Dollhouse tea service 

We threw a big tea party for some special events in our children’s lives this weekend. Since space was at a premium, I set out the sweeteners and spoons in one of our toy houses.  

vintage silver teaspoons,honey,and stevia packets are displayed in favorite family cups

Do you have a creative tea serving idea?

Tea for Purple Days

Tea & Crumples releases this November with Light Messages Publishers.
Tea & Crumples releases this November with Light Messages Publishers.

I love purple. It’s a color I associate with the richness of wine, velvet nights, the coziest blanket tucked around a small child. But it’s also the color of old grief.

My great-grandmother Luella Mae, known to us as “Granny,” was a Junebug. She was born in June and died in early summer some 18 years ago. Memories of Granny are scattered like grapes through my childhood and teen years.

Granny had the best songs and quips. “My nose itches. I smell peaches. Yonder come a man with a hole in his breeches.” She loved red like the sun loves heat.

My novel Tea & Crumples wades right into the depths of grief and floats back out on hope. I thought about Granny when I was writing it, along with all the other loves I cannot touch. What makes grief tolerable are the daily rituals that let us stir faith into our homes. That’s why, when I think about the message of my book, these words come to mind. Tea helps us touch grief in the dark.

If you are going through a purple valley, I hope you know I’m here, thinking of you, too, when I stir my tea.

Faith, Tea, and Love,

Summer

Prayer When You’re Busiest

Coming this November with Light Messages Publishers.
Coming this November with Light Messages Publishers.

After my dad died in 2012, there was a long period of going through the motions. What kept me sane and kept my family together was the daily need for food, drink, connection. I had loved tea with friends and family before then, but we solidified our family tea tradition that year, capping a summer of hot grief with the warmth of the tea table. I dug in a garden that summer, too, and the mints and herbs that grow there have come to be regulars at our teatime.

In Tea & Crumples, the protagonist Sienna is suffering under a terrible grief. But the people around her bridge the gap across her sorrow by reaching across the tea table. It’s not always our words that make sacred spaces. Sometimes it’s the daily rituals, the cleaning of cups, the laying of tables, the tucking in of chairs. Most of the time, holiness seeps in right between our weary fingers. Often, it leaves them warmer.

My hope for this novel is that it creates a safe space for love, for grief, for questions too big to ask all at once. It’s a spot of tea for the soul.

Has tea helped you through a hard time?

Flowers Go With Tea

My love of tea and love of flower arranging grew apace. But it was the year that I worked as a florists’ assistant that I learned to make flowers sing along with the kettle.   

I love making simple arrangements for our table and prayer corner, of course, but my favorites are wedding bouquets. Above you see my daughter with her flower girl bouquet from last summer. Though my husband and I had been married for 15 years, we wanted to experience the blessing of the Orthodox Crowning ceremony. I’m so glad we did! We had a big tea party for our friends afterward, and the lovely bouquets added to the festivities.

  

I added herbs from our garden to my bouquet: rosemary, mint, and thyme. 

This was a hair check selfie. When you’re crowned, you need a flexible hairdo.  

 

We loved the teacups we rented from Southern Vintage Table.   

Every time I make a bouquet I remember the others I’ve been privileged to make. I made bouquets for my mother’s Christmas wedding to my stepdad years ago (pre-digital photos) of red roses and winter berry and fluffy greenery. Above you see some of my sister’s bouquet from 2011. 

I love tea for the continuity it provides through all circumstances, for the way we get to use teapots for generations, and for its capacity to add warmth and ritual to gatherings. I think flowers play a great supporting role.

What about you? What’s your favorite extra at tea?

Celebrating Best Sellers!

I have had quite a day, and I want to share some of the excitement with you. How else? With tea!

A little tea party for the children to celebrate all three of their mama's books becoming Top Ten Amazon Best-Sellers!
A little tea party for the children to celebrate all three of their mama’s books becoming Top Ten Amazon Best-Sellers!

