Have a nice cup of tea!

You might think that I’m going off topic by writing about tea but let’s face it, how many of us put the kettle on before we settle down with a good book? Exactly, and that’s why I thought it was worthy of an entire blog post.

Although we think of tea as a very British drink it is in fact enjoyed in some form or another all over the world, with or without literature as an additional ingredient. Now, I’m not going to get into the teabag or leaf debate. I have teas made using both methods and providing they serve their purpose and taste good I don’t really mind whether my tea comes in a handy little bag or loose.

If, like me, you’ve spent any time working outside in the middle of the winter “as long as it’s hot and wet and goes down the right way, that’s all that matters”. This incredibly sensible quotation from the Duchess of York says it all about tea really. As long as it’s good it doesn’t matter how it got from tea caddy to cup.

We all love tea!

As we’re talking tea related quotations then the most famous quotation loved by all good geeks is “Computer. Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” Said, of course, by the enigmatic Captain Jean Luc Picard himself.

I’m quite partial to a nice cup of Earl Grey with a good book myself, with lemon not milk if you want to know. However, my favourite tea right now has to be Russian Caravan tea because of the deep, smoky taste that’s equally good whether you have sugar or not.

The machines are taking over!

When it comes to reading I like to keep things simple, and by that I mean with a real book, Sorry Kindle lovers but I won’t be joining you on the Dark Side any time soon!  However, the one machine that I’m starting to think might be useful to my reading is a Teasmade.

I mean think about it, how many times have you sat down with a book and then realised that what you really want it a nice cup of tea? Which of course means getting up, faffing with the kettle, waiting for it to boil, and then having to settle yourself down again when the tea making process is complete.

A waste of time if you ask me and it could all be stopped if you bought a Teasmade. Not that I have one yet, but a girl can dream can’t she?

What’s your flavour?

Black, white, green, fruity, calming, reviving, metabolism boosting, there seems to be a tea for every occasion these days. So tell me, what’s your favourite tea to drink whilst reading?

It’s time to get cooking!

I’ve been known to take cookery books and recipe folders to bed like most people would take a novel. I try and get a few hours every weekend to update my recipe folder and trawl through any new cook books I’ve bought from my local charity shop, my most recent was Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. That’s probably quite sad and proves that I have no friends but at least I’m well fed!

I wouldn’t call my cooking the best in the world, but I would say that I’m more than capable of producing wholesome, filling, comforting food that is more than a little bit edible. That’s probably part of the reason why Nigella is my all-time favourite cookery writer. She understands that we aren’t all professionally trained, don’t have hours to make a jous, mousse, or caramel nest, and that even if we did we wouldn’t want to anyway.

That’s not say that there’s anything wrong with that type of food, but let’s face it, how many of us really want to spend more than about an hour in the kitchen at the end of the day? For some, even 10 minutes is 10 minutes too long.

Personally I enjoy a cook book that has a mixture of easy, delicious, and preferably cheapish meals and the more expensive, time consuming, but equally delicious dishes. After all, which foodie doesn’t like spending a bit of extra time to prepare a gorgeous meal when they’ve got the time?

So with these criteria in mind here are my favourite cookery books that are guaranteed to get you in the kitchen no matter what day of the week it is.

Gizzi Erskine – Skinny Weeks and Weekend Feasts

If you’re anything like me then your relationship with food is a constant battle of keeping your weight down without feeling hard done by when presented with a plate of food.

As far as I’m concerned home cooked food should be delicious, filling, and definitely not like you’re on a diet. Gizzi’s book delivers just that. Her skinny weeks recipes are gorgeous, especially with all the Middle Eastern and Oriental flavours she uses, and her weekend feasts are to die for!

Valentine Warner – What to Eat Now: Spring and Summer

This was another charity shop find that’s definitely worth the few quid I paid for it. If you’ve been wanting to eat more seasonal ingredients but you haven’t been sure how to make the most of them then this is the book for you.

