Friday, February 28, 2014

Steeped in Evil - A new Tea Shop Mystery

I received a copy of Laura Child's newest Tea Shop Mystery book Steeped in Evil to reviewand I finished reading it last night.   It's another winner!   Laura has successfully written #15 in her Tea Shop series, and I highly recommend this book.

The mystery unfolds at Charleston's newest winery, Knighthall, when the owner's son is found dead in a barrel of wine!

The book is a fast read, but holds interest and curiosity to the very end.  There's plenty of murder suspects to keep you wondering who did it until the murderer is revealed in Chapter 25.

As always, Laura's characters are described with such detail that an immediate mental picture is formed as though they're standing right before you.

I love Laura's writing humor.  Who doesn't like a good laugh in a fun book?  When writing about Harvey Flagg in chapter 19, she describes him as moving through the crowd like a nasty virus on a crowded cruise ship.  The uncomplimentary description not only brought a smile to my face, but it's an example of how Laura incorporates current, real-life happenings in her writing.  There's other places and things in the book that give relevancy to the present time too.  The tea shop hosts a Downton Abbey Tea, and a tea blending class.  There's mention of TV programs such as Dancing With the Stars, NCIS and HGTV, plus the mention of You Tube, and Trader Joe's gourmet food store.

Theodosia Browning, owner of the Indigo Tea Shop, as well as unofficial murder investigator extraordinaire, is as charming and effervescent as ever.

As with all the other books in the series, recipes and tea time tips are included in the back of the book.

If you are a tea enthusiast this book is a must for your reading collection.  Go to Laura Childs website to see where you can get a copy.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A New Home for a Lefton Tea Set

I don't go to estate sales very often, but I receive notifications about them in my e-mail inbox frequently.  Yesterday I received a notification about a sale that was less than two miles from my house, accompanied by photographs.  I immediately spotted a table full of Lefton Green Heritage china [pictured below].  I've admired it many times over the years, but didn't have any.   I decided to go to the sale.

I arose early this morning, and was at the house shortly before 8:00 a.m., in hopes of being the first one in line since the sale didn't start until 9:00 a.m.  Wrong!  The street was lined with cars ready and waiting to enter the house.  They began exiting their cars at 8:15 to get a entry number, so I joined the line.   It was 10 degrees and windy.  I don't know what the chill factor was, but I know it was COLD!  Finally at 8:30 an employee came out with a roll of tickets.  The first number was 73, and I got #88.   We all went back to our cars to await the final 30 minutes in heated comfort.  I had brought along a porcelain travel mug filled with hot tea, which tasted SO good, and the mug doubled as a hand warmer!

I was so tempted to go back home, since I had no guarantee the 15 people ahead of me weren't there for the same purpose of purchasing the beautiful Lefton china.  But since I was that far along in the process I decided to stick it out.  A few minutes before 9:00 a.m. they opened the doors. To my delight, I could see the table of Lefton china in the living room as soon as I entered the house, and no one was at the table.  I made a bee-line to it, and while I wanted everything, I decided to settle for the teapot, sugar and creamer.  I got the three pieces for $95, and I saw the teapot alone on e-bay for $199. 

But that's not the end of the story...  When I got home I excitedly unwrapped my treasures and showed them to my hubby.  I was rattling on about how many pieces were at the sale including teacups and saucers to match the teapot.  He asked how much they were, and suggested we go back.  If the price was right, he said he'd buy them for me.  

Glad we went when we did, because a lady had her arms full of the Lefton china transporting it to the holding table, and was going back for more.  I quickly inched my way up to the table. My hubby thought the price was good [$65] so between the two of us we picked up the four teacups and saucers and went to the check-out.  What a happy day! I concluded it was worth standing in the freezing temperatures to get the tea set after all!

Isn't it beautiful?  As I delicately washed the pieces, I vowed to the lady who previously owned and enjoyed it, that I would lovingly care for it just as she had!

Do you shop at estate sales... or collect Lefton china?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tea in Movies - Philomena

Today my hubby and I went to see the movie Philomena.  It's a Brisith-American drama based on Martin Sixsmith's 2009 non-fiction book, "The Lost Child of Philomena Lee."  It stars Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.   You may want to take tissues!

The movie's background is about a young girl who grew up in a small Irish village.  Her mother died when she was young, and her father put her and her three sisters in a convent. She left the convent at age 18 and went to live with an aunt.  While at a carnival/fair in Limerick she met a young man named John.  Living a sheltered life with nuns, she knew nothing about sex or pregnancy.  She became pregnant after her one-and-only meeting with John. Her father and aunt disowned her, and her brother [the only sibling who knew she was alive] got her into a convent orphanage at Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, County Tipperary. While there she gave birth to a son who she named Anthony.

