Meetup Report: Pinecone Cottage

Meetup Report: Pinecone Cottage

This weekend I had the good fortune of being able to attend a birthday tea party at the Pinecone Cottage. I had missed a previous meetup at that locale and very deeply regretted it. I love going to tea, and from what I heard it sounded like the tea service at the Pinecone Cottage was very enjoyable! Now that I’ve attended and experienced it myself, I quite agree. I had a wonderful time and am really looking forward to going back.

We met at the train station, which is right across from the tea house. Once we determined that everyone had arrived, we headed indoors.

The tea house is incredibly charming. ♥ The tables are covered in white cloths and set with mis-matched but complimentary place settings. Everything has a shabby, romantic, antique sort of ambiance. I particularly liked the mis-matched ornate flatware, which I suspected to be old pieces of silverplate. Each table had a small pink candle and a beautiful white and pink rose as the centerpieces. They were a lovely touch, and not so bulky as to get in the way of conversation. The chairs look as though they’re made of branches, and the backs are decorated with a swath of coloured tulle and flowers.

Quaint Teapot
This was the tea pot that we were started out with~ It wound up being too small for us to share without many refills, since the tea we chose was wonderful!

When we were all seated, tea menus were brought out. The tea selection was varied, with something for everyone between the black, green, and herbal options. (I’m sure there was white tea as well, although I don’t remember it distinctly and thus think there was a smaller selection of that type.) I chose a flavoured black tea called “Russian Renaissance,” which the girl sitting next to me also selected. It was delicious and exactly what I was hoping for. I’m sure she felt the same way, as together we drank several teapots of it!

The Pinecone Cottage has a different menu for each month. Our theme for June was “Sun Porch and Roses.” The first course was a refreshing salad topped with a Vidalia corn chowder. The second course of savories consisted of asparagus pinwheels in a flaky crust, tomato-cucumber crostini with mozzarella, and zucchini bread with prosciutto and cream cheese. All were very good, although the crostini was rather hard to eat in a ladylike fashion–perhaps if the bread had been sliced thinner or more toasted it would have been less difficult. The zucchini bread was my favourite; I would have gladly eaten a slice of it sans meat and cream cheese~

Sandwich Course
I ate most of the courses without taking pictures, as that is the sort of thing I am known to do, but I did manage to take a picture of the savory sandwich course.

After the savories we were brought cherry-lavender scones with raspberry-rhubarb jam and lemon Devon cream. The lemon cream was absolutely heavenly! I would have eaten it with a spoon had I not been seated at a table with other ladies and supposed to be behaving myself. :3 The raspberry-rhubarb jam was made by the tea house itself (they also sell preserves) using Elizabethan methods. I love rhubarb anything–it immediately makes me think of summer! ☆ It was delicious on the scones.

The dessert course consisted of peach Bavarian cream and strawberry-blackberry cobbler. Both were delicious! My only qualm was the way it had been plated–the Bavarian cream was in a cool glass dish standing on a plate, with the cobbler heaped beside it. This led to cobbler sneaking under the glass dish or wandering elsewhere; it would have been better on its own plate. The peach Bavarian cream was absolutely delicious. Now I have dreams of a creamy pink lemonade gelatin dessert…

Inside the Cottage
I tried to get a picture of the beautiful decorations inside of the tea house; it was very woodsy and romantic.

Inside, we were seated at tables of three or four. Although that did prevent a lot of mingling, it made for easier conversation. I really enjoyed talking with everyone at my table! I hope the other tables were having as much fun as we were. (Although hopefully with less mishap… I got a bit overexcited at one point and broadsided a new, larger teapot all over the girl to my left. ;___; I still feel so stupid about it even though she was so gracious and assured me that everything was okay. I can’t even imagine how mortified and guilty I’d have been if she had been injured–thankfully the tea was not scathingly hot! I’ll have to find a way to make it up to her.)

I rather suspect that the other tables did have as much fun, or at least that’s what my husband reported. He sat at a different table–we don’t need to be glued at the hip, and he doesn’t attend meetups as my accessory or pack-horse. Despite the fact that he doesn’t dress in an aristocratic style, he likes the socializing aspect and comes for the conversation. It’s quite amusing, because he seems very shy–but he was the one insisting that we would go! (I’m very thankful he did–I would have missed out on a lovely time and it wasn’t at all as terribly expensive as I initially feared.)

