Tag Archives: friday favorites

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 . . .

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)

Friday Favorites: Tea on Mackinac Island

Our final tea adventure of the summer took place at The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. We warmed up with a hike to Fort Mackinac, followed by an 8 mile bike ride around the island. By the time we reached the hotel we were ready for refreshment.


Tea service begins at 3:30 in the hotel parlor and is accompanied by live music. (We were treated to the harp during our visit.) The hotel has streamlined the menu, making it easy for patrons to relax and enjoy the experience. For tea they only offer English Breakfast, but their blend was so delicious that I later purchased a bag to take home with me. In addition they offer a choice of champagne, sherry, or sparkling juice.


Our tiered trays were delightful. For sweets there were scones with cream, chocolate-covered strawberries, fruit tarts, Kentucky butter cake, violet macarons, and coconut chocolate balls. For savories we enjoyed hummus tarts and roast beef on rye, along with cucumber, ham, and turkey sandwiches. I was pleasantly sated and yet still prepared to hop on my bike for more adventures.


I couldn’t resist sharing this shot of my husband and friends affecting a “languidly posh” attitude whilst we waited for our tea. The setting truly is elegant, don’t you think?

Learn more about Afternoon Tea at The Grand. Do note that it is rather expensive–especially with the added $10 per person for non-residents of the hotel–but after your delicious tea you can burn calories by wandering the beautiful grounds. There’s so much to see!

While on the island I kept fantasizing about the sort of mystery that might be set there. (Here’s what I found when I searched “Murder + Mackinac” on Amazon.) It’s only reachable by ferry or airplane and doesn’t allow cars, just bicycles and horse-drawn wagons. That said, there are plenty of people–entire families–who live there year round. The hotels don’t stay open, but the schools and many of the stores do! I would love to stay there for a month in winter, especially after watching this little video:

Friday Favorites: Tea in Cedar Falls, Iowa

Recently we attended a reunion in Iowa, as my brother and his wife had flown in from Japan to introduce their son to the American side of the family. I loved meeting little Hal (he is DELICIOUS) and spending time with people I don’t see as often as I’d like. I also enjoyed exploring Cedar Falls–in particular when my stepmother introduced me to The Tea Cellar.

Would you join me on a virtual tour?


Feel free to go straight to the counter and place your order. Treats are on display under glass, and featured teas are listed on the chalkboard. The staff is happy to open the tea canisters so that you can see and smell the leaves.


Once you make your choice, they will brew the tea in a small or large pot. In the meantime you are free to choose your own cup and saucer. (There’s something so satisfying about this!) Everything is placed on a tray for you to take to the table of your choice.


After you’ve finished your tea you’ll want to peruse the wares. The Tea Cellar offers an impressive variety of Black, Green, Oolong, White, and Herbal teas, along with kettles, teapots, and so much more.

I visited The Tea Cellar each of the three days I was in Iowa and thus was able to sample various tea blends and sweet treats. Everything was delicious, and the atmosphere was welcoming and cozy.

Like what you see but aren’t planning to visit Cedar Falls anytime soon? No worries. You can peruse their fabulous teas and accoutrements at their online store!


Just for fun–a candid shot of my first meeting with nephew Hal! (Photo credit to cousin Jacqueline Kehoe)