Tuesday, June 20, 2017

One hundred things (and a few more) to do in the Upper Peninsula with Kath Usitalo

Meeting author, Kath Usitalo at Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord

One hundred things to do in the Upper Peninsula? Ya, you bet!

As a daughter of a Yooper, and one who made annual treks over the bridge for over 50 years, I can tell you "100" doesn't cover all the great adventures in the UP. That's why I think Kath Usitalo may already need a sequel to her recently published book, "100 Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula Before You Die".

Lots to do on the other side of  Mackinac Bridge (62) - at least 100!

We met author Kath Usitalo last weekend at Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord, Michigan. (This book store is a real gem - bright, cozy and filled to the brim with great reads.).

Kath Usitalo knows the northern Michigan territory well. Although she grew up in a suburb of Detroit, her parents were from the Keweena area in the UP where she visited frequently. Now, she lives in the Upper Peninsula year round where she writes her blog, GreatLakesGazette.com.

Just breathe (#41) "scenic beauty & clean air" ( looks like Finland)

Many of the residents of the UP have family ties to the Nordic countries. Usitalo is Finnish and, similar in roots, my Dad's parents immigrated from a Swedish settlement in Finland back in the early 1900's. (We visited Helsinki and Vaasa in 2001 and, aside from the pleasure of meeting many other "Engmans", we could not get over how much the terrain, with it's plentiful pines and pristine natural lakes, resembled northern Michigan).

We even have our own UP body of water, Engman Lake
Engmans in Finland and UP

Of the one hundred things to do in Kath's book, I've personally done 34. My Dad being from Baraga, it's no surprise that I've been to the Shrine of the Snowshoe Priest - aka Bishop Baraga -  (#52), a number of times. It's the towering bronze statue that overlooks the bay between L'Anse and Baraga.

Visiting some of the UP's best kept secrets -  beautiful waterfalls (#23)

However, we didn't limit ourselves to just my Dad's hometown to experience other "things" to do in the UP.  We've watched freighters carried through the Soo Locks (#72) via the marvels of modern engineering, toured the spectacular Pictured Rocks by boat (#45) and, as recently as last fall, experienced for the first time the amazing beauty of the Upper Peninsula's waterfalls (#23). On the way home from that last trip, we also stopped at Java Joe's (#2) in St. Ignace.

Java Joe's (#2) in St. Ignace

In addition, we've been to Mackinac Island for bike rides (#63), fudge (#4) and afternoon tea at the Grand Hotel (#64).

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island (#64)

Fancy tea with  family at the Grand Hotel
Tea with hotel historian, Bob Tagatz

Speaking of tea, one more thing to do in the Upper Peninsula that's not in the book is afternoon tea at Four Seasons in Houghton - perhaps for the sequel?  (It is, however, in my book, Michigan Tea Rooms).

Michigan Tea Rooms sold at Four Season's Gift Shope
With tea room owner, Adrea Schuldt

One UP thing we've tried since last weekend, courtesy of Kath and her book, is Trenary Toast (#5). Kath had samples of this Upper Peninsula taste treat for those in attendance of the book signing event. This toast is twice baked and coated with sugar and cinnamon. It is dunked in coffee or milk and, once softened, adds a sweet and satisfying taste to the liquid it's immersed in. We tried it in coffee and loved it.  Next, you just know we'll experiment with tea!

Trenary Toast (#5) is a tasty treat with coffee

At Barb's Tea Service, we're going to try Trenary Toast with tea!

"100 Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula Before You Die" is now available at Saturn Booksellers and other retail outlets. For more information, visit GreatLakesGazette.com.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The British Accents Tea Room in Sarasota: A taste of England in The Sunshine State

The Barb Gulleys enjoy traditional afternoon tea time at British Accents

In an unassuming strip mall in southern Sarasota, there's an aptly named tea room and retail store:   The British Corner Shop and The British Accents Tea Room. In this little corner of the gulf side of Florida, you walk through the storefront doors of an All-American shopping center into a most delightful slice of England, complete with tea time and merchandise from "across the pond".

Burgundy-hued lines cover tables donned with three-tiered trays and fancy china.

Last week, my mother-in-law, Barb Gulley, and I (the other, "Barb Gulley"), visited The British Accents Tea Room, having made reservations the day before for their Traditional Afternoon Tea.   We enjoyed every minute of our stay, from the retail shop's shelves filled to the brim with fanciful English merchandise to the cozy tea room in back, with tables covered in crisp, burgundy-hued linens donned with three tier trays and teapots festooned in hand-knit coverings. A glowing "fire" in the fireplace along the back wall added to the ambiance, feeling much more British Isles than tropical U.S.

