Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Tuesday Tea and Tomes: The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt

The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt, a tale of resilience, triumph and humor

"A woman is like a teabag. You never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water." ER

In an era where political discourse often passes the sublime and goes right to the ridiculous, it's worthwhile to go back in time to find some inspiration from a first lady who, born into privilege, faced her own fears to champion the cause of those who had little or no voice on the national stage.

A favorite quote of BTS from Eleanor Roosevelt involves tea!

Even though my undergraduate degree is in Political Science, I feel like I only really got to know the Roosevelts for the first time, up-close-and-personal, with Ken Burns' 2014 PBS documentary, 'The Roosevelts: An Intimate History'.  It inspired me to learn even more, and I found a great read in 'The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt', an abridged edition of three earlier books from this incredible first lady.

A portrait of Eleanor at age 4 hangs in the Roosevelt Library

Eleanor shares the memories, both painful and triumphant, of her journey from a shy, insecure little girl, taunted by her own mother for her unusual looks to an overachieving student and public servant, buoyed by the attention of a progressive teacher and an adoring uncle, Teddy Roosevelt, who just happened to be president.

This eventually lead to the big leap as an empowered first lady who visited miners and soldiers in challenging conditions, serving as both eyes and legs for her husband, Franklin Roosevelt.

Rachel outside Hyde Park

This book and a trip to Hyde Park, the home of Eleanor and Franklin and the Roosevelt Library, in 2015, served as the framework for our "Eleanor Roosevelt Afternoon Tea".   The two most recent teas were held at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham.

Presenting Eleanor Roosevelt Tea at Birmingham's Townsend Hotel

In 'The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt', the former first lady tells of the struggles she faced being raised by her maternal grandmother after both of her parents died at an early age. She also shares the highs and lows of raising five children while facing some hard truths about her husband's infidelity. But, ultimately, it's a story of resilience and finding rewards in helping others..

Chintz Room at Hyde Park, first shared by Eleanor and FDR, now displays Val-Kill furniture

In her autobiography, Eleanor also talks about Val-Kill, the cottage near Hyde Park, that FDR encouraged his wife to build as her own retreat away from his mother's homestead. It was at this cottage that Eleanor, along with two close friends, started Val-Kill Industries, an attempt to provide skilled trades and jobs to the mass of unemployed workers. Some of the furniture produced at Val-Kill is still on display at Hyde Park.

Eleanor's story also includes a great deal of humor. She shares  anecdotes of entertaining dignitaries at Hyde Park, most notably the King and Queen of England. FDR and King George the VI bonded over cocktails, both frowned upon by their respective mothers, but enjoyed privately in the Hyde Park library.

In another amusing tale, Eleanor writes about a last minute trip she took to a prison. Interested in prisoner's rights, she was called to visit a jail without much lead time. In haste, she told her assistant to let her FDR know she was going to jail.  Upon hearing the news, the President responded, "I'm not surprised, but what for?"

Outside the Roosevelt Library with Eleanor and Franklin

No matter what side of the aisle you identify with, Eleanor Roosevelt is a public figure who can inspire all. She opened the gates to the White House to those who were traditionally denied access. She truly proved that one can overcome adversity and continue to achieve great things.

Certainly, Eleanor Roosevelt, like a teabag, proved how strong she was after being put in hot water so much of her incredible life.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tuesday Tea and Tomes: 'Tea with Jane Austen' by Kim Wilson

Tea with Jane Austen is part of my JA collection, including Chawton mug

To paraphrase one of the most famous first lines in literature - it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single reader in possession of a good cup of tea, must be in want of a great book.

If you are good on that premise, we have just the tiny tome for you:  'Tea with Jane Austen' by Kim Wilson.

Brimming with interesting details about Jane's passion for England's number one drink, Wilson guides the reader through tea's important role in the Regency period. Starting with "tea in the morning" and ending with "tea. . , tonight", Wilson fills the chapters in between with fascinating facts as to where Austen and her society would shop for tea and accessories, the different variations of serving tea and the assorted health benefits that were ascribed to the drink at the time.

Kim Wilson at the JA festival in Louisville

We first met Kim Wilson in 2010 when she was the guest speaker at the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, an annual event where throngs of Janeites gather for a weekend of much felicity.

Wilson is as engaging a writer as she is a speaker. She charmed the crowd with tales from 'Tea with Jane Austen' as well as her 2008 follow-up book, 'In the Garden with Jane Austen'.

Our visit to Chawton Cottage in 2011

It was in Wilson's first book where I learned that Jane Austen purchased her tea at Twinings - just exactly where it stands today - with the two Chinese figures over the door, to remind shoppers just where their tea had come. (In Austen's  time, tea was expensive and a target for poor substitutes - dregs, twigs or worse.)

We actually viewed the Austen teaspoons - and they were spectacular!

