Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Gilded Age on PBS tonight and Newport Mansions: Part II

The Elms, one of the cottages of Newport from the Gilded Age

The Gilded Age is coming tonight on PBS and we've got unfinished business.

Tonight, on PBS (Channel 56 for Detroit viewers), The Gilded Age is airing at 9:00 PM as part of The American Experience series.

Of course, we're counting down the minutes. But, we're also inspired to go back to some of our Gilded Age journeys.

A year ago last October, we traveled to Newport, Rhode Island to visit the grand mansions ("cottages") that belonged to the benefactors of the Gilded Age.  We wrote our first installment, "My Gilded Pleasure: Newport Mansions and Vanderbilding" back in November, 2016. Today, we pick up where we left off with "Newport Mansions: Part II".

One of two tea rooms on the lawn of The Elms



Newport Mansions: Part II

The Elms, although not directly on the ocean, is located on the prestigious Bellevue Avenue, which was almost as important as being on the water. Built in 1901 by Edward Berwind, who made his money from the coal industry, The Elms was designed by Horace Trumbauer to resemble yet another Paris chateau.

However, the key to the design, was to make it look as though it ran by magic. Servants quarters were hidden behind a brick wall on the third floor (the facade gives the illusion of two stories, but there are actually three) and all staff entries and delivery stops were cleverly shielded by gates, trees and other decorative ornamentation.





 Another Bellevue Mansion, Rosecliff, is equal to its neighbors in luxury and style. Originally built in 1902 by American heiress Tessie Fair Oelrich, whose father amassed great wealth in silver mining. When Tessie married Herman Oelrich, they purchased the property from historian and diplomat George Bancroft. Bancroft was also a horticulturist and developed the American Beauty Rose.



Rosecliff is known for its heart-shaped staircase, grand ballroom and spectacular views of the ocean. It is also the location of many movies, including the Great Gatsby starring Robert Redford.




Our last tour was of Chateau- sur -Mer, which means, castle of the sea, but, today, it is no longer on the water. Its great landscape once reached to the ocean, but it was parceled out to other family members and other beneficiaries. It was built in 1852 by George Peabody Wetmore and was designed by William Morris Hunt. Chateau-sur-Mer was erected during the first wave of wealthy migration to Newport and it was the biggest home in the town in its time.




It suffered from some "remodeling" on the second floor by Wetmore's two daughters, Edith and Maude, who never married. It has slowly been restored to give visitors a glimpse of mid-19th century decor.

*******************************************************************************


The Gilded Age may be over a century old, but it'still a time that captivates.  We'll be watching tonight and keeping up our "Gilded Pleasures"!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Gilded Age is coming in 2019 and we are so ready!

We've been waiting for the Gilded Age for quite some time.

"The Gilded Age" is coming in 2019 and we are so ready! In fact, we've been immersed in this fascinating time period for the past several years in our travels, reading, and, yes, even attire.

According to last Thursday's edition of the New York Times ("The Gilded Age, a Downton Abbey Follow-up. . ."),  Julian Fellows, writer and creator of Downton Abbey, has a new show coming to NBC in 2019. It's a ten-part series set in New York in the 1880's: an era where the nouveau riche began to infiltrate the long-established old money society.  

Marble House in Newport. The family cottage.

The story will follow the fictional family of George Russell, railroad tycoon and his ambitious wife, Bertha, as noted in Country Living last week. 

The Gilded Age saw many new-money families break into society, where barriers to entry were high and controlled with a tight fist by Caroline Astor.  In many "cash-for-class" transactions, rich upstarts would marry off their daughters to Lords across the pond. Seen as a win/win for both sides, the newly minted millionaires would get a title in the family, thus bumping up their social status, and the  strapped-for-cash aristocrats would get an infusion of American dollars to maintain their lavish estates.


Rachel at Highclere Castle, the real Downton Abbey. Cora and her money were very attractive.

If this is ringing as many bells as the downstairs corridor of Downton Abbey, you're remembering this is the story of Lady Crawley (nee Cora Levinson).  It was the Levinson family money that saved Downton Abbey when Cora and Lord Grantham were betrothed. Eventually, though, their story was a happy one, in that love reigned supreme.


Alva Vanderbilt's portrait at Marble House. Is she the inspiration for Bertha Russell?