Moira Nichols and Arlene Sullivan add to the British connection

But, perhaps most importantly, the food and service are excellent. We were cheerfully greeted by chef and server, Moira Nichols and Arlene Sullivan respectively, and they bring home the British connection. Moira is from England, having moved here over twenty years ago and Arlene did a study abroad in Britain.  Both shared interesting stories of their native/adoptive home.

Delicious scones served with strawberry preserves and Devon cream

The Traditional Afternoon Tea is absolutely delicious, consisting of scones, sweets and savories all served up with a smile and an expertly brewed pot of Earl Grey (our choice, there is a wide selection of teas to choose from).

Tea sandwiches include, cucumber and smoked salmon

Our scones, accompanied by strawberry preserves and Devon cream, were freshly baked and scrumptious -  and just the right consistency, too.

We were given the choice of two sandwiches each and you can easily share their generous portions. We asked for the smoked salmon and cream cheese, the egg and cress and cucumber. All were amazing, but I especially loved the smoked salmon!

Three-tiered tray topped with miniature pastries.

All of this was topped, quite literally, by an assortment of small pastries for dessert. Chocolate-topped tiny tortes and lemon cake were our favorites.

The British Corner Shop shelves are filled with merchandise fro England

And, after dessert, there's shopping to be had. The British Corner Shop carries a wide variety of products from England including tea, tea sets, purses and teddy bears.

Tea accessories, including child tea sets in hampers

The store caries a full-line of assorted teas.

Cute purses and British snacks are also available

The British Corner Shop and British Accents Tea Room is a lovely trip to England without ever needing to cross the ocean.  A wonderful place to enjoy a spot of tea in Sarasota, Florida.

The British Accents Tea Room serves tea Tuesday - Saturday

The British Corner Shop and The British Accents Tea Room are located at 2236 Gulf Gate Drive, Sarasota. For more information, check out their website at The British Corner Shop.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

BTS featured artist: Cara, embroidery specialist

With sis-in-law, Cara, wearing our BTS aprons in Birmigham

From time to time, our blog features artists that we find of special interest. This month our focus is on an artist that is both special and interesting, my sister-in-law Cara. She excels in sewing, for years an avid and talented quilter. Recently she turned her attention to machine embroidery and  Barb's Tea Service has been the happy and grateful recipient of some of  Cara's personalized products, including stylish tea towels which we use at many of our tea tastings.
BTS tea towels embroidered by Cara - used at many of our tea tasting events

When Cara started machine embroidery, BTS was not the only beneficiary of her "handiwork". Pemberly Pines, our up north cottage, received customized towels as well polo shirts for the gentleman of the estate, Lord Gulley of Glencoe.

Pemberly Pines bath towels 

Our customized Pemberly Pines towel set features embroidered deer and evergreens and hang in the main bathroom of our cottage. Gives P. Pines the air of a tony B & B.

Plush blankets with "wood" letters for the gent of P.Pines

The latest Pemberly Pines items from Cara are plush blankets with themed applique letters for the Lord and Lady of the manor. For, Chris, the wood-look letters, for me, tea cups, of course.

Tea cup letters for the ladies of Pemberly Pines

We're really excited about last month's BTS products from Cara - aprons! Now we all have beautiful matching black aprons with our signature logo and pink teapot. 

Rachel dons one of Cara's BTS embroidered aprons

Rachel and Pam look fabulous in their latest Cara creation and will be stylin' for the next BTS event.

Toasting mutual birthdays with Pam while wearing new BTS apron.

Of course, Cara couldn't leave Lord Gulley out the apron collection. She made a special one for Chris with Pemberly Pines branding.

Lord Gulley gets a personalized apron, too.

All of Cara's embroidery products show amazing detail and color coordination. The needlework is true artistry. It's a wonderful combination of practical and pretty.

In case you missed some of our previous BTS featured artists, here's a chance to get caught up:

Home Sewn Decor
Tea and Knitting
Michael Aram

Friday, May 26, 2017

Tonia's Victorian Rose Tea Room: New owner and updates to a Rochester favorite

Tonia's Victorian Rose has a new owner: Tonia!

