Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Valentine's tea with Margery Sharp


Image from A Subtle Revelry.

Last month, through the power of BookBub, I discovered Margery Sharp.

Or perhaps I should say rediscovered, for I was a fan of The Rescuers as a child. I had no idea she'd written so many novels for adults until BookBub featured Cluny Brown*.

This charming story features an eccentric and headstrong girl from London who is sent by her uncle into service at an elegant country house. Knowing little of domestic labor in a stately home, she struggles to understand household tasks, class barriers, and unexpected romantic overtures. Passages like this in which Cluny is chatting with potential suitor Mr. Wilson (the local chemist who lives with his nearly catatonic mother) made me giggle:

“Thank you for letting me stay,” said Cluny, blinking.
“Mother’s taken a liking to you,” said Mr. Wilson. “I can see that.”
Cluny wondered how he could tell. Several years before she had made quite a friend of an old man who took a tortoise into Kensington Gardens; and he told her he was never sure whether the tortoise enjoyed these outings or not, whether it didn’t after all think, “Damn this grass.” However, Cluny supposed that from long experience Mr. Wilson could detect in his mother shades of expression, intimations of pleasure, unapparent to any one else.

Cluny Brown was adapted to film in 1946 by Ernst Lubitsch, whose lengthy directing resume also includes my personal favorites The Shop Around the Corner (inspiration for You've Got Mail) and the delicious pre-code romp Design for Living (based on the Noel Coward play and featuring an extra-swoony Gary Cooper). I was able to locate the DVD for Cluny Brown, but you can watch it in its entirety on YouTube! Lubitsch took many liberties with the original story, but it all serves to bring the romance into sharper focus AND to feature Charles Boyer, who basically runs away with the film.

*I was struck by the name "Cluny" because I love the Musée de Cluny in Paris, but according to the novel Cluny is short for Clover.



Following Cluny Brown I read The Flowering Thorn (1934), about a Bright Young Thing who impetuously adopts an orphaned boy. She can't afford to keep him in London, so with the help of an uncle they move to the country. Hijinks ensue, but not in the silly way you might expect. This is a quieter novel than Cluny Brown, and it's more about our heroine falling in love with a community than a mere man. Currently I am reading Something Light (1960), featuring a plucky dog photographer who is tired of her "Girl Friday" status with the men in her life. She's ready to marry for money! This book is much more along the quirky lines of Cluny Brown, and I am avoiding all spoilers because I know this novel will surprise me in delightful ways.

**********

And now for our Valentine's tea, I offer you gluten-free glazed sugar cookies with "Thé des Amants" from Palais des Thés.


I cheated a little and used this mix from King Arthur Flour, purchased at Whole Foods. (Click here if you'd like to make the cookies from scratch.) I don't ordinarily keep gluten-free or almond flour around the house, so my trick for rolling out the dough was to put it between two sheets of parchment while still soft, roll it, chill it, and then cut the cookies out. No flour needed at all! And the recipe for the glaze is right on the box. Easy peasy.


Tea description (from the purveyor): Rich and sensual, Thé des Amants is a heady, fragrant blend of black tea, apple, almond, cinnamon and vanilla, spiced up with a hint of ginger. In French, Thé des Amants means 'Tea of the Lovers.' Délicieux!


And here is the tea tray!

How about you -- any romantic reads or Valentine snacks to recommend?

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY TO ALL!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Tea with Jane Eyre


Jane flees Thornfield (Haddon Hall) in 2011 film.

Charlotte Bronte's 200th birthday last year inspired me to re-read Jane Eyre, and I decided to make this part of my Read Harder Challenge by watching two film adaptations for comparison to the original text. I'd been meaning to re-watch the 2006 BBC version with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson, and I'm always eager to watch the 2011 theatrical version with Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska. What a pleasure to read the book*, watch both adaptations and compare! It also was great fun to pair the book with tea and a sweet treat, as you'll see below.

