Monday, June 27, 2011

Almost Heaven ~

"Almost Heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River..."
Lyrics and music by John Denver

My roots go deep into the mountains of the beautiful state of West Virginia. On my father’s side I can count back 8 generations to the first of my ancestors who settled there (which at the time was Virginia.) On my mother’s side, Congressman Kellian Whaley (my g-g-great Uncle) gave a speech that was pivotal in West Virginia becoming a state. I have so many lovely memories…of playing with my cousins under the hot summer sun…eating fresh strawberries from my Grandpa’s garden…sitting on my Aunt’s front porch gazing up into the mountains on a crisp autumn morning.

The mountainous state of West Virginia has more than one million acres of land in 2 national forests, 9 state forests and 37 state parks. The steel-arch bridge that covers the New River Gorge was, for a long time, the longest bridge of that type in the world (it’s now the third longest.) Just a few of the other attractions in West Virginia include Harper’s Ferry, the Cass Scenic Railroad, National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the world-renowned Greenbrier Resort. Nature’s canvas at some of its’ best. In the words of John Denver, “take me home…country roads.” Sometimes a picture really is worth a 1,000 words.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Outdoor Tea Party

Ah…the lazy, hazy days of summer! No better time to invite a few friends or neighbors to an outdoor tea party. Impromptu or planned, it’s easier than you may think. Set up a portable table in a corner of your yard or patio, or cover the picnic table with a colorful cloth and floral-pattern paper party napkins. For a centerpiece, gather blooms from your own garden (or from the local farmer’s market) and place in a vintage pitcher or vase. Even a few interesting-shaped branches will do. Lemons or limes placed in a clear glass bowl also make a lovely centerpiece for an outdoor theme party. For a more natural look, look for a few smooth, medium-sized stones and lay down the center of the table on a layer of moss (available from most craft or flower shops.) Intersperse votive candles among the stones to cast a warm glow. If you wish, you can even hang a chandelier or colorful paper lanterns from branches of a tree. Vintage teacups in a floral pattern and mismatched teaspoons add an elegant, yet fun and casual flair. Plus, they can be collected throughout the year at thrift sales and antique stores.
Offer different varieties of tea and set out milk, honey and sugar. Serve tea sandwiches, such as watercress, cucumber and cream cheese, or egg salad (with bread crusts removed.) Sweets might be petit fours, fresh berry tarts or mini-cupcakes. The idea is that no other cutlery other than teaspoons should be needed at an afternoon tea. Everything should be dainty finger-food, and it’s generally a good idea to serve both savory and sweet foods. For a traditional English tea, consider scones with jam and clotted cream (for an easy, delish recipe for homemade scones, see my previous post “Tea and Devon Scones.”) For fun, you might want to ask guests to don fancy hats, or keep it simple casual dress. Anything goes, really, just relax and enjoy these first long days of summer!
Martha Stewart’s Crisp Vegetable Sandwiches:
4 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, basil, tarragon, or mint
8 slices wheat bread
1 piece (4 inches) cucumber, very thinly sliced into rounds
2 radishes, trimmed and very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons softened butter

Place cream cheese and herbs in bowl; stir with a rubber spatula until combined. Spread cream cheese on 4 slices of bread; layer with cucumber and radish slices. Spread remaining slices of bread with butter. Place, butter side facing down, on radishes. Trim crusts; cut sandwiches in half.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mom's Petunias

When I was in the fourth grade, my parents bought their very first home. We lived in a small Midwestern town and the house was a modest, 3-bedroom ranch-style in a new subdivision. It had shiny hardwood floors, a full basement, small backyard and wooden window boxes. What I remember most about our house on Dudley Street are those window boxes, overflowing with brightly-colored petunias. Every summer, Mom planted and tended the window boxes, as lovingly and efficiently as she did all the other household chores. Always planted with petunias - some years they were multi-colored, other years a theme of red & white, or hot pink and the deep purple ones that felt like velvet to the touch. The window boxes were her pride and joy. Many years later, I remember Mom saying, “our flowers were the best on the block!” Container gardening is an art form and my Mom was an artist - although she didn’t see herself in that light.

