Tag Archives: recommendations

Quiet afternoons with Emily

My last blog post (written THREE MONTHS ago, yikes) was about Emily Dickinson, and today–once again–it is Miss Emily who inspires me.

A NEW BOOK:


From the publisher: An engaging, intimate portrait of Emily Dickinson, one of America’s greatest and most-mythologized poets, that sheds new light on her groundbreaking poetry.

From The New Yorker: The Emily Dickinson who emerges in this vivid, affectionate chronicle is a complex and warm-blooded individual—as curious, defiant of convention, and passionate in life as in her poems.

Starred review from Kirkus: Radiant prose, palpable descriptions, and deep empathy for the poet’s sensibility make this biography extraordinary.

I found These Fevered Days a very accessible and detailed presentation of key moments in Emily Dickinson’s development as a writer. The final chapter brought me to tears. If you are curious but can’t read the book just yet, do listen to this podcast interview with the author on CBC radio’s Writers and Company: The poet of solitude: How Emily Dickinson was fueled by the light of her brilliant interior world. (Many thanks to Danielle for alerting me to its existence!)

AN INTRIGUING Apple TV SERIES:


A dear friend recommended this show to me (thanks Angie!), and I confess I was skeptical at first. Modern language and music? Drug use and profanity? Brief and sometimes random scenes of sexuality? It’s NOT the familiar tale of a repressed and reclusive poet who scribbles in secrecy. This Emily is fierce and defiant, except in those moments when she’s terribly vulnerable. The writers clearly know a great deal about Emily Dickinson’s life and 19th century American culture, so anachronisms are utilized strategically and, in my opinion, effectively.


Online Reviews:
The Verge: Dickinson is the wildest, weirdest, and most earnest show on Apple TV Plus

The New Yorker: Dickinson from Apple TV Plus is Deeply Weird and Dazzles Gradually

Vulture: All Hail Dickinson, a TV Show Made Specifically for Literary Weirdos

(Hmmm…do you see a theme emerging?)

There are negative reactions from humorless old fogies other reviewers, of course. The show is irreverent and downright bizarre at times, but Emily’s bittersweet epiphanies seem to temper the outrageous humor. Haven’t we all wished we could be that person who knew herself so well, who refused to compromise, and who didn’t worry about–in fact, embraced the notion of–going against the grain? We hesitate to be that person because we know the emotional and social costs. That’s one of the glories of Dickinson — we see her go there, defiantly and, at times, foolishly. She gets knocked down time and again, but she never gives up. (Hailee Steinfeld, who is wonderful as Emily, is also an executive producer of the show.)

I can’t stop thinking about this show, you guys. There’s even a scene where Emily stitches THE FASCICLES! (Verily, I did swoon.)


OF COURSE I made tea to celebrate finishing both the book and the first season of the TV series. The Emily Dickinson tea from Simpson & Vail, featured in my previous post, is a delicate blend of jasmine and rose petals recommended for those days in which you wish to dwell in possibility. The Cherry Scones were made from the EASIEST mix in the world–in fact, Emily Dickinson would probably be ashamed of you for using it–but they are so tasty and quick! See all of Iveta’s offerings here. (Folks with gluten or dairy intolerance may wish to try something different.)

Fall is coming! STAY TUNED. In September I’ll feature recommendations for classic and new Horror fiction. October, as always, will be a celebration of Spooky Films.
____________
Featured image credit: Photo 18834482 © Romanevgenev | Dreamstime.com

Tea with Miss Emily & a GIVEAWAY

There’s a new picture book about Emily Dickinson and it is marvelous. (Thank you, Best of Books in Edmond, OK, for shipping it so quickly!)


This book written by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Becca Stadtlander is beautiful, inspirational, and quite poignant–I confess to crying a bit while reading. (In a good way!) Before I continue, however, I should direct your attention to Jama Kim Rattigan’s recent blog post, which alerted me to the existence of this book. Her review is delightful and you’ll be rewarded with lovely images and a scrumptious recipe. Thanks, Jama!

In my featured image at the top you see some of my favorite books related to Emily Dickinson, including her complete poems. Do you have a biography recommendation? I quite enjoyed White Heat, by Brenda Wineapple–it was such an absorbing read–but its focus was somewhat restricted. I have the Habegger biography and the one by Sewall, but they both look so ponderous that I haven’t had the energy to try them yet. Thoughts? Any other books related to Dickinson that you might recommend?

A more recent favorite thing in the featured image above is the Emily Dickinson paper doll–such a fun distraction! I paid my $6.50 and was immediately able to download and print the images on card stock. I didn’t expect to enjoy cutting out the pieces, but it turned out to be a soothing and almost meditative activity. The artist has many paper doll options on offer. You know I’ll have to get the Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen packets, at the very least!

