Friday, March 30, 2007

My Cousin's Blog...

Here's a link to my very creative cousin's blog:

Her chapeaus are very fun, beautiful and whimsical! Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

One Voice

It's daffodil time and I love it! We have several varieties blooming. The interesting thing is that the smallest bloom (upper left in photo) is the most fragrant. This is inspiring to me. Sometimes I get so sad about the state of the world and my inability to influence its direction. It feels to me, often, like we're on a path to environmental destruction that is irreversible. Then this little daffodil blooms and spreads its sweet scent through our entire upstairs. I cry. I remember that our world can - and will - heal itself. Whether humans are around to see that is the question.

There is a song that I adore, one of the most beautiful songs ever written, I believe. It's by the Wailin' Jennys, a Canadian girl-band. Some days I listen to it over and over. I let the melody float over me and give me hope. It's called, "One Voice."

First words..."The is the sound of one voice. One spirit, one voice. The sound of one who makes a choice. This is the sound of one voice.".......

Last words..."This is the sound of one voice. One people, one voice. A song for every one of us. This is the sound of one voice."

The song and the daffodil remind me of the power of one person, one choice. We each face choices - every hour of the day - that affect our world. Choices and small flowers matter.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Day Four: Southwark Tea Walk, Bramah Museum of Tea

Day Four brought us a brisk, yet sunny morning! We continued to be grateful for the weather, as we were headed out for a walking tour through Southwark to take in "400 years of Tea History."

We started in a current office park. However, these buildings were formerly warehouses. The buildings are marked with plaques that indicate what that particular structure used to hold. Here is the plaque for the tea warehouse (notice the tea leaves).

Below is the Lloyds of London building, where the folks work who insure various curiosities, like Elton John's hands and Sharon Stone's legs, among other things. This very modern establishment has humble beginnings in a coffee house. Lloyds coffee house eventually became enlightened and served tea, too. Tho I seem to recall that this was a male-only establishment. Thankfully, times have changed.

Here is our tour group, standing on London Bridge (the new one) with Tower Bridge behind us.

We wrapped up the morning tour at the Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee (and tea room). Here, I enjoyed a pot of tea, a hot cross bun and engaging conversation with some of my travel mates.

There were men at this tea room too. I appreciate that tearooms are not gender-centered in England. Or, perhaps I should more correctly say the men are not intimidated by the tea rooms.

The museum, while small, has a varied collection of tea and coffee wares. Notice the small teapot in the left of the picture to get a sense of scale for the larger teapot.

Two monkeys and a lady (Mary Jane, on the right).
"Monkey" is the PG Tips mascot. PG Tips is one of, if not the, most popular brand of tea in the UK.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Day Three: Tea Master Class

Still blogging about my London trip! I've got several more days to go. :-)

Day three was the Tea Master Class, sponsored by the UK Tea Council. The class was held at the lovely Chesterfield Hotel. I wish I had a photo of the staff. The young guys "in uniform" - that is, tuxedos with tails and a red carnation, were very handsome!

The class was led by Jane Pettigrew and Tim Clifton. Jane has written over 12 books on tea and is known worldwide. Tim is a highly-trained tea taster and previously Chairman of one of London's leading tea brokers.

Jane Pettigrew and Tim Clifton

Stephanie with two classmates

Tea Tasting - Black Teas

The class covered the following topics:
  • The history of tea in Britain
  • What is Tea?
  • Why all teas are different
  • The manufacture of black, green, white, oolong, puerh and flavoured teas with samples and tastings
  • Tea growing regions
  • From the plantation to the cup
  • Loose tea & tea bags - different types, advantages & disadvantages
  • Perfect brewing
  • Tea and health
We also had a delicious lunch. I had a great rhubarb crumble with fresh cream on top for dessert!
Later in the day, we enjoyed a full afternoon tea (tea sandwiches, scones and desserts). This was truly a special treat because we were only expecting a cream tea (scones and tea).


Scones and Clotted Cream
We also met other tea professionals from around the world. It was a very international and mind-expanding day!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bday Cake and Poem

Well, today I turn 34! My friend Kim, a baker extraordinaire, made this lovely cake for me. It's a golden cake with chocolate-sour cream icing (2 kinds of chocolate!). It's wonderful! I had a piece last night and again for breakfast!