Our Table
The birthday girl’s boyfriend was kind enough to take a picture of our table, although it was rather difficult.

One of the most exciting things for me about this meetup was that I had the opportunity to meet a few lolita I hadn’t met before! There are lots of girls interested in the fashion around Chicago, but we don’t always wind up together in the same place. Now that the weather is warmer and most people aren’t in classes (myself included), I’m seeing lots of participation from people I’ve never met before~ This always makes me cheerful. ♥ A community cannot continue if it become stagnant. Eventually people will stop wearing the fashion or leave the area, and the numbers of the group would dwindle away. I also like meeting new lolita because I remember being new to the community and what an important role it’s played in my life. I hope other people can grow to feel the same way~

(I suppose that was the little part where I stand on my pedestal and cry sparkling tears from star-filled eyes as I passionately rally the troops of frills and lace. XD It seems very silly and melodramatic, but I truly and sincerely mean it! ☆ My ultimate goal is to meet and spend time with everyone in area. I’m always working on it.)

Tea Group
After tea, we took a picture outside of the tea house~ We had to hold still for a while so that everyone could get a picture.

When tea was over, we paused to take some pictures outside and then wandered around the area a bit. The tea house is in the downtown area of that suburb, so there were some cute little shops to investigate. We enjoyed looking around the local toy store; it made me feel nostalgic to see things like wooden food that velcros together and Playmobil castles and dragons. I almost had a fluffy-flustered-enthusiasm attack when I spotted a wall full of Calico Critters!

My husband was kind enough to buy me a set of bunnies when I bounced over and tried to explain that oh-my-goodness-there-are-tiny-animal-figurines-wearing-clothes-and-doing-human-things-I-need-some-in-my-life. He even helped me figure out which box of critters to choose. We decided on bunnies, and right when I was wishing there were brown bunnies or white bunnies, someone moved a box of gray bunnies and uncovered white bunnies with brown-tipped ears! ♥ They’re wonderful! I thought I was going to purchase said bunnies, but my husband surprised me by sneaking off to the cash register while I was convincing a friend to buy the gray bunnies. (Isn’t that what friends are for?)

Bunny Family
These were my “spoils” from the trip–Calico Critters! I’m so excited to own them.

I had an absolutely wonderful time! (I hope the birthday girl did, too!) Everyone was so sweet and friendly, and the tea service was better than most I’ve had at hotels recently. I can’t wait to go back~ I’d love to convince others who couldn’t attend this time to come to a future tea party. There’s something particularly intriguing to think that each month there will be a different menu–I’m sure they’re all delicious~

Sweet Treats: Clean Cup Move Down–More Tea

Sweet Treats: Clean Cup Move Down–More Tea

Although my kitchen has a drawer dedicated to and overflowing with tea, I’m always on the lookout for something new. I drink tea on a constant basis–at home, at work, at restaurants, and at the homes of others. My closest friends tend to put the kettle on when they know I’m heading over, even when the summer sun is blazing. ♥ Lately I’ve been feeling somewhat bored with my current options. Mentions of small tea companies producing quality teas have been cropping up in every publication I’ve come across lately. I suspect it’s related to the Alice in Wonderland fever from the recently-released movie.

For Christmas a few years ago, my grandmother gave me a box of Tea Forté. The tea itself isn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it isn’t bad–and the packaging is so adorable! The tea “bags” are little narrow pyramids with a small green leaf atop a green wire, as if a small plant is sprouting from the tip of the bag. The rigid structure is very useful–it won’t slip into the cup like a teabag’s tag-on-a-string might, making it simple to remove the teabag later. Part of my grandmother’s gift included a set of little stands, perfectly suited to resting one of the tea bags. This prodded me towards purchasing another set of their teas when I found some at a store I stopped in for thank you notes.

Dolce Vita Collection
With flavors like raspberry and chocolate, I could not leave this in the store. It had to come home with me.

