A Good Home, Afternoon Tea, Cakes, Celebrations, Christmas, Christmas Tree Trimming, Entrepreneurs, Following your dreams, Inspiration, Lifestyle, Tea lovers, Tea Sandwiches, Victorian Teas

The Tea Lover

“Simply Splendid” 

As Christmas approaches, Marilyn Mirabelli is a very busy woman.

Marilyn, the person behind one of my favorite websites, has a tea catering company called Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas.  In the weeks leading up to Christmas, you’ll find her filling clients’ orders and preparing  to cater afternoon teas for tree-trimming or other Christmas parties. Marilyn Mirabelli knows her tea. And, since 2004, she’s been living her dream of having a thriving tea business.

Tea Table by Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas
Tea Table by Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas

As you’ll see on Marilyn’s website, she’s revived the afternoon tea in classic style:

A Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Tea unfolds with the well-appointed tea table: Crisp white tablecloth and tea napkins; china teapot and cups and saucers; freshly-made tea sandwiches that are trimmed and quartered, small cakes, biscuits, and of course, classic English scones with imported Devon double clotted cream. This is accompanied by the choicest loose leaf teas.”

Sandwich Tier - Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas
Sandwich Tier – Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas

Marilyn is also a talented writer who produces a series of high-quality, interesting stories on her website. It’s like having some tidbits of history with your afternoon tea, and enjoying it too! Here’s something I learned from Simply Splendid:

Queen Victoria made afternoon tea popular, very ‘it’. But she did not invent the tradition. That honour goes to Anna, Duchess of Bedford, a Lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria and prone to fainting spells in the afternoons. The royal doctor was called; he diagnosed Anna’s fainting spells as hunger from the long stretch between lunch and supper and prescribed a cup of hot tea and buttered bread whenever a fainting spell was coming on.

Anna found this so agreeable, she invited other Ladies-in-waiting to join her. Pretty soon Queen Victoria cottoned on to a good idea and she asked for afternoon tea too. The rest as they say, is history!”

Cup of Tea by Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas
Cup of Tea by Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas

As well as bits of history, you’ll find interviews with interesting personalities on the website.  It makes you realize that the person behind the site and the company is both extremely knowledgeable and passionate about afternoon tea.

But you won’t find a great deal about Marilyn herself on the website, so here’s a tidbit about her:

The former journalist and communications consultant says she read a book called Dreams Don’t Have An Expiry Date by Deanna Rosenswig in the early 2000’s and decided to start her tea business. She was determined that her cakes, sandwiches and other offerings would all be made to order from fresh ingredients and she’s kept that commitment. Her tea selections come from estates monitored by the Ethical Tea Partnership.

As the company’s fame  spreads, a wide variety of clients – individuals, families and corporate workplaces — have asked Marilyn to cater afternoon teas for special occasions. Former broadcaster/politician Isabel Bassett described the tea Simply Splendid prepared for her daughter’s baby shower as “exquisite… the guests are still talking about it.”

Tea and Cookies by Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas
Tea and Cookies by Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas

I was raised in the tea-drinking capital of Jamaica – Manchester.  Afternoon tea wasn’t just a hot drink: it was an occasion, and for some, an almost-sacred ritual.   (See  “Afternoon Tea”, Ch. 10  in A Good Home.)  So I was thrilled when the Simply Splendid website chose A Good Home as its favorite book for the month of July.  It was a great boost – the book had only been released weeks before.

Then,  this autumn,  Simply Splendid gave me a delightful surprise when they created a special apple cake which they named Lady Cynthia Cake”.

Within days, friends, acquaintances and strangers alike were trying out the recipe, to oohs and aahs of delight.  The cake was served at an afternoon tea in Whitby, Ontario, where it was declared “delicious”. Then, a friend  invited me for tea in her home, and surprised me by serving the Lady Cynthia Cake she’d just made. Again, delicious.

Lady Cynthia Cake - Photo by Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Tea
Lady Cynthia Cake – Photo by Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas

Marilyn’s tea blends, cakes, sandwiches and other creations are, simply, splendid. Congrats on living your dream, Marilyn, and we wish you well.

