03 October 2017


Spongecake Squarecath

Edinburgh is a wonderful city.  I only detected one criticism, and that's the lack of restaurants with kitchens open after 9pm.  I could learn to live with that, though...

My criteria for a lovable city varies, but here's some things: walkability, real park space, people that I love in residence, temperate weather, cozy cafes and/or pubs, history, architecture, and some form of literary community.  Edinburgh has many of these, and today I'm going to focus on a cafe that stole the hearts of both myself and Bathy (especially Bathy.)

Lovecrumbs is kind of hipstery, and if you've had more than one conversation with me, you've heard my not-quite-positive views on the whole hipster thing.  However, as Bathy is quick to remind me, they do coffee right.  They tend to do a good job with tea as well.  So I shall forgive the hipster vibe, and the shop-window seating that Bathy coveted but we couldn't snag, and focus on the best thing.


Lovecrumbs passed the Victoria Sponge test with flying colors.  In fact, on our second visit, I tried an orange variation thereof and was smitten.  In subsequent perusal of reviews (why do I sound like I work at a law firm?), I found others were effusive in their Cake Praise.  On that alone I shall recommend.

Bathy loved the coffee, which I think came from a company called Steampunk, but I won't expand on that as I have limited knowledge (still, try the coffee if you'd like!)  I had the Violet Petal black tea, which was heavenly, if you like violet flavoring, which I do. They give you a thermos of hot water, which may not be as cute as a teapot, but it did what it needed to.  Had a Lemongrass and Marigold tisane the second time, which was nice, but the violet remains my favorite.

What I liked about the cafe itself is that it was large and airy, but had cozy places to sit and people watch, read, etc., while having some CAKE!  And it has WiFi, which never hurts when you're out of town, or anywhere, frankly.

I'll have to do any all-around Edinburgh post, but I thought we'd start with a favorite and work our way in.  For now, I'll say it's a good thing Edinburgh is a walking town, as there is much to walk off!

A nice cuppa, all is well.


14 September 2017

Peggy Porschen Cakes...A Study in Pink (there, I fit that in)

When I return from a trip to my beloved London, I tend to spend the next few weeks in brooding mode.  That is, I brood when I have time to brood, between catching up on work, unpacking, and dealing with some awful jet lag.  To cheer myself up, I try checking off places in my mental checklist - and sometimes a physical checklist, though my bullet journal has been mostly neglected since about June.  So much for time management!

Here's one place I'd meant to visit for years.  I'd passed Peggy Porschen Cakes on the way to Tate Britain once, and then couldn't seem to stop in during subsequent trips, mainly because I couldn't find it.   When I found myself actually staying within blocks of it, I knew my time had come.

If you haven't heard of this place, you probably have not looked at too many London tags on Instagram, because my feed happens to be infested by its pinkitude.  In a way, that puts me off a place, because I don't trust hype, but since I'd intended to go to here for some time, I knew I'd fit it in regardless of the crowds of pink-hued pilgrims hoping for the perfect pic.  Anyway,  who can blame them? It's really,  really cute, and gives instant cheer to passerby, unless said passerby has the darkest,  coldest heart.

Posing Pretty in Pink

Honestly, my pictures don't do justice to its PINKPINKPINK...

The bicycle is pink!

 I waited for a day when it had just opened, and though there were already two girls working on the perfect angle for their cupcakes and cappuccinos, there was no line.

I never quite "matched" the shop*, and I am loathe to pay the extra fee for staying in the establishment, so I picked a day when I could take my cake out to a park for a mini-picnic.  So I won't be able to comment on the quality of beverage.  I've decided to assume their tea is amazing, as most of the tea I've had in London is remarkably good.

*not that anyone needs to match, but you know how I am about a good pairing!

Now, during my entire 11th trip to London (yes), I attempted to base a bakery's quality on their Victoria Sponge Cake, if it was on the menu.  Why?  Well, I love it, for one thing, but also, it's quintessential Brit-Cake.  It's not easy to find in New York, though Tea and Sympathy makes a sublime example.  Well, I chose a beautiful slice for my enjoyment:

Gorgeous!  Look at the presentation! PINKITTY PINK!!!

And it was okay.  I didn't jump for joy, and I ate the whole thing (and got nauseated and had to breathe, and then I was better), but it was just a basically decent piece of cake.  Perhaps if I'd had a nice Earl Grey, I'd have derived more love, because it was a tiny bit dry.  I'm only judgy at all because of the hype, and because it was early, so any bakery item should be at its peak perfection.  Oh well.

Nevertheless, I'm glad I was able to go, if only to satisfy my curiosity.  And I wouldn't say no to trying a cupcake with a cuppa,  given another opportunity.  After all, there are many cupcakes to choose from which might be better than the sponge, so I'd still recommend going if it's on your list - or if you just love sugar and and Instagrammables and PIIIIIIIIIIIINK!!!!!!

Tube: Victoria - look for Ebury Street, and pink.

11 September 2017

Britophiles, Watch This Space!

I've recently returned from a wonderful trip to the UK (mostly London), and have so much to write about!  Only just starting to get over my jet lag, so will post soon!

17 August 2017

Taking Walks with Catherine: Jefferson Market Garden

There are a few subjects that those close to me know will get my hackles up: if said subject is raised, then raiser must brace for a rant.  Two such subjects are the lack of proper garden/park space beyond Central Park (especially in Manhattan and Astoria), and the loss of New York as a personality (aka gentrification/homogenization.)

The first complaint likely stems from where I am located, both residential and in place of employment.  As an Astorian, one might argue Astoria Park is nice, and it is, technically in Astoria.  If, however, you are in walking distance only because you're a crazy long walker, it might be a stretch.  And let's not forget I don't drive.  I work in Midtown, and despite finding out that the area now  known as Rockefeller Center used to be botanical gardens, somehow it's not enough.  Bryant Park is almost close to my office, but not quite.

I'm not a science/medical major, but I'm pretty sure being surrounded by flower, trees, and grass is good for the soul.  Even though I'm not soul-satisfied on a daily basis, I am thrilled to find tiny escapes from the concrete madness that I call home.

