Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Gifted Moment

One of the things I've wanted to tackle while on maternity leave is finishing a draft of my International Tea Moment Mystery.  I was on a roll before I got pregnant, and once the nausea hit, well,  my creativity hit a brick wall.  Now that all is right in the world again, the story has been brewing once more in my mind. It's just a matter of diving back in. And thanks to a kindred spirit and friend that I've developed through an mutual interest in tea, I'm ready to do just that. This isn't the first time A.H. has encouraged/prodded me back into action, and for that I am very grateful.

You see, this lovely package arrived in the mail from Germany just the other day...

Gift-wrapped in cute Matryoshka Doll paper was an assortment of Russian teas and treats, as well as a package of one of my favorite black tea blends that I can't find in the U.S.: Kaiser!  This incredibly inspiring gift accomplished 3 things, as I'm sure A.H. intended. 1. It was a congratulatory recognition of the birth of my 2nd daughter. 2. It provided one of my personal favorites, which is so touching to realize that a friend will remember such details. 3. It gently nudged me back toward an immersion into all things Russian, so I can complete my book. While her lovely handwritten note said nothing about my writing, the contents of the package spoke volumes.

Feeling as though I was about to venture off on an exotic journey, I took a moment to have a private, indulgent tea party for one, in honor of my supportive friend.  I allowed myself a cream-filled doughnut, some fresh strawberries, and a strong cup of Kaiser. The treats were placed on a china plate from my great-grandmother, the tea in a cup from the heirloom wedding china given to us by my mother-in-law, and all laid out on linen given to me by a friend who has lived and worked in Russia over the years.

A small, informal, tea party for one, but each detail fraught with meaning.  Danke schoen, A.H. for such a special gift, and for that gentle push into action once again!  Or as the Russians say, spasibo!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

An Evening Tea for Moms Moment

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: an evening tea event for mothers of pre-schoolers.

This was what I was charged with for my MOPS group for the annual Tea and Testimony event held this week.  Working moms, stay-at-home moms, some with newborns, all mostly sleep deprived. The challenge? What to serve that would be filling but would not over-caffeinating?  After a couple of months of writing and re-writing the menu, I was very pleased with the final decisions and outcome. 

The Menu
Cucumber Sandwiches
Egg Salad Sandwiches
(Click on menu item above for recipe)

The Tea
Dark Sri Lankan (“Ceylon”) leaves with copper and silver tips have the bold lemon-bergamot aroma you crave, with nuanced floral and cardamom undertones.
Our own Moroccan mint green tea, based on a tradition dating back to the days of the Silk Road. It is a blend of spearmint leaves and tightly rolled pellets of Chinese green tea.
Winner of  An International Tea Moment's 2009 Best Herbal Infusion, this is a delightful organic blend of chamomile, spearmint, lemon verbena, basil leaf, cinnamon, cloves, apple, & raisins

For 2 unencumbered hours, these moms (who I have come to treasure for their senses of humor, energy, support and experience) were able to sit back, relax, converse and enjoy an evening over tea. And once again, I was able to see the power of tea in action. It's an act of small luxury as well as a unifying and cozy-fying (yes, I just made that up) tradition that allows people to simply be in each other's company in such a pleasant way. The conversation ranged from the serious to the absolute silly, just the way a tea moment should be.

Tea doesn't have to be complicated or overly fussy. For this event, each mom brought their own tea cup, and we ate off of paper plates.  (I did bring sugar cubes, however. Some things are just non-negotiable!)  The food was ultimately very basic - simple sandwiches, a salad, a savory quiche and a dessert that I used as a substitution for scones.  As I always say, what's most important is the company you share the tea moment with.

By the way, a special thank you to American Tea Room for providing door prizes of loose leaf teas for three lucky ladies! They were very excited to be able to bring home their own private tea moment.

Spring is here! If you haven't done so already, grab a friend or several and create your own tea moment together. It doesn't have to be elaborate, you don't need settings of china, silver and crystal - you just need each other and a nice pot of tea. (And send me photos! I'd love to see what creative tea ideas you have!)

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Pseudo Scone Moment

I've been cooking up a storm, much to Gene's delight. With many new dinner recipes under my belt, I have turned my thoughts to tea recipes. In particular, I will be providing tea treats for a Moms' group next week. It's an evening event at a church with no access to the kitchen facilities, so I need to prep everything ahead of time. Also, all the treats need to taste good at room temperature. The problem I have is scones! Scones, in my opinion, are the cornerstone of any tea event. With Devonshire cream, a fruit jam of some kind, and lemon curd.  If there are no scones, you may as well be drinking bagged tea from styrofoam cups! The notion! The specific issue is temperature. If it's not a hot scone, or at least a very warm scone, you may as well not be serving them at all. So, if I can not serve warm scones, what's a tea die-hard to do?