As I am myself, I selected the “dessert tea” Dolce Vita set. The six flavors are Belgian Mint, Coco Truffle, Orchid Vanilla, Raspberry Nectar, Vienna Cinnamon & White Ambrosia~ The tea is fairly good quality, although not as good as, say Tea Gschwendner, my all-time favourite company. ♥ Although the tea isn’t sugary, the flavours are sweeter than a harsher tea yet also very intense. They’re intended to pair well with very sweet desserts, so they have to avoid being overpowered.

Raspberry Nectar Tea
This was the raspberry nectar teabag~ It brewed a beautifully dark pink cup of tea and was VERY raspberry-ful. If I were going to tea-dye, this is the kind of tea I’d use!

That didn’t quite satisfy my desire for trying something new, though~ I poked around at local stores, but didn’t spot anything that really caught my attention. In an old-lady way, I save magazine and newspaper clippings; I recalled that I had a few for teas I wanted to try. Sure enough, I found one I had removed from a Martha Stewart Living magazine for Steven Smith Teamaker of Oregon. I browsed their beautiful website and placed my order, wishing that I could have smelled the teas in-store before purchasing.

There were so many things I wanted to try, but I didn’t want to overwhelm my already-stuffed tea drawer. I settled on all black teas, as that’s what I primarily drink; white and green teas could wait for a future order, if I place one. I ordered No. 23 Kandy because I couldn’t resist the name, No. 9 Yunna because I thought my husband might be intrigued with the description of “spice & leather,” and No. 64 Ceylon Dimbulla BOP1 because I like Ceylon yet rarely buy it and it’s a common base for Earl Grey, which I adore. (BOP1 is part of the grading system for Pekoe tea. It’s used for broken/fannings/dust teas–there’s a different system for crush/tear/curl teas. BOP1 means “broken Orange Pekoe first grade,” containing roughly 40% full leaves and 60% broken leaves.)

Steven Smith Tea Assortment
The wonderful assortment that greeted me when I opened the small box that arrived to my doorstep~ The thank-you note is a charming touch.

Ordering from Smith Tea was very simple. The website is beautiful but uncomplicated, and the ordering process well-organized. My tea shipped the day after I ordered it and arrived when estimated. The box was a little crushed at the corners, but the tea was well-packed and even the shipping invoice was unbent.

As soon as it arrived we opted to try No. 23 Kandy, obviously because of the name. It’s a smooth, mild black tea without bitterness. I liked the faint floral notes. It was very good, overall, and I can think of a lot of circumstances that it would be perfectly suited to~

No.09 Yunnan
I brewed it a bit darker than recommended, but it didn’t become bitter. I liked the colour–it does have a red tint.

No. 9 Yunna was the second to be tried. It did have a smoky flavor, as listed in the description, but not very intense. Usually, when I think of smoky teas I think of Lapsang Souchong, which is intensely smoky. This had a much more subdued flavor, and the taste of spices paired with it well. It went very well with the mini stroopwafels I had picked up earlier in the week~ ♥

Some other tea companies I hope to try include Damn Fine Tea, Tea for All Reasons, Portsmouth Tea (particularly because they make a blend specifically for Milk Tea), and Serendipitea. Maybe after Dolpa–if I keep buying tea it will interfere with my budgeting!

If you know any others, recommend or suggest something to me! ♥ I’m always looking to try something new~

Daily Life: A “Momoko” Moment

Daily Life: A “Momoko” Moment

In most ways, I’m not much like Momoko of Kamikaze Girls (original title Shimotsuma Monogatari)–and I think that’s a good thing. Her personality isn’t exactly the best–she’s rude, selfish, untruthful, and conceited. She isn’t even in denial–she readily admits that beneath her beautiful clothes her soul is rotten. Despite my disapproval of her personality and actions, the way she lives is very intriguing, if unattainable. I’m sure I wouldn’t really want to lie around all day reading about embroidery and eating sugar-coated cereal for dinner, but sometimes when work or class is exhausting me I daydream about how relaxing it would be once in a while.

