Saturday, December 29, 2012

December Tablescapes, past, present and future: Part II

Halfway through the month and yet a few more tablescapes ahead!

The DIA weekend (Faberge exhibit, Dining with the Tsars, dismal Russian Tea Reception) was followed by the annual Christmas party of our friends, Rik and Carol. A catered affair, the food and drink is as delicious as it is plentiful. Glowing candles on the table and blazing fireplaces reflect the warmth and spirit of our generous hosts. And, the ride home through downtown Rochester -  a town that can give Paris some competition in December as the true City of Lights - was amazing.

Candlelit tables reflect the warmth of our hosts

Driving home through downtown Rochester

Before we return to 2012 for the rest of the month, we take one last trip to the past with a visit to Greenfield Village. My cousins and I attended Holiday Nights at the historic site. We dined at the Eagle Tavern without any electricity - strictly candlelight - and the meal was served family style. After we fortified ourselves with chicken, prime rib and gingerbread cake, we walked the village and visited the homes decorated in the period of the time they were built.
Reading the menu by candlelight at the Eagle Tavern Inn
Period homes in Greenfield Village decorated for the holidays
Back to the present and the month ends with a family reunion, Christmas Eve tree tour and Christmas Day.

Getting the buffet table ready for our family reunion

Last weekend, we participated in our family reunion gathering in Rochester (another chance to take in the downtown light show on the way home). A great pot-luck and well-attended event. A wonderful time to see those we don't get to see on a regular basis - including the big guy in the red suit.

Christmas Eve table to be reset next day
Part of the tour group at first stop

Christmas Eve we continued with our annual Christmas Tree Tour where we pay a visit to homes of aunts and  uncles to nibble on cookies and fudge while viewing their festive evergreens. Final stop is our house for dinner and treasure bath and - new this year - karaoke. Nothing says Christmas like my older brother singing, "Don't Rain on My Parade"! But, no surprises, it was mostly carols of the season that got sung.

Then, we were back at it again on Christmas Day for a smaller family gathering, but with a tablescape complete with a new Lenox tablecloth and my prized, "gift-to-me-from-Ireland", Waterford crystal bowl that is made exclusively in Waterford, Ireland.

A wonderful month filled with family, friends and, of course, tablescapes with ties to the past and present. And, soon, table settings of 2012 will be replaced with displays for the new year. An early toast to all to the new year and stay tuned for BTS' annual, "What's In/What's Out" list to start 2013 off right!

Friday, December 28, 2012

December Tablescapes tell stories of Christmas past, present and future

Christmas Day 2012 tablescape
This December was a flurry of activity punctuated by tablescapes (culminating on Christmas Day!) that spanned centuries and crossed national borders. Like Scrooge's three visitors on Christmas Eve, the tablescapes had ties to the past, present and future, but only one earned "bah humbug" distinction.

At beginning of the month, I was bestowed with an early Christmas present that will enhance my tea tables for years to come. A guest at one of my tea talks was settling her mother's estate and she was looking for a good home for a small collection of tea cups.My good fortune, she thought of me.
I assured her they would be loved and cared for. The
china is beautiful with quality names like Royal Albert and
Aynsley. (future blog story #1)

Early Christmas present from tea friend

Speaking of tea friends, I was able to get the last two tickets to the Holiday Tea at the Longacre House on December 4th hosted by Linda Pudlik. It was her last tea at the Farmington Hills historic home for 2012 and marked her semi-retirement from the monthly teas at this location. My good friend, Kay, joined me and we were at the same table as fellow tea blogger, Phyllis Barkey. The table setting was a festive as the food was delicious. (future blog story #2)

Afternoon tea and tablescape at Longacre House

The following weekend included the Faberge exhibit, Darra Goldstein's "Dining with the Tsars" lecture and Russian Tea Reception - all at the Detroit Institute of Arts. I got to interview Darra for The Examiner the week of the lecture (Darra Goldstein discusses Russian cuisine and tea at the DIA on Saturday). Her talk on Russian cuisine from Peter the Great to the revolution was fascinating. Unfortunately, the tea reception hosted by the DIA immediately afterwards was a disaster and caused a revolt of its own.

Poor line management, limited tea fare and lack of seating (not to mention bad tea) caused an uprising and many complaints. (future blog story #3)  Bah humbug, indeed! Until I get to pen my account, tea blogger, Phyllis Barkey has a great write-up of the "event":  Dining with the Tsars - Detroit Institute of Arts

Sharing a cup of tea with Darra Goldstein

DIA hosted a Russian Tea with small portions that ran out

The tea and lecture were held on Saturday and the next day, my family and I had already planned a day at the DIA to take in the Faberge exhibit as part of  "birthday weekend". Both my daughter, Rachel and son Matt have birthdays in December. So, along with my husband Chris, and eldest son, Rob, we took in the exhibit - which was amazing - then headed to Traffic Jam for birthday dinner and dessert (more delicious and plentiful than the day before!).

