Sunday, July 27, 2014

What Matters at the Jane Austen Festival? . . . Everything (!) including British authors Jo Baker and John Mullan

To paraphrase guest speaker and British author, John Mullan, who asks "What Matters in Jane Austen?" (and then provides us with the answer: "everything!"), it's easy to apply that same dialogue to the topic of the 7th Annual Jane Austen Festival in Louisville and arrive at the same conclusion. Everything matters when putting together an event of this magnitude and, like an Austen novel, exceptional execution delights all who are exposed.

Rachel with John Mullan, author of "What Matters in Jane Austen?"

Last weekend, my daughter, Rachel and I made our annual trek from Detroit to Louisville to attend the Jane Austen Festival hosted by the Louisville Chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), under the direction of Regional Coordinator Bonny Wise. It was our fifth time attending the Festival and with a perfect blend of event favorites (afternoon tea, Dressing Mr. Darcy) and new components (presentations from two British authors, more Regency-period activity demonstrations), we felt this was the best one yet.

John Mullan asks could the apple tree in "Emma" really have blossomed in July?

And, of course, when everything matters, it's hard to pick favorites, but truly a highlight was held under the big tent with visiting British authors, Jo Baker and John Mullan, the latter of whom I referenced back in January's blog An Austen-tacious Tea at Troy Public Library, Chilly temperatures not so important.  This was before I knew he would be part of this year's Festival. Once that was announced, I felt like I was eighteen again and biding my time before seeing Peter Frampton -  another charming Brit - at the local Harmony House (back in the day when there were stores devoted to selling record albums). 

Animated and engaging,  Mullan  rattles off Austen character names (major and minor), destinations they have visited (specified or inferred) and weather conditions of the day, like a favorite uncle who can recite details of  the family's history and connections - from first cousins to fifth - all from memory.

With Jo Baker, author of Longbourn
Jo Baker, author of Longbourn, and equally captivating, spoke about the  "downstairs" members of the Bennet household in Pride and Prejudice on which her book is based. Baker studied English literature at Oxford, and, if she hadn't mentioned having two children and having written four other books, you would easily think she's still an undergraduate. 
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Jo Baker reading from  her book, Longbourn
Baker dissected Pride and Prejudice chapter by chapter to note any references to servants and created an entire new story from the members of the downstairs staff's point of view.  It's a fascinating perspective on the Bennet household, a family who lives on the periphery of wealthy society and laments their poor connections, yet seems to pay little attention to those who must really work hard for a living.

Another exemplary Jane Austen Festival, where everything mattered, and everything was wonderful!



Monday, July 14, 2014

Miss America Afternoon Tea: An Elegant Affair to Remember


An Elegant Affair of Roses and Royalty, even the napkins were beautiful

Still riding the Patriotic theme of Fourth of July, it seems like a great tie-in to a charity tea event  I attended this Spring that featured another of our country’s traditions, Miss America. In May, I went to “An Elegant Affair of Roses and Royalty” featuring Kirsten Haglund, Miss America of 2008.  Held at the Glen Oaks Country Club in Farmington Hills (Kirsten's hometown), and under the direction of tea specialist, Linda Pudlik, guests were treated to an “enhanced” afternoon tea, a fashion show, live music, boutique shopping and a special talk and performance by Kirsten Haglund.  Proceeds went to Kirsten’s charity, “The Kirsten Haglund Foundation”, which provides assistance and financial aid to those seeking treatment from eating disorders.


Kirsten Haglund, Miss America, 2008 starts the event with a song

I sat at a table assembled by another tea specialist and fellow blogger, Phyllis Barkey.   As someone who loves a tablescape almost as much as the food, I found this event scored high on both accounts. Starting with the rose-shaped napkins on each place setting and the fresh flowers on every table, accompanied by a multi-course, scrumptious lunch, it truly lived up to an “elegant affair”.  Perhaps, Kirsten was the official “royal”, but we all felt like members of the court that afternoon.