Enter Laura Calder's Powder Puff. Laura Calder's French Food at Home show on the Cooking Channel is one of my recent discoveries and a supplier of many of the dinner recipes I have been experimenting with. She is fast becoming my favorite TV personality. Her obsession and quirky love of French food strikes a chord with my own inner tea nerd. She ended today's show on "Olives" with the words, "O-live all of you. Ha ha!"  She's awesome.  Anyhoo, a recent show highlighted a light and fluffy dessert called the Powder Puff. When I saw it, I realized this could be the answer! This could be my pseudo-scone!  Within this puff is both a layer of cream and a layer of jam. It does not need to be served at any particular temperature. AND it has all components pre-assembled, which means less dishes, utensils and complexities for me to bring along!

The spongy puff itself is surprisingly easy to make, and my almost-four-year-old helped me assemble my test batch by spooning on the cream, which consisted of heavy whipping cream, vanilla and a bit of powdered sugar. After a bit of experimentation, I learned that it is better to be very generous with the layer of whipped cream and the layer of jam to achieve the picturesque presentation as seen above.  Find Laura Calder's Powder Puff Recipe Here.

While I'd ultimately love to serve scones to the ladies next week at our tea event, this is the perfect room temperature substitute with all the components I love for a proper "tea." I'll be sure to document all the tea goodies we enjoy and include recipes of all the favorites.

Bon appetit!

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Charged Moment

With less than 8 weeks left of maternity leave, I've got the feeling of needing to kick it into high gear and accomplish an embarrassingly long "to-do" list of home projects and intentions that I wrote during week 1 after Anne Marie was born. They range in complexity and practicality from "Hang bulletin board in kitchen" to "Sew a dress" - (yes, I've been watching too much Project Runway).  So far I've accomplished 1 and 1/2 items on that list of about 40 things.

You may think to yourselves that I should be taking advantage of this time to bond with my baby, slow things down, do some things that I enjoy. And I agree with you. Anne Marie is my partner in crime on all of these projects, though I admit her demands for eating are the main reason I have not gotten very far in our accomplishments.  And though she is a pretty good sleeper for a 3-week-old, I'll also admit my energy levels are not 100%. Sleeping at night in 3 hour shifts is not optimal.

So, it was with great joy and celebration that I received a package in the mail on Friday from California Tea and Coffee Brewery, based in Temecula. I had asked the Twitterverse for recommendations on a solid Irish or English Breakfast Tea, and @CA_Tea responded that they had just what I was looking for. In this package, I had received my order of not only an Irish Breakfast blend (this is the only blend they do in-house! Hats off to you, Diane) and an English Breakfast blend, they had included a few other exciting choice samples (to be revealed and reviewed at a future moment). I took no time in brewing up a very large cup of Irish Breakfast right then and there. And then another. And another. Easter weekend consisted of consuming nearly equal quantities of candy and tea. Not a bad combination, if you ask me. They were enough to keep me going during the many holiday weekend activities.

Waiting for the Easter egg hunt

Petting zoo

Home and everyone needs a nap!

This morning, I knew I wanted to get serious about some of my to-do items. And once again I turned to my current obsession. Brewed in a tea cup that belonged to my Mom's Mom, my Grandma Betty, I felt the desire to conjure up some of her drive and creativity.

She had six children, was a serial entrepreneur, a born entertainer, and definitely a free spirit. I guess there's something about this tea that reminds me of her. It is bold but smooth, but can transform to something sweet and sublime with just a little cream and sugar. It adds a spring to my step and a sense of purpose to my schedule. Anne Marie: brace yourself. We're going to get some things DONE today! 

P.S. California Tea and Coffee Brewery - I may be placing a standing monthly order of your extraordinary Irish Breakfast Tea. We've reached obsession over here! :)

Visit California Tea and Coffee Brewery at:
40315 Winchester Rd Ste A
Temecula, CA
(951) 693-5727

And follow them on Twitter: @CA_Tea

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Sunny Citrus Moment

After nearly a year of being, for all intents and purposes, an invalid, I've learned a lot about real love, grace, friendship and gratitude. And while I will most likely be throwing out striking (to me) examples of these lessons over the next weeks and months, one that has danced around my conscience over the past several days is the kindness of strangers. Well, maybe not strangers exactly, but the kindness of acquaintances.

