Afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago

Road trip! Kitchener to Chicago

A couple weeks ago, we traveled from Kitchener, Ontario to Chicago, Illinois to attend the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks Convention. “We” included me, my husband Murray, and our friend Maddy, a devoted Blackhawks fan from New Brunswick who we dubbed our adopted-for-the-weekend ‘daughter’.

Spending a couple of tranquil hours having afternoon tea wasn’t on the agenda for our hockey-themed weekend, but just before pulling out of the driveway to begin the nine-hour trek to Chi-Town, I dashed back into the house to make a quick search through my collection of Tea Time magazines; I was almost positive a recent issue had featured Chicago tea rooms.

Not that we’d have time to stop for bite-sized crustless tea sandwiches, scones smothered in clotted cream and preserves, and a pot of Assam or Darjeeling, and probably not likely that my Blackhawks-loving travel companions would even be keen to fit such a civilized pit stop into the trip, but on the off chance it might happen (or the very good chance I’d have my fill of hockey talk after one day of convention-ing and be looking for something else to do!), it seemed smart to be prepared with a few possible tea places to visit.

After a quick search, I found the magazine (March/April 2012, Volume 9 – Issue 2, for any inquiring minds that want to know!), and we were soon en route to the Windy City!

Tea Time magazine with article about tea rooms in Chicago

Tea Time magazine with article about tea rooms in Chicago

Article in Tea Time magazine highlighting tea rooms and cafes in Chicago

Bruce Richardson’s article in Tea Time magazine featured places to find a good cup of tea in Chicago.

The article in Tea Time was written by Bruce Richardson, tea guru and author. He’d highlighted several places for afternoon tea that piqued my interest, including the Palm Court in The Drake Hotel (140 E. Walton Place). Tea is served there daily from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

I tucked the notion of a visit to The Drake in the back of my mind. Well, maybe closer, say somewhere middle to front!

About 700 km and a day later, we were in Chicago with a few hours to fill before heading to the Convention. And we needed to find a place to eat lunch! And I had a restaurant suggestion! The perfect storm for this tea lover!

“How about afternoon tea?” I suggested innocently. “Maybe The Drake? I’ve read it’s a nice place.”

Glory be! My travel mates were game!

Murray is a tea drinker, and he loves to eat! Afternoon tea usually provides more than enough food. Maddy had never experienced afternoon tea, but she was intrigued enough to give it a try.

Within a few minutes, we’d made a reservation for 1 p.m., which gave us some time to explore the Navy Pier.

The plan was that following tea, we’d head straight to the Blackhawks Convention. To say we were appropriately dressed for tea would have be a stretch. (As it turned out, two of us weren’t even appropriately dressed for the Convention, given that 99.99% of that crowd was wearing some form of Blackhawks logo-ed attire! As I owned nothing of the sort, at least I tried to fit in by wearing red!).

Having been for afternoon tea many many times, I know it’s an occasion to wear something nicer than what we’d all donned that day. After arriving at The Drake, ascending the short staircase off the main lobby to the Palm Court where afternoon tea is served, being pleasantly greeted and shown to our table by the host, then opening our menus and seeing the Dress Code staring us in the face, I was grateful the host made no mention of our shorts, sportswear and beach sandals!

The Dress Code for afternoon tea is printed in The Drake’s menu.

Afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago

A little underdressed for afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago.

Had we been chastised or turned away for our attire, plan B was to go in search of a Chicago hot dog vendor! (Deep-dish pizza was on the menu for supper!). Since we were ushered to our table with not even a hint of disapproval by the Palm Court’s host, the three of us had a sheepish chuckle over our fashion faux pas, covered our shorts with our cloth napkins, tucked our sandaled feet under the table, and turned our attention to the tea menu!

After choosing our teas, our server asked if everyone was okay with the sandwiches listed in the menu: egg salad, smoked salmon, roast beef, and tomato and cucumber. The typical format at a tea is a set menu, so everybody gets the same sandwiches, scones and sweets. At past teas I’ve attended, either when making the reservation, or just before the food is served, the question has sometimes been asked if there are any allergies to be aware of, but this was more than that, the server explained. This was also an opportunity to request more of one type of sandwich if we weren’t partial to something that was being offered. Nice touch, I thought!

Not a big fish/seafood lover, Maddy asked to substitute another roast beef sandwich for the smoked salmon. When the three-tiered tray arrived, not only was there still the full complement of original sandwiches – but another plate with three additional roast beef sandwiches for Maddy was placed on the table! (Murray helped her polish them off!)

The sandwich plate served at afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago featured four types of sandwiches.

Scones and banana bread were served at afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago.

An assortment of sweets was served at afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago.

We split some of the desserts so we could all have a taste. As you can see in the photo, there were a couple of two of them, and one of two different desserts.

