Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas glee part III: Tea and HIGH RISING

This month's "tea and a book" recommendation has such a Christmassy cover, doesn't it? Or perhaps it's just wintry, but that's almost as good. Angela Thirkell, granddaughter of Pre-Raphaelite phenom Edward Burne-Jones, published High Rising in 1933 and went on to write several more novels set in Barsetshire, a fictional English setting borrowed from Anthony Trollope.

This edition from Virago Modern Classics is particularly attractive AND free of typographical errors, unlike my older copy from Moyer Bell. Looks like Virago will be releasing more of Thirkell's books in the near future, and I look forward to getting my hands on Wild Strawberries in March.

High Rising centers mostly upon Laura Morland, a widowed mother of four who makes ends meet by writing best-selling suspense novels set in the fashion industry. Laura gets involved in several real-life village intrigues over Christmas and New Years, all while trying to survive the boundless energy and volubility of her youngest child Tony, who only wants to converse about trains. Allow me to share some favorite passges:

On motherhood:
Oh the exhaustingness of the healthy young! Laura had once offered to edit a book called Why I Hate my Children, but though [her publisher] had offered her every encouragement, and every mother of her acquaintance had offered to contribute, it had never taken shape.

Laura on the first church service of the new year:
Tony was an exhaustion to the spirit . . . and they had one of those psalms about Thy molars gnash upon me exceeding hard and my loins are spilled abroad on the ground, and I nearly got the giggles.

George Knox, after he and Laura leave King Lear at the first interval:
If there is one pleasure on earth which surpasses all others, it is leaving a play before the end. I might perhaps except the joy of taking tickets for a play, dining well, sitting on after dinner, and finally not going at all. That, of course, is very heaven.

(I certainly can relate to the last remark, having escaped an outdoor production of Lear at the interval last summer. I mean, it's not like the story takes a happy turn! And it was cold. And my bottom hurt.)

Aside from a few unfortunate anti-Semitic jabs (which baffles me because one of the romantic heroes--beloved by everyone in the book--is of Jewish descent), this is a jolly read that had me barking with laughter throughout. Can't wait to read more from Thirkell.

And now for tea...

This month's tea offering is a product of my curiosity and laziness. A few years ago my in-laws served toasted slices of panettone for breakfast, and I, fearing potential grossness but not wanting to be a jerk, ate a small slice. Glory be, turns out I love the stuff! My husband, however, is not such a big fan, so it doesn't really make sense for me to buy the usual cake-sized portion. But lookee here what Immaculate Baking Company has on offer -- mini panettones that you can bake at home. Huzzah!

They are as easy to make as canned biscuits, and quite delicious! Keep in mind, however, that they are only available during the holiday season. I found mine at Whole Foods.

For tea, I chose "Esprit de Noël" from Mariage Frères. Lucky for you, getting your hands on this tea does not require a trip to France. You can order it online from The Cultured Cup. It has a delicate nutty/fruity/spicy flavor that pairs well with holiday treats.

I cut the mini panettone in half and toasted it -- so delicious with butter. Don't let Rustic Santa's grim face fool you, he heartily approves!

And that about wraps it up for me in 2014. Happy Holidays and see you in the new year!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Monday, December 15, 2014

GHOSTLIGHT release date, pre-order details, and COVER!

So . . . I have a release date for my next book: August 4, 2015

And now I get to share the cover with you...

Click photo to enlarge!

What is Ghostlight about? Well, we don't have final flap copy yet, but my own "Hollywood Pitch" would be:

Super 8 meets The Haunting.

If that doesn't resonate for you (as it wouldn't for most 12-year-olds), I would say that it's a story of three kids who are making a ghost movie in a derelict mansion -- a sad shell of a home that's harbored dark secrets for decades. Hijinks and spookiness ensue!

The book is already up for pre-order at these vendors (currently with a crap version of the cover, alas):

Did you know that pre-orders are LOVE? Lisa Schroeder explains it here.

I'm so excited about this book and can't wait to share it with you!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Friday, December 12, 2014

Christmas glee, part II

In contrast to my craving for horror in October, I love a bit of holiday schmaltz at Christmas time. And Hallmark always delivers! Some of it is too sentimental and predictable even for my tastes, but this year I've encountered some very satisfying and poignant stories. Click the link to learn more AND to find out when this movie might repeat on the Hallmark channel so that you can watch!

A Christmas Wish (2011) -- this one features Kristy Swanson (the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as a struggling divorcée (!!!) who, despite being a hard worker and loving mother, can't seem to catch a break. Great cast in this one.