People often forego the pleasures of gardening because they think they don't have the room. But, container gardening is an easy and efficient way to enjoy many of the benefits of traditional gardening. Anyone can do it - regardless of where you live. Containers can be traditional - like my Mom’s window boxes, ornate stone urns or clay pots.  Or use your imagination - a basket, old teapot or wheelbarrow can be turned into a fun and whimsical plant cantainer. I once planted flowers in one of my nephew’s old, size-14 tennis shoes! The main thing to remember is that all containers must have good drainage, with at least one drainage hole. Let your pots make a statement - a cast iron urn says "formal" while a wooden barrel says "rustic." Remember - pots and window boxes tend to dry out very quickly, so water, water, water - early morning and evening are the best times. Experiment and have fun, and just like Mom, you’ll soon have “the best flowers on the block!”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ode to Summer and Playing in Mud ~

The corn is high,
wheat fields stretch before us,
warm and golden beneath the sun.

The smell of newly mown grass lingers,
as a soft breeze breaks the heat of a lazy afternoon...

Trees fill with birdsong,
and come nightfall, fireflies play hide 'n seek
to the gentle laughter of children.

Touch the morning,
Embrace the evening,
It's still a beautiful world.

...and may we all play in more mud puddles!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"...I must have flowers, always, always." Claude Monet ~

"When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it,
it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to
someone else." Georgia O'Keeffe

"I'm not really a career person. I'm a gardener, basically."-- George Harrison

"We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses."-- Abraham Lincoln

"I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers."-- Claude Monet

"Earth laughs in flower."-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

 "One who plants a garden, plants happiness."

"There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence."--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Escape to an Island Lost in Time

Mackinac Island, Michigan, is known for many things - most notably that it can be reached by ferry only and no cars are allowed on the island. The Victorian architecture, clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages and blue waters of Lake Huron are idyllic, which is why the island was the perfect setting for the romantic film “Somewhere in Time” with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. Mackinac Island is 4.4 square miles, 80 percent state park, and sits between Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsulas. It's been ranked one of the “World’s Twenty Most Beautiful Islands” by Conde Nast Traveler and honored by National Geographic as "one of the ten finest tourist destinations in America." A rare place, indeed, that seems lost in time and provides a much slower pace in an ever-changing world. Anytime is a good time to visit Mackinac Island, but…in June…ah, in June the island blooms with the sight and scent of hundreds of different varieties of lilacs.

One of the most loved events on Mackinac Island is the annual Lilac Festival, held each June since 1949. In 2011, the festival runs June 10-19. Jesuit missionaries originally brought the lilacs to the island and the National Lilac Society considers Mackinac Island’s lilacs to be the oldest in the United States. Events during the festival include live music, parades, the crowning of the Lilac Queen at the coronation ball, Picnic in the Park at Surrey Hill, Tall Ship Wine Tasting and Cruise Around Haldimand Bay and the Grand Hotel Garden Tour. At the Taste of Mackinac, local chefs whip up their culinary specialties. You may even find a lilac blossom in your dish, as the blooms are edible (as long as they’re free of pesticides) and have a lemony, slightly bitter taste.

What else would one expect to find on an island that is so steeped in the beauty and traditions of yesteryear? Afternoon tea, of course! Every day from 3:30-5:00, tea is served in the parlor of the Grand Hotel, just as it has for over 100 years. Visitors enjoy tea, sherry, or champagne, freshly baked scones, and petite finger sandwiches, while listening to the soft strains of chamber music. It’s said that the sweet fragrance of lilacs enhances the taste, especially when paired with white teas. For more information on Mackinac Island’s Lilac Festival:

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tea Roses - Pinkies Up

"I'd rather have roses on my table, than diamonds on my neck." Emma Goldman

Old-fashioned tea roses conjure up images in my head of elegant ladies in long, pastel-colored dresses and wide-brimmed hats, sipping tea from delicate china cups, "pinkies up." According to folklore, ladies of a certain era were not allowed to socialize unescorted except in their rose gardens. It was here women met their suitors, unrestricted by social rules of etiquette, to speak freely - and perhaps allow said suitor to steal a kiss or two. Amongst the roses, they would declare their undying love for one another and live happily ever after. I’m almost romantic enough to believe such tales actually existed.

