Friday, August 5, 2016

A House of Girls Moment

It's Sisters Reunion time. One of my favorite times of the year. Or rather, of every 2 years. It's around this time that my mom and her sisters gather with their own daughters, daughters-in-law and granddaughters to spend a weekend together in the beautiful town of Ashland.


It's the first time I've seen many of these women in 2 years. More important, it's the first time my oldest daughter, Edie, got to come along. It was a very good weekend.


Our gathering continues to grow, as the 3rd generation is being allowed to join in the fun. I loved introducing Edie to these women who I have loved and admired my entire life. They've seen her as a baby at weddings and funerals, but this is the first time they've seen her as a young lady. Seeing them ask her questions and play games with her and show her what a special and unequivocal member of the extended family she is made my heart swell.
This is part of your story. This is part of who you are. These songs are ingrained in your soul. This laughter is your birthright. This wisdom is your future.


The majority of this reunion consists of talking and laughing, catching up on good news, mourning the losses and disappointments that occurred since last we met. Any schedule we have revolves around the second most important activity of the reunion: eating. And an afternoon tea. Of course.

While the menu practically wrote itself, the food was prepared by many hands - cutting and slicing, spreading and assembling, the assortment of tea sandwiches piled up in beautiful mounds on a mis-match of plates. Tables, both high and low, were set with whatever place settings we could find in the cottages we were renting, and everyone had a platinum rimmed saucer to hold their scone. That saucer would have held their tea cups... if I had remembered to pack them in the car.  *sigh*


The tea was a special treat I actually DID remember to pack. A collection from Vahdam Teas. There were so many options, we had a hard time deciding on which would accompany Afternoon Tea. We finally decided on the Avaata Supreme Virgin Nilgiri Organic Spring Green Tea (try saying that 5 times fast!), which my oldest niece absolutely fell in love with! Light, refreshing - an earthy green rather than a seaweed green. We also chose the Malty Earl Grey, which many of us loved dressing up with milk and sugar (cubes, of course!).


After tea, there was singing. My mother's family was born and bred in music, and I soaked in the familiar tones and harmonies of my aunts echoing in the voices of my cousins. There is a raw richness in timbre that is signature Cunningham, a legacy that I had never considered before but am now so thankful for. Edie watched, listened, and sang along, her sweet voice mixing perfectly with the rest. She is one of us, after all.

The last night was capped off by a trip to the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival to see Hamlet in the theatre under the stars. Infused with modern touches of death metal, the production was hands down the best I've seen. While I much prefer comedies, this play's THE thing.


Another Ashland reunion, another weekend of family and laughter. I'm so blessed to have such a rare opportunity to spend time with my Mom, her sisters, my sister-in-law, my nieces, my cousins, their children and, now, my daughter! A house of girls, a house of wisdom, a house of music, a house of love. When it comes to perfect moments, this one rises to the top.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Homecoming Moment

My first run back in Boise, and the sensory overload was instant. The squirrels noisily playing chase in the tree tops, the damp, earthy smell of the river, sparrows, robins, and the cottonwood, which immediately tickled the back of my throat, the intense summer sun.

I'm back.

Sixteen and a half years ago, as newlyweds, we packed up both of our cars with all of our earthly possessions and drove to Orange County, California - worlds away from our home town of Boise, Idaho. "Les Bois," as the French Canadian fur trappers exclaimed when they made their way over the desert foothills and laid eyes on the wooded valley.

16 years, 2 daughters, and one giant U-haul later, we've come back. Maybe for a year, maybe more. But here we are.

Already we've immersed ourselves in traditional Boise summer activities.

The 30th Boise Twilight Criterium, an annual cycling race that takes place in the streets of downtown Boise, culminates with the final Pro Men's race riding laps at tremendous speeds for 90 minutes.

30th Annual Boise Twilight Criterium
We also made our way to the 101st Snake River Stampede, one of the top 10 rodeos in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Top country performers have participated in the stampede over the years, starting with Gene Autry in 1950, Dale Evans and Roy Rogers, and (little known fact) this is where Reba McIntire (a former barrel racer) made her debut performance!

101st Snake River Stampede. Thanks for the hats, Aunt Rita!
Family bike rides on the greenbelt alongside the Boise River, a family reunion gathering and bocce ball championship at Julia Davis Park, an evening out at BarDeNay in the Basque District.

