Sunday, January 27, 2019

Tea and Tomes: Pride and Prejudice never tasted so good! Our interview with contributing pastry artist, Amber Spiegel

Recent edition of Pride and Prejudice features Martha Stewart recipes and cookie decorating artistry from Amber Spiegel

Coming upon a recent edition of Pride and Prejudice, with tea time recipes from Martha Stewart and featuring embellished cookie artistry from pastry chef, Amber Spiegel, I felt much like Elizabeth Bennet when she caught her first glimpse of Pemberley. To paraphrase Jane Austen's description: I have never seen a book for which beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. In fact, the lasted P & P publication is enhanced by great taste, literally and figuratively. And much of its charm is due to Amber Spiegel, culinary artist and owner of sweetambs.

Table of contents provides a rich sample of Amber Spiegel's work

Amber's royal icing/fondant decorations are liberally scattered throughout the book and each chapter heading is adorned with a cookie masterpiece, be it  teapot, pearl earrings, or lacy flower. (It puts me to mind of Wedgwood jasperware and I found drinking tea in my blue and white teacup of said china
to be the perfect accompaniment to this book!)

Amber Spiegel, contributor to this edition of Pride and Prejudice, runs her cookie decorating business in Kingston, NY

In addition to the chapter headings, each volume features Amber's rendition of a P & P country manor, including (our favorite!) Pemberley. As a visitor to the real estate that was the inspiration for Pemberley, I can attest, Amber nailed it. Her artistry is incredible. Last week, I talked to Amber via email to ask her about this amazing endeavor and also learn more about her business and her decorating classes.

Each chapter title is adorned a decorated cookie, be it teapot, earrings or flowers

BTS: Are you a Jane Austen fan? Do you have a favorite JA story?
AS:  I'd not read Pride and Prejudice, but I am a fan of the movie! I had it playing in the background while sketching the designs for the book. It was such great inspiration when I ran into a creative block. 

BTS: The pictures of the estates including Longbourn and Pemberley are stunning. What was your inspiration for the homes?
AS: The publisher's senior designer, Kristie Radwilowicz sent me several images to use as a reference when decorating the cookies (she made my job 100 times easier). Each of the estates took several hours to create. They are piped in royal icing and painted with food coloring (with very tiny brushes!)
BTS: Any new books on the horizon?
AS: I don't have plans for a new book. My first book, Cookie Art: Sweet Designs for Special Occasions, came out in 2016. It covers everything from baking the perfect cookie base to instructions on how to make elaborate royal icing decorations.

BTS: Your classes in Kingston, NY look like intense fun. I hope to someday partake. Any advice for "novel" pastry decorators?
AS: This was my first time making cookies for a project like this, but I found that the small details made for the best cookies, such as hair clips, lace on dresses, candelabras, and wall sconces. It really is the little details that make all the difference!

Royal icing Pemberley took several hours: an amazing likeness to its inspiration.

We highly recommend this recent edition of Pride and Prejudice. We found ours at Barnes and Noble.  You'll find Mr. Darcy isn't the only sweet treat in this version!

For more information on Amber Spiegel, her classes (on-line and in NY), her books and her cookies, visit her website:

Saturday, January 12, 2019

A novel way to spend National Hot Tea Day: Sip and shop at Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble Magazine section includes TeaTime and current issue features BTS

Although every day here at BTS is hot tea day, January 12th is the perfect day, on a chilly Michigan afternoon, to honor our favorite drink and we found a most  delightful way to celebrate  by sipping a cup of Earl Grey while scouting some favorite reads at Barnes & Noble.

The Barnes & Noble in Rochester is an amazing bookstore, filled with an enormous selection of magazines and books for every taste and a café with tasty treats for every palate. Since today was Hot Tea Day, I ordered up a tall Earl Grey and began my traditional route through the bookstore: magazine section, cookbooks, world history, biographies and a certain amount of time  allotted to the gift section.

