Monday, May 25, 2020

Adagio Masters teas: Delicious specialty teas with a story

Adagio has a new season of Masters teas and, from our sample of five, they are smooth, delicious and - bonus! - have their own back story.  You just need to add hot water and love.

This month, we received a pack of Masters teas from Adagio which included the following teas:

  1. Bai Hao Yin Zhen silver needles 
  2. Rhoni first flush Darjeeling 
  3. Shi Feng Long Jjing 
  4. Sincha sencha 
  5. Sincha genmaicha

As we taste-tasted last year's collection, exactly one year ago today (see Adagio Masters Tea: Exciting, limited edition, premium loose tea with a story!) we immersed ourselves this weekend in sampling the aforementioned  2020 Masters teas. Across the board, they were smooth and satisfying.

As noted in our previous blog, Adagio's mission with the Masters tea is to provide not only fresh specialty teas, but share the story of the artisans who help create those teas.

Today, we share our Masters tea tasting experience.

1.) Bai Hao Yin Zhen silver needles (China):  Being a white tea - which comes from the newer leaves of the tea plant with minimal processing - it has a mild taste. But, mild doesn't mean it lacks flavor! We found this tea to have a hint of grassy with a clean, mineral finish.  The artisan for this tea is Zhang Xiao Han and her  tip for preparing the tea, per Adagio's website, is to brew it in a glass cup so you can see the leaves "dancing". 

2.)  Rohini first flush Darjeeling (India):  A Darjeeling, with a resemblance to a green tea, is actually a black tea. This first flush we found to have soft nutty tones mixed with  sweet hay and just a hint of mineral.  Artisan, Jhapan Than says what she enjoys most about harvesting the tea is that she is with  family and friends and can chat with them as she works.  We taste the happy!

3.) Shi Feng Long Jing (China):  This translates into Lion's peak Dragonwell, a green tea that  is one of the most famous of all of China's teas.  Our brew's taste evoked broth-y, buttery flavors with a clean astringent tone. Artisan Guo Ya Ling recommends storing this tea in a place of low temperature.

4.)  Sincha sencha (Japan):  A green tea that has citrusy flavors, but not overbearing, with nutty overtones.

5.)  Shincha genmaicha (Japan): A unique green tea with the addition of puffed rice. This has a warming vegetal taste with the complimentary flavor of toasted rice. Artisan for both Sincha teas is Katahira. His tip is to "brew a cup of tea with love. That is the best extra flavor".

We couldn't agree more with Katahira.  Adagio's Masters teas are finely cultivated and curated teas that are heavy on the smooth and flavor and absent  on the strong and bitter - all you need to add is love.

Product review disclaimer:  I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free or discounted price. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Mother's Day Week: Let us eat cake . . . and muffins!

Scrumptious chocolate, chocolate cake from the kitchen of Emma M.

Mother's Day Week is officially over - I know because this weekend  I ran out of cake and muffins!

First, let me say, I hope all you moms had a great Mother's Day last Sunday - even under such unusual conditions. Like many of you currently practicing "work arounds", my family did a "social distancing" drop off in the afternoon and we all got on a  Zoom call for an hour and half in the evening. Not the typical way we spend Mother's Day, but it was still really special and very sweet, with a double emphasis on the latter.

Delicious made-from-scratch banana muffins from Rachel

The delicious "drop off" came courtesy of my daughter, Rachel, and fiancĂ©, Sean and NY son, Matt (who "appeared" on my porch via Facetime). They had arranged to have a custom cake created for me by Emma Marks, a neighborhood friend and classmate of Rachel's who now has her own catering business after a recent graduation for culinary school. 

Social distancing drop off from Rachel, Sean and Matt

The rich chocolate cake with buttercream frosting was scribed with "Happy Birthday to the Tea Queen" - an appreciated title if only appointed by my family.  It was decadently scrumptious and my husband and I enjoyed a slice of chocolatey goodness every night for dessert for a week.

Also in the drop-off was a smaller box containing half a dozen homemade banana muffins from Rachel. I had one for breakfast every morning, for yes, you guessed it, for six days. 

Zoom call/Quiplash with Rob and Family

More surprises were in store later Mother's Day evening including a family call and three games of Trivia with son Rob and his significant other.

