friday feast: eileen spinelli’s tea party today (+ our giveaway winner!)

“I received my first tea set — blue-and-white willowware — on my fourth Christmas . . . I remember feeling so excited on the occasion of my first tea party that my hand shook as I poured tap water into my doll’s tiny teacup.” ~ Eileen Spinelli (Introduction, Tea Party Today)

Put on your best bibs and bonnets, there’s a tea party today!

I must confess I only just discovered this charming poetry collection last week. I know, I know. Slap me with a big fat wet noodle. How did I miss it?

After all, I’ve enjoyed Ms. Spinelli’s work for quite some time. In fact, whenever I see her name on a book cover I automatically smile :). Could be because this highly popular, critically-acclaimed author and teacher has published dozens of cool books over the years (poetry, picture books, chapter books), including my personal fave, The Dancing Pancake. *licks lips*

How could I not love a person who has a teddy bear in her office, is fond of the “sights, sounds, and aromas” of diners, bakes peach pie for her husband, and sips tea while writing her wonderful stories and poems?

After I read Tea Party Today: Poems to Sip and Savor (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 2006), I immediately contacted Eileen to ask for permission to share several poems for Poetry Friday. I couldn’t resist asking if she had a favorite teatime treat to share because I know how hungry you people are all the time.

Gracious woman came back with a yummy recipe which I baked just for this post (oh, the sacrifices I make). 🙂

But first, the poems (click the spreads to enlarge). Each comes with a Teatime Tip. This one remind you of anyone?

Art © 2006 Karen Dugan



The cake is too sweet.
My bread is too thick,
And as for this jam —
It makes me sick.
My cup is cracked.
What else is wrong?
The milk’s warm
And my tea’s too strong.
A storm is brewing
Just ahead —
I knew I should have
Stayed in bed.

Teatime Tip: Sometimes the best thing to give a grouch at teatime is a hug.

*   *   *

This is Mr. Cornelius’s favorite (big surprise):


When I am feeling lonely,
Out of sorts, or blue,
When there’s no one to play with
And nothing much to do,
I pat a pretty mud pie,
Set cups beneath a tree,
And host a backyard party
For teddy bear and me.

Teatime Tip: Mud pie manners: Pretend to eat mud pies. Do not really eat them. Do not use your parents’ good forks, spoons, or pie plates. Wash your hands when you are finished.


*   *   *

The best part about tea is how people everywhere love it:


In Ireland tea is cozy.
In Russia tea is strong.
In China tea is served to guests
And sipped the whole day long.
In Burma tea is pickled.
In Turkey, sold on streets.
In England tea comes on a tray
With sandwiches and sweets.
Japan has rules for formal tea
And one is wear your socks.
Go to Tibet and you would have
To chip your tea from blocks.
Moroccans favor green tea
With mint and sugar, too.
My favorite place in all the world
For tea is home with you.

Teatime Tip: Plan a tea around another country. Visit the library to learn about the country. Focus on decorations and food. Learn how to say “tea” in different languages.

*   *   *

“the kettle is cozied by lemony sun.”

I love how the winsome, endearing poems celebrate the joys of shopping for, preparing and sharing tea in real and imagined places. Tea can be a quiet companion or the life of the party. Why not enjoy a warm cup in bed, by the fire, on the porch, by the lake, at the beach, in a garden, or even aboard Noah’s ark? These poems are steeped to perfection. 🙂

Mr. Cornelius loves that for a Noah’s Ark tea, you should invite your stuffed animals and serve animal crackers.

*   *   *

♥ LET’S EAT! ♥

Most of you know there’s nothing I like better than a family recipe. Don’t things taste so much better and mean so much more when you know the story behind the dish?

Here’s what Eileen says about her British Brown Betty:

It’s something my mother made when I was a little girl. And in the town where we lived back then there was a restaurant called Betty’s that served it. I thought it was quite a treat when I was about six years old. The waitress used to add a small dollop of vanilla ice cream on it for me. 😋

Of course I’d heard of Apple Brown Betty as part of the I-love-apples-with-crusty-stuff family (crisps, crumbles, cobblers, grunts, slumps, et. al). But until the other day, I’d never made a Brown Betty.

BBB is unpretentious comfort food as heartening and cozy as they come, and quite versatile. Though Eileen’s recipe calls for whole wheat bread, you could easily use whatever bread you have on hand. As with other apple recipes, you can also adjust the amount of sugar according to the tartness of the fruit.

Rather than layer whole slices of buttered bread with the apples, I cut each slice into strips for the bottom layer, and then cubed the bread for the top layer to make it easier to conform to my pie dish (some people like to process their bread into crumbs). With golden delicious apples I didn’t need to add the full cup of dark brown sugar, but I was very generous with the cinnamon, far exceeding the 1 teaspoon in the recipe.

Eaten warm with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, the Brown Betty was just right with a cup of Eileen’s favorite herbal peach tea.

Thank you so much, Eileen — now I may have to change my first name to “Betty.” 🙂

*   *   *

This serving in a Blue Willow bowl is especially for Eileen.


  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 10-12 slices whole wheat bread
  • 2 lbs. apples that have been peeled, cored, and sliced
  • 5 tablespoons dark corn syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter bread and remove crusts.

Grease a deep 9″ pie dish and coat it with 1-1/2 tablespoons of the brown sugar. Add about 1/2 the cinnamon.

Line the dish with the bread slices buttered side up (keep enough slices to cover the top of the pie dish).

