2012 Hits And Misses + Turning Over A New Leaf In 2013

As the final day of 2012 ticks by, it’s an obvious time to reflect.  Since this was my first year of blogging, I took a look back on which topics were “hits” and which were “misses”  and laid out the first posts for the new year… (just to whet your appetite a bit.)

The purpose of this blog, which is an extension of the book, is to inspire, encourage, and inform people about tea and anything surrounding tea time.  Why?  Because tea time is such a civilized activity and a social drink.  It is social and meditative at the same time.  It is a uniquely universal beverage which inspires peace, calm, civility, conviviality, introspection, healthfulness,  and so much more.  Americans were quite a bit behind the rest of the world in having availability to quality tea, but that’s all rapidly changing.  There is an art to preparing tea.   I plan to write much more about the art of the tea leaf this year.  It’s time for tea.  And with Starbucks recent acquisition of the Teavana tea store chain in the U.S….they even agree.

As far as “hits” from my blog this year, readers gravitated towards the, ever popular, cupcake – which was one of the most popular single day posts of the year.  However, overall, the most popular posts all time were:  The Traditional Afternoon Tea With My Daughter...below at the historic Mission Inn, Riverside, California.

Beautiful Food + A Lovely Cup Of Tea – from a Napa Valley iconic restaurant, Domaine Chandon

The Butter Taste Test – very interesting results…all good…each different.

…along with Mom’s Homemade Pastry Creme

And…The Perfect Little Teapot from Tea Time Trading Company

Readers continuously click on those posts.  Not too surprising, I suppose, since Tea With Betty is about tea time…and for Betty, “teatime could be anytime” featuring items from these posts.

Since cupcakes, and almost anything prepared in a cupcake tin, remain popular, below is a little recap of cupcake photos from Tea With Betty.  You can find many enticing versions on Pinterest too.  Whether gorgeous or rustic…all were “hits.”  The key to a GREAT cupcake, whether large or small – beautiful or rustic or plain – is that the “cake” is not dried out.  No matter what recipe you use to make your cake, keep them deliciously moist…do NOT over bake them.  It is soooo disappointing to take a much anticipated bite out of a luscious looking cake to then pucker and wince at a crumbly, dried out, over-baked mouthful.  Take care to keep them moist!!

Below are a few photos from 2012 cupcakes in my life:  The first one is with candied lemon slices from my niece, Sammycakes.

Sammycakes cupcakes

Sammycakes cupcakes

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Lastly, couldn’t resist including my photo of a tea setting from the Laguna Beach Garden Club home tour my sister and I went on last summer… this from a gorgeous courtyard setting in Three Arch Bay area… this photo has been pinned hundreds of times on Pinterest…it is a beautiful, inviting setting.

Bird's nest place setting

Bird’s nest place setting

Here’s a brief preview of  coming 2013 posts:

1) Tea time with my daughter, second in a series…this time including my grandsons…from The Mission Inn, we are going there January 2, I am having a low carb tea, we’ll see what the chefs do with that request.

2) Cooking Class with Chef Katie Averill…topic…chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, will be attending class in late January, look forward to sharing tips from this great pastry chef.

3) Teas that taste like dessert…there are many delicious blends and infusions out there, will share some of my finds…and they are primarily guilt free, no calories, no carbs…

Additionally and  importantly, a quick thank you to my supporters  and followers these past 11 months, in particular, two of my favorite bloggers, Panini Girl and Lorna’s Tea Room Delights.  And lastly, I’ve been honored to receive three blog awards this year.  I am not savvy enough yet to figure out how to post them and appropriately respond, but do plan to take a lesson on how to do so and improve the look of Tea With Betty in early 2013…watch for continuous improvement here… oh and you might want to know how my 12 week challenge to lose weight and manage my blood sugars is going…well, so far, so good.

Week 8 Challenge Update…4 weeks to go…amazingly…down one more pound…that’s a total of 6 with 4 more to go…will I make it?  I think so…I have seriously changed my eating / snacking habits and feel in control.  It was a challenge with those holiday parties and dinners…but I did o.k…knowing I had to report to you helped.

