More tea? Don’t mind if I do!

teapotA lazy sunday afternoon meant it was time to try more of the tasty teas from my friends at Teavivre!  I chose a lovely strong black tea for my post-lunch brew, Teavivre’s Bailin Gongfu Black Tea.  A lunch of a hearty chicken sandwich and caramel cake bar called for a nice, malty cup of tea, and this pot of tea was just right for my relaxing afternoon cuppa.  A rich, earthy smell wafted as I brewed up a steaming pot in one of my favourite colourful teapots, and the tea has a soft, almost caramelised aftertaste.

Jasmine PearlsAs my evening cup of tea, I brewed up a little pot of Teavivre’s delightful Superfine Jasmine Downy Pearls Green Tea.  Jasmine Green Pearls tea is a firm favourite of a number of my fellow Secret Tea Society members, this is a truly relaxing and refreshing tea, with a lovely golden colour.  I just had to show it off in my little glass teapot!

On the subject of Jasmine Pearls tea, I recommend a rather naughty little poem – another favourite of the lovely ladies of the Secret Tea Society – by Britain’s Tea Poet, Elizabeth Darcy Jones, which can be found in her book, Distinguished Leaves.

On that literary and inspiring note, I will leave you to enjoy a nice cup of tea, too.  A good evening to one and all!

Rachael X

Library corner – Curl up with a great book and a cup of tea

I have a lovely big stack of books just waiting for me to dive into! I love to curl up with a good book and a nice cup of tea, come rain or come shine, and think the two go together hand in hand!  In the good weather, there’s nothing better than enjoying a great book in the sunshine and fresh air.  When it’s cold, there’s such comfort to be found in retreating to a cosy corner with a steaming cup of hot tea and a book, whether new or re-discovered.

books tea time

I have been working my way through the pile of fab books I got as Christmas gifts, and have also been bought some more beauties for my birthday.  Add to that the fact that I can never go shopping without buying at least one book, and the pile is ever-growing!

Over Christmas, I channeled a vintage vibe by reading Nancy Mitford’s “Christmas Pudding” – a fun, festive, vintage read!  And I particularly like the cover, featuring some fabulous vintage clothes and cloche hats!

One of my very good friends, of course, knowing my love of books, bought me “Ex Libris” for Christmas, a book for true book lovers!  It was just the right book for curling up with in the cold and reading all in one go!

I absolutely love Mr Selfridge and am delighted that it’s part of my Sunday evening routine once more!  While I was eagerly awaiting the launch of the second series, I got in the mood by reading the book that inspired the TV series, “Seduction, Shopping and Mr. Selfridge”!  I love the historical context, the pioneering nature of Selfridge’s store – like them being the first British store to have cosmetics at the very front counter for all to see and try – and the historical and vintage references, from the costumes, to the replica advertising, to the Guerlain perfume and Yardley face cream!  I have to say, it has replaced Downton in my affections these days…

Another fashion and shopping-themed book, about a topic close to my heart, is “Green is the new black”. I have always felt passionate about recycling clothes, whether re-using and up-cycling your own wardrobe, or buying quality vintage and charity shop finds. I have always mixed in my wardrobe a combination of high street and charity shop bargains, good quality vintage and favourite designer classics. I think they all complement one another and I like to dress to feel good about myself. This book covers so many elements of this, from…

With this in mind, I picked up the beautifully-bound “How to tie a scarf: 33 styles”, which looks like its cover has been bound with a luxury silk scarf. I have just had a complete sort-out of my wardrobe, including accessories, and found I have so many lovely scarves in all the colours of the rainbow and an array of fabrics.  I really must find new ways to style and wear these scarves, so this book should come in very handy!

On the subject of style and fashion, I received the gorgeous “Parisian Chic” by Ines de la Fressange as part of my birthday goody bag from one of my best friends.  This is just the kind of book I like to curl up with and dip in and out of while taking a tea break at home! Fashion, style and shopping tips always inspire me, and I like books that you can always refer back to.  The same friend and I are also planning a girly trip to Paris soon, so it’s both a practical and pretty book in planning for our trip!

Novel-wise, I’m also savouring every word of Joanne Harris’ “Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé”, the next sequel to “Chocolat” after “The Lollipop Shoes”.  I loved both “Chocolat” and its first sequel – the colourful, cleverly-drawn characters and the strong sense of sight and smell that Harris conjures up in her books really transport you into the world that she’s writing about, and I always find myself glued to her novels from start to finish!  Knowing I will soon finish this fabulous book, I also recently bought her collection of short stories, “A Cat, a Hat, and a Piece of String”.  It was when buying this book in Bath when I visited a few weeks ago that I discovered I’d just missed the author popping into the local Waterstones, by a day!  Such a shame!  I will have to keep my eyes peeled for her next book tour…

Also on the reading list is Philippa Gregory’s “The White Princess”.  I loved the whole Wars of the Roses trilogy: “The Red Queen”, “The White Queen” and “The Kingmaker’s Daughter”, and also really enjoyed the BBC TV series inspired by these books, so I am looking forward to delving back into that turbulent period of history and the magical, yet realistic world that Gregory creates in her books.