To cap off our initial weeks, I met up with one of my oldest Boise friends for lunch. It's been 8 years since we've seen each other, and it was like we saw each other last week. Funny coincidence, the place we chose for lunch, The Hyde House, was once a tea house that supplied all of the tea for my wedding favors 17 years ago. This friend, by the way, was in my wedding.

The Hyde House. Watermelon Gazpacho? Yes, please!
There are so many memories and histories that are flooding back, as we settle in. While we miss our friends and familiar stomping grounds in Orange County, there are special moments that are beginning to make it feel like our home.

One moment in particular was the arrival of a housewarming gift from my friend Alex at Nelson's Tea.  She knows my love of black tea blends, so I've been enjoying the morning with what I view as the perfect summer blend, Summer Sol Ambrosia. With hints of fruit and safflower, there's the perfect balance of malt and sunshine. I've also been indulging in Honey Pear, which has just the lightest essence of pear and sweetness.


These are the perfect accompaniments for my morning view on my back porch.

Welcome home.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Lazy Summer Moment

There are those friends with whom you can pick up where you left off no matter how many days or years have separated you. And there are those places which will always give the same feeling of leisure and comfort no matter how much time has passed since a last visit.


Today, as I'm sitting over a thousand miles away from The Tea House on Los Rios, I'm thinking about how today would be a perfect day to sit on the covered, wrap-around porch and share afternoon tea with a friend. Queen Catherine blend, of course.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The 2016 Tea Blogger Directory Moment

The 2016 Tea Blogger Directory, which was released at the World Tea Expo is now available to all!

In this updated directory, discover more than 60 tea-focused bloggers from around the world who have as unique backgrounds and stories as you do. Each blogger has an extensive and focused reach to help grow your potential audience. With bloggers being in the Top 3 Influencers for online shoppers, this is a resource retailers can’t afford to ignore.

Learn the best practices for collaborating with a tea blogger, how many samples might be "too many," the do's and don't's of asking for a review, the importance of packaging, and how to help a tea blogger showcase your tea or tea-related product in the best possible light. All this for $5 through the 4th of July. After that, the price goes up to $10 per download. $1 from each download will go to support The Tea Bloggers Roundtable, who provides support, education and consulting to tea retailers and regional tea festivals.  Download your copy HERE.

Thank you to all the Tea Bloggers who participated in this year's directory! 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Summer Reading Moment

There are few things better than tea and a good book. Whether it's in the cold winter months, curled up on the couch with a contemplative cup of oolong and a character-rich novel or lounging poolside with a tall, cold apricot-infused iced tea and a light-hearted whodunnit. Whatever the occasion, tea and reading are like peas and carrots.


That's why I am so in love with The Arbor Teas Summer Reading Series!  With a nod to the popular serial novels in decades past, Arbor Teas has enlisted author Lauren Doyle Owens to write an original novel, The Wintree Waltz, that is being released one chapter at a time, week after week over the course of the summer.  It began June 2nd and will continue through August 4th. (Chapter 2 is released tomorrow!!!) Subscribers can receive notification of the release of each chapter.

Over the summer, we'll be getting to know the Wintree family just two months before Jean Wintree is to be married to John Birnbauer. When her younger sister Erin, John’s mother Nancy, and a surprising interloper start to meddle in the couple’s plans, a happy ending is far from certain.

As a voracious reader, I'm on the edge of my seat to see what Jean, and for that matter, Erin, is going to do next! I love that the story is set in Ann Arbor (home of Arbor Teas!), and that while the story line itself is not about tea, the tradition and comfort of teas is seamlessly interwoven into the Wintree family's daily lives. 

Join me as I get to know the Wintrees and Arbor Teas. The first taste definitely leaves me wanting another. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Moment with Queen Charlotte

In honor of Queen Charlotte's birthday on May 19th, 1744, it's only fitting I write about a place that is her namesake. But first, we must start with the hero of the story. His name was Roger, and he made my day.


A speaking engagement found me in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, and as luck would have it, I was able to take advantage of a break in the agenda to seek out afternoon tea.  J threw her lot in with me, and we showed up at the Queen Charlotte Tea Room on the off chance we'd be able to get a table. When we first arrived, Roger greeted us apologetically with the news that there was no room at the inn. And indeed, the place was hopping!  We were about to say thank you and be on our way, when he asked us to just wait one more moment.


