Tag Archives: Afternoon tea

A Sussex Tea Pot Tea Room Moment

There’s so much to be said for old faithful friends. After living in Orange County for nearly 11 years now, I feel so blessed to have made some deep and rich friendships. My longest standing California friend is someone I worked with for several years, and now she and I find ourselves on opposite ends of Orange County in completely different roles than where we first started. We each have families now, with increasingly complicated schedules as kids get older, husbands’ work gets more demanding (and more precious), and then we have our own selves to manage!

So, when S suggested connecting through a two-person book club, I was delighted at the thought! This would be a way for us to do something together, though separately, and also give us a great excuse to escape our families for an hour or two to discuss our thoughts on the book.  Brilliant!

We chose ‘Eat. Pray. Love.’ mostly because of the timing of the movie release. We ambitiously thought we might be able to plan a girls’ movie night to tie in with our reading. And while that didn’t quite turn out as planned, we did manage to meet for lunch. Or, at her suggestion, for afternoon tea. She knows me oh-too-well.

Imagine my surprise when she suggested a tea room that I had not yet discovered! The Sussex Tea Pot Tea Room and Thistle British/Irish Grocery and Gift Shop. (Say that five times fast!)

Located in a business park of sorts, this little slice of Britain is as authentic as it gets! I’ve been to a handful of tea rooms in England over the years, and this transported me to those moments – right down to the two grandmotherly, no-nonsense ladies who oversee the premises. 
While S and I caught up on all the latest and discussed snippets of the book, we also thoroughly enjoyed the traditional fare of an English Tea Time.

It started with a salad dressed with a sauce that I have only ever tasted in Europe. Almost a mayonnaisse -y vinaigrette. (They carry it in the connecting grocery store!) Then a plate of 4 sandwiches and chips. I chose cream cheese and cucumber and egg salad. Delicious! Then came the scones with jam and cream. I had forgotten that in England, the scones arrive at the end, not at the beginning as I’ve found so often in the states. The pot of tea was a strong English Breakfast. Perfect, perfect, perfect.

And of course, while the setting and the food warmed the cockles of my heart, it was the company that made the moment so special. I took for granted all the weeks, months and years that I could grab S for lunch when we worked in the same office. Now, lunch together is a rare treat that can take weeks or months of planning!  And that’s why there is so much to be said for old faithful friends. Regardless of the amount of time that can pass between visits, phone calls or emails, whenever we’re back together it’s as if no time has passed at all.  Those are moments that I treasure.

The Sussex Tea Pot Tea Room
12752 Valley View Street, Suites P&Q 
Bridgecreek Business Park 
Garden Grove
714-897-9442

http://sussexteapot.com/aboutus.htm

Tea Room Hours
Wed through Sun – 11a-4p
Mon & Tues – Closed

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An Ashland, Oregon Moment

It’s something that occurs every two years, and while some might think of it as a reunion of sorts, I tend to view it more as a pilgrimage. Whatever you want to call it, it is a four-day event that I do whatever I can to attend. It started with my Mom and her sisters and sister-in-law getting together in Ashland, Oregon to enjoy each other’s company and catch up on e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Over time, the daughters have joined in the event, and then daughters-in-law.

Aunt D (who serves as the glue for this ever-growing melange) reserves the biggest rental home she can find, and we all descend from various parts of the country to get together and cook, eat, sing, play music (for those with that talent), hand-sew beautiful baby quilts, knit, crochet adorable play food and animals (again, for those with talent in those areas), attend the world-renowned Oregon Shakespeare festival, go on walks, explore the cute shops (and wine bars) of the picturesque downtown, talk as though it’s going out of style, and this year… enjoy afternoon tea.

At the last Ashland event, I was a brand-new mom there with my tiny baby Edie, and I was in nothing more than survival mode. Being among the most loving, nurturing, encouraging, hilarious women for a few days was the greatest blessing I could have received at that time. So now, being able to leave my ‘big-girl’ Edie to have a father-daughter weekend while I made the journey back to this oasis, I was delighted to be able to bring something fun to the table. (Literally).

With Aunt D providing the perfect mix and match of thrift store tea cups, and Aunt M and new cousin-in-law C as my sous chefs, we whipped up some tasty treats and had quite the table spread. Sandwiches: cucumber and cream cheese with dill; pear and brie; a modified Waldorf salad sandwich; puff pastry with savory salami and goat cheese. Cranberry-orange scones with local raspberry preserves, lemon curd and mock Devonshire cream on the side.  An assortment of berries. And for a little sweetness, shortbread and chocolate cookies. 