Tree decorations

Speaking of history, I really enjoyed Susanna Lipscombe’s Channel 5 series on Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.  I have always been fascinated and inspired by Anne Boleyn and the Tudor period in general. I am planning a trip to Hever Castle, Anne’s family home, at Easter, and can’t wait!  I also really want to stay at the stunning Thornbury Castle in Gloucestershire, where Henry and Anne stayed in happier times and which features on the programme.  Understandably, this stunning hotel books up pretty quickly, so I will have to plan that well in advance for another special occasion!

Right, I’m off to have a pot of tea and settle down with another good book…

Happy New Year!

It’s a new year – time to get life in order…

Library Corner

At this time of year, I always like to read lifestyle books that help me get my life in order.  Previous Christmas gifts have included the fabulous The Goddess Guide and The Goddess Experience by Giselle Scanlon; Clare Coulson’s House Rules, Camilla Morton’s How to Walk in High Heels and A Girl for All Seasons; the wonderful Things I Wish my Mother had told Me, by Lucia Van Der Post; and the brilliantly-titled How to do everything and still have time for yourself, by Dawna Walter, also the author of The Life Laundry.  I love all these authors and this style of book – you can dip in and out like a women’s lifestyle magazine, but they are incredibly useful to keep and refer back to particular sections for reference for years to come.

I also look for interesting cookbooks to give me recipe inspiration for healthy meals throughout the New Year ahead – as well as firm favourites Nigel Slater and Bill Granger; I always go back to my Food Doctor books for inspiration.  I particularly love Ian Marber’s healthy, low fat salad dressing suggestions, using staple ingredients like vegetable juice.

Every January, I look forward to perusing my local bookshops and charity shops for similar finds.  This year I was delighted to find Gok Wan’s Work Your Wardrobe and Nigella Express in one of many of my well-stocked local charity shops, spurring me to action to audit my wardrobe and plan some quick, delicious meals!

Then it’s on to some meaty reads to keep me going on the commute – very excited to start Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies, especially having just read Alison Weir’s The Lady in the Tower, about the fall of Anne Boleyn.  I also have a stack of Philippa Gregory novels waiting for me!

Happy reading…

Christmas Tree DecorationsThe most wonderful time of the year…

On the subject of Anne Boleyn, I received several lovely Christmas gifts from my wonderful husband on this theme – my Anne and Henry Christmas tree decorations – shown in the picture; Hampton Court Tea Blend and Lemon Curd, and the piece de resistance, a replica of Anne’s famous “B” necklace, in an “R” for me!

Twinings Tea BoxAlice in Wonderland MugTime for tea?

Similarly, I also received a number of gifts from family and friends related to, you’ve guessed it, tea!  I am very proud of my beautiful Twinings tea chest; a delightful book on afternoon tea from my mother in law; a fun tea towel and shoe-shaped cake slice; this fabulous White Rabbit mug; and an entirely different type of tea – Whittard’s Bath Tea Bags! Ah, thank you, lovely people – you know me so well! 

We also enjoyed several afternoon teas at local favourites The Original Maids of Honour in Kew and The Teacup in Richmond, where we discovered Cinnamon black tea, perfect for this time of year!  It smells like Christmas in a cup, and Cinnamon is so warming and comforting…

Bath time treats

And not forgetting another of my favourite things – Soap & Glory!  I was lucky enough to receive the enormous bag of goodies that is The Best of All gift set.  I am now well and truly stocked up with my favourite Soap & Glory treats and looking forward to some bath time pampering!

It was a lovely, relaxing holiday season – I was ill last year, so really enjoyed decorating and entertaining in our little cottage this time round – everything seemed very festive and very cosy.

The snow is on its way – time for some winter warmers…

It’s got a lot colder – snow is on the way.  I promised to offer up some seasonal recipes, so here are some lovely winter warmers to keep out the cold.

All recipes serve 2, but could easily serve more, as there are usually leftovers that we keep in the fridge for a few days, or freeze!

Creamy Corn Chowder

Serves 2

Creamy Corn Chowder

What I love about this recipe is that you can easily make it with store cupboard and kitchen staples – there’s usually a tin of corn on the shelf and some bacon or ham in the fridge!

