Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tea at the Bellagio, Las Vegas

Before I was trapped in a 5-star hotel, I had the wonderful chance to have tea with two friends at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Two work colleagues and I met at the Petrossian lounge in the Bellagio.

You can see that we were very near the casino (in the background), so it was a little noisier and smokier than I would have preferred. But aside from that, all was swell.

The china was very pretty. I loved the stiped motif.

The food was very yummy! How can one pick a favorite among so many treats? But if I had to pick, I would say the open-faced feta/date sandwich (in front, bottom row). Oh, my - it was heavenly! Everything was beautifully presented.

It was an afternoon I will cherish! We enjoyed ourselves so much, we missed it when Bill Clinton walked behind us!

I love to have tea and am making an effort to do so as often as possible - even in my own humble living room! Thanks to my friends for going with me! You can read another review of our excursion here.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Cranberry-Walnut Tea Bread

Some readers asked if I would share this tea bread recipe that I used in my January tea party, so here you go...

This is one of my favorite tea breads! I love the tartness of the fresh cranberries. I found this recipe in the local newspaper a few years ago. A note on the phrase "tea bread" general, it means any nut bread/quick bread that one serves at tea time. It often contains fruit and some folks soak dried fruit in tea before serving.

Cranberry-Walnut Tea Bread
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup chopped fresh cranberries (I buy several bags at Thanksgiving and freeze them)
1/2 cup water (plus 2 Tbsp extra, if mix is very dry)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1-3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt (I always leave this out)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (pecans work well, too)

Preheat oven to 350 for loaf and 325 for mini-bundts. Grease and flour a loaf pan or mini-bundt pans.

In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs with electric mixer. Stir in cranberries, water, vanilla.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Stir into butter mixture. Add nuts.

Loaf: Pour into pan and bake for ~50-55 min.

Mini bundts: Spoon into bundt pans (2/3 full) and bake for ~30-35 minutes. Let cool completely and run a knife around edge before turning out.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Virginia Woolfe, On Writing

It's the birthday of Virginia Woolf, and Garrison Keillor shared this in today's Writer's Almanac (thanks KED!):

"...And in her long essay about women and literature, A Room of One's Own (1929), she [Virginia Woolfe] wrote: 'So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery, and the sacrifice of wealth and chastity, which used to be said to be the greatest of human disasters, a mere flea-bite in comparison.' "

I love this quote! It says what I wish every middle-school girl in the world was taught - each and every day in school. To think her own thoughts, write her own truth. That is revolutionary.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

January Tea Party

This is the first of my "year of tea parties" blogging. I've committed to writing about a special tea party each month.

January Tea: I recently invited three women to join me for a tea luncheon. The theme was "Relax and Recycle."

The relax part came from the tea party itself, and the chair massages that the DH (dear hubby) offered. (He's a massage therapist, among many other useful things like great cook and master gardener!)

The recycle part came from a fun activity. I asked each guest to bring a gift (or more) to share (or recycle by donating to a thrift store). She could spend exactly $0 on the gift AND its wrapping. What fun! We each went home with something fun and sent several items to a local thrift store that raises money for a local charity.

Table setting. I love this china because of the unusual colors and the non-girlyness of it. I have LOTS of girly teacups and I love them. AND it's nice to have something that showcases other styles.

Me at the table. Once the guests arrived, I was having so much fun, I forgot to take any photos with them!

First course: Vegetable-cheese chowder and these yummy rosemary popovers. I was so happy they turned out puffy!

Second course: Cranberry-walnut tea bread

Third course:
Dolfin chocolates

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Trapped in a 5-Star Hotel

Special note to Cake Goddess: I don't think I had what you had, so please don't feel guilty! My flu symptoms were not like yours at all!

I spent three of the last 6 days trapped in a 5-star hotel room in Vegas. I was staying at the brand new Palazzo (connected to the Venetian). My company was paying mega-bucks for me to be here and train people. And I'm good at that. Except when I can't do it because I'm sick, as was this case. After two productive days, I came down with the flu and I was leveled.

