Stuff and Nonsense: December 2019


12.28.2019

Christmas On The Island & Crafting

I run a library book club called Book Scents. Every few months we gather to discuss a feel-good novel, eat pastry, drink coffee, and make a craft inspired by the book. For example, in December we read Jenny Colgan's heartwarming holiday novel, Christmas On The Island and made a stove top potpourri simmer inspired by both the novel and the season. It was a simple craft, but everyone enjoyed putting it together and there was excited talk about what other spices or fruits might be added. Apple slices, for example. Or gently bashed cardamom pods.


To make this craft, I purchased bags of dried orange slices, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and freeze-dried cranberries from Nuts.com. I also found whole allspice and star anise at a local Asian grocery for an extremely reasonable price. Excluding the cinnamon sticks, the spices were portioned out into plastic shot glasses (leftover from another craft) so everyone received half a shot glass of each. I just piled the orange slices, cinnamon sticks, and cranberries into big bowls and we passed them around, crafting our own individualized potpourri blend as we discussed Christmas On The Island.

Free-dried cranberries were used strictly because I knew people would be leaving this out on windowsills or tables and I didn't want anyone to find their potpourri had gone green and fuzzy. As I have not actually simmered mine, I don't know what will happen with the freeze-dried cranberries, but I half expect they will dissolve into goo.


I'd arranged an assortment of season scrapbook papers and washi tape on a separate table and, at the end of our discussion, everyone had a chance to decorate their jars. Then we ate cranberry-chocolate scones (first -- and fab -- attempt by a group member!) and satsumas and wandered well off topic into holiday plans ... which is to be expected at this time of year.

In March we will discuss Abbi Waxman's "quirky, funny, and deeply thoughtful" book The Garden of Small Beginnings. I have not yet decided on the craft. Maybe pots of gardeners hand balm?

12.21.2019

Winter

Tea at the Phelps-Hatheway House

I recently had the pleasure of attending a tea in honor of Jane Austen’s birth anniversary at the Phelps-Hatheway House in Suffield. The afternoon began with a tea tasting led by a representative from Rishi Tea. We tasted Quince Eucalyptus and Cinnamon Plum, both organic caffeine-free botanical blends. The Quince Eucalyptus (a blend of quince, eucalyptus, ginger, black pepper, yuzu) was both bright and citrusy, but there was an underlying astringency I did not find pleasing. Much better was the Cinnamon Plum, a blend of plum, currants, hibiscus, and Saigon cinnamon. Already a fan of hibiscus tea, I was really taken with the perfect balance of flavors. Cinnamon Plum is definitely moreish lets-brew-a-whole-pot-just-for-me tea.


After the tea sampling, we retired to the "tea room" where we were served what were described as refreshments popular in the early 19th century and conversed at length among ourselves about Jane Austen and her delightful novels. We ate a variety of scones and quiches, plus cucumber sandwiches and a delicious (if anachronistic) Victoria Sponge.


The afternoon concluded with a tour of the first floor of the Phelps-Hatheway House and a brief vocal performance by one of our guides. All in all, it was an extremely pleasant way to pass a December afternoon.



The Phelps-Hatheway House & Garden highlights the luxurious lifestyle enjoyed by two wealthy 18th-century Connecticut Valley families until their fortunes collapsed. Suffield native Shem Burbank built the center chimney structure in 1761 where he and his wife Anna Fitch Burbank raised nine children. A merchant of British goods, Burbank’s business suffered during the American Revolution. In 1788, he sold the house to Oliver Phelps originally of Windsor, who served as Deputy Commissary under George Washington and later a successful land speculator. In 1794, Phelps commissioned the addition of a substantial wing decorated with imported Parisian wallpaper. A depressed real estate market forced Phelps to foreclose on the property in 1802 and move to Canandaigua, NY where he died in 1809.