However, not all "Dollar Princesses" like Cora Levinson fared so well. The real-life story of Conseulo Vanderbilt proved not all such arrangements were happy.  At the unyielding domination of her mother, Alva, Conseulo was forced to marry the Duke of Marlborough and whisked from her comfortable life in New York and Newport, to Blenheim Castle, one of the largest "homes" in England. The castle was impressive, but in much disrepair as was the relationship from the get-go. Both bride and groom gave up their true loves for an arranged marriage that benefited only their families.

The room at Marble House where the Duke proposed to Conseulo


Over the last few years, we've followed Conseulo's journey, visiting the Vanderbilt estates in New York and Asheville (her uncles' abodes), as well as the family "cottage", Marble House in Newport. It was here that Lord Marlborough proposed to Conseulo.

Hyde Park NY, home of Consuelo's uncle

In May, we'll continue the saga when we visit Bleheim Castle. To be sure, we'll be writing up more on the Gilded Age this year, so stay tuned! (We'll also pick up some of the unfinished blog stories from our Newport trip in 2016).




We've also ordered a new Gilded Age dress and pair of gloves, so our wardrobe will readily challenge any closet of the Gilded Age American Heiresses who shopped at Mr. Worth's (well, close enough).

We can't wait until 2019 for The Gilded Age to begin. We've been ready for quite some time.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

January is Hot Tea Month! Celebrate at home, the office or tea room!



Celebrating Hot Tea Month at Pemberly Pines tea garden

Although January - and hot tea month - are almost over, there's still time to celebrate! 

Certainly, hot tea is welcome any time of the year,  but there's something refreshing and re-energizing about a simple cuppa after the festive indulgences of the holidays. And, even though Michiganders will always welcome a warming brew in the winter, this January, we weren't the only ones experiencing chillier-than-usual temperatures. So, surely, a good month for all to partake in celebrating hot tea.

We honored the month devoted to our favorite drink in a number of ways.


Hot tea month begins with homemade pecan scones and Homestead Harvest jam

Starting in early January, I began sampling new teas I received over the holidays and paired them with home baked scones. My husband whipped up a batch of pecan scones using the basic recipe (with cream!) from Joy of Cooking and adding Georgia pecans, a traditional Christmas gift from my BTS buddy, Pam. They are delicious straight up, or super scrumptious with a spoonful of  black raspberry jam from Detroit's own Homestead Harvest.



We started Hot Tea month with a flourish, but were very soon to be outdone - on January 12th, to be exact. For those of you who may not be aware, January 12th is Hot Tea Day and I was reminded of that by Barb Tabb, my highly informed tea friend. (How did I not know that???). Barb texted me to send  "Hot Tea Day greetings" along with a few incredible pictures of how she brought the celebration to her office.

Barb T. brings Hot Tea Day to the office with homemade scones, jams and tea


Barb brought homemade scones, jams, several types of tea and an electric tea kettle to work.


Barb wore her tea charm necklace for the special day.





Even her accessories carried on the holiday theme!

We at BTS are inspired; next January 12th we will share the joys of tea time in similar fashion.

Loretta and Barb G. at Tea Totallers in Traverse City. (There's a secret inside!)


A week after Hot Tea Day, I visited my bestie from junior high, Loretta, who recently moved to a new home in northern Michigan. She made reservations for us at TeaTotallers, a unique tea room in downtown Traverse City. There's a secret to be unfolded here, but suffice to say, the ambiance is "pure parlor" and the drinks warm you to the core.


Enjoy Hot Tea Month at home; curl up by the fireplace with a new Tea Time


Even though there are only a few days left of January, there's still time to tea-partay! No matter how you honor Hot Tea Month - at a tea room, at the office or at home - a teapot full of hot tea is always a reason to celebrate.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Kate Middleton does not put this in her tea (do you?)



Kate Middleton revealed what she does not put in her tea. Do you have such royal sensibilities?

As reported in Travel and Leisure, last week Prince William and Kate were guests at a cafe run by a charity that helps the homeless. Here they were served tea and treats on a tray, along with a pitcher of almond milk. A volunteer at the cafe said they made sure to include the almond milk as they had read it was something Kate favored.


Kate was not amused.


The Duchess of Cambridge is quoted as saying "Don't believe everything you read. I don't even like almond milk".


No almond milk here (Getty images)

This revelation caused us to reflect on other additions to tea which may also be steeped in controversy.

