21 December 2011

(Some Of) My Favorite Books of 2011

It's been a long year in the library...

I'm not too good at making top ten lists, and when it comes to reading, it's really difficult to narrow down.  Still, among the 60 + books I've read this year, some were more gripping, inspiring, or hilarious than others.  I whittled it down to twelve, in date order.  So I guess one favorite per month isn't bad.  I paired some of these with tea, and the rest I'll leave up to you. 

1. The Sherlockian by Graham Moore
One of my Sherlock Holmes - related reads of the year, except this one is a mystery that encompasses modern times and the detective work of Arthur Conan Doyle. 

2. One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde
Since 2001, a year without a new Jasper Fforde book is like a month without ice cream: I'll survive, but I won't like it! Even better of course, is when the new book is a Thursday Next novel - that's a 2 for $5 sale on Haagen Dazs pints! (I know they're 14 ounces now, but we pretend.) The latest installment takes place in the BookWorld, where the fictional Thursday Next looks for the missing RealWorld Thursday Next. The newly mapped out BookWorld (particularly Fiction) is well done, a reference to reading on e-readers is made, and now I'm getting excited. I need to read this one again. Have your mechanical butler bring you a nice cup of Rooibos with this one, because it's 'red' tea. Get it? No?

3. The Way We Live Now  by Anthony Trollope
I'm still working through the Barchester novels, but so far I'd say if you only read one Trollope, this should be the one.  It was astoundingly modern, especially for something written over a hundred years before I was born.  It's long but moves swiftly.

4. The Immortal Dinner by Penelope Hughes-Hallet
Imagine spending an evening with John Keats, Charles Lamb and William Wordsworth without having to pick up a book. This is based on the host, Benjamin Haydon's, account of the dinner and also explains the significance of the subjects discussed that evening. If you're at all interested in writers and artists of that time period, and I am, you'll enjoy this fly-on-the-wall experience.  I'd try Tay Tea's 'Muse' herbal blend with this one...because these guys are some of my greatest inspirations.
5. The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan
One of the sad ones - a mystery, a girl who thinks she can fly as investigator, and mental illness.  If you can handle gorgeous writing and depressing reading, then this is your book.  Also, it takes place in Wales. 
6. Eating for England by Nigel Slater
Food, eating and food shopping habits in England. An Anglophile's delight. Have some PG Tips and some real Cadbury chocolate with this one.

7. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
I wrote about this one already.  Scroll down.

8. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Oh my goodness.  I can't believe I never read this one until this year.  I'm not a fan of 'hostage situations', but this novel makes the experience almost poetic.  You are warned from the beginning that it won't end well, but somehow you manage to move through it and savor the ride.  Tea with lemon and honey...I just think that's what an opera singer would drink.

9. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling
Fun and funny even if you don't watch the Office.  It's too easy to say she's of an Indian background so drink Indian tea, so no...have some Oolong.

10. The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz
A Sherlock Holmes story, well done but darker than most.  If you know most of the actual Conan Doyle stories, you'll pick up a lot of references. 

11. A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz
I love it when men learn life lessons from Jane Austen.  It turns her into so much more than a chick-lit writer. 

12. Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams
Did I mention I've been to Peru?  It's been years, but reading this more adventurous trip (I just took the train from Cuzco - no hiking.)  It's easy enough to pair with Coca Tea...if you're in Peru.  You might have access to a Pisco Sour otherwise (I've had these in Jackson Heights.)

I feel like I should have spent more time on these books here, but I've moved on.  For 2012 I hope to be more thorough when in 'book blogging' mode.  There's always room for improvement!

09 December 2011

Wish You Were Here 1: Van Gogh's Ear Cafe

When it comes to restaurants, New York has it all? Or does it? In my rare excursions outside of my hometown, I have found places that are exceptional enough to warrant a return trek in the future. Because of this, I'm establishing a 'Wish You Were Here" feature, meaning why don't they have something like this in New York? Readers might object - they may be familiar with something that resembles this cafe or that shop. This is a possibility since I haven't been to every business in the five boroughs. So feel free to submit your substitutes. I'd be glad to give it a go - unless of course it's the horribly overpriced version (which means it's not really a substitute, is it?)

The morbidly-named Van Gogh's Ear Cafe is located in Union City, New Jersey. There's a college nearby, but otherwise this was the only place that seemed to come even close to a student hangout. The neighborhood is almost bizarre: nearly every store on its block and the others nearby were hair salons. I have never seen so many salons in one place. Seriously, if you are ever in this area, before you relax in the cafe, just explore a little bit. You might find a really good deal on a haircut.

With your fresh coif, you can enter the warm cafe and, if it's not too busy, you'll have a choice of plush chairs or a nice table. You could come alone or with a group and be suitably seated. You don't have to be a hipster to fit in here: I saw little kids and elderly folks along with woolen-capped bespectacled youngsters. And this is a relief. In any some couchy places around Astoria, for instance, you're mostly surrounded by "I knew this place before it was cool" types, which I've had up to here and back again. This in itself makes me hesitant about having a Van Gogh's ear in New York. Pretentiousness is inescapable.

I mean, check out the entertainment.  He's just some guy from the neighborhood, no quirkiness, no irony, just playing classical tunes on his guitar.  It was unobtrusive but enjoyable. 

I had a Thin Mint Latte, which would have been dessert enough for me, though the warm and oh-so-perfect for autumn Apple Crumble was wonderful.  There's a full menu of food, drinks and desserts, and it doesn't go overboard on the Van Gogh theme.  Next time I'll have to try the loose leaf teas.

We of course sat by the bookshelves.  The books were on sale, but the selection was nothing to write home about.  To me, this was the only downside.  You want to sit for a while and relax with a book, but if you didn't bring one of your own (and for once I was lax on this end), you might feel a little antsy. Lesson learned.

So, while it would be nice to have a place like this within walking or subway distance from home, it would probably be a disappointment because it'd attract crowds who'd likely buy one coffee and spend hours with their laptops trying to be noticed.  You know what I'm talking about, Starbucks.   Anyway, it's a short bus ride from Port Authority, and honestly the views were worth it.  We passed a library in Weehauken that looked like it was out of a fairy tale.   If you can't get it to come to you, you must make the journey.  I sound like a fortune cookie.
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14 November 2011

Adventures in Grouponing 3: Radiance

Let me just start by saying something positive about Radiance.  Of all the tea rooms I've been to, the staff at Radiance has the best tea knowledge.  Elsewhere you'll get someone who might just know the difference between black and green tea.  I selected Pao Chong, which is an Oolong - because you can't go to an Asian tea room and have Earl Grey.

And now let me continue by being kind of negative.  For one thing, it's called a Tea House, which puts me in mind of a major fashion label, and this is fitting (get it, fitting?) because the price of an Afternoon Tea for two would actually put a dent in the price of a couture dress.  I used a Groupon, which gave us over 50% off, meaning before tax and tip we paid $25 each.  That's with the Groupon.  Yes, the discounted rate is what I'd pay for my share in the afternoon tea at Alice's Tea Cup.

"What?  Why are you comparing Radiance to Alice's Tea Cup?  They're two totally different places?"  Yes, they are.  At Alice's, you may wait forever for a table, but it's an equal opportunity wait, and when you are seated, you get served swiftly, and you walk out - no, your roll out, completely satisfied.

