Recipe & Review: Birthday Shortbread for Bilbo & Frodo Baggins

Recipe and Review: Birthday Shortbread for Bilbo & Frodo Baggins from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien

The Hobbit The Lord of the Rings

Fantasy: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien

September 22 is the shared birthday of Bilbo Baggins and Frodo Baggings, two of the most beloved book characters of all time. Bilbo’s story, The Hobbit was first published on September 21, 1937 and Frodo’s story from  The Lord of the Rings was first published in three volumes, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King from 1954 through 1955. These works by J.R.R. Tolkien, the father of modern fantasy, are the heart of an international fandom that is almost frightening in its intensity.

Tolkien was a scholar with a focus on the study of languages. It is no wonder that the high fantasy world he created has complete languages with distinct alphabets and runes that even evolved over the ages of his world of Middle Earth. The elves have a flowing script that wanders across the page like vines. In contrast to the straight lines and angular runes of the dwarves which would have been cut into stone.

Along with the languages for the peoples of Middle Earth, he created distinct geography and cartography. These lands helped shape the characters that grew in them — their priorities, skills, and loyalties. Hobbits in their green and agrarian lands adore the comforts of home and hearth. While the men that dwell in the land of Gondor favor the skills of warriors due to their proximity to the evil that lives in Mordor. Elves live in the woods because the sight of the sea would awaken their longing to return to the lands of the Valar.

Aside from the complex lands to explore, Tolkien populated his Middle Earth with equally complex people. With an epic quest plot, the journey through Middle Earth is filled with enough characters for everyone to find a favorite — wizards, warriors, mischief makers, heroes, and helpers. Characters mentioned in passing often had amazing backstories and/or futures found in the LOTR appendices or other poems or books by Tolkien. Not standing tall, but at the heart of all the characters found in Middle Earth are Bilbo and Frodo. Its their quests the drive the plot of the books.

Being major characters in such a big story, means that Bilbo and Frodo deserve some quiet time on their shared birthday to enjoy a quiet treat and tea. This shortbread recipe can be kept simple or can be dressed up in party fancy with a few adjustments. Lady Grey tea, a softer version of Earl Grey tea, with additional citrus notes make a soothing accompaniment to shortbread cookies. Whether you are re-discovering the books or enjoying the adventure for the first time, have the cookies below to snack on, because hobbits always have time for tea and treats.

Birthday Shortbread

1 cup salted butter, at room temperature (if using unsalted butter then add 1/4 teaspoon salt)

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoons vanilla extract (optional)

 

1) Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly oil two round 9″ cake pans. If you worry about the shortbread  sticking in your particular pans, line them with parchment, and oil the parchment.
2) In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, and vanilla; then beat in the flour. The mixture may seem a little dry at first; keep beating till it comes together. If it absolutely won’t come together, dribble in up to 1 tablespoon of water, until it does. This is a stiff dough.
3) Divide the dough in half, and press each half into one of the prepared pans, smoothing the surface with your fingers, or with a mini rolling pin. Use a knife to section off wedges, this scoring should help prevent breakage later.
4) Use a fork to prick the dough all over; this allows any steam to escape, and prevents the shortbread from bubbling as it bakes. You can prick the dough in a random pattern, but it looks nicer pricked with some kind of symmetry.
5) Bake the shortbread until it’s a light gold across the top surface, and a deeper gold  around the edges, about 15 minutes. 
6) Remove it from the oven, and immediately turn each shortbread round out onto a clean work surface.
7) Using a pizza wheel or knife, cut each round into 12 wedges. (Do this while the shortbread is still warm; if you wait until it’s cool, it won’t cut easily.) Transfer the shortbread wedges to a rack to cool.
8) Serve as is, or decorate. Here are a few suggestions:

     * Drizzle with melted caramel/dulce de leche or dip into chocolate
     * Sprinkle caramel cookies with large salt flakes or chocolate cookies with chopped pecans
     * Create sandwich cookies by spreading pairs with jam or lemon curd

Cookies baked on a sheet pan in the shape of rectangles, make for lovely shortbread fingers which are easier to dip into melted chocolate.

For thinner cookies to make sandwiches, shape the dough into logs and chilled in the fridge until hard. The cookies can then be sliced into thin rounds which make it easier to add a dollop of jam or lemon curd after cooling. Sandwiching the bottom halves of the cookies together tend to make a prettier plate.

