Monday, April 14, 2014

A Monday Mystery Moment - The Tea Shop Mysteries

So, I claim to be a cozy mystery fanatic, but I very rarely mention the mysteries I'm currently devouring. Today, that will change.

In my day job, I review a lot of data. I look at numbers, I evaluate performance, I coach teams on improving. There's a constant need to look at things from new and different angles and understanding the current business environment and be able to convey that environment in a way that our clients can continue to succeed.

While my mind can't help but work on solving problems, I savor the chance to switch gears completely and sink into a cozy mystery where there are no consequences to my being "wrong." I was born and raised on Agatha Christie (And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express are particular favorites),

I discovered The Tea Shop Mysteries by Laura Childs year ago while browsing the shelves of Barnes and Noble before a business trip. I was in the middle of completing a Masters program and my brain needed something other than school and work to swim around in. When I saw the cover and title, "Death by Darjeeling," I performed an internal happy dance. Mystery AND Tea in one novel? Heavenly.

Since then, I've devoured the entire series as each book has been released. And when there isn't a new book, I often will go back to the beginning, which is what I did today. As it happened, I had just prepared some tea sandwiches for a friend, so I treated myself with the leftovers and enjoyed a leisurely tea luncheon over an old favorite.

I also just scored a new delivery of Arya Diamond SFTGFOP1, an extremely rare organic, first flush  Darjeeling (plucked by hand in April 2014!!!) from American Tea Room, so everything fell perfectly into place.

Death by Darjeeling introduces us to Theodosia Browning, owner of the Indigo Tea Shop in Charleston, South Carolina. Along with her trusted employees, Drayton (master tea sommelier) and Haley (young baker extraordinaire), we are brought along on a journey of tea, intrigue and poison starting at the annual Lamplighter Tour where the team is catering one of the stops. When one of the high profile guests is found dead, still clutching his near-empty tea cup, the clock is ticking for Theodosia to not only salvage her reputation but track down the murderer before he or she strikes again.

If you enjoy a good mystery, you'll easily find this series to be a new favorite. And (just to pique your curiosity even more) if you register on my mailing list, you'll be entered into a drawing to win a copy of Laura Childs' newest release, Sweet Tea Revenge. In addition, the first 100 to register will receive a free copy of my first Recipe e-book, A Mother's Day Recipe Moment, which is set to be released this Friday, April 18th.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

A Moment for Some of my Favorite Moms

There's an amazing group of women I get together with a couple of times each month. It's a chapter of MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers), but it's more than just a "Mommy" group. It's a meeting place for people who are in the same place as me in life. We all have small children. There are moms who work outside the home full-time and part-time, there are moms who have home-based businesses, and there are full-time stay-at-home moms.

While I'm not generally the type to join "groups," I took the plunge, and I'm so glad I did. Over the past 4 years, these women are becoming some of my most dear and respected friends. They're smart, they're funny, they're resourceful, and they've been there, done that and are willing to show the battle scars for the sake of helping others make better or easier decisions.

Once a year, there's a tradition of "Tea and Testimony." We enjoy an evening tea and a great speaker. Now, of course, how could I help but dive into this event? It's become a favorite for me and an opportunity to introduce new things to this circle of friends.

This year, not only did we have a lovely assortment of sandwiches, scones, savories and sips, I introduced tea infused beer and wine (inspired by Capital Teas), which was received with great enthusiasm.

The menu:

Cucumber Sandwiches
Curried Chicken Sandwiches
Sandwiches de Pau

Spinach and Strawberry Salad

Chive and Chevre Gluten-Free Scones
Lady Devotea's Proper Scones

Mini Chocolate Eclairs
Chocolate Biscuits

Tea Offerings

Tea-Infused Wine and Beer a.k.a. Vino Teano and Tea Lager

Many thanks to the team of women who prepared all the food and provided the decor: Julie, Sara, Suzi, Arlene, Laura, Dot, and Maureen!

As we celebrated with an early Mother's Day celebration, we also celebrated friendships. And as a tribute to all of them, I will be releasing my first Tea Moment Recipe Collection to them in the next week: A Mother's Day Moment.   In addition, I'll share this e-book at no charge for the first 100 readers who join my mailing list here:

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By joining this list, you'll receive the occasional email with recipes and other ideas on creating your own personalized Tea Moment.

Once you join, look for my email in the next week with your free Mother's Day Moment recipe collection e-book.

I look forward to sharing more recipe collections and Tea Moment opportunities very soon!

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Moment of Conscious Convenience

There are those moments when I'm in want of a shot of caffeine. In some of those cases I may turn to a cup of coffee (and the Underground Tea Syndicate collectively gasps!).

And there are those moments when there's so much going on or I'm on the run and...

yes. Your eyes are not deceiving you. That's a tea bag in the rooster mug (and the Underground Tea Syndicate collectively allows their jaw to drop.).

Here's the thing. There are bags of tea that are a part of my heritage. Red Rose tea, for example. Constant Comment, for another. Sleepytime, if you want to know more. They are a part of my beautiful tea journey. And there are more recent discoveries, like Live Your Love teas, which support Sri Lankan communities affected by the last devastating tsunami. 

