Friday Favorites: Holiday Tea at the Arizona Biltmore

Last week Steve had a conference at the Arizona Biltmore, and I was happy to tag along. The Biltmore is famous for its architecture, beautiful grounds, celebrity guests, and . . . afternoon tea!


The hotel has a fascinating history and offers cozy elegance along with friendly service. The weather was beautiful during our stay, and I had many opportunities to bask in the magic of the holidays. My favorite experience was, of course, the Holiday Tea, which I shared with a new friend who also happened to be tagging along for this conference.


The tea sommelier, Kevin, took our order for Nutcracker Tea–a Black tea with hazelnut and vanilla flavors–then brought our first tiered tray of scones and savories. The scones were Lemon Ginger with Kumquat Jam, Devonshire Cream, Lemon Curd, and Raspberry Jam. Quite delicious!


Here’s a closer look at the savories: On the middle level we found Roasted Turkey and Kumquat with Sage and Cranberry Marmalade on 12 Grain, Grilled Chicken and Caramelized Apple Jam, Brie, and Spiced Pecans, as well as Salmon with Tiny Shrimp Salad and Lemon Zest Cream Fraiche on Profiterole. The first two were delicious but I skipped the tiny shrimp.


On the lower level we found Black Pepper Beef Tenderloin and Juniper Berry on Brioche, along with European Cucumber and Boursin Mousse with Pickled Red Onion on Pumpernickel.


The sweet course included Chocolate Peppermint Gateau, Vanilla Cranberry Verrine, Cinnamon Pecan Pie, and Pumpkin Cake with White Chocolate Eggnog Cream. We took the Gingerbread Men with us and Steve enjoyed mine later.

The Biltmore Afternoon Tea is fun and festive, but at $75+ per adult it’s not a bargain. However, you’re guaranteed to have a full tummy by the end and the staff is happy to box up items you were unable to finish. The vibe was relaxed, and the chatter and laughter never intruded on my enjoyment of the experience. The service was attentive, but we never felt rushed. All in all, I highly recommend this experience!

Happy Holidays to Everyone!

Friday Favorites: Cozy Christmas Tea Party 2019

Does it seem like the holidays are rushing right past you? One way to slow time and enjoy this festive season is to sit down to a holiday-themed afternoon tea. Today I’m sharing a tea I hosted at home just last week, and in particular I’d like to highlight some of the easy gluten-free options I found.


One of my favorites things about planning an afternoon tea is choosing the teas to serve. I’ve long had a fondness for French blends, and thus I chose Palais des Thes for the scone and savory courses. For the sweet course I served a tea from Brooklyn purveyor Bellocq.

More details:
Holiday Black Tea No. 25, with its blend of vanilla pods, almonds, cinnamon, ginger, orange peel and lemon zest, is sure to put you in the holiday mood. I enjoy it with milk and a little bit of turbinado sugar.

Noel Theophile is a green tea with plum & quince flavors that pairs well with savory bites. If you order it, however, keep in mind that it’s been renamed Thé du Louvre. (You might also consider Palais des Thés’ Holiday Green Tea, which looks delicious.) I added a wee bit of sugar to my cup, but now I’m thinking honey would be better.

Little Dickens is a light and refreshing herbal tea for the final course. I think it tastes best with a little milk but no sugar, for it has a natural sweetness that is subtle enough to pair well with sweet treats.


Here you see the tea table set for four. I made some old favorites, such as spinach and red pepper mini-quiches and frosted sugar cookies. This year I also added several gluten-free options. I played it safe, however, by using mixes and some pre-made options.

The following options turned out quite well:
Sticky Fingers Gluten-free Pumpkin Cranberry Scones — These were so easy to mix. I patted the dough into a round (using Almond flour) and cut pie-shaped scones. I sprinkled these with Demerara sugar and baked on a parchment-lined sheet. They rose beautifully and smelled delicious–you’ll see the finished product at the top of the tiered tray. Everyone agreed they were quite tasty, but I will say that they hardened over time–not great for re-heating the next day. (Sticky Fingers offers 5 gluten-free scone flavors!)

Williams Sonoma Gluten-free Gingerbread — Easy and delicious! They are so moist and you’ll get a little extra kick from the bits of crystallized ginger sprinkled into the mix. I made muffins and drizzled a little icing (powdered sugar and milk) on top. Very yummy. I also tried to make a loaf but didn’t let it bake long enough. Rest assured this gingerbread rises beautifully and is scrumptious when baked correctly.