Hot fudge brownie sundae for birthday week!

And, that was only half-way through the month! Still more December tablescapes leading up to Christmas Day.  Stay tuned for December Tablescapes, Part II!

In the meantime, hope your holiday was great - whether your table was plain or fancy - and sans hum bug!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Vision of sugar plums unite generations with holiday traditions

Rachel executes "Christmas is Everywhere" 

We are busy this morning doing all the last-minute preparations for our big family gathering here tonight including putting out the seasonal guest towels and lighting the scented candles. But, the rest of the house has been in full-on holiday decor since Thanksgiving, when my daughter, Rachel, declared our theme this year would be "Christmas is everywhere".

And, Christmas is everywhere:  on our mantle, shelves, banisters and most importantly, in our hearts and with family and friends - even if they are no longer here. We stay connected with them through memories, traditions, and in our case, sugar plums and candy cane decorations.

When I was twelve my mom unceremoniously moved Christmas downstairs. I have three older brothers - who at this time were all in their teens - and our small living room just couldn't accommodate six people, their guests and a Christmas tree. My parents had remodeled our basement five years prior and it was really nice - and spacious. So, we moved the tree and all the trimmings to our lower level family room and plugged in the fake fireplace (it was the 70's, mind you) and we were ready to go.

It was almost ideal except my dad felt that our  living room - where we spent most of our evenings after dinner - was void of the Christmas spirit. So, without any consult, he went to Sears one day after work and bought a small artificial tree and a couple dozen ornaments. The decorations were made to look like sugar-frosted candies -  mostly sugar plums and candy canes - all in pastel colors. They looked delicious.
Frosted sugar plums and candy canes still decorate the tree

My dad set the tree up on the television - which was a piece of furniture in those days - and had it all trimmed by the time my mom came home from work. I was so excited. Christmas, at least in small way, had made its way back upstairs where we could see it every time we walked through the front door.

My mom's reaction was, well, a little more delayed in acceptance, but my dad's strategy - at least this time - of better to ask for forgiveness than permission - paid off. The four foot tree filled with bubble-gum pink and lime-green candy canes slowly won her over and the tree was allowed to stay.

My dad passed away ten years later and although we no longer put the tree upstairs, we kept the ornaments and eventually, I got custody of them when I moved out and married. I have put those same ornaments on my tree for the past 29 years and, lost in my thoughts, I apparently tell this same story to Rachel every year she's been assisting me.

This year, however, I got another surprise - and a great one at that. As we were waiting for our chai tea to steep and hauling out the decorations from the basement,   Rachel asked me to tell the story about the tree and the ornaments the grandfather she never met brought home one December afternoon. She declared that those frosted ornaments would belong to her when she gets her own home.

And, so they will.

“Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. . .

The house was filled with “Christmas Everywheres”,
while visions of sugar plums were deemed soon to be theirs

And we'd like to  exclaim, before we turn out the lights,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Barb's TEA Shop Wishlist 2012

Signals has the perfect Tea-shirt for Downton Abbey fans
Barb's TEA shop is excited to present this year's wish list after a year of tea excursions and intensive research. Compiled for the tea enthusiast on your list  (and you should be on that list, too - I know I am), we present the following items for 2012:

Fans of Downton Abbey and tea will find the ultimate "tea-shirt" from Signals. "Keep Calm and Ring Carson to bring tea" starts at $22.95, and will need no explanation to those devotees of this millennium's "Upstairs Downstairs".

Hooked from the very first episode of the PBS Edwardian drama, I look forward to Sunday evenings to see if Lady Mary will find true love with cousin Matthew or to hear the next quotable quip from Dowager Countess ("what is a week-end?").

(In April, for my birthday, my brother bought me "The World of Downton Abbey" available at Amazon. It's a fun book with beautiful photos that should be a delight to any Downton Abbey-ites).

Another idea for your D. Abbey fan 
*Spoiler Alert* that will remain a *non-spoiler alert*. While we were in Ireland in October, we saw an upcoming episode of Season 3 which left us all shocked. Since that offers no value whatsoever to all of you, let's move on to what we hope will be. . .

Speaking of Ireland, next on our list, is a delicious tea selection from the Emerald Isle. In Dublin, we visited Bewley's Cafe on Grafton Street and stocked up on some of their delicious tea. Almost out of inventory, I'm ready to welcome new boxes to the tea pantry.

Find  Bewley's tea on-line
Unfortunatley, only teabags can be ordered from Bewley's website, but Amazon does have a few loose varieties. I would be thrilled to get Bewley's Irish Afternoon tea, in the tea tin, for only $12.99.

Once you've prepared your fine loose tea, you'll want to have a tea strainer worthy of such brew. We found one that we think is both pretty and utlitarian at Kristeas in Berkley. We purchased one during an Election Day sale, but full price is $27.00. And, alas, we feel we need to add a few more to our tea table.

