my latest novel, which features a main character who is an Auburn grad. Here I'm shown with Jane Jett, at left, and Nancy Sanker, at right. Nancy used to live in Newnan, and she and I quickly bonded over a love of teatime and all things vintage!

I thought you might enjoy seeing some of the beautiful touches she incorporated into the decorating at the clubhouse in her new neighborhood. It was a beautiful facility, and I enjoyed looking out a window and seeing the rippling water in the pool on a picture-perfect fall day. Some 22 ladies had gathered for lunch, and while it's always great to sell some books, I particularly enjoyed hearing some new tidbits about Auburn, some of which I may be able to incorporate into future books in the Silver Sisters mystery series.

Now, Nancy collects tea-and-toast sets, or snack sets, and she has amassed quite the collection. She had some leaf-shaped sets …

As well as apple-shaped sets. I'm sorry to report that I forgot to take one of these treat bags home with me to photograph, but they contained candies including teapot- and teacup-shaped chocolates!

The delicious bagged lunch (which I didn't eat until after I spoke and forgot to photograph) was by a caterer called Birdie's Cup and Saucer, and of course I loved the name. My chicken salad sandwich was so tasty, and the thick, soft, and slightly sweet bread was to die for! Again, I'm sorry I failed to snap a photo, but the way they packaged their salads was clever. You know those little 3 x 5 aluminum pans that you use to make mini loaves of bread? Well, the salad of mixed greens, cranberries, and feta was provided in those pans along with a small lidded plastic container of balsamic dressing. Cling wrap sealed the whole thing, and I thought it was quite a smart way to package a single-serve salad.

Even the bottled waters and soft drinks (to go in the snack-set cups) were displayed beautifully in a gorgeous punch bowl!

Have you ever seen an etched punch bowl quite like this one? I had not.

Nancy and I also share a love of vintage hankies, so I absolutely loved the banner she created.

I loved the variety of designs!

Nancy and I also share a love of books, and when she lived in Newnan, she wrote a book column for The Shopper (where I have a cooking column), and she was a great friend to all of us local authors. For that reason, I thought it was so fitting that she made these pumpkins and covered them with text!

Here's a close-up of one, and some of you may note a familiar treat in the background: the Market Bulletin Orange Balls that Nancy made using the recipe from my Vintage Christmas Cookbook. I was certainly treated well by Nancy and the new friends I made in Auburn, and I came home with wonderful memories as well as some great ideas for future tea parties!

Friday, October 27, 2023

Twinings Peach & Orange Herbal Tea

I'm usually a Kroger shopper, but yesterday, I decided to run in Publix for a few things. While I was there, I zipped down the tea aisle, and this box of Twinings tea caught my eye because it wasn't wrapped in cellophane like the others. Then I realized that Peach & Orange was a new flavor, and I had to try it.

When I opened one of the packets, I got a nice fruity smell right off the bat.

The tea turns a reddish-orange color in the cup, and it's got the sweetness of peaches but also a little tartness that I didn't expect but didn't mind (and that's apparently from the orange peel in this tea). I had bought some of those two-bite cinnamon rolls from the bakery, and this tea made a nice companion. Once I'd used my tea bag, I plopped it into a glass of ice water (it was 77 here yesterday), and I liked the taste of this tea cold as well. I know some of you who are avoiding caffeine enjoy herbal teas, and this is a fun new one to try!

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

A surprisingly sweet gift!

Occasionally, someone in my Sunday school class brings a treat for us all to share. I've done it, others have done it, and while we don't have a schedule of who brings what and when, it is always fun when someone shows up with a new treat. On Sunday, my friend Beverly shared this Swedish Nut Cake, and oh my, was it delicious!

It reminds me of a hummingbird cake because of the cream cheese icing, pineapple, and pecans, but it's baked more like a sheet cake and has a little denser (and tastier!) cake layer. I polished off a small slice before class, and while I went to the ladies' room between Sunday school and church, Beverly had packed up the (few!) leftovers and told Alex to take them since I liked it so much.

It lasted only two days at my house, and boy, did it upgrade my teatime! Just looking at the pineapple and pecans in this photo makes me wish I had more. And yes, I will be asking Beverly for the recipe since I saw several versions online but would love to know the exact one she made. Have any of you ever had Swedish Nut Cake? If you haven't, you're in for a real teatime treat!

Monday, October 23, 2023

"Murder at Afternoon Tea" by Rosie Hunt

"Sun streamed through the open French doors of Wolborne House's old-fashioned yet elegant drawing room. …  At its centre was a tea table, generously laden with all manner of sweets. There were buttery scones with thick clotted cream and brilliant red strawberry jam, dark slices of fruit cake with cherries shining like jewels, and crumbly golden shortbread cut into petticoat tails and dusted with sparkling sugar granules."

— From Murder at Afternoon Tea by Rosie Hunt

This fun cozy mystery is set in 1921, and Lady Felicity Quick, a society-page journalist (like I once was), is longing to write meatier stories for the Western Daily News, the newspaper whose editor is her brother, Lord Jasper Quick. Lady Felicity ("Cici" to friends and family) agrees to interview an old chum who is now an up-and-coming actress and theatre director, Olivia Heygate-Harper. Cici visits Olivia's home and is welcomed to afternoon tea, but before the visit ends, Olivia's battle-ax of a mother, Lady Dora Heygate-Harper, chokes on a petticoat tail and appears to recover but is later found deceased in her bedroom. 

