Sunday, August 23, 2015

Start spreading the news: Tea time fun in NYC!

I'll start spreading the news:  Rachel and I left two weeks ago for a four-and-a-half day whirlwind trip to the Big Apple. Our visit was to include afternoon tea at The St. Regis Hotel, a Broadway show, lunch at Central Park, the Statue of Liberty and a day excursion to Hyde Park.  Like the "Chairman of the Board", we made a brand new start of it in old New York and loved every New York minute.

Our accommodations were at the historic and elegant Waldorf Astoria. The only disappointing part of the stay was finding out that afternoon tea is not served in the hotel's Cocktail Terrace during the summer months. Not to miss out completely, we toasted our final night in the Cocktail Terrace, a beautiful dining area overlooking the opulent grand lobby with its marble columns, mahogany paneling and the iconic nine foot bronze clock.

Our room at the Waldorf Astoria. No need to light a fire with 90 degree temps outside.

First stop,  after checking in and a quick refresh, was the St. Regis Hotel for afternoon tea. I had been there once before - just to view the tea venue - on my New York tea trip with the former hotel's tea sommelier, Elizabeth Knight. It's been remodeled since then with a more contemporary decor. I must admit, I do like the elegance of the previous "Astor Court", but found the updated environs still pleasing. More importantly, the afternoon tea fare was delicious!

Afternoon tea time at the recently updated St. Regis Hotel 
Next day was our tour of  Liberty Island and Ellis Island. We took some time at the latter to do some family research on my family - Engmans that came over from Finland.  Didn't make much in way of  connections but still very moved by the museum and, of course, the Statue of Liberty.

Visitors from the "D" awed by Lady Liberty

Downpour while in NYC bus 
We did several "hop-on/hop-off" bus tours of the Manhattan. While waiting for one bus to pick us up at Battery Park, we and fellow tour-goers were caught in a downpour that was enhanced by rush hour traffic and some angry customers. But, the sun came out, the bus moved on and we got to our Broadway show with 5 minutes to spare.  No worries, or should I say "hakuna matata" in honor of "The Lion King", the musical we experienced that night.
Made it to show, minutes to spare

After a wonderful night at the theater, we were up early for our day excursion to Hyde Park. The purpose of the trip was to visit Springwood, home of Franklin Roosevelt, but, as an added bonus of the tour, we also had a stop at the Vanderbilt Mansion. The latter was also on the Hudson River, and home to Frederick Vanderbilt, the grandson of the Cornelius Vanderbilt, the shipping and railroad magnate. The homes are within a five minute drive of each other, but  span a great distant in contrasts, showcasing "old money" versus "new". If I had to choose, I'd take either.

Outside the Vanderbilt Mansion

The Vanderbilt residence, although noted to be the home of the most frugal Vanderbilt sibling of his era, is still an ostentatious mansion by any standard and a great example of the gilded-age lifestyle.

So much to see and learn at FDR's home in Hyde Park
Springwood, the home of FDR, by contrast, was understated elegance and, though grand in size, still exhibited a more homey and accessible interior. And, with the Roosevelt Library on the grounds, the visit gave us the opportunity to learn even more about Franklin, Eleanor and the rest of the Hyde Park Roosevelts.

Past the nine o'clock hour, still got a peek inside to see Al!

Easter Island statue at American Museum of Natural History

Back in Manhattan, we ended our day with a night tour of the city. Although in areas like Times Square, there's so much light from marquees and spotlights, you can easily convince yourself it's still daytime.

Iced tea (of course) with lunch at Tavern-on-the Green in Central Park

Other highlights of the trip included a stop in front of the Today Show studios (and spotting Al Roker!), lunch at Tavern-on-the Green, a visit to the American Museum of Natural History  and a late-night dinner at the Stardust Diner, where Broadway-bound waiters and waitresses belt out show tunes in between serving you egg creams.

Recommended egg creams at Stardust Diner

Weren't these guys just serving us egg creams and burgers?

As noted earlier, we did end our stay in the Waldorf Astoria's lobby, toasting our trip with a glass of the bubbly.  It was an exciting trip, but, for now, we're quite content to wake up in a city that does sleep. It's two thumb's up to you, New York, Neeeeeewwww Yooooooorkkk!

Toasting to an amazing trip to New York, the city that never sleeps!

