25 January 2015


I have a problem.  The most beautiful of problems.  I have too many choices!

In my earlier visits to London, my Kensington day wouldn't be complete without a stop to The Muffin Man.  Still, I wanted to visit The Orangery at some point, so Bonnie and I managed to get to that our last time together, while at the same time doing The Muffin Man on another day.  Obviously I have enough tea spots in that area.  Of course I had to find out about Candella!  

Yumchaa was discovered through Yelp, but Candella was a find via Instagram.  Yes, businesses, it works!

Kensington Church Street is one of my favorite streets to walk, and one that I only discovered in my past few visits.  It connects Kensington Hill Street with Notting Hill Gate, and it's a charming walk.  Of course, most of the shops are out of my league - antiques mostly - but that doesn't stop me from enjoying the view.  Also, the High Street isn't Oxford Street crazy, but it can be busy, and Church Street is always quieter without being deserted.  A perfect street to place a tea room!

My conundrum upon hearing about it, though, was when to visit.  Even I can have too much tea in one day, but I knew I had to fit it in.  So I made it a breakfast/nearly brunch destination on a Thursday - the same Thursday I went to Yumchaa - and this worked out well.

Piano Piano Piano!

Anyplace with this much cake is a PLACE TO BE!

It's not a large place, but some of the best places aren't.  However, when I sat down, I was a table over from a woman who seemed to be a regular, and being in close proximity to people makes me want to be extra careful with my table manners.  This doesn't just apply in London, but it certainly makes the pressure even stronger.  I mean, the Tea Queen of London is the Queen, and we were just blocks from a palace (like anyone cares what I do, but this is how my head works so deal with it.)  

You'd think the aforementioned conscientiousness would induce me to order a dainty finger food, especially considering the fact that of course I'd be reading a book whilst partaking.  Nope. I ordered the Eggs Benedict.  Hey, it seemed filling enough for the upcoming park stroll AND I believe it was the first time I'd actually had an English muffin in England (it was good.)

I can deal with this.

Of course, I was in for an awkward treat!  Everything tasted wonderful, and my appley black tea was perfect...and I should have tried some of that cake!  However, it's me, and attempting to eat with a fork and knife and basically one and a half hands would inevitably lead to disaster.  Okay, maybe not disaster, but anyway.  First of all, I was struggling with the background music.  It was the solo featured on Seinfeld when Elaine had the Pez dispenser on her lap and busted out.  I'm trying to eat gracefully and I keep visualizing Tweety Bird.  At long last my knife did a little flip and landed on the floor.  The lady next to me saw this and said something like , "No worries."  I need to adopt that attitude to life, I think.

Once my issues were fully dealt with, I realized this was a real winner of a tea shop.  Perhaps that's premature, as I didn't have my usual accompaniments, but this rough estimate came from the all-important ambience, and the fact that they served loose tea.  Nothing wrong with a good bagged tea, but in a place like this, you want to see the effort.  I'm spoiled for choice AND picky!

4 out of 4 teacups - Tube: High Street Kensington or Notting Hill Gate, both on the District/Circle lines.

13 January 2015

Tea Gallery: Sunday Morning, Woman Reading by Isabel Codrington

To me, the only thing better than a tea gallery is a bookish gallery.  Here's a bit of both.

Now that teapot is huge!  I'm hoping my eyesight is overlooking a samovar aspect to it, otherwise I predict a messy table.  No wonder she's holding up her book.  Also, if I were painted reading on a Sunday morning, the surroundings would be far less elegant.  Still, it'd be a fun picture to do a modern interpretation of - doubt I could find that particular floral arrangement.

24 December 2014


Like I mentioned before, London 2014 did not see me partaking in any afternoon teas.  This doesn't mean I don't like them anymore, but I find they're a bit much on my stomach, and I wanted to be in excellent shape this time.  Well, it worked: I was in good health pretty much the entire week.  There was no shortage of cups of tea though, and here's another spot I was able to try for the first time.

I'm not a manic yelp-er.  Oftentimes I find my opinion isn't the same as others'; for instance, too many people have less than kind words for Tea and Sympathy's service, whilst I've had as much satisfaction with the staff there than with most places I frequent.  Still, in my planning for London I did search on yelp for tea shop locations, as it's more or less up to date.  I read many rave reviews for Yumchaa, and particularly for their lemon drizzle cake, so after an invigorating walk through Hyde Park, and Oxford Street (which wasn't too bad in the late afternoon), I veered off a block to give it a chance - and to get off my feet.

The ground floor of Yumchaa has more of a communal feel to it, which is not my preference.  And straightaway I was able to assess that this place was more in line with an Argo or Communitea (RIP) than an Alice's or even Muffin Man.  I don't mind; sometimes I like to deal with ordering and paying and not having any further human contact for the duration.  I went for a tea called Regents Park, because London, and because I was in a fruity tea mood that day, and the lemon drizzle cake, and headed downstairs where there was ample seating.  I had a Chesterfield-ish couch to myself, and plenty of time to unwind with my favorite trifecta of tea-cake-books (scones come in a close second to cake.)

My experience was just fine. The cake wasn't as legendary as it had been described, but it was good, as was the tea.  Everyone else who was sitting downstairs was talking about hipstery things, or as you can see in the picture above, looking like they were thinking about hipstery things.  It put a mild damper on my time there, but it was expected.

I understand there's a few other branches of Yumchaa, and I'm glad for that.  One thing I will always agree to is a surfeit of tea spots - and as for this branch, well, it never hurts to have a little sanctuary from an otherwise overbusy shopping area.  A proper tea from a pot is always a plus, too!  7.5/10 teaspoons.