The scene from the film where she shows her sugary and insubstantial boxed lunch~

I particularly think of the food she’s always eating–always sweets, never anything else. I like sweets very much myself, but I keep it balanced with lots of vegetables and grains~ That wasn’t the case for her. I always wondered if she secretly ate other food, but she seemed the sort who would rather get scurvy than do something she disagreed with, so perhaps she just took really effective vitamins.

Since my husband isn’t here I haven’t really felt like cooking dinner. I don’t eat very much and I’m not very hungry, and it seems like a waste to make something if I don’t particularly care either way–and then I might hope those ingredients are still here for a future meal. (As if I’ll never get to a grocery store again–it’s completely irrational.) I did make a cheese soufflé the other day, but this evening I didn’t want to eat it again after having some for lunch already. I remembered that we had some strawberries that absolutely must be eaten or else, and thus my dinner was decided: tea and strawberries & cream.

An Alice Dinner
The evening meal of champions very silly girls who absolutely know better. A honey & butter sandwich was made later and not pictured.

It was just one of those silly things that brightened my mood a bit. My husband hasn’t been gone for very long, and I’m sure he’s having a wonderful trip. I kept myself busy over the weekend so that I wouldn’t miss him too much, but I miss him just as much regardless of how many other things I’m doing to keep myself occupied. Sometimes doing something that you know isn’t necessarily the “right” thing to do, but is absolutely-completely-undeniably the “fun” thing do–the fun thing is the better choice. (And one non-nutritious meal is harmless. If I made a habit of this I’m sure I’d be quite sick!)

I’m also getting acquainted with my beautiful-wonderful-amazing new computer. ♥

My computer is rather old, and it’s been giving me trouble for quite a while. So much, in fact, that before I graduated from university my father told me that he would get me a new computer as a graduation present. (Yay!) And then I graduated, and heard nothing of the computer for months. When it was finally brought up again, the new computer was suddenly surrounded with red tape and more delays. It had gotten to the point where I thought I’d have to start saving up for the new computer myself–especially because my former computer has been continuously making suicide attempts. I haven’t actually been able to use it in over a month, but I thankfully my tiny pink netbook has been pulling me through! Tiny pink netbook is really not a permanent replacement, however: he runs Linux and has an itty-bitty screen.

My Baby ♥CANDY♥
Mallow and the computer. Both are cute, but Mallow’s still cuter. I think he can take solace in that. He hasn’t been forgotten even though Monsieur Lait has been prominently featured as of late.

The best part about my new computer is that it’s new. The second-best part of my new computer is that it’s PINK~ ♥ I love every centimeter of it’s textured pink Windows 7-running self. ♥ It has well over ten times as much hard disc space, much more RAM, doesn’t do crazy things for no reason… And it’s pink. Did I mention it’s pink? It’s pink.

My brother and father argued over the computer, apparently. I told my brother that I wanted a pink computer that wasn’t just junk, since whatever I get will have to be my internet-and-other-stuff terminal for a long time. I am not very swayed by new technology, preferring instead to buy frills and tea. My brother declared that this was the best pink computer in the given price range, and then my father looked up every review he could find and brought up whatever negative points others had found, for my brother to rebut them. I really appreciate both of their hard work! ♥

My father very seriously told me I should immediately tape my business card to the bottom of my laptop, so that I don’t pick up someone else’s when we go through the security checkpoint in the airport. Somehow, I don’t think that will be a problem.

Meetup Report: Tea at Chalkboard

Meetup Report: Tea at Chalkboard

I will admit right away that this doesn’t actually count as a meetup report. I didn’t actually go to a meetup over the weekend–but I did spend a lot of time running around with my little sister, both of us in frills; enough time that I wanted to write about it. Particularly because we went to tea on Saturday and she prodded me to actually take some pictures there.

Beautiful Sconces

There are a lot of nice places to go for tea in the city. Most of the major hotels downtown have afternoon tea services in gorgeous settings–with a price tag that can be $40 or higher. As much as I enjoy indulgence (I do wear lolita fashion, after all.) sometimes it just isn’t realistic to spend so much for one person. I particularly love drinking tea, regardless of its association with the lolita stereotype, and am always hoping to find a nice place to relax and enjoy a few hours with tasty tea-time snacks and good conversation. The release of the new Alice in Wonderland movie has prompted a lot of focus on tea, and I’ve read reviews of teas and tea services in places I’d never spotted them previously.