In order to leave the abbey a family member had to pay £100.  Philomena's family was poor, and all but one thought she was dead.  She worked in the laundry from 8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. in exchange for a small amount of time with her son.  The abbey sold three-and-a-half year old Anthony to an American family without Philomena's knowledge.  She was so traumatized by by his leaving that the nuns got her a job at a boys school run by their order in Liverpool, England. Later she became a nurse and met her husband [also a nurse].  They married and had two children.  She never discussed Anthony's existence until his 50th birthday.

The movie is about her search to find Anthony.  Tea is involved in the movie, and rightly so since the Irish drink between 4-6 cups of tea a day, among the highest per capita in the world.

[Internet Photos]

The movie is not a chick-flick.  It is an informative and sobering portrayal of many young Irish girls who found themselves in the same plight as Philomena in the early to mid twentieth century.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

2014 Ladies' Spring Tea - Save the Date!

Last week I went to Sycamore Hills Golf Club and booked their facility for my church's 7th annual Ladies' Spring Tea.  The tea isn't just for ladies who attend the church, however. It's for all ladies who enjoy the pleasures of tea, and an afternoon of fun and fellowship.

Sycamore Hills Golf Club
48787 North Avenue
Macomb, MI 48042

The date is Saturday, May 10th from 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.   

I've confirmed the program speaker.  Janet Wedell is an independent distributor for Premier Designs Jewelry. In addition to displaying the company's 2014 collection, she will demonstrate various ways to wear jewelry already owned, and various scarf tying techniques. Janet's program is excellent, and will be one of the highlights of the afternoon.

For local readers who are interested in attending, cost and menu details will be forthcoming. This post is primarily to announce the date, and give you something to look forward to on this cold wintry day! 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Scarlett Fever / Gone With the Wind

A while back, one of my faithful blog readers, and a Georgia resident, sent me an e-mail saying the Georgia Travel Guide was featuring the 75th Anniversary of Gone With the Wind in its publication.  I wrote requesting a copy [which was free upon request], and received it.

Although the movie [released in Dec. 1939] was filmed in California, the fictional plantation, Tara, was about 20 miles south of Atlanta, Georgia, founded by Irish immigrant, Gerald O'Hara.  Atlanta has a significant role in the book and movie, and is where the movie premiered, and where author Margaret Mitchell lived.  There are three Gone With the Wind museums in Georgia. 

TV Guide also came out with a Special Edition Gone With the Wind magazine, which I purchased.  It's a must for Gone With the Wind fans, and a great resource for anyone planning a theme tea around the movie.

Those who read my blog in 2013 may remember that I blogged about Gone With the Wind four times.  The first post was about Gone With the Wind theme teas I attended. [View post here.] The other three posts were about my own theme tea that I hosted last October for my daughter's annual birthday tea.  [Posts can be viewed here, here, and here.]

Since the tea party I've acquired one more tea scene photo from the movie.

The March/April 2014 Tea Time magazine features an article on Favorite Green Teas [page 15], The Many Moods of Matcha [page 17], Teatime in Ireland, [page 48], and a great recipe for Layered Mint Brownies [page 43].  With St. Patrick's Day only three weeks away, this issue and Gone With the Wind resources, can provide great inspiration for a St. Patty's tea, that's sure to please your guests!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Reflection...

After touring a beautiful mansion this week, and seeing all the elegant material possessions that money can buy, it's hard not to wonder what it would be like to be wealthy, and have everything one could ever possibly need or want in life.

The reality is, however, earthly wealth is temporary, because eventually mortal life ceases and all possessions and treasures have to be left behind.  "For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it." "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it...". [I Timothy 6:7 & Psalm 24:1]  We are only stewards of what really belongs to God. 

I'm not wealthy by this world's monetary standards, but how inspiring to be reminded this week that when I sought forgiveness of my sins through Jesus, God's Son, the Bible declares I became a child of God - an heir to the King of kings, and Lord of lords!  I not only get the benefit of a personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe in this life, but I'll be the beneficiary of a home in Heaven, and an eternal life too.  

I don't know what Heaven is going to be like, but I know it's going to be awesome!  Scripture says: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him."  [I Corinthians 2:9]  And the best part of God's "inheritance plan" is that it's for everyone who believes in Him, and accepts His gift of salvation.