As curious as any good journalist should be, Cici whips out pencil and paper and makes notes on all she observes as she tries to determine whether Lady Dora's death was indeed an accident. Olivia's older sister and brother-in-law inherit the estate, so they had reason to wish for Lady Dora's demise. The housekeeper seems a little sketchy, and so does the fumbling maid, Gwen. Hunt is great at casting doubt on each of her characters, only to move along and direct our attention to someone else who seems equally suspicious.

Those of us who watched Downton Abbey can't help being reminded of Edith and her newspaper career, a comparison Hunt would seem to welcome. With the country house lifestyle still relatively fresh in our minds, we find it easy to slip into this world of English estates and the upstairs-downstairs characters who inhabit them.

I liked the fact that this book was a short read, and its tasteful but unexpected conclusion was one I found clever. If you would like to read it, too, you won't find it on Amazon (it's considered "Book 0" in the series, what some call a "reader magnet" to get you hooked), but you can download it for free simply by signing up for the author's newsletter here:

Friday, October 20, 2023

Trip to Wisconsin, Part 2 (The Rose Report)

One more post and I'll stop prattling on about last week's trip to Wisconsin, I promise, but I just wanted to share photos of some of the roses (real ones and breakable ones) that I spotted on this visit. These were in the lawn next door to my stepdaughter's house, and when I asked if I could take photos, the couple who live there were so friendly and welcoming. I realized years ago that I absolutely love Midwesterners!

The lady of the house loves flowers, and when I saw her husband outside working in the garage and asked to take a few photos on that windy day (I didn't want him to think I was a stalker or something weird), he told me his wife would be thrilled that I admired her flowers so much. That was a win for both of us!

The banner on their lawn looked so inviting that I had suspected I would indeed get to snap a few photos.

The other roses I came across were at the thrift store in Green Bay, and sadly, I just didn't feel I could safely take them all home with me (or burden others with the task!). I left this pretty rose plate …

And this elegant and heavy-as-led glass platter etched with roses.

But at least I did get the pretty tray with the lavender roses that I shared here earlier this week, which will be coming to me in Newnan when our family heads our way at Thanksgiving. Roses always make me happy, and it was so fun to spot some new ones this fall! 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Highlights of a trip to Wisconsin!

Alex and I love to visit Green Bay in the fall, and this time, we were also there to attend grandson Michael's thirteenth (!) birthday party and to catch up with him and Andrew. We love our "Badger Boys" and were so grateful to get to spend some time with them and their parents, Heather and Brad.

This time, I was quite impressed by so many gorgeous flowers that were still displaying their lovely, bright colors. As I told a neighbor of my stepdaughter, Heather, by August, the flowers in Georgia are done, and so are we.

But oh, these dahlias!

And zinnias!

Alex and I both love seeing the beautiful colors of their fall leaves.

And y'all will swear that I forced him to take me to the big St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in Green Bay, but it was actually *his* idea! Here, he's checking some prices for me while I'm in a very long line.

If we'd been in the car instead of flying, I would have definitely bought this Lefton China Christmas tea set. The price tag said $69 for all of it!

Instead, I got a few small things that Heather and Brad will bring down (by car) at Thanksgiving, including a $2.13 fallish-looking teapot (it's unmarked, and I suspect it's very old and very English).

I got five charming little cordial glasses (79 cents each) to use for jam and/or cream at teatime.

And I can't resist a $3.57 handled tray with lavender roses. (I got a few unbreakable vintage Christmas items, too, and those went in my suitcase.)

It was a fun trip made extra enjoyable by all the pretty scenery like these leaves and berries, and when we got back to Georgia, it felt more like fall here too!

Monday, October 16, 2023

More teacup ornaments to look for

So I've been stalking Walmart in search of the mini Santa mug ornaments they are selling this year. This is week two of going to Walmart on the weekend, and I still haven't spotted them, but I did come across two new cup/mug ornaments, and these $1.98 treats were a nice consolation prize after not finding the Santa mug ornaments. (I'm sure I will find them. I just haven't visited enough Walmarts yet, and worst-case scenario, I will order them if they don't show up soon.)

My favorite was actually this "Let It Snow" mug. There's so much detail on the top of what I'm quite convinced is some sort of fancy peppermint tea latte!

And this gingerbread man perched on a red teacup is pretty cute too. I don't recall ever finding tea-themed ornaments at Walmart before, and I've already bought four this year!

Friday, October 13, 2023

A new chintz tea mug with an old chintz pattern

One of my mugs somehow got chipped recently, so you know what that means: I could legitimately say that I *needed* a new one! And I had some money left on a birthday gift card to T.J. Maxx, so when I saw this Grace Teaware chintz mug for $4.99 the other day, I knew it was the one. I've loved chintz for years, and this pattern looked so familiar that I just knew it was a vintage pattern that had resurfaced!