Please stay tuned! More stories on NY to come!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Mother's Day: Past, "presents" and future

Six years of celebrating Mother's Day at Goldfish Tea
On Mother's Day we continued with our annual tradition of meeting at Goldfish Tea. This Royal Oak tea room, with its comfy seating, amazing tea and tasty fare is the perfect place for a family gathering and we've been spending our second Sunday in May here for the last six years.

Azaleas, orchid and charming tea bag card.

This year was really a look at past, "presents" and future. Starting our afternoon at Goldfish, we filled up on sweets, savories and pots of Keemun tea. I was the recipient of an enviable treasure bath consisting of an azalea tree bursting with beautiful, bright pink blossoms (Blumz does great work!) from Matt,  and a delicate, very pretty orchid plant housed in an adorable porcelain tiny teacup, courtesy Rachel. Also, a precious tea bag-themed card that is destined to be framed.

Tea Leaf Reading Kit

From Rob, I received a peak into the future - and a whole lot of fun - with a Tea Leaf Reading kit (TOPS Malibu). It has been a lot of fun learning more about this ancient art. I'm often asked about it at tea events, so I was anxious to see what it's all about. For more on this cool kit and what it takes to read tea leaves, please check out Tea Leaf Reading: Meditative, Creative and Fun in The Detroit Examiner.

Partial city view from Matt's balcony
That sums up the future and presents, but the visit to the past came later that afternoon.  Matt recently moved into an apartment in downtown Detroit and he took us all down for the grand tour after tea. He's in the heart of the revitalized city and from his balcony you can get a glimpse of Belle Isle, the Detroit River (if you squint), Ford Field and the Michigan Building. The latter was not only one of the film sites featured in the movie "Eight Mile", but once the home of a credit card processing center where, as a young graduate student/assistant-to-the auditor, I met my husband, Chris, a six-year "veteran" of the business and systems programmer at the senior age of twenty-six.

 Michigan Building where it all began
That was over thirty-three years ago (having just celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary this week) and we hadn't been back to that building in three decades. After soaking in the amenities of Matt's place, we took the elevator ride down to the lobby and made a short jaunt around the corner to the Michigan Building.

Not much had changed in thirty years except it was clearly less occupied. Chris and I were deja-vu-ing in a setting that was a bit surreal. Did Mr. Peabody just hearken us to 1983 in the WABAC machine? Hard to imagine us being that young, let alone thinking that some thirty years after meeting, one of our children would be living across the street.

That would have been one cup of tea leaves to have predicted that!

An enjoyable Mother's Day of past, presents and future.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

BTS Featured Artists Series: Home sewn decor from Renae L.

Beautiful table runner with tea-time theme

Custom table runners, towels, trivets, cozies and placemats - these are just some of the items that my friend, Renae Leggieri, can create for you. You can custom order based on size, colors, patterns and themes. Of course, I am a fan of the tea-themed merchandise!

I am introducing a new feature for Barb's TEA Shop Service blog and putting a spotlight on artists and crafters that I know and whose work is amazing. After writing about my sister-in-law, Sandy, and her knitting earlier this year, it occurred to me that I am blessed with a network of creative women whose talents I admire. I'd like to share these artists and crafters with you as well.

I love this fabric and just happened to have cups to match!

Renae started her sewing business last year. She quilted for a hobby, but quickly found that she was getting requests for items she made for personal gifts, such as towels and trivets.

You'll be taken with the creativity and attention to detail.

Fancy stitching and pretty ribbon trimmings add to artistry

Although I have two table runners suitable for the fanciest of tea parties,  Renae has items perfect for holidays and everyday use.  Check out these trivets that would be great for all your summer holiday entertaining.

Red, white & blue theme is great for summer parties. 

In addition, Renae crafts bowl cozy/wraps. They can be used as a decorative feature or for functional hot pads when heating up items in the microwave. (Set of 3 sizes, 15", 12", 10". Mix & match sizes for what works for you. $30 set.)

Bowl wraps functional and decorative.

Table runners start at $15.00, if quilted, prices start at $20.00.

For more information, contact Renae at

Table runner keeps surfaces safe from drips while adding charm and whimsy to tea time

And, next time you are over for tea, check out my new table runners!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hey Barb's TEA Shop, you just completed 5 tea events in 4 months, what are you going to do next? We're going to Highclere Castle!

