Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Beverage news and memories

You may (or may not) recall that last October Ami and John brought over three affordable bottles of wine for us to drink and decide which one they should buy a case of for their bonfire.

I have some excellent news: my favorite of the three they brought
is on sale at a ridiculously cheap price at Arbor Farms. They have it for $4.99 a bottle plus you can get another 10% off if you buy 6 or more bottles which makes it $4.50 a bottle. That's cheaper than some bottled water! So I went and bought a case and now we have a house red that will help us get through the rest of the gloomy months. It's a punchy Syrah, not terribly complex, but able to stand up to common fare like, spaghetti with red sauce or, Mexican chocolate cupcakes...

On another beverage front, Jam Faced's recent post about tea got me thinking of my own addiction. Go look at his post for a beautiful photo of what looks like my ideal cup of tea. It is in a lovely bone china cup, to start with. It also looks strong and milky and has a perfect tea biscuit to nibble on while you sip.

The photo and post hit a raw nerve since for the past two weeks I've been out of my favorite tea and have been trying to find a substitute. Unfortunately I'm addicted to Peet's English Breakfast blend which I can only get via mail order. I order it a pound at a time (and a pound is a LOT of tea) but somehow I thought I was on my second to last tin rather than the last one so I went through a period in limbo land. If I was more organized I would have placed the order right away but in between the chaos and, oh, let's see, the chaos of my life with the two rug rats I would forget daily to order the tea and then remember daily at tea time when I was faced with inadequate substitute brown brews. Finally I propped the empty tin on the keyboard of the computer so I would remember to place the order the next time I got on-line.

Thankfully, this week the tea arrived and this afternoon I sat down to this:
The ingredients for a happy afternoon Kate
In the Peet's-free interval I tried two teas that I don't remember being as bad as they were: Taylors of Harrogate Imperial Tea Room (loose leaf) and Twinings' English Breakfast (in--ugh--tea bags). I was not a girl raised on snooty tea; "tea" when I was growing up was plain old Typhoo tea leaves. We stuffed boxes of the stuff in our suitcases (along with many packets of McVities Plain Chocolate Digestive Biscuits) every time we visited the relatives in England. I thought Typhoo was downright wonderful stuff compared to the Lipton that was served everywhere else.

The Taylors was strong, it had that going for it, but there was no bouquet. And the Twinings tea bags--weak brown water. Yes it had some caffeine, but no taste. I really don't remember becoming such a tea snob, but I think Peet's has ruined me--their tea is whole leaf (not the broken crumbles of Typhoo) and really has a flowery bouquet. It isn't super strong but that can be dealt with by adding an extra spoonful to the pot.

Now that I have the Peet's in hand, I have been attempting to come close to my memory of drinking the ideal cup in front of my Granny's coal fire in her 18th C farm house up on the Yorkshire moors. I know, this is a vain quest since there are so many elements of my daily life that lack the atmosphere of the memory, but a girl has to dream and I dream of tea.

I even bought some Thomas Organic Creamery Creamline Milk the other day (once I got my Peet's supply) which is from local pasture-fed Jersey cows, is non-homogenized and low-temp pasturized--about as close as I am like to get to the milk my Granny had delivered every morning. It helped, but I fear that the ideal cup is beyond me simply due to the vividness of my memory. So I'll keep looking back at Jam Faced's post and keep on dreaming.

I did experience a positive memory moment this week by re-reading Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase; it was a quick and pleasant trip back to the past. After the first few chapters it became abundantly clear why I loved this book as a kid: there is a headstrong heroine who can't keep her temper and there are nice descriptions of food.

By page 17 I was seduced by "a box of chocolates about a foot square by six inches deep, swathed around with violet ribbons" and a little further down the page "a confectioners' paste board carton filled with every imaginable variety of little cakes--there were jam tarts, maids of honor, lemon cheese cakes, Chelsea buns, and numerous little iced confections in brilliant and enticing colors." Mmmmmmm. Must go track down little cakes to go with tea.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


In the past two days, I've read two of Kate DiCamillo's kid books and the one pictured to the left is fabulous.

There are appealing characters who are remarkably complex especially when you take into account the economy of the writing. But the prose isn't simplistic in the least and does not talk down to kids. The author uses words like "perfidy" and tells you if you don't know the word to go look it up. And the plot moves along quickly but also knows when to slow down so that the experience of reading it isn't breathless.

The illustrations, by Timothy Basil Ering, are also beautiful. I can't say I'm the greatest fan of having illustrations in books that aren't strictly "picture books" because often they don't jibe with the prose (I read a horrible edition of some Trollope novels last year which had the most hideous illustrations and completely ruined the spell the prose would cast) . But Ering renders DiCamillo's story perfectly; it is a treat to turn the page and see one of his beautiful, smoky drawings.

I also read DiCamillo's first book, Because of Winn-Dixie. It was ok. The southern voices were done well and again, there was an economy to the story, nothing superfluous or excessive. But I can't say that I found the plot or characters that interesting. I'll definitely be reading The Tale of Despereaux to my kids (I think Ian is almost ready for it) but I doubt I'll read them Winn-Dixie.

DiCamillo's books might be directed at a slightly younger audience than I have been craving so next up I'm going to revisit a favorite children's author: Joan Aiken. I loved her book The Wolves of Willoughby Chase when I was a kid--I must of read it 10 times. It turns out that this book was the first in a series dubbed The Wolves Chronicles so I checked out the next book in the series Black Hearts in Battersea. I am hoping that a re-read of Wolves and this next book turn out to be as good as I remember. I just noticed that Nixie Knox has Wolves on her recommended books side bar and since I like (or, let's be honest here, love with an unreasonable passion) many of the other books on her side bar, maybe my adolescent self had decent taste (in books at least) after all.