It was also in 'Tea with Jane Austen' where Wilson cites Jane's written record of a tea accessory purchase. Jane's mother bought a silver ladle and six teaspoons, which per Austen,
"[made]  our sideboard border on the Magnificent".

It was almost a year later after meeting Wilson  that my daughter and I visited one of Austen's homes, Chawton Cottage, in Hampshire England, and we were thrilled to actually view those six teaspoons on display in the dining room. And, yes - they were spectacular!

Chawton Cottage celebrating the 200th anniversary of S & S in 2011

In the dining room at Chawton where Jane wrote and drank tea

At the time of our visit, Chawton Cottage was celebrating the 200th anniversary of Sense and Sensibility. It was a special time to be there and, of course, bring home the commemorative tea mug.

Twinings tea store, looks very much the same as it did in Austen's time

That same trip, we made our pilgrimage to the Twinings on the Strand in London. As Wilson described in her book, those same two Chinese figures kept vigil on the entry to the tea store and it was a heady experience walking through those doors and purchasing tea at the same place Jane did a mere two hundred years before.

Rachel and I in Austen land (i.e., Bath, England)  in 2006, Chawton in 5 more years!

'Tea with Jane Austen' not only enlightens readers with Regency era tea facts, but pulls in tea references from all of Austen's novels and letters from Jane to her sister, Cassandra,  extolling the virtues of tea. As an added bonus, assorted recipes of the era such as  Plumb Cake to China Orange Jelly  are included in every chapter.

'Tea with Jane Austen' is tiny book, but stuffed with goodies. There's something for everyone, especially if one is in possession of a cup of tea and in need of great read.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Another excellent Tea-kend starting with a Downton Abbey-inspired tea in Hudson, Michigan

Hudson Carnegie Library, established in 1904 with funds from the Andrew Carnegie

What is a teakend?  It's a term we use at Barb's Tea Service to refer to a weekend filled with tea events. We just wrapped up another wonderful teakend, starting Saturday in Hudson, Michigan.

With Librarian, Joann Crater

At the invite of Librarian, Joann Crater, and the Friends of the Library, Barb's Tea Service presented a Downton Abbey-inspired Afternoon Tea for over fifty guests. The event was held at the nearby Congregational Church which had ample room for all attendees.

Beautiful banquet table set with afternoon tea fare and fresh floral arrangements

Banquet tables were filled with scrumptious tea fare of assorted scones, sweets and savories. The tablescapes were beautiful with arrangements of fresh flowers and cut glass serving dishes.

Exquisite silver samovar on display. It would be right at home in Downton Abbey

An exquisite  silver samovar held court at the head of the banquet table. It would be right at home in the Crawley's dining room at Downton Abbey.

Pretty tea cups from a collection of English bone china

Some guests brought their own tea cups. One lovely lady brought three from her collection - all pretty English bone china.

Guests selecting their afternoon tea menu

Once the ladies selected their tea fare, Joann Carter presented opening remarks and then we began our time travel back to Edwardian England.

Joann Crater introduces the program

Speaking of time travel, the town of Hudson is filled with its own amazing history and hidden treasures. The full name of the library is the Hudson Carnegie Library which was built in 1904 with an endowment from the Andrew Carnegie.

The Hudson Library

We truly loved our visit to Hudson and plan to be back soon. There's a lot in store at this historic town, so stay tuned for more!

Hudson is a charming town with many hidden treasures

After our travels west, we headed back home in time for a tea and etiquette program on Sunday for a lovely bridal shower in West Bloomfield.

We concluded our teakend back home with a cup of tea and a pumpkin spice scone to celebrate the first weekend of fall.

A joyous teakend to be sure!

Wrapping up this teakend with tea and pumpkin spice scone

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tuesday Tea and Tomes: Jane Pettigrew's 'A Social History of Tea'

One of the first tea reference books I bought when starting my new "tea venture" was 'A Social History of Tea'.  Its focus is England's love affair with tea, starting from the first recorded cup in the 17th century to the modern brewing conveniences of the new millennium. Written by Jane Pettigrew, the book, like the author herself, is engaging, beautiful  and full of passion for the subject.

Jane Pettigrew has the pedigree to write such a tome. She was a teacher and consultant before starting her own tea room in London in 1983. Knowing the industry from the ground up, she eventually gave up the tea room and concentrated on writing books. It's no surprise, Jane Pettigrew has become an award-winning tea educator and a  highly sought after public speaker.

Meeting Jane Pettigrew a second time with Rachel at Tea Expo 2010 Las Vegas

I first met Jane Pettigrew in 2004 at the 'Take me 2 Tea Expo', (later renamed the World Tea Expo) in Rhode Island. At the time, I had just laid the ground work for Barb's Tea Shop (later renamed Barb's Tea Service) and I talked to Jane about it. She shared her time and knowledge of tea with me like we were old friends. I've met her two other times since then, and she is always charming and captivating.