One of my favorite walking areas in Manhattan is the West Village.  Though it has lost some of its flavor to the above-mentioned homogenization, a stroll can still uncover charming, slightly old-school areas that are wonderful to visit, even if living there is long past impossible.   Also, it's a good Teaborhood, which is a word I just made up and don't know if I like yet.  But remember: Tea and Sympathy, McNulty's, a branch of Davids Tea, Porto Rico, Bosie Tea Parlor are just the ones that first spring to mind.  I didn't think of it as a green escape though.  Now I have a reason to!

I've passed the gardens of Jefferson Market often enough, but never saw it open to the public.  I suppose the timing was always off,  but on on recent evening, while running some errands, I passed by and it was waiting for me. 

Nearby - getting in the mood

I was more shy than usual about stepping inside, at first, because I could not believe it was open to the public.  It feels like a private community garden, the kind I'm rarely allowed entrance to.  But I shook off my trepidation, and boy am I glad I did!

The pretties at my feet!

Like the botanical gardens, except with fewer signs and next to a gorgeous library!  Oh, and free entrance...

I want to live here

Not pictured: the benches placed out of the way, so that a visitor can relax and take in the beauty in relative peace.  There is always a need for this!  The only downside is that you can't bring outside food/beverage inside, so there's not taking tea in the garden.  I'm fine with this, of course, as it must contribute to an easier upkeep.

The garden is beside Jefferson Market, which has served many functions historically but is now a public library, so we have a pairing right there.  The tripling is tea/books/garden, and I'd add whatever your favorite animal is, but we take what we can get when it comes to real estate in New York.  You could try having your tea at any of the places (see above), then strolling it off in the garden.   

Jefferson Market Garden is open from April - October.  Do visit if you get a chance.  Your blood pressure will thank you.

10 July 2017

Why Wait? A Gentle Rant

I came across a post on Tumblr (which is usually a scary way to open a conversation, but bear with me) about not waiting for Special Occasions to use the nice things, and thought I'd present my own take on this concept.

Now, it's true some things you really might not want to do on a regular basis.  Wearing a cocktail dress that looks amazing on you, but you need to wear torturous slimming paraphernalia and unwalkable shoes to pull it off - yeah, I can see saving that for once a year or so.  But what about the candle that smells amazing?  What's holding you back?

Most homes I visited growing up had china cabinets.  I'm not about to knock them, by the way, because I wouldn't mind having one myself, and I don't see them as often in the homes of people around my age.  However, it occurred to me that many households would save the Good China for once-in-a-blue-moon moments, and then
they'd pass it down to the next generation.  Sadly, the next generation might not even care for the china, and they would either give it away or sell it on ebay.  What was the point of all that care and Don't Touchitude?

Since my late teens I've been collecting teaware.  I've scoured local shops and later online resources for teacups and teapots, and I have always been grateful when relatives passed on treasures to me, especially since they know I Use Them.  I grew up in Queens, New York, and everything was rushed, no time for losers, hurry up and eat, pop something for indigestion, move on.  Discovering the culture of Taking Tea gave me a respite from all that, a chance to stop, savor, hear myself think.  Sure, I can't pull of the entire ceremony at work (usually), but if I can take a morning, or evening, and break out the delicate teacup (not always delicate; I dropped one recently and it remained intact), and relax.

And have that nice blend before it goes stale!
I do travel, though not nearly as much as many of my friends, but there were years here and there when I hardly left the city, much less the state, because my finances weren't having it.  It can be awfully depressing when I based my happiness on looking forward to the next journey, and had instead a gaping hole in my calendar.  How much of a relief it was to design my own mini-trip, with some cake and the best Darjeeling I could afford, and of course a good book!  Even better, when my sisters or friends could come over and be my travel companions!  The Special Occasion stuff does that.  If I'd stashed everything away, to use maybe once a year, for an illustrious gathering, what would be the point?

A few years ago, an apartment on the top floor of my building had a fire.  It was quickly put out, but there was water damage in most of the apartments.  Mine was the one one that had absolutely no damage (from that day, at least).  It made me think: what if I'd lost everything - would I have been glad that I'd not used the Sherlock Holmes teapot because it was Too Nice?

I have to remind myself to do this for other things, too, like makeup and jewelry, clothes I particularly like.  Makeup is a big problem for me.  I wear it every day, but usually stick to the same palette and brushes and concealer, etc.  This is fine, but I have too many other lovely cosmetics from years of ipsy subscriptions, and even though they don't go bad as quickly as food, there has to be a point where it's gone off a bit.  

Finally, journals and blank books.  It's so scary to put pen to fresh page, so I have some gorgeous books that have sat around, untouched, waiting for years to be used.   Shame!

Let's sum it up by saying I love to visit museums, but perhaps it's not the best practice to behave as if I live in one.

09 June 2017

Beach Reading!

When June rolls around, my first thought is to budget for air conditioning.  My second thought is to figure out my summer/sweaty-ready wardrobe.  

Then I start to think about the beach.

I don't think I strike anyone as a Beachgoer.  I've posted here and there about my beach days, but I've rarely if ever planned an entire vacation around that particular purpose.  I could probably live in a place that isn't near the ocean.  Still, I have a nagging voice in my head that tells me I must get in a beach day or two every summer.

As a kid, this meant playing in the waves, getting sand everywhere, and then going home.  As an early adult it meant a little wave frolicking and then getting something to eat with my friends on the way home (or going to a concert at Jones Beach.  That was fun.  It still exists, but it's been ages for me!)  At no time did it mean sunbathing.  I'm fair, to say the least.  I still have youthful skin for the most part, and I'd like to keep it that way.  I don't even wear bathing suits most of the time, because I don't really need to for what I do these days.  Now when I go the beach, an ideal visit means walking briskly along the shoreline (not romantically, but I'm open to that someday), and then sitting in the shade, watching the swimmers, and settling down with good book.  

I heard someone on the news this week describe Beach Reads as something salacious, or steamy, or any s-words one could dream up.  And I get it: the beach is a great place to laze out, not think so much...and that's their choice. I do not criticize.  However, like sunbathing, it's not my thing.  

