07 November 2017

To the Future!

Ten days in the UK ought to do it.  My entire list should be covered.  Right?


I will never, ever get everything done.  Even if I kept a modest list, there are circumstances: weather, expenses, time in general, energy levels...and then there's the TBR factor.  I'm referring to my To Be Read pile of books at home.  Even if I managed to read everything I owned (and that'd take superhuman effort), there's always a new or new-to-me book to add.  London (and now Edinburgh) are the same way.  I've "accomplished" much on my past few visits, but then new discoveries peek out, clearing their throats until they catch my notice.  Often it is all too late at that point.  Here are two spots that will have to wait til next time:


wait, Whittard?  I've been to many of their shops, and have the ancient tins to prove it.  They're merited at least one visit every trip since 1998.  The Covent Garden branch has been well darkened by my eager footsteps over the years.  However, said branch only recently opened up a fully-fledged tearoom!

Thrilling though this news was to me, I only discovered it on the last full day of my trip, and I had reservations for the Sherlock Holmes afternoon tea to look forward to, so I couldn't just sit there and truly get the experience.  I was able to sit and have a cuppa, which as you can see came with little timers in order to brew properly.  Usually, I think, they have minimum requirements, but it was Sunday morning, so I guess they were lenient.  It was only a taste, though, and now I want more!

During a crazy long walk on our second day in Edinburgh, we happened to pass Maison de Moggy, which from the outside looked like the cutest cat cafe imaginable.  Sure, I've been to Lady Dinah's and Meow Parlour, and would go back to either in a heartbeat, and the Brooklyn Cat Cafe is beckoning, but I believe this is the first place I've seen a hairless cat in a cafe.  That's enough motivation for me!  I follow them on Instagram now, of course, and now I want to go even more as there's a cat that's looks a lot like my old Duforth.

When I go away, I don't miss home that much, except for the convenience of being home that you can't even find in fancy hotels.  I'm honestly not gone long enough to miss anyone, with the exception of Zenobia.  My sister Pam ends me pictures of her when she looks in on the furball, which, helps, 
but I still generally ache for the floof.  Going to Bon's in Texas affords me her handsome guy, Kombucha.  Seeing the eponymous moggies in the window (though moggy tends to refer to non-pedigreed cats, and these guys were all somewhat fancy), was a nice holdover, but a petting session would have set me up well at that point.   I also think there would be some pleasing tea and cake inside, albeit laced with cat hair - but I'm used to that!  Yes, I am single and over 40.  Deal with it. 

The list continues.  I almost made it to Leadenhall Market, but almost doesn't count...we passed the Globe theatre while a play was on, and could hear some of the performance, but I still haven't been in the audience.  There are many parks in London and Edinburgh I haven't strolled in, and so many museums in Edinburgh that will have to wait, hopefully not another 23 years.

06 November 2017

Sherlock Holmes Afternoon Tea

A delightful pairing experience is taking place at Taj 51 Buckingham Gate.  No, not the Alice in Wonderland themed tea, though I'm sure that's fun (maybe a bit predictable at this point?)  
I don't do Afternoon Tea as often as I used to, because if I'm honest it's a bit overwhelming sometimes:  too much bread and sweet things for my sensitive system.  I believe I still have Afternoon Tea more than most people, even more than the average British person, because it's generally considered a Special Occasion.  For me, this certainly was special, as it was not only my last full day in London, but also my first Afternoon Tea with Abigail and Clarissa.

I'll get my one and only complaint out of the way, and it's not aimed particularly at this particular place, but at AT's in general.  There's a surfeit of sweet, and only just enough savory on offer.  I'm looking at you, Hound of Baskerville: roast beef to die for, little chicken pies, but just a taste and it's over!  If that's my worst complaint, though, I think we're doing well.

The scones were scones, and they were wonderful.  The pastries were rich, so I had to keep my consumption to a minimum - scotch infused macarons, mousse cigar, all named after a prominent character in the stories.  Here's the menu.  And here's our adventures:

Scones are vital in an afternoon tea: dare I say, they are elementary?

One of the things I especially appreciated about this afternoon/evening is that it reminded me of how much I love good pairings.  I've probably gone on about the childhood teatime ritual of having a spot before sitting down to Jeremy Brett's latest performance.  Even though tea is not the first drink one thinks of in connection with Sherlock Holmes, it's definitely part of it, and when you're down the block from the illustrious Buckingham Palace, wearing a silly deerstalker, you can't help but talk about your favorite stories, and then the conversation progresses to other books, and one is complete.

There's a part of me that wishes I could find something like this in New York: if I did, I'd try it out, but would it be the same?  Emerging fully satiated into the light evening London rain, I don't think it would compare.

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!