Meeting up with Jane in 2011 when she was guest speaker at Amherst Rose in Ohio

I have several of Jane Pettigrew's books and love them all, but 'A Social History of Tea' is my favorite. Although it spans centuries in less than two hundred (oversized) pages, it's filled with fascinating details, including a sales receipt for a tea purchase from 1759 and  an article from a  1920's shelter magazine on embroidered tea napkins and table runners.

It's a fun read with lots of glossy photos and covers a broad range of topics including marketing, etiquette and fashion.

My edition is from 2001, but it's important to note there is a much newer edition, with contributing writer and fellow tea educator, Bruce Richardson. This updated version covers a little bit more of tea history on this side of the pond. It is available on Elmwood Inn's website:  A Social History of Tea, Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson.

Signed copy  from 2004 that I cherish - wishing me good luck with new 'tea venture'
An enjoyable book with something for everyone - whether you are starting a new tea venture or simply interested in learning more about the  social history of tea in England, and a little bit more!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Tea tasting event with Michael Harney at The Townsend Hotel: A tea party even better the second time around!

Enjoying Harney tea at The Townsend Hotel with Michael Harney

This past Sunday, The Townsend Hotel hosted a tea tasting event featuring Harney teas with special guest, Michael Harney. Harney, a member of the family that has owned  and operated Harney & Sons Tea Company for three generations. started the event with a brief introduction.  After his opening remarks, he came around to each table to chat more leisurely about the Harney business as well as answer guests’ questions.

After opening remarks, Michael Harney visited with guests 

Michael Harney, son of John Harney who founded the tea company thirty years ago in Connecticut, has an easy-going style which is compatible with table-side tea chat. Although clearly in possession of a strong sense of detail regarding the tea that was served - from how it was prepared, to where it’s grown and in what conditions -  his relaxed manner,  as he shared both family and  historical anecdotes, made the event seem more like a tea party with friends than an impersonal seminar.

Amazing and plentiful afternoon tea fare included scones, sweets and savories

Along with a delicious afternoon tea menu that included scones, tea sandwiches and miniature pastries (my favorite, a sinfully scrumptious mousse in a chocolate tea cup). the hotel staff, with their always outstanding service, provided guests with three Harney teas with a fall theme:  apple cinnamon, pumpkin spice and cranberry autumn.  

The grand finale: miniature pastries, scrumptious and pretty

My favorite is always the mousse in the chocolate tea cup

Rachel and I attended the Harney tea tasting back in March of 2014, when Micheal Harney first presented at The Townsend. We were thrilled to see it back on the calendar for 2016.

Rachel and I with Michael Harney at The Townsend in 2014.

At the 2014 event, Michael Harney gave me "The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea", which I treasure, as well as a tin of the "Anniversary Blend - Thirty Years" tea. I absolutely loved that tea and Michael tells me they still have it available. It's a black tea blend that was created to celebrate the Harney family's  30th year in the tea business and it includes some of John Harney's favorite teas: Ceylon, India, Silver Needles and Yunnan Golden Tips. It's a smooth, accessible tea - not bitter or strong or fruity - just straight up delicious black tea.

My  favorite, anniversary tea, along with two new ones from Micheal Harney

Along with the compact tin of Cranberry Autumn sachets that every guest got to take home, Michael also gave Rachel and I two tins of loose tea:  Yanagi Green and Ti Quan Yin Spring Floral, with explicit instructions for brewing and steeping. (Can't wait to try these and we'll report back!)

Another wonderful afternoon tea at The Townsend. It was a treat, once again, to visit with a member of the Harney family and sip Harney tea  while being served such an delicious afternoon tea in the beautiful Townsend Hotel tea lobby.  We'll look forward to another one soon!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Tuesday Tea and Tomes: Edith Wharton's ' The Age of Innocence', a tale of the Gilded Age

Among  Wharton's great books: The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth

Edith Wharton's 'The Age of Innocence' is a revealing story of the Gilded Age lifestyle. With all its wealth and extravagance, the codified social structure of the well-to-do in the nineteenth century was so stifling it could render a young bride to nothing more than a Stepford wife in a Worth dress. Buck that system and there were consequences.

Edith Wharton knew this system intimately. Wharton was born Edith Jones, to the family that inspired the idiom of one-upmanship  "keeping up with the Joneses" and she  benefited as well as suffered at the hand of the upper-class conventions of her time.

Silver tea service at Ventfort, Gilded Age mansion near Wharton's The Mount

Now, if you know me at all, or have been following my blog for anytime, you know, I'm currently consumed with the Gilded Age. With its many ties to the Edwardian aristocracy, it's a bit of an across-the-pond prequel to Downton Abbey (think Cora's American parents and their outrageous fortune which helped keep the Robert Crawleys and their estate afloat).

