Z is for Zest, Ginger and Spice!

Rejoice! This week in Advent is sponsored by the Doors Wide Open Policy; we leave your doors open and watch as all the heat exits them pursued by shivering congregants! Coming to a church near you sharpish. It’s doing double duty with the perennial classic O Antiphons Inc, and honestly, what is it about high Anglicanism in Canada that vetoes all sequencing hymns not heavily mired in plainchant. Other churches can and do use other stuff – we’ve sung at them. Lots. Finally, there’s an honourable mention to Canadian-Grade Winter Coats, guaranteed to keep you warm whether you face subarctic weather or a failure in the central heating system. They’re marketing a new line in choral cassocks, so conductors, take note.

Okay, so church was freezing.  And the doors were inexplicably open, and the heating system was (as ever as per the end of Advent) protesting the apocalypse or something. Also, the sermon was meandering and underwhelming but since we aren’t in the business of outperforming the priest with sermons, we try not to cast that stone. Besides, the the rose vestments were out, the music was good, and the tea at the Agape was hot. (It isn’t always, cf last Christmas morning. We suspect it was a ploy to get shot of us.)

Today’s tea is another rooibos. It’s called Super Ginger and bills itself as being spicy, sweet, and comforting. We don’t know about sweet – has anyone ever labelled ginger sweet ? – but we’ll vouch for the other two.

Mind, if you don’t like ginger, there’s no salvaging this tea for you. We do, and we think that it’s the perfect compliment to the already zingy rooibos. There’s not really a lot to dissect with this one though, because it does what it says on the tin. It’s gingery in spades. Did our diatribe about the spontaneous inclusion of raisins get through to someone? We’re adding it to the list of things to rejoice about anyway.

And while we do that, here’s a poem for your Gaudete Sunday. It’s fun, playful, and irreverent. As ginger and zing go, you don’t do much better than Chesterton’s wit as displayed here.

Variations of an Air 
G.K. Chesterton

Composed on Having to Appear in a Pageant as Old King Cole

Old King Cole was a merry old soul,
And a merry old soul was he;
He called for his pipe,
He called for his bowl,
And he called for his fiddlers three.

after Lord Tennyson

Cole, that unwearied prince of Colchester,
Growing more gay with age and with long days
Deeper in laughter and desire of life
As that Virginian climber on our walls
Flames scarlet with the fading of the year;
Called for his wassail and that other weed
Virginian also, from the western woods
Where English Raleigh checked the boast of Spain,
And lighting joy with joy, and piling up
Pleasure as crown for pleasure, bade me bring
Those three, the minstrels whose emblazoned coats
Shone with the oyster-shells of Colchester;
And these three played, and playing grew more fain
Of mirth and music; till the heathen came
And the King slept beside the northern sea.

after Swinburne

In the time of old sin without sadness
And golden with wastage of gold
Like the gods that grow old in their gladness
Was the king that was glad, growing old:
And with sound of loud lyres from his palace
The voice of his oracles spoke,
And the lips that were red from his chalice
Were splendid with smoke.

When the weed was as flame for a token
And the wine was as blood for a sign;
And upheld in his hands and unbroken
The fountains of fire and of wine.
And a song without speech, without singer,
Stung the soul of a thousand in three
As the flesh of the earth has to sting her,
The soul of the sea.

after Robert Browning

Who smoke-snorts toasts o’ My Lady Nicotine,
Kicks stuffing out of Pussyfoot, bids his trio
Stick up their Stradivarii (that’s the plural
Or near enough, my fatheads; nimium
Vicina Cremonce; that’s a bit too near.)
Is there some stockfish fails to understand?
Catch hold o’ the notion, bellow and blurt back “Cole”?
Must I bawl lessons from a horn-book, howl,
Cat-call the cat-gut “fiddles”? Fiddlesticks!

after W.B. Yeats

Of an old King in a story
From the grey sea-folk I have heard
Whose heart was no more broken
Than the wings of a bird.

As soon as the moon was silver
And the thin stars began,
He took his pipe and his tankard,
Like an old peasant man.

And three tall shadows were with him
And came at his command;
And played before him for ever
The fiddles of fairyland.

