Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sunday Afternoon Tea - Celebrating by using the good stuff

This week I have been pondering the need to take our pretty stuff, our fragile things, our fine china, the pretty stationary, the lovely scented bath soap, our delicate tea towels we received as a gift, etc. and actually using them.  We need to celebrate that which is beautiful on a daily basis.

I've mentioned before about learning a lesson when going through the boxes my husband brought home after his mom was killed in a car accident at age eighty-five.  I picked up the beautiful vintage linens she had kept in a box and they literally fell apart in my hands.  I decided right then that I didn't want anyone opening a box after I am gone and finding unused beauty.

I bought my first piece (actually pieces) of silver for a dollar at a garage sale when I was quite young.  The elderly woman selling the Paul Revere silver candle sticks said she was tired of polishing them.  I think of her when I am polishing the many silver pieces I have purchased at Goodwill and thrift stores since then, all of them displayed somewhere in the house.  Well, except for a few serving trays carefully wrapped and in the sideboard.

Granted, modern silver polish makes keeping them easier than the stuff we used when we had to wear gloves.  It is worth the small amount of work to be able to view a beautiful silver teapot or display stand or candelabra as the light flickers in the shine of silver.  I usually polish most of my silver pieces before the Holidays but this year I was out of polish and by the time I purchased it, January was here.  That's okay... it was still polished.

I didn't inherit any fine china or silver but that didn't stop my desire to have them in my home.  It doesn't bother me that my pretty china and tea things don't get used every day or that the silver pieces are mainly for display.  They sometimes get used but they are appreciated as the beautiful pieces of art they are.

I keep the silver vase above on my desk, sometimes with a silk flower in it and at other times a favorite real flower.  I had seen a similar vase in a photo and when I saw one just like it at Goodwill, it immediately went into my cart.  No second thoughts there.  I think it was $1.99... or maybe just 99 cents.

Recently on Instagram, I shared a photo of my latest cranberry glass purchase from Goodwill.  The candy dish with a lid adds such beauty to the table where it is sitting for a cost of a couple dollars.  I have a small collection of other cranberry glass including two goblets (which I have had for a long time), a small bowl,  and a cake stand.  All of them purchased for just two or three dollars.  Each one provides a particular beauty to where it is displayed.

Lest this become all about my thrift store purchases, what I have been thinking about was our odd reasoning for not using the good stuff.  I suppose we think we may break something or get a stain on a lovely linen.  I used to think that way and I have had things break.  But I have learned I would rather take that risk than to live with all the pretty stuff safely put away where it is behind doors.

When we use our good stuff, we are celebrating the fact that we are God's creation.  Not perfect but much beloved.  God made everything good but in the Fall, silver turned to tarnish, wood rotted from too much rain, flowers faded, and chocolate made people gain weight while kale did not.  Life was no longer... fair.

However, when we use those items we own that make our heart sing, it is reminding us that God really did call everything good.  He created... Beauty.  That is why we must have it in our lives or we wither and die.  Perhaps not on the outside but inside we do.

I once wrote a blog post about decorating as a form of spiritual warfare.  It is true, when I am very down and discouraged, I look around and see what I can do to make my home look pretty.  Sometimes it is simply washing the load of dishes stacking up in the sink while I may dust the display of Friendly Village items on the hutch.

At such times, I love to take a teapot off the shelf and brew a pot of favorite tea.  It is served in one of my prettiest teacups and often with cinnamon toast and cheese.  Nothing elaborate but it never fails to perk me up.  All it takes is a little time and effort to bring out the good stuff.

These days I dry dishes with tea towels that are beautiful, given to me by my daughter or daughter-in-law.  They get used every day.  They may get old and stained but they will not fall apart from not being used and enjoyed someday.

I have talked to my kids and I know what items they want me to keep and who may want them.  I know what I can safely send to Goodwill.  For I have been getting rid of things I have held on to for "someday" but never used.  At least not for a long time. Except for a few items, if it is not used or appreciated or loved... it goes to charity.

