Saturday, October 21, 2017

Ciao Bella! Italy is a beautiful place to visit

Coffee in Florence. When in Rome. . . 

Ciao Bella!

Italy is beautiful, inside and out. Graced by nature, with sloping verdant landscapes and scenic coastal shores along turquoise seas, this country also houses some of the most spectacular architecture and artistry in the world. It's also home to amazing food, wine, coffee and, yes, even tea!

Last month, I visited Italy along with my husband, Chris, and daughter, Rachel. We spent time in Rome, Venice and Florence, making our way to all the "must-sees", like the Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum and David, and taking part in all the "must do's", gondola rides, pasta dinners, and sampling every flavor of gelato.

Parting in the "must-sees", the Colossuem tour at night


In our travels, we also paid a visit to two amazing tea rooms, but more about those in upcoming blogs. Aside from those lovely afternoon tea venues and our Venetian hotel, we mostly drank espressos and other coffee drinks because when in Rome. . .  (couldn't wait to use that!)

What I loved the most about Italy was the passion of the people and the artistry they bring to everything,  whether it's a small outdoor cafe tablescape or grand hotel lobby. Old mixes with new to make ordinary things extraordinary:  a chipped teapot filled with fresh flowers, bold blue plates accompanied by bright red napkins and ornate chandeliers illuminating centuries-old stone walls all work together to enchant and charm. Even the McDonald's, with it's glass counters filled with trays of multi-hued macarons looks like a high-end pastry shop,

Rachel and Chris at McDonald's in Rome, we're not in Kansas, Toto!

Our hotel in Rome, Hotel Manfredi,  was on Via Margutta, a short walk to the Spanish Steps, and home to Gregory Peck's character, Joe Bradley, in the movie "Roman Holiday".  (We learned this  later in our stay and finally understood why so many people were taking pictures of the address, '51 Via Margutta').

Charming Cafe, with beautiful tablescapes on Via Margutta

Italy is also a place where anything can happen and it did! We met up with our good friends from Michigan, Rik and Carol, while in Rome. (Their vacation intersected with ours for one day (!) and we met up for lunch at a quaint restaurant near the Spanish Steps.). 

Meeting up in Rome with friends, Rik and Carol, from Michigan

We also crossed paths with a celebrity while in Venice, and we're part of his entourage for an exciting 15 minutes of fame.

Part of of celebrity entourage for 15 minutes of fame, with Nick Reynolds

So, that in a hazelnutshell, is our trip to Italy. In upcoming stories, we'll dedicate one blog for each of the great cities we visited: Rome, Venice and Florence.

Pasta dinner in Rome. Ciao Bella, Italy!

Ciao Bella, Italy!


Monday, September 4, 2017

Divine Tea Finds: Downton Abbey Bears and Antique Depot

Lord Grantham, Lady Mary and Mrs. Patmore 

In our second installment of our new blog feature, "BTS' Divine Tea Finds", we found "everything old is new again".

The Downton Abbey television series may be over, but there's much hinted on social media that there will be a new movie in 2018. We do so hope that is true. In the meantime, we're still hanging on to all things Downton. So, when the Downton Abbey teddy bears went on sale, we just had to snap up  a few.

Last month, the ShopPBS online store had an incredible sale on these furry personifications of the Crawley family and their downstairs staff.  These bears come from North American Bear Company, the same folks who make the adorable Muffy VanderBear family, which my daughter Rachel collected when she was young.

Lady Mary next to English Rose tea which "bears" her  likeness

Standing 12" inches tall, these bears are 4" taller than the tiny Muffy collection, giving us that much more to love.

The retail price for each Downton Abbey bear is $74.99. However, last month, ShopPBS offered up some of the  fuzzy cast members at $29.99.  At that price, the hardest decision was which to buy and how many.

Mrs. Patmore comes with her own spoon. She, too,  has her own tea.

In the end, I chose, Lord Grantham, Lady Mary and Mrs. Patmore, which provided the essentials of an aristocratic ensemble:  a Lord, a Lady and a cook.

(The other price I paid was promising Lord Gulley of Glencoe that I would take two boxes of "stuff" out of the house and donate, which I did.)

Lord Grantham with a cup of  Breakfast Blend
The other purpose for my purchase was to have the cuddly characters displayed next to the Republic of Tea's tea tins "bearing" their likeness for all our Downton Abbey afternoon teas. We prepare and serve the teas in the Republic of Tea's Downton Abbey series, specifically Grantham Breakfast Blend, English Rose and Mrs. Patmore's Pudding. These are fun teas in name and packaging and well-received by guests.

At last check, the only bear still available on ShopPBS at this great price is Lord Grantham.

Our other "old" new find, was at one of our favorite antique stores in the whole world. Lucky for us, Antique Depot in Lewiston, Michigan, is just a hop, skip and a jump from our northern retreat in nearby Greenwood Township.