For two decades, the Victorian Rose Tea Room has been a familiar fixture on Third Street in downtown Rochester. Known for its handsome vintage parlor rooms and delicious lunches, it was owned and operated by Loretta Curry for over twenty years. It changed hands last December when Tonia Cartson purchased the distinctive tea venue. After a visit this week, I'm delighted to say, with a refresh courtesy Tonia's touch, the tea room maintains both its charm and truly scrumptious menu offerings.

Victorian Rose holds a special place for me - it was where I had my first tea presentation outside of home parties over ten years ago. (I have a picture from a newspaper article that I will share, once I find it. We recently moved and everything is in boxes!)

Over the years, I also came with friends for afternoon tea. The food was always amazing, including Loretta's legendary chicken pot pie with its generously stuffed savory goodness and gravy wrapped up in a delicate, flaky crust.

Asparagus soup, creamy goodness in a cup.

Frequent guests of the Victorian Rose will be thrilled to know, the chicken pot pie is still on the menu and it's still amazing. On my visit with my favorite cousins, Dianne and Kathy (aka, my "sistahs"), we sampled pot pie, cream of asparagus soup and chicken salad, the latter served up  with fresh fruit and a just-baked cranberry scone. Everything was superb!

Scrumptious chicken salad with fresh fruit and scone.

There were so many tempting items to choose from, it was hard to select just a few. But, we'll be back to try the crepes and afternoon tea offerings very soon.

Victorian decor with a French provincial touch

The tea is served in tea bags, but steeped in teapots brought to the table. We had our afternoon-tea go-to, Earl Grey, which worked well with our scones.

Chandeliers hang from the ceiling and on the wall.

The decor is still Victorian, but with a fresh, French provincial flair. Elegant chandeliers hang from the ceilings and the theme continues with a sparkling chandelier picture mounted on one of the lavender hued walls.

The sistahs in one of the three "parlors" in the tea room.

Each table has a unique centerpiece made of teapots, tea cups and silk flowers, which adds a bit of fun and whimsy to the setting.

Each table has a unique centerpiece.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Tonia's Victorian Rose. Not only is the food and decor something to talk about, but you also meet the nicest people to talk to. We got to know  Candy and Peggy who were at a nearby table. They, too, were out on a "girls afternoon" and are great fans of Victorian Rose.

Tonia's Victorian Rose in downtown Rochester

Tonia's Victorian Rose (tea room and more!) is located at 118 W. 3rd Street in Rochester. Tea room hours are Tuesday - Friday, 10:00 am - 2:00 pm, Saturday and Sunday, 8:00 am - 2:00 pm (call ahead to be sure no events are going on during the weekends). Reservations are strongly encouraged.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

An Austentacious Tea with the Storytellers Guild

With members of the StoryTellers Guild and winners of centerpieces 

A most agreeable morning was spent with the StoryTellers Guild last Thursday at our "Austentacious Tea". We presented to a most delightful group in one of the elegant "assembly rooms" of The Community House in Birmingham.

BTS An Austentacious Tea program and display

In partnership with The Community House, the StoryTellers Guild promotes literacy in schools with a team of volunteers who visit classrooms and read to young students. They also raise money to purchase and donate books to these same schools.

The StoryTellers Guild promotes literacy in schools

An exceedingly amiable and handsome assemblage, it was an honor to be part of their esteemed company for the day.

Judy Walsh, Guild committee member raffles off prizes

I was invited to present at the Guild's May event by committee member, Judy Walsh. When she contacted me last year, I learned about this wonderful organization and all they do to encourage and support reading in schools. In turn, it was an easy choice which BTS' program to select for this group - I wanted to share my favorite teller of stories: Jane Austen.

In one of the cozy rooms of The Community House, the meeting space was transformed into a fancy tea venue, not unlike the Pump Room in Bath, where society gathered in Jane's day.

Tea Time and raffle greet guests outside the "tea room"

Guests were greeted with a "Tea Time" theme and book drawing in the lobby outside the "tea room".

Each table was set with pretty teacups and a program of the day's event. The centerpieces, which were raffled off to several lucky guests, were an assortment of tea cup planters set on glass pedestals. (something for our pinterest accounts!)

Beautiful tea cup centerpieces at each table.

In Jane's words, "if a book is well written, I always find it too short". To paraphrase, I'd add, "if company is so agreeable, time spent with them is way too short". Such is the case with the Storytellers Guild.  We'd like to thank them for letting us be part of their special May event.