Friday, December 27, 2013

Friday Five -- Tea at the Savoy

For my final English Christmas post, I offer five photos from our holiday tea at The Savoy in London.

The setting was elegant and inviting.

The tea tray included cranberry and plain scones (on top), raspberry ginger preserves, clotted cream, and homemade lemon curd (bottom), plus a collection of cucumber, egg salad, smoked salmon, chicken and duck confit, and ham sandwiches.

I chose the Christmas chai tea, and Steve enjoyed the Savoy afternoon blend. I ended up buying a canister of the latter.

Next . . . pastries!

And just in case we hadn't yet fallen into a sugar coma, the event concluded with dessert.

We could have fed Nicholas Higgins, his daughter, and all the Boucher children with that tea and still had some left over. It was delicious and decadent -- highly recommended for your London tea splurge!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Monday, December 23, 2013

A little Narnia magic

During our time in the Peak District, Chatsworth offered a special exhibit on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Needless to say, this was a MUST SEE for me. Although Steve and I much prefer the grounds of Chatsworth to the house--extravagant Baroque interiors are not quite our thing--this exhibit turned the house into an unforgettably magical place.

[As always, click the photos to see a larger version]

After psssing through the wardrobe, we encountered a wintry corridor full of adorable creatures.

Next, we took tea with Mr. Tumnus. (The gentleman featured on his copy of Is Man a Myth? is the current Duke of Devonshire!)

The wolves tried to spook us along the way, but we soldiered on.

Though Steve did rest on the White Witch's sledge while the poor, tired reindeer took a drink.

My heart pounded at the sight of Evil Jadis and her throne.

And then it broke upon encountering the fallen Aslan.

But then . . . the risen Aslan!

Happy Christmas to all! I'll be back later this week with one last England post about -- you guessed it -- TEA.

[Cross-posted to Livejournal]

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday Five: English Christmas

Steve and I just returned from a trip to England, where we enjoyed quite an array of Christmas delights (and thankfully avoided having the Apollo Theatre ceiling collapse on us--my thoughts are with the injured). I hope you'll indulge me as I share five of my favorite photos from the experience.

We spent the first three days in the Peak District, and one busy day we shared a turkey & cranberry pasty in the quiet yard of Bakewell Parish Church. Afterwards we peeked inside and were surprised to find a busy project underway that involved lining the walls with lighted Christmas trees. It was so beautiful, and this picture just doesn't do it justice.

As soon as we'd moved on to London, Steve made it a priority to visit Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland. His favorite part was eating. Mine was watching the ice skaters. (Though I rather liked my banana & Nutella crepe, too!)

Here's the view along Regent's street. It's hard to beat London for Christmas light displays!

A return to Royal Albert Hall was certainly in order. Judging by my big ol' goober grin, I guess we were pretty jazzed by the Christmas carols and excerpts from Handel's Messiah.

Evensong at Canterbury Cathedral was quite an interesting experience, but my favorite part was exploring all the cathedral's nooks and crannies afterwards.

Bonus shot: The moon at Chatsworth.

Next week -- tea at The Savoy and Narnia at Chatsworth!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Thursday, December 19, 2013

December Tea and a Book: WINTER SOLSTICE

For this month's post, I was determined to find a novel in which most of the story takes place during Christmas. I read several good candidates, but Winter Solstice was by far the most compelling. The story revolves around Elfrida Phipps, a former stage actress who has retired to a small cottage in Hampshire, England. There she meets the Blundell family, and is particularly drawn -- in a friendly way -- to Oscar Blundell, who married late in life and has a young daughter. When tragedy strikes (I don't want to spoil too much), Elfrida agrees to accompany Oscar to his childhood home in Scotland, so that he can avoid the festivities of Christmas and mourn in private. The house becomes a refuge of sorts, as more people from Elfrida's life arrive to escape their troubles and be healed by her nurturing attention.

This book is wonderfully cozy, and I hardly know how to express how much I loved Elfrida, so I'll just keep it general and brief. If you are fond of cozy domestic dramas that meander pleasantly, in which character trumps plot and the predictable outcome makes you grin from ear to ear, you'll love this book. If you like English and Scottish villages, happy dogs, lively chats, and lots of tea drinking, you'll certainly enjoy Winter Solstice!

Speaking of tea, here's a little excerpt that tickled me. Mrs. Snead, who cleans for Elfrida, has just met fourteen-year-old Lucy, Elfrida's latest refugee:
"You're Lucy, aren't you? Mrs. Phipps told me about you. What do you think of your room? We 'ad a lovely time doing it all up for you. It was just an empty old attic before."

"Have a cup of tea, Mrs. Snead," said Elfrida, and Mrs. Snead said that would be very nice, and proceeded to make herself a mug, with a tea-bag, and then settled down at the table to drink it.

Lucy knew that Gran would disapprove violently of such familiar carryings-on, and, perversely, liked Mrs. Snead all the more.

In honor of Mrs. Snead, and the casual, cozy nature of tea in Elfrida's household, I decided to have a mug and tea-bag myself. Elfrida often makes reference to "builder's tea" (strong, inexpensive tea brewed in a mug, with lots of milk and sugar), so I chose a bracing cup of Irish Breakfast. It's a mite too posh, having come from Fortnum & Mason, but it'll do.

And since it's Christmas time in the story, there are many mentions of mince pies. With that in mind, I bought a jar of mince meat and set about making my own! Now, a word on mince meat: apparently the pies used to be made with meat and suet along with the fruits and spices--a Middle Eastern-inspired combination of sweet and savory. But these days the pies you find at shops and cafes are usually just sweet, and that's how I like them! Read more about mince pies here.

Using this recipe, I made my own crust and ended up with a rather rustic-looking batch of pies. The recipe is supposed to make 18 mini pies, but I didn't understand how the dough was to be pressed into the pan, so perhaps my crusts are thicker than the recipe intended. But I'm glad I did it, because the pies are delicious.

See the wonderful fruity insides? This particular mincemeat contained currants, sultanas, raisins, apples, cider, orange and lemon peel, and of course, brandy and sugar. YUM.

Stay tuned for more Christmas merriment tomorrow and early next week!

[Cross-posted to Livejournal]

Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday Five

Even more random than usual . . .

1. Giveaway -- better late than never, but I'm finally announcing the winner of THE DARK BETWEEN blog tour contest. Congratulations to:

Heidi Davis -- a package of goodies will be coming your way very soon!

2. The Sound of Music -- I'm rather annoyed with myself for having missed NBC's live production last night. I've never seen the Broadway musical, and I've certainly never seen NBC do anything this risky or interesting. Seems like the reviews are mixed. What did you think? Did it put you in the Christmas spirit?

3. Speaking of Christmas -- my friend Shel has featured a stocking stuffer extravaganza on her blog all this week. Check it out! She has compiled roughly a bazillion ideas for filling your stockings.

4. SNOW!

It's not a blizzard, by any means, but it's enough to shut things down in these parts. The house is dark and quiet--even the cat is sleeping in--but I had to get out and have a tromp in the snow.

5. Death Comes to Pemberley -- here's the first trailer for the BBC adaptation:

I didn't really enjoy the book, but I'm certainly game for a TV adaptation. (Chatsworth! Anna Maxwell Martin! Cravats!) The tone seems terribly dark for Austen, but of course I'll watch whenever it makes its way across the pond. Will you?

Have a wonderful weekend!

[Cross-posted to Livejournal]