Sunday, November 20, 2011

Get ready for Holiday Tablescapes!

The holidays are here and I'm looking forward to one of my favorite activities of the season - decorating the dining table. To me, the feast isn't the same unless the table is set with colorful linens, amusing napkin rings, fine china and an eye-catching centerpiece, all displayed in a coordinated theme.

This is why I am so excited to be going to Blumz in Ferndale next month for their class, "Setting the Holiday Table . . . with Style!" This more-than-a-floral shop's event will have the professionals demonstrating creative napkin folding and fresh new ways to accessorize your table.

I've always found table settings fascinating. Even back in junior high, in my home economics class (so long ago, it was before boys could join us, so any future Emerils or Wolfgang Pucks were sadly stuck in shop class), I always volunteered to arrange the plates and silverware. I seriously don't remember what grade I received in meal preparation, but I do fondly recall my teacher inspecting a few of our final products and remarking, "I can tell Barbara set the table". At the age of 12, I could think of receiving no higher praise.

A little out there? Maybe. But, the interest in table settings never waned. Over the years, I have accumulated many unique serving pieces and always with the purpose of creating another festive dining tableau. When I first heard Sandra Lee, of the Food Network, describe her latest assembly of dishes, glasses, linens and themed-accessories as a "tablescape", I knew my somewhat unusual fascination had a name. . . and, even better, I was not alone!

That's one of the things that led me to afternoon tea. I love a table filled with polished silver, teapots, lace and candles. I can even forgive a less than spectacularly tasting meal, if the table setting from which we are eating is worthy of a photograph. Fortunately, I married a man who is a gourmet cook and so our friends and family don't have to suffer a poorly cooked meal at the expense of a fancy tablescape.

Today, the fun began. I went out and bought a new tablecloth for Thanksgiving Day dinner. With a gold leaf pattern on an amber-hued silk backdrop, I searched my china cabinet for plates and cups that will serve this festive covering. I'm also reworking a pumpkin centerpiece from last month into a harvest-themed focal point.

But, as you can see from my picture, I've only just started. This year, I need some new inspiration and I know I'll find it at Blumz! You should come, too. Send me an email if you are going and I'll look to see you there.

For more information, see the Blumz website. Here's date and time:

PRE-REGISTRATION Required by 12/11/2011Reserve Tickets In advance: $10.00 DONATION ea OR Bring 3 or more Canned Food Items for a local food bank Pay at the door: $25.00 Date - Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011Time - 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm Location - Blumz... Ferndale,503 E. Nine Mile Road

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Irish Tea Room in Niagara-on-the-Lake: Warm, inviting and delicious!

Niagara-on-the-Lake is well known for its Shaw festival and many picturesque vineyards, but for those looking for a great cup of tea and delicious food with an Irish flair, the Irish Tea Room, on the town’s main street, is a must-stop destination.

Last month, my husband and I stayed overnight at NOTL on the way back from our cousin’s wedding. We had had many testimonials from family and friends (including said cousin) that this was a destination worth seeing, especially for those of us who are patrons of the arts and wines. But, through the internet, I also found there was a tea room downtown and from reviews and pictures, I knew that it would fit in nicely between the galleries and the vineyards.

With an early start and a hearty breakfast, we traveled the Lake Ontario shoreline and stopped at a half a dozen wi
neries. There is a distinctive taste to the Niagara-produced wine that I found I really liked. In fact, it was much like the comfortable fall day we were there - cool and crisp with just the right amount of zing.

But, I digress. . . after the self-directed winery tour, we drove to town and found The Irish Tea Room in the back of the Irish Design store on Queen street, the town's main avenue. The tea room's lace curtains, hardwood floors and shelves stocked with goodies make guests feel immediately at home and comfortable.

We met owner, Pat Henry, who is as warm and charming as her tea room. Originally from Ireland, she came to the America over twenty years ago. A degree in culinary arts and many years of catering experience, her dream of opening up her own tea room came seven years ago with the Irish Tea Room. Everything in the store is made on the premises. Pat told us, with a smile, "I make everything served here but the dishes".

