Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tea and Knitting

Tea Time Magazine's Jan/Feb issue features a "Knitters' Tea" menu

 Close-knit families can yield some big rewards.

I've been looking forward to the latest (January/February) Tea Time issue since we met up with editor, Lorna Reeves, last November at the Philly Coffee and Tea Expo.  It was there Lorna gave us a head's up on what was in store - a spotlight on tea and knitting.

Although it seems a natural pairing, Lorna shared that she found it was interesting that there was such a concentration of combination tea and yarn shops in the Northwest. A few of these charming stores are highlighted in Tea Time as well as a full menu to host your own "Knitters' Tea".

I've taken up knitting on and off since I was about ten years old, but I really got serious five years ago.  I actually signed up for lessons at a yarn shop in Rochester and really enjoyed it. But, I found with all the other projects/job/family stuff, I had to retire the yarn and needles for a bit.

Tea cozy knitted by my sister-in-law
Fortunately for me, there's a knitter in the family. My sister-in-law, Sandy, is an amazing crafter and I've benefited for several years. She made me an adorable tea cozy after I bought her a knitting book with this specific pattern. (How thoughtful of me!)

She also knitted me a warm and pretty shawl that is cuter and more flexible than any snuggie. With temps in single digits this month, both me and the teapot are staying warm in custom-knitted wear.

Me and my tea pot fashionably outfitted in cozy knitwear
My sister-in-law also made hats for the whole family one Christmas. Mine is ivory-colored in a basket-weave pattern that I wear throughout the winter and every family ski trip.

I have to admit, though, that this issue of Tea Time has inspired me to pick up the needles again.  I went to my craft closet and found a couple of projects "in progress".

Here's one I started a few year's back. It was going to be a scarf. Looks pretty good so far.

Beginning of a lovely scarf
Then I found this in another basket. This was going to be a sweater, I think. Just a few more of knits and pearls to go.

The start of a beautiful sweater.
It may be awhile before I get very far on my projects in progress, but in the meantime, I can certainly enjoy the Knitters' Tea menu. Among the tasty treat recipes featured: cinnamon scones, Shephards' pie and no-bake caramel-apple mini tartlets all paired with a delicious oolong tea. That is certainly something I can finish quickly.

Tea Time Magazine and close knit families certainly do yield great rewards. Glad I have both.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Downton Abbey-inspired evening at White Lake Library: Warm tea and talk prevail over chilly temps



A Downton Abbey-inspired Evening
This week Barb's TEA Shop presented "A Downton Abbey-inspired Evening" at the White Lake Township Library. A testament to the program planning of Reference Librarian Denise Harris-Fiems and the popularity of the Downton Abbey series, the event room was filled despite chilly temps in Southeastern Michigan. Of course, hot tea was the perfect accompaniment and Republic of Tea's herbal English Rose Tea was the popular choice along with tasty scones.

Wearing my non-restricting tea gown, pictured with Librarian, Denise Harris-Fiems
Among topics covered were the manners and attire of the Edwardian period. I'm particularly fond of the fashion of the tea gowns in the era of the Crawley family - very free flowing and no corsets required.

Guest were invited to bring their own tea cup and share its history. Each cup had an incredible story and all were beautiful.

Library guests share stories of their own tea cups
 A wonderful evening of tea, scones and Downton Abbey fun. It was a delightful way to spend a frosty night in Michigan.

Tea, scones and Downton Abbey-related books add to the tablescape.
The White Lake Township Library has "Downton Days" this week to celebrate the premiere of Season Five last Sunday. Visitors can enjoy trivia questions and a scavenger hunt.

More exciting events are planned throughout the year. For more information, see the White Lake Township Library's Event Page.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Barb's TEA Shop Wishlist 2014: A countdown to Downton

Share your weekend (whatever that is) with Lady Violet teddy
Although our BTS wishlist is a little late this year, even with late shipping, no tea enthusiast/Downton Abbey fanatic will complain if any of these items arrive post-Christmas. Be creative and say these DA-inspired gifts are planned to arrive to coincide with the airing of the fifth season on January 4th (see there, plenty of time!)

Let your DA devote start their weekend, whatever that is, with a good book, a fuzzy blanket, a cup of tea and a good Dowager to snuggle with. Order this delightful Lady Violet  for $75.00 to keep you in line and in good company from Signals.

Lord Grantham teddy


Lord Gulley  of Glencoe














And for the Lord in your life, how about a teddy-likeness with Lord Grantham, attired, of course, in his Donegal tweed suit and also for $75.00 at Signals.

Downton Abbey Christmas tea gift set
Of course, the holidays and Downton Abbey are always more enjoyable with a hot cup of tea. The Republic of Tea has combined both beautifully with this Downton Abbey Christmas gift set for $24,95.


Are we having tea or not?

