If you don't like reading "personal journey" type posts… click away now! Well, 2018 was 'quite the year'… and not a particularly happy one. I have realised that my last blog post was June 2018 and that's purely because last summer I experienced the most heartbreaking moments of my life so far. I was struggling with my medication for arthritis and the journey I was on was simply not a happy one. I was (and still am) in a tremendous amount of pain, I was piling on the weight due to the steroids being pumped into me to help with short-term solutions and then the worst of my luck happened... My dad died unexpectedly (we simply didn't see this coming, it happened so fast), sending me into a spiral of emotions and experiences that I simply wasn't expecting to happen so soon in my life. No time is a good time to die, but I had just started to build a fantastic friendship with my dad that I had never really had before. I had recently bought my first home after years of saving hard, he was so proud and I was enjoying getting to know him better as an adult. And then he left us. There's a lot more to this, perhaps for another time, I still don't feel ready to talk too much about his death five months later, there's still a lot of healing to be done, my heart seems to break just a little bit more every single day. My family and close friends have been amazing in support, my sister and I have become closer as a result because she's the only one that truly understands how I feel right now, which is comforting at times. 'The Bearded One' could have run away from this, but he has been there every step of the way. He cooked and prepared my meals for months afterwards when I couldn't leave the comfort of my bed or a blanket on the sofa, he wrapped/wraps himself around me every time I cried/cry or had/have a panic attack, he talks to me without awkwardness and knows when I'm not ok, he's helped me to grieve more than he will ever know. I am very thankful for him. This is beyond the hardest experience I have ever faced and I don't feel like I am doing too well, no matter how strong people (outside my family) tell me I have been. What they don't see is how I feel on the inside, how many tears roll down my cheek on a daily basis, how close to shutting down I have become and the days I have shut down and simply don't want to leave my bed have become more frequent than I would like to admit. What's tough is you can't really "take time off" for grief… I took my allowance of 3 days from work (this honestly isn't anywhere near enough without wanting to sound ungrateful) and stayed in bed to cry the entire time. I struggled more than I ever imagined I would, but then I had to go back to work and just sat there at my desk, unable to move my fingers to type the words expected of me in my job, I didn't function properly for weeks and still struggle months on. It's been one of the hardest parts, having to "go back to normal" so fast, it's just impossible. On the surface, people think this is 'old news', that I've moved on and dealt with it (I haven't), people feel uncomfortable if I talk about my dad in any way (no matter how 'ok' I feel about discussing him / his death) and they just change the subject or just look so uncomfortable that I just mentioned it that I have to stop because they are most obviously feeling awkward. Some days I cry all day at my desk (however hard I try not to, it just can't be helped), it feels like my colleagues simply ignore it mostly, not knowing what to say or do. If somebody does ask me how I am doing, nine times out of ten I tend to say I'm ok, as I just can't face the awkwardness that follows. We aren't taught how to deal with death as living humans… or about the grief that follows… I don't know if it's a "British" thing that makes us automatically feel awkward around the topic of death, but it's the one thing I am not seemingly able to talk about with most people because they just don't think I'm ok to be discussing it… That's usually not the case, I have been really quite open when I can. Grieving is exhausting to be quite honest. I've found solace in the strangest place, and that's in podcasts and articles about death. I have become a huge fan of true crime (Sword & Scale and My Favourite Murder being amongst my favourites), I listen to stories about death and they calm me. It may sound odd, but it's helped me to take my mind off my personal grief and focus on something else. At first it helped me to focus on the podcasters' voice to help me sleep - once everyone else is asleep, this is just the WORST time for grief to take hold. It took me months to get to a point where I could go to bed without enduring physical panic attacks about the hours of sleepless nights ahead of me (it still happens months on unfortunately), but then these podcasts became something I listened to in the daytime too, focussing my mind on the psychology of murder and the way people grieve in different ways, it felt like a huge comfort from a very unexpected source. This year I have also found The Griefcast, where the host discusses death and grief with comedians - it's still a sad podcast to listen to and I don't usually make it through an entire episode without tears, but again, it helps to listen to people openly talking about the topic that most people just can't approach. [caption id="attachment_7618" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Nigella Lawson by Paul Harvey (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption] And to my main point of this blog post… the fantastically honest and kind-hearted Nigella Lawson. Nigella has been my domestic goddess/hero from my early teens, her recipe books being my bible at the very start of my fascination with baking, she is ingenious and I have always loved her, no matter what. Nigella is the reason I started baking, her TV shows portraying her amazing and healthy attitude towards food made me fall just a little bit in love with her. A while ago, I came across an article titled "Nigella shares emotive posts about bereavement… as she admits she envies anyone that 'doesn't yet now about grief or loss"… admittedly the article was written by an online source that I wouldn't normally share with you, but it grabbed my attention. She's right, I was one of those people until 5 months ago… yes, I've lost grandparents and I lost a friend to a car accident a few years ago and these losses, no matter how sad they have been, were nothing compared to the loss of my dad. I thought I knew grief. I didn't. Now I know what grief is, it's the worst possible experience and one I am now panicking about experiencing again in the future. I feel hugely worried about losing 'The Bearded One', it's a fear I've developed since dad died and one that panics me hugely. It has broken me, changed me, I'm not entirely sure how, but it most certainly has. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, everybody experiences it differently. Speaking to my grief counsellor, she tells me this regularly. She says that she would be worried if I wasn't talking about my feelings or thoughts, just carrying on with my life like nothing happened - that would worry her. But, the fact that I cry, swear, shout, laugh, talk, sit in silence reflecting - she comforts me knowing that I am expressing my feelings. I honestly thought I was going to leave 2018 behind me and take 2019 by the horns, make this new year "my year", do my dad proud, not waste a second feeling depressed or sad, make the most of the life ahead of me. What I have learnt is that just isn't possible, it's just not that easy to move on, no matter how much you want to. There's so much "admin" around death, I had no idea (nobody warns you about this). Planning dads funeral, dealing with coroners reports & death certificates, collecting information for probate purposes, closing accounts, sorting bills, not to forget sorting his possessions and so on, it's draining, but it kept my mind occupied for some weeks/months following. In fact, now that we are on top of everything and finalising the last of his affairs, it's all of a sudden hitting me harder than before, he's well and truly gone. Grief is the worst experience I've endured and I have a new-found respect for everybody who has/is dealing with this - my boss who lost his wife and then had to deal with the same illness in his daughter (he had no time to grieve, he had to start supporting her right away) and my good friend Amy who lost her mum unexpectedly a few years ago (I didn't support her like I should have. I know this now, but I just didn't realise having not experienced this for myself). And I have a new level of respect for Nigella Lawson (and her family) having to deal with the loss of her husband so publicly, it must add a whole new element of stress and pain having cameras thrust into your face whilst trying to deal with this agony - I can't imagine the heartache she's had to deal with and how much it hurts, even years later - in fact I know it must be more painful than ever before. One quote I came across recently really inspired me, as cheesy as it may come across, I liked it; " Grief, I've learned, is really just love. It's all the love you want to give, but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in the hallow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go." - to grieve means you loved ♡ Nigella, I would LOVE to make you a cuppa, share a pot of your favourite tea at my charming kitchen table (handed down to us from 'The Bearded One's' auntie / grandfather) and dunk biscuits to listen to what you do to get through these most horrendous feelings and how you approach/tackle your grief. Do you know about this fantastic grief podcast? Are you a fan of true crime? (If not, I can highly recommend it!) - in all seriousness, how do you even start to move forward? I am newly engaged (I am just so lucky that dad was here to see my happiness, finally!) and the thought of planning my wedding without dad here is a very sad thought process. If you are ever passing Cambridge/Suffolk, drop me a line, my kettle will be on for you - I'll even let you use one of my best mugs, or you can have the Danny Dyer "you mug" mug, should you want it… I admire you and your strength, even if you don't feel strong yourself, your words mean a lot to others and its very much appreciated. And to everybody else… I'd love to say that I, "Miss Sue Flay" will be on fire for 2019, but I may be quiet for some time, I just don't feel myself at the moment and although this blog is predominantly about afternoon tea and I hit 2019 promising I would be back with reviews and smatterings of tea and cake, it's just not quite going to plan, but I will be back when it feels right. And to end my rather tearful blog post - this took a lot longer to share than I expected - I wish Nigella some happiness for 2019 (and anyone else out there grieving) and want to say a HUGE thank you to my family & friends for supporting me/us during this most horrible time. If you are struggling for any reason around grief, please speak to somebody, anybody. It might not feel like it would help, but I really do think it will in some way - if all else fails, please reach out to one of these and start a conversation, no matter how tearful, upsetting it might be: https://www.bereavementadvice.org / https://www.cruse.org.uk. And one last note - I found New Year very difficult indeed, more so than Christmas and the build up to it, I felt so sad on NYE 2018 and tried to remember my dad fondly and as happily as possible on Twitter - you'll find my thoughts here, should you be interested to read more about my old man, Jack Graham Christy, hopefully resting in peace ♡