The tea and food were delicious! My pictures don’t do everything justice. Sometimes at a tea, when the food is initially set on the table, it doesn’t seem as though there will be enough, but in my experience, looks are often deceiving and it is usually more than enough. That was certainly the case this time, and on top of that, we were asked if we wanted more of anything. Again, not something typically offered.

Any leftovers can usually be boxed to take home, but we’d managed to polish off everything but one lone sandwich. Had one of us had an ounce of room, it would have disappeared too!

The remnants of afternoon tea!

The service was attentive, efficient and friendly. It was nice to have our tea pots refilled quickly with hot water soon after we poured our first cups, without having to ask to have this done.

The ambiance in the Palm Court was lovely. The room was beautiful; a massive floral arrangement in the middle commanded attention. There were a variety of seating arrangements. Small to large groups of people including women, men and children sat relaxed, chatting, and leisurely sipping tea and enjoying the finger food on their three-tiered trays. About an hour after we arrived, a harpist began playing, adding to the elegant atmosphere.

A harpist plays during afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago.

A trip to the ladies’ washroom before leaving was well worth the visit – and merited a few pictures! Each private cubicle housed not only a toilet, but a vanity, stool and sink.

The private cubicles in the ladies’ washroom at The Drake Hotel are worth checking out!

Inside one of the cubicles in the ladies’ washroom at the The Drake Hotel

Our admiration of the washroom was echoed by a few other women who came in while we snapping pictures.

I’d definitely recommend afternoon tea at The Drake. Dress up a little to fully enjoy and honor the experience! The venture will cost $38 a person ($20 for junior guests from 4 to 12 years old). This is on par with or slightly less than teas I’ve had at other hotels in large cities.

In his article about tea in Chicago, Bruce writes that Chicagoans often choose The Drake as a place to mark celebrations such as birthdays and anniversaries. He writes, “This is a place where memories are made.” I’d heartily agree, and add, for out-of-town folks too!

How I spent the summer of 2010

A picture tour of some of the highlights and favourite memories of the summer of 2010:

A favourite way to spend a summer night in our newly landscaped backyard! We just didn't do this often enough!

* Wright Landscaping

Hot dogs taste best cooked over an open fire and eaten outdoors - slathered in condiments!

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Reasons why I haven’t posted for awhile

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve posted something (anything!) on my blog.

I’ve got excuses! Lots of them.

* I’ve been busy with my work blog – Everything Eggs.

* I had to develop recipes to teach a couple of Afternoon Tea classes – one at Thyme to Cook in Guelph and the other at Household China and Gifts in Waterloo.

Triangle- shaped herb-crusted egg salad sandwiches pair perfectly with a cup of tea!

* I’ve been doing some recipe development and food writing for Roomplanners‘ e-zine.

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The County Grapevine reveals charms of Prince Edward County

I’m a food magazine junkie, always on the lookout for the latest issues of my favourites, or the arrival of brand new publications.

A quick perusal of the magazine shelves at a Kitchener grocery store tonight rewarded me with a newbie – The County Grapevine. This newcomer focuses on the food, wine, art and culture of Prince Edward County (PEC) in southern Ontario.

It seems I’m a little late getting to the party on this one; the issue I picked up is for Fall/Winter 2009/2010 (it’s a biannual publication). The magazine has been around for a while. How did I miss it??

So where exactly is Prince Edward County? PEC is an island at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. It is surrounded on the north and east by the Bay of Quinte, and is west of the St. Lawrence River. Its mild climate (by Canadian standards, that is!) has made it home to numerous vineyards and wineries.

What initially attracted me to The County Grapevine as I leafed through it in the store was the article Steeped in Tradition by tea expert Melody Wren. As a tea lover always looking for new places to enjoy a good cuppa’, I was interested to read her review of tea rooms in PEC.

Since bringing the magazine home, I’ve read and enjoyed a couple light-hearted pieces – “I was a teenage waitress” by comedian Deborah Kimmett and “Table Manners: The Lost Art of Dinner Parties” by sommelier Natalie MacLean.

I also noticed that food stylist and blogger Ruth Gangbar was credited for food styling in the magazine.

Tomorrow I’ll have to take some time to savour the food and wine articles!

The County Grapevine is available free in Prince Edward County and surrounding areas and can be purchased at Chapters, Indigo, Metro, and stores within the Loblaws chain.

New York City is Cupcake Crazy!

The cupcake craze has been in full swing for a few years but I still did a double take when I saw a mobile cupcake shop on a New York City street recently.

I didn’t stop to check out the confections at the Cupcake Stop as I’d just come from a day of classes at the French Culinary Institute and couldn’t possibly have eaten another bite. And besides, it was cool, windy and raining, although that didn’t seem to deter others from choosing from an assortment of cupcake flavours. (View the full menu of cupcake flavours online).

The Cupcake Stop has been roaming the streets of the Big Apple since June of this year. You can find out where the truck will be by checking the CupcakeStop web site and Twitter.

If you’re a cupcake lover and plan to visit NYC, check out this list of where to get cupcakes in New York City from the Carroll County Times.

