January 11, 2016

...the guest sits smiling and sips her tea

And unbelievably, somehow it is January.  Fall is now nothing but a blur, and December was definitely a whirlwind, with a visit from my mother, a nasty bout of food poisoning, and all of the Christmas preparations on top of work.  The holidays were lovely and the memories are sweet, but I must confess to looking forward to this new year.  So far it holds only happy plans and the year is sparkly new and full of promise.

One of the very best things about January is, of course, the return of Downton Abbey!  Oh my, how I've missed this series.  And oh double my, what am I going to do once it ends??!  I am glad that its creator, Julian Fellows, is wrapping up this delightful series before it runs out of steam, but I know I'm going to miss it dreadfully.  Last week when the opening credits began with that distinctive piano music and the camera zoomed in on the house (mansion? abbey?) I must confess tears sprang to my eyes.  I get a little over-excited sometimes...

...because everyone serves tea and sherry during Downton Abbey, right??
And since I've been adrift since the finale of the British Baking Show, lost at sea without any baking inspiration, Downton Abbey couldn't have arrived at a better time!  I turned eagerly to my shelves of cookbooks and chose a new one, English Tea & Cakes, to provide a lovely repast during opening night.  So far I'm really impressed with this cookbook--the recipes are easy to understand and fairly simple.  The author was kind enough to provide UK to USA conversions and definitions in the glossary, which is really helpful.  Since I discovered I can't buy "mixed spices" here, I made my own for last night's tea bread---it's a lovely mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice, ginger, cloves, mace and coriander.

My first try was a Manchester tart, with a pie crust bottom spread with apricot jam and a tasty filling, and then topped with meringue.  My family all agreed it was a keeper!

Last night I tried another two recipes from the same cookbook--this time we enjoyed Florentine slices, which have a chocolate layer on the bottom (instead of a flour based crust) that is then covered with a mixture of eggs, sugar, spices, dried fruit and coconut.  Baked and then chilled, the slices were delicious!!  Along with the Earl Grey tea I also served a yummy blackberry tea loaf, flavored with molasses and my special mixed spices.  

And to make the night even more festive, I used the beautiful Blue Willow  tea cups my husband chose when we were visiting Harrods a few years ago.  What a great way to finish the weekend--special memories--delicious food--and wonderful entertainment!!

Since I seem to be stuck on all things British with this post, a nice English poem seems just the cup of tea  today (I know, I know, but I couldn't resist!).  Considering all the twists and turns of love at the Abbey, both upstairs and downstairs, this poem by Thomas Hardy seems rather apropos...

    At Tea 
    THE kettle descants in a cozy drone,
    And the young wife looks in her husband's face,
    And then in her guest's, and shows in her own
    Her sense that she fills an envied place;
    And the visiting lady is all abloom,
    And says there was never so sweet a room.
    And the happy young housewife does not know
    That the woman beside her was his first choice,
    Till the fates ordained it could not be so....
    Betraying nothing in look or voice
    The guest sits smiling and sips her tea,
    And he throws her a stray glance yearningly.

Have a lovely start to your week, and please remember...

It is a good day to have a good day!!

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