Galloping into Enlightenment: “Napoleon: A Life” by Andrew Roberts

best napoleon biographyFor a pleasurable holiday read, Andrew Roberts biography, Napoleon: A Life (2014), is a 810-page gift to be enjoyed for the fascinating and easily accessible history lesson about the “founder of modern France and one of the great conquerors of history.”

Considered the definitive biography of the soldier-statesman who once said, “What a novel my life has been,” it has received numerous awards, such as Winner of the Grand Prix of the Foundation Napoleon, and was listed as a New York Times Notable Book and included in Amazon’s “100 Biographies and Memoirs to Read in a Lifetime” list.

With a small amount of effort, but without being a strenuous chore like so many history lessons can be, Mr. Robert’s book is a “biography worthy of its subject: magisterial, insightful, beautifully written, by one of our foremost historians.” It is, as The Economist writes, the “first single-volume general biography to make full use of the treasure trove of Napoleon’s 33,000-odd letters, which began being published in Paris only in 2004.”

An exhaustively researched book that took Mr. Roberts, as he wrote in the introduction, “longer than Napoleon spent on Elba and St. Helena put together”, Mr. Roberts believes that his book stands apart from the vast majority of Napoleon biographies in detailing a more accurate portrait of Napoleon’s character and personality, aided by his visit to 53 of Napoleon’s 60 battle sites, a boat trip to St. Helena and the discovery of new and crucial archived documents.

Furthermore, Mr. Roberts dispels the notion that “the Napoleon Complex” led to Napoleon’s demise:

“My own interpretation is very different from other historians. What brought Napoleon down was not some deep-seated personality disorder but a combination of unforeseeable circumstances coupled with a handful of significant miscalculation: something altogether more believable, human and fascinating.”

Recognizing Napoleon’s legacy as “one of the most fiercely debated in all of modern historiography,” Mr. Roberts makes clear that there is no debate as to what he considers Napoleon’s greatest victories:

“…his greatest and most lasting victories were those of his institutions, which put an end to the chaos of the French Revolution and cemented its guiding principle of equality before the law…[t]oday, the Napoleonic Code forms the basis of law in Europe and aspects of it have been adopted by 40 countries spanning every continent except Antarctica.”

He continues: “Napoleon’s bridges, reservoirs, canals and sewers remain in use throughout France. The French foreign ministry sits above the stone quays he built along the Seine, and the Cour des Comptes still checks public spending accounts more than two centuries after Napoleon founded it. The Legion d’Honneur, an honor he introduced to take the place of feudal privilege, is highly coveted; France’s top secondary schools, many of them founded by Napoleon, provide excellent education and his Conseil d’Etat still meets every Wednesday to vet laws.”

“Even if Napoleon hadn’t been one of the great military geniuses of history,” Mr. Robrts writes, “he would still be a giant of the modern era.”

Accordingly, Mr. Robert’s book about Napoleon (1769-1821) – one of the world’s greatest leaders and inspiring statesman – truly is a gift of enlightenment that he feels would behoove those in leadership in Washington today:

“A key aspect of modern American political leadership is the ability to compartmentalize one’s mind, so that one can concentrate entirely upon a problem, make a decision and then concentrate in an equally focused way on something else entirely,” Mr. Roberts writes in an essay for the Wall Street Journal. “In this, Napoleon was a master, managing to write the rules for a girls’ school on the eve of the Battle of Borodino in 1812 and the regulations for the Comédie Française while living in the Kremlin after having captured Moscow a week later.”

He continues “…the contenders for the White House in 2016 would do well to look to Napoleon for guidance and inspiration, not just for how to run their campaigns but, once in office, for how to conduct themselves as chief executive.”