And he died in the young summer
Of the world’s desire;
Before our hearts were broken
Like sticks in a fire.

after Walt Whitman

Me clairvoyant,
Me conscious of you, old camarado,
Needing no telescope, lorgnette, field-glass, opera-glass, myopic pince-nez,
Me piercing two thousand years with eye naked and not ashamed;
The crown cannot hide you from me,
Musty old feudal-heraldic trappings cannot hide you from me,
I perceive that you drink.
(I am drinking with you. I am as drunk as you are.)
I see you are inhaling tobacco, puffing, smoking, spitting
(I do not object to your spitting),
You prophetic of American largeness,
You anticipating the broad masculine manners of these States;
I see in you also there are movements, tremors, tears, desire for the melodious,
I salute your three violinists, endlessly making vibrations,
Rigid, relentless, capable of going on for ever;
They play my accompaniment; but I shall take no notice of any accompaniment;
I myself am a complete orchestra.
So long.

There’s nothing like a good literary joke, is there? Spare a thought for it next time the Doors Wide Open Policy and failing heating systems get a hold of your church. But if that doesn’t work for you, we’ll leave you with our pet Gaudete Sunday Anthem. Enjoy! And rejoice greatly!

Here’s Tae Us

It was our Christmas Ball tonight. Terribly grand, you know, the Scottish Country Dance Christmas Ball, with lots of complicated footwork and once figures.

Actually, the occasion is billed as the Family Dance, and never was a program more accessible. We’d walked quite a lot of it before in social groups, but you don’t get much more beginner-friendly than the dance selections we had tonight.

Even so, every year we make mention of this ball, and every year someone says ‘I don’t know how you do it.’ Well, tonight you’re getting a lesson, because us Scottish Country Dancers like our rhymes.

For instance, when dancing the poussette, the adage is:

Away from the centre, quarter turn,
Up or down, quarter turn;
Into the centre, halfway round,
Fall back, fall back.

And here, for reference, is the poussette, danced beautifully by more elegant people than us.

 

Remember, Away from the centre, quarter turn…

You watch even the experienced dancers still reciting it to one another as they go. We had a wonderful teacher who used to joke that they’d inscribe it on her headstone someday. (They probably will; she dances more than she doesn’t.)

Meanwhile, to dance crossover reels – that’s a reel of three on the opposite side of the set – the rhyme goes:

Ones dance over to begin,
Twos dance out,

And threes dace in.

As for the rest of it, you mostly grab the hands that get offered to you, keep alert to people advancing towards you, and it all sort of muddles out. Occasionally, when it’s done very well, it looks elegant while you’re at it. We’re working on that bit.

Currently we’re unwinding to today’s tea. It’s another tisane, and we’re not taking notes here, but surely there have been more herbal teas than anything else in this calendar? Readers at home, what do you think? This one it White Cranberry, wherein white chocolate meets dried cranberry, apple, raisins and papaya. The cat mug is once again earning it’s keep, now we’ve cracked how to use it without being scalded, and yields up a tea that is surprisingly tropical tasting. We’d blame the papaya, except we couldn’t actually taste it in the cup. The cranberry dominates, as you’d expect, while the white chocolate gives it a burst of sweetness.

The apple tempers both a bit, though we’re not sure the raisins come through. Honestly, there must be raisins in every second tea we sample, and we’re not clear why, because they really don’t steep well. Anyone who has ever soaked raisins in hot water for baking will probably understand this; not for nothing you have to add other stuff to a fruitcake to draw out their flavour!

So that’s tea and two wee verses for you, tonight. But the traditional way to close out a dance is with Burns. Specifically Auld Lang Syne. Only that’s for New Year, and that’s still a ways off. So instead, have Green Grow the Rashes, O. It makes for a lovely strathspey, but doubles as an equally enjoyable read – with or without tea.

Green Grow the Rashes, O
Robert Burns

Chor. – Green grow the rashes, O;
Green grow the rashes, O;
The sweetest hours that e’er I spend,
Are spent amang the lasses, O.

There’s nought but care on ev’ryy han’,
In ev’ry hour that passes, O:
What signifies the life o’ man,
An’ ‘there na for the lasses, O.
Green grow&c.

The war’ly race may riches chase,
An’ riches still may fly them, O:
An’ tho’ at last they catch them fast,
Their hearts can ne’re enjoy them, O.
Green grow &c.