 The decision of what teas to present was a snap, thanks to the kindred spirits of American Tea Room. David provided the as-always perfect recommendations.

The table was set, the food laid out, and I carefully brewed each pot according to suggested instructions. The first pot was presented: Ruby Black.  I first experienced this lovely brew on Mother’s Day at the first ever American Tea Room High Tea. In only its 3rd year of re-introduction and production in Taiwan, American Tea Room is the sole purveyor of this tea in the entire United States. You haven’t had amazing black tea until you’ve had this black tea. It is rich and fulfilling, and has a maltiness to it. And as my sister-in-law, S, kept saying after each sip, “It’s so smooth! It’s just so smooth!” Yes. Yes it is.

The second pot: Milk Oolong. I’ve been telling my cousin, H, about this one for nearly a year. Unable to have any dairy, she has been missing cream in her tea, and this, in my opinion, is the best possible solution. Not only is this a most heavenly Oolong with a gentle floral perfume and the subtlest natural sweetness, it is also infused with an inexplicable creaminess though no cream nor anything else is added to this tea. The tea is hand-processed using multiple unique methods, and the result is this magnificent sensation. H, and the rest of the table, was delighted.

The third pot: Immortal Green. Mindful of my measured journey into greens this summer, David suggested this fan favorite. A Japanese sencha with peach and passion fruit infused throughout, this green tea is not only approachable, it is the life of the party! I watched as woman after woman around the table cautiously brought their cup to their lips, bracing themselves for that greenness or grassiness or earthiness or whatever it is that is coming to meet them. And then, with that first, glorious sip, the eyes widen, the face lights up the tinest bit, and they go in for that second sip – which is now no longer just a sip, but a slurp! Success!

And even when the tea party was over, it wasn’t over, as each guest oohed and ahhed over receiving tea to take home. David had sent samples of Choco – Late (cacao husk, vanilla bean and rooibos) and Marrakesh (a Morraccan mint green tea).

The teas and treats were lovingly received, as were each of us around the table. This is what it is all about. As we talk and laugh and share stories or ideas or memories, we weave each other more deeply, more securely into each other’s lives. This is what first made me fall in love with the idea of tea. It is something that gives us a perfect excuse to be together and create these moments that feel so precious and so critical at the same time.

The countdown to Ashland 2012 begins…

Waldorf Salad Sandwich (As requested by the Ashland Gals)

Salad:
3/4 cups walnuts (or pecans) coarsely chopped
3/4 cup Granny Smith apple, diced
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 stalks of celery, finely diced
2 scallions finely sliced
Salt to taste

Dressing:
1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp honey

Prepare dressing in small bowl and put in refrigerator to chill. Prepare remaining ingredients and place in larger bowl. When ready to assemble sandwiches, pour salad dressing over other ingredients and combine well. Butter 8 slices of whole wheat bread. Spread salad in a quarter-inch even layer between 2 buttered slices. Cut into quarters.

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A Huntington Library Moment

It’s a rare gift when one of your best couple friends suggests a family outing to a tea room. But this tea room was not your average, every day tea room. It was the Rose Garden Tea Room at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens

The tea service itself is a unique experience. Once seated, we were served a basket of small scones with the requisite pots of butter, jam and Devonshire Cream, as well as our choice of hot tea, iced tea or lemonade. Being as hard core as I am, I defied the fact that it was near 100 degrees F outside and ordered a pot of English Breakfast. Everyone else opted for the iced tea (and really, I can’t blame them).  We were then instructed to make our way to the buffet at our leisure.

On one side of the buffet there were a variety of sandwiches and salads: Watercress with horseradish cream cheese, Egg salad, Tuna, Salmon and cucumber, and more. (For the more adventurous palates, there was caviar as well. On the other side was an assortment of fruits and desserts. For my fruit lover, Edie, this was her preferred side. 

M and Baby M enjoyed the coolness of the iced tea, and T and Gene showed off their more refined sides between discussions of how punk rock is not dead and which current rap and pop stars are freemasons.

After tucking into several rounds of sandwiches, fruit tarts and chocolate delights, we ventured outside to indulge in the second course – a feast for the eyes in the botanical gardens. In this case, words can do no justice, so I’ll leave it to M’s beautiful photography skills (mine are the slightly fuzzy ones!).