So what is a Catherine Beach Read (CBR)?  Well, on a practical side, it won't be a heavy book.  There's enough to carry out to the sand without getting a hernia.  And don't get me started on e-readers.  I don't care for them as it is, and I'm nervous already about getting sand in my phone.  In a nutshell (or seashell?  No?), I'm most likely going to bring something akin to what I'd bring on  any holiday: something not so deep it would take intense, scrutinous concentration, but not necessarily floofy either.  I'm still reading the Hamilton biography.  I bring this up because it was a beach read for someone, and would be for me if it weren't approximately the weight of Zenobia.  History is welcome, though, and historical novels even more so.  Mysteries?  It depends - nothing too dark.  Poetry is usually something I read aloud, and that might creep people out.  At least that would give me space!  Speaking of space, sci-fi is all right, but I'd prefer if it's the humorous, Douglas Adams type.  

I supposed there's no one type of CBR.  If I were going today, and it wasn't going to be a group beach day, but the kind where I take the LIRR out and would need something to last me on my train ride back to Queens, I'd bring one of these bad boys, otherwise currently waiting on my bookshelves with hopeful glances:

It's part of a series that I like, which raises it to the top!

I like a good memoir, it's been recommended to me more than one, and it's described as a "quick read" and "actually funny".  Ticks a lot of tickables.

It's history and paperback.  Bingo!  Also, spoiler alert, I plan to return to Scotland soon...

A travel memoir that looks like a laugh.  Generally, it's easier for me to read travel books when I'm in a pretty place, as I won't get too wistful.

Please comment your beach reads: past, present, or future!

30 May 2017

Pairing Hygge with The Tea Life

My blog likes to focus on "The Tea Life", which can take on as many definitions as there are tea drinkers.  I may eventually call it "My Tea Life".  Anyway, I've used this forum to explain things that are very Taking Tea with Catherine-friendly, and for the most part this has centered on tea rooms, cafes, and books that pair well with tea.  But there's quite a few other bits of life that complement The Tea Life, and here is the first, and probably the most, in my opinion.

I've never been to Scandinavia, and I hope one day to remedy this.  I'm mildly perturbed by the long winters, and hence the glut of short days, that come with being so far north.  However, statistically it is said that people in Denmark and Norway especially have a higher quality of life compared with other lands, so they must be doing something right!  And this seems to be related to the concept of Hygge (pronounced Hoo-ga, but probably still sounding wrong coming from my mouth).

Before writing this post, I read a few books on the subject of Hygge, and found that perspectives vary on what exactly is Hygge.  As a label, or a trend*, it points to cozy living with candles and friends gathering together around fires with sweaters and nature.  Already this appeals to my love of "finding the cozy".  But essentially the word means "well-being".  I'm not going to expand further on language, because my mind is addled with Arabic right now, and I don't want to blow it up.  That would not be Hygge.  So I'll use the one word and intersperse it with English.

*I don't care for the fact that Hygge has become trendy, and I almost hesitated going on with a post about it.  I get a little motion sickness riding the bandwagon.  But principles are useful to glean.  Besides, how would I know about Hygge if it hadn't breached its insularity?

There's much talk about long walks in nature, which I love, but don't have tremendous access to, so I shall translate this to hitting The Ramble in Central Park more often or Prospect Park for a change?

A snow day's attempt at Hygge, reading about Hygge.  Like eating a pig-in-a-blanket in a blanket

The concept of togetherness, especially around a communal meal, is encouraged.  Yes, I need to be more proactive in having people over - I rarely have my nearby relatives over for a meal, and that's sad.  Or - hello! - for tea?  I already have more plants than I should in my apartment, which is quite a feat considering the lack of natural light and surface space (and the risk of getting a bit of flora that doesn't agree with Zenobia's biology).   I finally got an umbrella tree plant for my desk at work, and it's flourishing much more than the sad excuse in my living room.

One thing I've nearly perfected is Hygge + Tea.  I know the books talk about coffee and Fika more than tea, but it's nearly the same idea.  I've rounded out all I've learned and decided that what works best for me is taking a little time for a cup of tea, a pastry, a book, and much less technological interference.  That last part is the biggest challenge.  My phone and I have a somewhat unhealthy relationship, and it would be a wonderful thing if I could keep my eyes and hands away from it even for an hour of my waking day.  It's more than just Hygge, it's a mini-vacation!  

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you incorporate Hygge into your life (even if you've never used the term.)  Soon I hope to write about other stuff I enjoy working into The Tea Life.

19 April 2017

At Twelve

The blog turned 12 today.  Let's hope it's not as awkward as I was at that age.  Zenobia is twelve, and she acts like she's maybe 4.  We'll take a page from her book.

I've been working on a few posts, but only ended up with piles of drafts.  I hope to rectify that soon.  Watch this space, and thanks for reading!

14 February 2017

Taking Tea (and Coffee) in Texas

Just when I think we've been to all the tea/coffee spots in San Antonio, more spring up like dandelions!

Also, did I mention breakfast tacos?  Though many places only offer them in the morning, and for once I'm going to say please take a page out of McDonald's playbook, it's still a wonderful thing to look forward to.

If I'm going to pick the place I'd like to return to the most, it would be Commonwealth Coffee.  I only had the tea and a pastry, and these were just okay, but I hear their coffee is good.  The vibe, though.  It's something I look for in any coffee/tea place outside of the major metropolitan cities.

What?  Isn't San Antonio major enough for you?  Well, yes, it's big like all of Texas, but it's set up, in my opinion, more like the suburbs and less like a metropolis.  My criteria, of course, is walkability.  I'm not amazingly well-traveled, but the walkable cities, like London, Paris, Boston, Montreal, Philadelphia, Washington, almost Austin but not quite, have a certain kind of shop front, and the driving cities like San Antonio (and West Palm Beach, and I'm probably forgetting places but you get the idea), have another.  They have much better parking, which is a plus, and their cafes/coffee shops that are not located in a shopping center or downtown area tend to give off the feeling that you're entering a residence.  What gives it the good vibe is if it's airy and not creepy-musty.

(This is all opinion-based, by the way.  There are exceptions even in San Antonio.)