May God bless your week!

Friday, February 21, 2014

More on Meadow Brook Hall

With thoughts still mulling around in my mind from yesterday's outing at Meadow Brook Hall, I went to my bookshelf and pulled Matilda Wilson's personal guidebook to the mansion, and the Meadow Brook cookbook I purchased in 1996.

The cover of the cookbook shows a photo of the forecourt iron gates to the main entrance of the mansion with a superimposed Sheffield sterling silver and Waterford crystal bowl epergne filled with fruit that is said to be displayed on the main dining table in the Christopher Wren Dining Room when it's not in use.

The cookbook contains fun tidbits about Alfred & Matilda Wilson.  Their granddaughter, Judy McClung, said her grandmother was a collector of cookbooks, and had well over 100, and frequently cut recipes out of newspapers for her cook.   'Sunday' fried chicken and mashed potatoes were a favorite, and she could have eaten Baked Alaska or Cherries Jubilee every night.  She often ate cookies for breakfast.

Cherries Jubilee
3/4 cup currant jelly
3 1/2 cups canned bing cherries, drained [27-29 oz. can]
1/2 cup brandy
Ice cream for 6 servings

Melt currant jelly over low heat, stirring gently.  Add cherries to jelly and heat until simmering, stirring occasionally.  Pour brandy into center of cherries.  Heat undisturbed until very hot.  Light with match and ladle over ice cream while still flaming.  Serves 6.  Recipe submitted to Meadow Brook cookbook by Eleanor Driver.

*  *  *

The Wilson's daughter, Barbara, said her parents were always going on diets - her dad was successful, but her mother wasn't because she loved candy.  Matilda was not fond of beef, hated lamb, but loved pork and chicken.

Dinner was always at 7:00 o'clock and lunch at 1:00 o'clock - except on Sunday when it was at 2:00 o'clock due to their church schedule.

A favorite of Matilda's that is included in the cookbook is Carrot Pudding which was served at Thanksgiving and/or Christmas.  There is also a recipe for Ruby-Red Grapefruit Chicken that was submitted by Mrs. Gerald [Betty] Ford when she was First Lady.

A section on Tea Time at Meadow Brook Hall is included in the cookbook, as well as a photo of Mrs. Wilson's elaborate 1815 Georgian silver tea service, which she frequently entertained with.

I blogged about my 2002 Afternoon Tea experience at Meadow Brook Hall here, where Matilda's beautiful tea service was on display in the dining room.

Changing the subject of Meadow Brook Hall, but still on the topic of silver, I have some photos of silver tea equipage that I've been wanting to share, and this seems like the perfect time. While at a friend's house last month, she graciously allowed me photograph a few pieces of her silver collection.

I love her Victorian tilting pot for water, coffee, or tea, with pouring stand and attached cup/mug holder.

Below is her beautiful silver urn with a spigot.

Pictured below is my tilting brass kettle/teapot on a stand with warmer [left], and non-tilting silver plate teapot on stand with warmer [right].  

Silver has long been highly regarded as a superior material for tea equipage.  It is a natural conductor of heat and lends itself well to the serving of hot liquids.

Some silver tea services have a tilting tea kettle/teapot in addition to the teapot and coffee pot, which is used for hot water.  

It is believed by some that silver can impart a metallic taste to tea, but I've never experienced that with my teapots.  Silver polish should never be used to clean the inside of silver teapots. Rinse only with hot water to allow tea tannins to build up on the inside of the teapot to prevent the possibility of a metallic taste.

Do you use silver tea equipage at tea time?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Downton Days at Meadow Brook Hall

My girlfriend and I braved snow and sleet to attend Downton Days at Meadow Brook Hall  in Rochester, MI today, and it was so worth it.  Below is the sign at the Adams Road entrance that winds back to Meadow Brook Hall.

Photography inside the mansion was limited.  We were in tour group B, and we assembled in the library to wait for our tour to begin at 12:30 p.m.

Our male docent told us our tour would be three-fold: Behind the scenes, the Wilson family, and the staff.   

The tour began with the staff wing of the mansion.  They had their own communal living room, dining room, and sun porch.  The Wilson's employed five maids and one head maid. Each had her own private 10 x 12 room.  The butler and male staff also had private rooms located on a different level.  Matilda Dodge Wilson had a personal secretary/bookkeeper, and since she was higher on the staff hierarchy, she had her own suite with a bedroom, bathroom, and small living room.  