Just yesterday, I published my latest novel, an Orthodox Christian paranormal romance called The Salvation of Jeffrey Lapin. Guess what? It made it to #8 in its category on Amazon this morning! Then, in honor of NaNoWriMo, I was glad to be able to offer my workshop model Creative Writing for Kids for free this week only! Creative Writing for Kids has risen to #2 in its category on Amazon!

When the children approached me to ask why I was so excited, I told them the great news. All three of my published books have made it to the top ten in their Amazon categories.

What do you think they wanted to do to celebrate? In the words of my four year old, “Mom, can we have a tea party with real tea?” 

I had already planned to tell you today about my favorite quick and easy tea treat “recipe” (assembly required, but no cooking). It so happens that the children love this treat for their tea parties. All it takes is two ingredients: Carr’s Whole Wheat Crackers (biscuits) and Nocciolata [click links to view on Amazon]. If you’re not allergic to soy lecithin, you can use Nutella in place of the Nocciolata. (I cannot eat regular Nutella due to a severe allergy to soy products.) But even friends who can eat both tend to prefer the richer flavor of Nocciolata when we have tea.

The “Recipe”: Chocolate Covered Biscuits

6 teaspoons Nocciolata chocolate hazelnut spread

6 Carr Whole Wheat Crackers

Spread 1 teaspoon of Nocciolata on each biscuit. Serve!

My children love these tea treats. They sometimes call them “Chocolate Covered Kipper Biscuits” since they look just like the treats eaten on the TV series Kipper the Dog.  Kipper’s chocolate covered biscuits are probably meant to be chocolate Hob-Nobs, which unfortunately also contain soy products and are therefore banned from our house. But as someone who enjoyed Hob-Nobs back in the day, I can assure you that these tea treats are a delicious substitute for those with soy allergies.

Thank you for celebrating with me! Please share your favorite super easy tea treat “recipe” in the comments!

Note: This post contains affiliate links.

Comfort Food: Homemade Tortillas

Tea is a given at any meal in our home, but what we serve with it varies on the season. Now that we are entering cold season, I have made sure the pantry is stocked with a 10 pound bag of flour and a fresh jar of baking powder. Of course you can use those ingredients in tea time classics like scones, but we native Texans often take our tea bread in a different direction. Enter today’s recipe, my version of homemade tortillas. I hope you enjoy, and please share your favorite comfort food in the comments!

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Homemade tortillas are a very kid-friendly recipe. Here's my daughter making tortillas with her Aunty back in the spring.
Homemade tortillas are a very kid-friendly recipe. Here’s my daughter making tortillas with her Aunty back in the spring.

When my twins were born, my sister came to stay with my older children while I was in hospital. My youngest son needed a major abdominal surgery when he was only two days old. I fretted over leaving the older children without either parent for two days, until my sister texted me a photo of a plate piled high with homemade tortillas. In my family, homemade tortillas are Lembas bread and heart cakes, burrito wrappers and quesadilla bases, but most of all, they are stability. If my preschool children won’t eat anything else due to stress or illness, they will still gobble down tortillas.

{Recipe heavily modified from Flour Tortilla recipe in Joy of Cooking}

Flour Tortillas

4 cups white flour (or 3 white, 1 whole wheat)

1.5 cups slightly hot water (about 115 degrees F)