Dressed up with hat and gloves with my Mom and I'm ready for queen cake!

Aside from calls and sweets, I  put the tea kettle on and  spent a couple of hours last weekend going through old photo albums and savoring some wonderful memories of my own Mom.  I also thumbed through a dozen mini albums from that "other lifetime ago" that contained pictures of a thin me with two blonde-haired boys and a pretty little girl with pony-tails. 

Family vacation  in the 1990's with Rob, Rachel and Matt

In these challenging times, when we're self-isolating I know there are bigger problems than not having the family all together under the same roof.  But,  I still feel so very fortunate that my kids were able to still find a way to make the day special for me. 

Alas, the party must come to an end - even for the Queen. It was sad when my cake and muffin rations ran out, but probably for the best. 

And, even better  -we know were to get more!

Last piece of double chocolate cake!

Friday, May 15, 2020

Afternoon tea at The Willard's Peacock Alley gets our vote for most luxurious tea in Washington D.C.

The Willard Hotel in Washington D.C., home to famous lobby and tea spot, Peacock Alley

It's a big election year and my vote for the most luxurious afternoon tea venue in Washington D.C. -filled with marble, crystal and an impressive history - goes to the Willard Intercontinental hotel and its beautiful Peacock Alley.

Last September, my husband and I visited our nation's capital and I made a short mention of our tea at the hotel in last year's blog  Afternoon Tea and More! in Washington D.C. But, as promised then, there's more to the story of this historic landmark, more commonly referred to as "The Willard". 

The Willard is only two block from the White House
Visit to the White House, walk to tea

Just two blocks from the White House, "The Willard" began as a small converted row house hotel in 1818, growing in size and  luxury over the years until its final grand remodel in the "Beau-Arts" style in 1901. It has hosted almost every president since Franklin Pierce.

The Willard lobby, marble columns and gilded chandeliers 
In the lobby, with stairs to  Peacock Alley 

The Willard's lobby is opulently decorated, housing marble columns and floors and gilded chandeliers.  It's no surprise it attracted the jet set (or "barouche set" in its day).  It was also a magnet for politicians and influencers, therefore providing us with the term "lobbyist".

Chris ready for afternoon tea in The Willard's Peacock Alley

Aside from the elegant lobby,  afternoon tea in its adjacent "Peacock Alley" is an amazing event, offering both a scrumptious setting and menu. Our afternoon tea fare included incredible twists on traditional tea time savories, such as a blue cheese and grape tart, mini pimento BLT sandwiches and a citrus crab salad in puff pastry. The vanilla and blueberry scones were served with the hotel's homemade lemon curd, Devonshire cream, and apricot jam.

A separate tea menu has a variety of tempting blends, but, we selected The Willard's Signature Boutique Blend, a slightly fruitier, but absolutely delicious, take on a standard Earl Grey.

All of this to be enjoyed while a harpist plays in the background. No matter what side of the aisle you sit, you will all agree, you'll lobby for more tea time at The Willard.

The Willard InterContinental hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Tuesday Tea and Tomes: Taking Tea from TeaTime Magazine features 18 US tea venues (we've only been to 3!)

Taking Tea features 18 "notable tea rooms" in the US. We've been to three!

"Taking Tea:  Favorite Recipes from Noteable Tearooms", a TeaTime Magazine publication,  features "bios" of eighteen tea venues in the U.S.  along with some of their favorite recipes. Of the nine hotels and nine tearooms included, we've been to three (all hotels) and, in their order from earliest to latest, spanning twenty years:  The Drake Hotel (1999), Royal Park Hotel (2012) and Willard  Intercontinental (2019). 

Something special just for me!
Publications purchased on sale from Hoffman Media

This "great book" is from Hoffman Media (publishers of eleven food and shelter  magazines, including TeaTime, Southern Living and Victoria). I bought it along with "European treasures" when HM ran one its periodic and fabulous price-cutting deals. My package arrived last week and, as Winthrop from the Music Man sings when the Wells Fargo Wagon drops off its mystery parcels, it contained "something special just for me"!

This weekend, I did a deep dive into the pages of Taking Tea and while it inspired me to add more to my "wish list" of tea rooms to visit, I also had a wonderful time reminiscing about the three I had been to - and, to my surprise - those trips spanned exactly twenty years. 

