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Pickle Me This

November 2, 2012

Where my tea rests

I don’t have a desk. In another life, I worked in a closet, but now the closet is stuffed with baby paraphernalia and there is no room for me and mine. Which isn’t bad, in fact it’s fine. For the past three years, I’ve made the western half of our couch my working home, which you’d be able to tell if you ever sat on it. The springs are shot. My seat is right beside the tall bookcase which houses authors A through H, with a table nearby to pile books and set my laptop on. Often, my husband is situated nearby too, which makes for an optimum working environment. I like it also because I get to work whilst lying down.

What I appreciate most truly, however, is the place where I rest my tea. From my Random House mug, of course, because what’s a point of a teacup if it isn’t enormous? But not so enormous that it can’t perch exactly within arm’s reach, right beside Anne Enright and Alice Thomas Ellis. I think my tea keeps really good company– the gorgeous spines of my Anne Fadiman books, and even Deborah Eisenberg. It’s always right there when I need it. But not so near within my reach that my flailing arms have ever knocked it over. Yet. Knock on (bookcase) wood.

August 16, 2012

Mary Poppins and Afternoon Tea

“So, still admiring themselves and each other, they moved on together through the little wood, till presently they came upon a little open space filled with sunlight. And there on a green table was Afternoon-Tea!

A pile of raspberry-jam-cakes as high as Mary Poppins’s waist stood in the centre, and beside it tea was boiling in a big brass urn. Best of all, there were two plates of whelks and two pins to pick them out with.

“Strike me pink!” said Mary Poppins. That was what she always said when she was pleased.

“Golly!” said the Match-Man. And that was his particular phrase.

“Won’t you sit down, Moddom?” enquired a voice, and they turned to find a tall man in a black coat coming out of the wood with a table-napkin over his arm.

Mary Poppins, thoroughly surprised, sat down with a plop upon one of the little green chairs that stood round the table. The Match-Man, staring, collapsed on to another.

“I’m the Waiter, you know!” explained the man in the black coat.

“Oh! But I didn’t see you in the picture,” said Mary Poppins.

“Ah, I was behind the tree,” explained the Waiter.

“Won’t you sit down?” said Mary Poppins, politely.

“Waiters never sit down, Moddom,” said the man, but he seemed pleased at being asked.

“Your whelks, Mister!” he said, pushing a plate of them over to the Match-Man. “And your Pin!” He dusted the pin on his napkin and handed it to the Match-Man.

They began upon the afternoon-tea, and the Waiter stood beside them to see they had everything they needed.

“We’re having them after all,” said Mary Poppins in a loud whisper, as she began on the heap of raspberry-jam-cakes.

“Golly!” agreed the Match-Man, helping himself to two of the largest.

“Tea?” said the Waiter, filling a large cup for each of them from the urn.

They drank it and had two cups more each, and then, for luck, they finished the pile of raspberry-jam-cakes. After that they got up and brushed the crumbs off.

“There is Nothing to Pay,” said the Waiter, before they had time to ask for the bill. “It is a Pleasure. You will find the Merry-go-Round just over there!” And he waved his hand to a little gap in the trees, where Mary Poppins and the Match-Man could see several wooden horses whirling round on a stand.

“That’s funny,” said she. “I don’t remember seeing that in the picture, either.”

“Ah,” said the Match-Man, who hadn’t remembered it himself, “it was in the Background, you see!”

The Merry-go-Round was just slowing down as they approached it. They leapt upon it, Mary Poppins on a black horse and the Match-Man on a grey. And when the music started again and they began to move, they rode all the way to Yarmouth and back, because that was the place they both wanted most to see.

When they returned it was nearly dark and the Waiter was watching for them.

“I’m very sorry, Moddom and Mister,” he said politely, “but we close at Seven. Rules, you know. May I show you the Way Out?”

They nodded as he flourished his table-napkin and walked on in front of them through the wood.

“It’s a wonderful picture you’ve drawn this time, Bert,” said Mary Poppins, putting her hand through the Match-Man’s arm and drawing her cloak about her.

“Well, I did my best, Mary,” said the Match-Man modestly. But you could see he was really very pleased with himself indeed.

Just then the Waiter stopped in front of them, beside a large white doorway that looked as though it were made of thick chalk lines.

“Here you are!” he said. “This is the Way Out.”

“Good-bye, and thank you,” said Mary Poppins, shaking his hand.

“Moddom, good-bye!” said the Waiter, bowing so low that his head knocked against his knees.

He nodded to the Match-Man, who cocked his head on one side and closed one eye at the Waiter, which was his way of bidding him farewell. Then Mary Poppins stepped through the white doorway and the Match-Man followed her.”

-From P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins, which our whole family has been so enjoying for the past week or so.

July 25, 2012

Afternoon Tea: A Timeless Tradition by Muriel Moffat

No surprise, really, that I’d find this little book appealing, Afternoon Tea: A Timeless Tradition by Muriel Moffat. I am the kind of person who has a tea books shelf in her kitchen (just above the tea things shelf, if you’re wondering). Moffat’s book is an ode to afternoon tea in general, and to tea at Victoria’s Fairmont Empress Hotel in the specific. She writes of her own connections to teatime, of the importance of English grandmothers in passing along such traditions. Her prose is light and punctuated mainly by exclamation marks. She addresses the history of tea and tea ceremonies, a guide to tea-taking  (from how to warm the pot to what to wear), and then a chapter on tea at the Empress Hotel, the experience and its history. The rest of the book comprises recipes for scones, cookies, tiny sandwiches and other things (and now I see, I have to get myself a crumpet ring).

