Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Tuesday Tea and Tomes: A Jane Austen Christmas

Enjoy "A Jane Austen Christmas" with Regency flair: a yule log, mead and green tea punch

Christmas in the Regency period, before the Victorian era upped the ante on holiday falderal, still had much to offer with the search for the perfect yule log, creating and imbibing specialty  mead or champagne and green tea punch, and attending the numerous balls and parties of the season.

In "A Jane Austen Christmas" by Carlo Devito,  the author describes not only Regency holiday traditions that would have been enjoyed by the Austen family and their society, but also six influential Christmases in Jane Austen's life. Devito begins with Jane, in early adolescence, at her family home in Steventon, concluding with her final years, filled with prolific writing, at Chawton Cottage.

I enjoyed "A Jane Austen Christmas" not only for the interesting tidbits about my favorite author and the Regency era holiday customs, but also for allowing me to reminisce about other Austen-inspired writers we've had the pleasure to meet and the travels we've taken to residences where Jane would have spent many a Twelfth Night.

With Margaret Sullivan, author of the Jane Austen Handbook

A fun, fact-filled book, with a forward by Margaret Sullivan who wrote the Jane Austen Handbook, Devito crams his slightly less than 200 pages with accounts of Jane's family, travels and a regrettable 24-hour engagement of marriage. While citing many sources for these tales, including Margaret Sullivan and John Mullan (both of whom we met at the Jane Austen Festival), the only caution in reading this tiny tome is that it's filled with quotes rather than the voice of the author. So, if one approaches this book as compendium of assorted clippings tied together by subject and timeline, it's a very enjoyable read.

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

Starting with the Christmas of 1786, when Jane was just eleven, the Austens host their cosmopolitan neice, Eliza de Feuillide, at their Steventon home. Eliza captivated not only the budding author, but two of her six brothers as well, and became the inspiration for the independent women of Jane's novels.

In Bath, across from the Pump Room and near the Jane Austen Center. Jane, by most accounts, was not a fan of Bath.

By  1802 (Christmas, Part Four), Jane is in Bath, living with her sister, Cassandra, and her parents. Although a somewhat dismal time for Jane -  staying in a city she did not like, compounded by the aftershock of an early December proposal of marriage, readily accepted and then as quickly rescinded -  she nonetheless mined much rich material for upcoming novels.

Chawton Cottage. Happier times for Jane

In 1815, Jane moves to Chawton with her mother and Cassandra and lives in a charming cottage, courtesy of her brother Edward. It's here that Jane finds the solace of the country once again and returns to penning more novels. That Christmas, "Emma" is published.  We're told Jane "busied herself with dispatching presentation sets of Emma to select friends and relations". (How I'd love to have been on her friends gift list!)

Rachel plays melodies on the piano forte at Chawton
At Jane's desk,  Chawton Cottage

"A Jane Austen Christmas" is really a book for any season and for all audiences, be they longtime Jane-ites or Jane-neophytes. I confess, the day after Christmas, I consumed this book as quickly as the two accompanying pots of tea I brewed, and found them equally delicious and satisfying. You may be inspired to fire up the yule log, grab your favorite Austen novel for an afternoon diversion and toast the new year with champagne and green tea punch!

Recommended tea pairing:  Christmas at Chawton (while supplies last!), Mr. Knightley's Reserve or Compassion for Mrs. Bennet's Nerves, part of the Jane Austen collection from Bingley's Teas.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Happy New Year: Fresh reboots on resolutions

The new year brings in a reason to start anew

As much as I love the holidays, I look forward to January with almost as much zeal. The new year brings a break in the indulgences (delicious as they are!) of the festive season and gives us a reason to start anew.  For me, that usually means a reboot of my standard resolutions: eating healthier, exercising more, and getting organized. Combine these goals with tea, and yes, you have my attention!

Of the three reboots, decluttering and organizing have always been the most challenging for me. But the older I get, and the more boxes I go through from our move last Spring, the less I'm enamored with keeping stuff and the more alluring creative organizing becomes. If I can keep some of what I love and use it more efficiently, so much the better.

Repurpose tea cups to hold jewelry

On the Today Show this weekend, Dayna Isom Johnson, etsy trend expert, shared some repurposing ideas for organizing and storage. She suggested lining tea cups in a dresser drawer to house jewelry, especially earrings, which can easily be un-paired in a catch-all jewelry box or vanity tray.