Lovemore Gluten-free Mince Pies — These pies made in Wales have a tasty (but delicate) crust with a filling that may remind you of a Fig Newton. They warm up nicely in the oven. Keep in mind that they have a relatively short shelf life, so order close to the time that you plan to serve them. (They are available online from English Tea Store and Amazon.) My favorite pre-made mince pies (NOT gluten free) are Walkers Spiced Orange and Cranberry. They are available at Cost Plus/World Market, as well as from Amazon.

Happy Holidays! Stay tuned for one more Christmassy post . . .

Tea for One at the Boston Public Library

I’ve been longing to have afternoon tea at the Boston Public Library’s Courtyard Tearoom for years now. Due to various commitments and unforeseen conflicts, I haven’t had success in getting my husband or a friend to join me, so during this latest trip I went solo.

It was lovely!


The tea menu was presented in a charming old book. The loose leaf teas were from MEM Tea Imports in Watertown, MA. (There’s a retail shop in North Cambridge — something to explore during my next trip to Boston?)


I chose the Assam tea along with a “Tequila Mockingbird” cocktail made with Prosecco, Blood Orange Hibiscus, Tea-Infused Tequila, Lime, and Strawberry. Both were delicious.


I had no idea we would be treated to a fashion show during the tea! This was my favorite dress.


The tea sweets and savories were presented on a tiered tray, but I arranged the items on a plate for my photographs. Above you see the savory options: Roasted Portobello (at the bottom), Herb Chicken Salad, Smoked Salmon, and Honey Ham. (Not pictured because I ate them so quickly: the English Cucumber and Maine Lobster sandwiches.) Absolutely scrumptious.

The scone course included a plain and a currant scone served with Blood Orange Preserve, Lemon Curd, and Devonshire Cream. I heard someone at a neighboring table complain that the scones were too small, but honestly I was relieved because it left room in my tummy for the sweet course.


Starting at the bottom and moving left: Pecan Tartlet, Macaron, Linzer Bar, Eggnog Cheesecake, and Chocolate Truffles.

Everything was top notch. The setting was lovely, the service attentive, the food and drink delicious, and the fashion show was a nice distraction. I highly recommend this tea experience, and I hope to enjoy it again and again. (They’ve offered a Holiday Tea in the past, so keep your eyes peeled and book early!)

Part III: Ghost-free SPOOKY Films

Today I conclude my 2019 spooky film recs with some Ghost-free viewing options!

All film synopses are from imdb.com.


Cold Skin (2017) — Unrated
In 1914, a young man arrives at a remote island near the Antarctic Circle to take the post of weather observer only to find himself trapped in a watchtower besieged by deadly creatures which live in hiding on the island. If there’s a historical film that is spooky AND co-stars Ray Stevenson, I’m going to watch it. David Oakes is great as the newly stationed weather attendant who soon learns that he and the eccentric lighthouse keeper (Stevenson) aren’t the only sentient creatures in the neighborhood. Physical and ethical clashes ensue. The pace is a little pokey at times, but it’s a gorgeous film.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing / No Metascore


Us (2019) — Rated R
A family’s serene beach vacation turns to chaos when their doppelgängers appear and begin to terrorize them.
I love Jordan Peele and am a fan of Get Out, but for some reason I resisted watching this film for a time. It is quite good, but it’s also the sort of film one wants to discuss afterwards and my usual film-watching buddies were unavailable. I love how Peele adds humor to the horror, and Lupita Nyong’o is a standout in a very strong cast.
Watch the trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 81 (tied with REVENGE for highest metascore of my 2019 recs)


Revenge (2017) — Rated R
Never take your mistress on an annual guys’ getaway, especially one devoted to hunting – a violent lesson for three wealthy married men. This one consistently shows up at or near the top of “best horror films,” but I avoided it for a couple of years because of the content. I’m glad I finally watched. It’s not fun, but it’s deeply satisfying. It DOES NOT eroticize violence against women. In fact, according to one reviewer, it “gouges the male gaze out of our eyeballs.” Keep in mind there is a high level of gore in this film.
Watch the trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 81