We're going to Downton Abbey

Five tea events in the first four months of 2015 and we couldn't be happier. We're also treating ourselves to a trip across the pond to visit the "real" Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle - although we've got a few months before we start packing.

Our events were held at three different libraries and two at the The Townsend Hotel.  Would it surprise anyone that over half the tea affairs were inspired by Downton Abbey?

Rang in the new year at White Lake Library

We rang in the new year at the White Lake Library with a Downton Abbey-inspired evening.  A chilly January evening was warmed by introductions from librarian Denise Harris-Fiems and English Rose tea from  Republic of Tea's Downton Abbey collection.

February at Baldwin Library
One month later, we were at The Baldwin Library in Birmingham, for a Downton Abbey-inspired afternoon tea with librarian Kathryn Bergeron, who decked out tables with linens and beautiful red roses. Rose (aka Rachel) served guests three selections from Republic of Tea.  Scones, curd and cream came from The Townsend Hotel.

Tables set for fun corporate event on Valentine's Day at the Townsend 
Speaking of our favorite luxury hotel, we spent our Valentine's Day at a corporate event held in the Townsend's tea lobby for an absolutely delightful group of women. We presented our Tea Etiquette program while guests dined on a scones, savories and bottomless pots of Harney tea.

Downton Abbey Afternoon Tea at the Townsend
In April, we were back at The Townsend in April for a Downton Abbey afternoon tea. The hotel's tea lobby was transformed into a stunning Edwardian-era dining room where the Crawley family would feel right at home. Rose-Rachel and I so enjoyed presenting to and conversing with all the guests - some of who joined us in dressing in period attire!

What's Cooking with Barb and Loretta
Rachel sets up for tea tasting portion at Wet Bloomfield Library
We finished the month at the West Bloomfield Libary as part of their  popular "What's Cooking" series. Good friend and library committee member, Loretta Harris, joined us in greeting and serving to 80 guests. We presented, "Beyond the Tea Bag: Tea History and Tea Tasting" which included a matcha tea demonstration. Teas featured for our sampling included Ito En, Socra Tea and Elmwood Inn. Also featured were teas from Chazzano and Light of Day.

It was great to see some guests at the library who we saw less than a week before at our Townsend tea!

So, what does one do after all that - go to Highclere Castle, of course! That is the Disneyworld for those of us caught up in the Edwardian-era Masterpiece mini-series. .

Will be back with even MORE stories to share with our fellow Downton Abbey enthusiasts and ready for all a whole new line-up of tea events. Stay tuned and hope to see you at one of our teas soon!

To read more of these events, check out all the details in The Detroit Tea Examiner.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Downton Abbey-inspired Afternoon Tea at Birmingham's Baldwin Library featuring Barb's TEA Shop, Republic of Tea and Townsend Hotel's scones

Lady Rose, (aka Rachel) and Barb serve guests tea in period dress

Tomorrow may be the finale of Season 5 for Downton Abbey, but the Masterpiece mini-series will continue to inspire more Edwardian period activities. Barb's TEA Shop has presented two DA-related events this year (with more to follow, so stay tuned), most recently the beginning of this month at Birmingham's Baldwin Library.

Rachel readying the tea table with scones from the Townsend

The event was "sold out" with sixty guests attending, some donning hats and gloves for the occasion. Rachel, dressed in Rose-like fashion, complete with tiara, served patrons their choice of one of the three featured teas from the  Republic of Tea's Downton Abbey line:  Grantham Breakfast Blend, a hearty black tea, English Rose, a fruity herbal and, perhaps the crowd favorite, Mrs. Patmore's Pudding, a delightful dessert blend with flavors of caramel and vanilla. All were a perfect pairing with  the delicious, fresh-baked scones from The Townsend, which are always a part the luxury hotel's daily afternoon teas.

Sixty guests attended the Downton Abbey-inspired afternoon tea event

Republic of Tea Downton Abbey teas were served

Each table was set with a vase filled with red roses and once seated, guests enjoyed a presentation on the Edwardian customs and some behind-the-scene tales of the Downton Abbey family. The event was captured in detail in a delightful article in the Birmingham Eccentric, "Downton Abbey aficionados enjoy library tea event"

Even though Season Five comes to an end tomorrow night, Barb's TEA Shop will continue Downton Abbey-inspired tea events. Will be at the Townsend soon (!) as well as events this summer and fall. Ring for Carson and stay tuned!

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.