It is in the spirit of All Things Enlightening that ATG gallops forth into the New Year with quotes below from the man who was said to represent the “Enlightenment on Horseback”:

  • “A general’s most important talent is to know the mind of the soldier and gain his confidence, and in both respects the French soldier is more difficult to lead than another. He is not a machine that must be made to move, he is a reasonable being who needs leadership.” – Napoleon to Chaptal
  • “I sensed that fortune was abandoning me. I no longer had in me the feeling of ultimate success, and if one is not prepared to take risks when the time is ripe, one ends up doing nothing.” – Napoleon on the Waterloo campaign
  • “The masses…should be directed without their being aware of it.” – Napoleon to Fouche, September 1804

Quotes from

  • “If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.”
  • “Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools.”
  • “Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.”
  • “I start out by believing the worst.”
  • “Men of genius are meteors, intended to burn to light their century.”
  • “Adversity is the midwife to genus.”
  • “Imagination rules the world.”
  • “I am never angry when contradicted, I seek to be enlightened.”
  • “I have never found the limit of my capacity for work.”
  • “We will walk faster when we walk alone.”
  • “Great ambition is the passion of great character. He who is endowed with it, may perform either very great actions, or very bad ones; all depends upon the principles which direct him.”

All Dogs, Great and Small

“A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours…Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things – a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity.”  – John Grogan, Marley and Me

Dog nonfiction books

One could say that Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog by John Grogan, first published in the fall of 2005, played a significant role in the most recent formation of a great wave of dog memoirs that is still going strong today, especially evident during the holiday season. Dog books are prominently displayed everywhere, each enticing and each with endearing pictures beckoning, like a puppy in the window, to be brought home.

Indeed, never has there been a better time on planet earth to be a dog. From boutique dog shops with Swarovski-studded poodle skirts and cashmere sweaters to comfy pillow beds, spas and doggie daycare buses that transport dogs to and from their homes, bed and biscuit boarding “inns”, dog-friendly restaurants and hotels, dogs today truly have never had it better. No longer toughing it out in the distant coldness of a doghouse, they have been warmly welcomed into the luxury of modern day living.

In contrast, the 69 brave dogs that accompanied Shackleton on his Arctic expedition back in 1914 could have used a warm comfy bed and biscuit after a typical day’s work pulling a loaded sledge in the arctic cold for 29 miles. The Newfoundlands, St. Bernards, Eskimo Wolfhounds and wolves all played a vital role in the expedition while developing strong bonds with members of the crew in the brutal, unforgiving conditions of the arctic.*

List of dog names
An inscription on a monument of a Newfoundland dog from 1808 by Lord Byron reads: “Near this spot are deposited the remains of one who possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, and all the Virtures of Man without his Vices. This Praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery if inscribed over human ashes, is but a just tribute to the Memory of Boatswain, a Dog.”

No matter the living conditions – whether they be warm luxury or extreme cold – it is the bond, in any and all conditions, that dogs develop with their caretakers that so deeply stirs our emotions and causes us to ponder in wonder and amazement their devotion, loyalty and other human-like qualities.

In his book All My Dogs, Bill Henderson references Charles Darwin’s observation that there is “no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties…that they experience happiness, wonder, shame, pride, curiosity, jealousy, suspicion, gratitude, and magnanimity, plus love and sympathy.”

best dog novels

It is no surprise, then, in this sometimes lonely world, that humans are attracted to stories about the only animal whose love is always constant and true. The unconditional love, commitment and acceptance that dogs offer to their companions is, after all, why dogs are considered to be “man’s best friend.”

It is in the spirit of All Things Dogs during this “All I Want for Christmas is that Puppy in the Window” holiday season that ATG shares below some “best” books about man’s “best” friend.

Four favorite classics that will make you cry while reading aloud to your children:

  • Where the Red Fern Grows (1961) by Wilson Rawls
  • Old Yeller (1956) by Fred Gipson
  • The Incredible Journey (1960) by Sheila Burnford
  • Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight, first published as a short story in the Saturday Evening Post 1938

Classic dog books

Three recent books:

1. All My Dogs: A Life (2011) by Bill Henderson, Founder of Pushcart Press

A beautiful little book that chronicles the ups and downs of Bill Henderson’s life through the many and varied dogs who shared it: Trixie, Duke, Snopes, Ellen, Rocky, Sophie, Charlie, Airport, Opie, LuLu, Max, St. Francis of Assisi (Franny), and Sedgwick.