But gie me a canine hour at at e’en,
My arms about my dearie, O;
An’ war’ly cares, an’ war’ly men,
May a’ gae tapsalteerie, O!
Green grow &c.  

For you sae douce, ye sneer at this;
Ye’re nought but senseless asses, O:
The wisest man the warl’ e’er saw,
He dearly lov’d the lasses, O.
Green grow, &c.

Auld Nature swears, the lovely dears
Her noblest works she classes, O:
Her prentice hand she try’d on man,
And then she made the lasses, O.
Green grow, &c.

Hopefully you have less trouble with the Scotts than did the glaikit computer, which made a braw, effort to translate it into garden-variety English. You, naturally, not being robotic, will notice it does that anyway on the last verse, spontaneously switching to High English instead of Scotts vernacular. The genius of Burns is arguably how fluidly he mixes both.

We’ll send you off now to dance the hours away as per yet another rhyme, or maybe just enjoy oddly tropical tea. Until tomorrow,

Here’s tae us!
Wha’s like us?
Gey few, and they’re a’ deid!

Tea for a Winter Night

We opened the Advent calendar to an orange tea packet today, prompting the revelation that in spite of all these herbals, blacks and that one oolong, we hadn’t yet had a rooibos tea. There’s still time for this to all balance out, but it’s a glance we wouldn’t mind seeing redressed going forward.

Today’s rooibos is Alpine Punch, a staple of ours. It’s flavoured with almonds and brings back memories of damp, Scottish afternoons when we drank it to stave off the cold and put some heat back into our fingers. The almonds are a lovely compliment to the rooibos and give the tea a toasted flavour that tastes glorious.

To go with it, have a glorious poem by Hardy. We know, we know, we’ve used it before. But every Advent calendar has that one, recurrent thing. In children’s calendars its the St Nicholas, but it might be a particular chocolate, or tea, or, as in this instance, that one beloved poem. We’re writing by grey, wintery light, and it elevates the atmosphere like nothing else. Without further ado, here’s The Darkling Thrush.

The Darkling Thrush
Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
      When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
      The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
      Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
      Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outlet,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Wash shrunken, hard and dry,
And every creature upon earth
Seemed desolate as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimeted;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
With blast-beruffeld plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolling
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
This happy good-night air,
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew,
And I was unaware.

And remember, should you be overtaken by whimsy, pick a favourite hymn tune and set it to music. The thrush would almost certainly appreciate it.

Apologies and Corrections

We’v resurrected the feline mug this evening, with apologies, America. It turns out it hales from Germany after all, which goes a long way to explain the glass shell. It’s still true about the waste of perfectly good tea, though, and our various misadventures in ordering it.

Tonight’s cup is called Sunny C, in what we assume is another terrible play on words by way of a nod to the orange thing that was Sunny D(elight). Really, leave the puns to dads and uncles, Calendar. Anyway, like that vaguely orange-adjacent drink, this too purports to be full of oranges and citrus vitamin stuff. It certainly smells of it. So why conjure images of imitation orange juice?

(It’s probably a terribly clever reference to sun and vitamin C we’ve missed. Forgive us. And do explain if so minded.)

Anyway, it tastes of citrus, sort of like Lemsip if you swap the lemon for orange and take out the nasty medicinal stuff. Though we want it on record we’re great fans of Lemsip and would never willingly malign it. It even beats out Lemsip for taste; hot orange is a fruit we appreciate when steeped in tea. It does well in oolong, too.

For you North American readers who’ve never had the good fortune to be rescued by Lemsip, apologies. We’ve been fixed Britain-ward all day because of the election. We helped hang parliament once, and we cast an opinion on Scottish Independence, and also Brexit.

We did not, by the by, vote Brexit. But we got our way about Independence, so figure the perils of democracy mean something had to give somewhere down the line. But you didn’t come here for our thoughts on Brexit and we didn’t get to vote Jim Hacker into parliament. Probably just as well since we hear Sir Humphrey has since been elected to the House of Lords. Anyone know where Bernard ended up?