(*Actually, I alternated between reading the e-book and listening to Thandie Newton's spectacular audio performance.)


I'd forgotten that both the 2006 and 2011 adaptations were filmed at Haddon Hall in Derbyshire (as was the 1996 Franco Zeffirelli version with William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg!). I've visited Haddon Hall in both the summer and at Christmas time, and it's one of my favorite old piles in all of England. It seems perfect for Thornfield Hall--castellated and gloomy in a Gothically romantic way, also boasting a rushing stream and lovely terraced gardens. The 2006 version makes a little more use of the Haddon Hall interiors, whereas the 2011 version uses Broughton Castle (another lovely place to visit!) for many of the interior shots.


So, which adaptation did I like better? The 2011 adaptation will always be my favorite, but the 2006 TV movie is quite good in its own right. Excellent performances from Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson, and a teleplay by Sandy Welch that is mostly true to the original. Welch departs from the book by presenting Rochester as a naturalist, and by introducing house party discussions of the scientific study of twins (???), as well as musings on the paranormal. There's even a scene with a table transformed into a talking board. (Why add a talking board when you already have gypsy readings?)

The 2011 theatrical version is stripped-down, but effectively so. I like the Rivers family as a frame, and I do prefer Fassbender's darker Rochester--he has a bit more menace to him and doesn't babble so much as the original. Mia Wasikowska truly does seem little and plain(ish) in this adaptation, but also strong-willed. I think the scene that really seals the 2011 version as my favorite is when Rochester begs Jane to stay after the revelation of his dark secret. "I cannot get at you, and it is your soul that I want!" (Watch the scene--you know you want to!) I also love the ending--very compressed from the original, but somehow more satisfying to me.


I've probably mentioned my Haddon Hall china from Minton before. I first saw the pattern at the Haddon Hall gift shop, but it just wasn't feasible to ship a set back to the U.S. Fortunately, I later found pieces from various sets at Replacements.com. They don't match perfectly, but I think that makes the collection all the more charming. And, of course, the Haddon Hall china seemed perfect for a Jane Eyre tea!

For my tea treat, I made parkin, a spicy oat cake from the north of England, particularly popular in Yorkshire (home to the Brontës).

[Parkin] is eaten in an area where oats rather than wheat was the staple grain for the poor. It is closely related to tharf cakes - an unsweeted cake cooked on a griddle rather than baked.[7] The traditional time of the year for tharf cakes to be made was directly after the oat harvest in the first week in November. For festive occasions, the cake would be sweetened with honey. In the seventeenth century (about 1650) sugar started to be imported from Barbados[b]- and molasses was a by-product of the refining process. Molasses was first used by apothecaries to make a medicine theriaca, from which name the word treacle is derived.[8] As molasses became plentiful, or treacle as it became called at that time, it was substituted for honey in the preparation of tharf cakes. (From wikipedia)

After a disastrous attempt with a different recipe, I had success with this: Parkin--a Guy Fawkes Night Tradition. The recipe is accompanied by a helpful explanation of Parkin's connection to the 5th of November, and it uses U.S. measurements and ordinary ingredients. (I happened to have golden syrup on hand, but according to the recipe corn syrup will suffice.)


It looked a bit like a pan of brownies when it came out of the oven, but oh, the glorious spicy smell!


This parkin was very moist and filling. If Jane Eyre had tucked some of this in her pocket, she might not have suffered so much on the moors before the Rivers family took her in! For tea I needed something strong to match the spice of the bread, so I chose the Irish Breakfast from David's Tea in honor of Charlotte Brontë's Irish heritage through her father, Patrick Brontë (originally Brunty or Prunty from County Down, Ireland).

Some related links for your edification and amusement:

--The Best Yorkshire Recipes (some nice options for sweet treats here)
--A Jane Eyre tea blend from Adagio
--Every Meal in Jane Eyre, Ranked in Order of Severity, from The Toast
--A Tea with Jane Eyre necklace at Etsy
--Jane Eyre Tea Cozy patterns for knitters!
--Walnut Tea Sandwiches inspired by Jane Eyre
--Jane Eyre, the Fragrance, from Ravenscourt Apothecary (this is a NEAT site!)
--And finally, this long-time favorite: Dude Watchin' with the Brontës from Hark, a Vagrant.