After a wait of nearly an hour between both courses, here is what the two of us shared:

Granted, they still had to add the dumplings to the above, but they were still small, and there were only two of them

Can you spot the tiny scones?
Dessert was better, though a bit overkill on what you can do with green tea.  Yes, I did like all the sweets.  I didn't say the food tasted bad.  It's just that it wasn't worth $25, much less $55, per person. 
Holding on for dear life to my only means of sustenance...

I'm not saying I won't go back to Radiance.  I don't get there often enough, because it's far enough from my job to not be able to make it for lunch, but close enough to my job to not really want to got there on the weekends.  It is close to Central Park, which is a good selling point (but let's not forget so is Alice's and a number of more reasonably priced places.)  I'm also not saying don't go to Radiance.  It's a lovely place, and people even have parties for children there (though I wouldn't).  I am saying I will keep searching for a more ideally priced Asian-style tea room.  I will be laying off the
Groupons, I think.  It's more often not worth it than a good thing.

10 November 2011

Just Great

You all might remember a post I did on a bakery that opened up on Steinway Street called Cream.  It wasn't bad - between decent cupcakes and chocolates, not to mention macarons, I welcomed Cream with open arms. 

Then, just like that, it closed.  I was disappointed, but not tragically so.  They'd never taken my suggestion to add a good tea menu, and I can go anywhere for your average bag-in-a-cup that was on offer.  Still, when I learned there would be a similar place opening up in its stead, it wasn't bad news.

A short time later, I saw that Great was open.  A quick peek inside didn't rev me up or anything - it looked more like your generic deli in midtown Manhattan than a cozy bakery, even if they did still have cupcakes.  That didn't exactly encourage me, and neither did the new name.  Great?  Not my favorite word - nearly as overused as its subtitled "Yummy Eats".  (Again, it's not that these words need to be retired, just used less frequently.  Thesaurus people!)

On the way home from work one day, I decided to stop in and pick up some cupcakes or pastries, whatever looked good.  I stood at the counter for some time, and the two people working there never turned around once to help me.  They weren't busy, either, just pretending I wasn't there.  I know I can be crankanoid sometimes, but it was pretty blatant.  Soon afterwards a friend of theirs came in and they both rushed to get him some cake.  Now I've said this before, but I don't need to be fussed over.  I do, however, like an acknowledgement that I'm a living, breathing, potential regular.  Well, that did it for me.  I got a pint of Haagen Dazs from the grocery instead.

I did give them one more chance.  In May, I was on Steinway with Millie and feeling slightly hungry, and in need of caffeine.  So we went in, and like the weather, the staff was a moderately warmer this time.  I got a piece of red velvet cake and a cup of coffee (I guess the tea hadn't been promising.)  There was seating, so we stayed for a while.  And here comes another overused word...Meh.  It wasn't horrible, or of Teany caliber, but it just didn't come close to blowing me away.  The coffee was good, but that's not gonna cut it when you're steps away from Starbucks.  There was pizza, too, but we don't really need anymore pizza in Astoria.  We're set.

When I saw that the storefront had a realty sign in it last week, I did not mourn or wonder why.  I only now hope that something better comes to replace it.  Heck, even another Martha's Bakery would satisfy me.  Just don't turn my head with promises of Greatness unless you plan to deliver.

31 October 2011

Adventures in Grouponing 2: Tea Set

One of the biggest benefits of being broke is that you're forced to take a staycation.  As a homebody, this is not a problem.  Of course, it's not healthy to stay indoors entirely, so I made a few plans and used an online coupon, this time to some success. 

A few months ago I purchased a Living Social coupon for The Tea Set, which is on 12th Street and Greenwich Avenue.  I was almost hesitant about this one, as it's just down the block from Tea and Sympathy, but if they both end up doing well, maybe it's a good thing.  Could we possibly be developing a strip of tea shops?  Oh please make it so! 

My other hesitancy was about its 'B' rating from the DOH.  For those of you not subject to such ratings, it's a relatively recent thing to have eating establishments graded 'A', 'B' or the very doomed 'C'.  I'm not a stickler about these things; if I've been going to a place for a while without complaint, a 'B' rating will not stop me.  'C' on the other hand...with so many places to choose from I think I'd skip these.  The Tea Set had a 'B' rating, which meant that I didn't want to bring anyone with me for my first visit, just in case.  Not a problem!  As I mentioned in my last post, I'm not averse to taking afternoon tea alone.

Just to be safe, I made an online reservation.  It was good that I did this, as it turned out that Tuesday at 2PM had a rare late lunch rush.  It cleared out halfway through my hour there, but even during the busiest time I was greeted in a friendly manner and shown my seat in the middle of the action. 

More than anything, what would bring me back was the excellent service.  The guy who helped me (once again I failed to get a name) was helpful and conversational without being over the top.  He was able to make tea suggestions, and checked up on me on a regular basis.  Also, a gentleman who sat near me asked for gluten free options, and though there aren't too many of these on the menu, the staff prepared something special for him not from the menu.  You have to give them points for that! 

It's also really cute inside, with cushioned seats and black-and-white sunflower chairs.  There's a relatively private seating area in the back, with a little bookshelf (books!), and two cozy window seat-tables.  On nice days there's some outdoor seating.

As for the actual afternoon tea.  Well, one of the tea sandwiches did have tomatoes in them (my nemesis), but since I hadn't mentioned my aversion, I only have myself to blame.  Once removed, all of the sandwiches were good: you can't go wrong with Gruyere cheese!  A slight complaint about the bread: it was cut from a baguette, which was delicious and crusty, but its natural hardness made it a bit difficult to be dainty.   A couple of times my hand went projectile into the 3-tiered service, nearly causing a spill.  I'm not exactly a ballerina, so your mileage may vary.  There were little tarts, with cream and jam on the side, and macarons (!), one of which was made with sesame seeds, a first in my book.  Also, there was a lovely chocolate mousse cake - are they seeking my assassination?  The only thing missing were scones, but since The Tea Set has the whole French vibe, it's forgivable.

My tea was called Organic Femmes Fatales, would is aptly names as it's to die for.  A green tea with coconut and safflower - almost islandey but okay with French-style pastries.  It came in a tall glass with a strainer you have to flip over to sip the tea.  I want one!

So it looks like 'Grouponing' isn't a total waste of energy.  It really is up to the place of business to make it workable.

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Note: My digital camera has served me well over the years, but it's starting to have some issues.  It'll conk out during most important moments, such as when I want to take a picture of my flipping tea! I had to resort to my less-than-gorgeous camera phone.  So I'm saving up for a new, hopefully awesome camera.  These don't come cheap (and neither does afternoon tea), so I decided to put a PayPal 'Donate' button on the sidebar of this blog.  No pressure, but feel free!

17 October 2011

On Eating Alone and a Pairing

I recently finished Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone, which is a collection of essays by mostly current writers about, well, what the title says.  Though there are recipes throughout, the book doesn't seem intended to be a "foodie" book, but almost anthropological: Who are these people who cook for themselves, and dare to be seen alone in a restaurant?  Not all the writers were single; some merely celebrated the moments they have to themselves.  Some suffered from self-pity, but not as many as you'd think.  After all, these are writers we're talking about.  Writing is a solitary activity; you don't usually choose to be a writer if you can't handle your own company for great lengths of time.  So this book probably doesn't reflect the feelings of every solitary diner.