Whether or not you agree (and I know The Devotea will certainly not), tea bags are convenient. And Americans, in particular, are about nothing if not convenience (government excluded). 

Most recently, I was introduced, or rather re-introduced, to another part of my tea heritage, The Republic of Tea. My mom and I both have a certain affinity for their Ginger Peach tea bags. But their newest addition to the Republic is one that meets a couple of needs. Convenience and Extra Caffeine. 

While I'm not usually a fan of berry blends, I found Pom-Berry Black to have the very best of all worlds. The black tea is robust and serious enough to be my morning companion, and the pomegranate and blueberry are subtle enough to be influential but without that syrupy-sweet aftertaste that I often find with fruity teas. The Hi-Caf is noticeable, too, which is a plus for those morning that need an extra oomph. 

And while some of you may not be fans of tea bags, let's break that down a little further as well.

I'll save the "quality of tea" debate for another day. There's a wide range of opinions here, but my bottom line will always be that you like what you like, and there is always room to explore new and better teas no matter where your palate is today.

And then there is the scary "hidden dangers of tea bags" debate. There are tea bags that are made from plastics or plastic compounds, which can potentially leach cancer-causing agents into the tea when placed in hot water. Paper tea bags are not much better, apparently, as many of them may contain epichlorohydrin, a compound  used in the production of epoxy resins. Tea bags are not the only potentially dangerous household products containing this particular chemical. Coffee filters, water filters and sausage casings are on the list as well.

When I asked The Republic of Tea about their tea bags, they shared that their unbleached teabags are made from wood pulp fibers which do not contain epichlorohydrin or plastic. They are free of chemicals, toxins and do not contain gluten, GMO's or corn.

So there you have it. Sold!

As for me, I'm kind of liking what their new Hi-Caf  "Buzz" is all about.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A 'Vote For Me' Moment

I'm suddenly transported back to 4th grade where I chose to run for class representative against my classroom BFF, Molly Puckett. I made posters, I chatted up all my classmates. I wanted that recognition, that attention, and (quite frankly) that Power. And I knew Molly already had the majority of the recognition and attention on a daily basis (she was a total sweetheart). I wanted my moment in the sun.

And I got it.

Molly's response was to give me a huge 10-year-old bear hug of congratulations. Her face beamed with joy. I was bewildered. I had been readying myself for a lot of consoling of my dear, disappointed friend. Without skipping a beat, she explained, "In my family, we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep!" and that was that.

The handful of times I ran for anything throughout my school years, I toned it down significantly. That 4th grade experience fed me a heaping helping of humble pie. And my attitude (in general) about losing to others in competitive situations changed as well. To this very day, every time I lose to someone else, I hear Molly's voice in my head, "Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep." (My outward actions still need some work, but the intention is there!)

Today, nearly 30 years later, I'm campaigning again. This time for something that holds no Power whatsoever. It's vanity pure and simple, if I'm going to be completely honest. But it's something that would create a lot of joy for me.

An International Tea Moment was just nominated for "Best Tea Blog" for the 2014 World Tea Awards, and the decision lies in the hands of the general public. If you feel so inclined, I'd be honored to secure your vote for An International Tea Moment as Best Tea Blog.

To cast your vote, please enter my blog name under Best Tea Blog on the Survey Monkey ballot found HERE.

Or, if there's another tea blog that you read regularly that you feel deserves your vote, enter their blog name on the ballot. Because, there are no losers here. The fact that you're reading my blog today holds more meaning for me than any 1-time award ever could.

And Molly, wherever you are, thank you for teaching me such a valuable lesson that I not only carry with me every day of my life, I'm teaching it to my own family.

My name is Jen, and I approve this message.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A McHugh Tea Moment

In the quiet outskirts of Houston, Texas, lies the quiet little town of Bellaire, known as "The City of Homes." Well, wherever there are homes, there are people. And people need a place to gather. Kim McHugh, born and raised among these homes, had always noticed there was a decided lack of gathering places, and so on August 2, 2013 she opened the doors to the first tea room Bellaire has ever seen, McHugh Tea. And the gathering began.

I had just an hour and a half before my flight left Houston, so I stepped in the front door, just as they were opening at 11 a.m.  Kim was kind enough to give me the grand tour of the tea room. From the front "Sun Room" with Grandpa's headboard fashioned into the perfect bench (with Grandma's tea pots displayed above)...

to the middle dining area (with a wall showcasing celebrity tea drinkers) that can be closed off for parties of up to 25 (booked through the middle of July, by the way)...

to the front bar with VIP tea cup cubbies that can be reserved by the month to store your own favorite tea cup for your own personal use...

no detail was overlooked. And especially not the food!

Ana, my delightful server, walked me through the extensive selection of True Leaf teas (Kim's tea brand), and with my choice of Monk's Blend finalized, she brought out my tiered tray of the most heavenly traditional tea service I think I've ever eaten.  

The scones - fresh, warm, fluffy scones with Devonshire cream and homemade jelly! The sandwiches - chicken salad, 

a ham and provolone rose,

a pimento sandwich, and then there was the cucumber sandwich. Be still my beating heart. It was so breathtaking, so fresh, so delicious that I didn't even think the take a photo. I just savored it and tried to figure out the components that made it so incredibly perfect.