When I am no longer enjoying my tea pots, tea cups, silver pieces, china, etc., I'd like to think someone is enjoying them.  Whether it be a member of my family or a stranger who is thrilled to find something so lovely at a thrift store.  Really cheap.  That is fine with me.

What I don't want to leave behind is a reputation for never using the pretty stuff, the fragile things, the delicate linens, those items that had to be hand washed. I'd rather my grandchildren think (perhaps rightly so) that Grammie may have been slightly obsessed with books and teacups and brown transferware china.  But at least she enjoyed them!

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - Planning for Stock-ups

I'm a little over a week away from my monthly stock-up grocery shopping but the planning has already begun.  I have a note pad in the kitchen where I write items I need to purchase on that day all month long.  I also have a list of my most often cooked dinners of the current season.  Nothing fancy, just a handwritten list of meals held on the side of the refrigerator with a magnet.

I will be perusing the list this week to see if there is anything I need to stock up on for those meals.  Usually it is a canned good that I have used the last or next to the last can in the pantry.  I try to stock up better than that but lately both the grocery stores I go to have been out of certain items on stock up day!

As far large stock-up items, they are spread out through the year so they don't overwhelm the budget on any given month.  This next month, I know it is time to purchase the large Sam's Club package of toilet paper, which happens every three or four months.  Another month will be time to stock up on paper towels.  I stock other items every few months, like large packages of batteries, large containers of over the counter pain killers, and other items purchased mainly at Sam's Club.

Usually, we only have one rather expensive stock-up item each month.  Of course, there are other stores where one can stock up on the same items.  I was in line last month at Aldi's when a woman came up behind me with two huge packages of toilet paper.  She said she only purchases TP once a year!

Even when I try to plan for stock-ups, it doesn't always work.  For instance, I thought I was stocked up on batteries until I opened the remote for the DVD player this week and was shocked to find the batteries partly corroded.  Yikes, it has been awhile since I changed those batteries and you know what I didn't realize?  They were AAA.

I thought I no longer had anything that needed AAA batteries so I hadn't purchased any for awhile. I now know to keep a small package of AAA batteries with the rest and to check other battery operated items that I don't need to change the batteries often.

I have had corrosion from batteries ruin an item before.  I believe it was a flash light I hadn't used in a long time.  That is why it is always suggested, if you don't plan on using a battery operated item for awhile, to remove the batteries and keep them in a safe place nearby.

I have been concentrating my stock-up for awhile to fill the freezer.  My deep freeze isn't very big but it holds enough for our needs.  When chicken goes on sale, I buy at least a few packages for the deep freeze.  That way I often have whole chickens and chicken thighs (purchased in family size containers and frozen only four in each bag) waiting for only 99 cents a pound or less.  Last week I added more chicken at 88 cents a pound.  I add chicken breasts when they go on sale for $1.99, usually sold in a family pack and also repackaged for two in a package.

I slip the smaller amounts of chicken in a plastic food bag and after washing my hands, I place a pre-written label on each bag.  Last week it was chicken thighs and the date on each label.  Those bags are then slipped into a gallon size Ziploc bag for protection from freezer burn.  The gallon size bags stay in the freezer and get reused.

Since there are just two of us, this enables me to save by buying family size packages on sale and still not wasting anything.  I know just how much I need for most meals; four chicken thighs, two chicken breasts with ribs, one large deboned chicken breast, etc.  I can pull out just one package at a time and carefully close the Ziploc bag and place it back in the freezer. 

Whole chickens are frozen by keeping them in the plastic grocery bags so they are easy to pull out of the deep freeze.  I always double bag each whole chicken when I'm going through the self check-out at the grocery store or I double bag them when I arrive home if a cashier has checked me out.  I recycle plastic grocery bags at Kroger or Meijers in the containers they have for that purpose when entering the store.

Some other items I keep in the freezer:  I have a couple packages of my favorite thick cut bacon in the deep freeze, purchased on sale.  I also have one ham and one turkey, purchased during the Holidays really cheap.  I try to keep my favorite vanilla ice cream in the deep freeze, too.  It is good to have on hand for those rare times I make a pie or cobbler these days.  I say try because, ummmm... ice cream.