Now I'll offer my take on eating alone:  I don't mind it at all.  I don't think I have a preference when I'm at home.  I have no problem with cooking for myself, though food shopping for one is annoying when you're on a budget.  Oh, and try to find workable recipes, especially in baking, that yields for one.  Like some of the contributing writers in 'Alone in the Kitchen', I got over the guilt of preparing nice meals, on nice plates, for just me, but at the same time I feel no guilt if I just feel like a bowl of cereal for dinner.  When you live alone, you have the luxury of mood.

Dining out alone is another story altogether.  It's more socially acceptable at lunchtime.  I go out with my sister a couple of lunches every week, and when she's not in I have no qualms about going out on my own.  What I don't like, and forgive me for being curmudgeonly, is when I go to a public eating place and people I don't know want to share a table.  I know midtown Manhattan is crowded, but unless I've made plans to eat with someone, I prefer being alone with my lunch and my book.  The other day I was eating in the concourse at Rockefeller Center, and a woman asks if the table I was sitting at was free.  I assumed this meant could she share the table with me, and I grudgingly said yes.  When she waved her family of four over, I was this close to busting a gut, but thankfully the table nearby opened up.  Serves me right for picking tourist central for some peace and quiet.

Lunchtime grumpiness aside, I almost never go out to dinner alone. For the most part, I just don't feel like it, but I guess it's also because there's some view in society that dining alone is wrong.  Most diners and coffee shops won't even let you have a table - they stick you at the counter.  Some people like counters; I don't.  Rumor has it that most restaurants will seat the 'table for one' patron at the worst possible place, like next to the restrooms.  Not that I've had too many incidents to reference on this point, but I did think of the first time I went to Cafe Lalo.  I was alone, and was seated in a table that took a bit of effort to squeeze into, all the way in the corner.  For me that's not a problem, because it afforded me some privacy.  On the second visit there were four of us, and we were right in the middle of the action.  Now, I've heard the reason why single diners are given the least desirable tables is because the staff don't expect to make much in tips from just one person.  Well, maybe the single diners just don't like being treated like second class citizens and get put off from tipping as generously as they would otherwise.  Then there's also the social stigma attached to the solitary person, all alone on an evening out.  This shouldn't bother me, but knowing it's how you're viewed does not make eating out alone any easier.  The world was not designed for introverts.

Today I have my first cold of the season, so I imagine my dinner will be a bowl of soup (sniff).  At least that is meant to be pathetic.

The pairing:  I was going to recommend reading 'Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant' with a tea-for-one teapot, but forget that.  Feel free to take out the nice linens, make a large pot of your favorite tea, complete with whatever cakes or cookies or scones float your tiny boat.  If that's not your thing, that's fine - it's up to you and you alone!

03 October 2011

Adventures in Grouponing: The Big Teany Fail

This year I entered the wonderful world of Grouponing.  A number of websites have developed that offer you daily discounts in the form of online coupons.  I use Groupon and Living Social, but for the sake of simplicity I'm going to use Groupon as the go-to term (think of it as the Bandaid of online coupons.)  I've gotten discounts at Barnes & Noble, a bakery, Whole Foods, and of course a bunch of tea establishments. 

It's a marketing strategy, of course: businesses want to attract new business, or bring back past customers, and the best way to do that is to make the customer feel that they're getting a good deal.  As in "I'd never in a million years get a bikini wax, but I saw a Groupon for 65% off, so...OUCH!  Well, at least it wasn't full price."

In my case, tea places are constantly opening in New York, and this gives me more of an incentive to try new places.  So over the next few months, I will have reviews connected to my Groupon splurges, in an effort to see whether or not it's all worth it. 

This brings us to Teany.  Since 2003, I'd been to Teany a good number of times.  It was one of the few ways to get me to the Lower East Side, and one of the only vegetarian restaurants I could be said to frequent.  I'd gone there with a variety of friends, but mostly Bathy, who was delighted with their scones and even entertained fantasies of working there.   Their Afternoon Tea was first-rate and very reasonably priced, their tea list was extensive and their playlist was fantastic. 

Then there was a fire.  This closed the shop down for about a year.  I wondered if it'd ever come back, but I didn't quite mourn it.  After all, I still had my standards: Tea & Sympathy, Alice's Tea Cup, and new favorites like Radiance (which I have a Groupon for, stay tuned.)  Plus, since Teany's neighborhood's not in my path, I didn't exactly see it regularly, so I could pull an 'out of sight, out of mind' mentality.  It took me many months to even find out it had closed.

When it reopened, though, I let myself become excited, and the first return trip was a good one.  My complaints were only mild, which I could say for almost every place I visit.  The next time was not as good.  I found out they'd stopped the practice of Afternoon Tea, which rather turned me off to returning.  I figured if Bathy wanted scones I might go with her.  Then I found a Groupon offer: for $5 you get a $10 coupon.  It seemed Teany was trying to woo me back. 

Even so, circumstances/desire or lack thereof delayed my return until the coupon's expiration date.  So some might argue that my problems could be blamed on procrastination.  Before I continue, I must address that.  You see, a business that has offered discounts on Groupon must know that people might wait until the last minute.   So they should plan for this contingency.  Well, Teany did not plan.  At all.  In fact, they did the opposite.

Upon entering Friday night, I felt something was a little off, starting with the fact that our table's detritus was not cleared for a long time.  It was not super crowded, so we figured it wouldn't take long.  When the girl came to clear the table, I showed her the Groupon and she said it had been particularly busy today because of the Groupons.  Fine enough, but after clearing the table she did not clean it.  Ew.

Then we heard the first 'Sorry', when the girl (who was pretty young, as was the only other staff in the place, a guy who looked about 15) addressed a woman sitting near us.  It seems she'd just given away the last slice of cake the woman had ordered to a takeaway.  The woman looked none too happy, especially when she ate the alternative.  Aren't you supposed to look cheerful when eating cake?  Otherwise what's the point?

Next the first unthinkable happened.  We found out there were no scones left.  None.  Bathy was crestfallen.   Another 'Sorry' ensued.  I hadn't heard so many sorries outside of going with Bonnie to that Indian tailor in a basement in Jackson Heights.  My only relief was that they still had the 'teanychino', but I must admit even that was just okay.  Bathy got a slice of strawberry shortcake, which was just dry. 

I didn't want to be further disappointed (the menu was not what it used to be either), so I asked for the farmhouse cheddar toast, which is supposed to come with pesto and tomato.  Then I waited.  And waited.  Waited, by the way, through a surprisingly lackluster soundtrack.  It must have been half an hour before I noticed the guy behind the counter taking slices of wheat bread from what looked like Stroehmann's or Arnold's - you know, the kind you get at Key Food for $2.50 a loaf.  I thought they couldn't possibly mean to use that bread...could they?  I kept wondering as I continued to hear the girl say 'sorry' at other tables. 

Finally, my order came...

I was stunned for a few minutes.  My first coherent thought was that I know I said no tomato, but couldn't they have least put some pesto on top?  But the real problem was that I waited far too long for something that takes less than three minutes to make.  How do I know this?  Well, because that's how long it took me to make this:

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I mean, it could be cat vomit...I should know - Moofer was sick later that night.