1 stick (half cup) softened butter

2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons [aluminum-free] baking powder.
Mix together flour, salt, and baking powder. Heat water and butter together till just a little hot (I microwave cold water and cold butter on high in a big glass measuring cup for one minute). Add the water & butter to the flour and stir to combine.
Knead, squeezing the dough together well with your hands. Divide it in two and throw the large dough balls several times between your hands. They should start to become more elastic quickly.
Return the dough balls to the mixing bowl between divisions. Divide them again and smush/roll between palms a few times. Continue dividing until you have 16 dough balls. (When you have 8 larger dough balls, you may divide some of them into 3 instead of 2. I often make 20-something smaller tortillas since I am feeding children. But for fajitas or burritos, you would want 16 ~8 inch tortillas.)
Roll them between your palms while pressing down. Leave all of the dough balls in the mixing bowl and cover with a piece of plastic wrap so that the wrap touches the dough (or use a very slightly damp cloth to cover the bowl and don’t touch it to the dough balls; the goal is for them not to dry out).
Slowly heat a large heavy skillet such as an enameled or well seasoned cast iron skillet on medium or medium low heat (depending on how hot your burners run). After at least five minutes of rest, place a dough ball on a clean, flat surface (I use a nonstick Silpat mat). Press it flat with your fingers, gently pressing out and down until a circle is formed and the dough is tortilla thin. You may also use a tortilla press if you have one or a rolling pin if you like being frustrated.
When the pan is hot, place dough circle in the center. Watch carefully. If the pan is hot enough, the tortilla should cook and have brown spots after 45 seconds-1 minute. Flip with a spatula and let cook another 45 seconds or so on other side. Remove to plate. I usually pat out the next tortilla while the previous one is browning. It usually takes me about an hour to make a double batch of these, but of course they take longer with child helpers. Tortillas are very child-helper-friendly. The little ones sometimes like to pat out their own tortillas or to roll them with a rolling pin.
Note: May also be made with good lard, coconut oil or with non-hydrogenated palm shortening if you have food restrictions. I don’t recommend “vegetable” shortening, because what is that, anyway?

Basil Tea

The children's tea set, laid out for five. Our fifth child is expected in February.
The children’s tea set, laid out for five. Our fifth child is expected in February.

 

When our newborn son Basil was in the NICU, tea became our lifeline. We discovered on the day after our twins were born that Basil, the youngest twin, had an upside down stomach, what’s called a gastric volvulus. His brother was cleared to go home with us, but Basil needed surgery. He was only two days old when the surgeon walked into the room where we were praying with our priest and announced an incredible finding. When the surgery team flipped my baby’s stomach back into place, they found that the flip had concealed a dangerous diaphragmatic hernia. In essence, our son only had the right half of his diaphragm. Miraculously, and to the surgeon’s amazement, Basil’s stomach had flipped in the womb to block the hole. Because of the volvulus, Basil’s lungs developed normally. He had to have his diaphragm reconstructed and a little Goretex patch added, but he would most likely be okay. His problem became a miracle that we received without asking. Our tiny baby was cut wide open, but he would heal.

Even with a hopeful prognosis and the help of my amazing sister who came to stay with us, Basil’s recovery time in the NICU was stressful for us. With three other children including Basil’s newborn twin at home, I could only visit my youngest child once a day. Fortunately, the hospital had a 24 hour café that served tea. Like the wires stretching out from Basil’s machines when we held him, tea reached across the gap between medicine and Mama, health and home. We would sip our courage from favorite mugs at home before we drove to see him. We would sip a salve for our sorrows from paper cups when we had to leave him.

We took our boy home on a freezing day, snuggling him and his twin together in a wrap against the cold. Our first order of business after settling the boys in their crib was to brew a pot of tea. The hospital stay behind us at last, we thawed to peaches under the influence of our favorite Keemun.

Our Basil is strong now, steeped in love and healing. We celebrate him week by week, making home the way we always have. We lay the tea table: plates and cups and spoons on a tray, slices of lemon, brown sugar cubes, an apt pitcher for cream. At center, with a cozy for when the babies’ sweet cries invariably interrupt us, a piping pot of tea. Each day that passes, we look forward to a future we were afraid to let ourselves imagine in the NICU. When I imagine it, my children gather at the tea table, one, two, three, four, five, to look at the day’s teacakes. They argue over who will pour and settle on their big sister. Basil’s toddler hands, pudgy and elegant, grasp his little porcelain cup as he waits his turn. He drinks his cream cooled tea and smiles. He knows he is home.