 

The Hobbit The Lord of the Rings

Recipe and Review: Birthday Shortbread for Bilbo & Frodo Baggins from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Rachel Chu & Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Rachel Chu & Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan

 

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Book Series Review: Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians Trilogy:

Crazy Rich Asians

China Rich Girlfriend

Rich People Problems

August 2018 welcomed the first major Hollywood film set in modern times staring a predominately Asian cast since Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club in 1993. Crazy Rich Asians, like Joy Luck Club, was a book before it was a movie.

Rachel Chu, overworked NYU economics professor, needs a restful vacation. What she gets, when she agrees to accompany her boyfriend to the wedding of a family friend in Singapore, is an out of control cultural explosion the size of the Ring of Fire.

While the movie focuses mainly on the love story between Rachel Chu and her boyfriend Nick Young, Crazy Rich Asians, the book digs deeply into the broader cast of characters that Rachel meets when she encounters all three branches of Nick’s extended family. There is family tree included as part of the opening pages in each of the trilogy’s books to help readers keep track of the complicated relationship ties. Besides dealing with the ins and outs of flamboyant and dramatic family connections, Crazy Rich Asians is a satire. A sharp, cutting, hilarious satire.

The humor of Kevin Kwan cuts like a sword through every stereotype — economic, racial, social class, immigrant status, nationality, religion, and educational level.  Sometimes Kwan’s strikes are bold and sweeping, as shown in the opening scene, when the crazy rich wealth of the family in a surprise move slaps down the prejudice of an upscale hotel official. Other times, the satire is a pin prick poke so subtle you can miss it, such as a single descriptive sentence differentiating between Filipino and mainland Chinese servants embedded in a personal reflection.  No personal paradigm is left untouched; no stereotype is left unquestioned.

In the Crazy Rich Asians series, character growth or stagnation occurs when a character is faced with a plot point that challenges her or his point of view. The satire is strong, yet the humor is the draw to pushes the reader to face each event with Rachel. The barbs, banter, and dialog are wickedly witty. The over the top scenes are filled with exuberance and luxury that makes you want to alternate between hugging or slapping characters. Crazy Rich Asians is a fun read.

Recipes

With all of the Crazy Rich Asians that Rachel needs to deal with when she visits the home of Nick Young, she needs some alone time just roaming the streets of Singapore’s markets enjoying some bubble tea and a sweet rice treat. For Rachel, here’s an indulgent iced tea drink and a snack to ground her before the next confrontation with Nick’s family.

Bubble Tea

Bubble tea is a fun fancy ice tea with dozens of variations.

In its simplest form add approximately 1/4 cup of large tapioca balls to your favorite ice tea with a splash of milk and sip through an extra wide straw. For a first time experiment try a green tea with crushed ice mixed with sweetened condensed milk; other tasty options are iced chai tea with coconut milk or thai tea with half & half.

Tapioca balls – for every 1/4 cup tapioca balls boil with 2 cups of water for 15 minutes, then let stand for an additional 15 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold running water; then use immediately or store in the refrigerator in a sealed container covered with a simple syrup (1 cup sugar boiled with 1 cup water till dissolved)

Sticky Sweet Rice — Binko, a Filipino version

This tasty rice cake snack has the consistency of a chewy gelatin block or gummy candy.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prep a 8 x 8 inch glass baking dish with pan release spray or oil

Rice cake

  • 2 cups sticky sweet rice or gelatinous rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 3/4 cups brown sugar
  • 2 cups canned coconut milk

Topping

  • 1/2 cup canned coconut milk
  • 2 TBS brown sugar

Mix the ingredients together in a medium sized pot (the rice will more than double in volume). Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer for approximately 20-25 minutes. (Will be the consistency of a thick risotto or porridge). Spread rice in to the baking dish and pour topping over rice. Bake for approximately 60 minutes till topping has caramelized. Cool to room temperature before cutting into squares.

 

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Recipe & Review: Teatime with Rachel Chu & Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan

Book Review: How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics, Eugenia Cheng

Book Review: How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of MathematicsEugenia Cheng

How To Bake a Pi cover

Nonfiction: How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of MathematicsEugenia Cheng

I like to challenge myself in my reading. How to Bake Pi definitely challenges me. Eugenia Cheng is a woman of extraordinary talents. Scientist in Residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, honorary fellow of pure mathematics at the University of Sheffield in England, pianist, and according to this book, baker.

 

Each chapter begins with a recipe, which Cheng uses to illustrate some principle of math (or “maths,” since she is English). Some of the recipes are shockingly easy–dump ingredients into a rice cooker and let it sit on “warm” for several hours. Others are quite involved. The recipes, though, are not the main part of the book. They are introductions to demonstrate the lessons Cheng wishes to teach about the math principles.