  • “We read biographies of great and noble people,” Henderson writes.  “They all expire. But somehow it hurts more when a great dog dies.”

true dog storiesAlso of interest: in the prelude, Henderson mentions a book by Elizabeth von Arnim, an admired literary figure, who in 1936 published one of the supposedly first modern dog/human memoirs, entitled All the Dogs of My Life. Similar to his book, it is part autobiographical and an account of the many dogs she loved: Bijou, Bildad, Cornelia, Ingraham, Ingulf, Iago, Ivo, Prince, Coco, Pincher, Knobbie, Chunkie, Woosie, and Winkie during her life in Germany, Switzerland, London, land the French Riviera.

2. Good Dog: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Loyalty (2014) by David DiBenedetto and the Editors of Garden & Gun Magazine

  • “By turns humorous, inspirational, and poignant, Good Dog offers beautifully crafted stories from such notable writers as P.J. O’Rourke, Jon Meacham, and Roy Blount, Jr.”

3. The Dog Walker (2015) by Joshua Stephens, a self-avowed anarchist who tells his “irreverent and perceptive fish-out-of-water story” about walking dogs for “powerful politicians and big corporate types.”

*If you’re looking for a name for a new puppy, consider the names of 65 of Shackleton’s dogs:

  • Alto, Amundsen,Blackie, Bob, Bo’sun, Bristol, Brownie, Buller, Bummer, Caruso, Chips, Dismal, Elliott, Fluff, Gruss, Hackenschmidt, Hercules, Jamie, Jasper, Jerry, Judge, Luke, Lupoid, Mack, Martin, Mercury, Noel, Paddy, Peter, Rodger, Roy, Rufus, Rugby, Sadie, Sailor, Saint, Sally, Sammy, Samson, Sandy, Satan, Shakespeare, Side Lights, Simian, Slippery Neck, Slobbers, Snowball, Soldier, Songster, Sooty, Spider, Split Up, Spotty, Steamer, Steward, Stumps, Sub, Sue, Surly, Swankers, Sweep, Tim, Upton, Wallaaby, Wolf

funny dog pictures

Golden retriever in sunglasses

quotes about dogs

true dog stories

unique dog breeds

All Things Beaujolais

Le Beaujolais Nouveau “Every year…millions of bottles of a fresh, fruity Gamay from Beaujolais are poured to celebrate the new vintage,” writes S. Irene Virbila in a recent Los Angeles Times article. “Banners all over France — and the world — proclaim ‘Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!’ French restaurants, of course, get into the spirit of things big-time.”

Shortly after the Paris attacks, when the world became more attuned to all things Paris and France, I viewed a show on television about the annual French festival, celebrating the arrival of the 2015 Beaujolais wine. What a contrast, I thought, between the festivities and the tragic events that had taken place just a week before. And so, when I came across an abundant supply of Georges Duboeufs 2015 Beaujolais Nouveau that was festively displayed for the Thanksgiving holiday, I thought it appropriate to celebrate France and support the Parisians by buying a bottle.

As it turns out, 2015 was considered an exceptional harvest, making the Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Noveau an unexpected and inexpensive delight. Considered a medium-bodied, light wine with cherry and raspberry notes, it is easy to drink, sounds magical, is “festive, friendly and joyful”*  and certainly makes one merry! That the bottle was colorfully and joyfully decorated, and that the wine was a beautiful rosy pink violet color, was an added bonus.

In the light and merry spirit of a French Beaujolais, ATG offers three hearty holiday recipes that use red wine. All three dishes are better made one day ahead of serving, especially the Boeuf à la Bourguignoone.

Bon appétit!

Meals with red wine

Sauté de Boeuf à la Bourguignonne or Beef Sauté with Red Wine, Mushrooms, Bacon, and Onions (inspired by Julia Child, this is a combination of several different recipes and is meant to be a general guide to cooking Boeuf a la bourguignonne “au pif.”)