I honestly hear the siren cry from the deep freeze late at night... waiting for me to rescue it and serve with Hershey's Simple Chocolate syrup.  But at least when it is in the deep freeze in the garage, there is more of a chance I will be diligent and not listen to it calling me.  I have a thing for ice cream.

Speaking of frozen stuff, I have started using more frozen vegetables and frozen brown rice, especially in winter.  They are stocked on sale, too. Although I have never heard the cry of frozen spinach late at night. Sometimes you will find bread in the deep freeze, always extra butter, and extra packages of Aldi's grass fed ground beef (that I rarely find on sale).  I do purchase larger packages of regular 80-20 ground beef for the deep freeze when it is at a really good sale for making meat loaf.

There are some items I mainly stock once a year (like cranberries for the freezer and cans of pumpkin) but mostly they are purchased on a monthly basis as I find a good sale.  That way, when the chicken isn't on sale, I have enough for my most often made dinners without paying high prices.

It may seem like a large expenditure but by stocking for the freezer this way, it is spread out over twelve months.  There are some stock-up days that I don't buy any meat because there is none at a good sale.  Sales do tend to be seasonal for many items.

I need to just go ahead an purchase some items that I hate spending money on.  One of those... beef bones.  A couple months ago, I picked up a package of beef bones at the grocery store while the manager of the department was stocking items nearby.  I put the package back and told him that I could not pay nearly $7.00 for three small beef bones.  He felt exactly the same way, saying he remembered getting them free for their dogs when he was a kid.  The bone broth craze is the reason behind these prices.

Instead of veggie beef soup, I've been making oven stew by cubing a round steak purchased on sale for the meat.  It is very good but not the same.  Thus, the need to just go ahead and buy the bones.  Maybe the beef I use will be on sale enough to justify the cost of the bones?

On another note, I really appreciated the comment last time about checking for expiration dates when visiting elderly relatives.  I know exactly what it is like as I would visit my mother and find her refrigerator loaded with Meals on Wheels containers.  That was a long time ago and I know a friend who gets them now and many of these meals can be put in the freezer and thawed for later use.  I hate to think how old some of those may have been at my mother's house.

That is enough pondering for today.  Happy pantry planning!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Book Talk (Favorite books of 2019)

Normally my Best of Books would appear on a Sunday and I would have a difficult time paring them down to just ten books.  Last year, with the scarring cataract forming on my right eye, I not only read less books but made the decision to stop reviewing for publishers.

I now only review books by friends and a few here and there by request.  Even with improvement in my eye sight, I have decided not to go back to reviewing like I once did.  I am quite enjoying the ability to read just for fun again.

So below are a handful of books that I read in 2019 that I thought were exceptional.  They are listed in the order I read them.  I did not include re-reads and I did not include books that I started and did not finish.  I will probably finish most of them this year.

Placemaker by Christie Purifory
I loved Christie's first book, Roots & Sky, so I was excited to read and review her latest.  Here is what I wrote in the review of her book, which I highly recommended.
In Placemaker, there are multiple layers of story telling.  The most obvious is the story of the places Christie and her husband have lived, the apartments and houses they made their own.  Including their home they live in currently, made famous in her original book. 

The second layer is a story of trees and gardens.  I so enjoyed the research she has done over the years about trees. The pages where she described the battle of keeping the forest from growing again in her yard made me laugh.  For anyone who lives in a forest knows what it is like to find baby trees growing throughout your lawn and garden, most likely planted by squirrels.

I would say the third layer of this book are the stories of the people they have met in the various places they lived and the people in her family... and how people are all part of the places we have known.

Christie also reminds us that we are all makers of places.  Wherever we have lived and will live, we put our unique mark on each place.  This book inspires us of our God given need of place and our equally God given need to make each place better because we were there.
More information about Placemaker can be found... here.

The History of Christmas by Heather LeFebvre
I loved this book so much that I bought a copy for  my daughter and daughter-in-law for their Christmas book collections.  Below is a section of the original review...
This is a jewel of a book, one to bring out every Holiday season.  There is so much history about Christmas that I didn't know plus she provides discussion questions and a project (or a list of projects) that corresponds with each chapter.

