High Tea in Oregon
Hello everyone, happy New Year plus five days. I was traveling over the holidays, and now I'm back doing whatever it is I do. What do I do really?
Anyway, this piece and the next two pieces have been brewing inside me all through the holiday season and into the new year. Finally, I can sit down and write my thoughts. Wait, what were my thoughts? Did I really have any thoughts? Oh whatever. 2007, here we go. . . up to heaven.
The Five Freeway forms a super-highway spine along the western side of the United States. In the south, it begins or ends at the Mexican border, travels up to Los Angeles, then through the Central Valley, to Sacramento, through some mountains, into Oregon, Portland, then Washington State, Seattle, then Canada, where it begins and ends for the United States, crosses the border, and becomes the Canadian Five and a bunch of other roads.
I've driven the Five through the Central Valley many times. It is 300 miles of flatness and cow smells. It is two lanes in each direction with a 70 mph speed limit. However, the traffic usually slows up behind a semi doing 65.
This year, James and I decided to go farther up the Five than we had ever gone before. We decided to go to Ashland, Oregon, fifteen miles north of California border for a few days of relaxation. James has a friend, Mary, who retired up there. I had never been to Oregon, so I was keen for new adventures possibly with snow.
It turned out that Mary had a huge beautiful house sitting at 3,000 feet (above sea level) on the side of a mountain. She had a one lane dirt/mud road leading up to her house, and we had never been so grateful for four-wheel drive. Her house was surrounded by trees, and one could look out at a valley with mountains beyond it.
Mary was great company. She had two dogs which were crazy sweet, and she liked drinking wine late into the night while chatting by the fire. She took us hiking among pine trees with snow falling, and we oooed and ahhed. She took us into the town and showed us the sights. By the way, for the theatre junkie readers, Ashland is where the Oregon Shakespeare Festival happens, but they were dark when we were there.
One day, after picking up some chairs at Costco, Mary led us through some back roads to the historic town of Jacksonville (or is it Historic Jacksonville), an old mining town with most of its original buildings from the mid 1800s still intact. Yes, the 1800s are historic out in the west.
In the afternoon, we stepped into Collins Tea Room and Bakery, an old brick building with a Danish flag hanging out in front. Inside was a warm tea shop and bakery with several little rooms. I felt like I had stepped into a calm, civilized place and not a cafeteria trough.
One of the owners greeted Mary warmly, and I could tell she had come there a lot. When I looked at the pastries on display at the counter, I could see why. There were only a few left. On the bottom shelf, there was only one lonely loaf of bread where there must have been dozens in the morning.
In the main room, every table and chair was taken. Women of various ages were in the majority, and they sat sipping tea, holding their tea, and chatting away. Their little white tea pots sat on top of a wire stand with a tea light candle keeping it warm. Yes, tea lights were actually being used for tea.
The owner moved through the rooms happily, and I could tell that nothing pleased her more than feeding people and making them happy. She wasn't in a rush to hustle people in and out. She wanted people to enjoy themselves.
Fortunately, there was space for us at a table next to the Christmas tree and a huge window that looked out onto a historical street. Mary ordered three high teas, and we could choose what kind of tea we wanted. I went seasonal and chose Christmas Spice. James went with Assam, and Mary had the Darjeeling.
I settled in and looked around. How had I come to this place? It was like someplace out of a children's book or the kind of place you dream about but know could not really exist. I kept waiting for the punch line, but it never came. It was an actual sincere place.
Before the tea arrived, we each got a little bowel of cream of mushroom soup. It had a nice consistency and did not feel overdone. They knew how to make soup and make it well.
When the tea pots arrived, we organized ourselves with milk and sugar. My Christmas Spice was so hearty and flavorful that it only needed milk. There was a nice cinnamon flavor that made the whole cup pop.
Soon, our three-tiered trays arrived, and we got a quick explanation about we were about to eat. On the bottom were two finger sandwiches (egg salad and cucumber) with the crusts cut off along with a slice a cucumber topped with cream cheese and a cherry tomato. On the middle tier were two scones (baked with Danish butter) with fruit jam, homemade Devonshire cream, and lemon curd. Finally, on top were three little sweet treats.
Even though each item was small, they added up to feast. I almost couldn't finish the second scone, but somehow, I found a way. As I popped the last chocolate in my mouth and washed it down with tea, I started the feel that great sensation called food magic. Oh yeah, this place had food magic. Mary was more expressive with her bliss. She punctuated each tea sip with 'marvelous' or 'extraordinary' or 'fantastic'. I turned to James, but he was in his happy place beyond words.
As we walked out of the tea room, we were hit by seriously cold air. The sun had started to set, and the temperature was quickly dropping. I didn't want spend too much time outside. I was So Cal girl and a weather wimp. I told James that we definitely had to go back to Oregon in summertime. Maybe we could see a play or drink some more tea or go paddling or drive farther up the Five.