Commonwealth was cozy but cool, and a seemingly welcome spot for all.  I say that because another spot, Rosella Coffee, doesn't feel quite the same.  It's off the Riverwalk and near a museum, so it should attract gobs of different people, but it feels campusy, dark and industrial.  Ohh, I know some people love that atmosphere, and I'll be quick to praise their London Fog tea, but all in all I preferred Commonwealth, and their nice variety of pastries and light fare.  Yep.

Hiney Gourmet Coffee was worth a visit just for the name, so we chose this as my Cheat Coffee spot.  I'm of extremely two minds about this place - the coffee was okay and all, the proprietors were very friendly and we had a good chat with them, and their friends.  The kid behind the counter was an incompetent so and so, though.  We cannot be the first patrons he grossly overcharged.  So maybe I'd go back, if he's not there.  I don't want to be too negative about it, so I'll stop here.

I'm sure you all (or y'all?) know I love my cuppa with a view.  In this, I'm not alone.  But, well, how often do I actually have this privilege?  Usually my first tea is sipped in front of my office computer screen, and so is my second one.  On the weekends it could vary, but it's likely on my couch with Zenobia, which is no problem, and in a cute cafe anywhere a people-watching session is always welcome, but scenery is sublime.  That time I had my coffee from an outdoors Paul, where I could face the Thames or the Tower of London?  Six years past, and it's fresh in my memory.  I've schlepped tea into Central Park at times.  A water view is tops, though, and Mozart's Coffee Roasters in Austin provided this.

It had been rough, despite a happy morning at Book People and Voodoo Donuts, because my phone's battery died.  Bonnie was kind enough to let me use her phone to take pictures, but I'll admit I was antsy.  Somehow, though, sitting out on a deck overlooking Lake Austin and watching happy little boats go by with my Earl Grey and an empanada (odd pairing but not bad), life reset itself.  It felt like a little piece of New England in the capital of Texas.  I was happily confused.

A weird moment, and Austin is a weird city, was finding Toms Coffee Roasters.  Toms as in those canvas shoes that woke people own.  All the products were there, but so was a coffee spot, and a cute seating area out in the back.  We were caffeined up, but I wouldn't mind trying this place on another visit.
Voodoo Donuts
Since my visit, Bonnie alerted me to places she's discovered 'for my next Cheat Coffee'. I guess I'll be back!

22 December 2016

Recent Linkage

Some new stuff on the other blogs:

http://dadecdotes.blogspot.com/2016/12/taking-coffee-with-dad.html - In which my nose is nostalgic again...

http://cataria.blogspot.com/ - In which I'll use any excuse to share duck pictures!


20 December 2016

A Muse for My Middle Age, or Mile High Epiphanies

I've been meaning to get going on covering my most recent visit to Bon in Texas, but got sidetracked by Too Many Projects and other busy time-stealing life necessities.  Excuses out of the way, I will now address one thing that happened when I was away.

I turned 40.

No, not putting it in caps.  I tried not to make a big deal of it, as I don't actually celebrate birthdays, and people are fond of telling me I don't look 40 (keep that coming, I love you), but internally I was screaming in anticipation of what I've always viewed as Official Middle Age-dom.  

For a good portion of my life, I've juxtaposed between feeling old and young, and feeling frankly confused.  Many of my close friends have been younger than me, and though I never put myself in the position of being the Mother of any group, I find that I'm usually the one who feels achy first, who runs out of steam first, and that made me feel old, even in my mid-twenties.  The Tea Queen persona could have aged me, but tea culture has gained a younger following in recent decades, so I'm not bothered there.

Also, in my 30s I started to read up on Introversion vs. Extroversion, and realized that being worn out from hanging out in big groups had little to do with age, and I was not alone in needing to be alone more.  The physical aches, well, I don't know.  This year the back issues and problematic knee didn't help me feel like a spring chicken, but there's a part of me, mentally, that feels entirely youthful.  I still have the "when I grow up" thoughts, and I never grew out of wearing silly hair clips, and other items that I was supposed to move past long ago.  I want to be respected for how far I've come, but I don't want to be "past it", either.  These concerns asserted themselves into my waking and sleeping thoughts, and I was only too happy to be going out of town, away from reality, when I left my 30s behind.

On a full but comfortable Delta flight, I was pleased to find my route finally had in-flight entertainment.  Though I welcome any excuse to catch up on reading, I will always prefer passing the hours on a plane with a movie or two.  I found a documentary that proved to be perfect timing for my pre-mid-life crisis.

The image of Iris Apfel lingered in my sub-conscious, but I'd never paused to consider her, or who she was, until Albert Maysles brought her to life in such a vivid and loving way.  She's her own woman, without steeping on others' toes or being obnoxious about it.  Not that she won't express an opinion, but she won't jam it down your throat.  She has the most unique but enjoyable to see style I've ever seen, she's a refreshing kind of New Yorker, she's developed a massive adoration in recent years through museum exhibitions and media coverage, she's nonstop, and at the time of writing, is   95 years old.  

I'm not saying Iris will be running marathons or climbing Mount Everest any time soon, but she is living life, using whatever time is given to her, and she's a pleasure to watch.  Bonus:  she grew up in Astoria,  Queens.  For this alone I'd like to meet her,  to ask what it was like in the 30s?   

Does this mean I want to be exactly like Iris?  No, though I'd love to possess her haggling skills.  I simply like her approach - remembering where she came from, always moving forward, taking delight in childish things - basically spending her later years playing dress-up, and having worked hard her entire life, earning the right to play.

Though I'm still not looking forward to aging, and I don't know anyone who does, watching someone who hasn't given up makes it a little easier to cope with a new mature-sounding decade.  And I know some occasions cause for toning down in the realm of apparel, but I love the idea that one never has to truly grow out of who they are.  I'm not taking off my silly hair bow!

Also, I agree with Iris Apfel about being pretty.  While I appreciate someone telling me I'm pretty (yes, it happens on occasion), I too have understood that getting by looks alone is not wise. I like being reminded that a woman should also be intelligent and creative, and at the same time devoted to the ones they love.  Her relationship with her husband, Carl, was truly beautiful.  It is sad that he died around the time this documentary came out (so did Albert Maysles, actually.  I guess 2016 doesn't have the monopoly.)