2 & 1/2 pounds filet of beef cut into small pieces about 2 inches across and 1/2 inch thick
4-5 slices good quality thick-cut bacon, sliced into 1 inch pieces
1 & 1/2 cups  red wine
1 & 1/2 cups beef stock
1 clove garlic, mashed
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 tsp. thyme

1 tbsp. flour
1 tbsp. butter

20 small white onions
1/2 pound mushrooms, quartered
Salt and Pepper

Sauté the beef pieces that have been salted and peppered in olive oil and butter over moderately high heat 2-3 minutes on each side to brown the exterior but keep the interior rosy red. Set the beef on a side dish. Brown the sliced bacon in the sauté skillet until cooked through, not overly crispy, remove and set aside. Pour most of the fat out leaving enough to sauté the onions lightly until coated and then the sliced mushrooms lightly until coated. Add a little bit of butter as you are sautéing if necessary. Remove onions and mushrooms from skillet and place in bowl and put aside. Add the wine, beef stock, garlic, tomato paste, and thyme back into the sauté skillet and slowly boil down by half. Remove skillet from heat.

Make the flour butter paste and then whisk into the boiled down sauce in skillet and simmer for 1 minute correcting seasonings, adding more pepper and salt if necessary. Arrange the bacon, mushrooms, onions, and beef pieces in oven-proof casserole dish and pour sauce over and bake in 300 degree F oven for approximately 1 hour or until meat is fork tender.

Bolognese (inspired by Barbara Lynch’s cookbook Stir)

Coq Au Vin Julia Child1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large celery stalk, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
2-3 large cloves of fresh garlic
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 & 1/2 pounds ground sirloin or 1/2 pound each of veal, pork, and lamb
1 cup dry red wine (Beaujolais or Chianti)
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, finely chopped (do not discard juice)
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1 cup heavy cream
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat olive oil and one tablespoon butter in large deep skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, celery, and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 6-8 minutes. Add the ground meat in batches, letting it brown a little before adding more. Season with salt and pepper and continue cooking and stirring until meat is completely browned. Add the wine, increase the heat to medium high and boil, stirring occasionally to break up any clumps of meat, until the wine has been reduced, about 10 minutes or so. Add the finely chopped tomatoes with their juice, tomato sauce, tomato paste and basil. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook, uncovered, until the sauce is thick, dark, and rich, for at least 1 hour. After an hour add cream and cook for another 20 minutes or so. Serve over pasta, topped with freshly ground pepper and grated Parmesan cheese.

Coq Au Vin (adapted from Julia Child’s cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking)

4-5 slices of good quality thick-cut bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tbsp. butter
2 & 1/2 – 3 pound cut-up frying chicken
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup cognac
2-3 cups young red wine – Beaujolais or Chianti
1-2 cups chicken or beef stock
1 tbsp. tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/4 tsp. thyme
1 bay leaf
12-24 brown-braised onions
1/2 pound sautéed mushrooms
3 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp. butter, room temp.

Bolognese recipeIn a heavy casserole skillet, sauté bacon slowly in hot butter until it is very lightly browned and then remove to side dish. Brown chicken in the hot fat of bacon and season with salt and pepper. Return bacon to the casserole skillet with the chicken and cover and cook slowly for about 10 minutes, turning the chicken once.

Uncover, and pour in the cognac. Averting your face, ignite the cognac with a lighted match. Shake the casserole skillet back and forth for several seconds until the flames subside.

Pour the wine into the casserole. Add just enough chicken or beef stock to cover the chicken. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic and herbs; bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer slowly for 25-30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and its juices run a clear yellow when the meat is pricked with a fork. Remove the chicken to a side dish.

Blend the butter and the flour together into a smooth paste (beurre manié).  Beat the paste into the hot liquid above with a wire whip. Bring to a simmer while stirring and simmer for a minute or two until the sauce thickens slightly. Reduce heat to low.

For the onions, use 1-2 tablespoons each of butter and olive oil and sauté over moderate heat for 8-10 minutes.  Then transfer sautéed onions to a shallow baking dish and pour 1/2 cup of beef stock, dry white or red wine, or water over and season with salt and pepper, 1 bay leaf and 1/4 teaspoon of thyme. Bake in 350 degree F oven for 40-50 minutes, turning them over once or twice. When done they should be very tender, retain their shape, and be a nice golden brown.

