Friday, February 29, 2008

Women Helping Women

It's 6:30 am, Pacific Time, and I'm sitting in the Sacramento airport. I'm waiting for my plane home. I've been here all week for business.

Through bleary eyes I pick up my Starbucks hot chocolate cup (yes, sometimes I don't order tea!) and see this quote on the back:
"There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."-- Madeleine K. Albright
Former Secretary of State (first woman to do so) and Ambassador to the UN

I remember the first time I became truly cognizant of this idea of women helping women. I was probably 9 years old, and my Aunt M. was visiting. She was telling me about her work at a women's shelter. We didn't have a women's shelter in my small town, and this was a new idea to me. I listened to her stories about how it gave her such joy and such a mission in life to help these women get out of abusive relationships and make a new start. It's one of those moments that has become crystallized in my mind. I'm sure she didn't realize the long-lasting impact this would have on me, but I've always remembered her commitment to serving other women.

This morning, the Albright quote reached out and touched my heart. I am convinced that it is up to the women of this world to make fundamental changes in how cultures and societies behave. Traditionally, women work as a unit - we help each other. The strength in this community is unmeasurable. Women have the power to make this world the best place it can be - we just have to help support each other along the way, step outside of traditional limitations and say "No more" to the injustice of violence, war, domination.

I am impressed with the work of Women for Women International. This organization strives to help women in war zones rebuild their communities. These women become agents of peace. The organization provides education, job skills training and microcredit.

A little closer to home, I admire the efforts of Girls Incorporated. Girls, Inc. inspires our young women to be "strong, smart and bold." I think that's the best mission statement I've ever read! If women are to change this world, we need them strong, smart and bold. Boldness is something I'm growing into and I hope future generations feel even more comfortable claiming their legitimate - and powerful - place in this world.

I grew up in a time when the differences between women and men were more subtle than explicitly restrictive. But it's there and I felt it heavily - in church, in school. Today I still feel it, even in my great company. In society, there exists this subtle insinuation (and expectation) that women are soft, gentle, sweet. Indeed, we are. But we are also strong, powerful and fierce. May we reach deeply into all of our strengths and change this world.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

February Tea: Menu (includes Latose- and Gluten-free)

My February tea presented me with the opportunity to expand my tea menu into new territory. One of my guests is sensitive to both dairy and gluten, so my menu includes several items that are lactose-free and gluten-free. I was very grateful for this opportunity to focus on creative and yummy foods that met the needs of my friend! Moreover, the menu (which is also vegetarian) turned out to be quite healthy!

Vegan = (No animal products)
LF = Lactose Free
GF = Gluten Free

Served with Raspberry Zinger Tisane (GF, herbal) and Ice Wine Tea

Avocado and tomato on nut thins = Vegan, LF, GF
Super yummy and super simple! Just purchase any variety of Blue Diamond Nut Thins and top with a chunk of avocado and half of a grape tomato.

Thanks to Cake Goddess (aka Sweetcakes) for the photos!

Apple/cheddar on toasted whole-grain baguette
Slice whole grain baguette and top with a slice of cheddar cheese and a slice of apple. Toast until cheese is melted.

Apple, honey and cinnamon on rice cake = LF, GF
Place a slice of apple on rice cake (I broke into halves). Drizzle lightly with honey and sprinkle with cinnamon. Toast briefly.

Hummus with raw veggies = Vegan, LF, GF
I made this hummus recipe with peanut butter instead of tahini. It was great (thanks, Esme!).

Tea Breads
Same teas as first course

Gluten-Free Pantry Muffins = LF, GF (I'm not sure if they're Vegan)
These were very tasty! The mix could have been used to make GF scones, but required butter. My friend couldn't have butter, so I instead used the muffin recipe and olive oil. Also, I used Silk vanilla milk in lieu of dairy milk.

Served with Apple-Cinnamon tisane (GF, herbal) and White Elderflower Tea
Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries = GF
Fresh Fruit = Vegan, GF, LF
Homemade Turtles (thanks, Cake Goddess!)
Cheese and Crackers

If you host a tea party and a guest requires gluten-free food, I recommend that you review the menu with her or him in advance. In addition, ask your guest for the Gluten-Free shopping list! Just because you think a product is gluten-free doesn't mean it is. For example, my friend can only consume certain brands of honey. This was an important learning experience for me! Likewise, only certain brands of tea are on the all-clear list. Coeliac Disease and other food sensitivities are serious issues, and it's always best to err on the side of caution.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

February Tea: Celebration of Friendship

This weekend I hosted my February Tea, a celebration of friendship. It was a joyful evening for me! Four intrepid friends ventured out into a very wintry night. One friend was iced into her apartment, but we sent her good thoughts (and I'll have a special tea for her!). The wintry setting was perfect for the warm glow of candlelight and steamy cups of tea!

Below are a few photos from the event. In the next few days, I will blog about the menu. I think you'll find the menu to be interesting because it was simple to make, vegetarian and included gluten-free and lactose-free items.