So, though I still occasionally say to myself: "What?! Forty?!", my anticipatory gloom faded somewhat during that 4 hour flight, and I had a wonderful time.  More on that following.

Finally, I recognize that I hardly covered what was in the documentary, but that's because you should see it for yourself!  Only spoiler is that at the very end, there mention of making tea.  Full circle, my friends.

Pair with a colorful fruity blend.

06 December 2016

The 2016 Books/Pairings Post

Oh, I fully intended to make my book/tea pairing posts at least quarterly, but at least we'll squeeze one in for the year!

I will not hit the 75 mark this year - I'll be happy to hit 50 and probably won't.  This is still not terrible, and I've put at least some of my non-reading time to good use:  I wrote more, and am still learning Arabic, which is time-consuming, but I'm seeing some  progress, so it's worth it!  My health was questionable at times, especially in the spring.  You'd think I'd get more reading time done when I'm home in convalescent mode, but sleeping seemed to be the thing instead.  But no more whining; here's just a few of my reads this year:

St. Marks is Dead: The Many Lives of America's Hippest Street, by Ada Calhoun
The title drew me in, because how many native New Yorkers must have said the same thing?  I know I have - and I happened to visit that street in the course of my reading this book, because I wanted to say goodbye to The Sock Man before it shut down.  Plus, death was very much on my mind in January - well, all year, but David Bowie...still not over it.  Stupid 2016.

Anyway, the street has been through many changes over the centuries, and I'm always eager for New York history.  If you are too, and if you're frustrated by your neighborhood's changes, this could be a book for you.  Pair a nice Moroccan Mint Tea from Porto Rico Importing Co., or any tea from their St. Marks location - I picked the Moroccan Mint because it's the first thing I bought there in the 90s, before I thought the street was 'dead'.

The Fifth Heart - by Dan Simmons
This was also a tough year for my British fandoms: we were allotted maybe one episode of Doctor Who and Sherlock, and Downton Abbey came to an end.  Bonnie is trying to get me into Poldark, and she will probably succeed.  The Crown was pretty good, but it took til the autumn to get that, and man did I breeze through it!  Thankfully I'm never done with books.  

I already like Dan Simmons as a writer, and I get a kick out of writers I follow penning their own Sherlock Holmes stories.  I'm not as big on Jane Austen pastiches, which I suppose is because Austen, I feel, is a tidy writer.  The story ends when the protagonists marry.  Rarely do you need to go further than that - though Death Comes to Pemberley was okay.  The Fifth Heart wasn't a perfect story, but it's set during Holmes' 'dead' period, so it's workable.  He teams up with the hapless Henry James to investigate a suicide that might not have been a suicide, and we journey with them to America in the 1890s, where we meet other notables (not spoiling this)! and deal with an almost existential Sherlock Holmes.  Yes, he believes he might be fictional.  

It's not my favorite Sherlock Holmes story ever, but I certainly appreciated it.  I'm going to be predictable and pair this with Baker Street Afternoon Blend by Upton Tea Imports.  It's perfect for any Sherlock Holmes story, even if it's thousands of miles from Baker Street.

Close Encounters of the Furred Kind by Tom Cox
I can't get enough of Tom Cox's cat memoirs.  When my family first adopted Cinnamon, and I was developing into a fully fledged Cat Person, I did what I do whenever I get into something - I read everything I can about it!  My late teens are full of Beatles biographies, tea histories, and Cat Books.  So many cat mysteries, and travels-with-my-cat stories.  Most of these I remember fondly, but some were overly saccharine or corny, and I tend to approach cat books with caution now as a result.  Thankfully Close Encounters is neither.  The star of the show is The Bear, who I hear is semi-retired at 21, but whose sad, soul-piercing eyes draw you in from the cover onward.  Mainly, though, I love a good laugh, and Cox manages to inject humour into every facet of his multiple cats' personalities.  I'm going to recommend any herbal, woodsy blend, because read it and you'll understand.

...and I'm still reading Chernow's Hamilton.

20 October 2016

Tea Gallery: Anne Redpath, 1895–1965

I came across this picture on Tumblr, and had to include this in my Tea Gallery.  The chair reminds me of the one I had in my library, which was so perfectly comfy for a reading tea break, but was also ripped to shreds by Zenobia.  Now I have a chaise lounge that gives a different feeling to the room.  I like it, but at times I miss the cozy chair.  At least Zenobia hasn't destroyed it.  Yet.

22 September 2016

Communitea: The Long-Awaited Sequel

Autumn is here!

It doesn't quite feel like it yet, but we are promised a dip in temperatures this weekend.  I look forward to many strolls, and maybe finding a new tea/book destination or two?  It's fun to discover, but it's also good to revisit, especially when it's been a long time.  And it's been too long for Communitea.  With good reason: it was closed for a while.

I heard it had reopened in another spot.  It's still in LIC, but now it is on a side street, and you can almost miss it.  On a crazy long walk weeks ago I spotted it, and it was like seeing an old friend who's changed a bit in a decade but is essentially the same.  So I knew I'd have to go back, and when Pam suggested going there on a beautiful (though not autumnal) day, I was game.

There was a slight Catherine-esque reservations about going back.  Reading my previous blog entry, I felt weird. It had the attitudes of a decade-younger me, who didn't have many cares and didn't know she was about to.  But I can't fault a tea business for giving me melancholy.  

I'm glad we went.  I find it similar in setup to its first incarnation, down to the chalkboard walls, but improved as well.  Loved the blue walls further in.  It's bright, but not overpowering.  It was still the comfortable but not plush, bring your laptop, kind of place, and that's exactly what they do right.  

Pam and I both had curry chicken sandwiches - my sisters and I have a special love for this - sometimes called Coronation Chicken - it's a tasty combination of flavors, and Communitea didn't disappoint here.  Also, we split a gluten free pumpkin cookie (autumnautumnautumn), and an almond croissant.  Since it was a warm day after all, I had an iced green tea.  All was good.  I mean, I didn't fall out of my seat with culinary delight, but that's hardly the point to this kind of tea shop.