For the first time in my life, I sent my food back.  In fact, I just turned in my Groupon and we left.  The girl sorried again and offered pretty much anything else on the house.  She also said she felt bad being a part of 'this', like she was on a sinking ship. 

So that's it.  I try to find something good about a place, even when it's mostly bad, but I can't think of one thing.  Okay, at least I didn't see evidence of vermin.  But I can tell you this:  I am officially DONE with Teany. Horrible service, terrible food.  Makes McDonald's look like a great night out. 

In the midst of writing this post, I read online that the co-owner of Teany, Kelly Tisdale, just had a baby with Mike Myers.  That's pretty awesome, so congratulations....this makes it more difficult for me do be this negative in my review, being a fan and all, but it's not a personal attack. 

The growing number of women I'm acquainted with who have recently become mothers can tell you that when they go on maternity leave, they get somebody to look after their job or business while they're away.  I'm not sure anyone's looking after shop at Teany right now.  It's like kids are playing 'Restaurant' with stuff in their kitchen, but they're starting to get bored.   At this rate, I'd prefer to see Teany close down than  experience what we did on Friday night.

I was a loyal customer, but there are limits.  I truly hope my next Grouponing adventure makes up for this.

19 September 2011

Great Expectations and a Pairing

I've made an unofficial point of reading two Dickens novels a year since 2008.  It's not an impossible task, though it helps when you get one that doesn't go on and on.  Nicholas Nickelby was a good story but went into tangents that had nothing to do with the plot. Bleak House was another one, but there was something about the story that made that appropriate. It ties in with the impossibly long course of a legal case. 

My version of Great Expectations was over 600 pages, but it was a small volume, one of those gilded pocket-sized Barnes & Noble classics that came out a few years back.  There was very little in the way of excess - most characters fit into the story somehow, even if you don't realize it until you're near the end.

Though nearly all Dickens novels have some depressive themes, things are usually well resolved at the end through a series of coincidences and sudden returns of fortune.  Great Expectations has these elements, but the expectations are not what they seem.  The protagonist, Pip, isn't fully likeable.  He's not bad, but he's a snob who wants to rise higher than what those who really care about him are capable of giving him.  He gets put in his place and manages to pull through the many disappointments that inevitably find him.   On the plus side he wasn't simpering and sanctimonious like some of Dickens's orphans (I'm looking at you, Oliver!) The lawyer, Jaggers, was supposed to be this important personage in the story, and although his position was important, he didn't strike me as thoroughly interesting.  Estella, the pretty girl raised by Miss Havisham and the one who steal Pip's heart, is of course unlikeable, but not evil by any means.

The title is applied to Pip in the story, but it works for others too, particularly Miss Havisham.  She's a caricature like only Dickens could invent, but not an entirely unsympathetic one.  I wonder if she would have benefited from modern-day therapy. Anyone who hangs around a house wearing an old wedding dress and surrounded by the detritus of her jilted youth could at least use a professional shoulder to cry on.

There's also an element of mystery to the story.  Who is the benefactor who has given young Pip these Great Expectations?  Is it the obvious person or an entirely new character?  And how is pretty much everybody connected?

This one veers into the favorites column.  I'd pair with a tea that starts out sweet but has a bitter aftertaste. Drink this with an old, stale piece of wedding cake. 

12 September 2011

Not Another Cupcake Blog!

I know.  The Blogosphere is inundated with cupcake blogs, and I've done enough posts myself on places that are both legendary and fleeting.  But let's face it: cupcakes and tea go together like coffee and donuts.  So how 'bout another one?

On Friday evening, I went to 'Little Cupcake Bakeshop' in Soho, or Nolita, or West Chinatown, I never know the boundaries of these neighborhoods.  It's by Prince and Mott Street, so you decide.  Bathy and I had already eaten at Caffe Reggio (yep, I still go there, though it's been a while), and after taking a nice stroll east, we found this place in all its gleaming white and pinkness.

About pink and me: For a certainty I'm feminine, but despite my love for tea time and fairies and baby animals, I'm not a girly-girl.  I'm not dainty, despite my small hands, and I don't wear high heels.  I giggle, but I rarely squeak (unless I see a particularly cute baby animal.)  Pink -not the singer, the color- can be too much for me sometimes, so it's one of the least represented colors in my wardrobe and home decor.  I don't mind if others are into pink, or in this case pink-and-white.  For these folks, you really need to try this place.  For everyone else, well, it's not that pink.  As for atmosphere, I'll give them this: love the chandeliers!  Someday I need to put a few of these in my apartment.  There was also a decent amount of seating, which means the baked goods come a tad pricey, though not any more than most nowadays: cupcakes go for $3.

Bathy had a kind of lemon cake, which I only had a bite of so I can't in all fairness offer my judgement on it.  I did taste lemon, which is half the battle.  I could not resist trying a Blue Velvet cupcake.   It was made with blueberries, though I'm pretty sure it was food coloring that give it that turquoise interior.  The frosting was a cream cheese, and altogether it was somewhere between moist and dry, and definitely more cupcake than muffin.  I did taste blueberry but it wasn't overwhelming.  It went well with the raspberry iced tea - they use Harney's which is always a favorite in my books.

Their bathroom was nicer than home, which was probably why a male patron decided to use it for his evening shave.  I guess I'd rather walk in on that activity than anything else he could've been doing in there.

I'd still say one of the best cupcakes (and cheaper) you could find in downtown Manhattan is in Sugar Sweet Sunshine, but Little Cupcake Bakeshop is pretty lovely.  And (here comes a plug), it's a lovely backdrop for a discussion of beauty products a la Pretty Opulent.

More useless camera-phone pics coming your way!

The Before Picture: 

Teddy Bears!  Squeak!
Guys come here too!  Don't be afraid!
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Subway: N/R to Prince Street; 6 to Spring Street, M to Bway/Lafayette

06 September 2011

Physical Graffitea...a different kind of pairing

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I don't get to St. Marks Place as often as I used to, and it's certainly changed a lot since then. Like most neighborhoods in Manhattan, it feels more like a theme park version, or even a movie set version of itself nowadays.

A couple of years ago I'd make time to go down there, if only to stop at Sympathy for the Kettle. That's long gone now, sadly, and though I've noted a few places that look bubble-teaesque, nothing has replaced SFTK in my heart, though Physical Graffitea has managed to do its best.


Here's where the pairing comes in. Normally I'll pair tea and books, because to me that's the pinnacle of pairings, but tea is complemented well by other things, and I do love to combine my old favorites. So...Beatles and teapots? Don't mind if I do! It doesn't actually make sense, since Physical Graffiti was a Led Zeppelin album, and the location in question is a building that was featured in the album cover. I'm not complaining, though, I love the Beatles. Short of a Queen-based tea shop, this is fantastic.


There are plenty of teas to choose from, which is good. There isn't that much seating in the place, and so they can't possibly do that much business in a sit-down tea capacity. Also, there's no bathroom, which doesn't encourage long-time seating, and only small snacks on offer. I had one of each: a madeleine and a mini corn muffin. It went well with the Angel's Dream tea: a blend of black and green tea lightly flavored with maple and blackberry. It wasn't sickeningly sweet, but I definitely didn't need to add sweetener either. And pricewise, everything was reasonable.