28 November 2014

The Muffin Man

So I'm back from another wonderful visit to London.  It went so fast, I hardly had a moment to let it all sink in, so here we are now.  I thought I'd kick off my coverage of the trip with the next to last day, because why do things in order?  Also, I'm reaching into the far past (for me, that is) to realize the present.  

Though I've strayed here and there, Kensington remains one of my favorite parts of London.  In fact, though we stayed in Southall that very first time in 1994 - it was close to the airport but a good distance from anything else - Pam and I chose as our first destination Kensington, and I have to admit, the first place we ate was Pizza Hut.  Yeah, not even Pizza Express.  Although since then I've grown well away from Pizza Hut, and my stomach thanks me for that, I liked seeing this particular one every time I came back to London.  

The pretty building's still here.  That's great.  Still, it's now a memory added to my list of other past-and-gone places, like Kensington Market, and Shelley's shoe store apparently, to mention a few in stone's throw of this picture:

However, just as London is a constantly changing city, there are always some mainstays.  Thankfully The Muffin Man, which I've mentioned plenty of times, was waiting for me once again.

It looks like they're given the outside a paint job recently.  I could be wrong, but it seemed brighter.  It's a wonderful color.

I was seated in the middle of the shop, which normally makes me kind of nervous.  In fact, for a very short time I thought I felt a panic coming on, but I did a quick stretch and all was well.  In truth, I think I was just a bit overexcited to be back in a favorite place.  My poor delicate psyche.

These ladies had my favorite spot in the shop, but I won't begrudge them as they looked so happy!  And how could you not be?


I'd had a Full English Breakfast earlier in the day.  In fact, I'd had three in the entire trip.  It was my substitute food coma for the afternoon teas I guess.  So I kept it simple at this point - tea with milk, unsweetened, and two still amazing scones with that unbelievably good clotted cream and strawberry jam,  Pair this with a book I'd just picked up the night before at Waterstone's in Angel, Islington, and it was a tea time fit for a happy me!

The Muffin Man: a living legend.

23 September 2014

Coffee is my Stalker

Okay, I mainly chose the above title because it's hilarious to say out loud when you're trying to hide your native New York accent. 
I have a mild case of paranoia.  It's mostly under control, as I know firmly that none of this is grounded (ha - coffee joke) in reality, but I tend to have dramatic relationships with objects.  For instance, I used to have an ongoing dialogue/rivalry with a copy machine in an old job.  It wanted to annoy me!  The street cleaners just had to pass me every time I left the house early.  Oh, and bicycles are coming to get me.  Ask my sister Bonnie - I'm often close to getting wiped out by bicycles when I attempt to cross a street!  Okay, that could be down to the growing amount of bicyclists in the city, but it sure keeps me on my toes!
If you're still reading, and not googling psychiatrists on my behalf, recently I find myself face to face with coffee nearly everywhere I turn.  It seems to be on the increase since I had to forbid myself from drinking caffeinated coffee altogether.  As you may had read in previous posts, I actually like coffee, but it's just not worth the side effects.  If I get a particularly aggressive craving, maybe I'll do decaf, but even that I keep to a rare treat. 
(By the way, if you're getting deja vu to pair with my paranoia, it's mainly because I've written about this problem before.  It had abated for a bit.  Now it's back.)
So how is this stalking happening?  Here's just a few examples: last week I went to a Capital One Cafe in Midtown.  It's been there for years, though I think it was under another name before, but I'd never stopped in, and thought hey, I'm in the mood for a scone, let's do this!  All well and good, but as I was leaving, a lady working there gave me a paper swag bag - I believe they're closing for a couple of weeks and this was a little promotional reminder for their reopening.  What's in the bag?  A tumbler (nice), and a big old bag of Medium Roast from Peets Coffee!  I took it, because -free-, but I gave it away later.  That same day Starbucks had a man with a tray of little samples of coffee.  I did have that, and no other caffeine for the duration of the day.  I went to a coffee shop on Saturday - for lunch, not coffee, and of course a waiter brought a cup of coffee over to me, because my friend had asked for a fork.  This makes total sense.  Then yesterday I stopped into Starbucks for a banana loaf cafe slice only.  I had tea in the office, but wanted a little something, as one does.  In the short course of making my order and receiving it, three baristas asked me more than once if I was sure I didn't want something to drink (presumably coffee.)  What part of climbing up the walls do they not understand? 
These examples are not the only ones - after all, it's the best season of the year (closely rivalled by spring), and Pumpkin Spice Latte ads are everywhere!  Did I mention I work in Manhattan???  Yep.

Not my pic, couldn't find the source. 


22 August 2014

Tea and an English/Tisane and a Belgian

I haven't been to nearly enough barbecues this year - though I've been treated to some nice ones, and let's not forget Texas!  If we factor in the extraordinarily mild summer we've had, though, I'd say everyone in my region should be eating outdoors more often.  For the first time in ages, I don't want this season to end!