One of these things just doesn't belong here . . .


And to be clear, we're talking about black tea;  green, white and most oolongs are a bit too delicate in flavor to handle any accompaniments. That being said, milk is a very popular addition to tea,  but not cream! Cream is too heavy and can overpower the tea. If you use half and half - you guessed it - you're half right in the world of tea connoisseurs.


Granulated sugar is acceptable, but cubes allow fancy sugar tongs

Sugar is another favored addition to tea. While granulated sugar is acceptable, we prefer cubes. Not only is it neater, but it allows one to use those fancy sugar tongs which enhance any tea table.

When tea time gives you lemons, serve them in slices, please!


And, when life and tea time give you lemons, be sure to serve them in slices (no wedges, please!)

Although, Kate was quick to point out the almond milk was not to her taste, the Royal couple are reported to have enjoyed the pretty confections served with the tea. Prince William exclaimed that the sweet treats were worthy of the 'Bake Off' (referring to the reality show, The Great British Bake Off).


Rachel at Kensington Palace, home to Kate. No almond milk here.


Which is a reminder to us all, no matter what's considered the most appropriate accompaniment to tea, it literally boils down to personal taste. And, no arguments here, scrumptious goodies are always a welcome addition to tea time.



Chocolate cupcake, worthy of the Bake Off?


In fact, we're enjoying a freshly brewed cup of Earl Grey with nothing added but a chocolate cupcake we baked and decorated this afternoon. It, too, is worthy of a place on the great Bake Off (but, don't believe everything you read!).







Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Tuesday Tea and Tomes: A Jane Austen Christmas

Enjoy "A Jane Austen Christmas" with Regency flair: a yule log, mead and green tea punch


Christmas in the Regency period, before the Victorian era upped the ante on holiday falderal, still had much to offer with the search for the perfect yule log, creating and imbibing specialty  mead or champagne and green tea punch, and attending the numerous balls and parties of the season.

In "A Jane Austen Christmas" by Carlo Devito,  the author describes not only Regency holiday traditions that would have been enjoyed by the Austen family and their society, but also six influential Christmases in Jane Austen's life. Devito begins with Jane, in early adolescence, at her family home in Steventon, concluding with her final years, filled with prolific writing, at Chawton Cottage.

I enjoyed "A Jane Austen Christmas" not only for the interesting tidbits about my favorite author and the Regency era holiday customs, but also for allowing me to reminisce about other Austen-inspired writers we've had the pleasure to meet and the travels we've taken to residences where Jane would have spent many a Twelfth Night.

With Margaret Sullivan, author of the Jane Austen Handbook

A fun, fact-filled book, with a forward by Margaret Sullivan who wrote the Jane Austen Handbook, Devito crams his slightly less than 200 pages with accounts of Jane's family, travels and a regrettable 24-hour engagement of marriage. While citing many sources for these tales, including Margaret Sullivan and John Mullan (both of whom we met at the Jane Austen Festival), the only caution in reading this tiny tome is that it's filled with quotes rather than the voice of the author. So, if one approaches this book as compendium of assorted clippings tied together by subject and timeline, it's a very enjoyable read.


Rachel and John Mullan, author of "What Matters in Jane Austen"

Starting with the Christmas of 1786, when Jane was just eleven, the Austens host their cosmopolitan neice, Eliza de Feuillide, at their Steventon home. Eliza captivated not only the budding author, but two of her six brothers as well, and became the inspiration for the independent women of Jane's novels.


In Bath, across from the Pump Room and near the Jane Austen Center. Jane, by most accounts, was not a fan of Bath.

By  1802 (Christmas, Part Four), Jane is in Bath, living with her sister, Cassandra, and her parents. Although a somewhat dismal time for Jane -  staying in a city she did not like, compounded by the aftershock of an early December proposal of marriage, readily accepted and then as quickly rescinded -  she nonetheless mined much rich material for upcoming novels.


Chawton Cottage. Happier times for Jane

In 1815, Jane moves to Chawton with her mother and Cassandra and lives in a charming cottage, courtesy of her brother Edward. It's here that Jane finds the solace of the country once again and returns to penning more novels. That Christmas, "Emma" is published.  We're told Jane "busied herself with dispatching presentation sets of Emma to select friends and relations". (How I'd love to have been on her friends gift list!)