M and T were our first couple friends that we made when we moved to Southern California, and in those nearly 10 years we have shared Easters and Thanksgivings, their most beautiful wedding in France, the birth of Edie and then Baby M, and we couldn’t be more grateful for their presence in our lives.

So whether you have the type of friends you like to hike around and have tea with or not, a day trip to the Huntington is definitely worth the trip. But as with all moments, the best ones are shared.

The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens
1151 Oxford Road
San Marino, CA  91108
626.405.2100

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A N’Awlins Ritz Carlton Moment

The last time I landed in New Orleans was September 9, 2001. Though I was only scheduled to be there 3 days and 2 nights, I did not actually leave until September 14th on the first flight allowed to leave the New Orleans air space. Because I was trapped in New Orleans on 9/11, it has a very special place in my heart. And really, if you’re going to be trapped anywhere, this was not a bad place to be. I drank the city in. Yes, I did Bourbon Street, but I also did a swamp tour, walked the River Walk, took the St. Charles Streetcar, had chickory coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde, and even was able to offer walking directions (in French!!!) to a couple I encountered who looked rather lost.

So, nearly 10 years later, I found myself back in The Big Easy it was kind of trippy. Driving in from the airport, I got a lump in my throat when I saw the Superdome before my eyes and tried to imagine the terror, grief and near inhumane condition so many residents had to endure there while awaiting help during Katrina.

The French Quarter seemed like its same celebratory self. Folks drinking Hurricanes and wearing beads. Everyone I ran into was helpful and hospitable. I only wish I had time to revisit more of this iconic city. But I was there for work. It was the National Apartment Association Education Conference and Exposition – the largest conference for the apartment (or multi-family housing, if you want to know the lingo) industry. My company was exhibiting, and my boss and I were panelists for one of the education sessions. Here’s a link to an interview that took place right after my session with a reporter from MultiHousing News:

So after a day of travel, 2 days straight of being on my feet for the trade show or education sessions, and 3 evenings of networking events, by the time I reached Saturday you could stick a fork in me because I was DONE. Unfortunately (and inexplicably), trying to get from New Orleans to Los Angeles is not as easy as it sounds. You can fly out at 6 a.m. or 6 p.m.  Well, 6 a.m. just wasn’t going to happen, so I had a full day to revisit all New Orleans had to offer. Only, I had nothing left to offer it. After bidding adieu to work colleagues and industry pals, I poured myself into a cab and asked to be delivered to the place that is known for taking customer care to the highest level: The Ritz-Carlton. I have never done anything like this before, but I marched into their spa and asked for the first massage they had available. The staff was lovely. Simply lovely. And they welcomed me with the equivalent of a spa’s open arms: a sinfully soft white robe and the most comfortable spa slippers I’ve ever worn. (Those of you who know my love of all things white terrycloth can understand how happy I was in this moment.)

I had the best of intentions to go to afternoon tea at the Ritz-Carlton. It was truly the only real activity on my personal agenda. And yet, I absolutely could not summon the energy or appetite to indulge in their magical, culinary wonderland. You know for sure that I was at the end of the line when not even Tea at the Ritz-Carlton can tempt. However, I did need something for fuel, and the idea of a pot of tea and a little scone was appealing.

One day I will experience the full tea service at the New Orleans Ritz-Carlton myself, because what I observed was truly lovely. A bridal shower with a table full of tiered trays, pots of tea, and attentive servers. The table was lovely, the obvious bride even lovelier. A mother, father and two young girls out for a mini celebration of their own. The dad putting on an extraordinary game face and making his daughters feel like princesses. A couple of old friends laughing together. A couple who could have been my grandparents seated together in amicable silence, absorbing the scene and the music. Because you can’t dismiss the music. A live harpist (is that the correct term?) playing light classical music. She even whipped up a little, “Here Comes the Bride,” as gifts were being opened.

I requested a small pot of tea and asked if it was possible to just have a scone. The server looked at my run down face, smiled, and said of course. A few minutes later, tea and a small plate of 3 tiny scones and the accompanying toppings of preserves, Devonshire cream and lemon curd arrived. Although the food was delicious, the feast I truly enjoyed was the surrounding scene before my eyes. Beautiful, relaxing, and no one wanted anything from me. And then I requested the check. The server placed it on my table and said, “We had extra scones today, so there’s no charge for those. I hope you enjoyed your time here.” I was speechless. It’s the unexpected and unnecessary small acts of kindness that stop you in your tracks, especially from business establishments that you would normally expect additional service charges and included tips when it came time to pay. It was the perfect end to my hectic week that drained me of all I had. I’ll be back, Ritz-Carlton. And I’m bringing friends.

