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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Beverages, on May 20th, 2007.


I’ve been under-the-weather this weekend. I think it’s a flu bug? Not sure, but food doesn’t thrill me. I’ve had juice, but am just going to go make myself a pot of tea. So thought I’d tell a little story about my tea and teapots. Growing up, probably like most of you, the only time I drank tea was when I was sick and my mother would brew Lipton’s with a teabag and some milk and honey. Then once I was able to eat a little something my mother would lovingly make me some milk toast – a piece of toast, buttered and sprinkled very lightly with sugar, placed in a wide shallow bowl and topped with about 1 cup of hot milk.

Until I became an adult – even a middle-aged adult, I’d never had anything except Lipton’s. Then in 1981 we met the English couple Jimmy & Pam – the couple I talked about a couple of weeks ago on this blog – Pamela, the professional chef, and Jimmy, the retired RAF Wing Commander. When we met them, that momentous evening at the local pub in Ilminster, they insisted we had to come and stay with them for a couple of days. Now when was it you met someone and they invited you to come stay in their home? We were overwhelmed. We actually had plans to drive down into Devon for a couple of days, but agreed we’d come back through Somerset and stay for two nights.

So, a couple of days later, we arrived at their home at about 4 pm. It was cold, drizzly Fall weather, so when we took our suitcases inside, Pamela said come into the kitchen, where we sat down with them to have a spot of tea. We had some wonderful thick sliced wheat bread with peanut butter and tea. It was the tea that sort-of exploded in my mouth – wow, I thought, this is absolutely delicious. It was nothing whatsoever like Lipton’s. And even though I’d been to England before, I’d always drunk coffee, even though it wasn’t the national drink!

When Pamela showed us the guest room upstairs, she pointed out the tea tray that was sitting on the window sill, including a little, unique pitcher of milk (sealed with plastic wrap) on the tray. They lived in a very old house with thick walls, and the milk stayed very cold. If we woke up in the night, she said, we could brew some tea. I must say, it probably had never occurred to me to brew myself some tea in the middle of the night. But the next morning when we awoke, we did make a pot of tea right there in our bedroom. Most Britons buy electric kettles, like this, or this, to brew hot water. Nowadays you can buy them here in the U.S., but for many years the only place I ever saw them was in the British Isles. They range in price from $11 for plastic, to upwards of $100 for stainless steel, cordless models. And no, I don’t have one.
I was enchanted with the little cream pitcher (pictured here), which I bought on a subsequent trip to England because I just think it’s so darned CUTE!

The next day they took us on a whirlwind drive around Somerset, including Lyme Regis, and a British military air museum in a nearby village. But that visit set the stage for many more with them. We always stay two nights. One night Pamela cooked dinner and the other night we took them out. But it was on the second trip to Britain that I was, again, in love with Pamela’s tea. So the first morning there she decided to give me a “tea lesson.” She made her own blend – she explained about the differences between standard black teas, and the smokey teas that lend a real depth of flavor. She would never, ever, use a tea bag. (There is also green tea, but I don’t like green tea, so I won’t give you any info about that.) My recollection is that she mixed 2/3 regular teas (two different kinds) and the other third a smokey tea. After we returned from that trip Pamela mailed us a package of different English teas, which I used to make my own blend.

But, she then proceeded to show me exactly how to make a PROPER pot of tea, and ever since that day, I’ve not wavered from this technique. Here’s what you need:
 
A teapot
A tea cozy (it’s a cover for the teapot)
Tea leaves (loose only)
A strainer, or tea ball to put inside the pot
A small pitcher of milk, warmed
Sugar (or sweetener), if desired

For me, part of the fun of making tea is the presentation, so I have my favorite tea tray (which I couldn’t find this morning) given to me by my friend Darlene 24 years ago. Because I often bring the tea tray upstairs to my office, when I do have tea, it needs to be easy to handle. While the water is boiling I put everything I need onto the tea tray – the strainer, a pretty tea spoon, the pitcher of warmed milk, and my sugar bowl. You’ll notice that on my tea tray this morning I put my bright red sugar bowl – I collect those little sugar bags from our travels. I never take more than one or two at a place, but I still have a large collection of sugars from different places in the world, and in languages I don’t begin to understand, either. Pamela gave me that idea, and I thought it was a very fun one, so adopted it.