See you on the blogosphere next year!

Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday Tea With Betty

It was one year ago today, December 24, 2011, that we picked up the first printing of my book, Tea With Betty.  After seven years of work, it was finally done.  I will never forget the incredible feeling I had holding the finished product in my hands for the first time.

Tea With Betty Book

Tea With Betty Book

This past year has been full of new experiences for me thanks to Betty.   A major adventure has been the launching of this blog.  I wasn’t  familiar with the blog world prior to this.  It was all new to me.  I have been so moved and impressed with the generosity in this community.

I love tea and food and family and writing.  Sharing insights, finds, and tips has been invigorating and fulfilling.  As we head into the new year, know that I am committed to continuously improve the quality, writing, and overall value of  teawithbetty.wordpress for you readers.  Thank you so much for following and inspiring me to keep going.

One of my favorite recipes from the book, and perfect for Christmastime, is the Russian Tea Cake (or Pecan Ball).  They are simple to make.  Flour, sugar, butter, toasted pecans – roll and bake…dredge while warm in powdered confectioner’s sugar.  What makes the pecan ball a Russian tea cake is the sugar.  The Russian tea cake has powdered confectioner’s sugar in it versus granulated sugar.  While either sugar makes an excellent cookie, I prefer using the powdered sugar in the cookie as it makes it just melt in your mouth.

Here’s a few left from the second batch I’ve made this week….these go quickly.  They are really really delicious with a cup of hot tea.

Tea cookies...Pecan balls, Linda's coconut macaroons

Tea cookies…Pecan balls, Linda’s coconut macaroons

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Here they sit next to coconut macaroons that went into the package we sent up to our nephew who was missing  Christmas with the family this year and he loves Grandma’s recipes.

PECAN BALLS OR RUSSIAN TEA CAKES RECIPE

Makes about 36 cookies.

PREP TIME:  30 minutes TOTAL TIME:  45 minutes (includes baking time)

Preheat oven to 350˚ F.

½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter (use best quality you can)

4 tablespoons granulated sugar (note: for Russian tea cake use confectioners powdered sugar)

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon salt

2 cups flour, sifted

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted and then chopped

2 cups confectioners powdered sugar, for rolling warm cookies into after baking

Using a mixer with the paddle blade, cream butter and sugar until well blended, on medium speed for about 2 minutes.

Add vanilla.

Add sifted flour and salt.

Fold in chopped nuts.

Using your hands, make into balls to the size you prefer; tablespoon-sized is best.

Drop on cookie sheet.

Bake 10 to 15 minutes, cool on rack for about 5 minutes; and then, while still warm, roll baked cookies in powdered confectioners sugar per below.

Pour powdered sugar into a medium bowl.

Roll warm, baked cookies gently in powdered sugar.

Powdered sugar adheres as long as the cookie is warm when applying.

Merry Christmas to those celebrating the holiday and thank you for reading 🙂

A Few Of My Favorite Things…. Plus Week 6 Challenge Update

My family and friends know just how much I love food and tea related gadgets and tools.  This year, I received some clever, interesting, and highly functional items.  You might want to check these out for the foodies in your life.  Each is $50 or under…

My favorite things, under $50 - Amish cake tester, French olive oil, butter dishes, Cucina kitchen hand soap, iPhone tripod, clever tea bags, all about tea cards, small cake dome, Kitchen papers table runner

My favorite things, under $50 – Amish cake tester, French olive oil, butter dishes, Cucina kitchen hand soap, iPhone tripod, clever tea bags, all about tea cards, small cake dome, Kitchen papers table runner

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I just LOVE these butter dishes.  They are from Crate & Barrel and cost $4.95 each.  I first saw them at our dear friend’s home (J & E) – They are easy to store butter in and keep it fresh – the lid does not fall off, it’s quite secure and it is easy to pass around too.

