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December 2013

Reading Tea Leaves ~ A Christmas Tea with Good Friends!

I have many blessings to count this year, but one of the biggest was becoming an active member of The Western Reserve Herb Society. I've wanted to become a member since I was a child because from the first time that I laid eyes on them, I knew that we were kindred spirits. We're a very old group, but ever evolving. They have a web page and almost everything is done online. It's completely refreshing after the last group that I was heavily involved with that fought me tooth and nail about having a facebook page!


WRHS is filled with amazing women and I am blessed to have been accepted into their fold. Most of them are much older than me and all of them are brilliant, the most intellectually stimulating and diverse group of women that I've ever met. We are the stewards of the wonderful herb garden at The Cleveland Botanical Gardens and we do a ton of herbal outreach education to young children and adults. We are a chapter of the American Herb Society, based here in Kirtland ,Ohio. Our biggest fund raising event is a magnificent Herb Fair, which we spend the entire year canning, preserving, drying and pickling for. I finally really learned how to preserve this year, a long held goal of mine and have just put yp a batch of Christmas chutney that is superb if I do say so myself.  

I work specifically in the ancient dye garden with an 80 year wonder woman who goes on frequent Celtic pilgrimages, is a Reiki master like I am and knows every plant in her care intimately. We discuss Reiki, energy and religion while we're working. Like I said....it's an amazing group of women. 

Every meeting is a meeting first, breakbread together afterwards sort of affair. Every member is a wonderful cook, and because we are the herb society almost every dish brought from appetizers to dessert is filled with fresh herbs and edible flowers. Yesterday was no exception. It was the annual Christmas Tea and it was held at one ofvthe loveliest churches in Cleveland. The University Circle United Methodist Church, otherwise known as "The Holy Oilcan Church! From the picture below I'm sure that you can see why!


 We were  given a wonderful tour of the church and all of it's glorious Christmas decorations, a bit of the pipe organ (an original Skinner organ with an echo chamber!) and then were led back to the small chapel where we were treated to Christmas music and a sing~along by the churches pianist. After that was the tea!

We all filed back into the church parlor where we had lain our trays of tea treats sweet and savory. The was a wonderful Wassail bowl as well! The first picture below is my offering; Apple slices with curried cheese, bacon, lemon thyme and a sliver of Cajun chicken.  

Reading Tea Leaves~ A Christmas Tea with Friends

Reading Tea Leaves~ A Christmas Tea with Friends

Reading Tea Leaves~ A Christmas Tea with Friends

Reading Tea Leaves~ A Christmas Tea with Friends

Reading Tea Leaves~ A Christmas Tea with Friends

 All of the food was fresh and exquisite; like I said this is an amazing group of cooks. I was reminded once again though of how wonderfully relaxing and fantastic an afternoon tea can be, especially one held for a specific occasion and with a fabulous group of friends! 

This holiday season why don't you sit down with a girlfriend or two and enjoy a wonderful pot of tea and a few savories. Deviled eggs are so easy to make and so are tea sandwiches. One of my favorites from yesterday? Thinly sliced fruit cake with butter, smoked turkey , arugula and a bit of mustard and mayo. Absolutely easy and just perfect for this holiday season!


The Herb Society of America

Seasonal Celebrations ~ Home for the Holidays



Christmas is one of my truly favorite holidays because it’s so abundant, elegant and lush. It can also be contemporary, primitive country, hunting lodge rustic or childlike because it is a holiday that  can be expressed in a million wonderful and unique ways. It’s a fabulous opportunity to bring  fresh creativity to your table and have quite a lot of fun in the process. Just go on a shopping trip through your cupboards!  Many people have dishes, glasses and silver serving pieces that have been left to them; why don’t you bring them out and use them? It doesn’t matter if some of them are broken and the glasses don’t match. Spread everything that you could use out onto the table and take a look. Find a couple of unifying colors, in other words colors that can work with all of the bits and pieces that you’ve got and then choose a tablecloth, napkins and charger plates in those colors. A charger plate is what used to be called a service plate and it adds a bit of color underneath of the dinner plate .  It’s so easy these days to find charger plates in many solid colors and they’re very inexpensive. Choose a metallic color such as copper or gold if you want to dress up your tablesetting yet keep it feeling warm. Choose them in red and green if you want your table to be traditionally festive and remember; it’s a bit like layering an outfit one piece at a time all the way to the necklace and scarf.  


