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.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cowabunga! Life begins at Thir-tea

Prince Harry turns thirty today and less than a month ago, my own Lord Gulley the Younger, (aka, my oldest son, Rob) turned that same magical number. It's easy to dismiss it as being "soooo young", but when the Younger sank into a bit of a funk a week before his birthday, I tapped back into the long- ago and remembered having to come to grips with that age myself -  the somewhat arbitrary society-imposed demarcation between "young & carefree" and "responsible adult". Like most things, the dread is worse than the even itself and, as most of us discover, those milestones are really worth celebrating.

The Younger enjoying the first iteration of TMNT
Thirty is a great number. It's three decades of something and if the trajectory was mostly good, it's commendable.

Other recent 30 year milestones for 2014:

Thirty year tea commemorates three decades of Harney tea


  • Harney & Sons celebrated 30 years in business with a commemorative tea and it quickly became one one of my favorites after personally receiving a tin from Michael Harney.  (See our review in The Detroit Examiner column, Harney & Sons 30th Anniversary Blend: A lot to celebrate.)
  • Apple introduced the Mac., and that seems to have turned out pretty well.
  • Chrysler brought the world the mini-van. (seems like I drove those for years)


Celebrating 30 plus 1 years in May


  • Lord Gulley Senior,  and I celebrated our 31st anniversary (taking liberties, here, 30, plus 1).


The Younger is actually old enough now to see the recycling of some childhood favorites. Our family room used to be filled with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figurines, villains and vans. Last month, he saw the recent TMNT movie opening night. He may be a responsible adult, but "turtle power" says, you're still young & carefree. In fact, you're downright awesome, dude!


Old enough to see Turtle Power return & pair it with  adult favorite Breaking Bad
A self-help book written in 1932, gave way to the well-tread phrase of the Twentieth Century, "Life Begins at Forty". In 2014, it's fair to say life begins at thir-tea. In this new(er) millennium, where everything is fast-tracked, it's time to start the fun even sooner and it will be totally tubular.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Seventh Annual Jane Austen Festival - another exceedingly good time!

The third weekend of July, my daughter, Rachel, and I, eschew the conventions of the new(er) millennium, after a six hours south from Detroit to Louisville, and treat ourselves to a few days devoted to the Regency period and all things Austen.  This year, the Greater Louisville Region of the Jane Austen Society (JASNA), under the direction of Regional Coordinator Bonny Wise, hosted the 7th Annual Jane Austen Festival at the historic Locust Grove in Kentucky and, after attending five of those, we agreed - this was the best one  yet!

Archery demonstration at the Jane Austen Festival

This year's festival was a perfect blend of traditional favorites, such as Dressing Mr. Darcy and the Regency fashion show, along with some exciting new features including back-to-back presentations of two British authors (John Mullan and Jo Baker, see July blog story, What Matters at the Jane Austen Festival. . ."), archery demonstrations and several period living vignettes dispersed throughout the grounds. And, we found that even the afternoon tea was better with a delicious and filling menu, including Bingley's Teas, and the service was exceedingly good.

Our day started gathering with a crowd over the hill to watch a women's archery demonstration. Literally aiming to please, this athletic display was captivating as ladies, dressed in Regency attire, pulled back their bows and shot arrows at their target. This proved women of the 1800's weren't all about needlework and filigree.














Next up was the authors' lectures under the big tent, followed by a book signing. Mullan and Baker were as captivating on stage as they were meeting up-close and personal. We were thrilled to see the Festival bring back the author presentations that had been missed in recent years.


Bingley's Teas
After the guest speakers, we headed to Meryton, where we shopped for tea and other Austen-related items. We filled our cart with a variety of tea from Bingley's Teas, including our favorite for any time we're feeling a little under the weather, Compassion for Mrs. Bennet's Nerves.

Rachel holds the walking stick purchased in Meryton
We also picked up a fancy walking stick for a certain Lord Gulley waiting back home.


Regency picnic
Many in period attire including toddlers




















We watched dueling gentlemen on the green which, despite a few misfires, was suspenseful and entertaining. We strolled the grounds and took in several displays of Regency period picnics and gatherings throughout the village. We were caught up in the sheer number of guests decked in Austen-era attire, including toddlers and infants in strollers, and we proclaimed we must be part of the fun next year.

Rachel in sedan chair. May use this next year to avoid gridlock on I-75

Although walking was our primary method of transportation, we did take a break and treated ourselves to a sedan chair demonstration. We learned that gentlemen and ladies need not bow to enter in order to accommodate any large hat they may be wearing. Our kind escort showed how the top of the sedan chair was hinged and could be lifted to make way for any headdress while one entered. We agreed, this would be our choice to get passed gridlock on the bridge from Cincinnati to Kentucky, chapeau or no.



Tea time was our final activity before heading north and 2104. We were seated with another mom and daughter and talked over Earl Grey and scones. Although we deigned not to partake in the au courant selfie-craze, we were much amused by the afternoon tea time photo bomb.

Delightful afternoon tea and fun photo bomb
Our bonnets are once again off to Greater Louisville Region, Bonny Wise, and her team of volunteers who put on another amazing Jane Austen Festival. We'll be back next year, in costume, and if there's any construction along I-75, we'll see if we can't reserve ourselves a sedan chair. We won't want to be late for the Eighth Annual JA Festival!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Barb's TEA Shop's Tea Etiquette at The Townsend Hotel

The September/October issue of Tea Time Magazine features Michigan tea rooms and one of my favorites was among the eight venues selected - The Townsend Hotel in Birmingham. The article notes some of the special events  held recently at the luxury hotel:  tea tastings, Derby Day and tea etiquette classes. The last one would be us (!) at Barb's Tea Shop.



The first of June, Barb's TEA Shop presented "Tea and Etiquette" at The Townsend Hotel's beautiful tea lobby. (For a more detailed account of the event, see The Detroit Tea Examiner, 'Etiquette, scone finesse and treats delight at Townsend tea')


When Rachel and I arrived, the tables were already set with lovely china and fresh flower centerpieces. The screen for our presentation covered the fireplace, but since it was in June, and not the rather chilly Michigan winter we experienced a few months earlier, its warm flames were not required.


Although, the fireplace was hidden, all other treasures of the tea lobby were in full sight including the stunning crystal chandelier that illuminates the tea tables below.


Rachel and I did some last minute preparations before the guests arrived.


The tea history and etiquette talk featured a short list of recommended tea rooms in New York, Paris and London. Part of our program included a tea room guide book (published by Elmwood Inn) of said cities for each guest who attended.



We were thrilled to see some of our dear friends come to the tea as well as delighted in meeting new ones.


                                    

It was a great afternoon and we were glad to see everyone! The Townsend Hotel offers afternoon tea seven days a week and it is a wonderful experience any time of the year. Check out the write up on The Townsend Hotel in Tea Time Magazine, but better yet, call and make reservations and experience it first-hand!