Cake plate and dome:  I received this darling 10″ round fluted cake plate from J&E … decided I needed a dome for it and had a heck of a time finding one.  I searched every brick and mortar store and googled dozens more, but could not locate a 9″ dome….then walked through a neat home store, Jack Thomas at Home, in Laguna Beach (on my way to the best little book store around (Laguna Beach Books), and saw this dome…snapped it up immediately.  I enjoy plating petite sweets for guests’ viewing enjoyment and “planning” ahead for their eating enjoyment…so the clear, domed lid is a good thing.

Next: I couldn’t resist showing off my favorite new table runner …love it love it love it…so do all the guests … from Kitchen Papers.  They have a full line of contemporary and beautiful kitchen paper goods.

My favorite kitchen hand soap…I was first given this by my writing buddy and coach, Hils…it is so wonderful…easy on your hands (not harsh), and has a delightful light scent that diminishes almost fully and immediately after washing.  This I love as I am sensitive to scents and prefer them to dissipate versus hang on. I now purchase the large refill size bottle to keep the counter bottle full. Cucina is the brand and they have other offerings too.

Hilarious tea bags from Germany…I found these in my mailbox, left with an r.s.v.p. to attend the St. Regis Tea and Tinis gathering from my friend, S., who has a knack for discovering the cutest and most clever gifts.

I can’t seem to find this on line any longer, but this wheel gives great tips on what foods pair with which teas…I am inspired to research a bit more to try to find this item again.

Week 6 update….half way through and I definitely plateaued…no weight loss…but no gain either.   I anticipated hitting a wall about now.  I seem to be able to lose 5 lbs, then …it gets truly difficult to go further.  This week will be a real test as I am making a serious effort to lose another pound.  Last week there were a couple holiday dinners that I decided to enjoy, while not going overboard… I need to kick myself in the behind a bit…as I write this, I am feeling energized…the  theme to the film Rocky is playing in my head…. I am now going to publish this and go do some exercise and drink tea!!

A Most Fabulous Afternoon Tea “and Tinis” – A New Tradition Is Born

Except that we didn’t do “tinis” (martinis)…we opted for Champagne this time.

The back story to this year’s “tea and tinis” gathering at the St. Regis Hotel, Monarch Beach, California:

Several friends and I have participated in a celebratory holiday cookie exchange for the past decade.  We’d gather on a Sunday prior to Christmas at our good buddy “S’s” home…we’d arrive with six dozen just baked cookies (for sharing later), brought a bottle of champagne (for sharing now), enjoyed a delightful lunch prepared by several able hands — chatter, laughter, sharing of woes, dreams and ideas filled the day.  We concluded by committing to keep this annual tradition going.  Once back home, our families literally “plowed” through the enormous cookie tray,  gobbling up their favorites while also trying new varieties. Then they’d swear off cookies for the the rest of the season, as they’ve usually over-consumed at this point.  Whew.  It was fun and a lot of work.

This year, some of the group have big changes going on in their lives, leaving them with no time for baking dozens of cookies or hosting a party. It didn’t seem that the 2012 party was feasible.  So, when my manicurist, Victoria, told me about the nearby St. Regis Hotel’s “Tea and Tini” holiday activity, I got this idea…but  first off, I asked,  what is a “tini?”… she said, “Martini’s, silly :-),”  then I thought,…why not reinvent our cookie party, turning it into the “non-cookie party” by going for “Tea and Tinis” at the St. Regis Hotel?  Almost everyone jumped on board with resounding “yes’s” to the rsvp…we booked it, and twelve of us enjoyed the most spectacular spread of finger sandwiches, petite savory bites, salads and petite sweets, along with some bubbly and a few martinis too.  This afternoon tea rivaled the tea time D. and I experienced at London’s Savoy Hotel…it truly was an awesome experience.  All were relaxed and thrilled.  We started with Champagne…which paired perfectly with the savory bites, in particular the luscious smoked salmon open-faced sandwich.  A broad selection of Mighty Leaf whole leaf teas were offered.  Each guest chose their preferred tea, which was served individually in gorgeously designed Fortessa tea pots.