After seeing the restaurant’s name several times, I decided to try Chalkboard. The price is very affordable in terms of afternoon tea–$19 per person for the service. We discovered upon arriving that it is best not to come too hungry, however, as the service includes two finger sandwiches, one flat scone, and four bite-sized desserts–a slightly smaller assortment than I’m accustomed to, although completely understandable for the price.

Afternoon Tea Menu

The sandwiches, one egg salad and one salmon, cucumber, and cream cheese, were certainly good but not astounding. The cranberry scone, which I can’t help thinking of as a “scookie” due to its flat nature, was very tasty–particularly with the strawberry preserves. The sweets consisted of a brownie, lavender cookie, yogurt-filled tart, and cookie dough eggroll. The cookie dough eggroll was my favourite, but so messy! Thank goodness for forks; it wouldn’t have been polite to scoop up fallen dough with my fingers, but I would have done it. The yogurt-filled tart was least impressive, as the blackberry topping it wasn’t sweet enough to stand up to the sourness of the yogurt.

My little sister ordered Upton Tea Co.‘s “Sweet Almond Green,” which was exceptional. It was smooth, without bitter notes, with almond bouquet and a slightly spicy cinnamon finish. I chose the “Honeybush Superior,” also Upton Tea. It had a light, slightly-woodsy taste and went very well with sugar.

Ah, Afternoon Tea

The real star of our tea was the house-made pâté. My little sister spotted it on the dinner menu, and since I hadn’t eaten anything else that day the suggestion was irresistible. The pâté was chicken and duck liver…with bacon. It sounded good. It tasted fantastic. It isn’t typically a part of afternoon tea, but I have a weakness for well-made pâté, and the tea was a good accompaniment for it. It was served with toast squares and white beans, an onion relish, avocado, wholegrain mustard, and olives. We enjoyed it so much that I’m toying with the idea for returning someday for pâté and two pots of tea–as long as pâté is still on the menu, which changes frequently.

I think that Chalkboard would be a nice place for a meetup, especially now that I know what to expect. (And now that I know where it is and won’t get lost, as my directions there were not the best and we were saved only by my little sister’s magic phone of fanciness.) I enjoyed the atmosphere and the service–I can only wish it was closer to my house! …Okay, and I can also wish that afternoon tea included pâté. (Although I don’t think most of the other lolita in my area would share my wish!)

Sweet Treats: Bagged Tea Time

Sweet Treats: Bagged Tea Time

I’ve been a bit sick lately, so I’ve been drinking tea even more than usual. Tea may just be my favorite beverage, and I have an entire drawer in my kitchen dedicated to my collection–right underneath the electric kettle that I love so dearly. Although I have a designated tea drawer, that’s not the only spot for tea. I don’t stick to just one kind, and I like to surround myself with a different tea for a different occasion! And… most of my “traveling teas” are bagged teas (and some aren’t very fancy, either)~

~At Work~
I keep tea at my desk to supplement the varieties that are stocked in our kitchens. I’m very lucky that my office has tea at all, and even luckier that it isn’t simply something another worker brought in and forgot about. A set supply of bagged teas is restocked on a regular basis: Bigelow’s “Constant Comment,” “Orange & Spice,” “Apple Cinnamon,” “Earl Grey,” “Cranberry Apple,” and “Green Tea,” as well as Tazo’s “Chai” and “Awake.”

I’m not terribly fond of bagged tea, as the quality of the tea leaves is usually lower and the tag-shaped paper pouches don’t circulate water very well, but I’m definitely not above drinking it! I find that if the tea is stronger–like a black tea–it can be easier to taste that the leaves are not as flavorful or select as those in loose-leaf tea. Thus I usually drink herbal teas if bagged tea is an option. I lean towards the two apple flavors at work; they’re even better with honey. ♥

I also keep my own tea in my desk. I don’t want to bring my tea accoutrement to work me with (at least not yet) so I like to select a box of tea bags to try. If they’re at work it forces me to drink it even if I don’t really-really like it! At home it could languish in my drawer forever~ Right now I have a box of Tazo’s “Cucumber White.” It’s an interesting flavor–a white tea with cucumber, lime, and peppermint. At first I wasn’t very keen on the taste, but it’s started to grow on me. It’s very refreshing, and it soothes an upset stomach.