The kitchen, linen room, ironing room, sewing room, fresh flower room with coolers, and gift wrapping room completed the behind the scenes portion of the tour.  From there we went into the second floor family wing of the mansion where Mr. and Mrs. Wilson's bedrooms, guest rooms and nursery were located. Then we went down the Grand Staircase to the Living Room which is one of the largest rooms in the mansion.  The docent equated it to the Drawing Room at Downton Abbey's Highclere Castle.  Silver tea sets were on display, and we were told Mrs. Wilson hosted teas in the Living Room, and always poured the tea herself rather than delegating the task to servants. She was also keeper of the tea caddy in the early days at the mansion.  I love that tea was an integral part of life at Meadow Brook!  

From the tour we walked a short distance to the family garage where the lecture was held.  I was permitted to take a photo there.

Interesting comparisons were given between Downton Abbey's Crawley family and Highclere Castle, and the Wilson family and Meadow Brook.
  • Lady Mary and Matilda Dodge were two years apart in age when they became widowed.
  • Highclere Castle has 50 plus bedrooms compared to Meadow Brook's  11, BUT Meadow Brook has 25 bathrooms, and the seventeenth century castle had none during Downton Abbey's time period.   They would have used something similar to what we know today as "potty chairs" or "porta-potties."
  • Mrs. Hughes' equivalent at Meadow Brook was Mrs. Beatrice Whittaker.
  • Meadow Brook also had a Mr. Bates.
  • Meadow Brook had a Scottish maid who prepared home style meals compared to Mrs. Patmore's French cuisine.
  • Both estates had working farms.
  • Unlike Highclere Castle, Meadow Brook had guarded security -  the result of kidnappings of the rich in the US [most notably the Lindbergh baby] in the 1920's-30's.
Meadow Brook Hall was built in 1929 at a cost of $3,500,000 and is 88,000 square feet in size.  It's the fourth largest mansion in the United States - larger than the White House which has approximately 55,000 sq. ft.

Following the lecture we walked back to the mansion for lunch in the Christopher Wren Dining Room.  This was the only room in the mansion where cameras were permitted. Meadow Brook Hall is rented for weddings, and the receptions are often held in the dining room, as well as other special events.   It's wonderful to have the opportunity to literally dine in the elegant dining room of this great mansion just as the Wilson family once did. The Edsel Ford Estate in Grosse Pointe Shores, MI does not allow this privilege anywhere inside their mansion.

All the rooms had very high ceilings, and tall door openings.   As a side note, our docent said Mr. Wilson was 6 ft. 6 inches tall, compared to  Mrs. Wilson who was under 5 feet tall.

My girlfriend and I were seated at table 5 with four other lovely people.

And there was tea.  Lipton's never tasted so good on a cold, wet, wintry day!

Our lunch was "Chicken Cynthia" - julienned vegetables, artichoke hearts, and navy beans, topped with a grilled chicken breast.  Everyone at our table enjoyed it.

Dessert was a slice of apple pie.   The cost of the tour, lecture, and lunch was $45 and helps offset the $7,500 expense of running the mansion every day.

The three ladies below were seated in the adjacent breakfast room.  Wouldn't that be fun?

The couple photographed below dined at the table with us.  The tour, lecture, and lunch at Meadow Brook Hall was his Valentine's gift to his wife, who is very much a Downton Abbey fan. She told us her sister hosted an outdoor Downton Abbey tea last summer.

A Mother and Daughter were the other guests at our table.  The daughter treated her mom to the Downton Days event.  We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch and conversation with these lovely people.

[L-R:  Me and girlfriend, Lori]

As a keepsake of the day I bought a Downton Abbey automobile that Branson would have chauffeured from the Meadow Brook gift shop.

What a wonderful way to spend the day.  Thank you Meadow Brook staff!

*  *  *

I blogged about Meadow Brook's annual 2012 Holiday Walk and Tea here.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Downton Abbey Mania

I never watch daytime soap operas, but I thoroughly enjoy watching the British period drama, Downton Abbey - along with multitudes of other fans on both sides of the pond.  I enjoy seeing the aristocratic lifestyle of the Crawley family, the work-a-day world of the "below stairs" residents, the costumes of the post Edwardian era [1912-1923], and, of course, the many tea scenes that are a part of every episode. 

Downton Abbey has not only become a hugely successful TV series, but it's entered the retail world as well.  Barnes & Noble sells several Downton Abbey books. 

Magazines feature Downton Abbey.

While recently reading Tea in Texas magazine, I was fascinated by their article about the Downton Abbey mobile tea truck PBS sent to the streets of New York City as a marketing stunt to promote the opening episode of Season IV.  [Unfortunately NYC was the only US city it visited.]