Also, some of my previous Jane Eyre-related blog posts:
--Brontës on the Brain (Nov 2013)
--The Problem of Kissing in Jane Eyre '11 (Aug 2011)
--Derbyshire Top Ten, including photos of Haddon Hall (July 2011)
--I saw Jane Eyre yesterday (April 2011)

[Crossposted at Livejournal]

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Read Harder Challenge 2016


In 2016 some dear friends and I participated in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. Overall, it was a positive experience, encouraging me to read some truly fabulous books that I otherwise might have skipped. (Who'd have guessed I'd so enjoy a food memoir?) Thought you might like to see the list.

Horror book: Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
Nonfiction book about science: Sniffer Dogs by Nancy Castaldo
Collection of essays: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett
A book read outloud to someone else: Finding Winnie, by Lindsay Mattick & Sophie Blackall
Middle grade novel: Summerlost, by Ally Condee
Biography (not memoir or autobiography): Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, by Ruth Jackson
Dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel: The Girl with all the Gifts, by M.R. Carey (EXCELLENT audiobook)
Book published in decade I was born (actually published year I was born): Enquiry, by Dick Francis
Audiobook that won an Audie: Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan
A book over 500 pages long: South Riding, by Winifred Holtby (re-read)
A book under 100 pages: Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas, by Gwendolyn Hooks
Book by or about person that identifies as transgender: George, by Alex Gino
A book set in the Middle East: Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
A book by an author from Southeast Asia: Ghost Bride, by Yangze Choo
A book of historical fiction set before 1900: The Blackthorn Key, by Kevin Sands
The first book in a series by a person of color: The House of Dies Drear, by Virginia Hamilton
A non-superhero comic that debuted in last three years: Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson
A book that was adapted into a movie--watch movie afterwards and debate which was better:
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë (A re-read, of course. I watched the Toby Stephens/Ruth Wilson adaptation. The book is better, duh.)
A nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes: A Serious Endeavour: Gender, Education and Community at St Hugh's, 1886-2011, by Laura Schwartz
A book about religion (fiction or nonfiction): Celebrating Christmas with Jesus: An Advent Devotional, by Max Lucado
A book about politics in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction): The Prince, by Machiavelli
A food memoir: My Life in France, by Julia Child
A play: The Weir, by Connor Macpherson
A book with a main character that has a mental illness: We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

I'm taking this year off, but here's the 2017 challenge in case you're interested.

Other favorite reads of 2016:
Morpho Eugenia, by A.S. Byatt (re-read)
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith (re-read)
The Radiant Road, by Katherine Catmull
The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson
The Lie Tree, by Frances Hardinge
Astercote, by Penelope Lively
The Brontë Cabinet, by Deborah Lutz
The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy, by Penelope Lively
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
Daddy Long-legs, by Jean Webster
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
Excellent Women, by Barbara Pam
Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers (re-read)
Amberwell, by D.E. Stevenson
The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander
The Moving Finger, by Agatha Christie
No Holly for Miss Quinn, by Miss Read

Here is my Goodreads Year in Review (which leaves out the re-reads, argh).

Please share your favorite reads of 2016 in the comments, or link me to your own "Goodreads Year in Review" or blog post!


[Crossposted at Livejournal]

Thursday, December 15, 2016

December Tea and a Book: No Holly for Miss Quinn (Christmas at Fairacre)


Quick take: So COZY.
(Special thanks to Laura B. for recommending it and to Glenda A. for gifting it!)

Goodreads synopsis: Miss Quinn, who cherishes her privacy, intends to spend Christmas on her own as she likes it. But before the holiday, her brother telephones to tell her that his wife has been rushed to the hospital, and would Miss Quinn come and stay with the children? Miss Quinn's unexpectedly hectic Christmas has a significant effect upon her life.