At one point during my pregnancy, oranges actually sounded appealing. And because of the novelty of any food sounding appealing, I tweeted the fact that day. In response, Beth from TeasEtc said it sounded like I was in need of citrus, and she immediately mailed me several samples of citrus-infused teas! Upon receipt, I immediately brewed one of the samples. Unfortunately, my difficult taste buds altered the flavor and I knew that I was not experiencing the true nature of the tea. I tried once or twice more and then set aside one of the samples to be enjoyed on a day post-delivery. Today is that day.

I've been eyeing the small Meyer Lemon package of tea with longing for a few months now. It has become such a symbol of hope and generosity that I admit I've built quite the Ivory Tower for it. But today is the day I finally indulge in this gift. The sun is shining, the sky is a gentle blue with just a few wispy clouds floating lazily in the breeze, and everywhere I look there are flowers blooming in those bright, cheery colors of spring. 

I've brewed this tea in one of the platinum banded teacups from my wedding china - a gift from my in-laws. I'm impressed with the deep, dark amber liquid of the steeped tea. It is gently lemon scented, but it's more of a wild lemon scent, not of the cleaning-product variety, and it's not over-powering - a very good sign.  Here we go. The first sip...

I am pleasantly surprised at the robust tea flavor accented lightly, but clearly, with both lemon and a hint of orange. Smooth, smooth, velvety smooth, I have to force myself to take small, ladylike sips when I would actually prefer to chug the whole cup in one fell swoop!

Beth and I know a couple of things about each other. We indulge in the guilty pleasure that is Project Runway, and we enjoy the many aspects of tea. And those little ties were enough for her to show me a small but impactful kindness. Have people sent me samples of tea before? Yes, and I enjoy and appreciate each one immensely! But this one touched me because she responded to a specific joy I had mentioned, and she wanted to add to that joy. That kind of thoughtfulness, that seemingly small gesture is what people refer to when they say, "It may not change the world, but it changed my world." And isn't that just as valuable? Maybe more so? To impact the world of one other person.

So, thank you, Beth and TeasEtc for not only bringing more joy to my world but for introducing me to this lovely tea! I'm off to brew another cup (or 12) this instant. And I'm going to forego the niceties this time. I'm chugging the next round. It's that good.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Myrtle Takes Tea Moment

I have a great admiration for authors who are able to create fantastical worlds that are not only interesting and gripping, but that also make sense. Narnia, created by C.S. Lewis; Middle Earth, created by J.R.R. Tolkein in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings novels; and most recently, the world of Harry Potter, created by J.K. Rowling. Of course, there are many other examples, but these are the otherworlds that have had the greatest impact on me over the years.

My newest discovery of a fantasy world is created by British author, Alexander Stacey, in Myrtle Takes Tea. This children's novel introduces the Twin Kingdoms of Tcha and Arabica, as discovered by Myrtle Madison, a tea-drinking 9-year-old girl who has been unfairly diagnosed as depressed - when in fact she is just lonely and utterly bored to death in her own world that is obsessed with materials items, popularity, and over-consumption.

The friendships she forms in her newly discovered world are like none she's ever experienced. Colorful, lively characters, such as the Duke of Earl Grey, a stylish, aristocratic hare and celebrated dueler (swords, not guns); St. James, the Duke's steady and sensible chauffeur mouse; Tips Fanning, a hip and happenin' reporter fox and one of the Duke's closest friends; and Queen Darling Darjeeling, ruler and first class drama queen of the Kingdom of Tcha, who happens to be a man but prefers the title of Queen.

In her adventures, Myrtle becomes a first-class fencer, discovers she is a Duchess, learns the true meaning and value of friendship, and gains a better understanding that life is not just what happens to you but how you choose to live it.

I've had the pleasure of getting to know the creator of this fascinating world, Alexander Stacey, over the past year or so (champagne consumption habits and all), and can't wait for my daughters to become better acquainted with Myrtle and her friends. Edie was so excited when we received the Myrtle Takes Tea gift set in the mail, she immediately wanted to try the tea that came with the book. It was a lovely way to kick off our morning together.

Tea drinkers of all ages will enjoy this adventure and this wonderful new world that you are invited to discover with Myrtle. Personally, I'm hoping a "Part 2" appears very soon!

Find Myrtle Takes Tea on Facebook or Follow @MyrtleTakesTea on Twitter