Now I've been known to push through illness in the past, and I would have this time, had I been able. But my body sent a clear no-go to that. I was light-headed and feverish. I couldn't have walked to the conference facility, let alone greeted up to 3,000 people. So I stayed in my luxurious hotel suite (it's an all-suite facility), slept and watched TV on one of the three flat-screens in the room. It doesn't sound too bad, except that I desperately wanted to be home. I would have made a bee-line home if I had felt better. But I couldn't and so I didn't.

Instead, I slept and slept and fought with guilt over not being there with my team. The team was kind and caring and my co-worker Connie took a special risk to visit me. (May she stay well.) And the kindness of a stranger touched me deeply. I ordered a bowl of soup and toast ($33 with room service and taxes!), and the woman who brought it noticed I was ill. She promptly ordered up a humidifier for me, and that made all the difference! The tiger raging in my throat calmed and my lips stopped cracking. I wept because I was so touched that she cared enough to help me.

Fortunately, I started feeling better yesterday and today felt well enough to make the trip home, as scheduled.

What I've learned is this:
* There's no place like home when one is sick
* Sometimes we can't do what we plan, even when our heart is in it
* The kindness of strangers has amazing healing powers

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Traffic Calming

I'm doing a happy dance because the neighborhood into which I'll be moving (once we get our house built) has just passed a traffic calming agreement with the city. This means that the neighborhood is focused on being walkable and is taking steps to make it less friendly to cars. I'm so happy!

I am sooooo NOT a car person. I have one, which I drive as little as possible. I find that walking is a much more pleasant and healthy way of getting done what I need to do. I've made the choice to live in a spot that is walkable to the things I enjoy. This gives me a great sense of contentment. My lifestyle is in alignment with my value set here.

Our new neighborhood has chosen to focus on making itself neighborly - walkable and inviting. Yes, cars are there, but most of the traffic should be residential (slow going, waving at neighbors) rather than the mad dashes currently occurring. Our street is used as a thoroughfare from the edge of town to a main corridor. It was never designed to be used that way, and so the city will work with the neighborhood to discourage this use. They will put in lane-narrowing devices and roundabouts to slow the traffic and make it less appealing to those in a hurry.

This is a great example of people making a difference in their community. Of people reclaiming spaces for HUMANS instead of cars. I am so happy to live in a place where this is valued.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Simple Things

"It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all."
Laura Ingalls Wilder

It's a busy, busy week for me. I'm hosting a small tea party and getting ready to be out of town for work for several days. I return to this quote regularly to ground me.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Cup of Tea (Novel)

I recently read A Cup of Tea by Amy Ephron. The book was a gift from my personal book advisor and guide, Esmerelda. A Cup of Tea is a tale set in changing times as the US entered World War I.

The plot is a rework and expansion of the classic short story (same title) by Katherine Mansfield.

I enjoyed the book on many levels. There is, of course, the tea. And then there is much to ponder from the book's core. I find that I'm still thinking of how class differences played in the story -- and how they play out today. What comes to mind for me are events like the Katrina disaster and the placement of prisons and toxic waste dumps (seldom placed near wealthy neighborhoods).

I also ponder motivations. Why do we choose to help people? For all of Rosemary's faults, she saw a need. Do we even see the need today?
If you've read the book, I would love your thoughts on it!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Top 10 Tea Spots (per USA Today)

I both like and dislike top 10 lists. I like them because they narrow down a big topic to something digestible and human-sized. I dislike them because they most often aren't MY top 10. They're incredibly exclusive...something I dislike all around.

So having given my disclaimer, Tea Guy Speaks recently pointed out this USA today list of top 10 tea spots in the US. What do you think? What would you add to the list? Have you been to any of these? I honestly couldn't believe it when I hadn't been to any! I've been to many tea rooms across the US; I thought surely I'd have crossed the threshold of one or two. (Note: I have been to TeaGschwendner in Chicago - just not the Halstead location. The visit was great!) I guess this just gives me new destinations.

One tea room that I would add to the top of any good list is the St. James Tea Room in Albuquerque, NM. Sincerely, this is the best tea room I've ever visited. The food is heaven, the setting is quiet and intimate - equally appealing to men and women, and the owner is a jewel. It is one of the things I miss most about NM!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

National Hot Tea Month

January is a month to celebrate! It's National Hot Tea Month. In honor of this designation, I will taste two new teas and share my experiences with them here. I hope you will do the same!