For the mushrooms, sauté quartered mushrooms in 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon oil over medium to high heat until nicely browned. Season with a little salt and pepper.

Place chicken back in casserole skillet and arrange mushrooms and onions around the chicken and baste with the sauce. Bring to a simmer and then cover and simmer slowly for 4-5 minutes until the chicken is hot through. Serve on a hot platter with sprigs of fresh parsley.

French food recipes

Stepping into Beauty

life and times isabella stewart gardner“If you invest in beauty it will be with you all the days of your life.” – Frank Lloyd Wright (American architect, designer and writer, 1867-1959)

Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1925) was a woman whose life fully embodied the above quote from Frank Lloyd Wright – and a visit to her museum in Boston allows one to experience all of the beauty that she collected during her travels around the world.

From master paintings, sculptures and tapestries, to objects such as Napoleon’s letters, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is even more striking during the holiday season, with hundreds of vibrant red amaryllis beautifully poised in the courtyard that seem to speak to Mrs. Gardner’s exuberance for life.

Described as a “cultural maverick” and a “formidable leader…muse, mentor, patron, collector, connoisseur, and designer” by Douglass Shand-Tucci in The Art of Scandal, Mrs. Gardner became famous through her unconventional ways and as a wealthy Boston arts patron. She was also deeply appreciated for what the museum’s website describes as her “zest for life, her energetic intellectual curiosity, and her love of travel.”

 gardner museum heistBuilt in 1899-1901 as a replica of a 15th century Venetian palazzo that she visited during her travels in Italy, the museum opened to the public in 1903 and was to serve as her home and a work of art for the “education and enjoyment of the public.”

A gift of enjoyment it certainly is. The beauty Mrs. Gardner surrounded herself with has not only lasted a lifetime, but has continued to bloom as a pleasurable experience for the public – lifting, inspiring and celebrating all that is good and beautiful in the world, in man and in the “realms” beyond.

Of Interest: 13 museum pieces worth over $200 million, including Rembrandt’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” (1633) and Vermeer’s “Concert” (1664) were stolen from the museum in March 1990 by two men who posed as Boston police. The paintings and objects that were taken range in age from 130 to 3,000 years old. The Gardner Museum heist has never been solved.  A book by Boston Globe reporter Stephen Kurkjian, called Master Thieves, was published in March 2015.

In Need of a Knight or Two

“Maybe he will make thee a Knight of His Round Table – and there is no honor in all the world that can be as great as that!” – King Arthur

“For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times…before the Empire.”Star Wars (Obi-Wan Kenobi to Luke Skywalker)

It can sometimes feel in these unsettling, turbulent and fear provoking times as though the world has grown a shade darker – particularly as the winter solstice draws near. And in dark times, it is only natural to search for a little sparkling light to guide one through the stormy seas of upheaval and distress that sometimes seems to wash over our wearied world.

Perhaps, when the world is spinning round in these “worst of times,” it would be wise to remember King Arthur and his knights in shining armor who ride into the darkness of the troubled realm, brandishing their swords and vanquishing the dark and evil forces with their chivalry.

Knights Code of Chivalry

One such “brandishing sword of light” is Ethan Hawke’s perfect little stocking-stuffer book, Rules for a Knight, a treasure for all – boy and girl, young and old – who seek a more admirable way of living.

The book tells the story of a knight who, before he goes off to battle, writes a letter to his children about how to conduct themselves in life and the world knowing that he may never return. As the publisher sums up nicely on the back cover: “He lays out the truth of the world as he sees it in a series of ruminations on solitude, humility, forgiveness, honesty, courage, grace, pride, patience, generosity, authenticity, and love. He presents an honest and joyful accounting of what the measure of our lives should be.”

Ethan Hawke Rules for a Knight ReviewThe delightful and nostalgic story begins:

“My Dear Children, A dark wind murmurs secrets into my ear as I write to you this evening. Perhaps this whisper is only the deceitful voice of fear, but I must admit, I am afraid I will never see you again…If I return safely home from tomorrow’s battle, all the better, but should I not, then turn to these pages whenever you might look for my voice in guidance.  I do not want you children to use my untimely death, or any setback that life may deliver, as an excuse not to take responsibility for yourselves.”