Rachel stands outside Antique Depot in Lewiston, Michigan

Antique Depot is owned and run by Deb K., who manages to make the store look brand new every time we visit. She has a keen eye for design and her displays of vintage china, crystal and assorted bric-a-brac are amazing. Sometimes arranged by color, sometimes by holiday, it's always pristine and appealing.

A "new" Paragon tea cup
Not the usual, but so pretty & perfect for the tea garden

Deb also offers outstanding customer service. You know your visiting an old friend each time you step through the door and she keeps an eye out for what you collect. I'm partial to Paragon tea cups and she'll let me know if she's secured some new ones and where they are in the store.

However, when we stopped in last month, she showed me a teacup that she really liked and thought I would, too, even though it wasn't Paragon. I LOVED it! It's still fine bone china, but it's not my usual Aynsley cup with the gold line around the middle. This one is white cup with delicate blue morning glories bordering the edge of both the cup and the saucer. It is perfect for afternoon tea in my up north tea garden.

If anyone is traveling north and then a bit east of I-75 (Mio/Gaylord vicinity) and wants to experience a wonderful afternoon of browsing beautifully displayed vintage collections, you must pay a visit to Antique Depot. Tell them BTS sent you. Better yet, text me and let's go together!

Bear in mind, everything old becomes new again! These were the BTS Divine Tea Finds for August. We'll be back in a month for more!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Northern Michigan Afternoon Tea is still an elegant affair

Afternoon tea at Pemberly Pines tea garden. with crasher, Glenn.

Rewind without crasher. Enjoying tea time with Rachel and sisters-in-law, Sandy and Cara

Two years ago today,  we were having afternoon tea at Claridge's in London.  Just last week, we were having a similar experience in the woods of northern Michigan.

Two years ago we were having tea at Claridge's. Where's Glenn?

For the past few years, we've been hosting a family reunion at our up north retreat. We're fortunate to have both sides of our families together (Gulleys and Engmans) under one roof for an extended weekend.

Family reunion - Gulleys and Engmans gather for paintball and afternoon tea

We gather together for paintball and, eventually, afternoon tea. In between, there's boating, archery, disc golf, tractor racing and outdoor movie night.

Paintball in the fields of Pemberly.

This year also marked an anniversary:  ten years of Pemberly Pines (we even had a sign made to commemorate the occasion!).

Cousins at the pond, sign commemorating 10 years of Pemberly Pines

To prepare for the afternoon tea, there's more than just steeping the brew and securing scones. First the tea garden must be improved. We groomed the beds and planted flowers and herbs earlier in the summer.


By reunion time, the tea garden had blossomed into a lovely outdoor venue, reminiscent of Claridge's (if Claridge's was "across the pond",  outdoors, in the heart of twenty acres of pine trees and without the trappings of luxurious furnishings and impeccable service).

Pemberly Pines tea garden on the other side of the PPines pond

Although we don't share the fancy linens or crystal chandeliers of Claridge's, we do bring delicious home-brewed tea and fine china. We chose Earl Grey from Palais des Thes (we purchased a few packages of this loose tea at La Boheme, the French cafe in Detroit, when we were there in July).

Brewing the Earl Grey and setting up the tea tray

We brewed the loose tea in Adagio's IngenuiTEA Teapots.  These are amazing and convenient lidded cups that allow you to steep the tea and then release the brew from the bottom.

Adding "roses" to the tea garden with Royal Albert tea set

The china we chose was our Royal Albert  Rose Confetti tea set. It added more flowers to the tea garden!

This year, Rachel and I were accompanied by my two sister-in-laws, Cara and Sandy, and for a brief moment, my brother, Glenn.

It was a most delightful way to wrap up the reunion. The long weekend was not long enough. We're looking forward to next year!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Solar eclipse 2017: Keep calm and drink (sun) tea

Best to be prepared for tomorrow's solar eclipse.  While special glasses or hand-crafted viewing equipment, (see below) are important, don't forget about your choice of tea.  Keep calm and drink sun-themed tea.

Tomorrow, August 21, the first solar eclipse in the continental US since 1979 will take place. While Michigan isn't in the "path of totality" that crosses several states from Oregon to North Carolina, we'll get about an 80% view of the eclipse, per The Detroit Free Press.

From 1:00 PM to almost 4:00 PM, the moon will cover a portion of the sun. At approximately, 2:27 in Detroit, the moon be directly in front of the sun, turning afternoon light into night time. I know what you're thinking - that's just in line with afternoon tea time. And, you are right!

Black tea is an excellent choice, considering the outlook of the afternoon sky at 2:30.  Here's what we picked out:

Hot Cinnamon SUNset from Harney & Sons. This is a spunky black tea blend with cinnamon, orange peel and sweet cloves. This will keep you going when nature lulls you into a premature evening atmosphere.