Linda Pudlik speaks to guests about tea and the Haglund family
I hit the jackpot that day, as not only did I get to take part in such a wonderful event, but was seated next to Chef Anita Kern, the chef at O’Mara’s in Berkley and cooking instructor at Sur La Table.  A discussion that started on the cooking technique of sous-vide, (my husband’s latest passion and more about that in an upcoming blog) lead us on to talking about a lot  more common interests, including Downton Abbey.  (This lead to my attending last month’s Downton Abbey tea at O’Mara’s as well as a “Taste of Tuscany” and, of course, signing up for a personal sous-vide class at Sur La Table with our foodie friends at the end of this month – again, more blogs to come!).


Kirsten poses with fashion show volunteers

Beautiful ambiance, delicious treats, spectacular entertainment and amazing company. To borrow from a classic movie title, it was, indeed, an Elegant Affair to Remember.


Afternoon tea hats off to Linda for putting together such a lovely event and to Phyllis for extending the invite to be at her table.  Great people and  a great cause, too – I think that pretty much captures the American spirit!

Ending on a high note:  chocolate biscuit cake!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Two to Tango and One great party on the Fourth adds up to a big "Ten"!

My Fourth of July started with Tango and ended up with fireworks.  I guess one could say, it was a bit of "Dancing with the Stars. . . and Stripes" for the holiday.

Every year, my brother Glenn hosts a spectacular Fourth of July party at his house. Although he still sends e-mail invites to family and friends, it's just a formality as the "core" group doesn't even question what they will be doing that day and anyone else they want to bring along is always welcome. My "kids" have never spent a Fourth in any other fashion and have never missed a year. With a pool, croquet, badminton, and a picnic feast, it's not difficult to understand why.

Rachel (right) takes her turn holding the City Style Tango banner

But, this year, the holiday morning started out with a twist on tradition with a little dancing on Main Street before heading out to my brother's. My oldest son, Rob, and daughter, Rachel, take lessons at "City Style Tango" in Clawson and they were part of the city's Fourth of July parade. I literally had a curbside seat to watch as both instructors and students performed various dance moves down the street. Festive and impressive, they moved gracefully for the duration of the parade route. I could almost see Bruno Tonioli leaping from his desk and shouting "Ten!"

Rob (left, in red shirt) dances the tango with other City Style Tango folks

And this was just the beginning!

Back at my brother's, we started with croquet, moving on to bean bag toss, barbecue feast and then lawn chair badminton. Cooler temps made for more intense sports participation, but the pool was not utilized much except for serving as a major water trap for croquet.

Pool serves as water trap for this year's croquet

Lawn chair badminton: sitting and rotating

New this year, balloon Russian Roulet. Glenn is about to go out with a bang!

Matt is victorious in this game. Next  year, we're addin' water!

Rachel models fashionable croquet wear.

We indulged in some iced tea conveniences in the bottle and readied ourselves for the evening fireworks.

Enjoying an iced tea break with Rob.
 Another Fantastic Fourth.  Like Bruno, we can't contain ourselves. We give a "Ten!" to the Fourth!!

Our host begins the fireworks.



Crystal fountain never disappoints! Another "Ten" for the Fourth!!




Saturday, June 28, 2014

Two hearts forever one and one Handsome Devil makes for a tea-rrific anniversary at Torino

Two hearts necklace and flowers for the Lady
Handsome Devil red wine for Lord Gulley


Exactly one month ago today, my husband, Chris, and I celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary. It's been a fabulous journey so far with three amazing kids (all through college - yahoo!), two homes, one cabin up north and a couple of spoiled mutts. This spring we officially became permanent empty-nesters - save the coddled pooches - and we're on to Chapter Two.

The other Handsome Devil and Mrs. Gulley
We celebrated our 30th anniversary last year at Torino, an up-and-coming restaurant in Ferndale. We love this restaurant and brought our friends back to join us for another great dining experience a few months later. We weren't surprised when The Detroit Free Press named it Restaurant of the Year for 2014 and we decided we'd go back for a repeat anniversary dinner celebration.