A Princess for Christmas (2011) -- oh, this looked like it would be so cheesy, but I had to watch for Sam Heughan (Jamie Fraser in Outlander). I was pleasantly surprised! Even Sir Roger Moore did a nice job. I actually preferred this foray into fairy-tale-romance-in-a-castle to the newer A Royal Christmas.

Angels Sing (2013) -- the rare Hallmark movie without a budding romance at its center, this one really pulled at my heartstrings. Exceptional cast! (Was this even made for Hallmark? I can't tell.)

Nine Lives of Christmas (2014) -- Simply adorable! Charming and sympathetic romantic leads + CATS = Happy Sonia.

The Christmas Shepherd (2014) -- This one had a slow start, but it's one of the best Hallmark movies I've seen. Or maybe I'm just a sucker for the ones with animals. Highly recommended.

And for something a little different:
Fans of Martin Freeman and/or Christmas pageant stories really need to see Nativity! (2009). I purchased it from last year but never got around to watching and sort of forgot I had it. Oh, what fun! It's quite silly at times, and the actual pageant might seem a bit irreverant to some, but overall it has such a big heart and the finale (set among the ruins of the old Coventry cathedral!) is so satisfying. Check out the trailer, but keep in mind that it does tend to focus on the silliest bits:

For those not in the UK, this movie is available for download from Amazon ($2.99 to rent!) or on disc from Netflix. Not available on Hulu, sadly.

(I think I'll skip Natvity 2: Danger in the Manger with David Tennant, and you couldn't pay me to watch Nativity 3: Dude Where's My Donkey? with Martin Clunes. *shudder*)

What about you? Any fun Christmas movie discoveries this year?

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Monday, December 8, 2014

Christmas glee, part I

I've been on the hunt for a miniature Nativity set for a while now. The problem is . . . the human figures in most Nativity scenes have given me a mild case of the creeps since I was a little kid. I don't mean baby Jesus, of course. I'm just more interested in the Nativity animals than the people. Perhaps C.S. Lewis would have understood?

Last week I found my dream Nativity scene in the little gift shop at Local in Norman. This "Gentle Friends" Nativity set came in a round wood box and contained the most delightful creatures! Of course they're not necessarily historically accurate, but they fill me with glee nonetheless.

Here you see a very bold-eyed cow along with the donkey and sheep.

We get a bit more fanciful with a goat (?), a pair of fowl (is one of them a rooster?), and, of course, a cat. NOT A DOG, FOLKS! A MAJESTIC GINGER CAT!

And here they gather in the hay to wonder at the new born king.

I called Local to see where they obtained this set, hoping to share that information with you, gentle reader. The only thing they could tell me is they bought their sets back in the spring from Portico Collections as part of some trade show in Dallas, TX. I can't seem to find any details about who actually makes the "Gentle Friends Nativity Set" (please don't let it be desperate third world children!). Google turned up a photo on Pinterest, but that's about all I could find.

Do you have a treasured Nativity set?

Just for fun: The Worst and Weirdest Nativity Sets. (Zombie Nativity???)

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

November tea and a book: The Signature of All Things

I first saw The Signature of All Things recommended at the blog of Stephanie Burgis, and knowing how much Steph and I have in common when it comes to fiction preferences, I figured it would be just my cup of tea. Prior to this, I'd never read a book by Elizabeth Gilbert, who (as you probably know) shot to fame with her memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. I became a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert the person, however, when I saw her Ted Talk on creative genius. And when I learned that the heroine of this novel is a botanist in the Victorian era, I was eager to dive in.

What an odyssey! All I wanted to do all day was read Alma's story, which is not to say I found the book perfect, but it certainly was wildly absorbing and thought-provoking. (And since I tend to recommend children's books on this blog, I want to be sure you know this is an adult story, probably suitable for older teens and up.)

If you'd like a little more context, please watch this three minute book trailer. I love it particularly because Gilbert admits to searching out an actual house in Philadelphia to be White Acre (the grand house where Alma Whittaker grows up), because she likes to "go out and roll around in the world" she's inventing. I certainly can identify with that!

And now for tea . . .

This month I chose the Almond Oolong from Adagio. I don't drink Oolong that often, but I wanted to feature something a little different, and its delicacy and fruity/nutty flavor paired nicely with a sweet treat.