[Photo courtesy of PBS]

Costumed maids served free hot tea [to be accurate it was a tisane] and biscuits, and Downton Abbey fans were able to have their picture taken with the maids and/or the Downton Abbey mobile tea truck with the backdrop of Highclere Castle.  

[PBS Maids]

How about a Downton Abbey t-shirt?

The Republic of Tea came out with two Downton Abbey teas that can be purchased from their website - English Rose Tea [pictured on the far right], which is a caffeine-free tisane of rose and hibiscus blossoms and raspberries.  It is the beverage that was said to have been served to passersby from the Downton Abbey mobile tea truck.   The other tea available from Republic of Tea is pictured on the far left - Grantham Breakfast Blend, an organic Assam black tea with ginger.   

Republic of Tea also blended a tea exclusively Cost Plus World Market that is called the Downton Estate Blend, a classic Earl Grey black tea with vanilla.  I have all three and am saving them for a Downton Abbey tea.

Last year, on black Friday weekend [following Thanksgiving], Cost Plus World Market  launched a Downton Abbey Tea Party where several Downton Abbey products were sold - Plum Pudding, Mincemeat Tarts, Shortbread Cookies, Bordeuex Wine, Christmas Crackers, and a Tea Set. Unfortunately, I learned about it too late, and was only able to purchase a tin of tea and shortbread cookies. At the same time, the company sponsored a Sweepstakes that included a trip to London, a private tour of Highclere Castle, and a visit to the set of Downton Abbey.  I can only imagine how wonderful that would be!

[Internet Photos]

The real china used on the set of Downton Abbey is Spode Stafford White bone china.  The teapot is on sale right now for $882 [down from $1,102.50], while a teacup's sale price is a mere $205.80!  

[Pinterest Photo]

Macy's came out with a line of Downton Abbey jewelry that's reasonably priced, and I'm sure there are other companies sponsoring Downton Abbey promotionals that I'm unaware of.

I'm excited to tell you about a local Downton Abbey promotional that my girlfriend and I will attending tomorrow - and you can be sure I'll blog all about it.

Meadow Brook Hall - the historic home of one of automotive aristocracy's most remarkable women, Matilda Dodge-Wilson, is sponsoring "Downton Days" Thursday thru Sunday this week.

Meadow Brook Hall is an old English Country Style Tudor, built in 1929.  With 88,000 square feet and 110 bedrooms, it's the largest home in the Midwest.  Much like the Crawleys, Matilda and Alfred Wilson also had a full-time staff that lived at the home and worked for them. Meadow Brook is giving the public an opportunity to experience what life was like for a Lord and Lady at the time, as well as servants.

Our tickets have been purchased for a 12:30 p.m. lecture telling us what life was like at Meadow Brook in the 1920's-30's, and comparing it to life depicted at Downton Abbey.  We'll have lunch in the Christopher Wren Dining Room, and afterward put everything we've learned into visual context with a tour of the mansion.   I'm not sure if photographs will be allowed, but if permitted I'll take photos and share them on my blog.  Stay tuned...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tea Towels and Tea-themed Note Cards

Unfortunately there's not a World Market store in my area, but my girlfriend and I went to their Lansing store recently when we were in the area for a tea.  I purchased a tin of Downton Abbey tea that was blended exclusively for them by Republic of Tea [it'll be in tomorrow's post], and a tea towel.  I can't pass up tea-themed tea towels.

The tea towel is cotton muslin.  It's difficult to see in the photo, but the elephant teapot says, "Tea Please!" and the small elephant sugar bowl says, "Sugar Please!"  It was $9.99.

There was a Tuesday Morning store a few doors down from World Market so, of course, we had to pay them a visit.  I always look in their stationery section because they usually have tea-themed note cards by Punch Studio.  This visit didn't disappoint because I found two. Both packages were $4.99 each.

The box below contained ten note cards, with decorative envelopes to match.

When my girlfriend came over recently she brought me the cutest tea-themed gift bag.

One of the gifts inside was a box of eight tea-themed note cards.  Aren't they lovely?  They immediately reminded me of blogging friend, Judith at Lavender Cottage.

And lastly, when I was recently in a local Meijer's store waiting for some digital photos to be printed, I browsed their housewares section to wile away the time, and found a terrycloth tea towel. Terrycloth is my favorite for everyday use, so it had to come home with me even if the colors aren't quite right for my kitchen.

Have you bought or received any tea-themed items recently?