At the Drake Hotel with my sister-in-law, Cara. One of my first fancy, fancy teas.

Starting in chronological order, The Drake Hotel (page 15), was one of my first very, very fancy teas (pre-blogging!)  and I was accompanied by my sister-in-law, Cara, who, at the time was living in Chicago. I remember I loved everything about it:  the luxurious setting of the Palm Court with the mammoth urn fountain at its core, filled with fresh flowers toppling over its side, the divine tea fare served on three-tiered trays, and, yes, even the ornate powder rooms added to the elegant affair!

I also remember how much fun we had, all dressed up and treating ourselves to such a posh affair.  I think I may have some yet-to-be-located pictures stashed away of our time inside,  but I did find this photo of Cara outside The Drake before we entered. A great memory and an experience that launched two decades of tea room passion for this afternoon-tea-obsessed blog writer.

Mary Kuhn, Royal Park's Tea Hostess serves  afternoon tea in the Gallery Room

A little over a decade later, I experienced, for the first time (I've been back on other occasions), afternoon tea at the Royal Park Hotel (page 91) in 2012, with daughter and tea-biz partner, Rachel, and good friend and  BTS team member, Pam. By this time, I was a tea blogger, and penned this account of our first visit. Fit for a Queen (or Three!): Afternoon Tea at the Royal Park Hotel.

This tony hotel is practically in our back yard, resting just a stone's throw from Main Street in downtown Rochester, Michigan.

Pam and Rachel toast with sparkling juice to a wonderful tea time.

Taking Tea defines our experience at Royal Park, well, to a "tea".  Tea hostess, Mary Kuhn, greeted us as soon as we walked into the grand hotel's lobby and escorted us to the library while our tea table was being prepared. Once our spot in the Gallery Room - which overlooks the picturesque Paint Creek stream - opened up, Mary directed us to our designated table and explained both the tea and tea fare offerings.  

Drinking Earl Grey at Royal Park

We kicked off our tea time with a sparkling juice toast and kicked back for an afternoon of delightful ambiance, delicious sweets  and dedicated customer service. Taking Tea quotes Mary, "Visitors arrive as guests, stay as friends and they leave as family."  

The Willard Hotel in Washington D.C., home to famous lobby and tea spot, Peacock Alley

And, twenty years after The Drake, we found ourselves at the Willard InterContinental (page 115), or more commonly referred to as "The Willard" in Washington D.C. We were there less than a year ago, and I made short mention of it in last year's blog: Afternoon Tea and More! in Washington D.C.

Although my husband, Chris and I were at The Willard in August, Taking Tea informs us that aside from the hotel's "regular" afternoon tea, they also offer "Cherry Blossom Tea" during the National Cherry Blossom Festival (mid-March through mid-April) and "Holiday Afternoon Tea" in December. That only means one thing - we must go back!

(Stay tuned this week for a full feature on Afternoon Tea at the Willard.)

Taking Tea is a most enjoyable book, filled with beautiful photographs of tea venues and tea fare as well as all those tempting recipes. It will inspire you to visit as well as create. 

Here are the other fifteen tea venues featured in Taking Tea: 

Camilla's Sin Tea Parlor (PA), The English Rose (TN), The Grand America Hotel (UT), Heirlooms Tea Room (MN), Lady Bedford's Tea Parlor (NC), O. Henry Hotel (NC), Paris in a Cup (CA), Park Hyatt Aviara Resort (CA), The Peabody Hotel (TN), Queen Mary Tea Room (WA), Rose Tree Cottage (CA), The St. James Tearoom (NM), Taj Boston, (MA), Teaberry's Tearoom (NJ) and The Windsor Court Hotel (LA).

Have you been to any of these? You may have some great memories of them as well!

BTS' highly recommends Taking Tea: Favorite Recipes from Notable Tearooms.  Order it today for "something special" just for you!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Tuesday Tea and Tomes: 'The Turn of the Screw' with Bonus Feature, "Return of the Screw"!

Henry James'  "The Turn of the Screw", scary tale which inspired a sequel

Were the ghosts at Bly real?  - or  were they the product of an agitated imagination of a young woman?  Was the author of the story a believer of spirits witnessed in his native Washington Park? 