That red blob, a frosted sugar cookie, is supposed to look like an autumnal maple leaf, but oh well! My tummy was pleased. You can find the recipe here. And be sure to use almond and vanilla extract in your frosting. :)

To conclude, I'll link you to this List of Thanksgiving novels from I attempted The Ghost at the Table (too dreary) and finished A Patchwork Planet (nice). Would you second any of the other recommendations on the list? If so, please let me know!

Happy Thanksgiving!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Con fun -- The Walking Dead edition

This past weekend I attended Wizard World Tulsa Comic Con with Tara Hudson. We went for Norman Reedus (Daryl from The Walking Dead) but got so much more than we bargained for!

First, some context -- I can't handle the big cons anymore. I get too panicked, claustrophobic, and angry. But since this one was entirely contained within the Cox Convention Center, I hoped it would be more manageable. As it turned out, the Tulsa Comic Con far exceeded my expectations.

Our first adventure was the photo op with Norman Reedus. The wait wasn't too long, and once he arrived they moved people through pretty quickly. Clearly, I was delighted to meet him! (I just WISH I'd thought to put on my sunglasses and mug at the camera along with him.) Later we stood in line for his signature for a loooong time, but I couldn't really begrudge the wait because he was taking great pains to shake hands and chat with each person who came through. I was pleasantly surprised by his patience and consideration. (Random aside: when looking for a Tulsa Comic Con graphic I found this photo -- how adorable is that?)

Shane is one of my favorites from TWD -- I do have a soft spot for the bad boys -- so I was pleased to discover that Jon Bernthal, who often seems to play dark/devious/tormented characters, is very charming and easygoing in real life.

Michael Rooker (Merle in TWD, Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy, etc.) was a hoot. Very friendly and chatty. Sweet with little kids and, um . . . fiesty with the ladies!

[Another random aside: in the above photo you can see my orthopedic boot. I fell back in September -- was in a hurry, not paying attention, and the toe of my wedge heel got caught in a clump of grass. Down went Sonia! Anyway, I was sure it was a sprain. When it didn't seem to be getting better, I got an x-ray at Urgent Care. No fracture. But the pain just kept plaguing me. So I got an MRI and they found a nondisplaced fracture along with bruising and a sprained ligament. Hence the boot. It was a challenge to get around the con, but Tara was very patient with me, and all the guests kindly asked about it. Tara and I decided that next year we should each have some sort of injury AND carry a baby/toddler dressed in a hand-sewn costume. Then we'd get ALL THE ATTENTION. Heh.]

One of my favorite moments was meeting Scott Wilson (Hershel). He's just as warm and fatherly in real life as on the show. He gave each of us a hug and after the photo he reminded me how to properly use my crutch. (He should know, right?)

We capped off the day with a visit to rising star Jerry Bennett, who gives so much to Oklahoma SCBWI and is an amazing artist. He even gets quoted in this NPR feature about the con. Yay!

We only attended on Sunday -- not the craziest day, I'm sure -- but things still got pretty busy. The staff, however, were patient and cheerful, the attendees polite, and the guests exceptionally gracious. It was Tara's first con, and I think she had a blast. We're definitely on board for next year!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

October tea and a book: The Crowfield Curse

Early this month I listened to Ric Jerrom's exquisite voice performance of Pat Walsh's The Crowfield Curse while driving home from Iowa, and nothing I've read since has topped it. Though it's not a horror story, it does offer chills and thrills fitting for Halloween.

The story revolves around fourteen-year-old Will, an orphan taken in (and put to work) by the monks of Crowfield Abbey. One day when collecting wood in the forest, he encounters a creature caught in a trap. When the creature speaks to him, Will knows he's stumbled upon something strange and magical. He frees the hob and soon enough is thrust into a gripping conflict involving a leper on a quest, a war between Fey kingdoms, and a faith-related mystery.

I loved so many things about this novel: the insider's look at life in a medieval Benedictine abbey, the encounters with magical beings, the eerie perils of Whistling Hollow, and, most of all, the truth behind the aforementioned mystery. You guys! There is a scene in this book, a scene of awe and transcendence, that had me in tears. All I can say is if you have even a passing interest in medieval England, and are open to mysteries with fantasy and supernatural elements, this would be a great read for you.

I didn't know much about the book before I listened -- it was recommended to me by the analytics of -- so I won't give more details. I'd love for you to be as pleasantly surprised as I was! However, if you need a little more info before leaping in, I very much appreciated this review from Amazon (though for some reason it misidentifies the setting as seventeenth century). Just so you know, I loved the audio so much that I purchased the hardcover copy. And I look forward to seeing Will again in The Crowfield Demon.

