Friday, May 27, 2011

Stiff Upper Lips

I've actually started writing a new mystery series and since it's the early days, I am easily distracted. So ... after I alphabetized my spice cupboard, I started sorting out my iPhoto and came across my wedding photos. One of my favorite snaps is pictured here - my lovely mum (on whom my character Barbara Meadows, the Gipping Gazette receptionist, is loosely based) and our friend Mitch. Isn't that the most spectacular mustache ever? (In England we say "moustache.")

I did a little research on these magnificent specimens and, thanks to Country Life magazine, discovered the following facts. Did you know that in the 1830s and 1840s, British army officers in India began to rebel against the razor? Their dislike of shaving was driven in general terms by the Indian association of whiskers with virility. Apparently ... "The example of their bearded and moustachioed opponents in the First Afghan War and Sikh Wars of the 1840s, however, may have been a more specific catalyst for the change of heart." Basically, Britain didn't do very well out there.

In 1854 the mustache was made compulsory for British soliders in the Bombay army of the East India Company and soon spread into the civilian population. The fashion for facial hair became so popular that the (sadly defunct) Punch magazine asked 1,000 men why they wore mustaches. Only a quarter mentioned their army connections but nearly half grew mustaches because they believed them to be admired by "young ladies." It certainly had the desired effect on my mother.

It was only in 1916 when the King's Regulations permitted the British soldier to shave his upper lip once more.

Incidentally, the term "stiff upper lips" is thought to originate from ... America!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Perfect Cup of Tea

Being British, I'm very particular about what passes for a good cup of tea. It's not just the brand of tea or the ongoing argument over tea bags vs. loose leaf, the teapot design is very important.

An original Brown Betty teapot is hard to come by these days so if you have one, hold onto it. It's considered by many to be the best teapot design ever created. It may be the special red clay that is used for making the pot that causes the superior tea, or it could be the unique design of the pot itself. It's said that "the design allows the tea leaves more freedom to swirl through the water as it is poured into the pot and releases more flavor with less bitterness."

The original teapots came from a red clay that was discovered in the Stoke-on-Trent area of Britain in 1695. This special clay seemed to retain heat better and so found use as the material for the perfect teapot as early as the seventeenth century. The shape became more rounded as time passed and eventually found favor at the court of Queen Victoria.

Brown Betty Teapot
How to make a good cup of tea!

If you have a Brown Betty never put it in the microwave or on top of the stove. Always wash it by hand.
To Brew Tea:
1. Run warm water in the pot to warm it and pour it out.
2. Add one teaspoon of tea per cup - and one for the pot (or 1 teabag per person and 1 for the pot) - it depends on personal taste.
3. Put fresh cold water into the kettle and heat it just to the boil. Pour water into the teapot on top of the tea!
4. Steep for three minutes and then pour. If you are using loose leaf tea, remember the tea strainer.

Drinking tea is not for everyone. It's an acquired taste but if you hate it, it could be that you've not found the kind you like. My favorite tea is P.G. Tips. I don't care for Yorkshire Gold - the box is pretty but the tea is just too strong. Liptons is ghastly ... so persevere! Earl Grey and Lady Grey are also yummy if you can't take the traditional English brands.

One of my all-time favorite TV commercials for tea is this one. Hope you enjoy it!  Remember to turn up the sound!