Because my collection of tea cups numbers in the vicinity of "a lot", I took some "strays" and tucked them into one of my top dresser drawers. (An added benefit of doing this is clearing out a dresser drawer. I found three items to discard and one lost sweater.)

Another goal this year is more exercise. I received a new dress for Christmas, in the size I was two years ago, and I plan to wear it this Spring (and without the aid of "shapewear").

So, today, I joined a gym! Inspired not only by my new dress, but by my husband and daughter, who have been members of the same gym for quite some time.

After the treadmill, I'll enjoy a cup of tea at my gym

I clocked in some time on the treadmill and even less on the elliptical, but it's a start. And, to sweeten the deal (figuratively speaking, of course), this place has a little cafe, complete with coffee and tea!

Other goals for the new year on my list: more blogging (watch for the return of "Tuesday Tea and Tomes"!), publishing my next book and, perhaps most importantly lighting more candles and cursing the darkness less.

So, on to fresh starts: to becoming more active, more organized. more disciplined and lighting a few more candles, all  accompanied by lots and lots of tea.

Happy New Year to all our tea friends from BTS!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Barb's Tea Service In/Out List for 2018

Cheers to a what's in for 2018 in my all white kitchen with quartz counter tops

As we approach the new year, I not only look forward to fresh beginnings, but eagerly await the multitude of experts who weigh in on what's trendy and what's not for the next twelve months. Inspired by these lists, BTS, in its humble opinions (and we have many!), offers up its own In/Out List for 2018.

Drawing once again, in particular, from the Detroit Free Press' Homestyle "What's hot, not. . .", we are saddened to learn white kitchens are out, since we just put one "in" this spring.  Another strike against us:   Sherwin Williams "Poised Taupe" is replaced by the deep, blue green hue "Oceanside" for its color of the year.  We do however, find solace in our quartz countertops and Prince Harry and Megan Markle's upcoming nuptials. Both are IN and we're on board.

Jane Austen Christmas by Carol DeVito

IN:   A Jane Austen Christmas.  As described in Carlo Devito's book of the same name, a Regency period Christmas, before the Victorian falderal, still had much to offer with yule logs, mead, champagne and green tea punch and lots of parlor games, including charades and whist. Add a fortified Syllabub to your next pinochle tournament and jump bids will receive much approbation.

OUT:  Hallmark Christmas movies . . . until next year.  We have another 11 months to wait for incognito Princes to meet up with attractive, amnesiac, ladies in a town laden with fake snow.

Beverage center away from the kitchen, easy to self-serve!

INBeverage stations.  This year, my husband, Chris, created a "beverage station" in our hallway between the kitchen and the great room. This lessened the kitchen congestion and provided a convenient help-yourself drinks buffet for our family and friends. (We also found further "IN" support of this handy innovation in Mary Carol Garrity's "Style at Home: Cheers in the New Year" with her pop-up bars outside the kitchen.)

OUTCongested traffic patterns in all white kitchens (but with quartz counter tops which provides us some redemption).

This year brought in new DA gowns
DA teddy bears - cute or a cry for help?

INDownton Abbey.  Reboots and possible movies are dangled before us Downton Abbey-ites almost weekly in social media posts to both taunt and delight. We've filled the gaping void with Crawley family teddy bears and Edwardian dresses. To assist, BTS is still scheduling Downton Abbey-inspired afternoon teas for 2018 (our first DA event is in February).

Tera, our own Downward Dog, shares her fav magazine, Bark

OUTDown-ward Dog:  Sadly, this new TV show didn't last a whole season. Although not the period epic of Downton Abbey, it featured an emo talking dog that observed his family environs with the keen and entertaining quips of any Dowager, (e.g,. "Who fluffs your pillows in the wild?").

Costume changes are tiring

Cat with bow tie for Sept. wedding

IN: Dressing your family pet, (eg. dog for the holidays and your cat for weddings).

OUT:   Rolling your eyes at dressing dog or cat and saying, "not again".

Gown in Venice dress shop, not considered business casual

Pretty dress from Saks, always in vogue

INBeautiful, pastel party dresses from Sax!

OUT:  Ornate, wide-hipped gowns accompanied by a powdered wig, unless you are attending the masked ball in Venice.

Sip soothing limited Crown Teas while binge watching the series.

IN: Season Two of "The Crown". This fascinating mini-series tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II, royal warts and all. Enjoy binge-watching with The Crown teas from The Republic of Tea.

