Category Archives: Traveling

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!

Tea for One at the Boston Public Library

I’ve been longing to have afternoon tea at the Boston Public Library’s Courtyard Tearoom for years now. Due to various commitments and unforeseen conflicts, I haven’t had success in getting my husband or a friend to join me, so during this latest trip I went solo.

It was lovely!


The tea menu was presented in a charming old book. The loose leaf teas were from MEM Tea Imports in Watertown, MA. (There’s a retail shop in North Cambridge — something to explore during my next trip to Boston?)


I chose the Assam tea along with a “Tequila Mockingbird” cocktail made with Prosecco, Blood Orange Hibiscus, Tea-Infused Tequila, Lime, and Strawberry. Both were delicious.


I had no idea we would be treated to a fashion show during the tea! This was my favorite dress.


The tea sweets and savories were presented on a tiered tray, but I arranged the items on a plate for my photographs. Above you see the savory options: Roasted Portobello (at the bottom), Herb Chicken Salad, Smoked Salmon, and Honey Ham. (Not pictured because I ate them so quickly: the English Cucumber and Maine Lobster sandwiches.) Absolutely scrumptious.

The scone course included a plain and a currant scone served with Blood Orange Preserve, Lemon Curd, and Devonshire Cream. I heard someone at a neighboring table complain that the scones were too small, but honestly I was relieved because it left room in my tummy for the sweet course.


Starting at the bottom and moving left: Pecan Tartlet, Macaron, Linzer Bar, Eggnog Cheesecake, and Chocolate Truffles.

Everything was top notch. The setting was lovely, the service attentive, the food and drink delicious, and the fashion show was a nice distraction. I highly recommend this tea experience, and I hope to enjoy it again and again. (They’ve offered a Holiday Tea in the past, so keep your eyes peeled and book early!)

Friday Favorites: The Harbor Springs Festival of the Book

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the 4th annual Harbor Springs Festival of the Book in Michigan–as a fan rather than an author. What a delight! Harbor is a lovely town on Lake Michigan, offering many restaurants and shops, including an indie bookstore. Turns out the town is full of friendly bibliophiles, too! For this post I’ll share a few highlights in hopes of attracting you to next year’s festival…


A high point for me was seeing Cathleen Schine in Saturday morning’s “Beautiful Messiness of Family” panel at the Lyric Theatre. (EVERY seat was full!) Back in the early 90s when I worked at an independent bookstore in Milwaukee, nearly the entire staff became obsessed with Schine’s The Love Letter. I gave it as a gift to just about everyone I knew–whether they wanted it or not! I so enjoyed chatting with Schine, and I’m very much looking forward to reading my signed copy of her latest novel, The Grammarians.


For lunch on Saturday we had tickets to “Sister Pie & Ice Cream with Lisa Ludwinski,” and no joke, each table shared a pie made from a recipe in Sister Pie: Recipes & Stories from a Big-Hearted Bakery in Detroit. Delicious! And now you know where to go for pie next time you’re in Detroit. (Above you see JK grinning at the prospect of tucking into our table’s Honey Lemon Meringue pie–wow, was it good!)


Sunday morning we enjoyed “Perspectives on the Female Voice” at the History Museum. This was a smaller, more intimate venue, and the panel felt more like a discussion group than a promotional event. All the panels were thoughtfully moderated, and no matter the topic or venue, everyone was friendly and helpful. I ended up chatting with so many charming people–and I’m a cranky introvert! There was just such a positive vibe at this festival.

Next we scurried back to the Lyric Theatre to see James Mustich talk about his new book, 1000 Books to Read Before You Die. I was delighted to learn that Mustich, a former bookseller, was the founder of A Common Reader. My mom and I used to read each edition cover-to-cover and add our favorites to birthday and Christmas wishlists. Mustich was a very engaging speaker, and later that night we enjoyed paging through his recommendations. (We spent more than an hour with the book and barely made a dent in his list.)


Our time at the Book Festival came to a stunning conclusion with a luncheon to celebrate Pria Krishna’s new cookbook, Indian-ish, with our meal prepared from Krishna’s recipes. Delicious food + inspirational talk from Krishna = a delicious and emotionally satisfying conclusion for this lovely festival.

AUTHORS! Keep your eye on this one–you may wish to submit your name for a panel at next year’s festival. You’ll LOVE it. Here’s the URL one more time: https://www.hsfotb.org

NOTE: the featured image at the top o this post is a photograph of my framed giclée of Mary Hramiec Hoffman’s “Lake Day,” which I purchased a few years ago in Harbor Springs. See www.hramiechoffman.com for more of her work.