There is, and we know because we looked, poetry out there on Brexit and politics generally. Some of it is even darkly funny. We’ll let you hunt it down if you’re so minded. Instead, here’s something short, sweet, and fruity to go with the tea. It even purports to be an apology, and really, wherever you fall on this thing, one must be due from all sides by now. We submit various parties trade them in-between negotiating terms of this deal that’s supposed to be happening. But until then, have some poetry.

This is Just to Say
William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
Enjoy the plums. We’re sticking with the citrusy herbal tisane over here in Narnia, oh, until March or so.

Dance the Hours Away

Tonight our local social group for the RCSDS (that’s the Royal Scottish Country Dancing Society to the unfamiliar) hosts its 40th anniversary celebration. Clearly it’s a bit of a week for parties. Strictly speaking, we’re imperfect dancers with wobbly timing, but it’s our Christmas send-off before the ball, so we’ll be going and, as is writ in The Dashing White Sergeant, we’ll dance the night away.

In preparation we’ve made up a pot of today’s tea. Remember we said there were herbals we were partial to? This is one of them. It’s called Caramel Shortbread and given our affinity for Millionaire’s Shortbread, this is a combination of things that was always going to go well. It smells strongly of caramel, and while the colour never gets dark, it shouldn’t, being herbal. And unlike other tisanes this calendar has had us trial, it comes to a healthy strength in decent time. Better still, the caramel gives it a nice taste, and infills some of the grounding you would typically get from a more full-bodied tea. It blends nicely with the raisins and apples, and really does taste surprisingly like Millionaire’s Shortbread in a cup. This is no bad thing.

But soon we’ll be off dancing, where it’s fairly good odds someone has actually made up Millionaire’s Shortbread for the occasion. (The RSCDS here is terribly proud of its roots.) And talking of occasions, here’s one of Pat Batt’s wee poetical gems about dancing. Here’s hoping our evening turns out better than her speaker’s! Mind you, since Scottish Country Dance is the elegant cousin to the ceilidh, that’s a pretty conservative bet. Especially since we’ve never met friendlier people.

The Ceilidh
Pat Batt, 1992

I’m supposed to run a Ceilidh
For our next St. Andrew’s night –
But I’m in a deep depression
For the future’s far from bright.Our gallant Demonstration Team
Is now reduced to five –
Fiona’s in Australia
And Ann’s run off with Clive.

John could do a sword dance
Or perhaps a Highland Fling –
But he will do it in trousers,
Which isn’t quite the thing.

And Ian plays the bagpipes –
He plays them fairly well –
But always full fortissimo,
And indoors that’s sheer Hell!

Mrs Gertrude Macintosh –
Our President’s close friend –
She’s bound to play that waltz in C
That never seems to end.

The vicar’s daughters – Faith and Hope
Are keen to do a turn –
They’ve started ballet classes
And they’ve got a lot to learn!

Their mother plays the cello
And makes a nasty sound
Whilst her offspring, like young kangaroos
Leap round – and round – and round.

And that woman who does monologues
(She looks a bit like me) –
There’s no way you can stop her
As far as I can see.

They say it’s only jolly fun –
It’s more than I can bear,
And the only way to dodge it
Is to make sure I’m elsewhere.

I know – I’ll join the navy
Seasick and homesick daily –
I might loathe every minute,
But at least I’ll miss the Ceilidh!

 

N.B. We happen to love a good ceilidh. In fact, in missing them we stumbled into the RSCDS thinking they were the same. They are not. But we tell you what; she’s not wrong about indoor bagpipes!

Lessons in Tea Making

Sharp-eyed blog viewers will notice we’re trailing a new teacup this evening. It’s late and we don’t really have the time for our normal pot of tea; it’s December, stuff happens and generally things conspire to get in the way. Tonight it was a retirement-cum-christmas party. Tomorrow it will be dancing. But we must have our tea, so we’re finally christening this mug, which, strange to say came from the same friend abroad as last night’s Delightful Dachshund parcel.

It comes with an inbuilt, good-sized inbuilt infuser. The infuser is shaped like a dead fish, naturally, which makes sense when you realise the mug proper resembles a cat. And for a bitty infuser, it crams an awful lot of tea into it. Awkwardly, though, the glass this mug is made of isn’t insulated, and the lid traps the heat…well, it traps it in the heat-conducting glass.  Take off the lid, say you sensible listeners. But then out goes the infuser. To have tea, hot water or scalded hands; these are the questions.