“When I was a young man I didn’t know how to live. Evenings I would carouse with my friends, fighting, drinking, and wreaking havoc all through the night hours.  My mother died when she gave birth to me, and all during my teenage years I’d leaned on that tragedy as an excuse for my own destructive behavior.  Sometimes in a moment of reflection, I would seek solace in the chapel, my heart swollen with remorse over the suffering I had caused myself and others. My soul felt wild, and I could not discern for what reason I had been born. This lack of purpose weighed so heavily on me that at times I felt despondent, as if I were made of lead and sinking to the bottom of the ocean. Other times my idle nature made me feel so light and insignificant, I worried I might float away. Finally, this crisis inside me rose to a deafening drum. I decided to seek out the wisest man I could find and ask him to tell me how to live.”

One might find another “brandishing sword of light” on “how to live” in the following oath from Le Morte d’Arthur: King Arthur & the Legends of the Round Table by Sir Thomas Malory, first published in 1485:

“This is the oath of a Knight of King Arther’s Round Table and should be for all of us to take to heart. I will develop my life for the greater good. I will place character above riches, and concern for others above personal wealth, I will never boast, but cherish humility instead, I will speak the truth at all times, and forever keep my word, I will defend those who cannot defend themselves, I will honor and respect women, and refute sexism in all its guises, I will uphold justice by being fair to all, I will be faithful in love and loyal in friendship, I will abhor scandals and gossip-neither partake nor delight in them, I will be generous to the poor and to those who need help, I will forgive when asked, that my own mistakes will be forgiven, I will live my life with courtesy and honor from this day forward.”

The Stone of Destiny

Consider, also, the Knights Code of Chivalry, as expressed in the French poem “Song of Roland”, which was written based on the Battle of Roncevaux in 778, during the reign of Charlemagne (date of composition between 1040 and 1115):

  • Knight of armorGod and maintain His Church
  • To serve the liege lord in valour and faith
  • To protect the weak and defenceless
  • To give succour to widows and orphans
  • To refrain from the wanton giving of offence
  • To live by honour and for glory
  • To despise pecuniary reward
  • To fight for the welfare of all
  • To obey those placed in authority
  • To guard the honour of fellow knights
  • To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit
  • To keep faith
  • At all times to speak the truth
  • To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun
  • To respect the honour of women
  • Never to refuse a challenge from an equal
  • Never to turn the back upon a foe

And, as expressed by the Duke of Burgundy in the 14th Century:

  • Faith
  • Charity
  • Justice
  • Sagacity
  • Prudence
  • Temperance
  • Resolution
  • Truth
  • Liberality
  • Diligence
  • Hope
  • Valour

Please note: The above lists were taken from here.

Christmas Cookies for Christmas Tea

Harney and sons tea review“Come, let us have some tea and continue to talk about happy things.” – Chaim Potok (American author and rabbi, 1929-2002)*

In the jingle-jangle, hustle-bustle of this busy, blessed season it is always good to make time for some peace, quiet and comfort with the taking of afternoon tea – accompanied, of course, by a sprinkled assortment of crisp and chewy Christmas tea cookies.

It is with a joyful spirit that ATG shares below an afternoon of tea and cookies with recipes for three very heavenly cookies.

We also highlight Harney & Sons’ “Holiday” Tea as a very good choice for your afternoon teatime. Located in the Hudson River Valley, Harney & Sons Fine Teas has been offering some the finest quality teas for over 30 years.  Their “Holiday” tea is blend of Chinese black tea with citrus, almond, clove, and cinnamon; it is a perfectly blended, smooth and satisfying tea that hits the right spice notes without an overpowering sensation (their Darjeeling is a good everyday afternoon tea).

Don’t let the plain look of the cookies fool you, the cookie-snatching elves around here said the Pecan Tea Cookies are addictive and some of the best they’ve had.

Tea quotes

Pecan Christmas Tea Cookies
An easy-to-make refrigerator cookie.