Rachel plays melodies on the piano forte at Chawton
At Jane's desk,  Chawton Cottage



"A Jane Austen Christmas" is really a book for any season and for all audiences, be they longtime Jane-ites or Jane-neophytes. I confess, the day after Christmas, I consumed this book as quickly as the two accompanying pots of tea I brewed, and found them equally delicious and satisfying. You may be inspired to fire up the yule log, grab your favorite Austen novel for an afternoon diversion and toast the new year with champagne and green tea punch!

Recommended tea pairing:  Christmas at Chawton (while supplies last!), Mr. Knightley's Reserve or Compassion for Mrs. Bennet's Nerves, part of the Jane Austen collection from Bingley's Teas.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Happy New Year: Fresh reboots on resolutions

The new year brings in a reason to start anew

As much as I love the holidays, I look forward to January with almost as much zeal. The new year brings a break in the indulgences (delicious as they are!) of the festive season and gives us a reason to start anew.  For me, that usually means a reboot of my standard resolutions: eating healthier, exercising more, and getting organized. Combine these goals with tea, and yes, you have my attention!

Of the three reboots, decluttering and organizing have always been the most challenging for me. But the older I get, and the more boxes I go through from our move last Spring, the less I'm enamored with keeping stuff and the more alluring creative organizing becomes. If I can keep some of what I love and use it more efficiently, so much the better.


Repurpose tea cups to hold jewelry

On the Today Show this weekend, Dayna Isom Johnson, etsy trend expert, shared some repurposing ideas for organizing and storage. She suggested lining tea cups in a dresser drawer to house jewelry, especially earrings, which can easily be un-paired in a catch-all jewelry box or vanity tray.

Because my collection of tea cups numbers in the vicinity of "a lot", I took some "strays" and tucked them into one of my top dresser drawers. (An added benefit of doing this is clearing out a dresser drawer. I found three items to discard and one lost sweater.)


Another goal this year is more exercise. I received a new dress for Christmas, in the size I was two years ago, and I plan to wear it this Spring (and without the aid of "shapewear").


So, today, I joined a gym! Inspired not only by my new dress, but by my husband and daughter, who have been members of the same gym for quite some time.


After the treadmill, I'll enjoy a cup of tea at my gym

I clocked in some time on the treadmill and even less on the elliptical, but it's a start. And, to sweeten the deal (figuratively speaking, of course), this place has a little cafe, complete with coffee and tea!

Other goals for the new year on my list: more blogging (watch for the return of "Tuesday Tea and Tomes"!), publishing my next book and, perhaps most importantly lighting more candles and cursing the darkness less.


So, on to fresh starts: to becoming more active, more organized. more disciplined and lighting a few more candles, all  accompanied by lots and lots of tea.



Happy New Year to all our tea friends from BTS!


Monday, January 1, 2018

Barb's Tea Service In/Out List for 2018


Cheers to a what's in for 2018 in my all white kitchen with quartz counter tops


As we approach the new year, I not only look forward to fresh beginnings, but eagerly await the multitude of experts who weigh in on what's trendy and what's not for the next twelve months. Inspired by these lists, BTS, in its humble opinions (and we have many!), offers up its own In/Out List for 2018.

Drawing once again, in particular, from the Detroit Free Press' Homestyle "What's hot, not. . .", we are saddened to learn white kitchens are out, since we just put one "in" this spring.  Another strike against us:   Sherwin Williams "Poised Taupe" is replaced by the deep, blue green hue "Oceanside" for its color of the year.  We do however, find solace in our quartz countertops and Prince Harry and Megan Markle's upcoming nuptials. Both are IN and we're on board.


Jane Austen Christmas by Carol DeVito


IN:   A Jane Austen Christmas.  As described in Carlo Devito's book of the same name, a Regency period Christmas, before the Victorian falderal, still had much to offer with yule logs, mead, champagne and green tea punch and lots of parlor games, including charades and whist. Add a fortified Syllabub to your next pinochle tournament and jump bids will receive much approbation.

OUT:  Hallmark Christmas movies . . . until next year.  We have another 11 months to wait for incognito Princes to meet up with attractive, amnesiac, ladies in a town laden with fake snow.


Beverage center away from the kitchen, easy to self-serve!