Unlike Gizzi and in line with Nigella’s philosophy, calorie counting doesn’t come into it, although that doesn’t mean that every recipe is dripping in lard. There are more than enough tasty and nutritious soups, salads, and grills to be had and this book.

Good Housekeeping Cookery Book – Cook’s Companion

Really any of the cookery books produced by the Good Housekeeping team are worth getting your hands on. Admittedly the recipes are pretty dated, salmon in aspic anyone? However other recipes form the basis of every good cook’s repertoire.

Soups, stews, pies, puddings, bread, and pastry are all explained with fool proof methods that even the most kitchen shy cook can understand. Mine was passed down to me from a family friend and with this in hand I survived university without poisoning myself or developing scurvy. If you want a book that tells you all the basics then is for you.

Anything by Nigella!

I know I’m carping on but I really do love Nigella. Her recipes will see you through every occasion, event, or personal crisis that you can think of all with minimal fuss and effort.

So what are you waiting for? Ready, steady, read that cook book!

My book of the week: Bill Bryson – At Home

I really do love this book and apparently the rest of my family does too. It was recommended to me by my mother and now I’ve got my boyfriend queuing up to read it when I’m done.

This is a book for everyone and definitely one of the most interesting non-fiction books I’ve read in a long time. At Home is packed full of mind boggling facts and things you never knew you needed to know about everything from light bulbs to our sewer systems.

When I say that this is a book for everyone I mean it. Personally I wasn’t overly interested in some of the engineering anecdotes in the book, but the stories were interesting and I was thrilled when I reached tales of spice trading and other cookery related facts because that’s what interests me.

I defy anyone not to find something interesting and enjoyable in this book because even if one fact leaves you cold, another will have you staying up into the small hours of the night in a bid to learn more.

The best part is that this book is far from boring. Bill Bryson manages to tell you the minute details about how the telephone was invented or what was really in a sack of flour without it sending you to sleep. And of course there are plenty of gruesome and dark anecdotes to be had!

Did you know that mousetraps were invented in 1897 by an iron monger called James Henry Atkinson? Probably not, and if you like to know a little about a lot then this is definitely a book you should get your hands on. There are so many things you’ll learn that you’ll never remember them all at the end but you’ll be glad you took the time to read about them.

In terms of being easy to read the book does tend to go off on tangents that some readers might find hard to follow, but this style worked for me. It was written in the same way that my mind works, or how searching for something on the internet would lead to discovering something completely different in just a few clicks.

There aren’t any real in-depth histories of anything contained in the pages of this book but the facts and fictions offer a starting point for any curious reader to carry on learning when it suits them.

As the book goes off on tangents so much I found it really easy to pick up whenever I had a spare few minutes. Unlike a novel I didn’t lose my thread or have to turn back a few pages to remember what the characters had been up to.

If you’re not thrilled by a history of something you can flick forward and find something more suited to your tastes without it ruining your understanding of the book.

For those of you that are after a book that makes you feel like you’ve learned something as well as providing an entertaining read then this is the book for you. I loved it and I hope anyone else who reads it will too!

Famous bookworms and their homes

One of my favourite literary houses is Chawton House in Hampshire. Although this property wasn’t actually owned by Jane Austen, it was owned by her brother, it remains one of the most beautiful houses with a literary link in the country. Or I think so anyway.

It isn’t just a pretty face either, it also houses a unique collection of early women’s writings dating from 1600-1830 that are stored in a temperature controlled library. There are a number of literary events held throughout the year and tours are available by appointment if you want a closer look at the amazing house and grounds.

Top tip time: if you’re looking for a suitable venue for a bookworm wedding, this is it!

With Chawton House in mind here are some other properties that have literary connections and are equally as interesting:

Agatha Christie’s Greenway

I thought I’d kick off with one of my favourite authors and her charismatic Devon home, Greenway. Now looked after by the National Trust, Dame Agatha Christie bought the house in 1938 and it became a loved family home.

One of the most interesting rooms in the house is the library (of course!) because of the frieze painted by American sailors who were stationed at the house during the Second World War. The frieze shows their wartime exploits including a stylised pin-up girl that Agatha Christie took to represent the sailors hopes for the end of the war.