This visually beautiful book would make a fun study leading up to Christmas or just an enjoyable read aloud for the family.

Some of the chapters include:

  • An Ordinary Day in Bethlehem (Christ's Birth)
  • A Date for Christ's Nativity (Early Church)
  • St. Francis and the Live Nativity (Early Church)
  • Luther's Protestant Christmas (Reformers and Puritans)
  • Christmas and America (Reformers and Puritans)
  • Christmas Reinvented (Victorians to Modern Day)
  • From St. Nicholas to Santa Claus (Victorians to Modern Day)
  • ... and many more!
I enjoyed reading all of the book but especially "Christmas and America", since I have a special place in my heart for Colonial Williamsburg.  The suggested projects at the end of this chapter include "24 Ways to Celebrate a Williamsburg Christmas".
Written from a faith perspective, beautifully put together and illustrated, this is a book to enjoy and give as a gift this Christmas.

More information can be found... here.

Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making by Andrew Peterson
I had heard this book started a little slow so I was glad I persevered through the first few chapters.  It wasn't due to bad writing, he was just laying a foundation for the rest of the book.

The book is partly his understanding of the creative process for anyone who is in a creative profession or who writes, paints, plays music, etc. for a hobby.  What I found the most interesting was his own story of faith and becoming a well known music writer/performer.  Many people love his books, too.

I enjoy Peterson's music but even if you haven't heard any of his songs (and you probably have but didn't know it was him), it is an excellent book to give to a young person who is just beginning to play an instrument, write songs, paint watercolors, or even knit a sweater.

Part of this story is the need for community with other people and how we all need each other as we walk through our journey.  I loved seeing how God was at work throughout his life, even when he couldn't see it at the time.  We have all been there.

More information can be found... here.  (I read this on the Kindle with larger font.)

Recipe For Life by Mary Berry
I started this book in paperback in 2018 and tried to continue reading it.  I finally gave up and purchased it on Kindle in late 2019, finishing it this month in 2020.  It was one of those books I gave up trying to read but I loved it so much, I persisted on the Kindle with large font.

If you watch The Great British Baking Show, you will want to read her life story.  I just admire her so much on that show and I was pleased that she was the same in real life.

The first thing I found fascinating was how much culture has changed since she was young (she is now in her 80s believe it or not!).  Her story is as fascinating as a made up movie but it is true.  She is very honest in the telling of her story, which sometimes made me laugh and at other times I cried.

It took a few tissues to get me through the chapter where her nineteen year old son is killed in a car accident.  She shares how her faith was deepened in all of this but she also shares how her two other children reacted by "going crazy" for awhile.  The story of how she and her husband dealt with this with patience, understanding, and love (albeit it a lot of worry on her part) is a lesson a lot of parents can learn from.

It was well worth finishing the book on the Kindle.  In some ways, it was my favorite read of 2019.  

More information can be found... here.

Every Moment Holy by Douglas McKelvey
I kept this book for last because it is so unique.  I had seen photos of pages of the book for awhile and loved the "everyday liturgies".  I mean, really, he had me on The Liturgy of the Ritual of Morning Coffee and The Liturgy for Feasting With Friends.

These kinds of liturgies, for every day living, goes along with my new nudging from God to celebrate life in its' smallest of moments.  For our life is nothing more than a collection of small events in the days and the weeks and the years of our life.

I love words but I can't always think of what I want to say to God in specific instances.  This book provides beautiful words that takes my worship directly to the One who thought of coffee and friends and feasting in the first place.  

This book stays with my Bible.  The outside of the hardback version (there is a paperback version coming later) looks very "old world" and the illustrations by Ned Bustard are lovely in a block print style. 

More information can be found... here.

Disclaimer:  Most links to are Associate links.

Image:   Book Shop, artist Kim Sung

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Sunday Afternoon Tea - When you don't want to celebrate

John Piper wrote a bestselling book with the title Desiring God.  I was amused (but thought it a good idea) years later when he wrote another bestselling book with the title When I Don't Desire God.  I must admit that my thoughts went to the title of that second book when I knew God was giving me the word Celebration as my word for 2020.

