20 April 2012

Darjeeling & Hydrangeas

After a mostly sunny & blue-skied winter, our deliciously warm March almost fooled me into doing the cambio di stagione (the packing away of last season's clothing and linens and bringing out the new). But then along came April, and I remembered why I normally wait until early June to put away my winter coat (no joke)...the arrival of those April showers that are supposed to bring May flowers tends to elicit a fresh chill that can settle into the Arno valley for another month or two. Still, with this year's early burst of spring, we are already seeing swathes of wildflowers blooming everywhere: gorgeous!

You certainly don't need a rainy day to make a pot of tea...it's an afternoon ritual I like to observe in all seasons & weather (there's something delightful about those curls of steam rising from a cup of tea)...but tea-time seems especially necessary when low, dim skies blur the distinction between day and night.

Following a little excursion to the other side of the river last week, I arrived home with a couple of things to infuse tea-time with some new sparklea tea cup and a box of Afternoon Darjeelingas well as my annual blue hydrangea purchase. Inspired by the similar blues of the tea box and the hydrangea, and the pretty new cup, I decided to document the components that made up my tea-time ritual that afternoon.

I am more likely to bring out my camera if the sun is outit's the contrast between light & shadow that generally inspires my photos. But, with only a few 30-second bursts of sunshine that day (and knowing there was another week's-worth of rain in the forecast), I compensated for the lack of pure sunshine by shooting some of the photos controluce (against the light). Using large blank canvases also helped to reflect a bit more brightness onto the tea-time subjects.

Below are some notes, ramblings & links relating to the images (going left to right & top to bottom):
  1. Taylor's of Harrogate loose leaf teas brew up very nicely...and I love the packaging. Their Afternoon Darjeeling, 'the champagne of teas', comes in a box the color of the blue hydrangea petals (which this year is actually a mix of purple & blue). {Click here to visit the Taylor's of Harrogate website; if you're ever in Harrogate, a visit to their tea room is a lovely treat.}
  2. In The Piazzas of Florence I mentioned the importance of a choosing the right cup based on what you're drinking from it. I don't mind a rustic handmade cup for coffee, but I prefer a more delicate one for tea. My few china tea cups have all broken, so I decided to bring home one by Bitossi, to see if I like the shape. (I do.) I have slowly been collecting Bitossi pieces over the last few years, and now have some wide shallow bowls for pasta, risotto, etc., a 'breakfast cup' (for milky morning coffee), and several shapely, handleless cup-bowls with tremendous versatility (great for mise en place, single servings, sauces, etc.; one is shown holding strawberries in this past Arzigogolare entry). I have been surprised at my inclination toward plain white crockery, with such simple linesvery unlike the colorful/hand-painted/textured pieces I've been drawn to in the pastbut I love how beautifully these pieces set off everything they hold. {Click here to visit the Bitossi website, where you will find a range of items for the table, home & garden.}
  3. A wire basket holds my stash of Mère Poulard cookies. I adore caramel with a touch of salt and was thrilled to come across these at one of the local grocery stores. They are sublimehints of caramel are flecked through a delicate cookie stamped with the silhouette of Mont Saint Michel, where the legendary Annette 'Mère' Poulard and her husband opened their inn in 1888. {On the subject of caramel, making your own sauce is very simple. I use this recipe from the Simply Recipes blog, sometimes adding a grinding of pink sea salt.}
  4. My mother found this sweet silver tea strainer for me on a trip to London, and it rests perfectly in a miniature ramekin between uses.
  5. The little dish with the Mère Poulard cookies is actually a ceramic Japanese garlic/ginger 'grater', also a gift from my mother.
  6. The Japanese cast iron tea pot has been with me for well over a decade (I like that it doesn't chip/crackor break!), and came from a favorite tea shop in Pasadena, California.
  7. The lacquered Japanese tea caddy is also from the tea shop in Pasadena. My improvised sugar bowl consists of a Chinese tea tin 'lid' on a small glazed bowl, with a miniature silver ladle.
  8. A close-up of the hydrangea petals. The little bush hasn't made it to the kitchen sill, where it usually belongs, just yet...I'm enjoying having it in the studio for now. {To read a past Arzigogolare entry about my annual blue hydrangea purchase, please click here.}
  9. I always like a little something fresh in my tea, and find that a sliver of orange gives a bit of zing while also imparting a touch of sweetness that makes sugar unnecessary. (I do like a few granules in Darjeeling thoughor in the absence of a slice of citrus or an herb sprig of some kind.) The small gold-rimmed china bowl is part of the china set that I inherited from my Great-Grandmother, and seems to have countless uses.

I have always appreciated the little dishes, bowls and other items used in the preparation of food-related rituals (and likewise, in the studio, for 'arty' activities—there seem to be many parallels between the kitchen & studio, and the work that takes place in each). But lately I have been paying extra attention to such things as I lay the foundation for a new project. 'Mise en place', a concept that finds its roots in the kitchen, and essentially entails the art of putting everything 'in place' before beginning to cook, is the title I have chosen as the starting point for an edition of artist's books created for BookArtObject. I am really enjoying the process of exploring the possibilities, and will share more on this project soon...


  1. lovely
    I have perused your tea-ness today
    with delight

    1. Hello, Elizabeth - I find there is something reassuring/comforting even in reading about someone else's tea time...I'm glad you enjoyed hearing about mine!
      - Lisa


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