Only two of these questions have been debated by literary critics for over a century, but we at BTS postured one of our own. In addition, this haunting story inspired our own sequel "Return of the Screw" (skip below for the other "masterpiece").

"The Turn of the Screw" is a gothic tale which takes place in a large English country estate, Bly,  owned by a handsome gentleman. The well-to-do man hires a young, impressionable governess to take charge of his two clever and handsome wards. Upon the governess' arrival at Bly, she is befriended by a cheerful housekeeper, but Mrs. Grose is not the only inhabitant who takes a keen interest in the new resident.

The arch at Washington Park, early home to James and close to tea

The author of this ghost story, published in 1898, is Henry James, who grew up in lower Manhattan's tony Washington Square. His father had inherited a great deal of money which gave him the freedom to spend the majority of his time on intellectual pursuits. In the James' household, young Henry was exposed to such esteemed visitors  as Ralph Waldo Emmerson and Bronson Alcott (father of a recently featured Tea at Tomes author, Louisa May Alcott).

Although born in the United States, Henry James spent the last forty years of his life in Europe. He was living in London when he wrote "The Turn of the Screw" and, although a short book (less than ninety pages), there is no economy of phrases in each sentence and more commas and dashes than a BTS blog.  It was first serialized for Collier's Weekly, which may account for the wordiness (we have no excuse!) but it's still a "page-turner", griping the readers from the very beginning with a tale promising to be horrible, dreadful and "beyond everything".

Whether the ghosts at Bly  are real or imagined has been argued by scholars for years. It could be nothing more than a haunted house story or it could be a more layered tale of one who imagines sites that no one else can view (a "Sixth Sense" application). 

"The Turn of the Screw" and last year's visit to Henry Jame's childhood neighborhood, inspired our sequel to 19th century classic, "Return of the Screw".  While, we believe it may not elicit  century-long debates on its meaning, it may beg the question "why?". 

Chris and I in Washington Park, August of 2019

ReTurn of the Screw: Washington Park

In a somewhat related event - and as I think of it now, it makes the absurd more explainable! - last August, my husband, Chris, and I were visiting my son, Matthew, who lives in New York City.  On our way to a delightful afternoon tea at Laduree, in lower Manhattan, we stopped for a rest in Washington Park. Yes, the very stomping grounds of a young Henry James! It was a hot summer day and by the time we reached the park, we had clocked in a thirty minute walk from our mid-town hotel and needed a rest. 

At the moment we found a brief respite from the heat and fatigue on a vacant park bench, I felt a slight warm breeze - or,  as I reflect now - more of a puff of mystifying smoke -  engulfing our temporary sanctuary.  It was easy to dismiss it as forgettable or city bus emissions, but something made me uneasy. Was this force due to our heat-induced lethargy or something more sinister, preternatural?

It is only now, in the comfort of my blog/diary, that I can reveal the truth of that day. Chris said he  did not see the specter, but I did!  Hours later, after tea, I thought back to that lugubrious recess at the park. Did Chris really not  see what was beckoning to us at Washington Square or did he choose to let me believe he did not see it? Was this the haunt of famous authors? Those who had written "Portrait of a Lady" or "The First Beatnik in Outerspace"?

I did not admit this to anyone until today. As I looked back on photos taken at Washington Park, nothing out of the ordinary was revealed. However, when I applied the "slate" filter which rendered my photo - or shall I say now, my true evidence! - a ghostly figure appeared. There is no doubt now. Even Mrs. Grose would have seen that pipe-smoking apparition.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

April tablescape is in the cards.


Can you deal? Our April tablecsape is set for afternoon tea and a game of cards.

This month's table setting was inspired by a recent find while going through buried treasure in our home, aka, storage bins in our basement. There are still a few boxes with contents that haven't found their "forever home" in our condo.

I not only uncovered my very much missed pedestal cake plate, but a set of my Grandma Signe's card symbol glasses - ideal for iced-tea and an appropriate accompaniment to your next jump bid!

I remember these glasses in my grandma's china cabinet.  Grandma Signe was my dad's mom, and she lived in a small town in the upper peninsula on the Keweenaw Bay. She immigrated to the US,  from a Swedish settlement in Finland, when she was four years old. Once settled in Baraga, she never desired to leave and lived in the town noted to have the "world's friendliest people" for over eighty years.