I honestly didn't think I wanted Celebration as my Word for the new year.  This past year was difficult, with multiple family members suffering illness, my usual battle with two autoimmune diseases, a significant loss of sight in my already damaged right eye, and a possible life changing event still in recent memory.

I haven't written much lately about my own illness but long time blog readers know that developing Adult Onset Juvenile Diabetes in my forties would go on to change my life completely.  The longer I have lived with it, now twenty years plus, the more limited my world became.  I remember my mother's brother suffering from the same disease and he passed away blind and in a wheelchair long before his two healthy sisters.

Thankfully, there have been a lot of medical breakthroughs since then and while it is still a dangerous disease, the medical discoveries that I benefit from... long term as well as short term insulin, flex pens, ways to keep track of blood sugar, and breakthroughs in treating diabetic eye disease, have extended the years and quality of life for me and many people with Juvenile diabetes.

I'm doing far better than was predicted at first when one specialist I went to predicted a ten year life span after diagnosis and even then... like my uncle, I would be in bad shape if I did survive.  I learned not to let medical professionals predict the future.  God had other plans and twenty years plus later, I'm here!

Then there are the emotional issues that come with having a disease that people cannot actually see. I don't talk about them very much, preferring instead to concentrate on good people who encourage me.  However, there are those who... don't.

 I can't tell you how many times I have been judged because I stay at home so much.  The most common rumor is that I am agoraphobic because people know other people who are diabetic and they get along quite well, thank you very much.  They do not understand the difference between Type 2 diabetes, which something like 95% of diabetics have... and Type 1 diabetes.  You eventually get tired of explaining.

This last year just about plunged me over the edge with one thing after another coming at me.  My already small world became even smaller as reading was difficult.  The vision in my right eye fell to 20/250.  Even cooking became difficult because trying to cook from a recipe book or card made me dizzy.  I could still drive but not in rain, snow, or in the dark (I still can't drive in the dark).

Thankfully, surgery has helped improve the sight in my right eye to 20/40, which means vision is not entirely clear but a whole lot better than it was.  Loved ones continue to deal with their own health issues but they are doing just that... dealing with them.  A change in living conditions is still possible but far from the certainty it once seemed.

I have seen God at work, weaving through the trials of each day in such a way that it was impossible not to see His glorious hand at work.  Unless one was only looking at the problems instead of the answers.  He has given the grace to accept what cannot be changed and to be thankful for what has.

Still... I wasn't sure I was ready to celebrate anything.  The more I thought about it, especially after rereading You Bring the Confetti, it came to me what God was doing by giving me the Word Celebration!  He was telling me to stop concentrating on what I could not do but celebrate what I could.

He was asking me to change the way I looked at my world!

Now, almost three weeks into 2020, is it working?  Yes, it is!  I have been focusing on answers to prayer instead of what still needs prayer.  Which, when one lives in a fallen world, we always have the need for prayer.  One answer comes... another prayer request is needed.

I decided at the beginning of the year to celebrate my improved vision by finishing some of the books I started and had to set aside the last few months of 2019.  So far, I have finished three of the books that I wanted to complete.

I decided to celebrate and purchase a new cookbook with Amazon credit since I'm not getting dizzy when I cook and look at recipes.  (I thank everyone who entered their Amazon shopping through the blog!). It is Julie Taboulie's Lebanese Kitchen cookbook, which is the same name as her very good PBS cooking show.  I started trying more Mediterranean recipes a few years ago and now I can continue that goal.

I have decided to take Luci Swindoll's advice in You Bring the Confetti and celebrate by enjoying eating out once in awhile again. Nothing expensive mind you for I am on a budget... perhaps something as simple as going to Panera for coffee and a scone.  But taking the time to really enjoy good coffee and a delicious orange or cinnamon chip scone (with extra insulin!).

It is something I used to enjoy when we were homeschooling and we were out and about all the time (it should be called car schooling in those high school years).  I loved sitting in Panera or another coffee shop with a book.  Lately it took less energy to just make a K-cup in the single use Keurig.  I would not call that a celebration... unless it is my first cup of coffee in the morning, which is always celebrated.