As tea books go, Afternoon Tea is hardly groundbreaking, but it’s a pretty little object and a perfect keepsake. Originally self-published with 30,000 copies sold at the Empress Hotel gift shop in five years, it’s now been gorgeously re-packaged by Douglas&McIntyre, and is about to find a wider readership among afternoon tea devotees.

April 22, 2012

The Famous 5

So many things I love are a part of this photo. Also, we had a really wonderful trip to Ottawa this weekend. Lots of reading on the train, hotel fun, good food, friends, and, speaking of friends, we were the beneficiaries of some amazing hospitality. Long live the Mini-Break!

April 13, 2012

The fourth day she reduced the teabags inside the pot to one

“The fourth day she reduced the teabags inside the pot to one, and he commented the tea had gone very weak, as though it was being controlled by the weather or an outside force. He did not lift the lid of the pot, because he was not accustomed to doing such things for himself.” –from Anakana Schofield’s Malarky

July 13, 2011

The world was upside down

“‘I don’t know why you’re laughing,’ said Aunt Irene. ‘I don’t see anything to laugh about. Everything strikes me as rather worrying.’

‘I’ll make a cuppa tea,’ said Mrs. O’Connor. She made terrible tea, very slimy, strong and tooth-stripping, but there was no denying its restorative powers.

‘If it does this to one’s cups,’ said Aunt Irene when Mrs. O’Connor had gone home to make tea for her boys, ‘what must it be doing to the lining of one’s stomach?’ She rubbed at the stained inside of the porcelain teacup. ‘I can’t be too rough,’ she said. ‘All its little gilt flowers will come off. They were designed for China tea. No one ever imagined Mrs. O’Connor would cross their path.’

The world was upside down. On the whole, this pleased Aunt Irene as much as it angered Mrs. Mason. It was more interesting that way, but it was hard on the porcelain.”– from The 27th Kingdom by Alice Thomas Ellis

April 30, 2011

Project Tea Party

The best thing about being married to me is that you get to spend whole mornings up to your elbows in marzipan. Because I was determined that we would make a battenberg cake for our royal wedding tea party. And today we discovered that just how Queen Victoria got so fat– it’s because you have to trim top and sides off the cake before you ice it, and it takes inordinate willpower to not eat the scraps–they were delicious! The marzipan too, even though it was too sticky. I got Stuart to construct the cake once I’d baked it, because I’m terrible at things that require attention and patience. He did a bang-up job, and the cake was delicious (then devoured). We also served these strawberry jam tarts, which were incredible (and easy). And scones shaped like teapots, which is the best thing I have ever imagined. This photo was taken before we took the sausage rolls out of the oven, and they were delicious too, although store-bought. Tea was served in the big, beautiful teapot I received as a wedding gift and that spends most of its time getting dusty on the shelf because I fear breaking it. So it was nice to use it. I also liked an excuse to pull out my teapot table cloth from Honest Ed’s, and I think the Queen probably has one similar.

And then Nathalie Foy took the (battenberg) cake for hostess gifts, bringing me actual perfume scented like a Barbara Pym paperback: “sweet, and a bit musty, a lot like Pym’s world come to think of it.” I read in the papers that the Duchess of Cambridge was wearing an identical scent yesterday.

April 1, 2011

A teapot for Harriet

Our friend Genevieve Côté sent us this picture today, to satisfy Harriet’s love of teapots. (Harriet is a teapot tyrant. She will hand you a crayon and say, “Teapot, happy” and you have no choice but to comply, to draw that teapot, and don’t even try to forget the happy smile.)

We were excited to see Genevieve’s new book yesterday at Book City. Without You is the sequel to her acclaimed 2009 book Me and You, and I will be buying it for Harriet for her birthday. Genevieve has a thing for teapots too, and Harriet loves finding them in her gorgeous illustrations.

February 28, 2011

We love Ilkley. Thank you, Jackson Brodie.

Today Harriet stayed home with her grandparents, and Stuart and I drove to Ilkley in Yorkshire (which is very close to Burley Cross country). I wanted to go to a Bettys Tea Room after reading Starting Early Took My Dog (which should probably receive a commission for our visit). Jackson Brodie certainly did not mislead us: if the Bettys girls ran the government, indeed, there would not have been recent economic disasters, or disasters of any kind. Tea was completely delicious, definitely the best we’d had since Saturday, and I was particularly in love with the woman having her breakfast at the table across from ours’ (“Anything else for ye, Vera?” they asked as she was preparing to go, as she tied a kerchief around her hair).

We had fun exploring the town afterwards, visiting the best butcher in Britain, and the Grove Bookshop, a fabulous independent bookshop whose business was booming. We got a steak and kidney pie at the former, and at the bookshop, I got a Penguin 75 tote bag, and Old Filth by Jane Gardam (which I’ve had out of the library twice, but have always had to return before I’ve had a chance to read it).

January 6, 2011

A Poem: Tea words as appropriated from Oxford Canadian Dictionary

tea. tea bag. tea ball. teaberry. tea biscuit. tea bread. tea break. tea caddy. teacake. tea ceremony. tea chest. tea cozy. teacup. tea dance. tea garden. tea house. tea lady. tea leaf. tea party. tea plant. teapot. teapoy. tea room. tea rose. tea service. tea shop. teaspoon. tea strainer. tea table. tea time. tea towel. tea tray. tea tree. tea trolley.

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