We sampled the tea rooms scones which were amazing - perfect blend of delicious taste and light consistency - not to mention that the portions are extremely generous.We paired it off with a simply wonderful cup of Earl Grey although there's more than tea to choose from. The menu offers a wide range of beverages, including gourmet hot chocolate, specialty coffees and even a selection of the region's fine wines

Aside from scones, the tea room offers a wide variety of tea fare, including Guinness Steak Pie and Irish Whiskey Cake. In addition, the Irish Tea Room sells its own brand of packaged scone mix. We, of course, purchased a few to take back with us to go with our box of Barry teas - and a few Niagara wines we had purchased earlier in the day.

To learn more about this delightful tea room in NOTL,continue reading The Detroit Irish Tea Time in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Cheers to weddings, mini-vacations, and charming Irish tea rooms!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tea Travels North of the Border: weddings, chocolate, shopping and lots of tea in Canada

While still sorting out photos and mementos from tea travels in London this past July, we set out on another international tea-filled trip, although this time, not quite so far away. Heading north of the border, my husband, Chris, and I drove from Detroit to Kingston, Ontario two weeks ago for our cousin's wedding. This mini-vacation combined all my favorite things: family, friends, weddings, vineyards, shopping, tea rooms, and, of course, lots and lots of tea.

Saturday morning - the day of the wedding - we went to the Farmer's Market in downtown Kingston. Lucky for us, Cha Cha Tea was in attendance and we were treated to a sample some of their delicious green tea. The good folks from this Kingston tea store prepared matcha tea in the traditional fashion,whipping it into a frothy lime green concoction with a bamboo whisk.

From the open air market, we walked down Brock Street to Cooke's Fine Foods. In business since 1865, this store offers a great selection of gourmet foods, coffees and teas in charming vintage Victorian decor. We were so transfixed on their shelves of tea, we totally ignored another cousin who had, unbeknownst to us, entered Cooke's around the same time we did. After apologies erupted and, as quickly, graciously accepted, we moved next to the candy area. Here we found another tea treasure: Roger's "High Tea" chocolate bar.
Another Canadian treasure, Roger's Chocolate began in the back of Charles "Candy" Rogers' grocery store in 1885 in Victoria, British Columbia. Today, with their own master chocolatier, they continue to create new and tastey chocolate treats. I'm not sure who to credit the High Tea chocolate bar to, but it successfully combines the very sweet taste of chocolate with the bold flavor of black tea. It also proved to be a great emergency snack on the way home as we experienced the familiar traffic slowdowns through Toronto on the Canadian autobahn, the 401.

Our cousin's wedding on Saturday night was what you hope for all weddings: it was beautiful and filled with joy. And, this union joined not only bride and groom, but a blended family of five daughters. The genuine affection of the family was so touching, I found I was, once again, outfitted with an inadequate amount of tissues.
The next day, the newly married couple invited us all to their home for a lunch buffet. Our hostess served us tea in generous-sized mugs, which inspired a "tea-scape", an abbreviated tablescape (top right). The tea was as warm and inviting as our hosts and we are so happy for them - and for the chance to have been a part of this big event.

Fortified with tea and munchies, we started back home, but with a slight detour to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Well known for its Shaw-themed theaters and abundance of wineries, we'd been interested in checking this place out for some time. I can tell you, we weren't disappointed. Our next blog will feature an amazing tea room we found on the main street of NOTL. Keeping with our international theme, we were back across the pond while still at our neighbor-to-the-north. And, still drinking lots and lots of tea!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Jane Austen House in Chawton and tea at Cassandra's Cup

I am experiencing much felicity this afternoon as I ruminate on my journey to London a little more than a fortnight (times two!) ago. It was a trip designed to experience all that was tea and all that was Jane Austen and, I tell you dear reader, it was all that and more!

Yes, it is so, that in only a few days’ time this past July, equipped with merely a Frommer’s travel guide, a few folded up emails with directions, a daughter with a tremendous ability to navigate uncharted territory and a debit card ready for action, I embarked on visiting the Austen sites that comprise the dreams of any serious Janeite. On the “hit list” was Jane’s home in Chawton, Winchester (to see the cathedral where she is buried and the place of her last residence) and, once back in London, the original Twinings tea store, where Jane, herself, bought tea.