Magically, he conjured a small table out of thin air, and with that our afternoon tea began. A pot of Scottish Breakfast Tea later, and then the real decisions began. This was no ordinary tea room. This was Queen Charlotte's Tea Room, an English Tea Room complete with Shepherd's Pie and Fish and Chips on the menu. The aromas were heavenly. The Shepherd's Pie was exactly what I needed. My compliments to Chef Linda!


Afternoon tea for me is always a good thing, but afternoon tea with great company is the best. I have only spent a little bit of time with J in the past year, but she's the type of person who feels like an old friend. No topic is off limits, stories are lively and sincere, and every person who interacts with her falls head over heels in love. It's as fun to watch others enjoy her attention as it is to be the object of it.


And to be in this particular tea room. Cozy, warm, and so very British, Roger and the rest of the staff made us feel as though we were the visiting long-lost relatives. It was clear why they had a full house. I have a feeling this was the norm, rather than the exception.



Most people visit Niagara Falls for the waterfall, and I'll tell you, that's definitely a magnificent attraction. But this tea room should definitely be on your itinerary. When you need a place in which to slow down, relax and be fed, you'll find no better option than right here.

And as I told J on our way to the airport, "We'll always have Roger."

To Visit Queen Charlotte Tea Room:

Location:
5689 Main Street
Niagara Falls, ON L2G 2E5
Phone: (905)-371-1350

Hours:
Mon:  Closed
Tue - Thur: 11AM - 7PM
Fri:  11AM - 8PM
Sat - Sun:  11AM - 7PM

Reservations recommended (and please tell Roger and Linda hello from me)!

Monday, May 2, 2016

A Moment of Descendants

It's official. I no longer know how to relax. Or maybe my version of relaxing is just a satisfying level of 'doing.' In any case, I was supposed to be taking it easy as I recovered from an umbilical hernia repair. Minor outpatient surgery, but recovery must occur.

I'm extremely fortunate that my parents were here to help with the girls while I attempted to rest and recover. But what does one do on a mid-Friday morning when the girls are at school and one is not allowed to work? Bring out the gong fu, of course.


In general, my parents have only been subjected to my tea hobby when I send them teas I think they would like or I bring teas with me when we come for a visit. This is the first time I got to get super nerdy about it with them.

I found it rather fitting that the tea of choice was from Tea Descendants, a family company whose roots are south of the Fujian province of China, best known for Oolong tea. One part of the family immigrated to Singapore in the early 1900's while the rest of the family stayed behind to continue the family trade of tea farming. Some of the Singapore descendants made a journey to their homeland to explore their family history, and this is where the company was born.

They sent me a gift of their Oolong No. 2 Smooth Floral Touch (talk about a descriptive name!). And that is where we began my parents' introduction to gong fu tea.


While it is fairly well known that I am a tea nerd, I am also a bit of a process nerd. In fact, my entire higher education focused on process improvement. So, it warmed the cockles of my heart to find that step-by-step instructions on how to brew the tea properly were included in the tea tin. When you steep tea in the gong fu manner, you steep it for seconds, not minutes, which goes against all of my instincts. But it makes you more mindful, more observant, more engaged in the process, the flavors, the aromas.



It was fun to hear my parents' observations of what they smelled and tasted. (We even pulled out Linda Gaylard's flavor wheel from her latest book, The Tea Book, to help us describe what we were experiencing).

The First Steep: light, spring vegetables, with a reserved floral scent.
The Second Steep: lightly roasted vegetables with green hay
The Third Steep: toasted rice, faintly similar to genmaicha
The Fourth Steep: an intensifying floral aroma, grassier notes appearing
The Fifth Steep: lessening scent, but tasting more of what we had been smelling
The Sixth Steep (which sounds like it should be a movie title): bright, slightly astringent, with a sunnier green flavor



As we steeped, we talked. It occurred to me that this was the first time in as long as I could remember that it was just me and my parents sitting and having a conversation. No siblings, no grandkids, not even a dog in sight. Just the three of us. It was so nice. It was so comfortable. That's what family is, isn't it? Or what it's supposed to be.  And maybe that's part of the "secret sauce" of Tea Descendants. When family comes together in such a harmonious way, beautiful things happen.