Monday, October 19, 2020

Extraordinary wedding for an extraordinary couple in extraordinary times (or the bride and groom were negative and that's a good thing!)

Rachel and Sean exchange wedding vows in new-to-the-scene venue 

One month ago today, amid pandemic conditions which caused venue plans to change every other month since March, my beautiful daughter, Rachel, and our amazing to-be-and-now-is son-in-law, Sean were married in an outdoor ceremony filled with sunflowers, sunshine and, most importantly, lots and lots of love. 

(And, we all - including bride and groom -got Covid tests before the wedding and we were all negative, thankfully!)

Wedding tablescapes  incorporated the ingredients of the day, including sunflowers and love.

Planning a wedding, although fun and exciting, is truly a labor of love in "normal conditions".  Add quarantine restrictions filled with daily uncertainty to the mix and Rachel and Sean were up against a constant roulette wheel of choices for their special day . What started as a guest list of slightly over 100 in a picturesque orchard on the west side of Michigan began to devolve into less than a quarter of the original invitees to congregate in the yard of my oldest son, Rob. 

Although Rob's yard is truly impressive -   it's two acres of mature trees mixed with ground cover and manicured lawn (and  professionally landscaped last year)  - it wasn't even in the mix of considerations until two weeks before. 

As last-minute venues were becoming undesirable options for a variety of reasons, we literally called on Rob to host Rachel and Sean's nuptials. I'll never forget his immediate response when I phoned him, in that deep baritone radio voice of his,  "oh, that will be fun!"

And, in two weeks, with a lot of help, a south Oakland county suburban yard turned into a magnificent wedding site.

Siblings Rob, Matt and Rachel, posing inappropriately for family photos since the 1980's. 

The day before the wedding, the party-supply company dropped off and assembled tents and tables. The linen lady delivered white and burgundy tablecloths and my sister-in-law and Rachel's godmother, Sandy, decorated every chair with a burgundy sash cinched with a silk sunflower, which looked spectacular (it's all in the details!).

Archway festooned with flowers and lights, each chair a burgundy cover cinched with a sunflower

An arched gateway from Wayfair, garnished with sunflower garland and fairy lights, served as the spot for the wedding ceremony, officiated with  just the right blend of outrageous humor (how many couples have "Buddy Hackett" mentioned in their nuptials?) and stoic reverence, by my brother, Ed, who is also Rachel's godfather.  

Rachel's godfather and uncle, Ed, officiates the wedding. Who is Buddy Hackett?

My artistic brother-in-law happily agreed to  paint the "Welcome" sign a few days before the wedding, when it occurred to me we didn't have one. 

My son, Matt (in from New York), along with husband and father-of-the bride, Chris, drove across the state to pick up the wedding feast from the caterer and filled up five coolers for transport.

The Gulley clan 

At the rehearsal dinner, bride and groom feeling a little more comfortable with the amount of outdoor space for social distancing, called in last-minute invites to local uncles and an aunt and uncle who live four hours away. They all said "yes" immediately, even  if it meant checking on suit availability or driving 300 miles one way.


Last minute set up before the wedding

On the day of the wedding, while Rachel and I were getting our make up done by Kelsey Roman of Roman Beauty  in Rob's spare bedroom, Sean's mother and grandmother assisted in setting up the outdoor dining room and putting the final touches on the sweetheart table for the bride and groom. We had a small, but mighty army, of designing women who knew how to get 'er done.

Beautiful bride and verklempt mom
Kelsey of Roman Beauty

And, although the bridesmaids (and groomsmen) who weren't immediate family, were not in attendance, two of those lovely ladies dropped off champagne and balloons earlier on the wedding day to still be a part of the reception.

Bridesmaids dropped off balloons & champagne and artistic bro paints sign

Everyone pitched in -  cousin/bridesmaid took on the video recording and brother/groomsman queued up the sound system. Relatives, including Rob's fiancĂ©, Haley, doubled as guests and food servers and the entire clan helped with after-hours disassembly. 

Chris toasts the married couple in Sunrise/Sunset fashion

As the mother-of-the-bride, I was right on script, verklempt with tissues at the ready as the father-of-the-bride walked Rachel down the "aisle".  Later, Chris evoked more sentiment as he toasted bride and groom, noting Rachel's path to this day seemed to have passed by us at warp speed. Here's where we all feel a bit like Tevye and Golde:  "I don't remember growing older, when did they. . .? " 

But, with legions of love and support, it all comes down to this awesome couple, Rachel and Sean - who put in numerous hours getting this event off the ground, all while still working full-time jobs and experiencing new-house anxiety (complete with emergency plumbing issues).