Ingredients:
  • Bacon/ham/pancetta/Parma Ham – whatever you have.  (I used Parma ham)
  • A glug of olive oil (I’m using Filippo Berio Extra Virgin olive oil at the moment)
  • 2 chopped large onions
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • Approx. 1 pint chicken stock (can use vegetable stock if Vegetarian)
  • 6 cups medium-diced white boiling potatoes, unpeeled (2 pounds)
  • One tin of corn or equivalent weight frozen/fresh corn kernels
  • 2 tablespoons coconut milk/ a quarter of a small can coconut cream (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons crème fraîche
  • Grated cheese (any hard cheese works well), or 2 tablespoons cream cheese
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To cook:

Use a large casserole/stockpot or saucepan.  Cook bacon/ham in the olive oil over medium heat, until crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan and set aside. Add the onions to the pan (you may need to add a little more oil) and cook until the onions turn clear.

Stir in the seasoning and turmeric and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock, bring to the boil, then simmer uncovered for around (10-15 minutes).  Add the corn to the soup, and then add the crème fraîche and/or coconut cream/milk and cheese. Cook for 5 more minutes, until the cheese is melted and the soup takes on a more creamy consistency. Season with a pinch more salt and pepper. Serve piping hot with a garnish of crisped bacon/ham and, if you like, some fresh parsley.

Make it even heartier…

I was inspired by the wonderful Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, for this dish! (Ina has a lovely, more hearty Cheddar Corn Chowder recipe that also includes potatoes – you can find it on the Food Network website –http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/cheddar-corn-chowder-recipe/index.html)

No-chili Chicken Korma

Serves 2

No Chilli Chicken KormaI’m allergic to peppers and chilies, so often miss out on the wonderful flavours of Indian cooking.  However, after some experimenting at home, I came up with a tasty korma recipe without any chilies or related products.  Should you wish to add some spice, you can add chili flakes/paste or chili salt towards the end of cooking!

Ingredients:
  • A large glug of olive oil
  • 2 chopped large onions
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon chopped ginger
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1 cinnamon stick or ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • Small bunch chopped fresh coriander and parsley (reserve a few sprigs for garnish) or ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • Peeled potatoes – 2 medium/large potatoes should be enough
  • Frozen peas – about a cup full
  • Sweetcorn/carrots/beans – any vegetables you might have handy
  • One tin of corn or equivalent weight frozen/fresh corn kernels
  • 2 tablespoons coconut milk
  • 1/2 small can coconut cream
  • 1 tablespoon crème fraîche
  • Teaspoon tomato puree
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To cook:

Fry the chicken in the olive oil (if using pre-cooked leftover chicken, warm in the pan with the onions).

Once the chicken is cooked, add the onion (an possibly a little more oil) until the onions are soft and translucent

Add the ginger, garlic, spices, tomato puree, salt and pepper, lower the heat and cook for a few minutes, to release the flavours of the spices.  (If you want to make the traditional version of this with fresh chili, this is also when you add the chilies).  Keep stirring – you don’t want the mixture to burn to the pan – and add a little water if necessary.

Add any vegetables and cook for about 10 minutes

Add the coconut milk, coconut cream and crème fraîche. stir thoroughly and simmer on a low heat until the vegetables are soft, the colour of the sauce turns a nice yellowy shade and the consistency is creamy.  To thicken the sauce, add some.

Season to taste, serve with wholegrain rice and garnish with a sprig of fresh coriander or parsley.

Veggie sausage casserole

Serves 2

Veggie Sausage CasseroleThis is a cold weather favourite at home.  Quick and easy – and can even all be thrown into the slow cooker and left to bubble away while you’re at work!

Ingredients:
  • 6-8 veggie sausages (try Linda McCartney or Quorn sausages)
  • A large glug of olive oil
  • 2 chopped large onions
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • Tin chopped tomatoes
  • ½ pint vegetable stock (if you aren’t a vegetarian, chicken stock also works really well!)
  • Frozen peas – about a cup full
  • Half a can sweetcorn
  • 4 carrots
  • Half can cannellini beans
  • Half can kidney beans
  • Any other vegetables you might have handy – chopped butternut squash beans, leeks, spinach all work well
  • 2 tablespoons crème fraîche
  • 1 teaspoon tomato puree
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Fresh thyme
  • Fresh rosemary
To cook:

Fry or grill the veggie sausages, slice and reserve.  Cook the onions and leeks (if using) in the oil until translucent.  Add the other vegetables and cook for around 10 minutes on a medium heat (if using spinach, don’t add this until a few minutes before the end of cooking).  Add tinned tomatoes and stock and bring to the boil.  Add the herbs, season with salt and pepper.  Reduce heat and simmer for around 15 minutes, until all the vegetables are soft.  Add any leafy vegetables (eg. spinach) and cook for a few minutes more.  Serve over wholegrain rice or pasta, (or with mashed potatoes/carrot and suede mash) and garnish with any fresh herbs you might have – parsley works well.

Happy New Year everyone – and bon appétit!