I encourage you to find your own way to celebrate tea and share it with us here. Will you try two new teas, as well? Will you try a green tea or a white tea for the first time? Will you consider adding milk into your afternoon cup? Will you find an herbal tisane that is just your cup of "tea"? Oh, the adventures.....

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Dolfin Tea Chocolates

The food artists in the worlds of chocolate and tea have been playing together, and the result is a number of excellent tea chocolates on the market. I've recently sampled Dolfin chocolates in the hot masala (chai), green tea & jasmine, and earl grey (not shown in photo) varieties. Locally, I found these at Sahara Mart.

Each of these teas is unique and enjoyable. The green tea/jasmine has a subtle aroma of jasmine and a lightly crunchy texture (from tea leaves in the chocolate, I think). The earl grey is similar, with a slight and lovely aroma of earl grey tea and some crunch to the bite. The hot masala was my favorite. It was like drinking a chai/hot chocolate combo.

If you've sampled these tea chocolates, please leave a comment and let us know your thoughts. Or, do you have any other tea chocolates to review? We'd love to hear about it!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

LadyBugs Gifts & Decor

I attended an afternoon tea and presentation today at LadyBugs Gifts & Decor in my hometown. The speaker, a massage therapist and herbalist, educated us on the benefits of herbal infusions, in addition to other health-related topics. Ronda, one of the owners, served Lady Londonberry and Peppermint tea, scones and savories. After the program, we had the opportunity to browse through the wonderful gift shop. All purchases were at a 10% discount.

If you live near me, I encourage you to visit this very lovely gift shop. The store has lots and lots of gorgeous tea-related treasures at quite reasonable prices. Today I came home with a honey dipper. Last time I visited, I picked up a copy of Chicken Soup for the Tea Lover's Soul: Stories Steeped in Comfort. I have heartily enjoyed this book! In the tradition of the Chicken Soup series, the stories are uplifting and highlight the best of humanity. It's a perfect book for giving yourself a boost of positive thoughts.

I recommend both LadyBugs Gifts & Decor and Chicken Soup for the Tea Lover's Soul.

Oh, and I almost forgot! I will be the guest speaker at LadyBugs' February Program. I'll be speaking on the etiquette of the British afternoon tea. I hope you can join us! Sunday, February 10th, 2 pm. Call 337-9908 to reserve your seat.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Shiny, Red and New

This was a Christmas gift from Santa. I love the color gradation on the tea kettle! It came from TJ Maxx, which has recently had a truly amazing array of nice tea kettles. The old tea kettle (also red) is starting to rust through. Goodness knows the old one has served us well - often used several times a day! The photo below doesn't quite do this justice - it's very large. The kettle will hold enough water for a very large pot of tea and then some!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy New Year!

I spent yesterday enjoying the snow as it fell in big, twirly clumps. I attended an open house with yummy food and good company, and then spent the evening with the DH (dear hubby) in our traditional activities. On New Year's Day (or near then), we sit down and draw a vision for the year. We do it independently, then share with each other. We draw 3-5 personal wishes and 3-5 partnership wishes. It's a very fun and powerful activity. We also pot up some daffodils bulbs that have been resting in the fridge. They'll bloom near my b-day in March.

I've decided to do a "Year of Tea Parties" and blog about it. I've never committed to this many tea parties (one/month) in a year, so it is a big deal for me. Some of the tea events will be fancy and with many people, and others will be with only myself for company. Each will have a theme and will, I hope, encourage you to have your own tea celebrations. My first tea, in just a couple of weeks, is called the "Relax and Recycle" tea. More to come on that! The February tea will be a celebration near Valentine's Day. Instead of focusing on romantic love, I want to celebrate friendships and show that V-day is for everyone.

In 2008, I will focus on cultivating my practice of Gratitude. (In our visioning activity, I drew flowers and trees and the word Gratitude in big bubble letters.) I want to spend 2008 expanding my conscious appreciation. I want to take time every day to be grateful, and not just in a generic way of being thankful for health, my job, etc. I mean specifics in detail - like how grateful I am today, right in this moment, for the snowy view from my window as the sun rises.

I am grateful for this blog, what it offers me in freedom and creativity, and for my readers. Happy New Year to you!