Another black tea choice for the eclipse is Tiger Tea from Yumchaa.  It is a refreshing Assam black tea with orange, blackberry, apricot and SUNflower.  We bought this in London at a Sunday Market when last in England, and find it to be a lovely alternative to Earl Grey in the afternoon.  Hearty, but fruity, it will lean you in the direction of the eclipse.

While black tea is a great pick-me-up in the afternoon, some of us rely on herbal tea to reduce the caffeine intake after noon. Light of Day's SUN in Winter is a fruit salad blend of ingredients with blackberries, cherries, blueberries, grapes, and currents along with lemon myrtle and lemon balm. A tisane that is prepared to "make you feel sunny in dark winter months".  If it can sustain us during the months of November through February, it should be more than sufficient for two minutes on an August afternoon.

Now for the other necessary equipment, aside from your teacup and kettle, for eclipse viewing - a pinhole projection box. The one we have here was put together at the home of BTS partner, Pam B., using an empty Cheerios box.

Put a piece of white paper at the bottom of the inside of the cereal box. Cut out the box top and place aluminum foil over the opening. Insert a pinhole in the aluminum foil. This pinhole allows the sun to reflect on the white paper at the bottom. You just look inside to see the eclipse in reflection.

My son, Rob, is the only one in our family who is actually traveling to another state for a better experience. He'll be in Kentucky tomorrow afternoon and I'll be anxious to hear about the eclipse festivities in the blue grass state.

As for me, I'll be at home with my pinhole projection device and a cup of tea. Keep calm and enjoy this rare occurrence. As noted in Time, we'll have to wait seven more years for the next one.  

Monday, July 31, 2017

BTS' Monthly Divine Tea Finds!

We hope you are having a brew-tea-ful day! 

At BTS, we are introducing a new monthly feature: Divine Tea Finds.  Along with our "BTS Featured Artist" and "Tuesday Tea and Tomes", we are adding a new spotlight on tea finds we uncover every month. July was a particularly spectacular month for amazing tea products. We have four that we'd like to share!


So many treasures are uncovered serendipitously. On a recent trip to our local Pier 1 to purchase patio chair cushions, I took a quick turn about the tableware displays and found this delightful tea canister. It's cheery greeting, with it's play on words and glass knob top, had me at "it's a brew-tea . . ."  It's cute, practical and will be a classy addition to any kitchen countertop. 

We purchased it for $24.95. See Pier 1, Coffee or Tea Holder.

This month, we not only spruced up our patio seating, but took a few road trips to distant lands: Petoskey, Michigan and Louisville, Kentucky and both locales had some divine tea finds!

Last week, we did a quick tour of the southern upper peninsula and the northern lower peninsula, ending up in Petoskey, where we visited Grandpa Shorter's gift store. It is here that we found not one, but two awesome tea finds.

 My sister-in-law gets credit for uncovering Tea forte Single Steeps at the Petoskey gift store. I was an immediate fan and couldn't wait to uncover all the teas in this treasure chest. Five teas are packaged in a tantalizing hinged box, and each tea has three single-serving packages ready to go. Easy to brew up with the aid of your favorite steeper, these single steeps provide the luxury of loose tea in convenient packaging and little waste.

You just brew and go right to the patio.

If you can't make it up to Grandpa Shorter's, the single steeps are available for $16.00 at the Republic of Tea's website, single steeps.


Another fabulous find at Grandpa Shorter's was Booklover's Cup of Tea, complete with a tiny tome steeper and accompanying tea book guide. The steeper cover title is, "A Tale of Two Ci-Teas". But, wait, there's more!


The informative companion book comes with instructions on brewing the "perfect cup",  hosting a tea party, and, lastly,  suggestions for novel tea pairing. The latter offers up tasty tea fare, complete with recipes, and tea pairings with three classics novels. How about, "The Picture of Dorian Earl Grey"?  Brilliant! Of course, our favorite is "Sencha Sensibility" for those of us who are Jane Austen enthusiasts.

Running Press has their Book Lover's Cup of Tea available on their website for $9.95.

And, speaking of Jane Austen, earlier this month we were in Louisville for the Jane Austen Festival at Locust Grove. We met up with Julia Matson of Bingley's Teas.  A wonderful new product from this amazing tea company are tasty syrups made from their extraordinary tea. They can be added to a variety of drinks from lemonade to prosecco, equally at home on the bar or tea tray. I have to admit, the packaging is so beautiful, I have yet to disrupt the wax top. I will report back once we have uncorked the laveder syrup, but for now, it's on display in my new kitchen.

Four divine tea finds for July.

We hope you will partake in these fun and pretty tea products and have a brew-ti-ful August where more tea treasures await!