Tag Archives: Christmas

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 and Books for Christmas

I come to you with tidings of tea and holiday reads!

For young (and young-at-heart) readers:


Christmas with the Savages, by Mary Clive: Seen through the eyes of a prim little eight-year-old, and based on real events and people, this novel perfectly recaptures a Christmas holiday of 100 years ago, and is effortlessly funny.

This delightful story, first published in 1955, brings to mind a “Downton Abbey” Christmas, only from the perspective of the nursery children. It’s episodic, lighthearted, and lots of fun! I purchased a used hardcover, but there’s a very pretty paperback available from Amazon and other places.

The Night Before the Night Before Christmas, by Richard Scary: It’s the night before the night before Christmas, and Mr. Frumble wants to be helpful. When he stumbles into Santa Bear’s workshop and mixes up the dates, everyone thinks it’s the night before Christmas! Santa dashes off to deliver the presents, but then gets stuck in Mr. Frumble’s chimney! Find out how Mr. Frumble saves the day in this funny, topsy-turvy Christmas story.

I adored Richard Scarry as a kid and loved reading the books to my little siblings later on. I’m not sure how much Scarry actually had to do with this book considering when he died, but the characters are familiar and the story will entertain your young ones.

For fans of romance:


A Holiday by Gaslight, by Mimi Matthews: Sophie Appersett is quite willing to marry outside of her class to ensure the survival of her family. But the darkly handsome Mr. Edward Sharpe is no run-of-the-mill London merchant. He’s grim and silent. A man of little emotion–or perhaps no emotion at all. After two months of courtship, she’s ready to put an end to things. But severing ties with her taciturn suitor isn’t as straightforward as Sophie envisioned…

This is just perfect for the holidays, particularly if you’re in the mood for a heart-fluttering yet chaste Victorian romance. The author is well-versed in the era, having published various non-fiction books and scholarly articles. Bottom line: this novella is fun, romantic, and free of cringe-worthy anachronisms.

For fans of “Literary” Christmas fiction:


Mr. Dickens and his Carol, by Samantha Silva: Charles Dickens is not feeling the Christmas spirit. His newest book is an utter flop, the critics have turned against him, relatives near and far hound him for money. While his wife plans a lavish holiday party for their ever-expanding family and circle of friends, Dickens has visions of the poor house. But when his publishers try to blackmail him into writing a Christmas book to save them all from financial ruin, he refuses. And a serious bout of writer’s block sets in…

I’m right in the middle of this story and enjoying it even more than I’d expected. Samantha Silva brings to life the people and places of Victorian London and makes Dickens appealing even as she draws attention to his personal failings. It’s quite an absorbing read.

(I’d wondered if the book had anything to do with the recent film, The Man Who Invented Christmas, but that was based on a novel by Les Standiford. Anyone read that one or seen the film? Apparently there are several novels dealing with the creation of A Christmas Carol.)

And now for tea:


I made my usual ginger cookies and frosted sugar cookies, but perhaps you notice another item on the plate above. Yes, it’s a mince pie! Steve and I love indulging in these when we’re in England over Christmas, but they’re not ubiquitous here in the States. One year I made crusts from scratch and filled them with mincemeat I’d purchased at Chatsworth. This year, however, I found orange & cranberry mince pies from Walkers on Amazon! All you need do is warm them up in the oven (one at a time or all at once), and voila! Scrumptious.

As for the tea blend, I learned of Chado Tea’s Noel while reading the Holiday issue of Teatime Magazine. If you like black tea blended with cinnamon, orange zest, vanilla and almond, you’ll no doubt find this tea delicious and festive. Check out all the offerings from Chado Tea here.

***Remember that you can click the Christmas tag below for past recommendations for holiday reading, drinking, and eating!

What are you reading/brewing/baking for the holidays this year? I do love recommendations!

Friday Favorites: Cozy Christmas Reads 2017

It’s that time of year when I crave cozy holiday stories! Here are three I enjoyed recently:

For young (and young-at-heart) readers:


Eleven-year-old Nikolas—nicknamed “Christmas”—has received only one toy in his life: a doll carved out of a turnip. But he’s happy with his turnip doll, because it came from his parents, who love him. Then one day his father goes missing, and Nikolas must travel to the North Pole to save him.
Learn more here

This quirky Christmas tale would make for a great bedtime read-aloud, but it’s also perfectly appropriate for independent readers 8 and up. One might even pair it with J.R.R. Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas.

Note–there are sequels!

For fans of romance novels (particularly of the Regency variety):


The very wealthy Edgar Downes has promised his aging father to finally take a bride—specifically, to wed a titled lady by Christmas. London is full of pretty, proper, and eligible misses, but it’s the widow Helena, Lady Stapleton, in a shocking red dress, who captures Edgar’s attention. Helena is intrigued by the seductive stranger—but he’s simply not in her class. Marriage, of course, would never do. But in a season of miracles, something wondrous is about to happen.
Learn more here

I stumbled across this title in a 2012 Publisher’s Weekly article recommending holiday romance and was drawn in from the first paragraph. I rather assumed it would be a gentle romance, but it turned out to be quite spicy! (Not in an overwhelming or distasteful way, in my opinion.) The love story still manages to be sweet and cozy, particularly when the cast of characters moves to a snowy country house setting for (Regency appropriate) Christmas festivities.