The ultimate appeal: the walls are painted a similar green to my home library. I've always wanted to paint a tree like this at my place, so this was simply delightful! The bench I was sitting on was a little shaky, though. I think besides the lack of bathrooms, that was my only complaint. I do hope Physical Graffitea is here to stay.


You might not be able to tell from my camera-phone shot, but from this view, I really felt like I was in London. The 'A' grade drew me back to reality, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Subway Directions: 'R' to 8th Street, '6' to Astor Place.

01 August 2011

A Return to Serenity




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Nearly five years have passed since I'd come here. No, it hasn't been that long since I've been to Florida, but on my last trip I was taken to a different setting for afternoon tea. Let's face it: most people don't head to South Florida for tea: I just happen to look for a tea destination no matter where I go. Marie knows this, so she kindly made reservations.

But I can't really do a review this time. I hadn't been to Florida in a long time, and essentially I needed to see my good friends and the new baby. Catching up needed to be done, and I wasn't about to concentrate on the taste and texture of the sandwiches, scones and little cakes and pastry thingys. I'm not going to analyze the first flush Darjeeling or our table in clear view of a phone box reminiscent of London. Everything I could describe is covered in the above photos. Yes, I had a great time, but the most important part was the place that Afternoon Tea once again had in my life in making good moments great. That's the whole point of Afternoon Tea. You get to bond with others, slow things down and catch up on life, and indulge your sweet tooth. There's nothing to add to that!

23 June 2011

Post Non-Purchase Guilt?

New York's in a constant state of flux. That's an understatement - blink and you'll miss something. Why else would food trucks be such a rapidly expanding industry? (No, I don't have quotes from the Wall Street Journal; I have eyeballs.) Food trucks pop up all over the City, and at lunchtime their lines are long and healthy. If business is slow or threatened, they just move on to another location. They can adapt to change. So can I, to an extent. For example, when I hear another tea shop or tea room has opened, I plan a visit as soon as I can (well, except for Lady Mendl's. One of these years - literally.) These are good changes. What I don't like is the sudden closures of a number of tea businesses in the area - particularly Midtown.

I'd passed by the former location of Subtletea, and felt bad that I'd never really stopped there. I think once I picked up a cup of tea to go, but really, it wasn't in an area I tend to frequent. Besides, the one time I did do tea on that block was at Keko Cafe, which was perfectly nice but it's been almost four years.

Then I emerged from Grand Central Station, and the first thing I saw was the lack of the Tea and Honey store. What? Why? Then I remembered it had been some time since I'd picked up tea there, or anything for that matter. As much as I loved the place, it was not the most reasonable option. Even good quality tea should be affordable for the slightly ambitious tea conoisseur. And let's face it, the average person - commuter, tourist, or otherwise, doesn't care if some cute shop has great tea. Personally I hope they just plan to open elsewhere, Little Miss Matched disappeared from Grand Central, but there's other locations. That's just one example.

Then, even more shockingly, I found out TeaGschwender is no more - at least not in Manhattan. Sadly, I'd only visited the location once since it opened - less than a year ago. I've decided to blame it on the name. It sounds a bit like a sneeze, which nobody wants to associate with their cup of tea.

But I feel mildly responsible too. I mean, the economy's not that great, etc., but losing two tea retailers in such a short matter of time...places that were in quick walking distance from my workplace...perhaps I could have supported them a little better?

Is it because I drink coffee in the morning now?

Yes! I admit it!!! I became a morning coffee person! It actually started around my London trip, when I wanted to fight my jet lag with something stronger. I still love tea and tea rooms, and I always will, but my home and work supply doesn't need to be replenished as quickly. I mostly make tea at home still. My coffee-making skills leave something to be desired.

So...no. I will not feel guilty. I'm not a cold person, but business is business. This goes for me, too. I hope the tea-related businesses thrive in New York, and have yet to review my recent visit to the new Harney & Sons tea shop in Soho, but I'm not gonna feel bad for not blowing every paycheck on tea. I will, however, continue to report on places I think everyone should support. Some places need to remain as long as possible.

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17 June 2011

Gimme a Break!

There is nothing like a macaron-and-tea break to add some brightness to an otherwise dreary afternoon. Here we have a splendid cup of Mighty Leaf Darjeeling (because Darjeeling is the official sponsor of Afternoon Tea) and a banana and caramel macaron from Financier. The banana ganache is the stronger one, almost like banana pudding. It comes alive after biting into the crisp, flaky outside of the macaron.

Life's good when you can take a break from it from time to time.

24 May 2011

Yet Another Great Place to Spoil Myself....Bosie Tea Parlor

When I read in the October 2010 Tea Time Magazine that a new tea room would be opening in the West Village that very fall, I was excited. One can never have too many tea destinations, and I was glad to have something to look forward to once I returned from my all-too-brief trip to London. I'd check online weekly to see when the opening day would be, and fall turned into winter, and winter dragged on forever, and finally spring came. Having been pretty busy in April, I hadn't checked in a while, and I was surprised to quite recently find out that Bosie Tea Parlor was already open!

That's a long wait in my opinion, though I'd say I'm a patient person. I've had to wait for a lot of things: trips, much-anticipated books, TV shows that take forever to get to the point. I'm still waiting on quite a few big things in my life, and am trying not to tap my foot in impatience. I can positively say, however, that Bosie was worth the delay.

I had a bit of time on my hands a few days ago, and I found myself in search of this elusive new tea room. I don't have the greatest head for direction, and south of 14th Street all bets are off. Thankfully, Bosie is just off of Bleecker, so my inner compass was in some working order.

Even so, the block it's on, Morton Street, feels a bit secluded and, well I was gonna say dark, but that could've just been the overcast weather. Still, upon entering I was greeted by the sight of all those colorful macarons and the one-woman staff (at least as far as I could see) who was the perfect combination of helpful and not all over the place.


As you can see by the picture, nothing is overly ornate or ostentatious. There are a few cozy chairs in the back, but they were occupied when I got there. It was earlier than usual for me: before noon, but though it wasn't lunch time crowded there were enough people there to give it energy. I got momentarily turned off when I saw at least three people using laptops, then realized what a hypocrite I was. I'm always looking for places that have wi-fi and are still charming. Here it was, and I was find fault with it! I didn't dwell on my shame: I got down to business, perusing the menu for the perfect experience.

As I've said often enough, my criteria is usually based on the quality, quantity and reasonability of a tea room's afternoon tea. Though I think it was called 'Standard Tea' on the menu, it's the same thing, only without the three-tired dishes. Instead, you get this:


Am I complaining? Oh no! It was a feast fit for a Tea Queen, or anyone else for that matter. Well, maybe not a lumberjack but, besides one reasonably built middle-aged man, I don't think they're aiming for the burly clientele.

I had three kinds of sandwiches: the first was like a Coronation, with chicken and curry and raisins. Quite nice. The cheddar and pickle was perfect; reminded me of one of Teany's better sandwiches. The tour de force, however, was the cucumber sandwich. I'm not sure what they put in there, but it's the best cucumber sandwich I've ever tasted. And I've had some really decent ones. Bosie's has a special kind of cream cheese, I think; almost like a cottage cheese but a bit more whipped. I'm breathless just thinking about them.

There were two little scones that were cakey but dry enough to be a proper scone. The clotted cream was exactly what it should be. I got two tea cakes, a chocolate (with chips) and a lemon, both of which were finger sized but sweet and satisfying.

