Author Archives: SoniaG

Valentine’s Tea and a Book

ALERT: there’s a GIVEAWAY at the end of this post!

The other day I was making a mental list of the most romantic novels I’ve ever read. “This needs to be a blog post!” I thought. Interestingly enough, on this blog I only have ONE previous post related to Valentine’s Day, and it also featured my only use of the “romance” tag. That post was titled Swoonworthy Reads, and if you’re in the mood for romance it might prove interesting.

Today, however, I want to talk about my all-time favorite Romantic reads–one classic novel and one contemporary. I would love to learn your favorites, too. Take the challenge–can you narrow it down to one each? Do share in the comments and you’ll be entered in the giveaway! I managed it, and I’m pretty comfortable with my choices.

If those who know me were asked to guess my choice for most romantic classic novel, many would say Jane Eyre. I adore that book, and I do find it wonderfully romantic, but above all that story is about Jane and her growth into a strong, independent being. (Textbook bildungsroman, right?) There are swoon-worthy moments, to be sure, but it’s not really a Romance. For classic romance I must instead turn to dear Jane Austen, and NO, my top choice would not be Pride & Prejudice. Instead it would be Persuasion, which features a heroine who loved and lost but gets a second chance, and a dashing hero who, among other things, writes one of the most romantic letters ever composed by a fictional man:


You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.

Persuasion is full of delicious yearning, and though I’ve enjoyed watching both the 1995 theatrical release and the 2007 BBC adaptation, I must confess a particular partiality to Rupert Penry-Jones as Captain Wentworth (despite the fact that the “big kiss” at the end of this adaptation is flat out WEIRD).

It was rather easy to narrow down my contemporary Romance novel, too. It just has ALL THE THINGS I LOVE. Academics falling in love as they research two Victorian poets who might have known each other? Who might have LOVED each other? Secret alliances, clue-hunting in old houses, passion, betrayal? I’m pretty sure A.S. Byatt wrote this novel for me. Or perhaps this novel shaped me–I read it the year it came out and how could I ever be the same afterwards?


Possession has only been adapted to film once, and though it departs from the novel in many ways, I find it very satisfying to watch as its own thing. Now, if someone would just adapt the novel as a limited series, I would be tickled pink.

For my Valentine’s Day Tea I baked King Arthur gluten-free sugar cookies and frosted them with buttercream. For tea I enjoyed the Blood-Orange Tisane from Carytown Teas in Richmond, VA. Delicious combo!


My Valentine’s Tea Party for one. (I did share the cookies with Steve later.)

GIVEAWAY: I am offering the Annotated edition of Persuasion (Anchor Books) along with the UK edition of Possession (Vintage), and this giveaway is INTERNATIONAL. All you need do is enter the very simple Rafflecopter giveaway linked below. Get extra points for commenting with the titles of your favorite Classic and Contemporary romantic novels. A winner will be chosen randomly. GOOD LUCK!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wishing you lots of love today and always!

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Featured Image credit: 138413365 © Ekaterina Morozova – Dreamstime.com

A Tour of Three Indie Bookstores in Philadelphia

I’ve made it my mission–when visiting an interesting city, I will find the best tea rooms AND explore the independent bookstores, and then I’ll share my findings with you. My recent post on a lovely Philadelphia tea room is here. Today it’s all about the book stores!


You’ll find Shakespeare+Co on Walnut Street, not far from Rittenhouse Square. This store is NOT related in any way to Shakespeare and Company in Paris, but it is part of a small chain, for its two siblings are located on Lexington and on Broadway in NYC. The Philadelphia location is cozy and though there’s not a lot of space, they’ve somehow managed to put in a coffee bar and seating area, and both times I visited, most of the seats were full. (If you’re willing to put your phone/computer away, there usually is a tech-free table available.) There are a couple of tables in the balcony area, too–one of which could be yours if you get there early enough. It’s such a lovely place to browse! After leisurely poking around and then enjoying a tech-free hot cocoa, I left with a copy of Zadie Smith’s On Beauty.


The next day–a very cold and windy day–I trekked across town to the Penn campus to find two other bookstores, the first being The Last Word Bookshop. The storefront is not particularly gorgeous, but once you’re inside it’s easy to see that this is a well-loved store. (There’s even a resident kitty named Lester.) I do love carefully curated used bookstores because there’s always a pleasant surprise or two, and I could have stayed here a long time if I didn’t have more stops on the agenda. Ultimately I found a collection of diary entries written by Quaker women and couldn’t leave without it.


The final bookstore I visited, A House of Our Own, made the strongest impression on me. First of all, the store resides in the gorgeous old house you see at the very top of this post and has been owned by a Penn grad since 1971. At first everything looks a bit chaotic, but then you’ll notice the careful, almost obsessive-compulsive, organization and labeling of all the books. There are so many nooks and crannies to explore! It’s the perfect place to lose yourself for half a day. This charming feature article summarizes the history and appeal of the store. In the end I chose two books, Summer in the Country by Edith Templeton (published by Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press), and an adorable Everyman’s Library edition of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Histories of the Kings of Britain.


Here’s my haul!

Friday Favorites: Afternoon Tea in Philadelphia

Every January my husband has a meeting in Philadelphia, and I join him when I can. This time I was intent on having tea in the Mary Cassatt Tea Room at the Rittenhouse Hotel, and I was thoroughly delighted when Steve said he’d like to join me. We booked for Wednesday on the afternoon of our arrival and were one of only three couples seated that day, which meant we could take our time and chat with the server.


The tea menu was fairly extensive, and Steve was happy to let me choose. I picked the Organic Lychee Green for our savory course, and the Organic Assam for the sweets.


We each were offered a “trio” of scones with strawberry jam, Devonshire cream, and lemon curd, but for the life of me I can’t remember the scone flavors. We were relieved that they were rather small, because there was so much more to come…


The sandwiches were delectable. Above you see (from bottom and moving clockwise) egg salad with caviar & creme fraiche, carrot with hummus, avocado with prosciutto and onion jam, crab & jicama (Not sure what that was exactly, but I ate it!), smoked turkey with mustard and gruyere, and smoked salmon with cream cheese–very tasty little bites that didn’t overwhelm us.


We finished up with the sweets, which included white chocolate mousse (at the top), panna cotta with chai & pears, a hazelnut & almond opera cake, profiterole with orange and ginger, and a cheese tart.


This midweek tea was quite delectable and relaxing! Keep in mind that on weekends the tea room fills up (so book early) AND there’s a harpist for your listening pleasure. 😀

Stay tuned for a recap of my Indie Bookstore Tour of Philadelphia…

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 . . .