Guests - without hesitation - double as food servers.

I know I can't be incredibly objective here, but they really are two of the brightest, kindest, easy-going folks you'll ever meet. 

They're also respectful and approach life with equal doses of adventure and humor.  It was summed up perfectly in their vows, which mirrored each other's love and commitment.  I'm paraphrasing an excerpt, but here's the gist:

"I will love and respect you and . . . join you in all your journeys and passions,  those that interest me and those that may bore me . . .  and to do my part to make sure  that you never know the difference".

The recently minted Mrs. and Mr. B. Oh, yes, they've got this! We couldn't be prouder!!

Extraordinary couple indeed!

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Afternoon Tea with TeaTime Magazine's Lorna Reeves and treats from The Secret Garden

Barb's Tea Service (Barb & Rachel) ready to enjoy afternoon tea with TeaTime & The Secret Garden

Last month, my daughter, Rachel, and I joined Lorna Reeves, along with several other guests from around the country, for an absolutely delicious and entertaining afternoon tea, all within the comfort our outside patio.

Held two weeks ago today, on September 27th, the affair was a collaboration of TeaTime Magazine, The Secret Garden and the Coffee and Tea Newsletter. A virtual event, which sold out fast,  included a 90-minute presentation and question-and-answer "chat" with TeaTime editor, Lorna Reeves along with a package full of scrumptious tea time goodies from The Secret Garden, a tea room in Port Jefferson, New York.

Lorna Reeves, editor of TeaTime Magazine, begins the Afternoon Tea time event

The package of edible tea treats, which was arrived via FedEx a few days before the event,  included scones, almond madeleines and petit lemon cakes accompanied by a jar of berry jam and a jar of imported clotted cream. Fleur de Lis loose tea was also part of the collection from The Secret Garden.  It's the tea room's own blend of black and oolong teas with bergamot and notes of caramel and vanilla (I like to just open the tea pack and take in a deep sniff - it's fragrance is amazing!).

Not only was everything from The Secret Garden tasty, but also the presentation was equally impressive. All the goodies above, in addition to an exquisitely decorated tea infuser, came packaged neatly in a gold box, wrapped in gold ribbon with silk-like autumn leaves on top. I almost (almost, but not quite!) didn't want to untie the box it was so pretty.

Shortly before the event began, we warmed the scones in the oven, brewed a full pot of tea and assembled our three-tier plate stand on the patio table, making just  enough room for our laptop. Once seated, we were ready  to link into Lorna's presentation.

The Afternoon Tea talk was wonderful as Lorna Reeves. pouring out tea for herself and her assistant, shared tea time etiquette tips, serving suggestions and some favorite tea time venues. Her presentation style is informative, relaxed and inviting and made afternoon tea novices as well as long-time enthusiasts feel comfortable to ask a range of questions. 

Scones, sweets, jam, clotted cream, loose tea and tea infuser all from The Secret Garden Tea Room

It was really as though Lorna Reeves was joining us on the patio, along with several other engaging guests. We could ask questions and communicate with fellow attendees. I even got a compliment on my fascinator in the chat!

This virtual tea party was an afternoon of interesting tea topics and flavorsome tea fare. 

We'd be delighted to see more of these in the very near future!

Monday, September 7, 2020

Dunking your tea bag (if you do such a thing!): Does it matter?

To dunk or not to dunk - that's not really the question. Whether the dunking does anything at all is more the heart of the inquiry and, I've discovered recently, the subject of a number of articles ranging from hard science to enhanced fluff.  Perhaps even more surprising, all come to the same conclusion.

Last week, my husband forwarded me an article titled  "Dunking tea bags: Nervous habit or infusing technique?" from  The writer was curious as to whether the act of lifting your tea bag up and down in a cup of hot water was an effective infusing technique or just a tea drinker's tic.

While some of the writer's facts were a little off (e.g. black tea is not created from fermentation, it's the product of oxidation) and opinions a bit inflammatory (an assertion that, with regards to tea quality in tea bags, "tea snobs are sort of full of it"), her findings on the act of dunking are supported by some rather weighty research.