 

Cheng’s writing is funny, approachable, and accessible. She is wholly committed to her theme: Math is easy. Or, more accurately, math is a way to make complex things easier. It uses logic and proofs to demonstrate how and why things work the way they do. Kitchen recipes follow patterns. Some of them are step by step. Take 2 ingredients, mix them, add additional ingredients, mix them in with the first two, apply heat, eat yummy result. Others are more abstract. Some require specialized knowledge or unusual ingredients or specific tools. Cheng uses these qualities of recipes to show similar qualities in math.

 

I will confess, I am no mathematician. Nor am I a good cook. (Our recipe and review pages are done by my wife, who is an outstanding cook. I do help her test the recipes, though!) A lot of the book went past me. But it did so while leaving some strong impressions. First, I really wish my math teachers had used food as a teaching tool! Second, I really wish I had never “learned” that math was hard. I can’t say that Cheng has persuaded me that math is easy, but she has persuaded me that my painful memories of early morning trigonometry failures are not the whole story of math. All in all, How to Bake Pi is a fun and enlightening book that is able to reframe math for the numerically challenged. And give you some new ideas on preparing food as well.

How To Bake a Pi cover

Book Review: How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of MathematicsEugenia Cheng

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie King

Recipe & Review : Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie R. King

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Mystery Series Review: Mary Russell Novels, Laurie R. King

Mary Russell is the leading character in Laurie King’s mystery series that takes place between World War I through the roaring 1920s. American raised 15 year old, Mary Russell meets the retired detective Sherlock Holmes on the Sussex Downs one day and they create a unique relationship that grows from mentor-protege to friends to an equal partnership as the series moves forward in time. Mary Russell is a match for Holmes with her keen observational skills, a logical mind with the ability to deduce as quickly as Holmes himself, and an independent spirit with a compassionate and loyal heart. For most of the series, Mary Russell is an academic from Oxford, studying both the Talmud and chemistry; and Holmes has no issues dragging her from the library or lab into an assortment of adventures.

The series itself is suppose to be the personal writings of Mary Russell, mysteriously gifted to the author, in order to create a memoir of Holmes’ later years and the Russell – Holmes partnership. Therefore, the majority of the series stories are told from the perspective of Mary Russell that include personal reflections on the narrative as reminisces that point out youthful folly or include hidden background information.  The characters, interactions, and dialog of Russell and Holmes truly belong to King, even though, Holmes was clearly grown from the cannon of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle even makes cameo appearances through out the series as well as other fictional and historical characters. In The Moor, Russell and Holmes return to the Dartmoor setting of The Hound of Baskerville to solve a case for the historical figure of Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould. In The Game, the partners work with the adult Kim from Rudyard Kipling’s work. In addition, Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft Holmes, and Dr. Watson also appear in the series. The historical detail in each novel make it easy to slide into the period, not only the outward setting of clothes and daily details, but the also the more nuanced social norms and interpersonal manners.

As with many multiple volume series written over a large span of time (first book in 1994 and still going strong), the best starting point is the first novel, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. King was already an accomplished writer at the start of the series and the craftsmanship in her writing has maintained its high quality throughout the series. With the first book starting with Mary Russell as a teenager, this series is very approachable to readers in middle or high school. The first book could easily be classified as a Young Adult coming of age novel.

As an academic or detective, Mary Russell needs a heartier tea like an Assam black tea from India or an English Breakfast blend to get her through both late night study sessions or trailing clues across the country. Likewise, if you can get her to stop and eat, a savory scone or filling sandwich would be needed to refuel her energy level for the next chase and plot twist in a case.

Savory Cheese Scones

  • 2 cups self rising flour
  • 6 TBS cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup grated or chopped extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3 TBS crushed french fried onions
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup milk, cream, sour cream, greek yogurt, or ricotta cheese
  • Optional: smoked paprika for garnish
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment.
  2. In a food processor, pulse the flour and butter  to make an unevenly crumbly mixture.
  3. Add the cheese and onion, and pulse till cheese is just coated with flour.
  4. Add the eggs and dairy of your choice; pulse just until everything is evenly moistened; the dough will be very sticky.
  5. Spray an ice cream scoop with pan release; then portion scones (about 12) on the baking sheet, pat the tops to flatten lightly. Sprinkle with smoked paprika.
  6. Bake the scones for approximately 20 minutes. Remove them from the oven, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Chicken Curry Tea Sandwiches