The color scheme was pink and cream. I used my new tablecloth and napkins, which perfectly matched my Dessert Rose pottery. I also decorated with this sweet set of teapot-shaped candle/vase/placecard holders that looked beautiful on the table (a gift from my Western tea-loving friends). A prettily set table is something that always brings me joy.

A special thank you to my friends for being the brightest points of light and warmth throughout the evening!

The tea table
(And special thanks to the Cake Goddess for the splendid photos!)

Desert rose pottery

I borrowed this lovely teapot. The decorative flowers on the pot worked so well with the carnations and other flowers on the tablecloth, napkins and the pottery itself.

Stephanie (left) and friends

Quince that the DH and I forced, causing it to bloom early

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sewing the Corners

The crocheted lace compliments the smooth, tightly woven cotton fabric of the napkin. The lace adds visual depth and a sense of relaxation. This combination of color, pattern and texture delights me. I do not use a lot of pink in my home. But I am sewing this frilly lace onto this pink and cream fabric for my February tea. I will use this color theme throughout. I think it will be very attractive.

This sewing seems simple, but it's not. I'm having trouble with the cornering. I take a risk and attempt to sew the lace on at the same time as I sew the hem. If I sew slowly, all seems to work out fine...except for those corners. They require a reassessment of my approach and a trial of new methods.

In between moments of swearing and ripping seams, I discover that folding the fabric at a right angle gives me what I'm looking for.

I can't help but see the symbolism here - of how I prefer to turn corners in my life abruptly. But that often leads to puckered fabric as my life unfolds. Sometimes the puckers add visual interest, or I just don't have the chance to undo what I've done. Other times, I rip out the seams and begin anew...hopefully, with more patience and planning for the next corner.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

New Tea Mag - Online and Free

Check out the inagural version of The Leaf online tea magazine. There are some very interesting articles and thoght-provoking ideas in the first issue. The magazine seems to be coming from the perspective of Chinese teas, as described in this introduction in the About section:

"As devoted teawayfarers of many years, we have passed through the labyrinth of information available in English. There truly is a bewildering array of often-conflicting viewpoints on any given issue, and without the ability to speak and/or read Chinese development comes slowly. In fact, for us personally it wasn’t until we made the move to Asia and began to improve our Chinese skills that we really were able to steep ourselves in Cha Dao. Fortunately, the world is changing. We hope to be a part of the future of tea—a future where English speakers can find access to as much unbiased, pure-hearted information as Chinese speakers can.

We believe that the future of periodicals is a digital one. More environmentally-friendly, such electronic publications as this preserve paper and provide instant access to information."

If you check out the magazine, let me know what you think!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pooh Bear on Tea

I'm planning my February tea (for this Friday evening), and I spent some time at the library recently. I was looking for interesting cookbooks.
As an aside I LOVE the library! I can hardly think of a better place to spend my time! I even like it better than bookstores, because everything is based on the concept of sharing, a much-needed value in our society.

Well, the search results on "tea" and "cookbook" provided more than I anticipated: one bed and breakfast cookbook and, interesting, 3 titles in the children's department. One of them, in particular, caught my attention. It was titled Winnie the Pooh's Teatime Cookbook. Oh, if you haven't ever seen this book, do go to your library and check it out! It's marvelous and fun!

One thing led to another, and I came home with a whole stack of cookbooks from the children's department. I never imagined looking there before and I felt like I had found a treasure chest! In addition to the Pooh Teatime cookbook, I also found the Pooh Party Book and the Pooh Cookbook. You might imagine that honey is a prominent ingredient to many of the recipes!

What fun I've had with Pooh over the weekend!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Pay It Forward

Hey! Here's a chance to get a surprise from me, on a surprise date, in the next 365 days. (I'm responding to this prompt from Tea in My Cup.)

Here are the rules:

1 - Leave a comment on my blog that says you want to play. First three folks to comment will get a gift! (If I don't know it already, let me know how I can contact you.)

2 - Do the same thing on your blog!

The first three folks who leave a comment and commit to doing this on their blog, too, will get a surprise from me at a surprise time in the next 365 days! :-)

Enjoy! Stephanie

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ringing in Valentine's Day

Well, the DH (dear hubby) found this sweet and wonderfully appropriate Valentine's Day gift for me! It's a bike bell in the shape of a teapot. I love bicycling and I love tea. What could be better?

We also held our annual Valentine's Day ritual of planting tiny lettuce seeds. Call it an exercise in hope and trust. We planted on snow today, as we did last year. And the lettuce grew anyway and we ate it!

For me, Valentine's Day is not about diamonds and riches and over-the-top consumerism. It's about the sweet, sappy gifts that tug at my heart because they have a lot of thought and care put into them. It's about rituals that people create together. It's about hope and trust.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tea Talk at LadyBugs

On Sunday, I gave a tea talk at LadyBugs Gifts & Decor in my home town. I always have such a delightful time when I'm talking about tea. It's a true passion for me, and I feel so lucky to have discovered it!