I was thinking about a particular barbecue a few years ago when it was probably more oppressively warm.  My sister and I were probably reminiscing about the wonders of autumn, and all the indoor times we could enjoy.  We humans are never satisfied with what we presently have - and that goes double for New Yorkers!  I tend to mention during such conversations that I almost never bake between June and September, or even cook much, and though I do spend time indoors, it's not quite as cozy with the a/c blasting.  Well, along these lines my sister brought up a mini ritual she shared with her husband on some evenings, which they dubbed "Tea and an English."  This was comprised of cups of likely herbal tea, maybe cake, and a period film or televised drama, or perhaps a mystery program.  For the most part, the evening's entertainment was of an English nature.  In case you haven't gathered from previous posts, this very much reflects the evenings we'd spent as a family growing up, though now there was a name to it.
Despite it being pleasantly mild, I'm still a little allergic to summer mentally.  This was brought home to me during an otherwise good week in July when I ended up in the hospital after a rather violent panic attack.  Though these things have a number of underlying causes, it was no coincidence that I'd had my "monthly coffee" the previous afternoon - an iced vanilla latte from Starbucks.  Now I know that I must never, under any circumstances, drink a whole cup of caffeinated coffee - even decaf is a little risky to my system but if I get a true craving I might go there.  I need to keep even my caffeinated tea drinking down to maybe one cup a day - which means I'll make sure it's a good one each time!  And I've brought in even more herbal tea - tisane - into my life.   
My own "Tea and an English" usually consists of either a choice from Netflix, or the occasional broadcast TV moments.  There's still a touch of loyalty to the "Masterpiece" programs on PBS, and there's nothing like watching a mystery program at the time it's airing.  After Endeavour was over for the year (more cliffhangers!), it was advertised that PBS would be airing two new Poirot stories.  I hear that for some reason the two final episodes would not be aired in the US, which I don't understand, as there are the truly last ones Agatha Christie wrote.  Nevertheless, it occurred to me that I hadn't watched a Poirot on my own...ever.  I know it wasn't one of the favorites in my family growing up - though my other brother-in-law liked it apparently - but neither was Doctor Who, and...well.
It wasn't fair to leave Poirot out, actually.  After all, I played Agatha Christie - or a satirical version of her - in our 6th grade production of "Murder on the Orient Express Subway".  I grew up in Queens, remember.  It was the only chance I'd had to act in a school play, since most of them were Christmas productions and I've never celebrated Christmas.  Anyway, it was a cute adaptation, and one written I believe when Christie was still alive - she died the year I was born.  We put on the play around the same time David Suchet helped make the Belgian detective a household name again.  Decades later, with the magic of streaming whole television series, I became (re)acquainted with this character.
All in all, I like Hercule Poirot.  He can be a little arrogant, but no more than Sherlock Holmes who I still adore, and he's a little more personable I think.  He's incredible clever, fussy with his appearance - and that mustache!  I don't prefer mustaches, but on Poirot it's perfect.  There's a poignancy to his being a foreigner - one from a not too distant land but viewed as lacking in understanding in some quarters - that gives him a sort of relateability to anyone who's felt like an outsider.  The stories themselves can be repetitive - many jewelry robberies and readings of wills, people in poor disguises...and how many times does Poirot and Hastings visit the seaside and well-appointed country homes?  Yet I'm glad for watching.  It's a good show to wind down with after a long day. And it coincides with my need for a relaxing beverage - the tisane.
The word 'tisane' was popularized through the preference of this fictional detective.  Poirot expects his tisane as a specific time each day, and it's not an easy task to make it correctly.  He likes other drinks, but this one is his essential one, and there is consternation on his part if it's not accessible at any of the many hotels he stays at (where someone usually gets murdered.) And now, when my caffeine intake must be further diminished, it's nice to find a co-drinker of the herbal infusions where I can. 
Of course, these observations only come from one particular adaptation, and to get to know Poirot well I may have to read some of the novels they're derived from.  A book lover's life is never dull!
I still have some episodes to go through - Poirot, Endeavour Morse and others have kept my fictional life steady throughout the summer - but now that autumn is coming (more hot beverages!), I'll have some new television to look forward to.....
NEW DOCTOR WHO TOMORROW!!!!!!!  Tea and a Gallifreyan!

10 July 2014

Tea Gallery: Tattoos?

I would never get a tattoo.  This I know for a certainty.  I used to put those temporary ones on in the late 90s, and within a day or so I'd get sick of looking at it.  One of them - a flower on my ankle, lasted so long that when I started a new job, it was assumed that this was an actual tattoo.  I guess I wasn't much for exfoliation back then!

My opinions on tats notwithstanding, it is still an art form, so I had to share this Buzzfeed article (Buzzfeed is one of my guilty pleasures, by the way.  It's like a mug of PG tips tea with milk and sugar - quick, tasty and effective, but maybe not the finest of tea-taking.)  Enjoy!

30 May 2014

Recent Books and Pairings

I'm a bit behind on my reading.  Granted, I'm still a voracious book inhaler, but I'm not up to maximum capacity.  Either way, here's some titles I've enjoyed recently:

Shada by Douglas Adams and Gary Russell
aka The Lost Episodes of the Tom Baker years.  Yes, we're in Doctor Who territory here.  In this case, I'm sort of going back to the beginning.  You see, when I decided one winter's day to finally sit down and out see this Doctor Who thing for myself, I kicked off with The City of Death, which was a story from the same time period as Shada - the same Doctor and companion, and the same writer! I loved the humour of it, and swiftly continued on to the series starting in 2005 - which was actually more serious in tone, but fantastic in its own right.

Romana II

I was hesitant to read this novelization, as I knew it was Douglas Adams' story filled in by someone else in novel form.  It's been a long hiatus since the most recent episode though, which is the best time to go to the classics.  Of course it turned out to be just what the Doctor ordered (sorry)...a bad guy with a god-complex intent on rewiring the universe, an aged Time Lord spending retirement among his books at Cambridge, whose entire answer to entertaining visitors is making them endless cups of tea (!), and a nerdy love story.  In any event, once I'd read the book I also discovered that a DVD had been released of all the available Shada footage, with the rest being filled in by Tom Baker's narration.  The footage was very good indeed - a rare on-location filming, though getting more commonplace at the time, as City of Death was shot in Paris - and though I liked the book I find it a shame that complications revolving around a strike killed the episodes dead.  To pair, I'd take a black tea, with milk if there's any left, two lumps and two sugars...