  • 2 cups rotisserie chicken breast shredded or 13oz can chicken  
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1 tart green apple (like granny smith or crispin), finely chopped 
  • Salt & pepper to taste (optional, depends on how much curry you use)
  • ¼ cup dried sweetened cranberries
  • Vidalia onion vinaigrette/salad dressing or a light mayonnaise based salad dressing (enough to moisten, so the salad will hold together, but not be runny)
  • Curry powder or paste to taste (if using paste, warm in microwave oven for easier mixing)
  • half a loaf soft whole wheat bread or brioche buns
  • unsalted butter, room temperature
  1. In a large bowl, break the chicken into flakes.   Combine with nuts, apple, cranberries, and onion; stir until well blended. Add curry powder or paste and salt & pepper.
  2. Spread one side of each piece of bread lightly with butter, and go all the way to the edges. Top the buttered side of bread with some of the chicken mixture and top with the remaining bread slices, buttered side down.
  3. Carefully cut the crusts from each sandwich with a serrated knife. Cut the sandwiches into quarters. Yields about 4 whole sandwiches or 8 halves or 16 fourths.

 

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Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie R. King

Also see —

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

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Book Series Review: Mitford Books, Jan Karon

Mitford, NC is an idyllic town in the Blue Ridge Mountains that bursts with all the drama of big city lights in the package of small town interpersonal relationships. In Mitford, cake competitions are as fierce as Superbowl Sunday and potlucks can vibrate with the tensions of a boardroom during a hostile corporate takeover. In Mitford, folks celebrate the first harvest of sweet corn and the turning of the fall leaves. In Mitford, they bake from scratch and start making Christmas presents in the fall. In Mitford, people share joys and hide pain. In Mitford, they laugh and cry, and some die, but mostly they live. The characters of the town are all people who live and they don’t feel like characters but like real people.

The heart of the Mitford Books belongs to the main character, Father Tim Kavanagh. Father Tim, an Episcopalian priest, shepherds, cares, and prays for his eccentric parishioners and the entire town of Mitford. The majority of the series is seen through his eyes. As clergy, or retired clergy, or just good friend, Father Tim is the man that the town goes to share all of life’s secrets, sorrows, challenges, milestones, and triumphs. Father Tim is just the fellow to share a story or two over a glass of cold southern sweet tea.

The Mitford Books should be savored on a Sunday afternoon or evening as a gentle way to prompt reflections during the transition between weeks — preferably, in a cozy and cheerful room with some southern sweet tea and a light treat since Father Tim always needs to look after his blood sugar levels.

Southern Sweet Tea

  • 12 regular sized black tea bags
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda (to keep liquid clear and not cloudy)
  • 1 cup sugar or Splenda/stevia (if serving to Father Tim)
  • 1 quart filtered water
  • 1 quart ice cubes

In a large glass measuring cup, place the tea bags and add the baking soda.

Pour the boiling water over the tea bags.

Cover and steep for 15 minutes.

Take out the tea bags and do not squeeze them.

Pour the tea mixture into a pitcher; add the sugar.

Stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Add in the ice cubes.

Let cool; chill in the refrigerator and serve over additional ice.

Garnish with lemon slices or mint sprigs

 

Cornbread Cookies

Father Tim is very fond of cornbread, however, cornbread is not very fond of Father Tim as it sends his blood sugar to bad levels. Hopefully, the lower sugar, ground chickpeas, and whole wheat flour in these cookies will prevent a sharp sugar spike, yet satisfy that cornbread craving.

  • 1/2 cup or 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup Splenda/stevia
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or lemon extract
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/4 cup canned chickpeas drained and minced in food processor
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven 325

In stand mixer, cream the butter, brown sugar, and Splenda/stevia. Add extract, honey, and egg.

In separate bowl mix together remaining dry ingredients (corn meal, flour, baking soda, and salt). Then slowly add to wet ingredients with the mixer on slow.

Use a cookie scoop to form dough balls on baking sheet.

Bake 10-12 minutes till edges barely start to brown.

 

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Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

If you like this post see —

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie R. King

Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

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Book Series Review: China Bayles Herbal Mysteries

China Bayles is the main character of the 28 and counting China Bayles Herbal Mysteries, a cozy mystery series by Susan Wittig Albert. After an intense career as a lawyer, China Bayles moves to the small college town of Pecan Springs, Texas to restart her life as the owner of an herbal shop. China uses her logic and  critical thinking skills gained as a lawyer and her knowledge of herbs and human nature gathered as a business woman to solve the mysteries and crimes that she and her best friend Ruby seem to fall into in their not quite quiet little town.