Or you can hop across the river into New Jersey and visit Carlo’s Bakery (of TLC’s Cake Boss fame) for cupcakes, as we did on a trip to NYC this summer.

Cupcakes from Carlo's Bakery in New Jersey

Chocolate Fashions in Paris

Fashions for chocolate lovers? Oh yeah!

Okay, I’m not sure I’d wear an outfit made out of chocolate, but the chocolate fashions created for the Salon du Chocolat (Chocolate Show) and modelled in Paris on Oct. 13 are pretty amazing.

On second thought, if you were wearing one of these, you’d always be able to satisfy your chocolate cravings!

Eating while driving can be a distraction

Chances are you eat or drink while driving. Everybody does.

But is what you’re consuming on the list of the “10 most dangerous foods to eat while driving“? Chances are it is.

Here’s the list courtesy of*:

  1. Coffee
  2. Hot soup
  3. Tacos
  4. Chili Dogs
  5. Hamburgers
  6. Barbecued food
  7. Fried chicken
  8. Jelly donuts
  9. Soft drinks
  10. Chocolate

(I’m definitely guilty of #1, #5, #9, lots of #10, and a very occasional #8.)

In some cases, it’s not just the act of eating or drinking that’s the issue. It’s the resulting sticky fingers and the drips and spills on the steering wheel or your clothes post pig-out that cause the problem!

Of course food and drink are just some of the distractions (how about talking to others in the car, using a cell phone, changing the radio station or CD, programming the GPS, etc.) that when combined with the sudden need to swerve, slow down, or negotiate a curve in the road, can cause accidents.

I commute 75 km to work each day on a busy highway. I’ve seen drivers do many dumb things while at the wheel: eat cereal (with a spoon…from a bowl!), apply make-up, shave, read a paperback, text, write in a notebook…..

I should confess I’m not completely innocent when it comes to multi-tasking while driving. I have mixed a salad, wrapped a gift, and made notes for a presentation while behind the wheel. Not at the same time, mind you. And while stopped at lights, not while driving. Still, rather foolish things to be doing while I should be concentrating on driving, for the sake of myself and everyone else on the road!

(*Here’s the complete article including some safety tips while driving.)

Four Star Breakfast cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City

Most mornings my breakfast consists of a piece of whole wheat toast slathered with peanut butter, or yogurt and Dorset cereal, or a microwave poached egg and toast.

On weekends, the breakfast bar often gets raised a notch. The skillet comes out, and soon the heady aroma of crisply cooked bacon and fried eggs (sunny side up is my fave!) fills the house. Aaaahhhh! The breakfast of champions!

You can never go wrong with bacon and eggs, but when it’s a special morning or you’re preparing breakfast for guests, it’s fun to serve up something a little different.

While in New York City recently, I attended a Four Star Breakfast cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education. The four-hour class was taught by Chef Chad Pagano. Besides me, there were 13 other breakfast lovers looking to learn some new recipes for the most important meal of the day.

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Chocolate by the Bald Man

Following afternoon tea at Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon in New York City last week, Loreen and I decided to try to find Strand book store (its inventory includes new, used, out of print and rare books, and you can get some really good deals).

As we passed through Union Square heading down Broadway Avenue, Loreen suddenly uttered those magic words I love to hear – “I’m pretty sure there’s a chocolate shop around here somewhere.”

Sure enough, within a few blocks we had stumbled upon Max Brenner’s Chocolate by the Bald Man.

Chocolate by the Bald Man storefront

We were not in the least bit hungry considering what we’d just eaten at Lady Mendl’s, but as a serious chocoholic, I was compelled to go in and check the place out. Loreen loves chocolate too; she didn’t need any convincing to make this stop.

Stepping into the store was like entering chocolate heaven. These pictures might help to explain but you really have to experience the place in person to get the full effect.

Chocolate by the Bald Man Interior 3

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Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon in New York City

I had read many positive reviews about Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon in New York City, so this past weekend on a recent trip to NYC, I decided to check it out with my sister Loreen who lives on Long Island.

We’d made reservations for the 5 p.m. seating on Friday afternoon. Weekdays there is also a 3 p.m. seating, while on Saturday and Sunday the options are 12, 2:30 and 5 p.m. Reservations are recommended (Ph: 212-533-4466). I made reservations online a few days before coming to NYC. If you do this, you’ll need to call the tea house the day before your visit to confirm.

The tea room is located in The Inn at Irving Place (56 Irving Place, between E 17th and 18th Streets in the Gramercy Park area). It’s easy to miss as there is only a small sign on the exterior of the building.

Lady Mendl's Tea Salon in the Inn at Irving, 56 Irving Place, New York City

Lady Mendl's Tea Salon in The Inn at Irving Place

Once we found the location and made the climb up the steep steps to the front door, we were greeted inside and shown to our table in the front room. (I’m not sure if there is an alternate entrance to the tea room for those who have difficulty with steps.)

Lady Mendl's - interior

The interior of Lady Mendl's

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