INBeverage stations.  This year, my husband, Chris, created a "beverage station" in our hallway between the kitchen and the great room. This lessened the kitchen congestion and provided a convenient help-yourself drinks buffet for our family and friends. (We also found further "IN" support of this handy innovation in Mary Carol Garrity's "Style at Home: Cheers in the New Year" with her pop-up bars outside the kitchen.)

OUTCongested traffic patterns in all white kitchens (but with quartz counter tops which provides us some redemption).



This year brought in new DA gowns
DA teddy bears - cute or a cry for help?
















INDownton Abbey.  Reboots and possible movies are dangled before us Downton Abbey-ites almost weekly in social media posts to both taunt and delight. We've filled the gaping void with Crawley family teddy bears and Edwardian dresses. To assist, BTS is still scheduling Downton Abbey-inspired afternoon teas for 2018 (our first DA event is in February).



Tera, our own Downward Dog, shares her fav magazine, Bark



OUTDown-ward Dog:  Sadly, this new TV show didn't last a whole season. Although not the period epic of Downton Abbey, it featured an emo talking dog that observed his family environs with the keen and entertaining quips of any Dowager, (e.g,. "Who fluffs your pillows in the wild?").


Costume changes are tiring



Cat with bow tie for Sept. wedding




















IN: Dressing your family pet, (eg. dog for the holidays and your cat for weddings).

OUT:   Rolling your eyes at dressing dog or cat and saying, "not again".


Gown in Venice dress shop, not considered business casual

Pretty dress from Saks, always in vogue














INBeautiful, pastel party dresses from Sax!

OUT:  Ornate, wide-hipped gowns accompanied by a powdered wig, unless you are attending the masked ball in Venice.


Sip soothing limited Crown Teas while binge watching the series.


IN: Season Two of "The Crown". This fascinating mini-series tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II, royal warts and all. Enjoy binge-watching with The Crown teas from The Republic of Tea.

OUTThe Last Jedi.  I'll be considered a heretic in my own family, but really, isn't "last" in the title?

Da Vinci painting at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence


INDa Vinci, This genius artist has never gone out of style, but his story has gained a renaissance (if you'll forgive me!) with the new biography out this year by Walter Isaacson. If you find the hardcover a bit heavy to hold, download the Kindle version like we did.


Golden Girls coloring book


OUTGolden Girls Coloring Book.  Well, not really. If you don't have the talent of a renaissance painter, this is a fun pastime while binge-watching your favorite mini-series. However, note there's not much demand for your finished product (and none spotted in the Uffizi Gallery. . .yet).

All-IN:

Etiquette! Never out of fashion, BTS offers classes on dining and tea etiquette. Watch for a new companion book to our etiquette series to hit the stores in 2018!

Discovering Michigan! Whether its Michigan tea rooms, waterfalls, train stations or the wonders of the UP, there's many trip-worthy destinations to uncover. This February we'll be in Marquette for the annual dog races - bring on the thermos of hot, black tea!

With author of 100 Things to do in the UP, working on no. 34

Homestead Harvest  made in Michigan














And, whether you're in Michigan or not, you can enjoy some home-grown products from the Mitten State wherever you are. We recommend Mindo and Bon Bon Bon chocolates (see below) as well as Homestead Harvest (available at Eastern Market). Sample their canned products including dilled onions, sour cherry smoked Habanero sauce and Black Raspberry Jam, the latter  being the perfect accompaniment to scones and a cup of Earl Grey.


Afternoon tea can be anywhere, but be weary of party crashers!


Afternoon tea from luxurious to rustic! Celebrate the joys of bringing folks together for a pot of tea, an assortment of sweets and savories and the company of family and friends. Among our favorites this year: The Townsend, Abiding in  the Vine, Royal Tea Room, Babbington's, and Pemberly Pines. Just watch out for party-crashers!




BTS with Mindo Chocolate, stocking up on supplies
Tasty treat sans caloires






Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate! When you write a tea blog and a large percentage of your content is devoted to chocolate, you know said blogger looks for ways to combine the two for some extraordinary results. Consider a cup of Republic of Tea's Double Dark Chocolate Mate or try sampling a Mindo candy bar or a Bon Bon Bon truffle with complementary tea  or, perhaps best of all,  booking BTS for a chocolate tea pairing!


Whether you're in or out this season, we know you're always trending! We raise our tea cup to all in the spirit of the holidays and with all good wishes for a wonderful new year.

Happy New Year from Barb's Tea Service!!