Tag Archives: books
October 24, 2009

Bringing England Home…

102_1379Ever since I can remember, my parents served hot tea–not always a full afternoon tea, but definitely the steaming cupful with milk and sugar. Mom and Dad brought this tradition home with them from England on an early visit when I was little, and it stuck fast. Having grown up with “teatime,” I just naturally kept to it when I was married, and now I love to share it with my own children. Some days it’s just a hot cup during afternoon quiet time without ceremony. But, every now and again, we pull out all the stops and put on full afternoon tea. Today was such a day!

After our recent tour, sweet Amanda and Cari gave me a gift from Fortnum & Mason of loose-leaf tea, strawberry preserves, and tea biscuits. We broke these out today, enjoying the unmistakable fragrance that came when we opened the lid of the tea canister. Oh, this was going to be good! I pulled out our favorite “pink” china (a gift from my folks for my hope chest when I was 15), polished up the “Silver Beethoven” cultery, and laid out the tea tray with all we’d need.

Next, I tied on my favorite apron (a new find from the scrumptious Cath Kidston store in Bath!) and pulled out the ingredients for Suzi’s utterly delicious scones: self-rising flour, butter, sugar, salt, and buttermilk.

102_1380
Let me tell you, I’ve tasted scones from all over, and Suzi’s are the best I’ve ever eaten. They have a moist texture and a slightly sweet, almost creamy taste. I’ve never had better. But don’t take my word for it! Here is Suzi’s recipe:

My mother worked in a cafe in Stratford on Avon, and was given this recipe by a French lady who ran the place. It was called “The Cobweb Tea Rooms.”

  • 10 oz self-raising flour or 1 1/4 cups (You can use all-purpose flour with a raising agent – the best thing is to read the instructions on the packet for this, if you can’t get self raising flour.)
  • 1.5 oz sugar (3 tablespoons)
  • 1.5 oz. butter or margarine (I think about 3 tablespoons – equal weight to sugar.)
  • pinch salt (don’t leave this out – it really helps.)
  • about 1/2 cup sour milk or buttermilk, or milk curdled with lemon juice. Plain milk will also do.

Rub the flour, sugar, salt, and butter together until they look like breadcrumbs. Stir in the milk, very gradually, to make a firm, pliable dough. Don’t let it get too sticky. Roll out on a floured board to about 1/2″ thick. Cut in circles – I use a cutter about 2″ – 2.5″ across. Place on an ungreased baking sheet – you should get about 12 from this quantity.

Put in a hot oven, 200 degrees C (that’s about 400 degrees F), less for a fan oven, for about 10 minutes. I know this has to be different at altitude, but I don’t know by how much.

Serve with strawberry jam and thick heavy cream, or clotted cream if you can get it.

102_1371102_1372

Now, I completely forgot to bring home clotted cream from England, so we had to make do today with whipped cream. If you’d like to try clotted cream (which is like a thick, rich, sweet butter), you can get it Stateside from the English Tea Store, which offers lots of exclusively British teas and treats.

Here’s our spread with the scones hot from the oven!

Care to join us?

Care to join us?

Suzi's famous scones...

Suzi's famous scones...

We sliced our scones in half and dolloped whipped cream on top, followed by a generous teaspoon of Fortnum & Mason’s strawberry preserves:

102_1381

102_1383Absolutely delicious! We savored every bite and enjoyed the amazing tea fresh from the pot. My girls adore the ritual of a proper afternoon tea, complete with cloth napkins and beautiful silverware. I am thankful to my parents for always bringing home the best of foreign lands and for taking my siblings and me all over the world when we were growing up. It’s one thing to travel and just be a tourist; it’s another thing to study each culture you move through and come to appreciate and enjoy its own unique traditions and pastimes. Going through England and Germany as a teenager and staying for a goodish stretch in South Africa was a great gift. So was driving all over the United States and Canada and visiting in different homes. Each family has a culture, too, and it is so good to learn what is important to others and what they treasure. I feel my life is infinitely richer for the gift of “studious travel” given to me by my parents. They whetted my appetite for more. My husband and I desire to give our children this same gift as the years go by. On my next trip across the pond, I’ll be taking my daughters. I can hardly wait to share my love of England with them first-hand!