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A Heavens-to-Gooseberries Moment

Yes, you do see sugar cubes!

Travel seems to occur in cycles for me. One year I may find myself in Toronto several times for various reasons. Another year it will be Orlando or Atlanta. This year, it is is Minneapolis and Phoenix. On my last day trip to Phoenix, I decided I would carve out an hour to see what I could find on the order of tea. And here is where I discovered Gooseberries Tea Room and Boutique.

Located in an unassuming strip mall, this treasure of a tea room has been quietly entertaining legions of fans for 30 years, though the current owners have been in place for just the past few. Who’da thunk that one could find such a peaceful, cool, relaxing oasis of tea in the hot, hot, heat of Phoenix?  I had made the required reservations in order to have the full afternoon tea, and was led to my own private table that had a little personalized sign welcoming me. Deb, the server, brought out the tea room’s signature rose water and took my order for tea. When it comes to afternoon tea, I must, of course, have the English Breakfast. Soon, my tea arrived and was placed on the cutest teapot warmer I have yet encountered. (Gooseberries – where can I get one of these for myself?!?)

The first course was brought out: a tiered tray of sandwiches. A feast for the eyes as well as the appetite! All open-faced, and in fun shapes (the turkey and cranberry sandwich was cut in the shape of a tea pot!), there was plenty of savory goodness to satisfy the hungriest of patrons.

Then came the basket of scones and a plate of sweets. I loved that the scones were served in a linen-lined basket to keep them piping hot. This was a first in my tea room experiences, and I loved it! Along with the scones, there was plenty of Devon cream, jam, and even lemon curd. If you have not experienced lemon curd before, I highly recommend it. Imagine all the lemony-goodness of an entire lemon meringue pie (without the meringue) packed into one  bite. Intensely wonderful.  At this point in my meal, I was already reaching capacity. And there was still dessert!!! A delicate chocolate butterfly balanced in a tiny pastry cup of chocolate and cream, along with two other mini desserts.  I had to actually request a to-go box.

Yes, I enjoy tea. And I certainly enjoy the variety of styles and personalities of tea rooms I have visited over the years. But one of the things I enjoy most is discovering the story behind the tea moment. Who created this space? What is important to them? What do they enjoy most?

Enter Debbie Parnham.  She has that certain air and grace about her that I often hope to achieve when I grow up someday. Beauty, style, and down-to-earth warmth and hospitality. We quickly found that we both have been involved in public speaking, though hers has been focused on women in prison. I found it hard to imagine this lovely and soft-spoken creature before me standing and speaking to roomfuls of hardened criminals, and yet I could see that her absolute approachability would make it work beautifully. She shared that her greatest joy in having this tea room is to be able to have tea parties for women and girls who might not otherwise have such an opportunity.

She has hosted a tea party for women in shelters, who have few or no possessions. This was a rare opportunity for these women to share a day of fellowship and beauty together – hopefully a day without worry or care. On this particular occasion, each woman was able to go home with her own tea cup that had been donated. Debbie shared that when she announced everyone would be able to keep her tea cup, the room erupted in screams and shouts of joy. Such small gifts and treasures can have such a special impact.

In another tea party, she brought the event to girls in juvenile detention. Though discouraged from bringing fine china and utensils, Debbie was adamant about “doing it right.”  In addition to the full tea service, she brought blouses for each girl to wear to the party. One girl commented, “I feel so weird!”  “Why?” Debbie asked.  “I haven’t worn real clothes in years.” Some of these girls have been incarcerated for so long, they don’t have any real grasp of the outside world, street clothes, and so many of the things we take for granted. Despite the warnings of the danger of bringing the real tea party to a bunch of hooligans, Debbie shared that the girls behaved extremely well and seemed to really enjoy this time to have fun together and be… feminine.

These are events she hopes to continue. It was all very inspiring and got my mind reeling on the possibilities of what it could look like if more communities got together and hosted events such as these  – to let the struggling women among us know they are not forgotten or unimportant.

This sneak peek into Debbie’s joys and passions provides the best sense of how you feel when you visit the place of rest and beauty she has created for the whole community of Phoenix.  A visit to Gooseberries is a must!