OUTThe Last Jedi.  I'll be considered a heretic in my own family, but really, isn't "last" in the title?

Da Vinci painting at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence

INDa Vinci, This genius artist has never gone out of style, but his story has gained a renaissance (if you'll forgive me!) with the new biography out this year by Walter Isaacson. If you find the hardcover a bit heavy to hold, download the Kindle version like we did.

Golden Girls coloring book

OUTGolden Girls Coloring Book.  Well, not really. If you don't have the talent of a renaissance painter, this is a fun pastime while binge-watching your favorite mini-series. However, note there's not much demand for your finished product (and none spotted in the Uffizi Gallery. . .yet).


Etiquette! Never out of fashion, BTS offers classes on dining and tea etiquette. Watch for a new companion book to our etiquette series to hit the stores in 2018!

Discovering Michigan! Whether its Michigan tea rooms, waterfalls, train stations or the wonders of the UP, there's many trip-worthy destinations to uncover. This February we'll be in Marquette for the annual dog races - bring on the thermos of hot, black tea!

With author of 100 Things to do in the UP, working on no. 34

Homestead Harvest  made in Michigan

And, whether you're in Michigan or not, you can enjoy some home-grown products from the Mitten State wherever you are. We recommend Mindo and Bon Bon Bon chocolates (see below) as well as Homestead Harvest (available at Eastern Market). Sample their canned products including dilled onions, sour cherry smoked Habanero sauce and Black Raspberry Jam, the latter  being the perfect accompaniment to scones and a cup of Earl Grey.

Afternoon tea can be anywhere, but be weary of party crashers!

Afternoon tea from luxurious to rustic! Celebrate the joys of bringing folks together for a pot of tea, an assortment of sweets and savories and the company of family and friends. Among our favorites this year: The Townsend, Abiding in  the Vine, Royal Tea Room, Babbington's, and Pemberly Pines. Just watch out for party-crashers!

BTS with Mindo Chocolate, stocking up on supplies
Tasty treat sans caloires

Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate! When you write a tea blog and a large percentage of your content is devoted to chocolate, you know said blogger looks for ways to combine the two for some extraordinary results. Consider a cup of Republic of Tea's Double Dark Chocolate Mate or try sampling a Mindo candy bar or a Bon Bon Bon truffle with complementary tea  or, perhaps best of all,  booking BTS for a chocolate tea pairing!

Whether you're in or out this season, we know you're always trending! We raise our tea cup to all in the spirit of the holidays and with all good wishes for a wonderful new year.

Happy New Year from Barb's Tea Service!!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: New places, old traditions

Christmas ornament commemorates our new home

I love the holiday season and all it brings: the cherished memories and the new celebrations. Even with the seemingly never-ending list of to-do's to get done and the unpredictable weather which can change well-laid plans in a New-York-snow-squall-minute, it all works to a crescendo of festive fun times with family and friends with a mix of traditions, old and new.

New tree in its predestined corner

We knew last Spring, when we moved to our new condo, that Christmas would be mapped out a little differently than years past (22 to be exact). Gone is the four-bedroom colonial that could accommodate overnight guests with extra comfort and the large kitchen with an abundance of counter space for large pans of pasta and French silk pies. But, in its place, we have a much bigger "great room" with more seating and optimum views of the fireplace, the snow-covered woods through the back wall of windows, and the Christmas tree, with a corner all to itself. 

(In fact, the first time we saw the mostly vacant condo last year, before we had even formalized a bid to purchase, I knew exactly where the Christmas tree should reside - and it made it to its predestined spot earlier this month.) 

The "Under 40" group at Uncle Glenn's, the start of the Tour

But most of Christmas went the way of tried-and-true traditions. We started the Christmas Eve Tree Tour as we always do, at my brother Glenn's.  Along with eggnog and Foosball, the "under 40" crowd and the "(way) over 40 crowd" took turns lining up in front of the Christmas tree for group photos.

"Over 40" gang (but who would have guessed that?) at Glenn's

However, the tour missed one very special stop this year - our annual visit with Auntie Betty. She passed away last March and, although we would typically see my aunt many times throughout the year, Christmas Eve was always very special with this funny, outgoing, lady.

