Tag Archives: scones

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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