Midsommar (2019) — Rated R
A couple travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown’s fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult. This film is LONG and WEIRD. Like Hereditary it deals with the consequences of unrelenting grief and depression, but with an entirely different outcome. (So different that you almost forget about the grief–but maybe that’s the point?) I do think Ari Aster drags out the film with those long ritualistic sequences, but unlike some reviewers, I feel mostly satisfied with the ending. It made a certain sort of sense to me as a deliberate contrast to Hereditary‘s conclusion.
Watch the trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 72


Upgrade (2018) — Rated R
Set in the near-future, technology controls nearly all aspects of life. But when Grey, a self-identified technophobe, has his world turned upside down, his only hope for revenge is an experimental computer chip implant called Stem. This is my favorite horror film of this year’s offerings. I would call Upgrade a “Tech Noir” in the vein of Blade Runner and other “near future” scifi horror. It stars Logan Marshall-Green (whom I loved in The Invitation) as a vengeful widower and Simon Maiden as the voice of Stem. Oh, how darkly fun this film is! I won’t say more — just watch it.
Watch the trailer / Options for Viewing / Metascore: 67

That’s all from me for 2019–Hope you find something fun to watch. Do let me know in the comments if you have any recommendations. Happy Horror Viewing!

Part II: Ghostly and Gothic SPOOKY films

Oh, how I love a good GHOST film! Ghosts and/or related paranormal entities feature in each of the following recommendations.

All film synopses are from imdb.com.


The Wind (2018) — Rated R
A plains-woman faces the harshness and isolation of the untamed land in the Western frontier of the late 1800s. This film, written and directed by women, is visually arresting and emotionally harrowing. It’s also non-linear and requires active viewing. I’ve long been captivated by pioneer narratives and the “romance” of homesteading, but this film really brought home how difficult such a life could be. It also added a lovely Gothic twist to the mix. I will watch this one again.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 66


Don’t Leave Home (2018) — Not Rated
An American artist’s obsession with a disturbing urban legend leads her to an investigation of the story’s origins at the crumbling estate of a reclusive painter in Ireland. This one had me at “crumbling estate”! I’ve never encountered a story quite like this, and I can’t tell you too much about it without spoiling. It’d be better if you just watched so we can talk about it later. This is another one I plan to see again.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 65


Astral (2018) — Rated TV-MA
A detached university student faces the consequences of astral projection when he uses it to reconnect with his dead mother. This is not your glossy, high-budget sort of horror film, and all the user reviews on IMDB indicate that no one liked it. But I had to watch because I’m rather obsessed with the narrative potential of astral projection. Also, the lead actor played Tom Riddle and is the RADA-trained son of Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones, and much more). Viewing this required patience, but the story eventually builds into something rather dramatic. I thought it was worth watching and I enjoyed the fact that most of the action takes place at Royal Holloway. (Do I need to watch Fear the Walking Dead now?)
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / No Metascore


Haunted (Hjemsøkt) (2017) — Not Rated
After her father’s death Catherine travels back to her old family estate in winter time Norway. When locals start telling stories of disappearances and possible murders, she is forced to confront her family’s mysterious past. There’s nothing particular ground-breaking about this ghost story–it doesn’t have any special bells or whistles–but I loved it all the same. The Norwegian setting is gorgeous. (Just look at that still above.) The lead actress is a pleasure to watch. The story held my attention to the very end, and I look forward to watching it again. I have one quibble that I’m longing to discuss, so do let me know if you watch.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / No Metascore


Clara’s Ghost (2018) — Not Rated
Set over the course of a single evening in the Reynolds family home in suburban Connecticut, Clara’s Ghost tells the story of Clara Reynolds who, fed up with constant ribbing from her self-absorbed showbiz family, finds solace in and guidance from the supernatural force she believes is haunting her. I didn’t quite know what I was getting into when I started watching this. It features a hilariously dysfunctional family of actors who decide to gather in order to torment each other AND celebrate their dog’s birthday. Bad behavior ensues. This is another film written and directed by a woman, and I absolutely love the fact that it was a family project. I look forward to Bridey Elliot’s next film.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 66

BONUS! Ghostly films I enjoy watching again and again:
The Haunting (1963) — Previously discussed here.
The Changeling (1980) — Previously discussed here.
The Others (2001)
The Eclipse (2009) — Previously discussed here (scroll all the way down)
The Awakening (2011) — Previously discussed here.
The Conjuring (2013)