What distinguishes Bosie from the tea places I've been to is the macarons. Since Bosie is supposed to have some Parisien tea room influence, this is just right. I'll admit I've only spent 6 hours of my life in Paris, but Bosie's atmosphere and menu seem to fit my imagined ideal of the kind of place I'd settle into after a morning in the Louvre or shopping. I know I've totally stereotyped Paris there but at least there were no berets in the sight of my mind's eye. Rusty! (who knows that reference?) Anyway, I had a matcha macaron and a jasmine, both of which I chose for the tea theme. They were both good, though the jasmine's flavor was a bit more Lush than Laduree for me.

Oh yeah, the tea. I had the Dorian Grey (Bosie is a reference to Wilde, I think, so I couldn't resist), and it was okay but not very strong. Maybe all the other flavors at my table overwhelmed it, but that's not usually the case.

I'm very happy to have a new tea destination, and one whose sandwiches instead of the price are swoonworthy. I am aching to return, and to bring a friend or two, and to try more items on the menu. Good things come to those who wait!

06 May 2011

Unabashedly Anglophile

Last weekend I indulged in one of my infamous "mini-trips" to England. I never left New York, but it kinda felt like I did.

Yes, I woke up at the crack of dawn to watch the wedding. Had a strong cup of English Breakfast tea to sustain me through the inevitable jet lag. I'm not going into detail about my thoughts on the wedding: the media covered it enough. But when I was presented with a free Sunday, I was still on the Brit kick, so I went to the Frick.

For years I've wanted to see the Frick Collection, on 70th Street on the East Side. My frugal side didn't want to pay the $18 admission, and the only pay-what-you-like time is Sunday between 11 AM and 1 PM. That's almost impossible for me, or at least it was, because there's an exception to every rule. So a friend of mine accompanied me to the museum, and I don't think either of us were disappointed. I got to see enough Vermeer and Rembrandt (the latter had a special exhibit of drawings in the lower lovel) to last me a while, setting off an alarm in the process. What do you want? I'm short sighted! Though the Frick is not necessarily English, it's a mini-trip I was after, and this was close enough to a mini-National Gallery. Instead of exiting at Trafalgar Square, we got Central Park.

We walked up quite an appetite, and took the train down to 14th Street, to our next destination: the ultra-anglophilic Tea and Sympathy. You probably don't need to hear my thoughts on this place; I've covered it often enough. And then some. But here's a few snaps anyway:



It was my friend's initiation into Afternoon Tea, and predictably she was delighted. The clotted cream was the ultimate pleasure...unmatchable!


Royal Wedding Menu!

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Picked up a few things at Myers of Keswick, including the elusive Strongbow Cider. It's conveniently located a few blocks from Tea and Sympathy, so if you're still hankering for cornish pasties or real Cadbury's or even Fairy dishwashing liquid, here's your spot. We also got to meet Molly the Cat, who was in the news a few years back for getting stuck between the building walls or some other catlike scrape. She didn't seem at all traumatized; in fact, she was real friendly and playful.

A mildly defensive note: I don't care at all for politics, so my interest in all things British is not an attitude of superiority. I know better. It's just an unexplainable 'thing'. We all have those 'things'. There's a market for it. There's probably an app for it too.

Well, that weekend is over and another one awaits. I don't think I'm doing anything particularly English besides watching another series of Lark Rise to Candleford. I'll have some book reviews and pairings in that vein coming as well.

20 April 2011

Questionable Returns

I've been noticing a rather annoying pattern lately. Sometimes I give a glowing, or at least positive review of a tea place or shop that I've visited, only to find that one of the next times I go there I regret it. I'll start with the most recent, and the most hopeful.

Coco Fresh Tea and Juice: Still love their bubble tea, but found that their service is becoming slower. Also, the green tea I ordered was pretty bad, like it hadn't been mixed properly. I had to add extra ice from work and stir in a second cup, which kind of defeats the point of the packaging. I went there with my sister this week, though, and she had no complaints about her order this time, so though I'll proceed with caution, I'm leaning toward forgiveness in this one.

Argo: This happened a while back, but I went to the Flatiron Argo and hoped to return. Then I went to the one near Columbus Circle. My first time there was fine, but the second time, something happened that I probably shouldn't take personally, but hey, I'm sensitive. I saw everyone in front and in back of me being offered a frequent visitor card, including my friend who was less of a regular than I was, but when it was my turn the service was somewhat sullen, and they didn't offer me a card, despite my being as pleasant as possible. I know it's not the biggest deal, and I'm not gonna cry 'boycott!' but it just rubbed me the wrong way. I figure since they don't have a branch in the immediate vicinity of my place of work, I just won't make the effort to visit them when I am in the area. I'll go to Starbucks instead. Yes.

Art Brown: My mention of this place here was a few years ago, and usually I go there without incident, but something happened two weeks ago that set off my Spongebob Crankypants.

I usually look forward to going here, with all its marvelous pens, papers and gorgeous inks. When they moved from 46th to 45th street and I thought that it had actually closed for good, I nearly wore mourning garb.

It's hard to share my enthusiasm with others..."you paid how much for that pen?" so you can imagine my excitement when my sister Bon accompanied me to this shop. She's more of a pencil person, but I thought I might be able to convert her (no pen intended) by showing her the small selection of Platinum Plaisir fountain pens, available in pink and violet. I sang the praises of the violet one that I own: for only $20, this pen is practically perfect and writes so smoothly. So, Bon goes to test the pen (it's not pricey enough to keep in the display cases), but as she didn't see the tester paper right away she tested it on a nearly bit of cardboard. Now it's not like there was ink in it, and knowing my sister, she doesn't press hard enough to damage the nib, but one of the men working there sees her and says in a scolding tone, "Don't do that." It was a real deal breaker. After that she put the pen down and waited outside for me to purchase my inks.

Now I'm stuck with a dilemma. Sure, I can order inks and other pen-related products online (Jet Pens has a bigger selection of the Plaisirs,) and there's a Joon Pens nearby (though their ink supply is not quite so voluminous.) But the way the man talked to my sister really put a bad taste in my mouth. At least in the cases of Coco and Argo, the service wasn't horrible, just a little off. In the case of Art Brown, it felt like we were being treated like children. And that makes this the roughest pill to swallow. I've spent more money than I should've in this place, and given glowing recommendations. In that one sentence, though, I've become completely turned off. But it's annoying to have to pull a self-imposed exile on principle. And the man who rang me up was polite, and has been helpful in the past. I guess I'll give this one a little time and see how I feel. I know my sister won't be returning.

Rant over for today, I can be my smiling self now.

19 April 2011

Still Here!

I started this blog on 19 April 2005 with the title "Here I Am!" Thought it needed a brief mention. Stay tuned...rant coming soon!

25 March 2011

Bubbling Over in Midtown

It's spring, but you could have fooled me! Still, the calendar says that it'll be warmer soon. I shall try to believe it.

One thing the area around my job was sorely missing was a proper bubble tea place. Actually, we don't have a decent tea anything nearby besides a couple of decent retail establishments in walking distance. I don't count hotels, because one does not take afternoon tea in the space of an hour's lunch break.