I can definitely see why Celebration is a very good word for 2020, one we all can learn from.  It is easy to get in a rut in the best of circumstances.  However, when you have any trial that stays with you day in and day out... and many of us do... we need to make that decision to do something when we cannot do everything.

Once again, when I stop to think about it, God knows best.  Always.  Even when it takes me awhile to realize it.  Find a way to celebrate life this week, my friends.

Mentioned in this Blog Post
Desiring God by John Piper... here.
When I Don't Desire God by John Piper... here.
You Bring the Confetti by Luci Swindoll... here. (Third Party, I have the older hardback version.)
Julie Taboulie's Lebanese Kitchen... here.

Disclaimer:  Most links to are Associate links.

Image:  From The Return of the King movie.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - Expiration date shock

I quite accidentally worked on a much needed project this week.  It didn't seem all that long ago that I had checked expiration dates for the items in my kitchen pantry (those items kept in the built in kitchen cabinets and in the antique yellow cabinet).

When I was pulling a couple cans out of the kitchen cabinet this week, I saw the two boxes of Amy's Mac and Cheese and thought I should check the expiration dates.  They had to be soon.  Yes... soon as in a year ago!  Thus started a quick check of items I knew I had not purchased recently.  Would you believe there was a jar of marinara sauce with an expiration date of 2017?

I knew most of the items in the antique yellow cabinet had been purchased within the past year or so, except spices and if you have read here long enough, you know I use spices far past the suggested dates.  They last a very long time... herbs, not so much.

The two boxes of cake mix I bought just to have on hand when they were on sale expired last summer.  How did that happen?  Times does fly or so it seems.  They are still in a window of time that I would use them so I pulled both out of the antique cabinet and transferred them to a shelf that I see all the time.  I'm going to bake both boxes in 9" cake pans and freeze the layers.

There are some items I don't use at all after the expiration date.  For instance, the ingredient that causes the expiration date in cake mixes is usually the baking powder in it.  I always replace my actual can of baking powder before the expiration date and when I purchase items like baking powder, I check the dates at the store.  I have found expiration dates in cans on the same shelf to be months apart. Baking soda has an almost indefinite expiration date so I buy it in bulk and keep it in Ball jars.

Both salt and white sugar last indefinitely if kept in a dry place.  Honey is not suppose to go bad but I always used to purchase it in larger jars at the Farmer's Market and then pour the honey into smaller jars.  It does become solid if you are using raw honey and it is much easier to place a small jar in a saucepan of hot water to liquefy than the very large jars.

I read many years ago that people with mold allergies should never use pancake mixes after their expiration date.  At first I thought it was another Internet tale but was astonished to find out it was true.  There is something about the ingredients in pancake mixes that can cause problems with mold allergies if they are old.  Everyone except me in my family have severe mold allergies!  I don't make pancakes often these days so when I do, they are made from scratch.

I have learned through the years that one should never let oil get old, even olive oil goes rancid.  On the other hand, dried pasta stored in their original boxes in a safe place (I store most of my boxes of pasta in a Rubbermaid style container) can last a year or two.  I had old fashioned oats that I bought in bulk while in a food co-op last a year and a half.

Heat and moisture are the enemy of keeping items fresh so people living in such climates have to check expiration dates more often.  As far as canned goods, expiration dates are a suggestion and the food doesn't suddenly go bad the day after what is listed.  I have read that it is the nutrients that start degrading after the date.  However there are some items that do go bad quicker than others, high acid food such as canned tomatoes will go bad much quicker than a can of green beans.

Although not having anything to do with expiration dates, I learned the hard way after the mouse infestation in the garage that any items you do not plan to use for regular cooking immediately should be stored carefully.  I had canned goods stacked on top of each other and the mouse urine (ewwww...) corroded everything.