This led me to a well-overdue reading of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  It was a quick read, with a few good laughs.  It was sci-fi that didn't take itself too seriously.  I can get on board with that.  I'm currently reading The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, which is a little slower going for me, but going nevertheless.  Something about these stories makes me recommend choosing a tea made from a Keurig machine - particularly a miserable machine if you can find one.

1066: The Year of the Three Battles by Frank McLynn
I should have known that a book with the word 'Battles' in its title would be not quite my cup of tea.  I didn't hate it; in fact, there were a couple of chapters that I would recommend.  The actual year in question takes over 200 pages to reach, but in between there were a few people of note that had readable lives  The problem for me, and this could just be a personal difficulty, is that there was an extensively long cast of characters introduced into the story.  Many of them were integral, but all those Viking/Norman/Saxon names were dizzying after a while.  A few more diagrams and family trees may have helped. As for tea, you'll need some help staying alert at times, so try a hearty Assam-rich blend like PG Tips or Extra Strong Tetley, or whatever is close enough to these in your area.  If you like green tea, I find Jasmine scented greens tend to be stronger in caffeine content. 

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
I'm not particulary good at the outdoors.  It's one shortcoming of mine I'd really like to do something about - well, that and procrastinating, but I'll take care of that another time.  I spend more time in Central Park than many New Yorkers, for sure, and I made it up and down Bear Mountain (which technically, the Appalachian Trail runs through), but to rough it from Georgia to Maine is something I can safely say won't happen anytime soon.  And let's be honest, it's not something most people even of a decent constitution could pull off.  Bill Bryson is not the poster boy of fitness, but he's willing to give things a try which I admire. Of course (spoilers) he didn't actually traverse the entire AT, but he invested many nights eating soggy ramen noodles, bad weather, and a lack of reading material to pull together a good story about endurance, and putting up with various personalities.  I'd read this in the comforts of home, or you know, leaning against a tree pretending to be a part of it all, while sipping any kind of tea you'd like, because it would have to be better than anything Mr. Bryson digested in his CRAZY LONG WALK.

Making Masterpiece by Rebecca Eaton

After years of watching Masterpiece programs, the name of the Executive Producer of Masterpiece lurked somewhere in my subconscious, but her memoirs brought it to the fore. I've watched PBS shows since I'd say always, but only came into Masterpiece Theatre, and especially Mystery! since about the time Rebecca Eaton was involved in it.  These programs shaped me to an extent - I'm sure I've recounted here a number of times how my family would have tea parties before settling in to watch Miss Marple and Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes on the weekend.  I want to pronounced that 'week-end', like a confused Dowager Duchess from the most successful endeavor of Ms. Eaton's career...

I liked the behind the scenes look at some of my favorite TV moments, though she was quiet about certain people - I feel like she could have said so much more about Jeremy Brett, and only ONE passing mention of David Tennant? For shame!  Still, she was open about many of her career errors, the largest one in my opinion being the rejection of Pride and Prejudice (the Colin Firth version), which I don't think I'd have wanted to admit.  Also, the reasoning behind Downton Abbey and Sherlock airing later than it does in the UK didn't really float for me, especially since she chases that down with her dismay at the piracy of said shows.  In this day and age, when people live-tweet spoilers, what does she expect?

It was a little rambling, but another good quick read.  I'd pair this with either the official Downton Abbey tea, or considering Ms. Eaton's line of work, a nice blend picked up from a shop in England.


16 April 2014

Stray Observations, Mostly Tea-Related

In the name of completion, I'd like to go through a few more snaps from my trip to Texas last month, along with a little commentary.

A very notable location...

The River House Tearoom, in Gruene, s quick drive from San Antonio.  The town itself was perfectly lovely; apparently it had its name from its German population.  The best wurst I've ever had!  Of very course we had to visit its tearoom.  I was disappointed that Afternoon Tea was only available in reservation form, but it was a cozy place with wonderful muffins.  I felt at home - basically because I have the same teapot - that one, top shelf, fourth item from the left.  

Brackenridge Park, San Antonio.  There was a small tea shop by the Japanese Tea Garden, but I was left confused as to why it was called The Chinese Tea Garden.  Mysteries abound!

Austin - a fun, funky capital - the day before its South by Southwest Festival was to begin.  An influx of hipsters, as a result.  Sadly, this includes, well, this:
I shall say no more on this subject.

At a gathering, I was interested in the iced Hibiscus that I almost mistook for Sangria.  Actually, during my entire trip to Texas I didn't imbibe once.  Usually on vacation I'll drink at least once or twice, but this trip was an exception, which is just fine. I didn't have coffee either, but tea is always on the menu for me! I'd had Hibiscus tea before, mostly in herbal/fruit blends, and it's a good source of Vitamin C, or something healthy like that.  Iced tea, particularly Sweet Tea, is all over the South, but I didn't realize that iced Hibiscus tea was so common, until I also saw it on the menu of the cafe in Book People.  And of course, not long after I'd returned home I saw it in a menu of a New York spot - isn't that always how things go?