The gourmet menu changes monthly
Skip the "and movie" part of the dinner date when you go to Torino:  the multi-course meal will be entertainment enough. We also chose the "drink pairing" option where the chef and bar tender work together for optimal beverage accompaniments for each course.
Fourth course:  chicken, truffles, berries

We ended the evening with a few gourmet chocolates and a selection from their tea menu. I chose "starry night", (an herbal decaf), that couldn't have described the evening any better. With one handsome devil and two hearts forever one, may the next 31 years be as wonderful as the first.


Ending with Starry Night - "a calming herbal blend"
A nice finish, selecting from the tea menu



Sunday, June 15, 2014

Hello Tea Garden . . . It's been a long cold (although not-so-lonely) winter

In February, I purchased these "TEA" tiles at the Lewiston ACE Hardware
It's actually hot here in Michigan!

Officially on the books as the record-breaking snowiest winter in Michigan, when May rolled around we finally experienced warmer temps.  Seasonal activities have turned from snow shoveling and skiing to deck sitting and gardening - and the latter includes a little plot of land up north designated for just that purpose.

In April, the snow was starting to melt a bit in my designated tea garden

In February, when we were at our place up north for a family ski trip, I accompanied my husband on quick trip to the local hardware store. They had a clearance section and garden tiles were marked down to $2.00 each. Not many letters were left, but I sorted through what remained and found "T", "E", and "A". Thought that would make a nice addition to this year's tea garden.

When I first placed the garden tiles  in the back clearing of our 20 acres in February, the snow was almost two feet deep. They tiles slipped out of my mittened hands and fell like hot toast slices through the snow. Took me a few minutes to recover them, but when I did, I placed them gingerly on what is to soon be this year's tea garden  and waited patiently. By April, we started observing some thawing.

Tea Garden is ready for plants and lots of tea drinking on the deck.


 Now that it's mid-June, the tea garden is open, ready for planting and lots of tea drinking on the deck. This month also signified the season's re-opening of my favorite vintage china store, The Antiques Depot, in downton Lewiston. Owner, Deborah K., says she will be open seven days a week. Each time we go to our cottage, I will be stopping in!

Warmer temps means Depot is open 7 days!
This weekend's purchase!


A lot has been going on since my last blog entry in March:  a birthday, a wedding anniversary, a Miss America tea, a Downton Abbey tea and a tea presentation I put on for the luxurious Townsend Hotel in my hometown of Birmingham (Michigan). I've got a lot to share, so please stop by frequently so we can all get caught up.

In the meantime, I hope you'll join me for a cup of iced-tea this afternoon. With a nod to my all-time favorite band, I join the chorus in singing:

Little darling, I feel the ice is slowly melting, Little darling, it seems like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun, Here comes the sun, and I say, it's all alright.  .  .!



Saturday, March 22, 2014

Japanese tea ceremony at the Detroit Institute of Arts, beautiful demonstration of rituals steeped in history

Hostess (in pink) serves guest of honor (in brown) and other attendee
Last weekend, the Japanese Women’s Club in association with the Japanese Consulate of Detroit demonstrated the rituals of the tea ceremony at the Detroit Institute of Arts as a part of the museum's current special exhibition, "Samurai: Beyond the Sword".  My daughter, Rachel, and I were in attendance of the demonstration, and, having experienced many an English afternoon tea as well as being guests at a Chinese tea ceremony, we were anxious to learn more about this very distinct way of tea.

Guests pay homage to wall hangings and tea preparation area
While the Chinese focus on the tea and the English afternoon tea centers on sumptuous treats and accessories, the Japanese tea ceremony's main emphasis is ritual. The hostess invites a guest of honor, and after that designation is bestowed, she can invite as many other attendees as she wishes. The guests enter the room, but before placing themselves at the station where they will be served, they first work their way around the perimeter paying respect to the wall hangings and tea preparation area.