To accompany your Lady Violet teddy or to play the Dowager's drinking game (every time she utters a quip, you take a sip of tea), no DA fan could be without the Dowager Darjeeling from Bingley's Tea. We have sampled this tasty tea and give it a Lady's gloved-two-thumbs up to this blend which demands, "Are we having tea or not?"


Beautiful Edwardian tea gown

And, why not have afternoon tea as the Crawley's do in a fashionable Edwardian tea dress from Victorian Trading Company for a mere $179.95.  Perhaps someone you know who is a size medium would enjoy this beautiful frock.


Another great Downton Abbey book from Jessica Fellowes
 Another must-have for DA-philes is any one - or even better the collection - of Downton Abbey books written by Jessica Fellowes, niece of DA creator, Julian Fellowes. We met Jessica Fellowes last month in Delaware where she was the guest speaker at Wilmington's Antique and Garden Show. I received her first book as birthday present two years ago and Jessica Fellowes had me at page one. I purchased the third and most recent book in the series, "A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey".  It's wonderful to follow the series throughout the year and there are several great recipes included (scones are my favorite!).

Rachel, Barb and Jessica Fellowes
And,  the piece de resistance for any Downton Abbey fan, what could be more exciting than a visit to Highclere Castle and a stay on the grounds at London Lodge? Nothing! Opening dates start February 13 and include various dates throughout the new year. There's even a tea tray set near the Lodge's fireplace. 

Having tea and a stay at Highclere, not exactly priceless
Accommodations start around  $550.00 a night. Even if this comes after the holiday season, no recipient would complain.

Keep in mind, Barb's TEA Shop will be presenting several Downton Abbey-inspired teas in 2015. Stay connected to barbsteashop.com for future event dates!

Whether a Downton Abbey themed tea or a trip across the pond to the grounds of Highclere Castle, there is something on BTS' wishlist to fill anyone's stocking.

But, most of all, we wish all our dear friends the great delights the holiday season brings!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving tablescapes, toile and hungry games!


Downton Abbey-themed tablescape turned toile
We kicked off the holiday weekend at the movie theater Wednesday night to see the third installment of the Hunger Games, "Mockingjay, Part 1". After movie night (which made for an entertaining evening), the next day was devoted to tablescapes, games and making sure no one was hungry.

My goal was to make a Downton Abbey themed table this year, but sometimes place settings have a mind of their own. The off-white tablecloth I had selected was a little small for our table, so I used a back-up dark red one buried in the linen closet.  We needed some new soup bowls this year and a last minute to trip to Kohl's left us with an assortment of red and white bowls which just screamed to be paired up with my Christmas tree toile plates. Those, in turn, were the perfect match for a set of red white napkins my sister-in-law had made for me a few years ago.

But, that was not enough! This was the year to not only bring out soup bowls and dinner plates, but dessert and butter plates, forks, knives and spoons times two and a drinking vessel for every beverage including water, wine, sparkling juice, coffee and, of course, tea.

Measuring for precise place setting alignment
  Although I did not achieve the Downton Abbey theme I had planned, I did maintain tabletop control worthy of any English country manor. I carefully aligned plates, glasses and silverware with the aid of a tape measure. Carson would be proud. (my sons, Rob and Matt, sneaked in a few photo ops to impose their interpretations of -  or perhaps to mock - my need to measure).

Rob and Matt help themselves to my camera and tape measure.
Mocking jays?
 The burden of clean up, however, was not relegated to the downstairs staff, but to a loyal dishwasher that ran all day long and into the evening.

The carving of the turkey next to the loaded potatoes
Lord Gulley once again commanded the kitchen with the flair and skill of a manor chef with a brined turkey, french onion soup, brussel sprouts cooked with bacon and loaded twice-baked potatoes. I attempted to overthrow tradition by not making my usual over-dry stuffing. In a radical move, my dressing was overly moist and a bit mushy. Next year's attempt is sure to be perfect.

Too dry stuffing replaced with too moist dressing. Wait until next year!
Another custom of the Thanksgiving Day holiday is a game of Risk where Chris adheres to a strict Australia-based strategy. Although not victorious in world domination, his turkey fete was a real winner.

Chris victorious in dinner but not world domination.
Finally, Rachel and I carried out our annual post-Thanksgiving Day trek to the mall for Black Friday to get a few good deals and a free tote bag. With the agility of Katniss threading a path through a dense forest, Rachel and I worked our way through the crowds to secure an assortment of discounted candles and some festive holiday sweaters.


With the holiday season officially off and running, we did take time to kick back with a few pots of tea. With much to be thankful for, we are grateful for all these traditions of the holidays spent with family and friends - except for maybe the stuffing. We'll keep working on that one. . .

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend to All!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A tea plant grows in Detroit

New "flush" of growth this week, while snow falls outside

This week my tea plant greeted us with a bounty of pretty white blossoms, right in the thick of an early November snow shower.  Like a tree growing in Brooklyn, this tea plant has continued to flourish despite being outside its native comfort growing zone.  Some of its impressive progress is due to its heartiness, but most of the credit goes to the great care my husband, Chris has provided.