Now, the friend is German, and we’ve had my share of tea in lemonade glasses served up to us in Germany, but this one is on you, America. We know this because we met her shortly after she picked up the mug in some stateside gift shop or other during a rare in-person convening of our like minds. We’d be surprised but, and we say this with great affection, nowhere has ever so monumentally misunderstood our tea orders as America. Historically they have neglected to bring us milk. Or they have taken ‘black tea’ to mean tea without milk; they lovingly tucked the teabag into the cup, not the pot (where folks, we tell you it cannot steep). Most recently, stuck us in a hotel room plus a posh coffee machine but lacking a kettle. If you’ve never tried making tea in a posh, futuristic coffee machine, let us save you the bother; it produces a cup of tea that tastes like coffee.

So, a heat-conducting cat shaped mug? From the place that so (in?)famously threw a lot of tea in the water to make a point all those years ago, it feels par for the course. PMind you, it’s a very sweet mug. And it’s sort of starting to infuse the tea as we type.

img_3764
Tea? Or hot water aspiring to be tea?

 

And what, you ask, after all that, is the tea? It’s a black tea called Candy Cane Crush. It’s an old favourite of the Calendar, and of ours, too. We’re not typically people who favour chocolate in tea, but here it works well with the peppermint. It gives the tea a creaminess at full strength that makes it taste a bit like a peppermint cream in the best possible way. And while we can, it turns out, write small essays on the hazards of glass mugs and their cat-shaped lids, you will never hear a word against the peppermint cream from us. In a cup this anaemic (and see the above photo for reference) its more peppermint cream than it is tea, but in a good-sized infuser with space for the leaves to expand, it gets a nice balance from the underlying black tea blend.

After all that, here’s lessons in tea making from a man who knows what he’s on about. We’ve dipped back into the archive for it, but can we help it if we keep having to educate the world on how to steep a cup of tea?!

Lessons in Tea Making 
Kenny Knight, from Ten poems about Tea

When I first learnt to
Pour tea in Honicknowle

In those dark old days
Before central heating

Closed down open fireplaces
And lights went out in coal mines

And chimpanzees hadn’t yet
Made their debuts on television

And two sugars
Was the national average

And the teapot was the centre
Of the known universe

And the solar system
Wasn’t much on anyone’s mind

And the sun was this yellow
Thing that just warmed the air

And anthropology’s study
Of domestic history hadn’t

Quite reached the evolutionary
Breakthrough of the tea-bag

And the kettle was on
In the kitchen of number

Thirty two Chatsworth Gardens
Where my father after slurping

Another saucer dry would ask
In a smoke-frog voice for

Another cup of microcosm
While outside the universe blazed

Like a hundred towns
On a sky of smooth black lino

And my father with tobacco
Stained fingers would dunk biscuits

And in the process spill tiny drops
Of Ceylon and India

Ode to the Dachshund

It was all things Dachshund today thanks to a surprise parcel from a friend across the water. Specifically, she billed it the Delightful Dachshund Parcel.

 

Miss Marschallin Cat is guarding it now, lest Dachshunds get any ideas about their place in the hierarchy. (They are minions.) Still, we thought we’d try and find a poem for them, if we could.

But just before that, a bit about the tea. It’s white and called Pomograteful, because some ill-advised person let the marketing people, or the naming people, or whatever people get to name these things, have it away with the puns. Calendar, you are a lovely Advent Calendar but leave the terrible puns to our unsuspecting relatives, will you?

Anyway, if you hadn’t put it together, it’s a pomegranate and white tea  blend that makes for a low-affine, sweet desert tea. The sort we’d save up for Lent when we’ve sworn off sweet things but still want a bit more after supper. The pomegranate gives the tea a spectacular colour and also zest – and it smells divine. What’s not to love?

We’re being purred at and waltzed on and gently bunted, which is typically our cue to go do the Boring Lying Down Thing from Miss Marchallin. You know the one; you burrow under lots of lovely blankies and lie perfectly still while the cat sits on you. It also means we’ve nattered too long about something other than Herself. But we live dangerously here at Chorister at Home, so before we go, have a poem about Dachshunds. And you thought we’d never find one didn’t you? Well, we did  – but we wouldn’t want Her Nibs to find out. So this is between us, the blog and some metaphorical bedpost, yeah?