Thursday, 31 January 2019
Friday, 29 June 2018
Do you have a "go to" scone recipe? I've been baking a specific scone recipe for years now, slightly adapting over time, this is simply foo proof. Not only are these scones easy to make and bake, but they are light and fluffy, perfect for your afternoon tea table. They are best served warm, with lashings of sweet jam and clotted cream. At my own tea parties, back in the day, I used to serve them with homemade peach & amaretto jam (just delicious!), but lately, admittedly, my favourite jam is a Bonne Maman strawberry preserve easily sourced from most British supermarkets. In honour of National Cream Tea Day, here is my take on a scone recipe from "The Hairy Bakers - Mums Knows Best" book: Miss Sue Flay's Fruity Scones Makes 12-14 small scones or 8-10 large scones. 340g Self Raising Flour Pinch of Salt 85g Butter, plus extra for greasing 60g Caster Sugar 125ml Milk (I use semi skimmed) 4 Tbsp Natural Yoghurt 1 Tsp Cinnamon (sometimes I add more, as I love this flavour) 1 Tsp Nutmeg 1 Tsp Vanilla Essence 100g Sultanas Preheat the oven to 220*c/Gas 7 and lightly grease a baking sheet. Boil the kettle and add the sultanas to a small bowl, cover with boiling water and set aside. Sift together the flour and salt into a bowl and rub in the butter until the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg. Drain the sultanas and squeeze out the water, it doesn't matter if they retain some water, you want them moist so that they don't burn whilst cooking (you'll get nice juicy fruit instead!) and mix in with the milk, vanilla essence and yoghurt. Work the mixture together until a soft dough is formed. Don't overwork your scone mixture though, I was always told to "bother" it, but don't hassle it! Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead lightly, then flatten it out to an even thickness of about 2cm. I use heart shaped cutters, but any shape will do. If you don't have a cutter, use the rim of a thick drinking glass (just dip it in flour so the dough doesn't stick). Using a 5cm cutter, cut out the scones and place them on the baking tray. Gather the trimmings and cut out more scones. (I always use the very last leftover piece to roll into a "scone ball" for taste-testing at the end!) Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Remove the scones from the oven and leave them to cool on a wire rack. Serve warm with all the trimmings! Dust with a little icing sugar for prettiness. Enjoy! PS - If you don't fancy baking, but still fancy going out for Afternoon Tea, then check out my reviews here!
Friday, 8 June 2018
I often get asked where is the best afternoon tea in Cambridge? And in all honesty, I have very few favourites when it comes to Cambridge itself. Until recently Cambridge has really been lacking in fantastic afternoon teas and until The Ivy Brasserie and Carriages of Cambridge came along there haven't been many other contenders. That is until now... I recently received an invitation to sample afternoon tea at one of the newest hotels in town, The Tamburlaine. This is the new kid on the block when it comes to afternoon tea destinations in Cambridge. I say new, this hotel has been open for a year or so now, but I've only just got around to visiting... and I'm so glad that I did, wow, this is a beautiful venue for afternoon tea. You could easily walk past The Tamburlaine as you head from the railway station to town, however the colourful canopy beside the swivelling front door offers a simple, but elegant insight as to what is awaiting you inside. I was very lucky to be invited to sample this afternoon tea and I decided to invite my lovely friend, Jennifer Chong of Feioi Interiors, along for a sophisticated afternoon out on the town. The Venue: On arriving at this luxury hotel, I was greeted by a very friendly doorman who showed me around whilst I waited for Jen to arrive and he suggested that I take a sneaky peek upstairs into the stunning, yet secluded library. The interior design from the very moment that you enter this hotel is very different to anything that I've seen in Cambridge. I really like the art deco feel…every corner has an intriguing detail or a splash of colour. It's bold and I love that, keeping in mind until a few years ago I was very much a lover of monochrome schemes. I've been drawn more and more to bold textures and colours since buying my first home, so I felt right at home here. The first room that I visited was actually the bathroom, and wow, what a room this is... Covered in a banana leaf print wallpaper and yellow tile, this room looks like something from my Pinterest boards and I couldn't stop photographing it haha. The patterned