But then, there was more! The desserts - a mini pie and a strawberry delight, both covered in what might as well have been pixie dust - they shimmered and shone. The pastry crust was so flaky and delicate, the cream in all the desserts was rich and simply perfect. 

I was thrilled when the queen of the kitchen, Billie Stafford, Kim's mom, came out to see how I was doing. I waxed poetic about my love of all she had prepared. She shared how each recipe was carefully selected by herself and Kim from their family recipes, many of which have been passed down through the generations. Yes the ingredients were fresh, yes, most of the choices were very traditional afternoon tea choices, but there was something more. There was love and happiness in these recipes, and I could taste the difference. (Plus she let me guess the ingredients of the cucumber sandwich, and confirmed my suspicions! We'll see if I can come close to replicating!)

The story of McHugh Tea is a beautiful one to me. Kim first became interested in herbal infusions when a childhood friend developed breast cancer. In addition to the medicinal properties some herbs can have, she realized that herbs and teas are one thing that cancer patients can have without (many) restrictions. It's a small luxury that is accessible to them, regardless of appetite or energy level or location. And so Kim began meeting with cancer support groups and teaching them the benefits of tea and encouraging them to create their own tea ritual that could be a small luxury to indulge in even during their most difficult days.

As she explored more teas, she decided to begin her own tea brand, and True Leaf Tea Company was born in 2009. But that wasn't enough. There was a desire to create a gathering place where people could come and enjoy those teas. And the fact of the matter was that in Bellaire, there was not one single place to get together with friends that seated less than 75 people. In her words, "There was the hotel ballroom or the Taco Bell." 

With her mom heading up the kitchen, her dad, Joe, managing the books, her husband (a Scotsman) offering food and design opinions and much moral support, and brothers being the much needed handyman (she and her brother designed this etched tea cup chandelier), was truly a family affair. And not only did it bring the family together in a new way, it brought the community together.  Within a half hour of my arrival at the tea room on a late Fridaymorning, this is what the place looked like:

Friends, families, young, old, men, women, it's a place where all are welcome.  

If I could, I'd clone this entire place and the staff and anchor it in my neighborhood. Every town needs a place like this, where all truly feel at home.

To Visit:

McHugh Tea

5305 Bissonnet St, Bellaire, Texas, 77401

Lunch Served Daily 

Monday - Saturday 11AM–5PM Closed Sundays

No reservations needed for parties of 4 or less
Reservations appreciated for all parties on Saturdays

Afternoon Teas Served Daily 

Monday - Saturday 2PM–4PM*

Reservations required for all parties
2 person minimum, 12 person maximun
*last reservation taken at 4 pm

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A 2014 Tea Blogger Roundtable Moment

For the 2nd year in a row, I'm so happy to be invited to participate in the World Tea Expo Tea Blogger Roundtable.

Among the featured tea bloggers are Naomi Rosen of Joy's Teaspoon, Chris Giddings of Tea-Guy, Linda Gaylard of The Tea Stylist, Jason Walker of Walker Tea Review, Nicole Martin of Tea For Me Please, and Gary D. Robson of Tea with Gary!

This year the World Tea Expo moves to Long Beach, California, which is a hop, skip and a jump from the O.C. where I call home. I extend a huge thank you to Jo Johnson, of A Gift of Tea, for making this roundtable event possible.

Tea enthusiasts and bloggers, this is a conversation you won't want to miss. RSVP now for this fun event. We'll see you on Friday, May 30th!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Day 9 Meditation Moment - Allow for Joy

There are weeks that seem to extend endlessly, where every minute is scheduled and the minutes that are "free" are used to catch up on the basics so that everyone has food or clean clothes. We're all told, especially moms, to take time for ourselves. That if we don't make recharging a priority, we won't have anything left for anyone else.

Well, sometimes there literally isn't time to even fantasize about recharging for weeks or even months on end. But I feel the important task is to allow for that recharge, that little piece of joy, whenever we can take it.

There's a sushi place near my house that I used to escape to every couple of Saturday afternoons before Anne Marie was born. I'd take my book, order my 'usual' and get a pot of their oolong tea. These days, a Saturday to myself is out of the question and the week is packed solid with other necessities, but last week I took an extra long lunch break and visited my old haunt.

They were happy to see me, they asked about the family, they remembered my love of the crunchy roll. It felt nice. It was a joy to have that moment all to myself, just me, a book, sushi and tea.

It's ok that "free" time looks a little different now. And it's ok that there aren't as many moments to recharge. But when those moments come your way, allow for them. Don't feel guilty. We were created for happiness, and part of that happiness could be taking 30 minutes to go for a walk, puttering in the garden, going through a McDonald's drive-thru, watching mindless TV, taking a nap. You don't have to justify it, you just need to allow yourself to enjoy it.

Today, on this final day of my Lenten Tea Novena, I intend to be on the lookout for little moments of joy and allow myself to embrace them, and allow others to have their moments of joy as well without interference.