There are many varieties of tea to buy retail, but I didn't look into it that deeply because I have enough at home (and at work, let's face it.)  However, I doubt I'd feel as strongly about the high prices, as I've grown used to it by now.  

Afterwards we further relaxed by the skyline - it was a good day for it, and even though I lament the incredibly jacked up rents thanks to LIC's gentrification, I have to say the waterfront park space is attractive and welcoming.  What can I say?

Am I going to take forever to return, once again?  That I cannot know.  Last time I was grumbly about the lack of tea spots in Astoria.  This is beginning to change, which I mean to report on soon. Either way, if you're in the area, give it a shot!  I hear rumors of good coffee too.

24 August 2016

It's That Time Again...Any Day Now

It has been a while, years actually, since I've done a "LOVE AUTUMN!" post.  Has my love cooled off? (I see what I did there...)  No, in fact it's only grown stronger.

The thing is, and this is not a complaint, but the past couple of summers have not been crazy hot or humid.  There have been bad days, but for the most part, I've been able to settle comfortably into July and August, and did not feel a need to bring on September.  I finally began to rethink my summer hate.  Maybe it was all in my head, wrapped up with my history of loss in the season.  Perhaps I could welcome summer from now on, with open (sometimes bared) arms.

Then this summer happened, and is still happening.  I've been reset to my factory setting, and I am thoroughly finished, and long for autumn.  How do I know the longing is real? Well, you'd think I would want to put off the season which brings my fortieth birthday, but I'm starting to shrug that off.  I'll take anything to be away from being held prisoner to air conditioning, and the severe curtailment of my walks.  I've hardly been to feed the ducks this summer, it's just too unpleasant out.  How many 90+ degree days have we had?  I've lost count!

Yes, we have had a break this week (couldn't have happened on the weekend?), but I hear the humidity is going to hit again real soon.  This only reinforces my craving for the more reasonable autumn temps (assuming we get a decent autumn this year.)

Whether you love or hate autumn, it will be arriving shortly, and I for one look forward to it.  It's a hard thing to admit to, though, because in recent years I've noticed a sort of disdain for Autumn Folk.  Those labeled the now-tired term 'basic' are mocked for their fall Tumblrs and Pinterest pages, and the mockery is especially leveled at white girls, which, okay, I am.  But basic?  This denotes some Borg-like knee-jerk reaction; millions of pasty ladies crunching leaves underfoot in one line, droning 'Pumpkin Spice Lattes...Pumpkin Spice Lattes..'  This grates at my sensibilities.  I've come a long way from tossing a favorite skirt because I saw someone else wearing it - it helped when I worked in the Garment District and realized just how many thousands would be made of an item.  I used to be freaked that I could be lumped into a grouping or...shudder...labeled.  But I'm older now, and can shrug off more than I used to.  Even so, it's a bit sad to feel apologetic just because I'm enthusiastic.  That being said, here's what I love and am looking forward to about Season Next.

Goodbye Salvation
I need that a/c during the summer if I want to sleep more than an hour each night.  This means my electric bill is atrocious.  Like the song You Really Got a Hold On Me says: "I don't want you, but I need you." We have a terrible love/hate relationship that almost borders on co-dependancy.  It's a relief to be able to crack a window for some air.

Subway, Slightly Fresh
Have you ever been punched by hot air?  You have if you ride the subway during the summer.  If you have to wait any more than a minute, the sweating begins, and by the time you get on a usually freezing train, your body doesn't know what's up or down.  Perfect recipe for a nasty summer cold, or in my case, a panic attack.  Gorgeous.

A Happy Medium
A good autumn, and a good spring for that matter, is a joy because it is refreshing to be outdoors.  One shouldn't have to brace oneself to step out. And though I'm not known to be outdoorsy, I do love my Crazy Long Walks.  In mild temps, I can go far without wearing myself out, and I don't have to see the inside of a gym for that (though I still have a gym membership.  I try.)

Fall Fashion
Miles past trying to be a fashionista, but in my younger days, when I cared about trendiness somewhat, one of the happiest moments of the year was around this time in August, when the big issues of the fashion magazines would come out.  Massive door-stoppers.  I usually bought one or two of them, usually InStyle or Vogue or Harper's Bazaar.  I knew I could never afford the couture featured in there, but the styles themselves were inspiring enough to work on.  To this day, I love dressing for autumn more than any other season.  The colors are kind to me, and so are the layers.  The light layers - none of these bulky winter numbers, but none of the arm-baring nonsense that I drape myself in in July.  Speaking of draping myself, I spent many happy autumns in velvet.  I don't like turtlenecks, but have many light scarves, and enough cardigans to make Mr. Rogers jealous.  Let's not forget boots.  I hate having to put on snow boots, but a comfortable lace-up, with the weather still allowing for the option of sneakers or lighter shoes, now that I love.  Also, if I haven't pedicured in a while, it's okay.  We won't get into shaving.

It Tastes Good
I can't drink Pumpkin Spice Lattes - woe is me! - but I can drink all the teas, and yes, the pumpkin spice features here.  Suddenly cinnamon, nutmeg, apples...the air smells wonderful when these are around.  I know they drink chai in the hottest times in India, but I associate it more readily with autumn.
In the summer, I just don't want to cook for a long time, and that goes double for baking.  It doesn't help that the a/c in my kitchen blows directly onto the stove, so it's awkward going.  When that mess is over, I can finally put some love into baking scones and cakes, and I will be making Sunday Roast this year, come what may.  Parsnips!  I'm looking forward to making stews, but not so much soup, because that sounds like pathetic snow weather fare.  


I need no excuse to read any time of year.  However, I do love a good pairing, and I love anticipating which of my not-in-this-lifetime collection of TBRs I will read in each season.  For example, with the exception of the summer I read Bleak House, I find Charles Dickens should be a winter read.  We all know about beach reading, though personally I like to bring obnoxiously ponderous tomes to the beach, because everything around me is light and I get bored.  Here's some books I'd like to dive into, as some would a pile of leaves:

Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow - I've been reading this little by little for months, but I'd like to finish it well before the year ends. He was kind of an Anglophile, so I could pair a nice English Breakfast.  I'd say Earl Grey, but I think he died shortly before its invention.  Shame.