Don’t worry if you have glasses that don’t match. You can go to any store these days and find wine and water goblets in lovely jewel tone colors.  Why not set your table with every other goblet being a colored one. Alternate colored napkins and have a great time playing with color and texture on your holiday table.  Whatever you do, when someone mentions how beautiful everything looks, don’t ever say, “ Oh, thank you but it would have looked so much better if I hadn’t broken my wine glasses and had to replace them this way”. Remember that this is your style and you like it this way because matching everything is simply not as unique or as personal as you want your tables to be. 


You can be very creative with napkin rings. Some of the best are the little hard plastic or glass ones that you can put a bit of water into and a little arrangement. Go outside or to the local market and pick whatever is left of the fall herbs and flowers to arrange in them or go all out with some holly and ivy! Then pull the napkins through  the rings and set them onto your table. This is a beautiful way to bring some greenery to your place setting. You can also use elegant antique silver ones or you can get some pretty fabulous napkin rings adorned with Swarovski crystal. If you're  really creative you can go to the craft store and make your own out of ribbon, bits of crystal or pre made tassels. 


If you like a bit of sparkle, this is the place to use it on your table; napkins generally being very flat colors, can take a bit of glitter. Don’t forget candlesticks as they really add so much ambiance, especially when you mix the shapes and sizes.  Why don’t you dress those same candlesticks with herbs, flowers, fresh greenery or pretty silk ribbons? When it comes to candlesticks you should always use an odd number because it looks so much more balanced. Candles that are metallic are often used this time of year but I'm going to go on record as saying that I don't like them. They're rarely drip free and they  do tend to make a nasty mess. They also don't look nearly as pretty once they start to burn. Choose candles in complimentary tones and save the lovely  metallic colors  for chargers, placemats and candlesticks.


Although the cornucopia is traditionally a symbol of the Thanksgiving celebration,  I love to use them well into the December holidays because they make creating an abundant and gorgeous arrangement absolutely effortless. 


You can use a cornucopia at Christmas time in many ways. The traditional Thanksgiving use is to fill it with fruit, vegetables and flowers, but I like to use a cornucopia on my sideboard as the centerpiece for a wonderful cheese and fresh bread display. This is easy to do. Fill the cornucopia with kale leaves, slices of French bread and an assortment of crackers so that they are spilling out of the mouth of the horn. Then arrange several wheels of cheese very close to the bread along with several cheese knives. Add apples, pomegranates, pears and several pitchers of varying sizes filled with Christmas flowers and votive candles to the display and it will look sensational. You can do the same thing with freshly sliced vegetables, pate's and dips. 


I love to use tableware pieces in many different ways. Do you have an old fashioned three tiered tea tray that's just gathering dust in your cupboard? Pretend that you're in Williamsburg for the holidays and display it with  crystal glasses of differing sizes filled with holiday flowers and little bowls with holiday candy.  Why don't you take your grandmothers old teacups or demitasse cups and filled them with potted ivy, holly berries and festoon them with ribbons and little ornaments? This way everyone has a pretty little individual arrangement  of their own and the larger centerpiece can be low enough for everyone to converse across the table. Do you have dozens of mismatched silver teaspoons? Why don't you use them to serve a luscious bit of crab or lobster salad. Remember, there are no rules to be broken here, only a meal to be enjoyed together with family and friends.  


This year I hope that you’ll have fun with your holiday tables by looking at them with fresh eyes and allowing your inspirations to flourish! Do something just a little bit different and I promise that you’ll have just as much fun as your guests. Relax and enjoy being the star of your own party. When it comes to your creativity, the sky’s the limit! 


I hope that your holidays are filled with  peace, laughter & oh so much love!




 PIcture of Christmas Table is from an unknown source