Each book features an herb that figures predominately as the title, theme, and key to the mystery. In addition, Albert sprinkles herbal facts, recipes, and even the occasional craft to support the herbal theme. The generous number of books in the series allows readers to follow the milestones of China’s life in Pecan Springs as her relationships, business, and role in the community grows. China is the kind of character you want to get to know in a small town like Pecan Springs. She’s funny, friendly, and has all the typical concerns and baggage that readers can relate to in a heartbeat like her stress in pulling together a meal after a long day or her musings over wardrobe and weight.

China Bayles Herbal Mysteries are the perfect books to savor on a summer weekend while sipping iced tea with something sweet.

Fresh Mint Iced Tea

Albert generously shares through out the series different recipes that China and best friend and business partner, Ruby would serve in their tea shop venture Thyme for Tea or at home. However, this fresh mint tea outlines a simple process that can be done as a quick gather in the garden after work that will be ready in time for a week night supper.

  • 8 sprigs of mint per cup of water
  • Optional: mix and match mint sprigs with basil, lemon verbena, lemon balm, or chamomile
  • Honey or sweetener of choice to taste or one sprig of fresh stevia per cup of water
  • Boiling water half the amount of water needed based on number of fresh herb sprigs gathered
  • Ice to equal to half the amount of water needed based on number of fresh herb sprigs gathered
  • Garnish: a slice of fresh citrus – lemon, lime, orange and/or a small slice of melon – watermelon

Let the fresh herbs, sweetener, and steep in the hot water for 10 minutes in a heat proof pitcher to create a concentrated liquid. Add the ice and let cool in the refrigerator until serving. Remove the pitcher herbs with tongs and serve with a fresh sprig of mint and ice in individual glasses. Add a garnish of citrus and/or melon for extra flavor.

Variation: use 4 sprigs of herbs and one tea bag per cup of water

 

China Bayles, lives in Pecan Springs, TX so in honor of her town here are two pecan recipes to snack on while reading about her adventures.

Pecan Butter Balls

  • 2 cups pecans
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Chop the pecans in a blender or food processor until you have two cups. Combine all of the ingredients except confectioners’ sugar. Gather the dough into a ball. With floured hands, shape into one-inch balls and bake on ungreased cookie sheets. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and spray them with Pam. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes. Pull the cookies and papers off the cookie sheet and onto a cooling rack and let them cool slightly; be sure they’re still warm and then gently shake them in a bag with the confectioners’ sugar. Place them back on the paper and add more confectioners’ sugar while they cool. Makes 5 dozen.

 

Ginger Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quick cooking oatmeal
  • 3/4 cup pecan halves
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger  or 2 teaspoons grated crystallized ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks, 6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg

Directions

Grind the oatmeal and pecan pieces in a food processor until they resemble cornmeal–reasonably fine but with some texture. Whisk the whole wheat flour, cornstarch, ginger, salt and baking soda together in a medium bowl. Whisk in the oat/nut mixture.

In another medium bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until smooth and light, about 1 minute. Gradually add the granulated and light brown sugar; continue beating until evenly combined, about 3 minutes more. Add the vanilla and the egg.

Mix in the dry ingredients to make a dough. Line a 1 1/2-quart loaf pan or 3 mini loaf pans with plastic wrap and pack dough into the bottom half of the pan. Press to level off the dough. Lay a piece of plastic wrap on top and refrigerate until completely firm, about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove dough from the pan and unwrap. Slice dough in half lengthwise if using a large pan. Slice each log crosswise into 1/4-inch thick cookies. Place the cookies about a 1-inch apart on the prepared pans. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool and crisp. Serve.

Store cookies in a tightly sealed container for up to 1 week.

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Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

If you enjoyed this post see:

Recipe & Review: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie R. King

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

Recipe & Review: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert

Review & Recipe: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter Series, Susan Wittig Albert

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0425230279 0425236439 042524380X  0425251535

Book Series Review: The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert

The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter series by Susan Wittig Albert is filled with many delightful ingredients — cozy mystery, historical Lake District setting, fantasy elements. Albert uses the beloved children’s book author and illustrator, Beatrix Potter as her main character. As a single female Londoner, Beatrix gets a mixed welcome to her new home in the village of Near Sawrey where she goes to her farm to write and draw her books as well as grieve for the loss of her fiance and escape her domineering parents. Over the course of the series Beatrix solves mysteries large and small while slowly becomes an integral and respected part of the village community.