Here's a poem that I wrote recently about the blessings in my life.

Riches of My Life

A yellow daffodil and the scent of geranium

A safe home

Wealth enough to give me plenty of what I need and, thankfully,
Only some of what I want

A spirit and will that are my own

A body that I have befriended

A steadfast family

A life partner who challenges me, loves me, and feeds me -
My body and my soul

Friends that touch my heart

A mind that can discern its own truths

Enough pain and loss to make what I have
Ever sweeter

Plans and dreams

My life is 34 years beautiful
And I am present
I am flowing -
Flowing over with gratitude

and the DH, first thing this morning

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Spring and Eggs (and yes, London!)

Happy Spring Equinox! It starts at 8 pm tonight and continues through tomorrow.
Eggs have been a symbol of spring through the ages. The Druids saw them as symbols of fertility, and in more modern times, we're not so far off. The Easter Egg symbolizes birth, newness, rebirth (resurrection).
I picked up these sweet egg cups in London (at Whittards Tea Store in Windsor). "zak the zebra" and "terry the tiger."

Here's another pretty photo for you. It's daffodil time! Daffodils are among my favorite flowers!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Fluff and Substance and a Queen to Admire

I try to keep this space as "my happy blog." I blog about things that I enjoy - tea and its trappings - as well as reflections and thoughts about life. By and large, I don't blog on politics, tho I write some seething posts in my head, especially when I'm running! And I occasionally slip into the political realm here when I've just had enough of the injustice in the world.

To me, this blog is more than just fluff. Even the fluffy tea-party articles have a deeper meaning. For me, tea time - whether it be Asian style, British style, or your own style - is ultimately about this: slowing down to experience this moment. It can also be about taking time for solitude, or about time with friends. It can be about personal indulgences or contemplating the socioeconomic status of tea pluckers around the world. So, gentle reader, if you think my posts are all fluff, please reconsider.

March is Women's History month. I'd like to circle round to my tea tour and make a connection between the two. In preparation for my trip to London, I did a lot of studying on British history, including the monarchy. I've become a fan of one of Britain's better-known Queens, Queen Elizabeth I. What I like most about her is that she chose never to marry, despite strong political pressure. She was an independent thinker and a formidable woman ruler, in times when that was not the norm. I like that she was a smart woman and was not afraid to trust her own judgements. She was called a "political genius." She also spoke 5 languages. While not without her flaws, she stands like a beacon to me in the spirit of an independent, strong and bright woman.

When she became Queen in 1558, England was an impoverished country torn apart by religious infighting. When she died in 1603, England was one of the most powerful and prosperous countries in the world. In fact, women's history month is an appropriate time to remember Queen Elizabeth I. She died on March 24.
I had two encounters with Queen Elizabeth I's legacy in London. First, I saw the original coronation portrait (left) at the National Portrait Gallery. Second, at Windsor Castle, I saw a her insignia in stone.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Day Two, Cont: V&A, Lanesborough, Harrods

As I mentioned in the previous post, Day Two was very full! After a nice lunch at the Orangery, we headed to "the V&A." That stands for Victoria & Albert museum. This museum is a very popular place with Londoners, and I can understand why! It's got a very diverse and interesting collection! There is a large Dale Chihuly blown-glass creation in the center of the atrium. In this photo, I like the contrast of the Chihuly out-of-this universe shape with the traditional religious scene in the background.

We had a customized tour through the collections, focusing on tea things. We started with early Asian pieces of china, then moved through the centuries. I was fascinated with the tilt-top tea tables of the 1800s. I can't find a good photo, but they have scallops around the edge to allow for several people to place their teacups/saucers. I'd love to find a reproduction of one of these. At least one of our number is so lucky!

After our V&A excursion, we headed to the Lanesborough Hotel for Afternoon Tea in the Conservatory. It's a very posh hotel.

I think the pictures say it all! It was wonderful! We even got to exit via the back way, just like the stars. :-)
The day was not yet over. Next we headed to Harrods for an evening of shopping. Thanks to Denise for recommending we approach Harrods like a museum, rather than a normal department store.