Part of my inheritance, amazing books!
I became reacquainted with Edith Wharton when I was unearthing part of my inheritance: my Mom's amazing book collection (see blog . . .make it one for the books). Included in this library were the novels 'House of Mirth' and 'The Age of Innocence'.  Both are great reads, but the latter has a twist - the story's free spirit survives the ostracism of the genteel society she was born into, finally moving to, and finding refuge in, Paris - much like the author, herself, did after her own divorce.

Reading about Newland Archer's visit to St. Augustine while in St. Augustine!

In my pursuit of all things Gilded, this past April I traveled from Florida to North Carolina, stopping at homes and vacation spots of the wealthy Americans of the late 1800's. I was also reading 'The Age of Innocence' on this journey and, I kid you not, I was in St. Augustine the night I was on page 140 when Newland Archer decides to surprise his fiance in the very same city.  During our stay in St. Augustine, we toured Flagler College, which began as the Hotel Ponce de Leon in 1888, a luxury hotel for the very rich. It's very likely that this may have become a vacation spot for the  Archers and their ilk a decade after Newland's impromptu visit to his intended, May Welland.

The Mount (from The Mount's webpage)

There are many more Gilded Age locations on my travel wishlist, including Newport, Rhode Island and Lenox, Massachusetts, both cities where Edith Wharton had homes. My friend, Pam B., just visited Lenox in May and toured several  Gilded Age domiciles including  Ventfort (home of J. Pierpont Morgan's sister) -  where the silver tea service is displayed (photo credit, Pam B) -  and The Mount, a home that Edith Wharton not only lived in but helped design. Per Pam, The Mount was the best of the  Berkshires tour.

Wharton's Gilded Age tales show the underside to the life of leisure, where too much money and not enough occupation left the one-percenters seeking to  outdo each other with lavish parties and ostentatious mansions. If cable TV had been around back then, it could easily have become a reality show, "Keeping up with the Jonses". If only that didn't sound so familiar.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Afternoon tea in northern Michigan is an elegant affair!

Afternoon tea at Pemberly Pines, an elegant affair in  northern Michigan woods

Afternoon tea is always an elegant affair. Whether it's at the London Ritz or the middle of the woods in northern Michigan, there  are certain elements which must be included: beautiful environs, fancy teapots, delicious scones and excellent tea. It goes without saying, fantastic company just comes with the package.


Last month, we held a few afternoon tea outings at our northern retreat, Pemberly Pines. Our first tea took place the first weekend in August during our family reunion. This is where we literally house a dozen and a half relatives under one cabin roof. We're fortunate in that this gathering is not just one side of the family, but both my husband's clan as well as mine.

Biannual reunion with both sides of the family, aka Paintball &Afternoon tea

This gathering is a biannual event that includes, paintball, boating, campfires, barbecues, sightseeing (this year, Coopers Ville)  and, of course, the grand finale - afternoon tea.

Paintball, the "Opera Games" occurs before afternoon tea

It's a last day event and those remaining ladies of the group take a moment for a relaxing - and, yes, elegant - afternoon tea.

A side trip to Coopers Ville, a western town in Lewiston. Serving tea anywhere!

While the London Ritz has sparkling chandeliers and a four string quartet playing in the background, at Pemberly Pines, majestic evergreens  serve as a backdrop with chirping (okay, maybe a little "squawking") birds serving as our piped-in music.

Cara serves up some scones and her own version of nanaimo bars. Dee-lish!
This year, we had the usual suspects (Rachel, my sister-in-law Cara, and me), along with my mother-in-law, the other Barb Gulley.

Serving some Earl Grey to my mother-in-law, Barb Gulley

Of course, we used a silver tea set along with china cups and plates and served up gourmet scones and bars. Even though we're miles away from bright lights/big cities, there's no need to scrimp on luxury.

It was a wonderful way to end a delightful family reunion.

The Durling's photography skills gave us some fabulous photos of the tea garden

Our second tea in the tea garden was at the end of August with our bff's, (aka "the gang"). We enjoyed a long weekend with our friends at Pemberly Pines where we hiked, dined and played cards. To be sure, no visit is complete without a stop at the tea garden. Rik and Carol took some beautiful pictures before we set up tea time.

Carol, Pam and Barb in the tea garden before tea time

Afternoon tea time can take place anywhere - London, New York or an address in northern Michigan that doesn't even show up on  GPS.

We're thinking we need to update our "Gulley Cabin Rules" to include, "take in afternoon tea under the pines". Perhaps we'll also add, "don't forget the essentials: silver tea set, china tea cups, scones and linen napkins".  Fantastic company is always a given.

Cabin rules need to add tea time!