For more information about gift packages, special tea blends or to book an afternoon tea –  do visit:  splendidafternoonteas.com

Tel: 416.658.5518  or email: marilyn@splendidafternoonteas.com

A Good Home, Cake Recipes, Christmas, Christmas Baking, Christmas Dinner, Christmas Pudding, Recipes

Nigella’s Christmas Pudding – Better Than My Sister’s?

In some homes, this is the time to steam the Christmas Pudding or bake the Christmas Cake. Not mine.

If you’ve read A Good Home, you know that I baked a fancy cake – once.  It caught fire and burned and I took that as a sign from above.  As for steaming a pudding — I’ve never tried.  Still, I know enough bakers to realize that it’s risky to declare your own Christmas Creation the best of them all.  

Clearly, no-one told Nigella Lawson that. The well-known food diva claims hers is “the Queen of Christmas Puddings”. It’s a wonder this claim hasn’t started a war.

Jamaican Christmas Cake - Photo by The Gleaner
Christmas Cake – Photo from The Gleaner

In Britain, the US, Canada, Jamaica, and  many other countries, there are  bakers who know their Christmas Cakes or Puddings are the best. But one doesn’t say it, you understand. One smiles smugly, knowing others will say it for you.

And the recipe?  Usually a closely guarded family secret.  But whether it’s a Pudding or a Cake, the first part of the process seems identical. Long before now – from a week to a year in advance – the bakers soak the dried fruit (prunes, currants, raisins, apricots, etc.) in alcohol.  Usually wine, rum or/and brandy.  Lots.

Photo of Nigella Lawson by Charles Birchmore, BBC
Photo of Nigella Lawson by Charles Birchmore, BBC

A few years ago,  Nigella soaked her fruit in a liqueur called Pedro Ximenez, or – as she describes it – “the magic liqueur… the sweet, dark, sticky sherry that has a hint of licorice, fig and treacle about it.

“I know there is no turning back,” she says.  “This is sensational… this here is the Queen of Christmas puddings. It has to be tried, and clamours to be savoured.”

Nigella's Christmas Pudding
Nigella’s Christmas Pudding

Now, as far as I’m concerned, the prize for the ultimate Christmas Cake or Pudding goes to either my sister or mother-in-law.  

Both their creations are outrageously delicious. Both are a spiritual experience.  And I mean that in the most alcoholic way.

You get your first whiff when the creations are lifted out of their containers for everyone to see.  The aroma fills the nostrils – indeed, fills the room.

Cake Tin - Google Images
 Google Images

And there it is: dark brown, pungent with fruit, spice, rum, brandy or port wine.  Not to be eaten before Christmas Day — though that takes tremendous willpower.

The thing is dangerously good.  If the alcohol doesn’t do you in, the weight-gain will. But the way I see it, the only thing more dangerous than eating too much of it on The Big Day is to tell the whole world that yours is ‘the ultimate’.

Jamaican Christmas Cake - Google Images
Jamaican Christmas Cake – Google Images

I asked my sister if she’d heard about Nigella’s claim. She ignored the question and spent  five minutes telling me how imperfect her own creations are this year (which means they’ll be absolutely delicious).

“But you’ll never believe it – the gluten-free ones turned out really well this year.”  (Which means they’ll be absolutely glorious.)

Then, finally, she circled back to Nigella’s pudding.

“Ahmm… what did she put in it?” She asked, trying to sound indifferent.

“Pedro Ximenez liqueur”, I replied.

“Oh”.  She was still cool, but I  sensed her interest. “And… how do you spell that second word?”

I spelled it.

“Does she add it after it’s done or before?”

“She soaks the fruit in it,” I said.

“Ahhhh… Hmmm… Maybe I’ll try it next year.”

My sister’s recipe, of course, is secret. But here’s Nigella’s:  http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/ultimate-christmas-pudding

My best wishes for perfect Christmas Cakes and Puddings!