Michigan magazines at Barnes & Noble with another BTS feature

Tea in hand, as I started perusing the periodicals, I was happily and excitedly reminded that two magazines which currently grace the shelves at Barnes & Noble have BTS connections! Our article on the Venice tea room, Caffe Florian, is featured in the January/February issue of Tea Time Magazine, and our interview with writer Julie Ford is included in Michigan Home and Lifestyle's Winter issue, (So, if you haven't picked up your copy of either, you know where to go 😉)

Aside from the food and Michigan mags, there's a wide and deep selection of journals devoted to a variety of interests including those for writers, crafters, motorcyclists and travelers. The latter category is another favorite of mine and I just had to pick up the latest edition of "Britain", because not only is it their "Castles Special" featuring "fairytale turrets and medieval moats", but it also boasts a free 32-page Cotswold guide. Too much to resist, for sure.

Barnes & Noble booty for Hot Tea Day 

Next stop, cookbooks and did I get a find: a new printing of Pride and Prejudice accompanied by recipes for "modern teatime" from -wait for it - Martha Stewart!! (A review of which is coming soon to BTS' Tuesday Tea and Tomes, so stay tuned). Another entry into today's shopping cart.

In the world history and biography sections, I jotted down three more books for my wish list (there's an April birthday coming up!) or next visit to Barnes & Noble:  Daughters of the Winter Queen, Inside Victorian Homes and Royal Pains.  Talk about tasty treats!

Finally, as my son, Matt, who accompanied me on this treasure trove of tomes trip, found me in the gift section with his arms full of his own "catches" of the day, I scooped up one last find which was a perfect accompaniment to my new book - a Jane Austen mug.  But not any Jane Austen mug (as I do have a few). This one sports a tea bag that exclaims: "I would rather have nothing but tea".

And, that my friends, is how one celebrates Hot Tea Day!

*tea bag drop*

Happy National Hot Tea Day to all and to all a good night!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Barb's Tea Service In/Out List for 2019! Gilded, Sequels, Kilts and More (is More!)

Dining room at Chatsworth embraces the 2019 "Ins" of ornamentation and dark, moody colors

This year was one for the books for BTS: Royal Weddings, transatlantic cruise, road trip from Edinburgh to London (including stops at fancy estates, Chatsworth and Blenheim Palace), a spot on Fox news and, well, a book! Although it was an exciting year, like it's said of all good things, it has come to an end along with other fads and fashions of the last twelve months. As is our annual tradition at BTS, we have culled a variety of sources which have opined on upcoming trends for the new year to report on and, of course, add a few of our own.

Rachel and Barb Gulley of BTS excited to don their Gilded Age clothing again this year!

According to The Detroit News' On Trend in 2019, minimalism and "gray everywhere" is being replaced with ornamentation and dark, moody paint colors.  This plays well into what is sure to be an opulent-themed year, influenced by Julian Fellowes two new offerings:  The Gilded Age television show (expecting its debut in April) and the long-awaited Downton Abbey movie to premier in September. 

BTS is ready for both, our first Gilded Age afternoon tea will be at Birmingham's Townsend Hotel, Sunday, February 24th.  We'd love to see you there!

Outside Blenheim Palace this past May

The Gilded Age saga centers much on the crazy rich Americans in the late 1800's who sought to buy status by marrying off their daughters to European aristocracy. One of the most famous of the "cash-for-class" arrangements was between Consuelo Vanderbilt and Lord Churchill, which brought the former and all her father's money to Blenheim Palace. We were fortunate to visit said estate in May and, yes, minimalism, was not on trend at that time either.

Kilts may be come more mainstream in 2019, tartan dog scarves optional

Luxury and grandeur may not be the only Great Britain import to trend in 2019.  According to BBC News, lederhosen is making a comeback.  BBC notes that lederhosen and kilts are the most identifiably European attire worldwide. To that we say, let's also bring back the kilt!  BTS jumped on the bandwagon  as an early adopter- our family all received kilts for Christmas, souvenirs from our visit to Scotland  (matching tartan scarves for your family dog are optional).