Does bouncing your tea bag actually do anything substantial? asks Matt Harbowy, a research developer with a masters in chemistry from Cornell,  in a 2012 Forbes article, complete with equations and controlled experiments. He, too, lashes out on the tea snob's disregard for the tea bag, but only supported by anecdotal evidence (his aunt keeps her tea bags stored for years and complains of the taste, but, Harbowy acknowledges, outdated shelf life, doesn't bode well for most tea).

Harbowy continues on the same topic in a 2014 article for the Independent, "Let me ask you this. . . ",
where he touts the same results, but now under the title of "tea chemist".  So, clearly, this guy is the tea dunking guru.

So, for a bit of my own fluff-plus-science original research, I prepared two cups of  black tea in tea bags today. I dunked one tea bag rapidly for three minutes, observed its color and took a sip. I repeated the same process for my next cup of tea, but this time, no dunking.  I, too, came to the same conclusion as the writer and tea chemist,  Harbowy.

If you rushed to the end of this blog story to find out what the results are (from three sources cited here!), I will hold back no longer:  dunking does nothing to enhance or detract from the taste of your tea.  It passes time if we're anxious, but other than that, the steep is the same whether you bob your tea bag several times, or let it rest comfortably for it's three to five minutes in your tea cup.

In the end, do what makes you most happy - if rapid dunking gives you purpose, go for it. If you want to just hang, let the tea bag chillax in your cup while you start reading your tea magazine.

Or, with my tea snob comrades, we'll probably bypass the tea bag altogether, and go right for the loose leaf.  

Barb Gulley, tea snob, fluff and original research reporter.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Victorian Rose Shoppe: A northern Michigan specialty store filled with wonderful treasures!

Victorian Rose Shoppe sign accompanied by "Open" flag, told us it was time to visit.

Everything's coming up roses in northern Michigan and we discovered a wonderful gift shop that's worth singing about!

Victorian Rose Shoppe is located just outside Rose City's downtown on M-33 (aka Mio Road) and it's literally housed in a can't-miss-it-yellow colonial home that welcomes visitors with its distinctive store signage and - if you are lucky like we were - an accompanying "OPEN" flag that lets guests know, its open for business.

Inviting side porch and entry to Victorian Rose Shoppe.

We've been passing that charming abode/shop for over ten years on our way up to our northern Michigan cottage, but since we're usually coming up late on the weekend and leaving after hours, we never had the opportunity to stop in. That is, until last week, when we took time to "smell the roses" and explore this interesting gift shop.

Lots of treasures to be found at the Victorian Rose Shoppe in Rose City, BTS' Barb G. with store owner, Lin K.

Victorian Rose Shoppe is the home to Lin K. and her retail business. Entering the door on the side porch, guests are immediately taken in by the variety of unique merchandise that includes jewelry, china, mirrors and glassware. The display rooms are lighted with chandeliers and strands of mini lights which adds to the enchanted ambiance. Throw in a vintage fireplace with a framed mirror, a wrought iron bistro set and a room filled with fairy cottages and one feels they are truly transported to another place and time.

Rooms are lighted by chandeliers and strands of mini lights, which adds to the enchanted ambiance

Lin has resided in this home for over forty years and has been crafting and selling her art for over two decades.  Ready for a change from transporting her creations to various craft shows, she added on a room to to the back of her home,  converted another space for retail and set up shop "in house" eight years ago.

Vintage fireplace with mirror that captures afternoon shoppers with proper mask protocol.

Aside from Lin's own creations (she makes all the fairy garden homes), she also sells merchandise from other local artisans. And, when you're done touring the inside, there's more waiting out in back.

The Victorian Rose Shoppe's footprint continues outdoors where guests will find a beautiful garden with paths that take one along the gazebo and koi pond (what a charming place to enjoy a cup of tea!).

Owner Lin K. creates all the fairy garden homes for sale in her store. 

On our visit, we purchased a set of embellished wine flutes that work as decorative candle holders (to be part of an upcoming wedding tablescape).  We can't wait to come back to explore more.

The store's footprint continues outdoors where a garden path takes guest to the gazebo and the koi pond.