The Dachshund Speaks 
Morgan Dennis, 1947

Because I waddle when I walk,
Should this give rise to silly talk
That I’m ungainly?  What’s ungainly?
I’m really rather graceful – mainly.
The experts have been known to state
That there’s a twinkle in our gait.
One said “They have a clumsy grace,”
Which after all is no disgrace.

My funny features may abound;
Short legs, long body, low-to-ground,
But I’m about the perfect pal,
For man or woman, boy or gal.
I’m gentle, very playful, kind,
I housebreak fast, ’cause I’m refined.
I’m smart but never sly or foxy –
No, do not underrate the dachsie!

 

Ungainly? Never! We give you the very model of dachshunds major generals…who may just have missed that memo about housebreaking fast. But who’s keeping track? Anyway, they are very definitely, absolutely, completely and utterly refined.

 

 

See? Seriously refined. Okay, look, maybe the jury’s out on that too. Maybe. But there is no contesting the loveability of a Dachshund. Trust us – we’d know.

Advent II: The Record of John

Advent II is all about John, the record of, crying on Jordan’s banks, etc, etc. Or it is as per our music schedule today. Though we have it on good authority that week two of Advent is actually sponsored by Frobisher Bay; the only winter-adjacent folksong about whaling to go masquerading as a Christmas carol this afternoon. (They’re working on a better tag line.) Note, we’re not complaining. We have great affection for Frobisher Bay, beloved of the St Andrews Madrigal Group forever and ever, world without end. Amen. Or it was when we were attending their concerts.

If you don’t know what we’re nattering at you about, you’re in for a treat. You can listen below, and we envy you hearing it for the first time!

 

 

On the subject of real treats, the calendar gave us one today in the shape of Cream of Earl Grey. We aren’t wild fans of garden variety Earl Grey (it tastes of soap!) but we love this particular blend. It’s creamier and smoother than ordinary Earl Grey and there’s less bergamot. A bit of milk can bring out the creaminess, but we like it black to better luxuriate in the flavours of the tea. We’ve even stockpiled a bit extra for breakfast tomorrow, we like it that much.

But we said today was all about John, and notionally, it is. As per certain schools of thought, each Advent Candle gets a designated theme, and Advent II is almost always John (three is almost always Mary, unless you have deferred John until Gaudete Sunday – but that gets complicated fast). We don’t do candles over on Huron St but we do do good music, and today’s lot included an old favourite that gets nicely reduced to nonsense here.

We’ve said before all good faith needs a bit of levity mixed in, so here’s On Jordan’s Banks the Baptist Cries….with emendations.

On Jordan’s Bank, the Baptists cry.
If I was Baptist, so would I,
They drink no beer, they have no fun,
I’m glad that I’m an Anglican.

This is what choristers resort to when they are made to sing multiple Advent carol services, nine lessons and late masses, if you were curious. And lest you worry we discriminate, this is coming to you from a teetotal Anglo-Catholic, so it’s odds on that somewhere there are indeed gin-drinking, fun-loving baptists. We hazard we even know one or two.

But from the ridiculous to the sublime, here’s a pet Advent Anthem to leave you with. It, too, is about John, and is our go-to example of what you miss out on if you only play Christmas music through December.

 

Sour Cherries and Jelly Doughnuts

Sweet Tart was the name of today’s tea, and it’s a bit of a misnomer. In fairness, the descriptor – that is, the little tagline under the name – marks it out as sour cherry, and that’s much nearer the mark. Let this tea sit and is it ever tart! It’s not necessarily a bad thing, if you’ve got a taste for that candied see cherry flavour. We’re actually more disconcerted by the presence of candy in the tea (why!?!) than by the tang of the tea.

It pours out pink, which we blame on the hibiscus. But the rest is all on those sour cherry candies, because just about all hibiscus does to tea is dye it and pack it with a shocking amount of vitamin C. Still, it’s a pleasant tea, and not a bad pick of an evening when you want something desert-ish and uncaffinated. Be sure to let it sit, though. At a weaker strength it just tastes of, well, pink.