Oh, and Book People was worth the unnecessary Crazy Long Walk on Austin's 6th Street.  Sadly we had precious little time to browse, but it's a large, excellent independent bookstore that I'd love to return to someday.  Check out what was written in one of the bathroom stalls:

More on Texas whenever I get a chance to return - who knows when that will be?

06 April 2014

Tea Gallery: Trust Me, John Everett Millais, 1862

Looks like someone's having a tense moment among the tea things.

31 March 2014

Bigger in Texas

It seems strange to go looking for tea spots in a place like San Antonio, Texas.  Shouldn't one search out barbecue joints instead?  Well, of course I did that as well.  Still, I would be remiss if I neglected my duties as Tea Queen of Astoria, no matter where I was on the globe.  And thankfully, my efforts were rewarded.  This was evident especially in the oversized Mad Hatter Tea House & Cafe.


I always thought Alice's Tea Cup was large, and none of its 3 locations are tiny, but Mad Hatter's is the overgrown version of its New York counterpart.  There's multiple rooms, and the building itself takes up most of the street.  Real estate prices alone would keep you from doing that in Manhattan!  

You make your order at the counter, then wait for the staff to bring it to your table.  You select your own teacups, which I kind of liked.

However, though the staff were friendly enough, it was a little off-putting when the man who brought our teapots to the table stuck in nose in the pots to see which was which.  Ew.  Even so, he got our teas mixed up.  Doesn't everyone know Bonnie gets the rooibos?  I'm the Darjeeling girl!  I mean, that might change in the evening, but still..

One thing I love is a cafe of any kind with bookshelves.  It's why I love a good cuppa in my home library, and why I'll take the bus from Port Authority to Van Gogh's ear in Union, New Jersey.  There's just something about being near books.  I can't articulate what it does for me.  Also, you'll have something to occupy yourself with if you're along, nevermind the phone.

But I digress...OUTSIDE SPACE!!!!

We ordered the Afternoon Tea, which was $18 for two.  Pricewise that's quite satisfying.  However, there were only two choices of sandwich in this deal: smoked salmon and cucumber cream cheese.  I don't like smoked salmon, and cucumber sandwiches are all well and good, but one gets bored of it after a while.  There were other tea sandwiches, but they could be ordered separately.  I'd do that next time.

The scones were fine: bear with me, I didn't take notes and it's been nearly a month, but I think they were cinnamon and blueberry.  They were fine on their own, and I wouldn't recommend the cream/jam conglomeration.  They were mixed together and looked like things I wouldn't speak of here.  The petit four were really sweet, another reason why I always say you don't need to add anything to your tea!

Look at the size of this place!  Bonnie went to a Bridal shower lunch not long after I'd returned to New York, and she had good things to say about the turkey sandwich.  I am glad such a place exists near Bonnie's new home.  Definitely drop by if you're around, though with the state heating up already I might recommend some iced tea.  More on that in my next post!

03 February 2014

All Grown Up

I expect to see the ladies of Downton Abbey taking Afternoon Tea, but not the ladies of The Big Bang Theory.  Sheldon might offer a hot beverage, but it took a mild identity crisis to bring Penny, Amy and Bernadette to the table.

The idea of Afternoon Tea comes as a way to be more "grown-up", which they find to be misdirected: they get dressed ladylike, and Amy wears her legendary tiara, and find themselves surrounded by mothers and their little daughters.  Well, I could have told you it's a little girl thing.  I've been trying to market Afternoon Tea as an all-gender, all-culture, and certainly all-age group encompassing activity, but one step into Alice's Tea Cup might convince you otherwise.  Still, I was disappointed to see how quickly they abandoned the tea and ended up at the bar.  I'm no teetotaler, but enjoy one thing at a time!  Also, in case you want to feel a little adult, there's usually such a thing as Champagne Tea in hotels.

Of course, I'm arguing with a fictional TV show, one that has no problem if women are interested in science,but apparently they can't be bothered to get into sci-fi or comic books. It's still one of my favorite shows, but nothing is perfect.

I do wish 'taking tea' appealed to more demographics, but then again, who wants it to get too popular?  Personally, I like the combination of the childlike enjoyment of sweets, with a slightly refined edge without being overly formal.  Tiaras optional.

02 February 2014

A few updates...

A recent walk in the park...

which inspired a poem...

27 January 2014

Tea Gallery: Tea & Sonnets by Michael Shane Neal

If I'm being honest (and I do try), this looks more like a coffee pot to me - it's too tall to be a proper teapot. Perhaps it's just the angle.  Otherwise, I have no criticism for this picture.  Tea pairs perfectly with poetry!  Both are timeless...as is this portrait!

17 January 2014

Sick Day Pairing

Nobody likes getting sick; certainly not me!  I had much to do at work, and plans that I would've loved to keep.  Still, I suppose a wicked head cold is tolerable, under the right circumstances.  Once you get past that gross first half hour of the morning, and the occasional sneeze-fests, the best thing to do on a day (or two) on the couch is to take advantage of the situation.  This I do by catching up on some reading, and on some tea drinking.

My favorite tea ritual on a sick day is to throw a few older loose teas together, maybe sweeten with some honey, and see how it goes.  I haven't lost my sense of taste, but it does diminish, so instead of wasting my new packets from Upton and David's Tea, I finished off a Darjeeling, combined with an ancient vanilla rooibos, tossed a bit of herb sin, and voila!  A mildly caffeinated, still tasty and comforting blend. I've had some failures in the past, but this is where the honey comes in.  Either way, it's a perfect soothing answer to my dulled senses - and a good use of teas I'd never serve to company.

