Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tea Party Today!

Today is the day a very special young lady is joining me at the Cottage for her very first tea! Preparations are under way, with an elaborate menu of savories and sweets. We'll begin with a lovely creamy tomato basil soup with blue cheese crackers, then move on to a vast array of little sandwiches. I've planned Coronation Chicken Salad, Roast Beef with Horseradish Cream, Seafood Salad, Cucumber (can't have tea without a good cucumber sandwich!), Olive Spread, and Toasted Cheese Fingers. I'm trying a new scone recipe - if it works, I'll share it with you all. With that is some lovely homemade lemon curd and berry jam. For the sweets we'll have Fairy Cakes (it is, after all, her birthday), Gram's Shortbread, Chocolate Mousse, and Chocolate Dipped Strawberries and Marshmallows.

I'm having fun putting together a tea that will introduce this little girl to the joys of our family tradition of visiting tea rooms to celebrate special days like birthdays and Mother's and Father's days. Of course, with a history like that, there is so much I could have chosen! I'll just have to start hosting more teas, so that the fun can continue.

The finishing touch is a special tea that I've blended for her, with rose hips, hibiscus, and rose petals to bring a little bit of color and flavor to a good quality black tea.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Cozy Day at The Cottage

Grey skies and rain - a perfect combination for curling up on the couch with the dog, the cat, some yarn, my crochet hooks, and a pot of lovely spicy tea. It doesn't happen often enough to suit me, so when it does I like to make the most of a day like this. I have several projects in the works and perhaps I will be able to finish one or two today.

I've been really into designing hats recently, and as soon as I figure out which folder they disappeared into, I will post a couple of pictures of hats that are now on heads of friends. I really think hats can be quite classy, not to mention useful. I started wearing them as self defense when it was discovered that I can sunburn (quite badly) through a thick cloud cover and sunscreen, and then noticed that it helped keep my glasses dry on drizzly days! Now I am experimenting with different patterns to create a whole wardrobe of hats for various occasions. It may be overkill, but until they come up with a 100 SPF sunscreen that is easy to wear, I'll be putting on a lot more hats!

So now it is off to curl up with the "kids", my yarn, and some tea in my favorite brown betty teapot and earthenware teacup. I'll be making a spiced tea:

Good quality black tea (use one teaspoon per cup, plus one for the pot)
A pinch of whole cloves, slightly crushed
A good sized piece of candied ginger
A cinnamon stick, broken into small pieces
A piece of nutmeg too small to grate without removing the tips of your fingers
A piece of star anise
An allspice berry or two, crushed into largish pieces
If you really enjoy a truly spicy chai experience, add several peppercorns as well

Put the spices into a tea filter or muslin tea bag (especially good if you can only find ground spices) and add to the water. Bring this to a boil and let it steep for ten minutes. Bring the spiced water back to a boil and pour over the tea leaves or bags and let it steep for four minutes (this should avoid the bitterness of over-brewed tea). Remove the spices and tea and pour into your serving cup. This is good sweetened with honey if you like your tea sweet, and served with a little milk.

Enjoy your day!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friends and Teacups

I love the delicacy of English Bone China. This teacup is one of my grandmothers, now my mothers. On the other side is a lovely southern belle walking through a garden, an image that has fascinated me ever since I can remember. This teacup is one that I would always dream about as it sat on the display shelf that my father built for the family teacup collection, and when I was allowed to hold it when we washed all of the teacups, I would cradle it gently and get lost in the beautiful gold vines. I always thought that if I touched it too much it would shatter in my hands.
Now that I am older, and hopefully a little wiser, I sometimes use a similar teacup for my afternoon tea. Would I be sad if it broke? Sure. But I get more pleasure out of using one of my bone china teacups than I do letting it gather dust on display.
Bone china is amazingly strong, even though it appears delicate. A true bone china piece is strong enough to hold the weight of a full grown man - I wouldn't want to test that myself, but I've seen pictures and demonstrations! - so I am no longer so afraid. In fact, I see the reflection of my own and my friends and family's lives in the translucent beauty of a bone china teacup. We are all so delicate on the surface; we cry and laugh together at the drop of a hat, we gather to hold each other up. But we are stronger than we seem. We have survived (collectively) divorce, rape, abuse, betrayal, illness, deaths of those we love, and other difficulties; and still we stand strong.
That one china teacup reminds me of my strengths and my frailties. What a lot for just a small cup of tea!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Is it Gardening Time Yet?

Sometimes I feel like a little kid asking "are we there yet?" - except I want to get out and plant my herbs and flowers! With this unseasonably warm weather here I am feeling the need for plants again. This last weekend was spent haunting nurseries and dreaming about what I might grow this year.

I can't wait to try berries of some variety, and will probably select Red Raspberries since not only are the fruits wonderful, the leaves are quite useful as well. They are especially prized for women, but can assist everyone with stress and nervous tension. Just watch the dosage and do not consume early in pregnancy.

My sweet gardenia is putting out leaves again - I thought I had lost her early last fall when I was away for a few days during a heat wave. I came home and her poor leaves were all withered and crisp. Fortunately, careful watering and encouragement have helped her regain some vitality. It seems the women in my family have a soft spot for gardenias - they were my grandmothers favorite flower and we always picked up a gardenia corsage for her on special occasions. My mother also loves gardenias, and now I have one that I am tending. While I enjoy the delicate, waxy flowers and gentle fragrance it is the connection with my family that brings me the most satisfaction from this quiet plant.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Epiphany Greetings

Happy Epiphany! This is a time for new things, new sights, and dreaming of my herb garden! Last year I tried many new plants in new places, and discovered that many of them were very unhappy; this year I am trying a new layout and returning a few old friends to places where they were happier.

It seems to me to be a time for dreaming about my herbs with the coming of the light back to the world. Today, the feast of the Epiphany, is the day when the Light of the World was revealed to the Gentiles for the first time. The Wise Men (Three Kings) arrived in Bethlehem to worship the baby Jesus, and the world saw the Light of His Star. The gifts they brought him were precious oils, resins, and gold. Frankincense and Myrrh are still used today for their grounding and healing properties, as well as for incense. Myrrh gum is often added to natural mouthwashes and toothpastes as a disinfectant. Frankincense is used for the stabilizing nature of it's essence.

I can't grow either Myrrh or Frankincense in my little corner of the world, but I can, and do, grow other herbs associated with the holy family - the most obvious being Rosemary. The legend says that during the flight to Egypt, Mary spread her cloak on this bush, and afterward it bloomed blue and held a beautiful fragrance in her honor. Rosemary is very useful not only for flavoring in cooking, but as a tea for people who are tense or depressed, especially if that is due to stress. It is a wonderful herb in the bath, as well. It encourages circulation, and the essential oil is wonderful for enhancing the memory - in older times students often studied with a sprig nearby and wore a sprig to exams.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Welcome To My Cottage

Welcome to Wild Oak Cottage. This is a place for questions and perhaps answers - but no guarantees!

Pull up a comfortable chair, wrap your hands around a steaming mug of tea (perhaps brewed from my herbs), and stay a while. Listen to the birds in the trees of the woods beyond the garden, the babbling of the creek, and relax. Read a book - I've got quite a library with all kinds of different subjects - or just chat with me while I go about my days. I'm always busy, either in the garden, the still room, the kitchen, or sitting a while with my crochet or knitting projects.

I'm sure all of my interests will make their way onto these pages, and I invite you to join me in exploring all that life has to offer!