Most of us came home with these delightful Harrods tea pattern "shoppers." A shopper is a reusable bag sold in all the grocery and department stores in London. The tea patterns are from the Harrods archives. A very fun souvenir!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Day Two: Kensington Palace

Day Two was packed with exciting things! We started off with sunshine! On our way to Kensington Palace, we stopped to look at the Albert Memorial and admire the blue sky. We didn't expect to have sun all week, so the blue sky was precious. This memorial was unveiled by Queen Victoria in 1876 and is 180 feet tall.

When Prince Albert died in 1861, Queen Victoria was crushed. She remained in near-seclusion for 10 years. She mourned his death for the rest of her life.

The power of death to evoke incredibly strong reactions was also evident at Kensington Palace (KP). KP is where Diana was living at the time of her death. The courtyard shown below is where the flowers piled up after Diana's death. It is also the site where Prince William and Prince Harry greeted their mother's mourners. (You might remember this clip played over and over on TV.)

But I did not intend this post to be so morbid! Kensington Palace was a really fun place to visit! We saw the bedroom where Victoria first heard she had become Queen. We saw the apartments of Princess Margaret (the current Queen's sister), who lived there with here husband, Lord Snowden (the photographer).

Kensington Palace also has a very interesting tea connection! The large, brooding figure in the courtyard is William III, of the Dutch royal House of Orange. He is likely the reason the word "orange" is in the "orange pekoe" grade of tea. (Reminder: Orange Pekoe is not a flavor of tea. Rather, it refers to the size of the leaf.)

"The Dutch played a major role in bringing tea to the West, and the Dutch East India Company was the first large tea trading company in Europe, starting to ship tea to Europe in the early 1600's. In 1688, William of Orange, invited by English aristocrats, invaded England in a coup against James II and thus became William III of England, resulting in the merger of the English East India Company and the Dutch East India Company. It would sensibly follow that the name of the royal House of Orange was honorifically used to identify the higher quality tea." From Mugg's Buzz.

After touring Kensington Palace, I parted with some British Pounds in the lovely gift shop. The exchange rate was awful. Whenever I looked at a price tag, I doubled it for an approximate US equivalent. Nonetheless, I persevered and purchased several postcards from the Diana photo collection by Mario Testino, as well as a few Kensington Palace chocolate bars and a cute book on the etiquette of tea.

I joined the group for lunch at the Orangery. The light inside this building was incredible! A soft white-yellow. I had a bowl of chestnut-pesto soup, some delicious breads, and elderflower "fizzy" soda.
I've got much more to write about Day Two! This was just the start of a wonderful excursion, but it's enough for one post. More to come (the V-A, tea at the Lanesborogh and Harrods shopping!)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Day One: Tour of London and Tea Palace

I've decided to blog in a somewhat chronological order. It's easier for me to call up my memories that way.

We landed at the Gatwick airport about 8:30 am, London time. (That would be 3:30 am, Eastern time, for me!) Unfortunately, one of our party had a missing bag. Nonetheless, she persevered and never complained! We met our coach and our tour guide Sarah and made our way to the Grange White Hall hotel near Russell Square in London. The hotel was in a great location! We were next door to the British Museum and within walking distance of two (or more) lovely green squares, the theater district, the used bookstore street (Charing Cross) and many other interesting sights!

We enjoyed tea and cookies at our hotel. Since our rooms were not yet ready, we stored our luggage and set off for a sight-seeing (orientation) tour of London. Sarah, our tour guide, was incredible! She was a walking encyclopedia of London and English history. She customized her tour to address items of particular interest to our team. And she was funny and charming! We couldn't have been any luckier in our choice of tour guides! Sarah was with us much of the week, as we had an "escorted" tour. This means that any transit time became a tour. Needed to get from point A to point B? Great! We hopped on the coach and Sarah regaled us the whole way there!

Here are a few photo highlights from the tour.

Red phone booths: This photo is a little fuzzy, but I still like it! I really love the splashes of British red in the urban landscape! Phone booths and mail drop boxes shine brightly, even on dreary days.

Westminster Abbey: Where Kinds and Queens are made (coronated) and some are buried.

By the way, I'm not really into the whole "divine rights" or inherited privilege of the monarchy. I think it's an outdated concept. However, as Sarah said, "If we didn't have the Royal Family, who would we talk about?" It's such a part of the British history, that to extricate it would require major surgery. One modernization that I think is crucially important to the monarchy is to allow women to be first heir to the throne if they are first-born. The throne still goes to the eldest male child. Bugger to that!