Final stop, the "new condo" and raising a toast to our family

My mom's youngest sister by one year, we've always been extremely close with Auntie Betty and her family. Growing up, our families spent all the holidays together, until us “kids” started having kids. When that transition took place, Christmas Eve belonged to my Mom and she hosted the annual bash with a home-cooked dinner and more tolerance and enthusiasm for a room full of grandchildren ripping open presents and putting on puppet shows than anyone I know.

My Mom surveying the fun chaos

Waiting for the Christmas eve dinner and treasure bath/chaos

At that time, she too, had moved out of the home I grew up in, and started anew in a condo with less bedrooms and a smaller kitchen, but with a much bigger great room with better views. 

That sounds familiar. .  .

My children knew of no other way to spend Christmas Eve except at Grandma's condo, so when she passed away in 2004, we decided to start some new traditions - hence the Christmas Tree Tour began and so did our stops at Auntie Betty's along the route.

Our favorite Christmas tree tour stop (circa 2014)

So, we move on to new traditions, but retain the wonderful memories of Christmas past.  (For a glimpse into how my Dad decorated for the season, see our blog story from 2012, "Visions of Sugar Plums unite generations with holiday traditions".)

As the Christmas tree tour finished at our house, (now the "new condo"), we held on to our customs of Secret Santa gift exchange and dining on lasagna and tasty pies. But, as we gathered round the new Christmas tree, in its designated corner, we raised our glasses (and our cups of tea!)  to toast our dear Auntie Betty, our Mom/Grandma, our Dad, and my Uncle and all those who, for whatever reason, can't be with us to celebrate Christmas.  Cheers to cherishing those great memories and the influence they have in  launching new ones.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Holiday Splendor Tea: A Splendid Tea with Friends!

Sharing a cup of tea with old and new friends for a good cause (both Barbs wearing red hats)

Tasty tea, delicious food, scenic views. giveaways, festive decor and  a good cause - could a Holiday Splendor  tea get any better?  Well, yes - if you add sharing the whole event with "old" and new friends and I was fortunate to do just that!

Last week, I was a patron of the Holiday Splendor Tea, a fundraiser for Farmington's Warner Mansion, held at Pine Lake Country Club in West Bloomfield. My friend, Barb Tabb told me about the event back in the summer and invited me to join her table. Lucky for me, she stays on top of things and sent me follow-up texts to make sure I got my ticket when I got back from vacation in October.

With Phyllis B. and Linda Pudlik, Tea Lady Extraordinaire

The tea event was hosted by "Tea Lady Extraordinaire", Linda Pudlik. (I must say, she, too, had sent me an email notification back in early Fall). 

Grand staircase at Pine Lake Country Club greets guests with the holiday spirit

The venue was spectacular. The grand staircase in the Country Club's lobby was festooned with fresh green garland, ornaments and red ribbons and welcomed guests with the holiday spirit right from the front door.

Beautiful views of tablescapes and Pine Lake

The dining area was filled with scenic views as well, from the tables donning white linen tablecloths accented with bright red napkins to the panoramic views of  Pine Lake visible from the walls of windows that line the room.

Festive tea courtesy Mary Jones (seated at the far right)

The yummy menu items included butternut squash soup, Asiago chicken and (what I live for!) dessert surprise. It was a mini chocolate bombe, beautifully decorated and absolutely scrumptious. All of this was accompanied by bottomless cups of "Christmas Sparrow Tea", a delicious black tea spice blend courtesy Mary Jones (also in attendance).

Menu and Agenda for the Holiday Splendor Tea

We started with butternut squash soup. . .

. . . and ended with dessert surprise!

In a gathering of friends, brought together through shared passions, Linda Pudlik's opening remarks rang true. She reminded us  how we have all come together through our common bond of tea.  I looked to my own table and around the room, and in this wonderful  world of tea enthusiasts, I have, indeed,  met some of the most amazing women.

Despite a chilly Michigan mid-week afternoon, when holiday obligations have us pulled in all directions, (not to mention all the work piling up at the office and home), we came together to share a cup of hot tea and to support not only a good cause, but each other.  

Linda Shewbridge won two gift baskets!

As if that wasn't enough, there were raffles and a Silent Auction with incredible items. Several guests won gift baskets and Barb T. hit the jackpot with an Amish-made quilt.

Barb T. shows off her silent auction win.

All guests received a party favor courtesy the Left/Right game, so everyone went home a winner. But, we all knew that when we arrived. To take time out, in the busiest month of the year, to share a cup of tea with old and new friends - well, it just doesn't get any better than that.