Gooseberries is located in the AJ’s Shopping Center – 7th Street and Thunderbird -at the Southwest Corner
13216 N 7th Street
Phoenix, AZ 85022
Phone: (602)789-0622
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 9:30 am – 5:00 pm
The Tea Time Menu is available by reservation only, so be sure to call at least a day before!

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A Tea House on Los Rios Moment

Is there anything better than sharing afternoon tea with dear friends?

It’s been 10 years since Gene and I relocated from Boise, Idaho to Southern California with nothing but two cars stuffed full of our belongings. We could never have dared to hope for the life, opportunities and friendships that this adventure would lead us to.

These were my thoughts as I met two of my dearest friends for afternoon tea at one of my favorite local tea spots in southern California, The Tea House on Los Rios. I couldn’t believe that in the nearly 8 years I’ve known S and 6 years I’ve known B, I had not yet exposed them to this gem!

These are the women who have known all the ups and downs of my work life, pursuits of dreams and hobbies, and most important, my foray into motherhood. With 5 children between the two of them, they were my adoptive sisters who cheered me along the way, giving the best advice anyone ever told me, “Do what works to keep your sanity.” There were and are days when that mantra has helped me keep my marbles.

So here we were, on a Saturday no less, getting together for tea and conversation. While we once all worked together and lunched together weekly, we are now strewn across the length of Orange County, so these moments are even more rare and precious.

It was a chilly Saturday, but we sat on the wrap around porch and admired the blooming flowers, sipped pomegranate mimosas, enjoyed our current scones with jam and clotted cream, nibbled on our tiny sandwiches, and of course, drank copious amounts of tea. (I always go for the Los Rios Tea with a pot of Queen Catherine blend)

The tea, as always, was excellent. The food was delicious. But the friends… They were, and are, the best part of the moment.

The Tea House on Los Rios
31731 Los Rios
Los Rios Historic District
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

Open 11:00 am -5:00 pm Wed thru Fri
Sat & Sun 9:30 am-5:00 pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday
Reservations Recommended
(949) 443-3914

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A Tea and Scrumpet Moment

My Mom’s brothers and sisters have an interesting thing in common. Those who have had children all have one daughter each. This being the case, I often wistfully thought of my girl cousins as ‘sisters.’ Unfortunately, I lived in Idaho and my ‘sister-cousins’ lived in California and Nevada, so growing up we only got to enjoy each others’ company during family reunions which were too few and far between for my liking. Thank heavens for Lisa – my one and only girl cousin on my Dad’s side – who grew up just a mile or two down the road!

Of the out-of-state set, one cousin in particular, Heather, knows my tea obsession much better than most. It was her late mother, my Aunt Jane, who introduced me to tea houses in the first place. Now that we’re all grown up and having families of our own, it’s the rare moment when we actually can get together for tea. The most recent was after Heather’s first son was born and my Mom and I were stopping in for a visit. Heather’s husband was sweet enough to take the baby for the day, shoo us out of the house, and encourage us to go for some ‘tea and scrumpets.’

We ended up in Pleasanton at a little tea room Heather had discovered fairly recently, The English Rose Tea Room and Gifts.  We were well cared for and well-fed (having chosen the ‘Queen’s Sumptuous Afternoon Tea’), and while I can’t remember the particulars of the yummy sweets and savories or what tea I chose, it was one of the most fun afternoons I’ve ever spent with my Mom or with Heather. We shared favorite memories of Aunt Jane, the trials and tribulations of pregnancy, motherhood, or the desire for those things.  My Mom shared stories I had never heard before that had the three of us laughing so hard we could barely breathe. I think our kindly server actually brought us tissues for the tears of laughter that were rolling down our faces.

Shortly thereafter, Edie came along. The tea themed gifts came from a variety of sources. Lisa provided the requisite play tea pot and tea cups. She knew no daughter of mine could possibly go without! And Heather sent a handcrafted set of ‘tea and scrumpets’ (the name stuck, of course) made by a very talented woman in Australia.

Yes, this is what scrumpets look like. Now you know!

Yes, this is what scrumpets look like. Now you know!

They are some of Edie’s playroom favorites (of her own free will, I assure you!).

Heather’s brother was married last month, and it was fun to bring Edie to the house where I have so many fond memories. Standing with my Mom, Heather, and all my girl cousins who were able to make it, I smiled at the anticipation of many tea-and-scrumpet moments to come.

Future tea house crashers!

Future tea house crashers!

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