Heating up the kettle for tea in the Austen kitchen

Starting our journey from our hotel in the Marylebone section of London, it was trains, subways and buses to get to Chawton. A one-hour train ride takes you from London to Winchester, but that’s just the first leg. From Winchester to Chawton, you take a thirty minute bus ride to the English countryside. The bus stop where we were dropped off is on a country road bordered by open fields which give little indication that the home of one of the greatest novel writers in history is less than a ten minute walk away. There were no flashing signs or souvenir shops to dot the pathway to our destination, but, somehow that seemed fitting. It doesn’t take much to imagine you are back two hundred years ago, heading back home after long walk to take in a good meal and a hot cup of tea.

Rachel was invited to play the piano forte in the Austen parlor

Where Jane liked to write (top photo). If she had had access to the internet, this is where she would have composed her blog.

And after visiting the Jane Austen House, we did just that: we had lunch at Cassandra's Cup, a bright and cozy tea room across the street. My daughter chose comfort food in the form of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, but I rarely pass up the opportunity to have afternoon tea fare when it's on the menu. I had a tasty salmon sandwich and we both shared a pot of Earl Grey. It felt like we were in the comfortable kitchen of Jane's neighbor.

Ceiling of Cassandra's Cup tea room

Once restored with a fitting meal, we used that energy to pay one more visit to the Jane Austen House to engage in some fine souvenir shopping at the gift shop. It is here where we subscribed to the Jane Austen diet. Ah, yes, dear reader, we shed many pounds in that enticing store. (I ask, can one truly have too many Jane Austen mugs – especially when one commemorates the 200th anniversary of Sense and Sensibility? I think not!)

It was the start of the first of our Austen sites and a very good one, indeed.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

London trip starts with afternoon tea at Brown's Hotel

This afternoon I am sitting down with a cup of the Brown's Hotel's custom blend afternoon tea. The hotel sends each guest off with a small cellophane package, labeled with their signature "B" on the front, filled with enough loose tea for two generous cups to have at home and - in our case - savor the memories of a week in England doing all things tea and Jane Austen.

Last month, my daughter, Rachel, and I crossed the pond for a visit to London. Rachel is attending Regents College for six weeks as part of Michigan State's study abroad program and it seemed a good opportunity to work in a mom/daughter mini-vacation before classes started.

Thanks to some intense pre-planning, suggestions and advice from friends and Rachel's quick grasp of navigating trains, buses and the underground (and, equally important, a good sense of humor), we hit just about everything on my wish list in less than a week's time, including three afternoon teas, two Jane Austen homes, a cathedral, a palace, and, the first Twinings tea shop on the Strand.

First stop was the Brown's Hotel. The dining room, with its dark wood paneled walls and fireplace, along with melodious tunes coming from the grand piano, lets guests know this is the very tradition of afternoon tea.

Starting off with our own silver tea pots with our personal selections (I chose Brown's Afternoon Blend, as noted above), our three-tiered tray of sweets and savories soon followed. The tea sandwiches and scones were delicious and the pastries were almost too beautiful to eat.

As one who enjoys a unbalanced dessert-to-meal ratio (more sweets than savories), the Brown's Hotel did not disappoint. After our three-tiered tray was empty, the dessert cart was wheeled to our table for our choice of cake. These were as rich and satisfying as the hotel itself.

In a previous trip to London, we dined at the Ritz, which also has a classic afternoon tea experience. The gilded decor, the string quartet and the suited waiters gracefully wielding silver serving trays all contribute to the ultimate blending of tea and pageantry. In contrast, however, the Brown Hotel with its earth tones and overstuffed sofas, offers subdued elegance and a comfortable refinement that brings home the feeling that tea may be enjoyed at a leisurely pace in a stately, but relaxed environment.

A great place to start our tea journey in England. More to follow, to be sure.

(See our short video below for feedback on the Brown's Hotel afternoon tea experience.)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Merry Fourth of July with tea from India

This Fourth of July feels a bit like Christmas: reuniting family and lots of presents. The only things missing are snow and decorations(both of which are fun for December, but need to be put away by March).

My husband, Chris, just returned from a three week business trip - the first week was spent in Spain, the last two in India - and he came back with lots of treasures, including, of course, a variety of tea.

Along with silver earrings, an exquistely hand-embroidered and colorful bedspread, framed tribal art, and hand-carved elephants each with a miniature pachyderm encased within their frames, Chris brought me back a selection of Golden Tips tea. These Indian teas were packaged in an eco-friendly jute box that I couldn't wait to open.