With this extra time, once I'd grown tired of napping,  I finished something else off: a good book!  This was by no means stale, though I have to admit I was glad to see the end of it.  My selection was Elizabeth of York, by Alison Weir.  I loved Weir's biographies of Eleanor of Acquitaine and Elizabeth I, and some of her historical novels.  Some recent biographies I wasn't so crazy about, as they were too speculative, as is necessary perhaps when writing lives of women in Medieval/Renaissance times. Women weren't considered as worthy of note by their contemporary writers, and few kept writings of their own unless they were of the nobility, and even then it was usually formal letters and accounting records (as is evident in Elizabeth of York.)  Still, this was an intriguing time to read about.

In case you're not sure, Elizabeth of York is the daughter of Edward IV, the dashing Yorkist king who made an unpopular marriage to someone considered beneath him.  This same wife (Elizabeth Wydeville) did a good job providing him with heirs - two sons and an even more daughters, of whom Elizabeth was the eldest.  She did a really good job getting high positions for her relatives, which did not help matters.  When Edward IV died after a short sickness, his son, Edward V-ish, was taken into 'protective' custody by his uncle Richard, and his maternal relatives were either executed or exiled or in sanctuary.  Elizabeth spent many anxious months in sanctuary with her mother and sisters, though her other brother Richard joined Edward V in the Towe.  They disappeared, possibly killed at the order of their uncle, who was now Richard III.  Of course, that's a famous controversy, and Weir is firmly of the belief that he was responsible for their murders.  He was certainly guilty of claiming Elizabeth and her sisters were illegitimate, since Edward IV had been betrothed to another woman - doubtful, but it stuck for the moment.   So her future was uncertain until Henry Tudor made his way over to England, gained victory over Richard III at Bosworth, and became Henry VII.  His claim to the throne was a bit shaky, and his marriage to Elizabeth helped to solidify his new-founded dynasty - which was kind of a sticking point for him.  Even so, their marriage was actually the most successful of all the Tudors.  Weir's theme, it seems to me, is that Elizabeth wasn't tragically undermined by her husband or mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort, as many writers have implied.  However, she must have been uneasy at times, what with all the young men coming forward pretending to be her brothers or someone else close to the throne.

It's not a bad subject.  So much has been written about Elizabeth's son and his wives (I'm sure you can figure out who I'm talking about - eight guesses!), and it's good to have a little light shed on this transitory period.  Being that I'm bleary-eyed (back to the head cold again), it helped that it was a large-print book.  I see just fine with my glasses, but I'd checked this book out from the library, not realizing which edition I'd selected.  My only real issue is that there were too many details that were unnecessary.  How many times do I need to know everybody's salary, and every bit of garment and wall hanging of the period?  Also, in her book, The Princes in the Tower, she made clear her belief was that Richard III was the guilty party, so in Elizabeth of York there's no room for argument.  Don't know why I want Richard to be innocent in this - he's not even the Richard that David Tennant's been playing, so what's my problem?

Pairing: if you're healthy, I'd recommend Tower of London tea by Harney and Sons (ha) or a Rose blend - for the York and Lancaster factions, of course.  Since Henry VII had a reputation for being a miser (and Alison Weir had points against that, too), my old-tea Sick Day blend is just the thing for those stuffy days.

03 January 2014

Looking Back...and Forward

I started keeping a diary when I was seven.  It was one of those books with a page for each day.  It didn't suit me; why face the pressure of having to write or face an eternally empty page?  In the years to follow I bought diaries that weren't so strict - I could start in May for all it mattered.  Of course, eventually I reached the end of the volume.  When I had only a few sheets of paper left, I'd do an end-of-book retrospective.  This was especially a big deal in my formative years.  Within the space of one book I'd grow an inch or two, or a bra size, and wrote through at least one painful crush that, come to think of it, might deserve a bit of redacting treatment.  Things got even more intense when we had one or two major family crises.  Shame I stopped this practice by 2001 as that would have been interesting, although the last page did mention taking Duforth and Moofer to the vet at the same time, so there's that bit of nostalgia.

In some ways looking from back to front appealed to the natural historian in me, and also my ever-present need for self-examination.  I wanted to know if I was a indeed better person than when I'd started, or if something about myself or my circumstances should be addressed.  Most blank books are less costly than therapy!

I don't do this on the blog, because, well, it seems to be infinite.  Sometimes I think I should put an end to it, since frankly I don't seem to have the readership of past times, but at this point I'm determined to make the ten year mark.  That'll be in 2015, by the way.  Still, I could combine the annual diary concept with the free journals and do a year end look-back.  It's already January, so I'd better get on with it.

As I've said before, I don't like to get too personal here.  It's not the place for it.  This'll cover my blogging activity for the most part.

In January I attempted to start a 'favorite book of the month' feature, but this fizzled out by the spring.  So I think from now on I'll stick to an occasional book review with its tea pairing.  I was also still covering my December 2012 trip to London, which was good because I hardly made it out of town for the rest of 2013.  I intend to change this, and certainly will, since I already have solid plans to visit San Antonio soon. I found out in the spring that my sister and her husband were moving there in October.  Though I never intended to see Texas, I've heard good things about San Antonio, and frankly, on this frigid snowy day, I could use some of that sunshine.

What disappoints me the most is the dearth of tearoom reviews.  PressTea is all well and good, but it doesn't make up for the lack of new spots.  As it is, I did manage a few visits to Tea and Sympathy as well as Alice's Tea Cup.  I went to a lovely outdoor garden tea party, but failed to give it proper coverage here.  Having a dying laptop was my excuse at the time, but now that I've got a perfectly functioning one, I have to get it going again!  Posting an occasional shot of a teapot on Instagram just doesn't do it for me.