tiled floors, the plush velvet sofas adorned with cushions & throws and the stylish, but simplistic artwork on the walls all make this hotel a piece of art in itself. If you love taking geeky photographs (like me!) then this is the place for you… But the pièce de résistance is truly the garden room, one of the most relaxing afternoon tea venues I've ever spent time in. Victorian patterned wallpaper, huge walls decked with mirrors and ornate light & lamps everywhere you look. Marble tables, their very own pastel china & tableware embellished with their logo and the cutest pastry forks I've ever seen… we even joked about popping them into our handbags before we started to dine - obviously we would never do that! The Tea: Much to my delight, the loose leaf tea on offer is Newby Tea, originally based in London, but I've seen them expanding hugely over this last year or two. I had the pleasure of sampling this tea at an event sponsored by Newby in London a few years back for National Afternoon Tea Week and it is truly one of my most favourite brands of tea. There were many different options on the tea menu here, including the usual suspects such as English breakfast and Earl Grey, as well as many flavoured/fruity options such as strawberry & mango, lemon & ginger, and a seasonal blend of lavender tea produced especially for The Tamburlaine. I chose the lavender tea, it was light, full of flavour, but not too overwhelming. However, after the second pot of this tea it started to tickle the back of my throat, so it did get a little too much after a few cups and I needed to switch to a different flavour. This hasn't put me off, quite the contrary, it's one of the best teas I've ever tasted and I would love to recreate this one at home. I may have to get in touch with Newby and have a chat, as I'd love to join them for a tea tasting masterclass - I adore their originality. Jen enjoyed the lemon & ginger tea and thoroughly enjoyed downing two pots during our stay. The Food: Well, where do I start? Large brass cake stands almost twice as tall as the table that we were seated stood proudly on the black and white tiled floor beside us. On serving afternoon tea, our knowledgeable waitress pulled it up alongside us and placed each of the plates onto the stand which really gave the afternoon tea a well factor arrival. Each plate could be taken from the stand and placed on the table as we nibbled, I love this as there's nothing worse than a small table with no room to place everything. Once we had emptied a plate, we could pop it back on the stand to move it out of the way - genius! The finger sandwiches were beautifully cut into rectangles, all matching and symmetrical, piled on top of each other like a sophisticated Jenga tower - so impressive. We were served four generous-sized finger sandwiches each, with fillings which included smoked salmon & spinach, a simple egg mayonnaise, cucumber & cream cheese and ham & mustard. They were freshly made, no dried out corners on these beauties! As with all afternoon teas, I always find is never enough savoury. It's exactly the same here, I would perhaps suggest a very small savoury tart or something similar to give it more of a savoury option. Saying that, there is so much more on this afternoon tea tier that it's not much of a problem! The next course offered freshly baked and still warm scones. Two fruit scones, two plain scones, all served with homemade clotted cream, strawberry jam and a very welcome addition of lemon curd. I've never considered that there are people out there who do not like jam… Jen is one of those weird individuals hehe! But she was thrilled to have lemon curd served with her scones, such a lovely little addition. After all of those breaded goodies, theres then the top tier to dive into. The cakes. All miniature and bite-size, however we struggled to eat them all - there's a huge amount of food on these plates, not that we were complaining about this of course! We tucked into a triple chocolate layered brownie, chocolate and mint macaron, passionfruit tartlet, a rhubarb soufflé, classic carrot cake with walnut and colourful edible flowers on top and a chilled rhubarb & mango parfait. Each and every one of these treats were pleasing to the eye, my favourite being the layered chocolate brownie which was just divine. It was rich, smooth, and light enough to eat in one go… I could've had more of this, if I'd had room. The passionfruit tartlet packed a punch, the pastry was perhaps a little over-baked, but I quite liked it. You could taste the passionfruit and it was very different to any tartlets that I've had before on an afternoon tea stand. The chocolate & mint macaron had us divided, with Jen not being a huge fan on this one, but I loved the richness of the chocolate inside. We did however agree that you couldn't really taste the mint in this, a bit of a shame. The carrot cake was delicious and a nice traditional touch. The rhubarb soufflé was was pleasant, but the most unusual element was the mango and rhubarb parfait. It tasted very synthetic in flavour and I do think perhaps something a little less adventurous here might go down better… The colour of it was very appealing, but I don't personally think it worked too well and Jen agreed. Saying that, I just loved the colour on this cake plate, it all just looked so appealing and we wanted to scoff it all in one go, not ever really sure where exactly to start…and if you are an Instagram