The Bronte Parsonage

Now a museum the Bronte sisters spent nearly their entire lives at the parsonage of their father in Haworth, West Yorkshire. Looking at the surrounding area it’s easy to see where the sisters got their inspiration for the rugged landscapes in their novels.

Artefacts including toys, childhood story books, and paint boxes are all available to view. Plus, there’s a shop, VIP tour packages, and a number of literary events held throughout the year.

Virginia Woolf’s Monk’s House

Whilst this house might not look as impressive as the first two on my list its inhabitant is more than worthy of being included in this selection of literary houses. Virginia Woolf lived in Monk’s House in Rodmell, Sussex from 1919 until 1969 when Virginia’s husband, Leonard, died.

If you want a house with character then you’ll definitely get it here. Not only did Virginia and Leonard put their own stamp on the house but the plethora of visiting writers and artists left their mark, making it a fascinating property.

Robert Burns’ Burns Cottage

If you want real simplicity then head to Scotland and check out the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. Not only is there a modern museum with artefacts, interactive collections of his works, and of course, Burn’s Cottage.

There’s also a monument, shop, and café all set in 10 acres of gorgeous Alloway countryside.

Jane Austen’s Chawton Cottage

If you’re in Chawton and you want to see where she lived rather than the glorious Chawton House then you’re only a stone’s throw away. Chawton Cottage is now a museum run by dedicated ‘Janeites’ containing some of the best Austen collections and artefacts in the world.

Although not as grand as her brother’s house, Chawton Cottage is still worth visiting for the quaint features, and fabulous events and exhibitions.

Do you want fries with that?

Top coffee shops and restaurants to go to with a book in hand

For the lone diner a book is a fairly essential part of the kit. I think it takes a pretty confident person to eat alone without any props or paraphernalia and what better prop than a book?

However, some of the cafes and restaurants featured in this list are so cool you’ll be desperate to ditch your friends in favour of a good book and some delicious delicacies.

It’s time to pack your bags and get on that plane, we’re going to the ultimate literary destinations from around the world. Are ya’ ready?

Alice of Magic World – Tokyo, Japan

This restaurant really pushes the boat out in terms wackiness and dedication to theme. You can treat yourself to Cheshire Cat tail pizza, or Queen of Hearts beef and no matter what you order the dishes are served in a truly unique way.

Checking out the Lewis Carroll inspired décor and menu you’ll find yourself complaining that Japan gets all the cool stuff. You won’t be disappointed, especially if Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was a childhood favourite.

McNally Jackson – New York, USA

A shop where you can buy books and coffee, what more could you want? There’s books hanging from the ceiling and a selection of literary quotes on a menu of tasty treats including, “Well, many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese – toasted, mostly” from the classic novel, Treasure Island.

Personally a cup of coffee, cheese toastie, and a good book sounds like my idea of heaven, but I’ll let you make your own mind up!

Bookbar – Denver, USA

Another great literary eaterie from the good ol’ US of A. Bookbar, as the name suggests, combines a book shop, a bar, and a café so it’s the perfect place to meet, eat, drink, and read.

As well as selling books they host unique literary events such as Book and Wine Pairing evenings, Happier Hour, Book Club Hubs, and Author Chats. So if you’re in Denver and you need a bookish fix then head on down and grab yourself a glass of vino!

Cafe Kafka – Barcelona, Spain

This café is named after one of the greatest writers ever known, and the food’s not bad either! All the produce is sourced daily from local suppliers and you can treat yourself to luxurious delicacies like Beluga caviar and Iberico ham.

Worryingly however, the bathrooms have been described as Kafkaesque. I’ll leave that one up to your own imagination!

Les Éditeurs – Paris, France

Is it a library or is it a restaurant? I’m not sure and neither are the owners! You’ll get gorgeous French food and the chance to peruse the selection of fantastic books left by visiting authors and publishers.

There are more than 5000 books to choose from so pull up a chair (red leather don’t you know!) and make yourself comfortable. You won’t regret it!