3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temp.
2 cups sugar
2 eggs, room temp.
2 tbsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans

Combine flour, salt, baking soda in medium sized bowl. In separate bowl, beat together butter and sugar.  Add eggs and vanilla to butter and sugar mixture and beat until thoroughly combined. Add flour mixture a little at a time to the eggs, butter and sugar mixture. Combine thoroughly and then add chopped pecans and stir until evenly distributed. Shape dough into two rolls 1 & 1/2-inch in diameter. Wrap in plastic wrap and store in refrigerator (keeps 1 week).  When chilled (2 hours or so), remove from plastic wrap and slice chilled dough 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick and bake on greased cookie sheet at 375 degree F for 10-12 minutes.

Please note: When forming into rolls, I use a little flour to keep them from sticking on surface and hands.  Also, watch closely when they are baking in the oven so as not to over bake.

Coconut Oatmeal Cookies (taken from Maida Heatter’s Cookies, 1997)
Chewy, buttery and yummy!

2 & 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 sticks of butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup light or dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temp.
1 cup quick-cooking (not instant) rolled oats
1 cup shredded coconut, firmly packed, may be sweetened or unsweetened)

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, and set aside. In large bowl cream the butter and then beat in vanilla and both sugars, mix well and then beat in eggs.

Combine the flour mixture with the butter/egg mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir in the oats and the coconut.

Place by the teaspoon-full on greased cookie sheet 2-3 inches apart (do not flatten top as these cookies spread flattening themselves). Bake in 350 degree F oven for 12-15 minutes.

Please note: These cookies will rise and then fall during baking. Bake only until the cookies are a rich golden brown all over. Be careful not to over bake. When cool, these cookies should be crisp on the edges and slightly chewy in the middle.

Christmas cookie recipes

Seven Layer Cookie Bars
Rich and creamy and always just one more…

1/2 cup butter
1 & 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 cup chocolate morsels
1 cup Butterscotch morsels
1 & 1/3 cups coconut
1 cup pecans

Melt butter in a 9 x 13 baking dish. Pour cracker crumbs over butter and evenly distribute making a smooth layer of crust. Then layer milk, chocolate and butterscotch morsels, coconut and pecans in that order. Bake for 25 minutes or until slightly bubbly and lightly browned in 325 degree F oven.

*Enjoy a few more quotes from these tea lovers:

  • “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” – Henry James (American writer, 1843-1916)
  • “A true warrior, like tea, shows his strength in hot water.”  – Chinese Proverb
  • “You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.”  – C.S. Lewis (British novelist, 1898-1963)
  • “Would you like an adventure now, he said casually to John,  “or would you like to have your tea first?”  – J.M. Barrie (Scottish author of The Adventures of Peter Pan, 1860-1937)
  • “My dear, if you could give me a cup of tea to clear my muddle of a head I should better understand your affairs.”  – Charles Dickens (English writer, 1812-1870)
  • “I don’t drink coffee; I take tea, my dear ” – Sting (English musician)
  • “…she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China.”  – Leonard Cohen (from his song “Suzanne”, 1967)
  • “I’m an afternoon tea type of girl. I come from a Russian background where we love our teas. So between lunch and dinner after training I come home and I love a nice cup of tea with am in it, as we drink it there. Black Englih Breakfast tea with raspberry jam is my favorite.”  – Maria Sharapova (professional tennis player)
  • “Tea tempers the spirits and harmonizes the mind, dispels lassitude and relieves fatigue, awakens thought and prevents drowsiness, lightens or refreshes the body, and clears the perceptive faculties.” – Confucius (Chinese philosopher, 551 BC-479 BC)

“He’ll be coming and going…[o]ne day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down–and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.” – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis (British novelist, 1898-1963)

C.S. Lewis Quotes
The South Bank Lion, cast in 1837; Westminster Bridge, London

A View of One’s Own

Strolling along George IV Bridge Street in Old Town Edinburgh – a short distance from The Royal Mile – you’ll come across what appears to be “just another” coffee shop…that is, until you read the sign that says “Birthplace of Harry Potter.”