British Mystery Novels - because I equate autumn weather with London (another reason right there), and most of my favorite mysteries take place there. I could even re-read Sherlock Holmes, in anticipation of a certain show returning in the winter.  I have a Baker Street blend with just enough Lapsang Souchong.

A Tea Book - I have a clump of tea books in my library that I still haven't read through, and some of them have recipes, so kill two birds there (sorry birds.)  Pair with tea.  Duh.

So, not incredibly specific, but I find the books have a mind of their own and will only be available to me when they want to be.  I know that makes no sense, and that's the point.

Now I would love to hear your suggestions for reading, pairing, or what you look forward to come autumn.

11 August 2016

There's just no pleasing me...

I can read on the subway, on the bus, on the plane, in some cars, at lunch, at tea, at home...almost everywhere.  I avoid walking and reading, usually: a couple of times I've gotten off my train in the middle of a crucial point in my book, and I can't wait to see what happens next.  Even then, I'll try the quieter streets.  Just like I don't like people texting on their phones bumping into me, I prefer not to be a nuisance.

One reading spot, which is beloved by many, I just can't get into, and that's in the bath. It is an awkward experience. I've tried to make it work - you know those bathtub caddies?  It holds everything you need to have a soak with the most. I've had them before, but here's the thing: the book stays dry, but what about when you need to turn the page?  What about an e-reader?  Well, all I need is for a knee to go rogue and knock the whole thing into the drink. Too risky.  

A magazine is an occasional exception.  For instance, on my last visit to London, my friend and I stayed three nights in a hotel that was kind of posh for someone like me.  The bathtub was massive, especially compared to the one at home, and had a window overlooking the West End (well, mostly the theater housing The Lion King, but still pretty amazing.)  At this point, I thought I'd be cheating myself if I didn't at least try a luxurious soak, and so I grabbed a complimentary decorating mag and indulged.  Even then, it wasn't the delight I'd hoped it would be.  Why?  Well, maybe it's the bath taking itself.  I like it for a short time, and then I'm done.  I stopped buying Lush bath bombs because it didn't make sense to waste five bucks on something that I'd be bored of within minutes.  I've tried bringing a glass of wine, and that's almost worth it, and then I'm bored again.  Tea doesn't work, either, unless it's iced, and then I want a porch, not a tub.

Is this a failing of mine?  I suppose I can watch Netflix on my tablet, or listen to audio books to pass the time.  Or maybe I should stick to singing in the shower (sorry neighbors)...

10 July 2016

Barge In

In which my soul wages war between being a Victorian invalid and Wanderlust

I do love books.  I do like to be beside the seaside - or any body of water, for that matter.  I can't think of a better day than one spent with a good book, spread out on the beach, or a duck pond, on a lovely warm day.  Add a cup of tea and we're golden!

I also like boats and seafaring.  There's a problem - just like I'm a Cat Lady who's allergic, I tend to get egregiously seasick.  What a cruel fate!  When I find a boat I can spend more than five minutes on, it's a delight!  In New York, I love the Staten Island Ferry for its excellent and totally free views of downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Statue of Liberty (and, I guess, Staten Island).  Last year I finally visited Governors Island, and I can't wait to return.  I can take a ride down the Thames to Greenwich without consequences so far.  However, I'm wary of booking cruises because I've heard stories from people with better stomachs than mine.  It's a shame.  

We're getting to my point pretty soon.  

I've also had a fascination with houseboats for quite some time.  Not yachts - the word 'yacht' brings on the cringe, bringing me visions of Wall Street and the 80s, and the arms of sweaters tied around one's neck, and Kennedys bobbing about my head. I might need some Dramamine.  Houseboats are cozier, presumably less ostentatious, and give off the vibe of a simpler life.

Is it a simpler life?  Every choice has its complications.  There's always some fee to pay, neighbors to put up with, weather issues, and my favorite worry - plumbing.  If you've got it all figured out though, it could be a nice existence - and it's a portable home, if you're prepared to raise anchor and avast (I'm not the best person to consult for nautical terms).  I personally could not see myself living permanently on a houseboat, but I wouldn't talk someone else out of it.

If I were in the money, I might want to own a houseboat - you get the best of both worlds here!  I'd love to stay in one for a few nights, or even travel on one through canals, inner ear permitting. The most appealing adventure to me is the idea of running a bookshop on said vessel.  That's food for many daydreams right there.

These options aren't happening anytime soon, so I comfort myself by living vicariously through novels and memoirs having to do with floating bookshops - and finally visiting one myself.

A couple of years back, I'd read about Word on the Water, and fully intended to go there during my November 2014 visit.  Maybe it rained too much, or the directions were daunting, but I never made it. Well, everyone knows I love to leave London wanting more, so that's what I did.

Shortly after this, I heard from a friend in London about a The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George, and what do you know? It was about a man named Perdu who owned a floating bookshop, complete with cats (squeal!)  He operated as a literary apothecary, prescribing books for all sorts of ailments.  That's kind of my dream job, by the way.  Eventually, he and some stragglers take a journey around France with the bookshop, and, well, that's where it started to fall apart for me.  It was too fanciful, and that's saying a lot for me.  I retained my appetite for book barges, though.

Back to this year.  I follow Word on the Water on Facebook, and found out they were now in residence at the Regents Canal, near Kings Cross. The weather was glorious for the first leg of the trip, so I was not going to miss this opportunity.

Found you!

When we found it, I heaved a sigh of relief and joy.  How did I get through half of a lifetime without being on a book barge?  I mean, look at it!

Barely Containing Excitement

I spent some time browsing, bought one book (a Doctor Who book, which kind of worked because it felt bigger on the inside), and dreamed of staying on such a vessel for an extended period of time.  My only regret was not finding out if there was a bathroom on board.  That's usually the kind of thing I have an aptitude for, sadly.  I did find the cozy!

The greatest triumph laid in the fact that I didn't feel seasick at all.  In fact, I didn't even feel the gentle swaying on the water; I didn't even realize it was swaying a little until I was looking at it from the outside.

