Tag Archives: tea and a book

March Tea and a Book: A School for Brides

Patrice Kindl’s A School for Brides: A Story of Maidens, Mystery, and Matrimony is a delightful romp for fans of quirky characters and unusual conflicts, not to mention all things Regency. It’s a companion to an earlier favorite of mine from Kindl, Keeping the Castle, a much lauded novel about a young lady who must marry well in order to support her family. You really should read both, but I don’t think it matters which you choose first.

The official blurb for A School for Brides:

The Winthrop Hopkins Female Academy of Lesser Hoo, Yorkshire, has one goal: to train its students in the feminine arts with an eye toward getting them married off. This year, there are five girls of marriageable age. There’s only one problem: the school is in the middle of nowhere, and there are no men. Set in the same English town as Keeping the Castle, and featuring a few of the same characters, here’s the kind of witty tribute to the classic Regency novel that could only come from the pen of Patrice Kindl!

Kindl is such an entertaining storyteller. I will warn you, however, that there are many characters, some with similar names. A handy character guide is provided at the beginning of the book, but if you tend toward e-readers–as I do with my increasingly wonky vision–it may prove difficult to consult that list. (It’s very likely, however, that you understand better how to navigate back and forth through your e-reader than I do!)

At any rate, I highly recommend both Keeping the Castle and A School for Brides, and I’ve heard there may be a third book set in Lesser Hoo. Oh, let it be true!

Now for a lovely cream tea . . .

Conveniently for this post, I’ve been testing recipes for a small afternoon tea I’m hosting next month. (Me? Organized enough to test the recipes? It’s a miracle!)


I tried a new-to-me scone recipe–this one from Allrecipes–and it was pretty straightforward for making traditional round scones that split easily. I used a cookie cutter from this Williams-Sonoma set, only mine had crinkled edges. Apparently the key is to cut swiftly and forcefully with a straight up-and-down motion. No side-to-side cutting or twisting of the cutter lest the scone droop to one side during baking.


As you can see, my scones rose nicely without too much drooping. And they split easily–no need for a knife! For more tips and tricks you might consult “How to Make the Perfect Scone” from both The Prepared Pantry and The Guardian.


For a proper English tea you need strawberry jam and clotted cream. As you can see, the jam came from Fortnum & Mason, which seems perfectly appropriate for a Regency story since they were established in 1707. (Ooh, look — here’s a blog post that includes details about about F&M in the Regency period!) Those not currently living in England can order online from F&M as long as you’re willing to pay international shipping. Another option for Americans is to peruse their products offered in Williams-Sonoma shops and online. But what about clotted cream? In England you can buy it at any grocery store; in the states, however, it can be tricky to find. I actually ordered mine from Amazon.com but it also can be found at The English Tea Store. Just keep in mind that it needs to stay cool, so mail-ordering in the hottest months might not be the best idea.


And here’s my little tea spread, complete with the Afternoon Blend from Fortnum & Mason (“a blend from the higher and lower regions of Ceylon delivering a light, refreshing flavour with real body”). As I’ve mentioned before, there’s some controversy over whether one should first spread ones scone with cream or jam. (I even blogged about this once.) But really, it’s entirely up to you!

Happy reading and Afternoon Tea-ing!

Tea with Miss Marple

Over the last several months I re-read (or in some cases read for the first time) Agatha Christie’s novels and short stories featuring Miss Jane Marple. What a delight! In addition I introduced myself to the Joan Hickson TV adaptations (most excellent) and revisited nearly all of the Geraldine McEwan and Julia Mckenzie versions that were canon Miss Marple. Might you indulge me as I share a few favorites?

Favorite book: I keep changing my mind on this one, but at the moment I think it might be A Pocket Full of Rye. Miss Marple has a very personal stake in this one as her former maid Gladys is involved. The pacing is good and the misdirection effective, and I enjoyed the chemistry between Marple and Inspector Peele. That said, I’d also put The Moving Finger, 4:50 from Paddington, and Sleeping Murder close to the top. The beginning of At Bertram’s Hotel is so charming (and I will revisit it even though the mystery itself is rather “meh”), and I quite enjoyed Nemesis for its window into Marple’s sleuthing process.