Check out the cool trailer:

And now for tea!

I suppose if I were being true to the book, I'd have a tea of rancid lard on bread with a cup of ale to wash it down. (!!!) I decided instead to make something sweet and spicy. In fact, I experimented with a flourless recipe that might appeal to my paleo friends! Keep in mind that I'm not an old hand at baking with almond butter and ground flaxseed, and thus these Flourless Pumpkin Pie Muffins were not exactly a breeze for me to make. (My blender was NOT happy.) As you might imagine, the muffins do not rise to fluffy heights, and I think I added too many chocolate chips. (Is this possible? Apparently, yes.) But overall I was pleased with the results.

The muffins were even better the second day, and though I have three pictured here, just one satisfies my sweet tooth quite nicely. The tea is a fair trade Assam I purchased at the Co-op in Waterloo, Iowa.

The cup came from Waterloo, too! It belonged to my ex-stepmother Rosemary, but I fell so deeply in love with it during my visit that she secretly stashed it in my bag before I hit the road back to Oklahoma. Thanks, Rosemary! The cup's concept could make for a great costume, eh? (Well, maybe for a grad school Halloween party.)

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Creepy Film Roundup for Halloween 2014

It's that time of year when I have a special craving for ghostly films -- thought I'd share the results of my recent binge-watch in case you were looking for a spooky flick for your Halloween festivities!

The Quiet Ones (2013)
When I first heard about this film, I thought it was tailor-made for me. Paranormal investigators working at Oxford University in the early 70s? How could it fail to entertain? Well . . . first of all, the characters spent about 10 minutes at Oxford before secluding themselves in a bland old house in the country. And though Jared Harris (as the chief academic) is one of my favorite actors, I never really understood his character's goals or motivation. Furthermore, Sam Claflin (who was so engaging in Catching Fire) practically sleepwalks through this film. There were a few interesting moments, but overall I was deeply disappointed. I just wish they'd stuck closer to their purported source material: The Philip Experiment. (And BOO on the filmmakers for using fake photos in the closing credits to represent the real people who "inspired" this film.)

Mama (2013)
I'd read mixed reviews of this one, and now I understand why it might not work for some folks. This film takes risks--particularly with its representation of the paranormal presence--and the risks don't always pay off. But I prefer a film that tries something different and partly fails to one that follows a tired old formula. In particular, I appreciated how this script explored the poignancy, fierceness, and even horror of the maternal instinct. I actually cared about the characters, and this fostered the slow build of dread as they fell deeper into peril. There's more than a little hokeyness to be sure, and the male characters are pretty useless, but Jessica Chastain is fabulous, as are the girls who play her "adoptive" nieces. The ending made me cry.

Stoker (2013)
A grieving daughter meets her uncle for the first time at her father's funeral and is alternately intrigued and repelled by his behavior. This film leans more toward suspense than supernatural horror, but the characters are metaphorically haunted in interesting ways. I'm not certain the plot holds together, but I don't really care because this isn't a plot-driven movie. It's gorgeously filmed and, best of all, gloriously Gothic. (One of my favorite scenes involves Mia Wasikowska's character obsessing over a Victorian guide to funerals and mourning.) If you don't like dark and twisted, this is NOT the film for you.

(BTW, I am soooo looking forward to director Park Chan-wook's next project, an adaptation of Sarah Waters' Fingersmith set in early 20th century, Japanese-occupied Korea. Sounds like a winner to me!)

Lake Mungo (2008)
An Australian "mockumentary" about a family who might be haunted by their recently drowned daughter. This one won't make you jump out of your seat like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity, and that's because it prioritizes emotional depth over shock value. Certainly there are creepy moments, but mostly I appreciated this spooky mystery for drawing me into the longing and vulnerability of its grieving characters.

If you have any suggestions for creepy/ghostly films, do please leave me a note in the comments!

Last year's Halloween recommendations (all in one post): The Changeling, El Orfanato (The Orphanage), Below, and Janghwa, Hongryeon (A Tale of Two Sisters)

2012 recommendations: The Pact and The Awakening. Also (each a separate post) Dead of Night, The Uninvited, The Innocents, and The Haunting.

And finally, I like this list of 40 Scariest Ghost Movies.

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

(Last minute) September tea and a book: A Fine Romance

If you're an Anglophile and/or a lover of travel, books, good food, and good friends, you might want to take a peek at Susan Branch's A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside. Prior to this, Branch was the author/illustrator of keepsake books like Christmas from the Heart of the Home and Girlfirends Forever, so be forewarned -- if you have a low tolerance for whimsy and sentiment, you might find her latest endeavor a bit twee.