Our new tea plant in 2010

We started with a small tea plant back in the summer of 2010. (Camellia Sinensis: Tea Garden takes off in Michigan).  Inspired by Angela Macke, of Light of Day teas, who grows tea at her farm in Traverse City, we planted our small sampling four years ago. We keep it in a planter for easy moving indoors when the temperatures start to dip. Usually, we house it up at Pemberly Pines, our up north cabin, but this fall we brought it to our home in southeast Michigan – and I’m so glad we did. We can see its progress daily instead of occasional weekends. It’s thriving in our living room window sill, in a location that gets full sun throughout the day – that is, when it’s not snowing.

According to Wikipedia, tea plants, if left alone can grow as tall as 52 feet, although most are trimmed waist-high for easier plucking.  Not only is the plant cut back for convenience of harvesting, but the trimmed bushes produce an increase in new growth which results in more tender leaves and better quality teas. Only the top one to two inches of the plant are picked and the buds and leaves are called “flushes”.  A plant can grow a new flush every seven to fifteen days during the growing season.

It may be a few more years before I get a yield big enough for a pot of tea, but in the meantime, it’s nice to have something tropical blossoming inside, as the snow piles up outside, while sipping a hot cup Earl Grey. 





Friday, October 31, 2014

A delightful tea with the Sisterhood of Beth Shalom

Getting ready for afternoon tea on the road.
Last month, Barb's TEA Shop served up tea and a tea etiquette presentation to one of the most delightful group of ladies we have had the pleasure to meet, the Sisterhood of Beth Shalom. At the invite of member, Linda, and held at the beautiful home of another, Marylyn, the venue was wonderful and it felt to us as though it was designed purposely for such an affair. Rachel put together tea preparations in the large kitchen while I was directed to a corner between the living and dining room for my presentation set-up.

Rachel setting up tea in the kitchen. We served earl grey, green and herbal.
 While Rachel and I brought the tea and prepared it, the afternoon tea fare was a group effort from the members of the Sisterhood and it was as pretty as it was delicious. Tables were set in the dining room and living room with ample extra seating in couches near the fireplace.

Great set-up for afternoon tea. Ladies gathered in living room and dining room.
The afternoon kicked off with a membership meeting and a summary of their impressive philanthropic efforts.  To be part of this afternoon was truly an honor as well as a lot of fun!

Lovely tablescape  in corner of large dining room.
We even met up with an old friend, Lisa, who along with husband Frank, owns Chazzano Coffee (where I had my absolute favorite cup of puerh tea ever!) as well as making new friends, including Bobbie Lewis who writes a blog "Feed the Spirit". She captured the afternoon tea event wonderfully in a recent blog entry.   Here's a link to her article, which includes not only a scone recipe, but a bit of controversy about "milk in first" or "milk in last":  Tea Time with Scones.

A portion of afternoon tea fare including essential scones.
An amazing afternoon tea with an amazing group of women. Thanks for letting Barb's TEA Shop be part of your day!




Sunday, October 19, 2014

Packing up the Tea Garden for another year

In February the TEA garden is planned
Back in June I wrote about what was to be the beginning of my tea garden at our place in northern Michigan, Pemberly Pines. In an area that is in a Plant Hardiness Zone of 4 (for comparison purposes, northern Alaska is Zone 1 and southern Florida is Zone 11), the gardening season isn't very long, but what time we do have, we certainly make the most of it. The tea garden flourished this summer and provided some very enjoyable tea times with family and friends.

My husband, Chris, built planters to be placed in the tea garden.
We planted herbs and flowers and added some teapot decor.
I labeled most of what I planted except for whatever was in the
big redwood planter. The seeds grew like crazy, but I was never
quite sure what they were.

Chris made the planters and transports plants in the tractor

Planting herbs, flowers and mystery seeds.

Tea garden tiles bought in February look lovely without snow

Not sure what I planted in here, but it really took off.

By August, the tea garden was in full bloom - just in time for our family reunion. In between paintball, outdoor movies, and golf, there was still time for a tea party.

Mystery plant? It's like a chia pet!

Herbs held on and hoping they return next year.

Having tea with Rachel and sister-in-law Cara in August

Pemberly also treated us with a bumper crop of blueberries - great with tea time

Last weekend, we were back up to Pemberly Pines with good friends, Rik and Carol, for our annual color tour of northern Michigan. We also walked the grounds of Pemberly and it was clear it was time to put the tea garden to bed. Rik took this picture which best captured the end of the tea garden for another season.

Seasons changing at Pemberly and the tea garden will take a hiatus.

It's time to switch from iced-tea by the pond to earl grey by the fireplace.  I'll have a few months to figure out what to add to next year's tea garden and maybe figure what's growing in the redwood planter.