Favorite short story: The Thirteen Problems was an entertaining story collection and I was pleasantly surprised to find so much Gothic goodness running throughout. The most Gothic of all was “The Idol House of Astarte,” a country house mystery involving a fancy dress party that ends with a deadly accident. Or was it murder? I wish this one could somehow be adapted to television!

Favorite TV adaptation: While the Joan Hickson versions are excellent and much truer to the original texts, I have to admit that my favorite of all the individual adaptations was the Geraldine McEwan version of The Moving Finger. One might say it takes liberties with its blatantly Noir setup and the hero’s PTSD angst, but it also gives more agency to the love interest and effectively reimagines that troubling “makeover” scene. It’s a delightfully cheeky adaptation, and James D’Arcy and Emilia Fox have great chemistry as the Burton siblings.

Favorite Miss Marple quote: “I like living myself — not just being happy and enjoying myself and having a good time. I mean living — waking up and feeling all over me, that I’m there — ticking over.” (from A Murder is Announced).

[My favorite non-Marple quote might be Gina’s description of Stonygates in They Do It With Mirrors: “It’s pretty ghastly, really. A sort of Gothic monstrosity. What Steve calls Best Victorian Lavatory period.”]

And now for tea!

After all the time I spent with Miss Marple, I felt she deserved a celebratory afternoon tea out on the town. Las Vegas actually has several options for proper tea, and for this occasion my husband and I tried the offerings at Rí Rá Irish Pub in Mandalay Bay.

[Did Miss Marple ever take tea at an Irish pub? Probably not. But I certainly can imagine her nephew Raymond coaxing her into a local pub for tea just so he could study the “local color” for one of his novels.]


We found Rí Rá very charming. The server placed us in a comfy little nook near the entrance of the pub — does one call this a “snug”? — and we were fortunate to have it all to ourselves.


Here is a closer look at the cozy china pattern. We both chose the Organic Assam tea, which was perfectly steeped and delicious.


And here you see the tea tray, featuring sandwiches (ham & tomato, egg mayo, cheddar with Ballymaloe relish, cucumber & creme fraiche), raisin scones with cream and black current jam, and a selection of “decadent desserts.” It was the perfect amount for two — we ate almost all of it and didn’t feel too stuffed. (It helped that we took a long walk through the Luxor to Excalibur and back before returning to our car.) I do think Miss Marple would have approved!

Do you have a favorite Marple novel, story, or TV adaptation? If so please share in the comments!

A Valentine’s tea with Margery Sharp

Last month, through the power of BookBub, I discovered Margery Sharp.

Or perhaps I should say rediscovered, for I was a fan of The Rescuers as a child. I had no idea she’d written so many novels for adults until BookBub featured Cluny Brown*.

This charming story features an eccentric and headstrong girl from London who is sent by her uncle into service at an elegant country house. Knowing little of domestic labor in a stately home, she struggles to understand household tasks, class barriers, and unexpected romantic overtures. Passages like this in which Cluny is chatting with potential suitor Mr. Wilson (the local chemist who lives with his nearly catatonic mother) made me giggle:

“Thank you for letting me stay,” said Cluny, blinking.
“Mother’s taken a liking to you,” said Mr. Wilson. “I can see that.”
Cluny wondered how he could tell. Several years before she had made quite a friend of an old man who took a tortoise into Kensington Gardens; and he told her he was never sure whether the tortoise enjoyed these outings or not, whether it didn’t after all think, “Damn this grass.” However, Cluny supposed that from long experience Mr. Wilson could detect in his mother shades of expression, intimations of pleasure, unapparent to any one else.

Cluny Brown was adapted to film in 1946 by Ernst Lubitsch, whose lengthy directing resume also includes my personal favorites The Shop Around the Corner (inspiration for You’ve Got Mail) and the delicious pre-code romp Design for Living (based on the Noel Coward play and featuring an extra-swoony Gary Cooper). I was able to locate the DVD for Cluny Brown, but you can watch it in its entirety on YouTube! Lubitsch took many liberties with the original story, but it all serves to bring the romance into sharper focus AND to feature Charles Boyer, who basically runs away with the film.

*I was struck by the name “Cluny” because I love the Musée de Cluny in Paris, but according to the novel Cluny is short for Clover.