A Fine Romance is a scrapbook of Branch's two month holiday through the English countryside. (A trip bookended by transatlantic voyages on the Queen Mary 2 -- Eeee!) As the official blurb says, the book is "part love story, part travel guide," and its pages are chock-full of photographs, illustrations, musings and recipes. I found the book quite charming, and I especially appreciated Branch's emotional visit to the home of Beatrix Potter. If you dream of visiting your favorite authors' homes and walking in their footsteps, you might shed a few tears when Susan finally gets to explore Hill Top Farm. (It made me long to see Miss Potter again!)

Branch includes many delectable recipes in the book, including sweets like Hot Milk Cake, Lemon Butter Cookies, and Sticky Toffee Pudding, but a revision deadline and sprained foot kept me from attempting any of them. So this month's offering is tea only: Tea Palace's Smooth Caramel.

See you again in October, hopefully with a wonderfully CREEPY book for Halloween!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Journal Lust

I have a problem.

Here's the scenario: over the summer, during one of my many visits to Blackwell's in Oxford, I somehow failed to avert my gaze when walking past the journals. Instead of getting the heck out of there, I headed straight for the rotating display and proceeded to handle those lovely bindings. (I almost said "manhandle" but ladies like to grope things, too, don't they? It's just . . . we tend to grope purses and books and teapots. Or maybe that's just me.)

One of those journals was so gorgeous I just couldn't resist. Even though I already have a closet full of journals too impractical to be of any use--pretty little books that don't open flat, are too small for my gorilla hands, are narrow-ruled or have no ruling at all. But they were all so pretty I just couldn't help handling them, which inevitably led to acquiring them.

That day at Blackwell's I told myself "Sonia, you CANNOT buy another journal until you fill all those orphaned journals in your closet with thoughtful thoughts. DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT."

Yeah right. I bought the journal. Isn't it gorgeous?

It's a Paperblanks Grolier Ornamental, if you're interested in one for yourself.

Part of the deal for me is I'm enamoured with fictional depictions of journals and journal writers. Like László Almásy (Ralph Fiennes) in The English Patient, when he uses blank pages of his battered copy of Herodotus for writing poetry and painting pictures. Or Roland in Possession, who writes poetry in his journal, too, but also uses it to hide the stolen draft of Randolph Henry Ashe's letter to Christabel LaMotte (or is that just in the film?). And of course, there's I Capture the Castle, but I already exulted over Cassandra Mortmain and journal writing in this blog post.

I shouldn't forget the film adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest, which was memorable to me only because of Cecily's amazing leather-bound journal that looks almost like an illuminated manuscript (it appears around 1:38):

Yes, there's all sorts of romantic schmoopery going on in that clip, but you know what I was thinking? "Let's see more of that JOURNAL!"

In the end, I did make good use of the Grolier Ornamental from Blackwell's. It has become my research journal for a new story. Who says a research journal has to look serious and researchy? Can't it be pretty? I've jazzed it up by coding the ink color and putting sticky notes all over the place. I'll probably paste photos and stuff in there, too. It actually inpsires me just to look at the thing, so I count this as a WIN for journal lust!

I know there must be others out there who share this depraved and insatiable appetite for journals. What attracts you to a particular journal? And how do you use that crazy sexy thing? (You know, that thing you bought with a stack of crumpled singles because you didn't want your husband to see the charge on the credit card bill?) Do you have favorite fictional/cinematic depictions of journals? Please share!

P.S. If you like the look of that stack of journals in the photo at the top, go here for more info!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

August tea and a book: Penelope Lively

This summer in Oxford I discovered Penelope Lively. In fact I gobbled up three of her books, utterly captivated by her appreciation for setting, history, and the imagination. I won't go into great detail about the plots because they really aren't plotty sorts of stories, but I will tell you that The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (winner of the Carnegie Medal) is a humorous ghost tale set in the Cotswolds, A Stitch in Time (winner of the Whitbread Award) is a gentle mystery set in Lyme Regis, and The House in Norham Gardens is a coming-of-age story set in Oxford.