During the holidays, the St. Regis lays out an extensive array of tea time foods. Service is buffet style.  The room is beautifully appointed. Table settings are stunningly styled; clean, sleek, and functional.  Service was impeccable and readily available.  On a sad note, my daughter, unfortunately, came down with a cold and couldn’t make; therefore, I am forced to go another day this season so she can experience this enormous “perfection” of tea time display.  “Shucks, what tough duty, right? :-)”

Enjoy gawking over these photos of the food displays…and believe me, my photos do the displays no justice at all.

A plethora of beautiful tea sandwiches at the St. Regis...most are open faced, thus lower in carbs...yay for me

A plethora of beautiful tea sandwiches at the St. Regis…most are open faced, thus lower in carbs…yay for me

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And then there were sweets….they were petite enough to reduce all sense of guilt in trying one or two or five or six ….

 

Trays and trays of beautifully prepared miniature sweets...from petite cream brûlées to British financiers...and mango tarts, all fresh, tasty and perfectly sized to have three or four

Trays and trays of beautifully prepared miniature sweets…from petite cream brûlées to British financiers…and mango tarts, all fresh, tasty and perfectly sized to have three or four

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There were delicious, beautiful varieties of foods for almost every dietary requirement…whether gluten intolerant, diabetic, vegetarian, or carnivore – the selection was extensive.  I will say, it was a day where if you could, throw the restrictive diet out the window…it was worth it, as the bites were small.  Hat’s off to the chefs and the St. Regis Hotel, Monarch Beach, California.  We all vowed to come back next year.  Some of us can’t wait that long.

12 week challenge update:  week 5

Well, you’d think with the tea buffet I’d have blown it; but I planned for it and actually am down almost another pound.  I’m continuing with my exercise and yoga. Additionally, I “planned” to celebrate so ate lighter for breakfast and dinner; adding more seafood to my diet this week too.  Am down almost 5 lbs….now the tougher pounds are next but I continue to be motivated and feel in control – a nice feeling I must admit.  Thanks for all your support.

Foodie Films…For Your Favorite Foodies + Progress On My 12 Week Challenge

Recently, I was reading a book where the author expounded on a favorite food film that changed his life…coincidentally, I picked up another another book where the author described her inspiration for food as being awakened by the same movie…the film: Babette’s Feast (1987 set in 1900 Denmark).  I am still salivating after watching this film.  A must for food lovers.  I actually watched it online via a You Tube site.  Check it out.

Babette's Feast... One of the greatest on screen dinners of all time

Babette’s Feast…
One of the greatest on screen dinners of all time

It got me thinking about other foodie movies that I just love….

Consider this film list for those who have a passion for food.

The Big Night is my all time favorite food movie….I own few DVDs.  This is one of them.  My friend J. at Panini Girl has made the featured pasta dish in this film.  It was just savory goodness. Check out her blog for some of the best Italian recipes, photos and food items.

No Reservations is more like a sit com…but some great food scenes and fun to watch

One of my favorite food scenes is Meryl Streep making croissants for Steve Martin in the comedy, It’s Complicated…would love to have a shop such as hers in beautiful Santa Barbara.

There are certainly many more great films about food, as well as, films with memorable food scenes to enjoy; such as, the first Godfather film.  Years ago, my mom and I decided at the last minute to go see this film. I remember the only seats open were in the front row. We took them, and having been rendered ravenous from watching the characters consume giant plates of pasta, after the show, we searched for an open Italian restaurant. We finally found a small, local Italian Ristorante that was just closing and pleaded for a bowl of pasta…they accommodated us nicely.  It is a fond memory, particularly considering we rarely went out to eat and almost never

Great Foodie Films

Great Foodie Films

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Enjoying a nice pot of tea while watching any of these films is a good thing too 🙂

UPDATE: Week four progress on my 12 week journey and challenge to manage my insulin resistance through diet…. hurray, hurray, hurray … I lost one more pound this week, the most difficult pound I ever remember losing …but I did it!  Three pounds down, seven to go by end of January.  Whew…the trick this week?  I resisted many desserts, I estimated my carb intake per meal and added a slice of good bread at a couple meals (that was in lieu of any bites of sweets).  I added 15 minutes of yoga stretch moves each morning….it worked.  Am motivated to diligently and seriously reach my goal now that I have some significant progress.