Following Cluny Brown I read The Flowering Thorn (1934), about a Bright Young Thing who impetuously adopts an orphaned boy. She can’t afford to keep him in London, so with the help of an uncle they move to the country. Hijinks ensue, but not in the silly way you might expect. This is a quieter novel than Cluny Brown, and it’s more about our heroine falling in love with a community than a mere man. Currently I am reading Something Light (1960), featuring a plucky dog photographer who is tired of her “Girl Friday” status with the men in her life. She’s ready to marry for money! This book is much more along the quirky lines of Cluny Brown, and I am avoiding all spoilers because I know this novel will surprise me in delightful ways.

**********

And now for our Valentine’s tea, I offer you gluten-free glazed sugar cookies with “Thé des Amants” from Palais des Thés.


I cheated a little and used this mix from King Arthur Flour, purchased at Whole Foods. (Click here if you’d like to make the cookies from scratch.) I don’t ordinarily keep gluten-free or almond flour around the house, so my trick for rolling out the dough was to put it between two sheets of parchment while still soft, roll it, chill it, and then cut the cookies out. No flour needed at all! And the recipe for the glaze is right on the box. Easy peasy.


Tea description (from the purveyor): Rich and sensual, Thé des Amants is a heady, fragrant blend of black tea, apple, almond, cinnamon and vanilla, spiced up with a hint of ginger. In French, Thé des Amants means ‘Tea of the Lovers.’ Délicieux!


And here is the tea tray!

How about you — any romantic reads or Valentine snacks to recommend?

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY TO ALL!

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!

September Tea and a Book: Daddy Long Legs

Quick take: Such a delight!

Official-ish synopsis: First published in 1912, this young adult novel is comprised mostly of letters from orphan Jerusha “Judy” Abbott to her anonymous benefactor whom she names “Daddy Long Legs”. The letters chronicle her departure from the orphanage through four years of college. Judy makes new friends, slowly gains knowledge and independence, but also struggles with her humble past and unfixed future. (from Amazon)

Good news: This e-book is available from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble for only $0.99!!!

For years I kept seeing positive references to Daddy Long Legs, and you know how I love stories of orphans and foundlings, so I decided to give it a try. WOW! It took me less than five pages to fall for Judy Abbott. She is clever, hilarious, and quite forward-thinking for her time. And when anyone tries to push her around, she pushes back

Some favorite passages:

I find that it isn’t safe to discuss religion with the Semples. Their God (whom they have inherited intact from their remote Puritan ancestors) is a narrow, irrational, unjust, mean, revengeful, bigoted person. Thank heaven I don’t inherit God from anybody! I am free to make mine up as I wish Him. He’s kind and sympathetic and imaginative and forgiving and understanding–and He has a sense of humour. (53)

Don’t you think I’d make an admirable voter if I had my rights? I was twenty-one last week. This is an awfully wasteful country to throw away such an honest, educated, conscientious, intelligent citizen as I would be. (105)

Just back from church–preacher from Georgia. We must take care, he says, not to develop our intellects at the expense of our emotional natures […] It doesn’t matter what part of the United States or Canada they come from, or what denomination they are, we always get the same sermon. Why on earth don’t they go to men’s colleges and urge the students not to allow their manly natures to be crushed out by too much mental application? (135)

NOTE: As you can see, Judy is very free with socio-political criticisms, but she has her frolicsome moods as well. She reminded me of an L.M. Montgomery character–brimming with imagination and entertaining opinions!

And now for tea:

Judy spends the summer after her first year of college at Lock Willow Farm.

The farm gets more and more entertaining. I rode on a hay wagon yesterday. We have three big pigs and nine little piglets, and you should see them eat. They are pigs! We’ve oceans of little baby chickens and ducks and turkeys and guinea fowls. You must be mad to live in a city when you might live on a farm. (52)

When Judy mentions picking blackberries on the farm (something I did every summer on my grandparents’ farm), I found myself with a powerful yearning for blackberry cobbler. Doesn’t that sound lovely for a late summer tea?


I used this recipe from Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman (who lives in Oklahoma, of course!). Simple preparation and very tasty.


It didn’t seem like a true cobbler without a little scoop of ice cream. I chose Breyers lactose free vanilla.


To pair with the cobbler I chose the Assam Hattiala from Palais des Thés, “a beautiful large leaf Assam with an abundance of tips, a pronounced, very spicy aroma, and dark, full-bodied liquor.” Perfect with a warm and sweet afternoon treat!