Is it obvious yet that Penelope Lively and I were made for each other? (If not, note italics above.) Her writing is gorgeously expressive. She even enchants with her description of painting an old swing:

There is the moment you dip the brush in the paint and tap it on the edge to get rid of the drips, and there it is all lush and fat with paint in your hand, ready for the stroke down that sad, hungry, unpainted surface. And there is the moment you lay it on the dull, unpainted surface, and what was rusty and tattered is transformed with one majestic sweep into glistening sparkling black. And there is the dabbing at the links of the chain to make them all neat and painty once more, and the picking out of every curl and flourish of the swing's seat, and the lying on your back to get at the underneath . . . (A Stitch in Time)

I'm delighted that there are many more Penelope Lively books to read, both for adults and children, and at the top of my list is her Booker Prize winning Moon Tiger. (Click here and scroll down for a complete list of her titles.)

And now for tea!

This month's tea is inspired by my friend Caroline Trevers, the conference manager who makes everything work so beautifully for all the summer groups at Brasenose College. At the beginning of our stay, Caroline introduced me to Earl Grey Blue Lady from Cardews of Oxford. This tea is a treat with its spicy flavor and delicate bergamot scent, but it's also just lovely to look at. (My American friends can find similar Earl Grey blends at

Caroline also provided the recipe for her Lemon Drizzle Cake, which I first tasted when I co-judged the Brasenose Bake-Off. A decadent chocolate concoction took the top prize that day, but I would have awarded Caroline's Lemon Drizzle "best tea cake ever." I can't seem to get mine to look as beautiful as hers (even after two tries), but it's still very tasty. See the recipe below (translated into American measurements).

Lemon Drizzle cake

¾ cup Fine Caster Sugar (called Baker's sugar in the states? Or just use granulated)
¾ cup Margarine or Butter
3 eggs
¾ cup Self Rising Flour
3 lemons
¼ cup Caster Sugar
1 lb loaf tin (8.5 X 4.5-ish?)

Rub oil or butter around the inside of the loaf tin then dust with a teaspoon of flour so that all the sides are lightly covered. Grate the rind from the lemons and squeeze the juice and put it in a pan. Cream the fat and sugar till well mixed and fluffy, add the lemon rind and mix more. Add the eggs one at a time beating well in between. Sift the flour into the mixture and fold until incorporated.

Pour the mix into a 1 lb loaf tin – bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or till cooked.

5 minutes before the cake is due out of the oven add the extra 2oz of sugar to the lemon juice in the pan and heat it till the sugar melts then boil it for a minute. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven prick it over the top with a fork and pour over the boiling sugar syrup allowing it to soak into the cake. You can pour it down the side and over the top – pour slowly to make sure all the surface is covered so it soaks in evenly.

Let the cake cool a little and then turn it out onto a wire rack till it cools completely.

Caroline, co-judges Alice and Alan, and me in the Brasenose Deer Park

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Postcards from Minster Lovell

Last Saturday Steve and I took the bus to Witney so we could hike to the charming town of Minster Lovell. It had been 13 years since we first visited it on a rather rushed Cotswolds Tour, so it was very nice to see the town and River Windrush again at our leisure.

However, things got off to a damp start when we got caught in a downpour. Poor Steve!

St. Kenelm's Church looked very stately, even in the rain.

And while we were dining at The Old Swan (highly recommended), the sun came out!

If this house ever comes up for sale, I will buy it (somehow) and move to Minster Lovell.

And here are the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall. (Did you know that I love a ruin? Of course you did!)

We were going to visit the Dovecote, but I was distracted by this lovely donkey.

Can you believe we're in our final week? Closing dinner tonight, and then exams. I'll try to squeeze in one more post before we go.

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Postcards from Lyme Regis

Lyme Regis far surpassed our expectations -- it's such a beautiful, friendly, and easy-going little beach resort. I suppose the only difficult part about it was the steep climb back to our B&B at the end of each day, but I appreciated the exercise after all the good food!

The colorful Marine Parade, with ammonite-shaped street lamps.

Steve on the Cobb.

A view of Lyme Bay from the coastal path. (That was a long, arduous climb to the top!)

Me standing on one of Granny's Teeth -- yes, these are the steps from which Louisa Musgrove tumbled in Jane Austen's Persuasion. (Or so some say -- others say the steps weren't yet there when Jane Austen visited Lyme Regis.) Either way, they are precarious. I walked up the steps, but I'm not sure I'd walk down them, much less run or jump. (Here's another view.)

A beautiful door that illustrates how much pride the locals take in their town.

I suppose we were fortunate to have clear skies and calm breezes, but I'd love to return in the stormy season to see the waves crashing against the Cobb. One can hope, anyway!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]