We heartily recommend taking time to stop at the Victorian Rose Shoppe.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

A tea (event) grows in Brooklyn: On-line tea tasting with Brooklyn Tea

Tea tasting on-line event hosted by Brooklyn Tea featured four black teas from various regions.

Last month, a few members of the Gulley family took part in a fun and flavorful tea tasting hosted by Brooklyn Tea and without any of us leaving home - whether that saved us a long drive or a short walk.

Brooklyn Tea is a compact, contemporary tea room in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood (aka "Bed-Stuy") of the New York borough. It's also home to my son, Matt, who joined me in the virtual tea tasting the last weekend of July.

The tea tasting was co-sponsored by The Coffee and Tea Festival and to participate in the virtual event, you needed to buy your tickets ten days in advance to assure your package of tea samples arrived on time. And, how exciting it was when the package was delivered!

The box from Brooklyn Tea came with four different  teas in sleek black pouches wrapped in tissue paper featuring a map of Brooklyn. Instructions on the box, in bold block letters, succinctly let you know what to do:  steep it, pour it and sip it. 

On-line with  Matt and other participants for tea tasting event

That's exactly what we did, along with several other on-line attendees, under the direction of Brooklyn tea owners, Ali Wright and Jamila McGill.  The couple are both business and life partners and their knowledge and passion for tea came through loud and clear in the slightly-more-than-an-hour tea tasting event. 

Brooklyn Tea owners Ali Wright and Jamilla McGill guide participants through four black tea tastings.

Wright is a certified tea sommelier who grew up in Jamaica and remembers tea being a part of his life as early as age three. McGill is from the south where sweet tea was her main tea connection. When the two began dating they would go "tea shop hopping" in their travels which lead to a tea business that expanded from catering pop-up events to finding a brick-and-mortar tea shop in Bed-Stuy, which they bought last year.

The virtual classroom!

The July tea tasting featured four black teas:  Assam, Nilgiri, Kambaa Kenyan Black, and Lapsang Souchon. Spoiler alert:  they were all fabulous! 

Wright and McGill would describe each tea, - it's origin, optimal brewing time - while participants would open their tea packets and steep, pour and sip, just as our box advised.

While I was familiar with the Assam's full bodied, earthy flavor (featured in many English Breakfast blends),  and Lapsong Souchon's smoky taste, Brooklyn Teas versions were really amazing. 

Kambaa Kenyan is a "knock your socks off" tea

The Kambaa Kenyan Black tea was from, no surprise, Kenya, and it was strong and hearty. Wright fittingly described it as a "knock your socks off tea" - it has a high percentage of caffeine and takes the addition of milk exceedingly well.

Nilgiri is my new favorite tea - floral and light, great for afternoon tea

But, my absolute new favorite is Nilgiri, a tea grown in the mountains of eastern India.  It has floral notes, almost perfume-y as a few participants observed, but a bit lighter in taste and body than the others. I think it would make a wonderful afternoon tea selection!

Brooklyn Tea in Bed-Stuy area of Brooklyn, short walk for son, Matt

Matt and I really enjoyed this tea tasting experience and I'm planning on visiting  Brooklyn Tea in my son's neighborhood when things get back to "normal".  The tea store is currently opened and Matt took a visit there shortly after the tea tasting and supplied me with some pictures (and maybe some tea?). 

Inside the compact and contemporary tea room
You're encourage to "stop and smell the tea"

In the meantime, Brooklyn Tea has another tea tasting scheduled for August 23rd. This will be on green teas and although the deadline to order the tea has passed, you may still be able to participate. Click this evenbright link to the Coffee and Tea Festival sponsored event for more information.

Thanks to Brooklyn Tea for this great event and thanks to Matt for the location photos!

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Brewing tea in the microwave controversy comes to a full boil: Science now proves the tea snob in your life has a point!

Science back tea snobs claims - tea brewed in the kettle tastes better than the microwave

There are two broad categories of tea drinkers:  those who brew their tea in the microwave and those  who hear about it and try to hold in an audible gasp.  Now, science comes to the aid of the latter  - the taste of tea does suffer if prepared in the microwave!

Last week, Mashable posted an article (The science that proves making your tea in the microwave is truly an appalling act) that cites a recent study from the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China which uncovered the microwave does not uniformly heat the water in the cup. The water may be very hot at the top of cup, but only warm at the bottom. Is that such a big deal? Well, actually - yes, it is!