It was most likely the bags of items sitting on shelves (bags of beans for soup, kitty kibble, etc.) that drew in the rodents in the first place, or at least made them make nests and multiply in the garage.  It was a smorgasbord.  I knew to have things like bags of powdered sugar and pasta in protective containers but I didn't think that dried beans would draw in mice.  I now know that they love any kind of kibble.

I have already written that I have some pouches of Mountain House food put back in case of an emergency.  I did have them in a deep drawer in the kitchen but decided instead to store them in a food grade bucket.  Just in case we were to get mice in the house.  They are not cheap and unwanted creepy rodents are not welcome to them.  Shudder.  Florentine's kibble is even kept in a container in the house. There is nothing like a mouse infestation to change one's habits!

I think all the items in my kitchen have been checked for past due expiration dates now.  I know the items that are in my extended pantry (which consists of a few shelves in the garage) are recent since we had to get rid of everything due to the whole rodent situation.

In a way, going through that was a blessing in disguise.  Even though it was creepy and disgusting at the time.  I learned an important lesson during a time that I didn't depend on the extra canned goods for day to day sustenance.  It was a financial loss but I learned a lot that I hope prevents it from happening again.

Image:  A photo from the days when I used to purchase raw honey in bulk at the Farmer's Market.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Sunday Afternoon Tea - The Celebration of Tea Time

I will be thinking through and pondering my Word of the Year... Celebration!... for awhile.  Unless God intervenes with some brilliant thought on another subject.  That would have to come from the Almighty.  Along with the ponderings, I want to share some actual celebrations that I enjoy.  Of course, being there is tea in the blog title, I must begin with the subject of Tea Time.

The idea came from a question in Comments last week, asking how to use a tea pot without it breaking.  That question will be answered later in this post, as well as the question if I use all of my teapot collection.  Yes and no... which doesn't help, does it?

I have two teapots that I use all the time, both sit on my microwave in the kitchen for easy access.  They are the yellow four to six cup teapot above and a smaller two cup teapot that I bought when we lived in the Detroit area.  They are both sturdy and able to take wash ups without me having to be too careful.

If I was having anyone over for tea, I might use my Friendly Village teapot or my rather large Old English Roses teapot.  Otherwise, the Friendly Village teapot stays on the hutch and the Old English Roses teapot looks lovely in the corner china cabinet.  As far as my other collected teapots, all of them were from thrift stores or were gifts.  My very first teapot was a gift from my daughter when she was in college.  It will always be my favorite.

As for teacups... I may need an intervention there.  But when you can find beautiful teacups for a couple dollars or less at Goodwill and thrift stores, it is an inexpensive collection.  I have made a few full price purchases (and even then they were on sale) over the years and my favorite tea cups were gifts from friends and family.  Through the years, I have also sent tea cups to charity when I was paring down my collection.

I have also collected numerous china and silver plate accessories at thrift shops to use when having a more formal tea time.  They are not necessary but they are fun to use.  Just last week, I bought a beautiful silver plate candelabra at Goodwill for only $2.99.  It just needed a good rub with silver polish and it sparkled.

After having my tea grow cold over the years, I  now use a tea cozy.  The brocade tea cozy shown at the top of the blog post was only a quarter at a thrift store!  The cozy above was made for me by a dear friend.  I use it often in cold weather and when it is not in use, it covers a vintage green teapot in the Study.

I keep a variety of teas on hand and at least one box of good quality crackers to have crackers and cheese with my solitary tea times like above.  Sometimes I will have a couple cookies if they are available.  Often in cold weather, my tea time treat will be cinnamon toast.

While I have tea almost every day, I don't always use a teapot.  That is mostly in colder weather when I want more than one cup of a hot beverage.  Honestly, sometimes my tea time is simply running water through the single serve Keurig to heat it and using a tea bag in a pretty mug.  But there are times I enjoy a pot of tea done properly.

So, how does one go about brewing a pot of tea in a china teapot.  Well, first I would say that if you are just beginning to enjoy tea... and believe it or not I use to hate tea when Lipton black tea was the only option for most Americans... I would get good quality tea bags.  I will share some favorites below.

First you run water at your faucet until it is really hot.  You then swish out your teapot with the hot water and then fill the teapot with hot water.  Let it sit while you boil water in a tea kettle.  I have found most of the teas I drink should be made with water that is not quite at full boil.