fiend like myself, then this is the cake plate for you! The Doggy Bag Test: As I mentioned earlier, we couldn't finish all of the cakes so we took some home for later. We were provided with two dainty little card boxes with lids and these kept our cakes fresh and intact for a second wind later that day - perfect. The Little Extras: Cocktails are also served alongside afternoon tea here, and our friendly waiter served us two beautiful cocktails decorated with edible flowers which just looked too stunning to drink. Both of us were unable to drink alcohol on this day, we couldn't sample them, so he offered us a non-alcoholic cocktail instead. Now, these mocktails were just as beautiful as the cocktails, and not your usual juice mixed with soda water. No. We were served a homemade Kombucha (distilled tea) with fresh mint, soda water and cucumber - this was one of the most delicious drinks I've ever had the pleasure of being served. It worked perfectly with our sweet treats and I would highly recommend ordering one with your own afternoon tea. The Little Niggles: On serving our cocktails, the waiter did ask us the reason why we couldn't drink the alcoholic cocktails. I have fed this back to the hotel, as it felt a little awkward/intrusive as we had to turn them away (such a shame, as they looked so good!) and had we known these were kindly being served, we could have let them know we wouldn't be drinking alcohol on this particular day. The only thing that lets them down at the table is the fact that the sugar is not in cubes, but in those horrid little packets as you would expect at a Starbucks, it just didn't look very nice on the table when everything else was so beautifully thought out. It's a very small niggle and it may sound silly, but when you are as geeky as I am about afternoon tea you will agree with me on this one. One thing that really was lacking in the garden room was atmosphere. There was a sophisticated hen party celebrating on the table next to us and perhaps one or two other tables of two people quietly enjoying their afternoon tea. There was no background music once the hen party had left the room halfway through our own afternoon tea, the silence felt a little uncomfortable and we felt like we needed to whisper so as not to disturb the other people around us. Perhaps some quiet background music would do the trick, I'm not too sure, but what really did surprise us was the fact that the Garden Room was so empty on a Saturday afternoon... Where was everybody? For a Saturday, I would have expected this hotel to have been bustling, but nevertheless this was our gain as we got to enjoy the hotel to ourselves, pretty much. The French doors were open, allowing a nice fresh breeze to play through on a hot day, however on several occasions several drunk kids walked through finding it hilarious that they were gatecrashing to find the toilets as they passed the hotel. When you look out of the French doors, it simply overlooks a concrete path outside, so some herbs, plants or some sort of planter would be a lovely addition to extend the garden room and have something nice to look out onto. But a very small niggle nonetheless. The Service: The staff here very polite and left us to our own devices for most of our stay. They did the same with the other tables around us, which made for a very relaxing experience. There was always somebody on hand when we needed them for a top up of tea for example. But I liked that they didn't hassle anybody - once you're seated, you are left to relax and not be quizzed every ten minutes. We loved exploring The Tamburlaine, the afternoon tea in the garden room was stunning and I highly recommend it, I will be going back very shortly with some more friends. If you get chance, I know this will sound odd, but check out the toilets as you leave, they're stylish and colourful and were fantastic new home inspiration for me! Whilst dining here, I had some fun making some mini videos on Instagram to showcase this afternoon tea. Visit my Instagram Page here and click on the "High Tea" section in my bio to take a nosey and see this fabulous afternoon tea streamed live (at the time of visiting) for a different perspective – enjoy. A huge thank you to the team at The Tamburlaine for inviting us to enjoy this afternoon tea, this has to be one of my new favourite spots in Cambridge. Afternoon Tea is served daily between 2pm-5pm and currently costs £9.50 for a cream tea and afternoon tea costs from £29.50 per person. Have you been to The Tamburlaine for afternoon tea? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! www.thetamburlaine.co.uk Read my "About Me" page here! See my full Facebook photo album for this visit here! See more of my travel videos here and more of my food review videos here. Or get in touch via social media through Facebook, Instagram & Twitter for a natter about life in general! Please note – This visit was complimentary following an invitation from The Tamburlaine. I am in no means obliged to blog or write about their offerings, but I simply choose to share with my readers, should I enjoy the experience. A huge thank you to the the team for welcoming us, we very much enjoyed our afternoon tea experience. Any questions or to discuss a "Secret Stay" or review, please do email:firstname.lastname@example.org All images & words © 2018 Miss Sue Flay, these may not be used or reproduced without written permission from the owner, many thanks in advance.