Twelve Etiquette Essentials, part of the Steeper by the Dozen series

And, while it's true books never go out of style, we see a trend in the book series. BTS added to its "Steeper by the Dozen" collection, with this year's, "Twelve Etiquette Essentials:  Formal Dining and Tea Time" (available on Amazon!) and we're predicting more within 365 days.  Another author staying with this trend, is Ed Engman, who penned "Moby Dick II, the Seek-Whale".  Watch out other classic works (!) - Ed may have you in his scope for 2019 (maybe Brideshead Re-revisited?) and we can't wait!

Moby Dick II, better than Sharknado VI

After our long prologue, we are ready to unveil the Ins and Outs for 2019.  Hang on to your diamond tiara and fasten your bow tie, it's going to be a wild - and well accessorized - ride!


Home décor and Gilded Age 

IN:  Ornamentation, dark and moody colors, "more is more"!  The Chatsworth Estate (aka Pemberley in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie starring Keira Knightley) is on trend with this room: dark red walls and stuffed to the gilded gills with furniture, paintings and shiny bric-a-brac.

Chatsworth parlor spot on with 2019 trend of ornamentation and moody colors

OUT: Minimalism, beige and "everything gray".  This parlor at Chatsworth is not compliant with 2019 fashion. But, with over 120 rooms, one can afford a few mistakes.

Anther Chatsworth parlor appears dated with minimalist décor and lots of beige

IN:  Gilded Age, Downton Abbey - the TV show, the movie, the BTS tea talk at The Townsend, February 24, 2019!  Polish your tiaras and let your hemlines go down! In 2019, we're backtracking a century (and a few scores) to meet up again with the Crawley family and learn a little bit more about Cora and her fellow American heiresses (like Consuelo V!).

BTS Gilded Age Tea coming this February

Book 'em, Danno

IN:  Book Series -  books are always in style, but you can kick it up a notch by adding to a series of books, like BTS' latest addition to its Steeper by the Dozen collection, "Twelve Etiquette Essentials" (available on Amazon, #shamelessplug).

IN: Book Sequels - many of us have been disappointed with sequels to much loved classics:  Death Comes to Pemberley, Little Men, Sharknado VI, but don't let that stop you from overcoming your white whale. We recommend Moby Dick II, the Seek-Whale by Ed Engman. (Call me Airmail). 

Pair a mug with text from 12 Etiquette Essentials
Match your socks with a fav book

IN:  Novel accessories -  We match a scarf to a sweater, a tie to a shirt, but why stop there? How about pairing a mug or, say, a pair of socks with your favorite book? Re-read Pride and Prejudice, but this time while wearing Jane Austen socks to enhance your felicity. Reinforce your protocol knowledge with a Twelve Etiquette Essentials coffee (or tea!) mug which quotes this treasured tiny tome.

Attire - wrap the new year up in a bow (tie) and go!

IN:  Kilts - not just for bagpiping (or Christmas morning) anymore. Like its German cousin, the lederhosen, kilts may become more acceptable for daily wear and family reunions. (Engman/Gulley 2019 Clan Gathering is sure to include "The Opera of Highlander Games". Bring your kilt and a few logs to throw).

Kilts - not just for Christmas morning anymore

OUT:  Cold shoulder tops and dresses - Enough of the passive/aggressive attire. Like Olaf the snowman, we like warm hugs and expect at least as much from our sweaters.

Cruise captains and trendy husbands rock the bow tie
Fascinator from Harrods paired with the Royal Wedding

IN:  Bow ties and fascinators - with the home décor trending towards grandeur, shouldn't the same be applied to our Sunday best attire? We say bow ties for the Gents and Fascinators for the Ladies. The former may require a few hours of YouTube tutorials, but the approving nods by fellow diners will make it all worthwhile.  Fascinators, on the other hand (or head), come in a variety of sizes (petit to obnoxious) and sources (Amazon to Harrods).  Wear these to weddings, tea or TV guest appearances.


OUT:  2018

IN:  2019!

Beige, bold, 
new or old, 
comfy kilt or shoulder cold, 
Ring in the new year with a book or three,
Just be sure to join us for a cup of tea

You're always in fashion with BTS. Happy New Year one and all!

Fascinators are great to don for teas, weddings and TV appearances.