The Elephant House Harry Potter

Step inside “The Elephant House” and you’ll quickly discover why J.K. Rowling found a “home away from home” in this warm, cozy little cafe while writing the first Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.*

With a view of the iconic Edinburgh Castle, home to Scotland’s crown jewels and the “Stone of Destiny,” towering above the city’s cobbled streets (see below), it’s little wonder she was inspired to write of a “magical world” of witchcraft and wizardry that would come to captivate the imaginations of children worldwide.

Alongside a first edition, signed copy of the book is a note from J.K. Rowling herself, in a case on display, that reads: “To the beautiful little coffee shop where the magic all began.”

Edinburgh Castle

In the hope of sharing a bit of that magic, ATG puts forth some of our favorite Harry Potter quotes taken from the seven books.

As the Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) once wrote: “I pick my favorite quotations and store them in my mind as ready armor, offensive or defensive, amid the struggle of this turbulent existence.”

  • The Elephant House Edinburgh“Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels.  But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.”  –Dumbledore, Order of the Phoenix
  • “It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”Dumbledore, Chamber of Secrets
  • “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” –Dumbledore, Sorcerer’s Stone
  • “We must try not to sink beneath our anguish Harry, but battle on.”  –Dumbledore, Half-Blood Prince
  • “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”  – Sirius Black, Goblet of Fire
  • “People find it far easier to forgive others for being wrong than being right.”  –Dumbledore, Half-Blood Prince
  • “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  –Dumbledore, Deathly Hallows
  • “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”  –Dumbledore, Prisoner of Azkaban 
  • Harry Potter Books“Ah, music.  A magic beyond all we do here!”  –Dumbledore, Sorcerer’s Stone
  • “You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself plainly when you have need of him.”  –Dumbledore from Prisoner of Azkaban
  • “I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind…. At these times… I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure.”  Dumbledore, Goblet of Fire

*Harry Potter and the”Philosopher’s” Stone was changed to “Sorcerer’s” Stone for publication in America.

The Elephant House JK Rowling
Inside The Elephant House

Talking Points for 1995

Wifi JokeAmong the charming allure of “The Elephant House” coffee shop in Edinburgh, Scotland – known as the “Birthplace of Harry Potter” – is this refreshingly simple sign that encourages us to put down our phones, close our laptops, remove our headphones and…TALK!

If we were to “pretend it’s 1995”, here are a few “talking points”:

1995 New York Times Top Fiction Books (in no particular order):

Five Days in Paris by Danille Steel

The Lost World by Michael Crichton

Silent Night by Mary Higgins Clark

The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans

The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan

Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher

Beach Music by Pat Conroy

The Children’s Book of Virtures by William J. Bennett

1995 New York Times Top Non-Fiction Books (in no particular order):

Lincoln by David Herbert Donald

The Road Ahead by Bill Gates with Nathan Myhrvold and Peter Rinearson

My American Journey by Colin Powell

Charles Kuralt’s America by Charles Kuralt

A Simple Path by Mother Teresa

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra

The Martha Stewart Cookbook by Martha Stewart

David Letterman’s Book of Top Ten Lists by David Letterman

The Moral Compass by William J. Bennett

My Point….And I Do Have One by Ellen DeGeneres

1995 Top Movies (in no particular order):

Braveheart – Mel Gibson

Toy Story – Tim Allen and Tom Hanks

Usual Suspects – Kevin Spacey

Apollo 13 – Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon

Casino – Robert DiNero, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone

Dead Man Walking – Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn

Sense & Sensibility – Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet

While You Were Sleeping – Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman

American President – Annette Bening, Michael Douglas, Martin Sheen, Richard Dreyfus, Michael J. Fox

Crimson Tide – Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman, James Gandolfini

Leaving Las Vegas – Nicholas Cage and Elizabeth Shue

Se7en – Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Gwyneth Paltrow

1995 Some Top Albums (in no particular order)

Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill

Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon

Hootie & The Blowfish – Cracked

The Beatles – Anthology 1

Live – Throwing Copper

Garth Brooks – The Hits

Mariah Carey – Daydream

Oasis – What’s the Story Morning

The Rolling Stones – Stripped

Enya – The Memory of Trees