~Away from Home~
My other hidden-tea-stash is at my mother’s house. She doesn’t live terribly far away and is centrally located to the rest of my family, so my person and I travel out to see her…or sleep at her house when visiting other relatives. My tea used to live in my mother’s kitchen cabinet, but now there are only a few remnants. My stepfather enjoys tea as well, but he has been working abroad for a while, so there isn’t much in the cabinet.

There are a few golden pouches from a local tea shop that is no longer around. They had a very wide selection and some interesting blends–different from what I notice at most shops, which always made me wonder if they had a different supplier. Most of the teas are green teas, which I am rarely in the mood for. Instead, my mother’s house has my two guilty pleasures–Bigelow’s “English Teatime” and Celestial Seasoning’s “Sleepytime.”

Out of all the black teas produced by mass-marketed tea bag companies, I really prefer the blend that’s in “English Teatime.” It’s strong without much bitterness, having mild undertones instead. I find that it goes well with mostly anything I plan to drink it with, and it stands well on its own. “Sleepytime” is my favorite night-time tea–a chamomile with spearmint and lemongrass. It also brings back very happy childhood memories.

~Make it Quick!~
Quick isn’t even the best word, really–it’s convenience. I do have to admit that bagged tea is awfully convenient. I do keep some of it at home, although it is vastly outnumbered by the rest of my teas. If I’m only choosing bagged tea on a whim when I’m at home, it has to be more than just quick–it has to taste delicious! After all, why else would it ever be consumed?

Personally, I really like teas by ®evolution. I find their flavor combinations quite tasty, and I’m partial to their larger-sized cloth bags–I think it lets the flavors get through and gives the leaves more room to open. (I also like that I can see that the tea isn’t pulverized!) My current favorite is their “Pear White Tea.” I love pears. I love flavored white teas. What else could I ask for? Even opening the box smells wonderful.

However, that’s not my “standard” bagged tea. That spot is reserved for PG Tips; it’s my favorite bagged black tea. I can’t stand generic Lipton, but I drink a lot of PG. It’s strong, has nice color, good flavor, and pyramid-shaped bags for good water flow. Also, it’s really, really quick to steep. I usually only leave it in the water until the color darkens, and remove it immediately. It can become too bitter if left unattended, so keeping an eye on it is recommended.

After thinking about and writing all this, now it’s definitely time for some tea! ♥

Meetup Report: A Not-So-Spooky Tea

Meetup Report: A Not-So-Spooky Tea

Gorilla Time
Originally uploaded by sweetmilktea

It’s been a while since I wrote a meetup review, but I don’t want to ignore some of the fun things I’ve had the opportunity to do!

On October 31, 2009 the Chicago-area lolita convened at Russian Tea Time for tea! The meetup was in honor of the holiday, so attendees were asked to dress for the theme–gothic, spooky, or otherwise Halloween-related. Everyone really went out of their way to wear their best; they all looked great!! I was such a stark contrast to our usual meetups, where brighter colors tend to dominate.

No-one really thought I would take the theme to heart, but I surprised everyone when I showed up in black and high heels! Miss Nena graciously lent me something from her closet, since everything I own is pink, white, or red. 😡 Well, except for my special blue floral one-piece, but that’s still not right for a Halloween theme! I had thought I’d have to coordinate some kind of lolita-esque costume from my clothing and other accessories in order to be appropriately dressed, but I really wanted to participate fully. It’s a lot of fun to step outside your normal boundaries and try something new!

The tea room provided a section of the restaurant just for our massive tea party… there were so many people I didn’t get a chance to talk to everyone. (I also spent a lot of time outside the doors, searching for stragglers! I am usually a bit of an Alice-beacon when it comes to meetups.) Several attendees weren’t lolita I’d seen before, and that makes me really excited. I like seeing new faces–it shows that lolita fashion is a growing trend, not a dying one.