(Above you see Christmas at Fairacre, an omnibus that includes No Holly for Miss Quinn. Check this Goodreads page for reviews and links to various vendors of the individual novel. Or check here for the omnibus.)

My thoughts: My mom has always loved the novels of Miss Read (a.k.a. Dora Jessie Saint, who died in 2012 at the age of 98). I read one or two of them when I was young, but at that time I didn't have quite such a powerful craving for quiet and cozy books. Well, I do now! And amidst all the madness of late, this book certainly hit the spot.

I thoroughly empathized with Miriam Quinn's preference for quiet and solitude. At the same time, it was great fun to see her thrown in with her brother's somewhat feral brood of children. Oh, the appalling disorder! How satisfying to watch her organize them, and then how delightful to see her loosen up and enjoy various sweet moments of connection with each child. My favorite part involved the two nieces, one of whom knows "the truth" about Father Christmas and is aching to spoil her younger sister. Our Miriam deals with that in a lovely way.

No Holly for Miss Quinn is a quick read brimming with warmth and humor, and even a tiny bit of romance. Chime in if you've read it -- I'd love to hear about your favorite moments!

Related favorite things:


I particularly enjoyed the illustrations by J.S. Goodall, which gave me the same cozy feeling as those of Garth Williams (the Little House books) and Pauline Baynes (the Narnia books).


LOOK AT THIS! I have listened to this Enya CD about a million times, and I never once associated this song with Miss Read. How delightful! Do have a listen.

Miss Read/Dora Saint wrote of her own childhood in Fortunate Grandchild and Time Remembered (now combined in a single volume entitled Early Days). Also, for more on her inspiration for the novels' settings, see On the Trail of Thrush Green.

And now for tea:


I tend to make the same treats every year for Christmas, so this time I tried something different: Chocolate-Cherry Snowballs from the Betty Crocker website. Click the link for the recipe, which is pretty straightforward. I will say, however, that next time I'll make the cookies smaller because they really should be bite-sized. (Otherwise, MESS.) Also, I would recommend you wait until they are quite cool before you roll them in the powdered sugar. They need time to set so as not to crumble when you roll, and they get stickier as they cool, which makes the sugar cling nicely. (I learned all this the hard way, of course!) I followed advice given in the comments and used maraschino cherries instead of candied, which worked quite well. (Where does one find candied cherries, anyway?)

Here is a closer view of the "snowballs".

In the pot is Thé des Délices, a black tea containing citrus peel, candied mandarins, and cocoa nibs. So delicious, and only available during the holidays from Palais des Thés.

Don't forget to check out my December Holiday Reading List, and do let me know if I've left out one of your favorites. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Friday, December 9, 2016

Friday Favorites: Holiday reading list!



The following is my first stab at an exhaustive list of December holiday-themed fiction for adults and kids. Books that I have read and recommend are indicated with an asterisk (*). I've linked each title to Goodreads so that you can see reviews and click through to your vendor of choice. (Amazon is featured most prominently, of course, but if you click "stores" you'll find other vendors.)

I know I've missed so many titles. If you don't see one of your favorites, please list the title in a comment and I'll happily add. (There must be more MG, YA, and adult fiction involving Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, yes?)


[books alphabetized by title]