When the water is at the proper boil, pour the hot tap water out of the teapot, throw in the tea bags (how much depends on what kind of tea it is and how strong you like your tea), and immediately pour in the water from the tea kettle.  You don't want your teapot to lose the heat you gained from the hot tape water sitting in it.

Let it steep according to directions on the tea box and your preferences.  I had a green tea this week in a teapot that only steeps three minutes with less than boiling water.  I do have some black teas that require at least five to eight minutes, according to preferred strength.  Some herbal teas suggest a steeping time of ten to fifteen minutes.

There was a time that it was thought tea sold in bags was not of highest quality (think Lipton's original black tea!) because they used what is called in the industry "tea dust" rather than whole leaves of tea.  However, with the popularity of tea in the past couple of decades, you can now get quite good tea in bags.

I do have whole leaf teas and a tea strainer that belonged to my mother-in-law.  The teas are usually quite good in whole leaf form but clean up can be messy.  Although there are now bags and other objects one can purchase to put your whole leaf tea in while steeping.

So what about your teacups?  Should you preheat them?  It is actually a good idea when using fine china tea cups.  Just put some of the hot tap water in them while preparing the tea.  I actually do this for my coffee mugs on cold mornings while the coffee is brewing, too.  It warms the mug which keeps the coffee hot longer.

You may know that there is quite a heated discussion at times in Great Britain whether one should put their milk in the cup before pouring the tea or after pouring the tea (should one take milk in their tea).  According to what I have read, the poorer folk put milk in first to keep their teacups from cracking and the well to do put their milk in afterwords because they could afford their teacups to crack.  At least such is legend...

It is rare that I get to go to an actual tea room these days.  The above photo was taken many years ago when my girls (Anna was still a baby) and I went to a tea room in a nearby town when we were visiting Colonial Williamsburg.  I love beautiful tea rooms that serve good food like this one did. 

If you have family and friends nearby, it is fun to have a tea party and it doesn't have to be elaborate.  Just some tea, cookies or little cakes, perhaps slices of quick bread (when baked in mini loaves, the slices are cute), and sandwiches with the crust removed and cut in triangles... all come together to make a celebration!

However, even if you live alone, don't forget the importance of solitary tea times.  By using your teapot and a pretty cup, adding a couple cookies or cinnamon toast, perhaps some cheese or a sandwich cut in triangles... you are giving yourself a treat and providing an atmosphere far better than grabbing a mug of tea and a sandwich in the kitchen.

If you want further information, I will add a link to some favorite books below.  Don't forget to celebrate life once in awhile.

Some of My Favorite Tea Time Books and Tea
If Teacups Could Talk by Emilie Barnes (The book that started many of us on a lifelong love of Tea Time)... here.
A Little Book of Afternoon Teas (a really little book packed with Tea Time recipes)... here.
Victoria magazine's The Pleasures of Tea... here.
Victoria magazine's The Charms of Tea... here.
Time for Tea: Tea and Conversations with Thirteen English Women. (This is such a fun book to read about what Tea Time means to various British women)... here.

Let's Have a Tea Party by Emilie Barnes (for kids)... here.
My Very First Tea Party board book (for toddlers)... here.

Butterfly Tea Set for little girls (I bought this for Piper's first tea set at Christmas when she was only 1 1/2)... here.

Below are some of my favorite teas.  I have tried other teas by these sellers that are good, too.

Harney & Sons Paris tea... here.
Harney & Sons Cherry Blossom green tea... here.

The Republic of Tea Decaf Ginger Peach tea... here.
The Republic of Tea Spring Cherry Green tea... here.
The Republic of Tea Downton Abbey Christmas tea... here.
The Republic of Tea Mrs. Patmore' Pudding Tea... here.

Twining Lady Grey tea... here.

Celestial Seasoning Candy Cane Lane tea (I couldn't find this at the local stores this Christmas!)... here.

PG Tips tea (this is a very good basic black tea)... here.

Disclaimer:  Most links to are Associate links.