I thought it was a Royal Winton pattern, possibly Summertime, but when I got home and googled that, nope, it wasn't Summertime. Turns out it is James Kent's DuBarry pattern. (The patterns aren't or weren't copyrighted, I guess? Anyone know?) I'd love to have a teacup and saucer in this pattern as well, so maybe the Grace Teaware folks will get to it!

And despite the mug's colorful summery-looking design, I decided I can happily sip from this mug as I enjoy a fall tea like this yummy Organic Cinnamon Rooibos Chai from Davids Tea!

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Bigelow's Ginger Honey Tea

It turned cool this weekend, so I found myself reaching for spice-flavored teas that taste like fall. Then when I was at the grocery store, I spotted this Bigelow Ginger Honey Tea and thought that sounded good too.

Of all the spices that have appeared in teas I've tried over the years, ginger is probably my favorite. I like that almost peppery taste you get from ginger, and it's a bonus that ginger is known for so many health benefits, said to help with everything from nausea and PMS to lowering cholesterol and combatting motion sickness. I know all that, but I just like the taste, and this Ginger Honey Tea quickly became a new fall favorite!

An herbal tea, this blend contains ginger, rooibos, fennel, rosehips, zinc gluconate, pumpkin seeds, natural honey flavor, and natural honey granules. In addition to the ginger, the rooibos and honey flavors shine through as well, so this tea is right up my alley! Have any of you tried it?

Monday, October 9, 2023

'Tis the season … to start Christmas shopping!

I know, I know. It's barely October (Columbus Day, actually), and here I am talking about Christmas shopping. Well, there's a reason for that. If tea lovers are going to be first to grab all the tea doodads this Christmas, then they need to know about them, right? And all Christmas mugs are considered "tea mugs" in this house, so I wanted to send out an alert that these cute little plastic tea mug ornaments are just 98 cents at Walmart! I stopped by on Saturday and grabbed these two goodies to go on my tea-themed Christmas tree. I'm actually thinking of putting up two or maybe even three trees this year, so the more teacup ornies the better.

Some of the vintage-Christmas collectors I follow on Instagram have been talking about how the new vintage-style Santa Blow Molds are sold out (already!) at many Walmarts across the country. I've wanted one of these for years now but am too thrifty to pay the hundred (or more) dollars they easily command. This two-foot-tall Santa Blow Mold is just $34, and I was thrilled to nab one of the only two on display at Peachtree City's Walmart. A collection begins!

I kind of wish so many people didn't like vintage Christmas decor, because then I would have an easier time finding it. At any rate, vintage-looking things help me create the look I want, and this $1.98 metal ornament was perfect.

My final Christmasy find on Saturday was this 16-inch melamine tray from T.J. Maxx. I will probably save it for display, not for food use, as I think the vintage Santa design is so cute, and I love that the crimping around the edge makes it look like a giant paper plate. This was a fun $6.99 find. So please know that I am fully here for October, but if you want cute new (or old) things for Christmas, now is the time to think about getting them!

Friday, October 6, 2023

A luncheon for the LEOs

For several years now, I have been a volunteer at my community's Public Safety Appreciation Luncheon. We prepare and serve a hot meal to several hundred of our local law enforcement officers (LEOs), and local citizens donate dozens of homemade desserts that fill table after table in the dining hall at our local fairgrounds. Here I am at yesterday's 25th annual luncheon, where I served alongside friends Pat, Ruth Ann, and Lisa, among many others.

My friend Norma is the ringleader of this event. She's in her eighties and can run circles around the rest of us. She's considered "The Mother of Public Safety" in Coweta County, and several years ago, the local LEOs all contributed one of their official patches so that it could be sewn onto a special apron that she proudly (and I mean proudly!) wears at the luncheon each year.

The meal is always a hit, and this year's menu featured pork loin, mashed potatoes, green beans, squash casserole, macaroni and cheese, and rolls.

The beverage? Tea, of course! (And it's good too. I always go for the sweet tea here because it is so good.)

It is always fun to see which desserts are a hit each year. Last year, lemon desserts were really popular. This year, the most-requested dessert seemed to be pecan pie, and we had whole pies …

As well as some individual ones too! My contribution, which I forgot to photograph, was a Heath Bar poke cake (the kind where you poke holes into a devil's food sheet cake and fill it with sweetened condensed milk and caramel topping before covering it with Cool Whip and Heath Bar bits). I was absolutely delighted when one woman came and asked for a piece of it "because I heard this was so good." Music to my ears!

Many of the officers like to browse all the offerings before making a decision. One rather robust-looking gentleman surprised his buddy by getting just a tiny spoonful of banana pudding. "What are you doing?" asked the man. The big guy responded, "I'm pacing myself." Ha!

Someone had packaged individual banana puddings in cute little plastic cups with "Thank you" stickers on top. What a nice touch!

We always encourage everyone to get more than one dessert, and when one man couldn't decide on a treat, I told him to get a piece of pound cake to take back to the office for his afternoon tea, which he seemed to think was really funny. (If he only knew that I was serious!) I truly believe this annual luncheon is a great idea, and I'd love to see other communities across the country do something like this too!