Each book features a main mystery as well a couple of smaller intriguing issues that are neatly concluded by Beatrix’s keen observation skills, quick wit, and compassionate heart. Albert adds a whimsical fantasy addition by including a parallel problem faced by the animals of the village community who act and talk in the same manner as Beatrix’s literary creations – helpful dogs, generous badgers, marauding rats, even a brave dragon makes an appearance. The language of this series is definitely within the reach of readers as young as upper elementary or middle school and the light fantasy element would be appealing to them.

Albert’s attention to historical detail brings you into the heart of village life of Near Sawrey, as her characters react and reflect on their daily life, enjoy meals, gossip about neighbors, apply manners according to social status, dress for outings, and work the land of the Lake District. The land itself, like the people and animals, becomes a character in how it influences village life. At least once in each book, Beatrix takes time to just appreciate the land with walks or picnics or sketches. The land feeds her need for beauty as well as provides a venue for reflections.

In addition, Albert provides historical commentary in Historical Notes, Resources, recipes, maps, character lists, and glossaries of Lake District dialect words. This series would make a fine bridge into historical novels and period literature for young readers. Readers interested in the life of Beatrix Potter will also enjoy seeking the biographical references listed in the Resources.

Even though, readers know that the series is fiction, Albert makes Beatrix such a plausible and real character that we want to spend time with her. We cheer her steps as she grows from her grief, matches wits with the local matriarch, and discovers the answers to local mysteries. We watch as her makes friends, rebels against her controlling parents, and finds a new romance. We want to become her friend and just sit down and share a cup of tea while she spins another fascinating story. This is the perfect series to read on a picnic blanket in front of a beautiful lake view with some tea and scones.

Tea

In The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Beatrix often gathers clues while sharing a cup of tea visiting different villagers. The tea served was probably a black tea where the leaves go through an oxidation process in order to produce a richer flavor. The heartier flavor of black teas enable it to be served with either milk or lemon. Ceylon or Darjeeling teas would be examples of teas that would be served any time of the day. If Beatrix went on a morning visit, a strong tea, such as Assam or English Breakfast would be served. A lighter tea, such as Earl Grey or Formosa Oolong would be served in the afternoon without the milk or lemon due to its more delicate flavors.

Scones

Scones are a traditional treat to serve with tea. In the Cottage Tales series, Beatrix got her scones from a friend that ran a village bakery. This recipe was originally developed for an office gift-in-a-jar exchange. The basic dry mix was layered in a glass jar topped with the dry ingredients for the cranberry orange variation and decorated with a pretty cloth bow and recipe card with the instructions. Note: the addition of an egg is not a traditional ingredient in scones, however, I found a prize winning recipe using an egg and have discovered that the texture less crumbly making it easier to spread toppings. You can omit the egg for a more traditional recipe with the addition of a TBSP or two of extra liquid in the wet ingredient section.

Basic Dry Scone Mix (can be mixed and stored in a jar)

  • 2 ½  C self-rising flour baking mix or buttermilk biscuit mix
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 2 Tbs dried milk powder (optional, unless using juice as a flavor add-in instead of milk/half & half)

Wet Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1/3 cup milk or half/half
  • 1 large egg, beaten

Flavor Add-in Variations (Note dried ingredients can be stored with dry mix)

  • 3/4 cup cranberries & (choose 1) 1 TBS orange zest or 1 tsp orange extract or 1/3 cup orange juice frozen concentrate (defrosted)  in place of milk
  • 3/4 cup frozen blueberries & (choose 1) 1 TBS lemon zest or 1 tsp lemon extract or 1/3 lemon juice concentrate in place of milk
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries & 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • decrease butter to 2 TBS, add 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese & 2 tsp herbs de provence
  • replace sugar with 3 TBS maple syrup & 1 tsp cinnamon & 1/2 tsp ground ginger or 1 tsp minced crystallized ginger

Preheat the oven to 400. 

Start with dry mix in a bowl.

Top with wet ingredients.

Add any flavor variations from above.

Mix gently with a spatula until the dough just comes together.   

Using a cookie scoop, drop dough balls on to a sheet pan and lightly pat down to flatten – makes about 12 individual or 24 mini-bite scones.

Optional: sprinkle sugar on the tops for a slightly crunchy, shiny topping that browns faster.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on size, until the edges are just lightly browned on edges – tastes best warm from the oven.

 

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