This morning, with some very American bagels and cream cheese that my husband was craving, I opened up the Darjeeling to brew. While in India, Chris had become quite a fan of this tea and so I started with that. It was absolutely delicious, smooth with a confident taste - neither timid nor strong. A great cup of tea for anytime of the day.

I am so looking forward to trying all the others: Assam, Nilgiri, Kangra, Dooars, and Sikkim. I'm not well acquainted with the last three, so I am excited to not only sample, but learn more about their back story.

While most of the "souvenirs" were from India, en route from Spain to Pune, Chris made a stop in Switzerland and brought us back a tin of Swiss chocolates: a perfect pairing for Darjeeling tea!

So, although the 80 degrees temperatures tell me different, having chocolate and tea for breakfast makes it seem even more like Christmas than the 4th of July. But that will change shortly once my brother sets up lawn chair badminton and starts cooking hot dogs and cheesburgers on the grill. I'll bring my usual snacks and veggie dip, but this year, I'll supply the most amazing iced tea ever.

Continuing with our international travel, my daughter and I will be leaving for London soon, so I'll have more updates from the country who we won our independence from just a few centuries ago.

In the meantime, wishing everyone a safe and happy weekend - no matter what holiday you are celebrating.

tea tablescape in Pune, India

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jane Pettigrew at Amherst Rose: celebrity tea event complete with swag

Two weeks ago my daughter, Rachel, and I made the three and a half hour drive from Detroit to Massillon, Ohio for a major tea event at the Amherst Rose. Jane Pettigrew, tea historian, author and former London tea room owner was the guest speaker at the elegant Victorian tea room owned by Mary Jane Corwin and her husband, Carl.

First alerted of Jane's upcoming visit to the States by Elmwood Inn Tea's newsletter, I sent a note to Bruce Richardson for more details for The Detroit Tea Examiner. He kindly directed me to Mary Jane, who was hosting her own Jane Pettigrew event at her tea room in Ohio - a closer drive for most Michiganders. After a twenty minute phone conversation with Mary Jane two things were certain: I was attending the June 11th afternoon tea and I felt like I just hung up with a friend I had known for years.

When the day finally arrived, Rachel and I made it to Massillon with time to spare at the sold-out event and were greeted warmly by both Jane and Mary Jane. The beautifully restored and richly decorated Victorian tea room housed lavish tea tables set with china, crystal, tea-cup-picture-name-cards and a tea swag bag worthy of the best red carpet event.

The swag bag contained a tea pot picture frame, a tea towel, Tea A Magazine, measuring spoons (for recipes that require a “pinch” and a “dash”), tea cards and tea samples. What a treat! - and this was before the multi-course afternoon tea and Jane's fascinating presentation on “The Social History of Tea”.

It was an amazing afternoon tea: charming hosts, captivating speaker, excellent savories, sweets and tea and a tea swag bag to hold treasures as well as many great memories.

For more details on the complete menu and some of the highlights of Jane Pettigrew's tea talk, see our recent article in The Detroit Tea Examiner.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Celebrate Iced Tea Month with some twists on the traditional

Memorial Day cook-outs are nothing new and traditions are great to hold on to, but there's something to be said for a changing of the guards to literally mix things up and that includes some new ideas for iced tea. A change-up to the familiar drink of summer is even more relevant now that it's officially Iced Tea Month according to every tea blogger's calendar and the Food Network's website.

In January of this year, we noted it was "Hot Tea Month", and a real comfort since it was very "iced" outside in Michigan. Now, however, with temperatures over 90 degrees this holiday weekend in metro Detroit, I can tell you, iced tea was a welcome relief. Even better, we didn't have to depend on the old school black tea and white sugar - not with "Summer Cook-out: the Next Generation". This year, we got a twist on the old with the twenty-somethings taking charge.

Awhile back, when my oldest son was still in college and living in an old, but somewhat charming, house near campus, he and his girlfriend (now wife), hosted their first Memorial Day get-together for family and friends. Drawing on the staples of summer holiday parties, they grilled burgers, supplied drinks and brought out the games, but with their fresh new spin, everything seemed a little extraordinary. That little something special continues every summer, right down to this year's refreshing new iced-tea dressed in party red.