Hostess wipes down tea accessories with napkin
Sunday's demonstration was a condensed version of a ceremony that, with the inclusion of a meal, can take over four hours. At the DIA stage in the Rivera Room, two guests and a hostess, dressed in beautiful traditional dress performed the ceremony in less than an hour. After giving all the accouterments a ceremonial cleaning with a dry napkin, the hostess prepared matcha, a powdery green tea that is whisked to a frothy consistency with a bamboo whisk.

The hostess serves the guest of honor first, who admires the bowl in which the tea is poured. She drinks quickly and appreciates the design of the bowl, making sure to point the most beautiful part of the pottery away from herself.
Guests may ask to examine tea boxes with carvings
After the other attendees are served, they may ask to see the hostess' tea canister. Guests will admire the lovely carved wooden box and after a respectable time of inspection, hand it back to the hostess. 

Hostess leaves the room with tea equipage
When the guests are done with the tea, the hostess will gather up her tea making equipage and depart. Attendees will retrace their earlier route of the room, again paying homage to the area where the tea was prepared as well as the wall hangings, placing an unopened fan before them to mark a respectable boundary between themselves and the hostess' belongings.

Guests again pay respect to tea area, placing an unopened fan as a boundary
There is very little talk during the ceremony as it is considered a meditative event. Unlike the English afternoon tea which Rachel and I are most familiar with, it is quiet, modest and entirely scripted. Beautiful and amazing to watch, we may not yet be masters at the Japanese tea ceremony, but we did bring back some Japanese green tea from the DIA gift shop and, that my dear friends, is a start.

Rachel looks at tea selection in gift shop

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Afternoon tea and chat with Lord Spencer

Interviewing Lord Spencer this week in Royal Oak
It's not often I get to sit down with British aristocracy, but last week I snagged that opportunity when Lord Spencer came to visit Michigan to promote the Althorp Living History collection at Royal Oak's Scott Shuptrine store.

Tall in stature, and in full possession of Patrician charm, Lord Spencer was engaging and accessible. He was surprisingly more handsome in person and unexpectedly humorous.

The Althorpe collection event was held last Wednesday in Scott Shuptrine's upscale furniture showroom and, along with a presentation from Lord Spencer, the retail store also offered afternoon tea fare and musical entertainment for those in attendance.

The "crested caddy" from the Althorp collection now part of  the Gulley collection

The collection is inspired by the Althorp estate, the childhood home of Lord Spencer and his sister, the late Princess Diana. Pieces from the collection include desks, chairs, sofas, beds and accessories, including tea trays and caddies.

The night of the event, the store had one Crested Caddy available, which, as the name suggests is embellished with the Spencer family crest. I scooped it up and Lord Spencer personalized the piece by signing it for me.

When I asked if they still use the tea caddies at Althorp, Lord Spencer said with a wry grin, "yes, but they don't always have tea in them".

Lord Spencer points to the family crest, which was theirs "before Harry Potter stole it".

He pointed to the family crest, noting the griffin below the five-pointed crown. "This was ours" said Lord Spencer, "long before Harry Potter stole it from us".

He told me his favorite tea is Japanese green and that his favorite room to have a cup is the home's library, not only because it's such a lovely space but because that's where the family tends to congregate.

The Althorp collection will strike a chord with Downton Abbey fans as the furniture represents generations of period pieces. I was surprised to learn however, that although Lord Spencer is a close friend of Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, he doesn't watch the show. He jokingly said that he's probably the only one who hasn't.

As part of the media covering the event, I was thrilled the public relations folks of both Scott Shuptrine and Lord Spencer made time for me to chat with Charles, the 9th Earl of Spencer.  For more details on  the Spencer family and the Althorp furniture and estate, check out my stories on The Examiner:

Real life Downton Abbey furnishings and tea with Lord Spencer of Althorp 

The Earl of Spencer and afternoon tea featured at Royal Oak's Scott Shuptrine