And now, Tea with Miss Emily…


First of all, I actually found an “Emily Dickinson” blend of tea from Simpson & Vail. I am so pleased to tell you that it is delicate, soothing, and absolutely gorgeous to behold. Here is the description from the S&V website:

In the years she spent away from society, Emily Dickinson cultivated an extensive garden. In it, she grew jasmine flowers, cornflowers, roses, and many other flowers, plants and herbs. These flowers appear repeatedly in her poetry so our blend had to be floral. We created a delightful combination of jasmine tea and rose petals that brews to a light ecru cup with long green leaves and rose petal accents. This delicate tea hits you with a strong jasmine taste that’s sweetened and mellowed with the subtle flavors of the rose petals. Ingredients: Jasmine tea, rose petals, jasmine blossoms, marigold petals and blue cornflower petals.

[NOTE: Simpson & Vail has an entire collection of author-inspired teas.]


I learned that Emily Dickinson was an avid baker, particularly of “cakes, cookies, and candies.” I love to bake, but when it’s something unfamiliar I’ll usually try a quality mix the first time around. For this Honey Almond cake, I used a Williams & Sonoma mix that turned out to be more complicated than expected, but I managed. The interestingly shaped bundt pan is also from Williams & Sonoma, and I was utterly beguiled by the Nordic Ware Magnolia design.


Here is my Emily Dickinson-inspired tea tray. I brushed a honey glaze on the cake and garnished it with fresh fruit. I also used a little honey in the tea, which paired beautifully with the cake. A hydrangea bloom from the back patio adds a nice flourish, eh?

THE GIVEAWAY: I have one copy of On Wings of Words to give away, and I’ll sweeten the pot by adding SIGNED copies of My Friend Maggie, written/illustrated by Hannah E. Harrison along with Suki and Sam, written by Dr. Lisa Marotta and illustrated by Dorothy Shaw. All you need do is comment with the first line of your favorite Emily Dickinson poem OR with the title of a favorite non-fiction book about Emily Dickinson. US/CA entries only, please! I’ll announce the winner next Wednesday, May 26, 2020.

March Tea and a Book: The Invited by Jennifer McMahon

After a long drought, I finally found a book that captivated me, kept me glued to the pages until the end, and only took two days to read because I could hardly bear to put it down.

Goodreads synopsis:
In a quest for a simpler life, Helen and Nate abandon the comforts of suburbia and their teaching jobs to take up residence on forty-four acres of rural land where they will begin the ultimate, aspirational do-it-yourself project: building the house of their dreams. When they discover that this charming property has a dark and violent past, Helen, a former history teacher, becomes consumed by the legend of Hattie Breckenridge, a woman who lived and died there a century ago.

My thoughts
I am always drawn to “moving to the country/living off the land” sorts of stories because they are inherently full of conflict–internal and external–even without ghosts. In the case of this book, I loved the notion of building a haunted house, for that’s what Helen ends up doing as she incorporates historical artifacts and materials into her home design. (The fact that the home site lies near a rather mystical and creepy bog makes it all the better.)

The cast of characters is rather large, but each individual is distinct and, in most cases, seamlessly woven into the story. I really appreciated that the characters’ behavior–be it thoughtful, reckless, or downright avoidant–pushed the plot forward, and though there were surprises, everything made sense in the end. Some horror stories show characters driving themselves insane and wrecking all their relationships in pursuit of “the truth,” bringing catharsis through spectacularly messy implosion. That can be interesting, of course, but I appreciated how the characters in this story learned from mistakes, clued in to nuances, and generally tried to be their best selves once they knew what was at stake.

Now for tea:
To pair with spooky books, I prefer simple, cozy snacks. I baked easy, delicious Irish White Scones from a mix by Odlums, “Ireland’s favorite home baking brand.” Do check the link–they have such a wide variety of scrumptious mixes. I happened to find this mix at World Market, and I do hope Odlums will make more of their products available in the U.S. For tea I chose Paris Breakfast from Mariage Freres, containing “notes of honey, malted-chocolate, vanilla, buttered brioche, and candied tangerine.” I added a splash of milk and just a bit of Turbinado sugar.

I ate my scone with fresh berries but they’d also be perfect with fruit jam and butter or clotted cream. The scones were very light and fluffy, not too sweet, with a nice crunch to the crust. Best of all, they were SO EASY to make.

A final mystery:
Readers, 2020 has been a struggle for me so far, as it’s proven well nigh impossible for me to finish a book. I started several promising stories, but with each one I lost interest by the halfway point.

The hardcover of The Invited released at the end of April, 2019, and I have no idea how it ended up in my possession. I never ordered it. I didn’t put it on any wishlist. I never sought it out at a bookstore, as far as I can remember. It simply wasn’t on my radar. One day, however, I looked up and saw it on my shelf. SPOOKY.

If one of my pals out there sent it to me, or was with me when I bought it, would you let me know? If no one responds, I’ll just have to assume that the universe took it upon itself to end my reading drought by delivering the right book at the right time. 🙂

Friends, what do YOU do when stuck in a reading rut?

____________
Featured image credit: File ID 126446344 | © Dabisik | Dreamstime.com

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 . . .