Buckingham Palace: Buckingham Palace is the official residence of the Queen. Her flag was not flying on the days we were there, which means she was not present. The Palace has more than 600 rooms, including 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms! I have photos that are better from another day, so for now I will show the close-up of the gate. Incredible ornamentation. Also, the large statue is of Queen Victoria. (She was a tea-drinking Queen!)

Tea Palace: A very trendy place for tea in Britain. It’s in Notting Hill and it’s common to see stars and models here, like Kate Moss. (We didn’t see anyone famous in our visit.) The inside is very modern, with its plum leather couches and minimalist d├ęcor. The company has over 160 loose-leaf teas and is a leader in bringing high-quality tea to Britain. I chose to bring home a scented/flavored green-oolong mix with red currants called Royal Star.

We had Afternoon Tea here and it was fantastic! (For those of you new to the tea world, the correct phrase is "Afternoon Tea." High tea is more like supper. The phrase is misused a lot in the US.) Our menu:

  • Sandwiches: Egg salad, cucumber, salmon and tuna salad

  • Scones: Currant scones with clotted cream and jam

  • Desserts: Coconut-raspberry cake, Green tea chocolate gateau, Lemon tart

    The Brits, while drinking a lot of tea, aren't known for drinking high-quality tea. The Tea Palace has a mission to educate the British about higher-quality teas. One way they do this is by bringing a small dish of the loose tea to the table for inspection. I thought this was a very nice touch!

    We had a very full and fulfilling first day! I fell into bed and slept like a rock until the next morning. Fortunately, our wise tour organizer, Denise, gave us extra time to sleep in the next morning!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

In All Their Glory...

All 281 photos from my London trip.

I will be posting some of them on my blog and sharing my reflections. Don't worry, I won't post all 281!

Other tea travelers...

Thanks to Tea Lover Denise for pointing out this interesting website...

Tea in London - March 2007 - Poem

This poem reflects my memories of our trip and the personalities of my companions. This is our group in the Atlanta airport, just prior to departure.

Tea in London – March, 2007
Denise, our organizer

Thanks to you, we are much wiser!
You planned our days,

Our teas, our ways –
I can’t imagine a trip any nicer!

With humor and grace,Sarah kept us on pace.
Through left-hand streets we drove

With fair Sarah did rove.
With stories and tales

We were regaled,
As we drove through the streets

To pursue tea-time treats.

“I feel like Cinderella”

Lori said to the fella
As from the Palace of Tea,
Delivered were we.

Judi and Meagan, Mom and her girl
Together they came

To give London a whirl
Meagan and siblings

Joined hand in hand
To send Mom to London
To visit Tea-land!

Ann, such a good sport

With lost bags at airport
She still dressed with style

And shared her lovely smile.

Linda, from Kentucky

My, aren’t we so lucky!
Rich stories she was giving

Of self-catered English living.

“Silly, silly man”

Sarah did reprimand
With his bus in the way

And for us would delay.

Mayonnaise her selection

to the tea-time connection,
Stephanie chose to proclaim

Home-town’s claim to tea fame.

“There’s a pink cab!”

Her camera, she did grab.
Mary Jane did delight

In the pink taxi sight.

Lovely Jane and dapper Tim

We learned so much in depth from them.
Of white and green and black and styles

Of regions, seasons – ‘cross the miles.

“Hot the pot and out the spout!”

Our quiet Nancy did shout.
In discussions of brewing

And the avoidance of stewing.

Without our Phyllis,

Where would we be?
Not here in London

To have British tea!

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.

John Newton’s church in London found!
Thanks to Sandy, who made the connection
We’ll sing the hymn

With London recollection!

To Aunt Ida and Aunt Em

Sharing memories, thoughts of them
From their memories we rise,

Catch our dreams; lift our eyes.
To our heart’s next big dream,

Tea in Charleston with this team!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Where to Begin?

I'm facing a bit of writer's block as I sit down to put my London trip experiences into words. This is a new experience for me; I'm not one to suffer from writer's block. Usually, I just begin. The beginning is seldom the same when I end, but it is a start.