I'm not the biggest bubble tea person, but once in a while I get a hankering, especially when the weather's a bit balmy. Now I have a little place to satisfy said hankerings, and I won't even have to break a sweat.

It's called Coco Fresh Tea and Juice, and I believe it's a chain from Taiwan. The two times my sister and I stopped in there, it was already hopping but not crazy busy. Everyone else inside was Asian, and mostly thinner than myself (how is that possible?!), which seem to be points in favor of it.

So far I've tried the black milk tea and a jasmine milk tea, both of which were absolutely refreshing and delicious. Personally I prefer these without the bubbles (tapioca pearls) - not because they taste bad but the chewiness gets tiresome after a while. Plus, I keep thinking one of them will shoot through the straw down my wind pipe. But this is my neurosis.

Everything's reasonably priced, especially for Manhattan. So I welcome this open.

Side note (Funny Name): I also had a bubble tea with crepes in Forest Hills not long ago. This too was fine, but the name's unfortunate: Crepes 'N' Tearia. Imodium anyone?

09 March 2011

Freddie & Me... and Me

First of all, let me just say there is still good reason for paper books and libraries. I regularly put books on hold, and when they arrive I pick them up at the nearest branch to my place of work. It's very convenient, as I used to actually travel to different branches and between Queens and Manhattan, and that's exhausting!
Well, recently I was picking up some books in the reserved section and saw the title of a book that was on hold for someone else. Nosy me picked it up. The title was Freddie and Me: A Coming of Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody. Now of all the book-related websites I've been on, including Amazon which loves to Recommend books you Might Like, I'd never heard of this book. Good job we still have paper books and brick-and-mortar locations, or I'd still be unaware. And what a book for me not to know about!

Second of all, something not everyone knows about me is that I actually like Graphic Novels. It's not my favorite genre, but I do have a tiny collection in my home library. I haven't bought a comic book in years, because I think they're overpriced, but once they're grouped together in a book I'll give it a shot. It's like not watching a TV show when it's aired, but waiting till the DVD of the season is out in the summer. And since I do enjoy curling up with the occasional autobiography, it's great to see both forms of expression come together. But we're not referencing Beatles songs here; today it's all about Queen.

Though the artist/writer, Mike Dawson, became a rapid Queen fan earlier in his life than I did, I related too well to the madness that ensues once you get far too fond of a band. And just like Queen songs became a soundtrack to his formative years, I can't think of my mid-teens without hearing Freddie Mercury's voice - even some of the more ridiculous tracks are there, and in this book. I cracked up when he reacts to a certain word in 'Death on Two Legs'. It's not as much of a shocker as it used to be, which makes it all the more affecting.

I was also surprised at Dawson's memories of memory itself. That's hard to explain. Personally, I've always been a little afraid of forgetting early memories, and resolved not to at a very young age. Then I read this line in his book:

"The reason I can still remember being afraid of losing my memories is because I made a conscious decision to do so. I remember the day I was doing it."

And then he goes on to explain how he pictures things to remember them. Catherine much? It makes me wonder if Queen fans are all cut from the same cloth. Sadly, I cannot draw, unless you count that horrible blob of Zenobia I scribble on pages from time to time.

I'm not sure if non-Queen fans would appreciate Freddie & Me, but if you favor the Bildungsroman stories you might. And if you don't know what that word means, you're not alone. I've never heard it spoken, but any word that has 'dung' in it is worth knowing. (And if you don't like it, you could say it's full of crap!)

I only have one criticism, and it's only because I'm an extreme stickler for dates. He has his teenaged self going to school the day he finds out about Freddie Mercury having AIDS, as well as the next day when he dies. My recollections of November 1991are extremely clear - it was a really important month in my life. And those dates fall on Saturday and Sunday. But he can draw, and I can't, so...artistic license I guess.

So what kind of tea would I sip with this book? Well, I know Freddie Mercury was a tea drinker, but the only specific type of tea I've ever read about in reference to him was an anecdote in which he drank jasmine tea. And I don't need an excuse to drink jasmine scented green tea!

28 February 2011

Henrietta Sees it Through and a Pairing

This is the review I posted on Library Thing:

Reading stories written in epistolary form makes me yearn for the old letter writing days, though I don't think I'd have been thrilled to live in England during the last years of WWII. This book is a sequel to the first series of letters, which I haven't read, but I picked up the pace quickly enough.

It's a combination of tongue-in-cheek and stiff-upper-lip that only the English can master. Henrietta is a middle-aged doctor's wife. She is not the most conventional woman but she tries to carry on amidst the ridiculousness of wartime. She tends faithfully to a garden, puts up with evacuees and difficult neighbors, and finds solace in her friendship with the wonderfully full-figured and elderly Lady B.

It's my second Bloomsbury Group Early Reviewers book, and this one did not disappoint either. Even though there is some tragedy here and there, and a harrowing story of a cat and a mouse that echoed my own trials of last week, every letter ends on a cheeky high note.

From what I've read, the Henrietta stories were semi-autobiographical, a way for the author to cope herself. Hope it helped.

I finished this book last week, and in trying to think of a tea that would pair well with it today I kept coming up with herbals, since that's all I've been drinking due to a nasty head cold. Then I remembered a humourously illustrated scene in the book where a woman is bring an Evacuee staying at her home Blackcurrant Tea because they had a cold. She ended up taking a nasty spill on the stairs, ending up in a 'Crumpled Heap'. I'd hate to think of what happened to the teacup. So in sympathy to all involved, I'd say a nice Blackcurrant would do quite well, whether it's a black flavored or a tisane.

25 February 2011

In Astoria? In which I mention many local businesses...

I passed by the site of the former Himalayan Tea House, the place that had a decent menu but not much else, not to mention crazy hours. I don't miss it like I thought I would. Besides, with places like Bare Burger and Il Bambino right there, I almost didn't notice it was gone. Even so, its absence has especially impressed in me the need for a proper tea place in Astoria. Now when I say Astoria, I am referring to my neck of the woods, near the heart of Steinway Street, a quick walk from Woodside and Long Island City.

Speaking of which, Cafe Triskell (best crepes in town and a nice tea menu) and Panera Bread are close to my criteria, but they're straddling LIC, and Martha's Bakery is bit of a walk away for me on a rainy day. Gian Piero's is nearby, but for me that's strictly to go; some of the clientele are dirty old mannish. And therein is another problem with my area: they're either patronised by hipsters or men who just make me feel uncomfortable. So what's the compromise? Starbucks? I'm not anti-Starbucks, even so, it's Starbucks.

There are other places I like in roll-out-of-bed walking distance from me, but they lean toward brunch and full-on meals, and I wouldn't feel comfortable just getting tea and cake if that's all I wanted. Is that just me being insecure? Maybe a little. But speaking of which, there's still a few surviving diners/coffee shops nearby, but heaven forfend you come alone - it's the counter for you! I loathe dining at the counter, especially alone.

So what's the solution? Can someone open a little place near me that would satisfy my tea needs? It really doesn't have to be frilly - that's also intimidating...not for me, but I'd like a good variety of people to be comfortable in this mythical place. Something like the former Shane's Bakery in Woodside. They had scones, people! It was like the Irish Tea and Sympathy. Why did it close?! Even if it was still open, it was still to far away from me.

