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

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

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

If you enjoyed this post also see:

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

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

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

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