But you don’t have to hop in a plane or board a ship to dip into foreign places and learn from them. There are books galore that will take you on journeys, show you exotic ports, and even let you step into another household and see how life is lived there. Over the years, I’ve picked up books at used book stores, flea markets, and all kinds of yard sales, including lots of “coffee table” eye candy. These books have influenced my decorating style, my color choices, and even my taste in literature and food. Here’s a stack of some of my favorite (well-worn!) books on English living:

102_1384

102_1385I never tire of dipping into these and enjoying a glimpse into someone else’s well-loved home. If there’s anything that describes the English house, it’s certainly “cozy.” Little nooks for reading, warm kitchens, wide hearths, groaning bookshelves–these are England to me. Pots spilling over with flowers in abundance, gardens crammed with color, roses climbing old stone walls–these, too, are England. And how much richer our lives have been from bringing these things home, whether from a trip or from the pages of a book! This last journey over with our lovely tour group was an opportunity to share the things we love with others, and we are so glad we had the opportunity to do it. It’s a pleasure we hope to repeat with our children and with friends many times in the coming years. Perhaps you’ll come along next time and drink it all in? I’d love to have you! Thank you for sharing “my” England with me through this blog and indulging my lifelong delight in all things English. Until next time….

102_1387

February 26, 2009

Rochester: Part II

After the wonderful tour of the castle (and a quick stop in the gift shop for treats for my children!), we headed back down the hill toward the Cathedral. Through a side door, you enter the ruins of the old abbey, seen in the photo at left. There is a beautiful garden through the lower archway, complete with splendid English roses. Somehow we didn’t manage photos of those, but we were in a hurry for tea and a little rest, so we continued across the broad, green lawn into the cozy little tea room.

The tea room is an unpretentious, easygoing place built into a house that has served the church for over 200 years. They offer the usual scones and clotted cream with preserves and had a variety of teas available. We sat down to enjoy our little repast and chat about what we wanted to do next.

Yes, they do serve tea on plastic trays in England… ;-)

We knew we wanted to see the two big used bookshops in Rochester before heading back to London, but we weren’t sure where to start. The main street isn’t very long, so we wandered back down it until we stumbled across the first place, a little hole in the wall absolutely crammed to the ceiling with books. The proprietor let us browse, and we found many bargains (100-year-old Dickens’ editions for a pound!). Purchases in hand, we moved on down the street to an OxFam shop–akin to an American Goodwill. There were a few books, but nothing really tempted us there. We were beginning to wonder if we’d find the big store our hostess had told us about when we bumped into it at the end of the street. We entered two stories of antique book bliss! I found several volumes of 19th-century adventure stories for my son and regretfully walked away from expensive, leather-bound editions of favorite classics. It was dreamy just to browse!

But time marched on, and we knew we had to catch the bus back to our train to make it to London before it was too late. We bade a fond farewell to lovely Rochester and enjoyed a drowsy journey back to London, looking over our literary treasures and storing up memories.

Next morning we attended church with my friends in Dulwich, then joined them for lunch in their home and a restful afternoon of visiting and (of course!) tea:

Sitting with our wonderful hostess, Sarah J.

Lindsay and Sarah sip and rest.

Enjoying a marvelous afternoon.

Here are Sarah and Lindsay with our friends Carol and Dawn. The lovely young lady between Sarah and Lindsay was staying with our host family as a helper after the birth of their baby. A native of Australia, she was a delight to get to know!

All in all, we had a wonderful time. We headed back to Southwark for a late afternoon meal with Suzi, then began packing up for the trip home next day. Before turning in that night, though, we had a wild hair to go see Piccadilly Circus at night. I admit the idea was mostly fueled by fun images from yesteryear when the circus was akin to Times Square with all its lights and shops. So Carol, Dawn, Sarah, Lindsay, and I hopped a night bus and took off. Piccadilly didn’t quite live up to that vintage mental image, but we still had fun, doing some last-minute shopping for family and friends at the tourist traps all around us.

Next morning the girls and I said our good-byes and headed to Heathrow, and I posed for a last-minute picture with Dawn, Carol and Suzi:

The only other funny incident I must record is that Lindsay decided to wear flip-flops to the airport and ended up losing one between the tube and the station platform — it does say, “Mind the Gap” everywhere you look, and Lindsay’s flip-flop went straight down, never to be seen again. She spent the rest of the ride going through her suitcase for another pair of shoes! It really does pay to wear a good, comfy, sturdy pair of shoes for all journeys through London’s transport system. ;-)

At any rate, we did make it to our gate at Heathrow (after one wrong tube choice and long check-in lines) and flew back safe and sound to the US. And all of us look forward to future adventures in Great Britain!