Not that tea roses have anything to do with the brew, but it's the mere name that sounds romantic to me. Tea roses are repeat-flowering roses, so named for their fragrance, which supposedly smells like “a newly-opened packet of the choicest black tea.” Their ancestry is the high-climbing Chinese rose with large primrose-colored blossoms that fade quickly to white. Teas are considered by many rose aficionados to have the most spectacular form and coloration in the world of roses. The old-fashioned variety, however, are somewhat frail and the blossoms susceptible to weather damage. Through cross-breeding over the years, new teas have been developed that have large, vigorous, thick-limbed shrubs and perfect, glossy foliage. In my fantasy world, however, tea roses are still as delicate as the women of yesteryear, holding court with their beaus under an arbor of blossoming beauties.

Simple Rose Potpourri
1 quart rose petals
3 tablespoons ground orris root *
8 drops rose essential oil

Place in a covered plastic container for 3-4 weeks, stirring occasionally. If the scent does not seem strong enough you may add more oil. You can also substitute or add dried lavender blooms and lavender essential oil. Store in a pretty jar or use as you would other potpourri.

* Orris root is a dried ground rizome from a variety of Iris. It can be purchased from an herb shop or online.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Great American Tea Rooms

The Great Tea Rooms of America by Bruce Richardson is a beautiful photo-guidebook for tea lovers, filled with 125 color photographs, narrative, and 65 recipes from 21 of the best tea rooms in the country. MSN calls Richardson "A leading tea expert involved in tea's American renaissance for over 20 years." Writer, photographer, and arguably America’s leading tea expert, Richardson is a frequent guest speaker at tea conferences across America.

Right about now, you may be asking yourself, "great tea rooms of...America? I thought really great tea rooms only existed in Great Britain?" This simply isn't true. You may be surprised - I know I was, to discover there are thousands of tea rooms across the country. Even the small, mid-western town where I live has a tea room, housed in a lovely, old, brick Victorian home. Mr. Richardson's book showcases the cream of the crop, of course, and included in his book is The Tea Room of Savannah, Georgia. Called "an elegant, yet quaint tea room in the Victorian style," The Tea Room offers everything from a pot of tea for one, to a full afternoon tea of assorted finger sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, preserves, sweets, fresh fruit and tea. The Tea Room also sells tea ware and accoutrements, and a wide variety of loose teas from around the world, both on-site and online. I can think of few places more fitting for a tea room than the city of Savannah. With its' cobblestone streets, moss-draped trees, and gleaming, white buildings, afternoon tea seems the natural thing to do. Tea is meant to be savored in a unhurried manner and in some places - it's an absolute art form.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Fiddle-dee-dee, Gone With the Wind is 75

When I was 15, I fell in love with Rhett Butler. That's how old I was the first time I saw the movie, "Gone With the Wind." Of course, what girl didn't fall in love with Rhett? The tall, handsome, charming rogue whose cynical attitude actually hid a desperate desire to be loved and accepted. When I saw the movie, and the scene appeared of Scarlett at the top of the stairs at the barbecue, and the camera panned down to Rhett staring up at her, a collective "ahhh" could be heard from all the women in the theater. Rhett, portrayed by actor Clark Gable, was the quintessential "bad guy" that good girls loved. I was hooked and I saw the film dozens of times over the years. The novel, written by Margaret Mitchell, turns 75 years old this year, and the movie came three years later in 1939. This epic saga of the American Civil War and destruction of the south took Mitchell ten years to write, from a table in front of a window in a corner of her living room. The novel has been criticized for its' racial stereotyping, although Mitchell herself was surprised by this, saying her black characters "were the most honorable in the book."

Margaret Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize for "Gone With the Wind" in 1937.

Hattie McDaniel won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the movie, making her the first African American actress to win an Oscar. However, she was prevented from attending the movie's premiere, due to Georgia's Jim Crow laws, which would have been prevented her from sitting with the white members of the cast. When actor Clark Gable heard of this, he threatened to boycott the event, but Ms. McDaniel convinced him to attend.

Gone With the Wind has been published into 35 languages. Approximately 75,000 copies of the book are still sold annually in North America.

Margaret Mitchell never went on a book tour and gave very few interviews. She died in 1949 at age 48, after being struck by a cab in Atlanta. She'd never written another book.

Until next time,


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