Making a Proper Pot of Tea
1. Bring the pot of water to a boil.
2. Pour about 1 cup of very hot water into the teapot, swirl it around, then pour it out. This is an important step to warm the teapot before you pour the real hot water into the pot. You want to start with a hot pot. Alternately, you can use the hottest tap water and allow the teapot to sit while the water is boiling, then pour it out.
3. Drop the tea leaves into the pot and pour the hot water over it. Put the lid on, then place on the tray with the tea cozy on top. If you don’t have a tea cozy, cover the teapot with a kitchen towel to keep the heat in.
4. Allow the tea to stew for a maximum of 5 minutes.
5. Pour out into mugs, through a strainer, then add milk or sugar. In Britain, you don’t use both – you either use milk OR sugar. But sometimes I do anyway. It depends on the type of tea I’m drinking. My favorite sweetener is honey, but usually I add Splenda.

Because of Pamela’s influence in my life with all-things-tea, I’ve acquired a number of teapots over the years. The red one is certainly the most colorful, but it makes about 6 cups. The one on the tea tray is probably my favorite because it makes just the right amount for me to have 2 cups of tea. I also have a very fancy, small teapot that belonged
to my grandmother. I love it for its beauty, but it doesn’t keep the tea very hot, so it’s relegated to the cupboard, I’m afraid.

A very special one, though, is Pamela’s teapot, the one she gave me when she and Jimmy were downsizing their big, old house and moving to one of the Cotswolds towns. She asked me if there was anything I’d like to have, and I requested a teapot. She chose this one, and I brought it home with me as a carry-on. Very carefully. It also makes a big pot of tea, though, so I don’t use it very often. And although I have a collection of fancy china tea cups, I never use them for myself because tea just doesn’t stay hot in them. I prefer mugs, always.

I’m including one other pot here – it’s actually a coffeepot – I bought it at a lovely tea shop in the Cotswolds one year. It’s Staffordshire china, and a press pot. I did use it regularly for several years after I bought it, and was very cautious because it’s quite fragile. Mostly I
make espresso (a latte, actually) now, and Dave makes a pot of coffee for himself in our big Cuisinart grind and brew machine.

So, to finish the story, I’ve become a connoisseur of tea, even though I don’t make it often – but for some years when I was working I’d wake up in the middle of the night and couldn’t sleep (now I know it was the Claritin-D keeping me awake), I’d get up, make myself a pot of tea and quietly watch tv or turn on my computer and play mindless solitaire games. One year, I think it was 2000, Cherrie and I took a 10-day “Tea Tour” to England. She and I both like Earl Grey – and 12 of us, all ladies, journeyed to Britain. We had afternoon tea 5 times in 10 days. By the 5th time we’d all had enough of the afternoon tea, but it was sure fun.

So, go ahead, why don’t you make yourself some tea too.

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  1. Kate

    said on May 22nd, 2007:

    What a beautiful story.

    I love a good cup of tea and have gradually switched over from tea bags to loose leaf, keeping both on hand. Your explanation of making a good pot of tea is wonderful.

  2. yvette

    said on May 22nd, 2007:

    Carolyn,
    Can you please share with us
    your receipes for tea sandwiches
    and other tasty treats that we
    can enjoy with our “proper pot of
    tea”.
    Yvette

  3. Carolyn

    said on May 22nd, 2007:

    Kate – thanks. I loved writing up the story. Our friend in England is in her mid-80’s now and doesn’t DO computers, so I emailed her son-in-law, asking him to print out the two stories I’ve written and give them to her. She’s only read the first one so far, about the Cold Green Pea Soup, and she cried. She’ll cry over this one, too, I expect, especially when she sees her teapot in the group of teapot pictures. I’ll have to do another post one day about the different kinds of teas I drink. I have about 4 or 5 that I enjoy more than others, of which Earl Grey is right up there at the top.

    Yvette – yes, I will do a post sometime soon on tea sandwiches. I have one, that’s my very own concoction for curried chicken, but recently I attended a cooking class (yes, yet another one) that was all about afternoon tea (as if I haven’t gone to enough afternoon teas, or gone to enough classes on the subject), and I acquired two new sandwich recipes that were really, really good. I’ll post those as well. So stay tuned. Only problem is that I’ll have to MAKE them in order to photograph them, so it might be a little while . . .

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