The tea house served their house blend; it was a little spicy and had a mulled type of taste that was very heart-warming for a chilly day. The cups they used weren’t traditional teacups–instead, they were metal stein-shaped holders for thick glass insets into which the tea was poured. I could definitely understand the appeal–I didn’t burn my fingers by accidentally touching the bowl of the cup that is heated by the tea, as I sometimes do with china teacups. Servers constantly refilled empty cups, never leaving an empty glass empty for too long.

The trays of refreshments were really delightful. The top tier contained scones, two per person, and whipped cream and jam. Clotted cream may be the proper topping for scones, but it isn’t often served in Chicago. Traditional clotted cream requires unpastuerized cow’s milk, which isn’t readily available in the United States, and the jarred “clotted cream” sold at specialty shops is really gross if you’ve ever had actual clotted cream. The jam and whipped cream was delicious, although the cranberry-raisin scones didn’t really need toppings to taste wonderful!

The second tier held a vast assortment of finger sandwiches–smoked salmon, tiny rolled crepes filled with diced vegetables, roasted red pepper, mini Ruebens, and little quiches! The savory items were a very nice size–bigger than one bite, but smaller than four–allowing everyone to taste as many as they wanted. I enjoyed eating other people’s shunned smoked salmon sandwiches~

The bottom tier held a mind-boggling assortment of sweets! Cookies, pastries, and other sweets, all piled up together. There were so many that I didn’t even know what I was eating; I couldn’t keep up with the servers’ descriptions! They even brought out individual plates for everyone with two teeny-tiny cream puffs. It was very luxurious.

After the tea was over, we headed across the street to the sculpture gardens around the Art Institute. The lighting inside the tea house was much too dark to get any nice pictures, and everyone was dressed so lovely that it seemed like such a shame not to. (And many people wanted proof for daily_lolita, of course.) I brought my camera, so my person followed my little sister and me around, capturing our nonsense. I’m not very good at posing nicely for pictures–something is always off: mouth open, eyes askew, weird expressions, etc.–but I do like getting into trouble and having a record of it. My little sister and I are usually up to no good, especially when we’re dressed up.

After pictures outdoors (we moved over to Millennium Park, too) it became too cold and some people had to leave, so those who remained went to the Chicago Cultural Center. The Cultural Center is in a beautiful building, and there is no admission, and there is always somewhere to sit and chat. Once people thawed out a little, more pictures ensued in-between conversations. As more and more people headed out and the group dwindled further, I found myself in part of a group aimlessly browsing at the Marshall Field’s on State Street before heading home.

It was a really great time, and there are so many hilarious pictures to prove it! I only wish I could have talked to more people–I was right at the front end of the table, so I only interacted with maybe four or five people on that end. It was too crowded to be rustling around through the crowd. I had a lot of fun being a gothic Alice for one day, but I don’t think I’ll be changing my style anytime soon!

Rose-Tinted Living: Cute China

Rose-Tinted Living: Cute China

Alice ♥ Teapots
Originally uploaded by sweetmilktea

Much like the stereotypical ideal of a lolita, I adore tea. The ceremony of a formal, traditional tea service really appeals to me, and going to an elegant afternoon tea with my friends always fills me with delight! I’ve been trying to accumulate teatime accouterments for a very long time, as I’ve loved tea since long before I was ever interested in lolita fashion. (My grandmother collects teapots and took me to tea often in my childhood.)

Whenever it’s possible, I like to have friends (most of whom are lolita) over to my home for tea. To make this possible, I’ve collected several teapots and teacups~ Right now they’re all displayed on a narrow shelf in my tiny kitchen, and seeing the bright colors and cheerful patterns always adds some cheeriness to my day!