I guess this post is a bit of a rant, with a touch of daydreaming. You just can't have it all. I mean, I waited for years for someone to open bookstore/cafe in my neighborhood, and with the closing of a bunch of Borders, this looks less possible than ever. I will sigh now, and wait patiently for suggestions/recommendations.

21 February 2011

Cozy Mondays? and a Pairing

After a relatively busy and responsible weekend, I decided to have a relaxing Monday in. One bonus is that finally it snowed on a day off! It wasn't a crazy snow day, but I'll use it as an excuse to be indoors and cozy.

It started off quite well. I caught up on some reading, and then I popped in a Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett) DVD to watch an episode I hadn't managed to watch in years. So far, so good. Then I noticed Zenobia stalking a corner and I knew the end of relaxation was nigh. If it had been a waterbug, I would have screamed of course, but it would've been quick work. But a smart bug in trouble would've climbed up the wall to get away. Nope. It was a not too smart little mouse that put me through a wild ride, and was later to give a run for a supportive friend's money too. Let's just say it was not a pretty sight, and I got to demonstrate my awesome screaming skills. I know none of this rests with reason: I live with two much larger creatures every day, and Zenobia's the same color of the dearly deceased critter, complete with claws. Anyway, the whole fracas cost me at least three hours of my cozy day.

Holmes ended up being therapy afterwards, and put me in mind of a book I read this month, The Sherlockian by Graham Moore. A new member of an exclusive Sherlock Holmes fan club investigates a murder of another member, who just happened to have recently announced he'd found the lost Arthur Conan Doyle diary. This plot takes turns in chapters with an investigation Doyle gets involved in at the time of the missing diary, along with his friend Bram Stoker, who hasn't yet found fame with a certain horror novel that didn't require glitter. Jeremy Brett was mentioned once, which was enough reason to keep on going. People who both enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories or are avid fans of any writer would likely have fun with this book. I mentioned this in another review, but I'll repeat it here: there was a conversation between a man and a woman about the nostalgic fascination with past times. I've watched episodes of Brett's Holmes and drooled over his study and the morning coats along with the clip clopping of the horses on the cobblestone and yearned to experience that time period for myself. The point raised in the novel I'd considered myself: it wouldn't have been as fun for a woman. You'd have to wear corsets and put your hair in those updos...if you're fortunate you might be Mrs. Hudson!

The tea I'd pair with The Sherlockian is (obviously?) the Baker Street Blend from Upton. It's made from a few different black teas, including Lapsang Souchong. Normally I don't like Lapsang Souchong, but in a blend it's just right. Normally I'm cautious about Sherlock Holmes pastiches, but The Sherlockian is only slightly so.

After a nervewracking game of Caths and Mouse, however, I might just settle down with a cup of peppermint tea.

01 February 2011


I'm an indoor person, though I like my nice long walks. This time of year I am even more firmly ensconced, curled up on a sofa as far away from the piles of snow as I can get...whenever I can help it. Time to catch up on my reading! And what better accompaniment to a good book than a soothing cup of tea.

Though I'm not the ultimate wine or even tea pairing expert, I like to think every book has its perfect tea match. I haven't done too many book reviews here recently, so I thought I'd kick start it once again with a tea/book pairing series.

The Brontes Went to Woolworth had gone out of print for a while, but was reissued last year. I'm glad it was. Though certainly not the most realistic plot I've ever come across, it was really charming. It centers around three sisters, who develop whole stories around imaginary friends. These friends are mostly real people who they've read about in newspapers, or saw in a role of public office. They develop their own little fan fictions around these people, mostly for the benefit of the youngest daughter.

As a middle child of an imaginative family of three sisters, I felt right at home with the Carnes. I'm not sure everyone would be comfortable with the idea of how believable their made-up acquaintances were to them (though some were, in fact, living breathing people, as we get further reminding of as the story goes on.) I loved it, because in a way I can identify. As a child, I saw a photo of a bank president, gave him a whole new name and pretended he was my husband. It's a mystery to me why I chose him, but that made the Carnes so relatable to me. Those who can't relate could commiserate with the poor governess, who just doesn't understand what's going on, and why the girls indulge themselves in fantasy to that degree. For a moment, actually, the point of view threw me off, as it began with Deidre's (the middle girl) first person, then occasionally moved to third with Miss Martin and others. After a while I got into the swing of things.

The story gave an answer to a number of "what ifs" I confronted when transitioning from childhood into adulthood. Also, without giving away any spoilers, coming from a less innocent time, I almost suspected something sleazy would occur between the daughters and the object of their imaginings. I'm quite glad I was wrong.

A highly lighthearted but not entirely sugarcoated read.

As one of the sisters' real life imaginary friends was a judge they affectionately called 'Toddy', I recommend a hot tea toddy, perfect for a cold winter's day and with just enough kick of rum to add to the whimsy of it all. If you're a teetotaller, you might try a nursery tea, with lots of milk and sugar.

12 January 2011


I've known about the Orangery for years and years, and knew that I'd have to get over there for Afternoon Tea someday. You'd think I would have found a way to make time for such a visit, but there was always some reason or other for not being able to make it. I wouldn't say lack of funds - I specifically budget for tea breaks wherever I go. When you get down to it, though, I'd say that it was just too close to the Muffin Man, and while you can't go to both places in one day (you can't!), it's also not feasible to "do" Kensington twice in one trip.

Amazing what a little determination will do...

The Orangery is a separate building, but part of Kensington Palace; a tea room derived from a former orangery. I wish I knew where they got the name from...

For those of you who are into the Royal thing, Queen Victoria grew up in Kensington Palace, and Princess Diana lived there. The Orangery was designed for Queen Anne, the last of the Stuart monarchs. A very Queenly place - even Freddie Mercury worked a few blocks down from there! It made sense to go there directly after a morning in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

They were doing renovations in the palace, but in other sections of the edifice there was an Enchanted Palace attraction set up. I'm sure it was lovely. Personally, I thought the little pathways from the palace to the tea room had their own enchantments...



From the outside, my first thought was ORANGE...though I didn't exactly feel like I'd stumbled into Florida - even if the weather was still perfectly mild. Upon entering, we were simply drenched in white...everything's white...it's almost too pristine. It's a good thing there's no dress code, or it would be kind of intimidating. I mean, I enjoy dressing up for tea, and I wouldn't want to look sloppy or anything, but perfection has its limits in these situations.



Bonnie had the Signature Orange Tea, while I opted for the Enchanted Palace Tea. Looking back, I'd say Bonnie made the better choice. You get about the same amount of food, but the desserts are different. She had an eclair and a tart, and I had a shortbread and a rich chocolate cake. My choice was an extra three pounds, and the only real difference was my digestion crisis on the bus a half hour later. But that's the only negative I'm going to say about our experience. Contrasted with the tea at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which in terms of ambiance was the closest comparison, the Orangery actually leaves you satisfied. We managed to bop around a bit later on before actually feeling signs of hunger, whereas after the Met Tea we were ravenous before we left the museum. The staff were friendly - our waiter was from Togo; I don't think I'd ever met anyone from Togo before. The scones were delightful, the sandwiches plentiful, and the desserts were all just wonderful. No complaints about the Darjeeling, either.

I'd go back.



Blue skies! Still can't get over it.

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Three months later, I'm almost done with my London 2010 coverage. I plan to include clips from the camcorder that died halfway through the trip, and The Orangery will definitely be featured.