Traditional tea brewing with the use of a kettle on the stove allows for all the water to reach a consistent temperature (the convection process).  There's a "sweet spot" for steeping tea - for  time and water temperature to work together -  to allow the tea leaves to unfurl and draw out their peak flavor.  That minute and a half the cup of water heats up in the microwave doesn't get one to that perfect balance.

So, tea enthusiasts, wave that tea snob flag on this one:  brewing tea in a kettle is superior to that of the microwave. However, we are empathetic to the pragmatists and those who need to take a few short cuts in their days. We're well acquainted with those who "cheat" and, perhaps, while incognito, find joys in the convenience of the single-serve keurig to brew up a speedy earl grey.

Keep that one under wraps and I'll take a break from waving my flag. . .  for as long as it takes to microwave a cup of tea.  :) :)

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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Tuesday Tea and Tomes: The Emperors of Chocolate, Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars

Here at BTS, we hold this truth to be self-evident:  the only thing better than reading about chocolate, is eating it. 

"The Emperors of Chocolate, Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars" by Joel Glenn Brenner, serves up a delightfully tasty and fascinating book that details the true stories behind two of America's best known makers of  chocolate bars and the facts aren't always as sweet as the candy they produce.

I was motivated to buy this book after recently watching the History Channel's series, "The Food that Built America" (released in 2019).  Each episode tells the tale of "new" food products created over a century ago with such familiar brand names that, today, it's often lost on us consumers that those eponymous products derived from real people:  Kellogg, Post, Heinz, MacDonald's and, our chocolate makers, Milton Hershey and Frank Mars.

Much like the History Channel's "Men who Built America" from 2012,  which told of groundbreakers of industry including Cornelius Vanderbilt and John D. Rockefeller, "The Food That Built America" reveals their  stories with a combination of dramatization of real events and interviews with authors and other subject matter experts.  Here's where I "met" Joel Glenn Brenner and her accounts were  so riveting, that I found I was not only craving chocolate, but her book on the subject as well. 

Brenner was a reporter for the Washington Post in 1989 and was assigned to do a story about Mars, Inc. and their reaction to Hershey emerging as the number one candy maker.  What she discovered through two years of research, was the world of chocolate is more secretive than many government agencies. After Brennan's repeated efforts to get inside Mars, Inc., the executives finally gave in. This resulted in a warts-and-all article of the still family-owned candy company along with  the wrath of the Mars, Inc. who shut their doors permanently to the author in response to such airing of their business.

While researching Mars for the article,  Brennan also hit on a long-ago tie between that company and Hershey and it was clear, the story of chocolate's success in America was due to an early partnership between the two companies.  Although their management style was vastly different, both men took big risks, believed in their products and, through trial and error, launched an industry we take for granted today.

It's also a tale of marketing mishaps and genius.  One of my favorite chapters tells the story of  Reeses Pieces (which I am very fond of, by the way).  After years in development (just to get that peanut butter center inside a candy-coated shell took an incredible amount of time), and favorable results in focus groups, the mini-candies received a sluggish response once on the market. All that changed when a Hershey executive got a call from Universal Studios. They were making a picture about an alien who befriends a young boy. The script called for the boy to lure the alien to his house with M & M's. But, in a colossal error of judgement, Mars, Inc. passed on the opportunity. In exchange for one million dollars, Hershey got licensing rights for its Reeses Pieces. Within two weeks of the premier of "ET",  the sale of the peanut butter treats tripled. Distributors reordered as may as ten times in that same period.  ET phoned home and Hershey collected.

And, yes, the executives at Mars deeply regretted that decision.

Mars, Inc. is still run by descendants of Frank Mars and, through an aggressive play in the global market, eventually triumphed over Hershey as the biggest chocolate maker. But Hershey's legacy has  something Mars Inc, doesn't - a town and a museum, which my daughter, Rachel and I visited in 2014. Here we saw personal artifacts of the Hershey family, including a tea set that belonged to Milton Hershey's wife. Rachel and I also went to candy bar school at Hershey's chocolate lab. (I wish they had a graduate program).

The Emperors of Chocolate, Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars is a fantastic read. It's about the boldness of entrepreneurial skills and all that comes with selling innovation:  ambition, tenacity and ruthless belief in one's creations.  And, when the subject is chocolate, it's as hard to put down as Snickers bar.