Probably my most constant feature here was The Tea Gallery, and I plan to keep this coming.  Eventually I can open a Tea Museum.

The main distraction and tragedy for me in 2013 was the sickness and death of Moofer.  I spent a great amount of time trying to keep him in stable health, but renal failure is no joke.  I still miss him, but Zenobia and I are doing all right.  I have no immediate need for another cat, which is probably good for my allergies.  I guess I'm not a Crazy Cat Person after all.

So, not one of my best years, but not a total disaster.  See you again soon!  I hope,.

05 December 2013

The Doctor Likes His Tea

It's been well over a week since the first screening of The Day of the Doctor, so these pictures shouldn't prove to be spoilers to anyone by now.  If ever - all we have here is all three Doctors and Clara stopping for some tea together.
This is not an episode review; like I said before, I tend to leave that to other people while I concentrate on occasionally posting book or tea reviews here.  I just thought I'd share one of my favorite parts of the episode.  Actually, it kind of sums up what I love about the Doctor: save the day, then stop for a cuppa.
It's what I would do!
I mean, I'm a sucker for a scene in any show or film, or even book, where the characters share teatime together.  It's relatable, although I suppose taking tea with my selves would be kind of odd. But this stuck out even more, because once again, the Doctor is the hero of the day using brains as the best weapon in his (their) arsenal, and then, without feeling girly or ironic at all, having tea in little pretty teacups.
I've probably said this here in the past, but it kind of irks me that guys don't like to be seen doing what they think are frilly feminine things, particularly when it comes to the realm of tea.  How is it unmanly to have tea in little china cups?  Personally, I respect a man who can handle delicate items as well as screwdrivers.  Sure, china tea cups are easily shattered, but they also present tea in probably the best way.  I assert to the end that tea of all kinds taste better in china, just as wine is better from a glass.  Breakfast teas are nice in mugs with milk, of course.  Ice cream's good in everything, but that's another discussion.
Perhaps I'm straying into metaphorical territory here, but let's just round it down to this.  I have no problem going to a 'guy' spots, like, I don't know, a sports bar, for instance:  I certainly don't think it makes me less feminine.  What's so unmanly about taking tea?
Is this just a problem in America?
I don't like to talk about gender politics; it's not in my nature.  I just like seeing a balance, and perhaps a curbing of the insecurity associated with 'being seen' doing things that males have done for centuries.  I suppose, literally centuries for The Doctor.
In the end, taking tea with someone, to me, means sharing life together, and being comfortable with your company.  Hopefully that says it all.

11 November 2013

Tea Gallery: Teatotalism by Edward Bird

Proving once again that tea and cats are eternally linked.  Possibly because of the spinster implications?   Well, the lady (?) in this painting looks like she's abstained from more than just liquor.  And she probably won't have anyone showing her a night out on the town, not with that freaky kitty warning any suitors away.  At least she's got milk in her tea, and a slight flush on her cheeks - perhaps she's just warming up after a bit of fun in the snow?  I have almost no information behind this painting, so the story behind it is anyone's guess.  

28 October 2013

What Do You Call It?

I've succumbed again to subscribing to real-paper magazines.  I still get Victoria on my Nook, but I have to admit, it's not an enjoyable reading experience.  Someday I'll get to the whole comparison between e- vs. paper reading post, but now's not that time.  The magazines I get in my actual mailbox are Tea Magazine and Tea Time.  This shouldn't surprise anyone.  Though I tend to skip many of the articles in the holiday-heavy issues, there's always something that attracts my interest.

 I noticed that in each of the recent issues of these magazines, there was at least one article that covered herbal tea.  Of course, they qualify the expression 'tea' by letting you choose between herbal tea, tisanes, or infusions.  And I agree: tea, as a word that really means the drink derived from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant.  Technically, infused peppermint leaves should not be called 'tea'.

When I bring up the subject of tea (and you know I do at least once a week), I often hear people say they love tea, and then list a bunch of not-actually-tea teas.  Then I feel the tea geek in me want to point out the error in their expression.  But you know what?  Maybe I'm a little off there.

Think about it.  Have you ever asked an English person what they'll be having for tea?  They may mention a full meal that doesn't include a hot drink at all.  In some parts of that country (I think mostly in the North) 'tea' just means dinner.  They aren't wrong or right.  It's the nature of the language.   Let's not forgot what we learned on Seinfeld: sometimes coffee doesn't mean coffee, either.

....I know High Tea is what people call Afternoon Tea sometimes, and that's technically incorrect too.  I'm still a little peeved on that score, but I won't bit your head off.....

So I've decided to ease up a bit on the technicalities. Or should I say techicaliteas?  People say 'Chai tea', which is a tautology, and if you have rooibos chai is it really chai?  You could really run around in circles debating these things.  And I've tired of being on edge about things.  Maybe it's because I've lowered my actual tea intake, and am now quite the herbal/fruit tea drinker.  If the word is good enough for most people, maybe it's just the way the English language itself changes almost organically.  Like I said, the nature of the language.  So, in this case, let's go with the flow!

So what kinds of "teas" do I like? Well, let's go back to the basics.  I had a cold this week, a bad one, and I couldn't miss work so I had to do whatever it took to get going.  In the afternoon I'd have Lemon Zinger tea from Celestial Seasonings.  Its scent takes me right back to afternoons in college, particularly when I was taking Oral Communications.  In autumn I also go for the apple cinnamon-y blends - and that happens to be one of the few non-rooibos that could stand adding milk.  It doesn't need it, though.