Right on the cusp of Iced Tea Month, my daughter-in-law served an unconventional iced tea mix of white and herbal teas from Teavana. Their Youthberry White and Wild Orange Blossom Herbal combine citrus, berry and rose petals to make a deliciously tart and sweet drink on the rocks. We found it didn't need any additional sugar, but for those who like a sweeter drink, Teavana suggests trying rock sugar which, according to the national tea retailer, will "enhance the natural sweetness of the drink. . . and easily dissolve in the hot water".

So, we recommend shaking things up a bit in the iced tea jug and experimenting with different teas and flavors. This year, think outside the black tea box and make some new traditions this summer. Just don't mess with the plentiful table of delicious snacks or bocce ball rules - some things need never change.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Royal Wedding doesn't have to be over: keep the memories with a close-knit family

Three weeks ago today, my daughter and I donned silk dresses, sparkling jewelry and fancy high heels to attend a public viewing of the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton at the Wanderer’s Tea House – the only challenge was getting there at 5:00 am. But, get there we did, along with a full-house of other royalphiles and tea enthusiasts, many wearing hats worthy of a Westminster Abbey invitee.

We watched on the big screen as the crowd shouted out when William and Harry’s car pulled out in full view, soon to be followed by the collective gasps at the first glimpse of Kate and her gown as they exited the coach.

Treating ourselves to the Wanderer’s English-inspired brunch, we watched the long walk down the church aisle while sampling Welsh rarebit and strawberry tarts accompanied by lots and lots of pots of English Breakfast tea.

From the red carpet guest spotting to the two kisses on the balcony, the two hours went by quickly. With a weekend filled with recaps, wedding fashion commentaries (who doesn't want a fascinator now?) and British monarchy specials on every cable station, Monday felt like the day after Christmas. After weeks of anticipation and excitement for the Royal Wedding, it was over too fast.

We found, however, it doesn’t have to be completely over thanks to the book, “Knit the Royal Wedding” by Fiona Goble. It gives step-by-step instructions on how to knit the royal family in their wedding attire so that one can commemorate the joyous occasion throughout the year.

My knitting skills are basic, at best, so I gave this book to my master- knitter sister-in-law for her birthday. Last Christmas I gifted her with a knitting project book with the tea cozy page discreetly earmarked. Shortly after, she gave me a beautiful, rose-colored knit tea cozy for my birthday. Self-serving? – perhaps, but I’m hoping to find a little Prince Harry in my stocking next Christmas!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tea cups and cupcakes: Delightful Easter treats thanks to daughter and Tea Time Magazine

The recent March/April issue of Tea Time Magazine, had an entire section devoted to hosting "An Elegant Easter". This magazine is always inspirational for tablescape ideas and menu planning, but perhaps even more importantly, Tea Time's recipes are amazing. Even holiday-themed meals are continually fresh and delicious. The fact that they are visually appealing is, literally - in some cases- the icing on the cake.

My daughter, Rachel, a senior at MSU, loves to catch-up on Tea Time Magazine recipes whenever she is home on breaks and she usually treats us to some wonderful creation she's uncovered during her stays. This Easter, she volunteered to make dessert after seeing the strawberry cupcakes on page 36 of our favorite tea and foodie periodical. After a quick trip to the grocery store for a few ingredients we didn't have on hand, Rachel was back at home and unleashing the Kitchen Aide from storage.

The only challenge she faced was a pastry bag with a missing tip, so the fancy swirls were at a minimum. But, the overall look was still lovely and they tasted fantastic.

These will be an encore production for sure and they did, indeed, add to a most elegant Easter with family and friends. I just can't wait for the semester to end and the new Tea Time Magazine to arrive!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Afternoon Tea from Buckingham Palace: Just in time for the Royal Wedding

The countdown continues with less than two days until the Royal nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton. With little time to spare, my package from Buckingham Palace arrived this weekend with the essentials for royal wedding viewing: English Afternoon tea and the official William and Catherine tea towel to commemorate the occasion.

You may be surprised, but these items are not out of touch, even for commoners. To order the tea and other wedding - dare I say it - souvenirs, go the the royal's website and head right to The Royal Collection Shop. It clearly states it is "the only official range to commerate the Royal Wedding". I trust you believe them.

I've got my fancy hat ready and my DVR set for 4:00 am, so that when I am free, I can sit back, have a spot of tea and view the Royal Wedding and procession for the spectator sport that it is.