Pretty tea strainer at Kristeas
We've skipped a step, though. We need to brew our tea and we need to do it in style. How about a Breville Tea Maker? This is for the tea-geek on your list and it is functional as well as entertaining. It is programmable to brew all types of teas and you get to watch the tea basket move up and down, as the Breville website further describes, "gently agitating the leaves to precisely infuse your tea."

Our friends have one, and I can tell you, I've spent time at their house viewing the basket ascend and descend with more delight than I should admit to. At $249.99 at most retail stores, including Macy's and Williams-Sonoma, it certainly needs to be more than just a hot water heater.

Breville's Tea Maker makes tea brewing a spectator sport
With great tea, fancy strainer and high-tech brewer, the only thing left is a beautiful teapot. The Detroit Institute of Arts currently has a Faberge exhibit (which we are attending this month.).  In keeping with that theme, their gift shop offers this lovely Lomonosov teapot for $100 ($90 to members). This is sure to please your special tea comrade.

Lomonosov teapot is available at the DIA
And for those looking for tea adventures, we recommend a trip to the Grand Hotel for afternoon tea. The historic hotel offers brand merchandise and gift cards on their website. (Currently for every $200 gift card purchase you receive an extra $25).  We were there in May with the whole family and enjoyed everything from the view (inside and out) to the tea fare.

Historian Bob Tagatz narrates a DVD.
Afternoon tea at the Grand Hotel

Until you can make the trip, however, there is a Grand Hotel History DVD  narrated by the hotel historian, Bob Tagatz. We had tea with Bob and I can attest, his tales of the past are fascinating.

Another destination on my wish list is a trip to The Charleston Tea Plantation.. This is the only tea plantation in the United States and the tea tour is complimentary. However, someone planning your Charleston itinerary including a charming B and B . . . . priceless.

But, I think all teaophiles always enjoy trying a new tea. So, in addition to Bewley's, we'd also like to add the following teas - all new this year - to our list:

Bingley's Teas:  Their latest is Miss Lucy Steele tea which was introduced at the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville last July. Bingley's teas make great gifts as they always come packaged as a period novel.

Wanderer's Teahouse:  Broad Art Museum tea inspired by the grand opening of it's namesake on MSU campus.

 Light of Day:  Oriental Beauty white tea. A four year wait, but worth it.

Whether enjoying a period drama, traveling across a Great Lake or an ocean, having a tea party with fancy accessories or just enjoying some time alone sipping a special tea, we wish you the happiest of all holidays and all best wishes (whether on the list or not) for 2013!

Seasons Greetings from Barb's TEA Shop!!!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

An Austentacious Tea at Longacre House

An Austentacious Tea at the Longacre House 
Two weeks ago, Barb's TEA Shop, presented an "Austentacious
Tea" at the Longacre House in Farmington Hills. A sold-out event, I was thrilled to be part of the 2012 schedule of afternoon teas which are put on monthly by local tea expert, Linda Pudlik. Linda plans the menus, creates the tablescapes and invites speakers to give themed talks.
Set for Austentacious Tea with JA tea

I met Linda last year at a tea hosted by another local tea specialist and fellow blogger, Phyllis Barkey.  She extended an invitation to a tea luncheon in her home last September, after she and I had met a few month's earlier at a tea event held at the Amherst Rose Tea Room in Massillon, Ohio. The gathering in her home was wonderful - the food was delicious and the tablescape was stunning and festive. (Phyllis captured the visit in her blog story, A 2011 Tea Party - the pictures are beautiful!).

At that time, Linda invited me to be a featured speaker for the Longacre House in 2012. I had heard great things about the teas served there, so was both excited and honored.

Tablescapes set with books, lace tablecloths and nosegays
Hard to believe that we secured the date over a year ago, but it came quickly and everything went smoothly. Linda's tablescapes featured vintage books, lace tablecloths and a hand-crafted nosegay at every place setting. Twinnings tea, a favorite of Jane Austen's, was served in china teapots.The multi-course afternoon tea fare was tasty and artistically displayed. I spoke between the first and second course, so only had time to take a picture of the roasted pear salad and scone which tasted as fabulous as it looked.

First course of roasted pear salad with scone 
I met a lot of amazing women that afternoon and am looking forward to my upcoming visit at Longacre this month.  It's the historic home's holiday tea and I will be a guest, this time - with my good friend, Kay - so should have the opportunity to snap a few more pictures than last month. But, for a full account of the day - complete with photos of the entire afternoon, see Phyllis Barkey's blog story, "A Jane Austen Tea".

Tables set and ready for guests at Austentacious Tea
Anyone interested in hosting an "Austentacious Tea" for a group (or any of our tea talks from tea etiquette to tea history), or a tea tasting, just give us a call or send us an email.  We'd love to hear from you and prepare a special tea event for you!

And, for those of you who were lucky enough to get a ticket to the Longacre House's Holiday Tea, I'll see you on Tuesday!