We happened to drink two cups worth about late afternoon, before launching into a bit of Christmas baking. Ginger-molasses biscuits and Thumbprint Cookies, for the curious. Poems on that theme are a bit like hen’s teeth though, so we’ve done our best and are making do with Canadian Dennis Lee’s Jelly Doughnut instead. It’s probably about time we brought this blog some Canadian content in any case.

The Faithful Doughnut
Dennis Lee

Far across the ocean,
Far across the sea
My faithful jelly doughnut
Is waiting just for me.

It’s sugar shines with longing,
It’s icing glows with tears;
My doughnut has been waiting there
For 27 years.

Oh, faithful jelly doughnut,
I beg you don’t despair!
My teeth are in Toronto
But my heart is with you there.

For I will cross the ocean,
And I will cross the sea
And I will crush you to my lips
And make you one with me.

 

Nicholas v Arius…and also Cats. Again

St Nicholas Day used to find us baking Bishop’s Bread as recommended by one Judy Plum of Silver Bush. Today found us instead editing a treatise on visions and the nature of the soul for a client. It was a long essay and suddenly we looked up and it was late afternoon, so we forwent baking and had tea instead. We’d earned it.

Today’s tea was Silken Dragon Pearls, which is surely posh enough to send the price of this calendar skyrocketing. It brews a beautiful floral green tea though. It’s made from jasmine, is long in the mouth and has a wonderful smooth texture to it; the silk in the name is fairly won. Like any good jasmine, though, it makes for a pot you do have to watch if you don’t want it to turn bitter. We pulled the infuser out about five minutes in, but mileage may vary on that one. Understand, we grew up on breakfast blends, so never did get the taste for really strong green teas. We like ours somewhere in the middle, and if you get the measure of this one right, its a lovely, indulgent cup of tea.

As we’ve previously lamented, it’s nigh impossible to find good poetry about St Nicholas, because it’s all twee and weirdly saccharine, unless you really, really want The Night Before Christmas. But we tend to think the fun of that one is the illustrations you get with it in various compilations.

Instead, we’ll wrap up the accidental feline three-beat we’ve got going with a poem we alluded to at the start of the month. Miss Marschallin disapproves, because the title strongly hints that the cat comes to a sticky end, but it’s still good poetry.

Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Goldfish
Thomas Gray

Twas on a lofty vase’s side,
Where China’s gayest art had dyed
The azure flowers that blow;
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima, reclined,
Gazed on the lake below.

Her conscious tail her joy declared;
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
The velvet of her paws,
Her coat, that with the tortoise vies,
Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
She saw; and purred applause.

Still had she gazed; but ’midst the tide
Two angel forms were seen to glide,
The genii of the stream;
Their scaly armour’s Tyrian hue
Through richest purple to the view
Betrayed a golden gleam.

The hapless nymph with wonder saw;
A whisker first and then a claw,
With many an ardent wish,
She stretched in vain to reach the prize.
What female heart can gold despise?
What cat’s averse to fish?

Presumptuous maid! with looks intent
Again she stretch’d, again she bent,
Nor knew the gulf between.
(Malignant Fate sat by, and smiled)
The slippery verge her feet beguiled,
She tumbled headlong in.

Eight times emerging from the flood
She mewed to every watery god,
Some speedy aid to send.
No dolphin came, no Nereid stirred;
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard;
A Favourite has no friend!

From hence, ye beauties, undeceived,
Know, one false step is ne’er retrieved,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wandering eyes
And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;
Nor all that glisters, gold.

Here’s a nonsensical titbit for you; the poem was a favourite of a university contemporary who swore up and down Shakespeare nicked that last line from Gray. Looking at his dates, we have to disagree, but the man was unpersuadable. And for those wondering, Miss Marschallin would never drown in a bowl of goldfish. Not only do we not have them, she has minions for that kind of work. And the minions aren’t drowning either, because the Dachshunds have a healthy fear of the water.

Finally, because it’s St Nicholas Day, we’re leaving you with a bit of Britten. Here’s one of our favourites from his St Nicholas Mass. If you missed your chance to give it a listen today, there’s always tomorrow. It’s lots of fun and not overly long.

 

Didn’t I tell you it was fun? How can you resist a bishop that boxes Arius’s ears? Okay, that might just be us. Specifically it might be that essay on the nature of the soul getting to us. Still. The harmonies are excellent!