Note–if you order this edition, you get a bonus Christmas novel!

ETA: I am reading Christmas Beau right now and it is even cozier! Wish I could sit down with a cup of tea and read the day away…

For readers of contemporary fiction:


It’s Christmas, and for the first time in years the entire Birch family will be under one roof. Even Emma and Andrew’s elder daughter—who is usually off saving the world—will be joining them at Weyfield Hall, their aging country estate. But Olivia, a doctor, is only coming home because she has to. Having just returned from treating an epidemic abroad, she’s been told she must stay in quarantine for a week…and so too should her family.
Learn more here

This novel received starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal and was touted by one reviewer as “perfect for fans of Love Actually and The Family Stone.” I ardently disagree with the comparison to Love Actually — this is not a rom com, nor does the story go as dark, weird, or hopeless as one finds in LA. The comparison to The Family Stone, however, is spot on. This is a humorous family drama, with likable and unlikable characters, but everyone grows in satisfying ways by the end. There is heartache, to be sure, but you won’t fall into despair. I wasn’t surprised to see that the novel has already been optioned for TV in the UK, and I think they should try for Bill Nighy in the role of family patriarch Andrew Birch. 😀

Note–I listened to the audio, but I recommend reading the actual book, especially if you’re American. Jilly Bond gives a solid performance for her English characters, but her American accents are pretty terrible.

See Also:

My own Woefully Incomplete List of Holiday Reads (a work in progress)
Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 9 excellent books for gifting this season
Waterstones’ Christmas Gift Guide
Caroline Starr Rose’s Books to Give the Writer in your Life
Novel Novice’s Five New Holiday Picture Books to Gift and Enjoy and Best Books for Holiday Gifts 2017.
Bustle’s 11 Festive Book Club Books to read this Holiday Season
The Christmas Mystery Book List

[If you know of other helpful holiday reading lists/gift guides, please do share in the comments!]

Also, if you click the “Christmas” tag below or in the sidebar you’ll find book reviews, recipes, and tea recommendations going back several years on this blog.

HAPPY HOLIDAY READING!

December Tea and a Book: No Holly for Miss Quinn (Christmas at Fairacre)

Quick take: So COZY.
(Special thanks to Laura B. for recommending it and to Glenda A. for gifting it!)

Goodreads synopsis: Miss Quinn, who cherishes her privacy, intends to spend Christmas on her own as she likes it. But before the holiday, her brother telephones to tell her that his wife has been rushed to the hospital, and would Miss Quinn come and stay with the children? Miss Quinn’s unexpectedly hectic Christmas has a significant effect upon her life.

(Above you see Christmas at Fairacre, an omnibus that includes No Holly for Miss Quinn. Check this Goodreads page for reviews and links to various vendors of the individual novel. Or check here for the omnibus.)

My thoughts: My mom has always loved the novels of Miss Read (a.k.a. Dora Jessie Saint, who died in 2012 at the age of 98). I read one or two of them when I was young, but at that time I didn’t have quite such a powerful craving for quiet and cozy books. Well, I do now! And amidst all the madness of late, this book certainly hit the spot.

I thoroughly empathized with Miriam Quinn’s preference for quiet and solitude. At the same time, it was great fun to see her thrown in with her brother’s somewhat feral brood of children. Oh, the appalling disorder! How satisfying to watch her organize them, and then how delightful to see her loosen up and enjoy various sweet moments of connection with each child. My favorite part involved the two nieces, one of whom knows “the truth” about Father Christmas and is aching to spoil her younger sister. Our Miriam deals with that in a lovely way.

No Holly for Miss Quinn is a quick read brimming with warmth and humor, and even a tiny bit of romance. Chime in if you’ve read it — I’d love to hear about your favorite moments!

Related favorite things:


I particularly enjoyed the illustrations by J.S. Goodall, which gave me the same cozy feeling as those of Garth Williams (the Little House books) and Pauline Baynes (the Narnia books).


LOOK AT THIS! I have listened to this Enya CD about a million times, and I never once associated this song with Miss Read. How delightful! Do have a listen.

Miss Read/Dora Saint wrote of her own childhood in Fortunate Grandchild and Time Remembered (now combined in a single volume entitled Early Days). Also, for more on her inspiration for the novels’ settings, see On the Trail of Thrush Green.

And now for tea:


I tend to make the same treats every year for Christmas, so this time I tried something different: Chocolate-Cherry Snowballs from the Betty Crocker website. Click the link for the recipe, which is pretty straightforward. I will say, however, that next time I’ll make the cookies smaller because they really should be bite-sized. (Otherwise, MESS.) Also, I would recommend you wait until they are quite cool before you roll them in the powdered sugar. They need time to set so as not to crumble when you roll, and they get stickier as they cool, which makes the sugar cling nicely. (I learned all this the hard way, of course!) I followed advice given in the comments and used maraschino cherries instead of candied, which worked quite well. (Where does one find candied cherries, anyway?)

Here is a closer view of the “snowballs”.

In the pot is Thé des Délices, a black tea containing citrus peel, candied mandarins, and cocoa nibs. So delicious, and only available during the holidays from Palais des Thés.

Don’t forget to check out my December Holiday Reading List, and do let me know if I’ve left out one of your favorites. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!