Tag Archives: recipes

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!

August tea and a book: Penelope Lively

This summer in Oxford I discovered Penelope Lively. In fact I gobbled up three of her books, utterly captivated by her appreciation for setting, history, and the imagination. I won’t go into great detail about the plots because they really aren’t plotty sorts of stories, but I will tell you that The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (winner of the Carnegie Medal) is a humorous ghost tale set in the Cotswolds, A Stitch in Time (winner of the Whitbread Award) is a gentle mystery set in Lyme Regis, and The House in Norham Gardens is a coming-of-age story set in Oxford.

Is it obvious yet that Penelope Lively and I were made for each other? (If not, note italics above.) Her writing is gorgeously expressive. She even enchants with her description of painting an old swing:

There is the moment you dip the brush in the paint and tap it on the edge to get rid of the drips, and there it is all lush and fat with paint in your hand, ready for the stroke down that sad, hungry, unpainted surface. And there is the moment you lay it on the dull, unpainted surface, and what was rusty and tattered is transformed with one majestic sweep into glistening sparkling black. And there is the dabbing at the links of the chain to make them all neat and painty once more, and the picking out of every curl and flourish of the swing’s seat, and the lying on your back to get at the underneath . . . (A Stitch in Time)

I’m delighted that there are many more Penelope Lively books to read, both for adults and children, and at the top of my list is her Booker Prize winning Moon Tiger. (Click here and scroll down for a complete list of her titles.)

And now for tea!

This month’s tea is inspired by my friend Caroline Trevers, the conference manager who makes everything work so beautifully for all the summer groups at Brasenose College. At the beginning of our stay, Caroline introduced me to Earl Grey Blue Lady from Cardews of Oxford. This tea is a treat with its spicy flavor and delicate bergamot scent, but it’s also just lovely to look at. (My American friends can find similar Earl Grey blends at Adagio.com.)

Caroline also provided the recipe for her Lemon Drizzle Cake, which I first tasted when I co-judged the Brasenose Bake-Off. A decadent chocolate concoction took the top prize that day, but I would have awarded Caroline’s Lemon Drizzle “best tea cake ever.” I can’t seem to get mine to look as beautiful as hers (even after two tries), but it’s still very tasty. See the recipe below (translated into American measurements).

Lemon Drizzle cake

¾ cup Fine Caster Sugar (called Baker’s sugar in the states? Or just use granulated)
¾ cup Margarine or Butter
3 eggs
¾ cup Self Rising Flour
3 lemons
¼ cup Caster Sugar
1 lb loaf tin (8.5 X 4.5-ish?)

Rub oil or butter around the inside of the loaf tin then dust with a teaspoon of flour so that all the sides are lightly covered. Grate the rind from the lemons and squeeze the juice and put it in a pan. Cream the fat and sugar till well mixed and fluffy, add the lemon rind and mix more. Add the eggs one at a time beating well in between. Sift the flour into the mixture and fold until incorporated.

Pour the mix into a 1 lb loaf tin – bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or till cooked.

5 minutes before the cake is due out of the oven add the extra 2oz of sugar to the lemon juice in the pan and heat it till the sugar melts then boil it for a minute. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven prick it over the top with a fork and pour over the boiling sugar syrup allowing it to soak into the cake. You can pour it down the side and over the top – pour slowly to make sure all the surface is covered so it soaks in evenly.

Let the cake cool a little and then turn it out onto a wire rack till it cools completely.

Caroline, co-judges Alice and Alan, and me in the Brasenose Deer Park

June Tea and a Book: Miss Buncle’s Book

I’ve been working on a story set in the 30s, which means immersing myself in books set and/or written during that period. Imagine my delight when I stumbled across D.E. Stevenson’s Miss Buncle’s Book (1934), the story of a woman in such desperate financial straits that she decides her only hope for income is to write a novel. (Ha ha!) Miss Buncle can only write what she knows, however, and this means showcasing the extravagant foibles of her own neighbors. Lo and behold, the book is a runaway bestseller, and the residents of Silverstream are aghast. How long can Miss Buncle maintain her anonymity once the villagers turn vengeful?

Miss Buncle’s Book is laugh-aloud funny, sweetly romantic, and nearly impossible to put down. If you need more convincing, check out these reviews from Dear Author and Book Snob.

GREAT NEWS! The e-book can be yours for only $1.99 from Barnes & Noble or Amazon! It’s also available from Audible.com.

If you prefer an actual book in your hands, the 2012 paperback edition from Sourcebooks is absolutely gorgeous.

For tea I decided on good old fashioned scones with jam and butter. (Tis a pity no one sells clotted cream in this town.) You’ll find the scone recipe here. Instead of cutting the butter in, I used an old trick I learned from Iveta — I melted the butter and then poured it into cold milk, which forms little butter flakes that mix well with the flour. Unfortunately, I didn’t let the butter cool long enough, and perhaps that’s why the scones didn’t rise enough. Or maybe my baking powder is old? In any case, the scones were flat-ish but still very tasty.

For tea, I chose Twining’s Everyday blend, which you can purchase online from the Twining’s USA shop — “A refreshing cup of tea for any time of the day.”

If all goes as planned, next month’s “Tea and a book” will come to you from England!