In my formative years, I spent a few weeks every summer with my family (three older brothers and parents) at my dad's childhood home and I loved these visits. My grandma had lots of collections of china and glassware (must be a gene!).  I was captivated by her display of depression glass on top of her white kitchen cabinets and her array of fancy china in the pantry. (The latter also housed a bowl of sugar cubes which may have tempted a grandchild, or four, to sneak a few into their little hands for a sweet treat when no one was minding the store).

The card symbol glasses, though, are perfect for my grandma. She was the "card shark" of the upper peninsula, known to take most bids in pinochle and win. She was a master of not only pinochle, but bridge,  canasta and just about any other card game around.

But, true "old school" Scandinavian, my grandma's  cups, Depression glass or fancy china, would not have been filled with tea, but an unending supply of black coffee.

This month, I set the table with Grandma Signe's water (or iced-tea) glasses and her green depression glass plates, cups and sherbet glasses, along with some card-themed tiny serving dishes (from a long ago antiques store purchase), to round out the card-playing tablescape.

While I may have inherited my grandma's collector's gene, my brothers surely were given her card-shark abilities.  Have you ever heard of a jump bid on half a pinochle and three cards short of  a run?  Oh, and, in addition, that bid ends up winning?

I'm conservative in cards, but wild for the tablescape.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Quaratine succs without you! The Twelve Weeks of Social Isolation

Quarantine "succs" without you, a social isolation package brings cheer.

Last week, I got a wonderful surprise in the mail:  a delayed (in shipping) birthday present from my daughter, Rachel. It was a social isolation care package which included a sign that says "Quarantine Succs without You", a succulent plant in a white pot, a sweet smelling candle and a box of Peace Organics matches. While a true day-brightener, it also spoke to a few of my favorite things - a good pun and some delightful aromatherapy.

Wearing face mask when going out or tea
Win! Generic TP, but still my Prince Charmin

I immediately lit the candle and put the sign on display. As I sat down for a few minutes to enjoy this treasure bath, I began to take inventory of how I have been spending my weeks in quarantine.  I've been on Zoom trivia calls with the kids,  Zoom social calls with friends and a couple of virtual afternoon teas (latest from Victorian Rose).  Along with my husband, Chris, we've  cleaned out several closets and just in time to make more space for all our  recent Amazon purchases (including the coveted, though generic, bathroom tissue).

Seeing lots of turkeys on neighborhood walks
This guy came right up to our back deck.

We've also gone for long walks in our neighborhood and spotted more deer and turkeys than I can remember.  For essential shopping, we've secured some heavy-duty facemasks. And, adding to that list of accomplishments, we binge-watched all six seasons of Downton Abbey.

Binge-watched all six seasons of DowntonAbbey

Three virtual teas so far.

And, in the  minor inconvenience category, we've celebrated April birthdays at home: mine, my birthday twin, Pam, my future son-in-law, Sean and my brother, Glenn. However, I did treat myself to a fancy dinner carry-out from Forest Grille in Birmingham, and enjoyed a delicious dulce la leche cream puff for dessert. (some of the comfort foods may be having an impact on my bathroom scale).

Dulce le leche cream puff for a birthday treat
Zoom Quiplash with the family

To all these activities, I humbly submit, and in no particular order of occurrence: The Twelve Weeks of Quarantine:

On the first day of Q-tine, my true love gave to me (and you know how the rest goes):

  1. A succ-ulent in a white pot
  2. Two mega facemasks
  3. Three virtual teas
  4. Four April birthdays (in seclusion)
  5. Five Zoom Quiplash wins!
  6. Six Downton Abbey Seasons
  7. Seven facetime friend dates
  8. Eight bags of stuff to donate
  9. Nine turkeys grazing
  10. Ten pounds a'gaining
  11. Eleven packages from Amazon (this week!)
  12. Twelve rolls of (generic) toilet paper

There are many things I know we all miss during Quarantine, but following rules to keep us all safe is a priority. It does succ without you all, but while we're in the many weeks of Q-tine, may I suggest calling a friend, texting a neighbor or sending someone a social isolation care package. I can attest most recently to the latter, it will bring a smile to the recipient and they will love it.