Below are some pictures of the gift shop. LadyBugs has a very nice selection of teacups and other tea-themed items, at reasonable prices. The teacup selection is a blend of antiques and new pieces. I could spend an hour just looking at them, admiring each piece!

Ronda, from the gift shop, and me

The selection of tea treats

Ronda and her grandmother collected this china

The gift shop

Monday, February 11, 2008

Six Words

Check out this writing prompt:
Basically, tell your life story in 6 words. Thanks to Esme for the challenge!

Here's mine:
Cowgirl goes green riding steel horse.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Water Matters

Thanks to my friend and work colleague, J, I can share with you this incredible visual! This photo shows how important water is to the quality of your tea!

J brewed the same tea for the same length of time, using two different waters.

From J: "The mug on the left has horrid tea brewed with [bottled water], while the one on the right is my Lipton in its rightful color and taste!"

There's no hard-and-fast rule I can give you on how to choose water. I do, however, have a guideline: If you don't like the way the water tastes alone, don't use it for your tea. I use a Brita filter for my water and find it produces a very nice cup of tea.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Chocolate Cherry Scones and Your Heart

I've got your heart in mind - literally - as we approach Valentine's Day! I want to share with you this YUMMY - and I mean incredibly so - recipe! I plan to use this recipe in my February tea, a celebration of friendship, on Feb. 22nd. The recipe calls for this to be served with almond butter, but I don't plan to do that. In fact, I will serve them warm and naked. Any kind of topping would just compete with the flavors. They don't need a single thing.

You can find the original recipe in the current edition of Tea Time magazine. My version, however, has been completely overhauled. This is where I have your heart in mind! :0) I replaced the butter with olive oil, replaced some of the white flour with whole wheat, cut back on the sugar, added flax seed meal, replaced the heavy cream with skim milk, cut out the salt and replaced the cream cheese with neufchatel. The result is a heavenly scone that is better for your heart and that makes my heart warm. The new recipe looks nothing like the original, but it tastes fantastic! I was delighted with the results.

Stephanie's Version of Chocolate Cherry Scones

1-1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
1 cup of whole wheat flour
1/4 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons flax seed meal
1 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 cup olive oil
3 oz neufchatel cheese (or light cream cheese)
3/4 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1/3 cup skim milk
1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract

  1. Preheat oven to 375. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. (I actually used a baking stone instead.)
  2. Combine flour, sugar, flax seed meal and baking powder.
  3. Cut the neufchatel into chunks and add to the dry ingredients. Using a pastry blender, cut in the neufchatel as if it were butter. Mixture will be crumbly when you are done.
  4. Add dried cherries and mini chocolate chips; mix.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine milk, olive oil and extract. Whisk together then add to dry ingredients.
  6. Stir just until moistened.
  7. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface (I use my Tupperware pie shell guide instead.) Shape the dough into 3/4 inch thick square or circle. This is important! Don't make it any thinner. You may need to sprinkle a little water here and there to get the dough to stick together.
  8. Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out hearts and place on baking stone or sheet.
  9. Bake ~13 - 15 min. ENJOY with a cup of tea!

Dough is 3/4" thick

Scones ready to go into the oven

The final product

The only problem with these scones is that you'll have to refrain from eating them all!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Happy Faces

These little jonquil blossoms remind me of happy faces. They greet me on the kitchen windowsill and make me smile!
The DH and I (well, mostly the DH) planted them on New Year's Day.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Lovely Tea Cozy

I'm honored to share with you this lovely tea cozy made by the Cake Goddess (aka Sweetcakes). Check out her blog for more photos and specifics on this project and a bonus feature, too!

Front of the cozy; pink and cream teacup fabric from Hobby Lobby

Back of tea cozy; coordinating floral fabric

These fabrics just happen to match the fabric that I am using to make a tablecloth and napkins for my upcoming February tea party.

Cake Goddess ensures me this is a doable project, even for sewing novices like me. In case you'd like to give it a try, it's Simplicity pattern 5068. And while you're at it, check out the cute and tiny little egg cozies (option G)!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Spring and Best "Tea" Shirt Ever!

Happy Spring! The DH (dear hubby) and I celebrate Feb. 1st as the first day of spring, despite the weather. Today, it's cold and icy with a biting wind.

But spring is here! We are half way between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. If you pay attention to the natural world, you'll see daffodils poking through the soil. Trees will start to bud soon and the earth (in our hemisphere) starts gathering more warmth than it loses each day. We've crossed the threshhold. My heart lightens, the dark days are over.

Many people believe this time of year (representing new life and growth) is the best time to set resolutions, even better than New Year's. I resolve to live my life in accordance with this tea shirt - it's the best I've EVER seen!

Rather than choosing war (with myself, my DH, another belief, another person, another country), I will make a cup of tea.

I will breathe in and find my center. I will breathe out and find my heart.

I will offer a cup of tea in hospitality and humility.

I will listen with an open heart.

May it be so.
If you'd like to order your own tea shirt, you will find it at Mountain Rose Herbs. You can also purchase bumper stickers with the same saying.