I've got famously bad digestive issues, so chamomile is a part of my life.  Chamomile-lavender is wonderful, and so soothing.  Peppermint is good too, but with all the Altoids I eat I'm pretty covered there.

I have tons of herbs in my tea cabinet. What - doesn't everyone have a tea cabinet?  Though sometimes I'll buy blends - Simpson and Vail has some wonderful blends - I'll also try my hand at blending my own concoctions.  I get good use out of my teapots, especially in the winter!  Having good fruit teas around helps, too, because you can sneak in some of the less tasty herbs and it'll still be a pleasant drink.  I particularly recommend this method with Valerian.  It's relaxing, but terribly bitter on its own, and its smell could clear a subway car.

Herbal articles always come with a warning, so I will too: if you're taking medications, make sure they don't clash with the herbs.  Ask your doctor and all that.  Also, for my gluten-free friends, look out: some herbal teas have barley or other ingredients that might make you sick.  Always do your homework!

So curl up and sip: winter is coming!

Bought this one last year in London...really helped me through the inconvenient 'stomach' troubles in the early part of my trip.  It still helps me on my off days.  Tastes good too!

03 October 2013

Not Taking Coffee with Catherine

I don't get stalked by people too often (thankfully), but I feel as if objects, or ideas, follow closely at my heels whether I want them to or not.  One example of this is scaffolding.  Everywhere I go, it seems, there's construction or maintenance work to be done, from the area around my workplace to my own apartment building.  Sometimes I think I can walk out on a rainy day without needing an umbrella! 

Math stalked me forever.  I'm obsessively literate, and can be buried in words quite happily for hours.  Math is a means to an end.  I'm okay at arithmetic and a little light algebra, but am not thrilled by formulas and a chalkboard full of x's and y's.  The powers that be, however, decided to push me for decades towards the maths, and wouldn't let me go until I shoved the F's in their faces.  Even then, I still find the shadows of math and scientific calculators along my path. 

Now the one I find hardest to let go of, because frankly it's something I like, is coffee.  Mainly I grew up with tea, and was content with a taste of coffee here and there, and to this day I'm (glaringly) a tea girl.  Nevertheless, I've gone through periods of time, ever since I started working in offices actually, where coffee was my morning pick-me-up.  Eventually my digestive illnesses and wracked nerves would force me to give up coffee, or at least cut down.  I mean, never mind, right?  At least I can have tea!  But somehow, I'd always pick up the coffee habit.  Sometimes this came as a result of either being away from good tea, like if I'm travelling.  As I've said too many times, you can usually find a halfway decent cup of coffee out of town, but it's rare you can find even a tolerable cup of tea.  Then there's the times where I suddenly had access to interesting coffee, like when my office first got K-cups in all kinds of flavors.  Sadly, the coffee taste comes through the machine even when you're making tea, so it made sense to reach for the coffee instead.

These cycles went on, but I think at this part of my life I have to abstain from coffee entirely.  Besides the acid reflux and other 'stomach' problems, the caffeine seems to affect me even more than it used to.  I always thought I might build up a tolerance, but nope, I'm hyper-sensitive.  To be honest, I can't even drink much tea - one cup of black tea is usually the most I can take now.  If I'm really tired I might pull off a cup of green tea in the afternoon. On a daily basis, though, my second cup is an herbal infusion.

So why does coffee keep asserting itself into my life?  I entered a contest (long story), and last week I won the consolation prize - you guessed it - coffee!!!  I hear it's good, but I can't try it for myself.  Oh, and this is not the first time I'd won coffee.  Then there was the National Coffee Day a few days ago, which didn't matter too much, but it just made me aware that this drink is never far away.  I can't help seeing ads for all the autumn flavors at Starbucks - oh I used to love the pumpkin lattes.  Plus, the area of Midtown where I work is surrounded, seriously, surrounded! - by coffee places - branches of Italian, Pacific Northwest, even Australian specialty coffee stores wherever I walk.  Some of them offer tea, but only as an afterthought.  There are areas of the City that have a good amount of tea shops, but not near me, sadly.

It's been good to whine a bit about problems that don't really keep me up at night (unless I gave in....)

08 September 2013

Moofer, 2001-2013

This one is difficult. I had to bring Moofer to be put down on Thursday.  The choice was a horrible one, but my final decision was based on the fact that he wasn't going to get better.  I saw one of my cats waste away with kidney disease (Duforth, nine years ago), and didn't want Moofer to get any further down that road.  I fought to keep him going, but he was finally through with the treatments two weeks ago.

I miss him more than I can express.  I don't want to make light of anyone's death in the past seven years, but this has been the biggest grief for me since losing my Dad.  Moofer was my cat for five years.  He was my sister's cat for seven years - at the time he was the middle child of three cats and one dog.  I love all of my sisters' pets, but Moofer was The One. He was also well liked by everyone that met him.  He greeted everyone he encountered as a friend - something I haven't quite pulled off, and displayed both a cuddly and a playful personality.  His favorite sport was chasing light beams, and his worst habit was begging for human food - something he did til the very end.

I'm not going to go into what his last moments were like, because I can't relive them myself at this point, but they were peaceful, and I'm thankful for that.

Here's a few images of the life of Moof:

With the Boys, and Sheba
The Selfie.
As a purring lap cat, with my Aunt Anita
Being part of the action at one of my tea parties
With Zenobia, just the right distance apart...sweet dreams, my lovely.

You don't find many like him. 
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