It will also take me back to our visit to London in 2006 where, among many must-see places, we stopped at both Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. Having had some experience in scoping out wedding sites, I think William and Kate have chosen well.

Cheers to some Royal reality TV and some serious tea drinking this weekend!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Barb's TEA Shop teams up with Holiday Catering to offer full Afternoon Tea Service

We are excited to be teaming up with Holiday Market Catering to bring a full service afternoon tea to your event. We'll not only provide you with high quality loose tea, but now we've added scones, savories and sweets for a complete tea experience.

Afternoon tea prices, for a minimum of 25 guests, start at just under $18.00 (slightly more for 12 - 24 guests) and include two mini scones, three tea sandwiches and two mini desserts per person. In addition, we'll brew and serve your choice of two different loose teas.

And, that's just for starters! You can add fruit plates, quiches, salads and cheese platters. If you need serving platters, tea cups or linens we can help with that, too.

For more information, give us a call at 248-840-4356 or reach us at

Monday, March 14, 2011

St. Patrick's Day tea table: Irish tea, Irish linen and a bit o' green

Hello TEA Friends,

Holidays provide inspiration for tea time tablescapes and St. Patrick's Day is no exception. Key ingredients for a March 17th afternoon tea table include Irish linen, green accents and, of course, great Irish tea.

During a recent visit to Kristea's tea gift shop in Berkely, we were motivated to start our own St. Patrick's Day tea table after viewing their seasonal tablescape on display. The retailer's eye for design and attention to detail comes together with emerald-hued plates and glassware accented with a hunter- green plaid tablecloth.

Inside the store, we also spotted some beautiful Irish linen napkins with a shamrock pattern on the border - what an elegant crumb catcher for our McVities' Digestives.

Back at home, we put the kettle on for some hearty Irish tea and set out to furnish our finest Irish afternoon tea table. Using cherished family treasures, I took out my grandmother's light green depression glass tea cups and dishes and set them on a beautiful Irish linen tablecloth from my mother-in-law. With such finery, only the best of tea would be suitable and we had just the one. My good friend, Joni, just back from a trip to Ireland, brought me a tin of Bewley's Dublin tea. After one sip, it went right to the top of my favorites' list.

St. Patrick's Day tea time should be an elegant affair. With fine design and excellent tea, it can be achieved. However, we reserve commenting on what occurs after tea time. What happens on St. Patrick's Day, stays in St. Patrick's Day!

Top O' the Morning/Evening to all!


Monday, February 14, 2011

Spend Valentine's Day with tea, chocolate, roses and. . . hamburgers?

It's Valentine's Day and we all have our own idea of how the perfect February 14th should be celebrated. I like spending the day with chocolate, roses and tea (see our blog entry from February 12th on Adagio's Valentine tea which combines all three!). Throw in a candlelight dinner and my ideal has been realized. But I never, in all my romantic daydreams, considered fast-food hamburgers in the scenario, let alone reserving a table at the neighborhood White Castle. But, maybe it's time to break out of the heart-shaped chocolate box and reconsider.

In a story I first ran across this weekend by The Restaurant Examiner, Anya Vinclauv, I thought it must be a one-time, one-locale promotion. Further reading and a visit to the White Castle website, proved, however, that across the county, one could celebrate Valentine's Day at the short-order grill with tableside service and flowers on the table. It's all part of White Castle's "Sweetheart Meal Deal" and, if this sounds at all tempting, you'll have get to your phone quickly. This is a reservation-only affair and, per White Castle's website, "seating is limited".

The White Castle menu includes not only its signature "Sliders", but exotic fast-food fare such as fries with cheese, fish nibblers and chicken rings. In addition, you'll see they also serve chocolate shakes and a hot tea (the latter's menu picture proudly captions "have a sip and meditate on the depths of White Castle Flavor"). Chocolate, tea and a rose on the table - this is starting to sound dangerously familiar.

Should you never want to forget such an evening, White Castle advertises that you can have your picture taken during dinner. Somehow, though, I don't think a photo would be necessary. I have a feeling, this is an experience that would remain in one's memory for a very, very long time.

It may be too late for this year, but I'm keeping options open for 2012. For now, I'll console myself with some Valentine tea, chocolate truffles and a beautiful rose on my dining room table (thanks, Chris and Rob!)

Happy Valentine's Day to all - no matter how you spend it!