For (so-called) adults
Burning Bright: Four Chanukah Love Stories, by Megan Hart et al.
Christmas at Fairacre, by Miss Read
Christmas at Rose Hill Farm: An Amish Love Story, by Suzanne Woods Fisher
A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings, by Charles Dickens
*Christmas in Cornwall, by Marcia Willett
Christmas Journey, by Anne Perry
*A Christmas Party (Envious Casca), by Georgette Heyer
*Christmas Pudding, by Nancy Mitford
The Doctor's Christmas, by Marta Perry
*An English Murder, by Cyril Hare
Festival of Deaths, by Jane Haddam
Hercule Poirot's Christmas, by Agatha Christie
*High Rising, by Angela Thirkell
Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett
Holiday Miracles: A Christmas/Hanukkah Story, by Ellyn Bache
Lighting the Flames, by Sarah Wendell
An Informal Christmas, by Heather Gray
A Merry Little Christmas, by Anita Higman
A Midnight Clear, by William Wharton
Miracle and other Christmas Stories, by Connie Willis
The Mistletoe Promise and *The Mistletoe Inn, by Richard Paul Evans
Old Christmas, by Washington Irving
The Old Peabody Pew, by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Dogs, by Eleanor Hallowell Abbott
A Redbird Christmas, by Fannie Flagg
Shepherds Abiding, a Mitford Christmas Novel, by Jan Karon
*The Sittaford Mystery, by Agatha Christie
*The Sugar Queen, by Sarah Addison Allen
Tied up in Tinsel, by Ngiao Marsh
*Winter Solstice, by Rosamund Pilcher

For teens, kids, and kids-at-heart
*The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson
*The Box of Delights, by John Masefield
*The Children of Green Knowe, by L.M. Boston
*A Child's Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas
Christmas After All: The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1932 (Dear America), by Kathryn Lasky
Christmas Fairy Tales, by Neil Philip
*The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper
Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares and The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily, by David Levithan & Rachel Cohn
The Family Under the Bridge, by Natalie Savage Carlson
Greenglass House, by Kate Milford
Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances, by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle
*Letters from Father Christmas, by J.R.R. Tolkien
*The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
London Snow, by Paul Theroux
*My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories, edited by Stephanie Perkins
Nutcracked, by Susan Adrian (forthcoming in 2017!)
The Nutcracker, by E.T.A. Hoffman
The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanukkah, by Isaac Bashevis Singer,
What Light, by Jay Asher
When Christmas Comes Again: The World War I Diary of Simone Spencer (Dear America),
by Beth Seidel Levine
Winterspell, by Claire Legrand

Picture books
Babar and Father Christmas, by Jean de Brunhoff
Bear Stays Up for Christmas, by Karma Wilson
Chanukah Lights, by Michael J. Rosen
The Christmas Day Kitten, by James Herriot
The Christmas Mouse, by Elisabeth Wenning
Christmas Time, by Sandra Boynton
Eight Winter Nights: A Family Hanukkah Book by Laura Krauss Melmed
The Golem's Latkes, by Eric A. Kimmel
*A Guinea Pig Nativity, by Bloomsbury Publishing
Hanukkah! by Roni Schotter
Hanukkah Bear, by Eric A. Kimmel
Hanukkah Haiku, by Harriet Ziefert
The Hanukkah Mice, by Ronne Randall
Hanukkah Moon by Deborah daCosta
Kevin's Kwanzaa, by Lisa Bullard
The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story, by Lemony Snicket
The Legend of the Poinsettia, by Tomie dePaola
The Lost Gift: A Christmas Story, by Kallie George
Maccabee!: The Story of Hanukkah, by Tilda Balsley
The Miracle Jar: A Hanukkah Story, by Audrey Penn
My First Kwanzaa, by Karen Katz
My First Kwanzaa Book, by Deborah Chocolate
*The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore
*The Polar Express, by Christ Van Allsburg
Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story, by Angela Shelf Medearis
Snowmen at Christmas, by Caralyn Buehner
The Story of Hanukkah, by David A. Adler
*The Story of Holly and Ivy, by Rumer Godden
The Tailor of Gloucester, by Beatrix Potter
Together for Kwanzaa, by Juwanda G. Ford
The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Peek-Through Picture Book, by Britta Teckentrup

Books/series with lovely Christmas chapters
Harry Potter series, by JK Rowling
Little House in the Big Woods (& sequels), by Laura Ingalls Wilder
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame

Next week I'll feature one of the novels listed above for my December "Tea and a Book" post, so stay tuned!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]