Alice ♥ Teacups
Originally uploaded by sweetmilktea

Although I certainly swoon over pricely porcelain, most of my tea-time pieces are from resale shops or discount stores. Discount stores are one of my favourite places to check for teacups or teapots, since they often have quite a selection of housewares. In either store it can take a lot of sifting through to find the pieces you’ll truly fall in love with. I take it as a challenge~

Alice ♥ Teacups
Originally uploaded by sweetmilktea

Of course, I’ve also gotten a number of teacups added to my collection as gifts from my grandmother. She’s historically been my strongest tea-enabler, and she hasn’t hasn’t slackened in adding bits and pieces to my collection. Some of my nicest teacups have been spotted by her in awful condition, then cleaned up before making their way to me. Every cup in the above picture was a gift from her, and there are certainly more!

Alice ♥ Teacups
Originally uploaded by sweetmilktea

One of the reasons that I love having people over for tea is the intimacy. I find that people relax when seated and offered beverages and snacks. Tea is warm and soothing, and most people won’t turn down nibbling on a cookie or two.  ♥ Also, preparing tea gives plenty of time to engage in conversation. The water has to boil, the leaves have to steep, and then the cup of freshly-poured tea has to cool. It allows two (or more!) friends quite an opportunity to converse and listen to each other. Tea is rarely distracting, unlike larger meals or attention-requiring activities.

Tea services are easy to collect–they don’t need to be purchased all at once. You can start with a pretty cup or two, then look for a nice teapot. Not everything has to match–sometimes mis-matched sets have more charm. It’s not hard to find teaspoons just a few at a time, and there are always nifty little gadgets to find–like sugar tongs or drip-stoppers! There’s a lot of possibility!

And if you don’t like drinking tea, that doesn’t even matter! You can serve just about anything out of a teacup or teapot, after all. Maybe hot chocolate, soda–it’s up to you.

Sweet Treats: Tea for Beginners

Sweet Treats: Tea for Beginners

Tea Cabinet Chaos
Originally uploaded by sweetmilktea

The beverage most closely associated with lolita fashion is tea. There is a decided fixation on tea time, taking tea, and tea parties; tea is even a theme for clothing designs or prints. The focus on tea is due to its relation to Victorian times, one of the many inspirations for lolita fashion. Additionally, a formal tea time or tea party seems quite fitting as a luxurious activity for beautifully-dressed lolita to partake in–even if they’re sipping coffee or soda from the delicate china.

Tea can seem overwhelming or hoity-toity at first. There are “tea snobs,” just as there are elitists of almost any kind. In the United States there isn’t a lot of information readily available on tea, as there might be in other countries were tea is a more popular beverage.

However, it’s easy to learn more about tea! Greater tea knowledge can increase enjoyment of the drink and make gatherings focused around it more fun~

There are many varieties of tea–black tea, white tea, green tea, red tea, and herbal teas. The most important thing to know when making tea is the temperature the water should be at. Steeping at the wrong temperature can make even the most wonderful tea taste bitter, while steeping even the lowest-quality teabag at the correct temperature improves its taste wonderfully! Herbal teas can withstand the highest temperatures, then black teas, followed by red, green, and white teas. The water for green and white teas should not be boiled! Either turn off the water before it boils, or let boiled water sit for several minutes until it cools sufficiently.

Tea bags are never as flavorful as loose leaf teas, for several reasons. Tea bags often contain fannings, which are smaller particles of tea that are often swept from full tea leaves. Loose leaf teas consist of the actual leaves, sorted depending on the grade of tea. Tea looses its flavor when exposed to air, so it is best stored in an airtight container. This is another reason that tea bags are less flavorful–air seeps into the box and gets to the tea. The bags themselves can introduce odd flavors to the tea when steeped. Tea bags are quite tiny, which doesn’t allow enough water to come in contact with the leaves inside–thus less flavor is infused by the leaves.

If you aren’t ready to make the leap to loose-leaf tea, pay attention when choosing bagged tea so that you can brew a better cup. Try your best to sample the tea before you purchase an entire box, or at least smell the box to get an idea of how the flavor might suit you. Look for tea bags that boast to contain whole tea leaves, and tea bags made of meshed fabric instead of paper. Also, look for large bags–pyramid is a popular shape–so that the tea inside has plenty of room to expand and add it’s flavor to the water.

Although I am certainly no tea expert, I love tea and am always hoping to convert others to my obsession! I don’t think I could resist writing more on it in the future.