There were musicians on top of the boat between sets, and I had the predictably cheesy idea to do karaoke there.  Thankfully I didn't voice it at the time.  It's a good venue for a show, I think, because it attracts passerby who would have to be in a receptive mood, for the most part.  

I briefly talked to the proprietor there at the time, whose name escapes me because I was distracted by books.   I liked him; he took his time, but in a good way.  He was so laid back.  I'd say you'd have to be, but stress could happen anywhere.

This brings me to a book I read upon my return to New York: The Bookshop that Floated Away, by Sarah Henshaw.  Although it was the last step in my floating bookshop adventures, it might be the first one - Ms. Henshaw submitted her business idea to the banks in the form of a book back in 2009.  Though I love the idea, it was not necessarily financially viable at the time.  The book covers her adventures taking the barge for spin through England, and I loved her prose.  She's a dreamer like me,  but also a doer - I doubt I'd take on this particular type of solitary voyage.  There's talk of tea and Victoria Sponge Cake.  Find this book and read it (or, if you know me, borrow it and then give it back!)

I'll leave you with a shot from Oxford: the houseboat cat that was not as excited as I was.

Happy sails to you!

17 June 2016

An Undying Love, Part Two

I came home from London with a suitcase full of books.

Well, not really. My carry-on backpack held my purchases; my suitcase was huge in the first place, and only held one new book.

Even so, although those who know me would not be surprised at either statement, the thought of buying books in plural on a trip AT ALL renders many perplexed.  Also, when I share this happy experience, many feel obliged to share their opinions - here are some I've heard:

"Why?"  Because I'm Batman.

"Don't you have enough books?" Yes, and no.

"Where do you find time to read?" Where do you find time to watch TV?

"Have you read all your books at home?" Have you?

"How do you fit all your books into your apartment?" It's bigger on the inside...

"Doesn't your back hurt?"  No, but my head is starting to!

"Additional questions that aren't really questions but criticisms and general judginess" Silent expletives and return judginess..

And I get it, sort of.   Besides the obvious question of time - I'm actually not the quickest reader I know, and sadly I can't spend most of my life reading - some are baffled as to why I am that into buying books in the first place, never mind in other countries.  I don't have an answer, because I believe you have to be A Book Person to understand.  I don't say this to sound lofty, or even to set myself apart from others.

I will offer this imperfect comparison: I like wine.  I appreciate the fact that there's some amazing wine out there, but my palate isn't refined enough to spend a pretty penny of fine wine from vineyards blessed by angels and pressed by the feet of vegan virgins.  When I'm at a liquor store (where we New Yorkers buy wine for the most part), I head for the $10 bottles, read the label for indications of flavors and pairings, and frankly pick a bottle half the time because I like the picture on the label (trees and ducks tend to win out.)  Even so, I do not ask those who invest in the pricey, amazing stuff why they bother, because if you're a wine lover, you just get it: it's a pleasure.  Therefore, I hope that anyone curious as to my reading/book buying habits can offer me the same courtesy.  Sometimes we like/love something because we just do.  The heart wants what the heart wants.

Now that that's off my chest (and I'm craving an evening curled up with a good book and a glass of wine), let's talk about my bookshop adventures in London and Oxford!

Blackwell's, Oxford
There are branches of Blackwell's around the UK nowadays, but this is the original.  At a time when so many chains are threatened by online sales and rent hikes (yes New York, you have a lot to answer for), it's a pleasure to see some mainstays.  Also, although I'd return to Oxford in a heartbeat, my feet were wrecked by day-trip's end, and a leisurely saunter around floors of gorgeous books (and an abundance of Inspector Morse paperbacks) was just what I needed.

Weary but Happy!

Word on the Water, Regent's Canal
The one that got away in 2014.  There's a part of me that rejoices in my never finishing my to-do list in London, but I certainly regretted not going here in the first place.  Still, it may have been a good thing, because I got to see a book barge in all its glory during a warm, carefree day.  That has to be preferable.

That's all I'll say for now, as I plan to write more about this entire concept in a future post.  Stay tuned...

Foyle's, Charing Cross Road
I am still in mourning for 84 Charing Cross Road, and it closed years before I was even born.  I am relieved that other bookshops have survived and thrived here.  Somehow, to my knowledge I'd never been to the flagship Foyle's, though in 2014 I was able to visit the Southwark branch.

It's still on Charing Cross Road, but not in its original spot.  It would've been nice to see it as it was,  but no complaints on the current setup, which is perfection.  My only issue, and this is a Catherine thing, not anyone else's problem, is that it was crowded - and why wouldn't it be?  And it should be!  I'm a professional grumpypants.

Otherwise, it was everything a massive bookshop should be, and more.  I stumbled upon event space and imagined getting married there.  There was an entire display of Lamy fountain pens near the ground floor cash register.  I found graphic novels I hadn't seen elsewhere. Bought four books with no shame - especially the one about London. When in London, right?

Highest marks go to the cafe.  Now, normally the thought of sharing a table with a stranger brings on paroxysms of social anxiety. Yet, nothing seemed out of order to me when I found myself sitting with an elderly woman and her newspaper, and a student (probably) with her laptop.  Perhaps it was because I was grateful for WiFi access. Maybe it was the wondrous orange and lavender cake, paired well with a lemony ginger tea. Or it could've been all this, with proximity to All The Books, in my favorite city, just a short walk from my hotel that did me in. No matter; it was bliss.

This should be hanging in my apartment...

An entire cookery display worthy of Taking Tea With Catherine

Tea and Cakes! Tea and Cakes!

A view that made my heart soar...but then, I'm a Britophile.

On the way back to the hotel- which by the way was One Aldwych - still pinching myself about that -  I walked down Cecil Court. It is another beyond charming Antiquarian bookshop block right out of a hundred years ago , with the exception of a Chipotle on the corner.

Alice in Burritoland!

Well, there's the bookshop highlights. Because of my madly blistered feet, I was unable to get to the British Library once again. Trip the Eleventh will have to rectify this! 

Finally, here's the book I brought with me to London. I think it was a masterful pairing, don't you?