The trouble here is that the trip was so incredible, I don't know if I can truly capture the experience in words and images. A bit daunting, really. Nonetheless, I'll stick with my tried and true method, and just begin. I'll begin where I am....

I am still unwinding and recovering from jetlag. :-) And during this time of transition, I'm floating in wonderful memories. At the moment, I'm indulging in some treats I brought from London.

The teacup is an indulgence from the trip. I love its coloring and the details inside the rim. The tea tin was an impulse buy. I became enamored with phone booths in London, and had to have this. To my delight, the tea inside is actually pretty good! It's a ceylon blend with light bergamot flavoring. I can't really call it Earl Grey because the bergamot is very light. The tea tin calls it "Afternoon Tea." The "biscuits" (cookies) are called "chocolate digestives" and they are heavenly! They are made (partially) with wholemeal (what we call whole wheat) and have this incredible texture. Not too sweet. Just right! I brought back a whole suitcase of biscuits!

These are great gifts because the British take their tea and biscuits very seriously, and the biscuits are significantly different than our cookies. (I think I prefer the British ones). For a bit of fun, check out the Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down blog. You'll learn a lot about biscuits!

As I float in memories, some of the things that struck me as the most interesting about London are the following:
  • It's a very safe city. The police don't even carry guns. I felt much safer than in any comparably-sized US city.
  • It's an incredibly diverse city.
  • It's the world's biggest financial market. Bigger than any US market. London is where the world's money exchange happens.
  • It's a very, very expensive city. A starter "semi-detached" is about $500,000 US. Think of a semi-detached as a duplex, except you own your half. This is the most common suburban housing style.
  • It blends well the old and new. London was a Roman city, and there are many artifacts of that. Lots of history and beautiful architecture. Also lots of cutting-edge, modern style.
  • Londoners, regardless of gender, love their tea and go to tea rooms!
  • In our hotel room, there was no coffee pot. Rather, we found a hot water boiler and a proper cup, saucer and spoon for tea. I love this!!!!

Well, that's a beginning....

Monday, March 12, 2007

Amazing Trip!!!

Wow - I'm still flying high from my Tea in London trip last week. I will be posting photos for the next several weeks. :-) In the mean time, here is one of my favorite photos....

This is me in front of Windsor Castle. Notice how sunny it is! We were expecting rain, and we got a week of sun!!! :-)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Green Tea Shake

Now I'll wrap up the "two weeks of teas" theme - at least for the week prior to the London trip.

The DH (dear hubbie), my visiting friend, and I went to Cafe Django for dinner. It's one of my favorite local spots. It serves an eclectic blend of food.

To our surprise and delight, on the menu was a Green Tea Shake. We ordered one and split it three ways.

It was very yummy! The green tea flavor was pleasant and mild.

Here's a photo of the DH and me. The DH is sporting his best "smile for the camera" pose. He finds on-demand smiling to be a real challenge. I love this photo!

A Country Tea

Continuing the theme of "two weeks of teas" anticipation of my London Tea Tour. I was very blessed to have my friend, NM Tea Lover, with me for a few days this week! I held a small "country tea," which means the tea is served in the kitchen. I was making fresh crumpets, which is an involved process because I can only make a few at a time. I wanted to be able to chat with my friends while I cooked.

Both of my friends who attended are much better cooks than I, so I was a bit intimidated to cook for them. But I persevered. :-) We had squash soup with teapot and heart puff pastries and a salad topped with pears, walnuts and an English Stilton cheese. (Special thanks to my London traveling companion for the puff pastry idea!!) With these, we enjoyed a jasmine (Queen of Heaven) artisan tea.

For the second course, we had the fresh crumpets with butter, blackberry jam and cherry curd. Yumm! The crumpets didn't turn out quite as nicely as my trial run but they tasted fine nonetheless. Must have been beginner's luck the first time! Actually, I used olive oil on the griddle the first time and canola the second. I prefer the olive oil. The canola seemed to brown up too quickly.

For dessert, one of my friends brought delightful coconut cupcakes, which we had with a robust Assam tea (and milk and sugar).

I wish I could have these tea parties every week! The timing of this one was perfect because it gave me something to look forward to and to distract me from the upcoming London trip. :-)