Layer the apples on the bread in the dish. Sprinkle each layer with a tablespoon of brown sugar and a dash of cinnamon.

Cover the top with the bread slices that have been set aside. Sprinkle with remaining brown sugar.

Pour the syrup over the bread and bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the apples are tender and bubbly.

Jama’s Tips: Try maple syrup in place of the dark corn syrup. Of course this recipe will taste even better if you read all the poems in Tea Party Today while your Brown Betty is baking.



*   *   *


TEA PARTY TODAY: Poems to Sip and Savor
written by Eileen Spinelli
illustrated by Karen Dugan
published by Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 2006
Poetry for children ages 6-9, 32 pp.

*   *   *


Happy to announce that the winner of an author signed copy of THE POEM THAT WILL NOT END by Joan Bransfield Graham and Kyrsten Brooker is . . .

Keri Collins Lewis!!

Here is her couplet:

Cookies, cake and pie are dandy,
But my favorite treat’s See’s candy!

Joan selected her five favorite couplets from those submitted, tossed them into Ryan’s hat, then picked our winner.

Big Congrats to Keri, and thanks to everyone for playing!

Keri, please email me with your mailing address so we can get your book out to you. 🙂

 *   *   *

poetryfriday180The beautiful and talented Renée LaTulippe (author, poet, editor, mother of adorable super hero twins), is hosting today’s Roundup at No Water River. Take her a cup of tea and a dish of Brown Betty, and she’ll share the full menu of poetic delights in and around the blogosphere with you. Since it’s almost Valentine’s Day, recite some Shakespeare and she’ll follow you anywhere. ♥



*Spreads from Tea Party Today: Poems to Sip and Savor posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2006 Eileen Spinelli, illustrations © 2006 Karen Dugan, published by Wordsong, an imprint of Boyds Mills Press, Inc.

Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

63 thoughts on “friday feast: eileen spinelli’s tea party today (+ our giveaway winner!)

  1. Wonderful post as usual! :–) I also love the whole slum-/cobbler genre, but admit I have to get talked into the bread-pudding-like entries – even though I hardly ever regret it. Something about the idea of “bread” instead of just “flour, sugar, salt, etc.” I suppose!….


    1. I love pastry crusts but also bread pudding-like recipes. This one doesn’t have any milk or eggs, but those buttered slices of bread are yummy baked up with fruit, sugar and cinnamon. They have a chewy texture that’s nice with the baked apples.


  2. If Mr. Cornelius wants a break from tea, there’s a little something for him at Random Noodling today! 🙂


  3. Eileen’s poems always have impeccable rhythm and rhyme PLUS two heaping spoonfuls of “child appeal”–she gives her young readers exactly what they want to read!


    1. So true, Janet. The first poem described this teatime grouch to a “tea”. 😀 Love all her Teatime Tips too. Mr. Cornelius wishes he had read the advice of “pretending” to eat mud pies long ago.


  4. I love the “tea around the world” poem in particular – but then, I always did love learning about other cultures. 🙂 Also, as a Californian, I have to concur with the book winner – See’s candy is the BEST. ❤

    Congrats to Ms. Spinelli on yet another winning book, and thank you, Jama, for sharing the excerpts with us. I've really been enjoying all the tea-related posts recently. (Oh, and for the hot-men-with-tea post – some of those were so young, I hardly recognized them. 😀 But they were all yummy to look at.)


    1. I was happy to see “Tea Around the World” too and smiled about wearing socks for a formal Japanese tea. This book has such incredible potential for classroom application.

      I’m with you on See’s Candy too, remembering the days when we could only eat it when my aunt sent us a box for the holidays (yay for the nuts and chews assortment!).

      Glad to hear you’re enjoying the tea posts — thanks for taking the time to read. All the hot real tea-drinking men send their fondest regards!


  5. Gorgeous book! And good advice in those “Teatime Tips” 🙂 The polka dot teapot that Cornelius is climbing out of (or hiding in) is adorable.


    1. Lots of those tips really made me smile.

      I’m a polka dot freak, as is Mr. Cornelius, who is obsessed with imitating everything he sees in the illustrations of every book I feature on the blog.


    1. Yes, those mud pie manners are the best, aren’t they? Glad I was able to point you to yet another of Eileen’s fabulous books. 🙂


  6. Jama, this post made me think of my British grandmother, whom we called “Tea Nana” — I bet you can guess why. I would have loved to share this book with her


  7. I’m a winner?!? How exciting and unexpected! I will PM you my mailing address. Thank you!! As for your post — it’s perfect, Jama, as I am preparing to host a tea party Valentine’s Day cookie swap tomorrow! I’ve been washing tea cups and planning (then changing) the menu of savories to share. Please thank Mr. Cornelius for entertaining me with his teapot antics.


  8. I am filled to the brim with all the wonderful books I’ve been introduced to at my conference, & now this is still another. I do love Eileen Spinelli’s work, & don’t know this one, Jama. What a treat, almost brown betty bread pudding & a tiny peek at Cornelius, the best of all. Thank you!


    1. Never a dull moment with Mr. Cornelius around. Can’t wait for you to tell about the books you’re seeing at the conference. Hope you get to see Tea Party Today soon :).


  9. Jama, I’m new to your blog and this post brought tears to my eyes. I also have a blue willow tea set but it’s been packed away for years. It’s time to bake, unpack my tea set, read Eileen’s poems, and have tea with my bears.


    1. Welcome, Sherri! Thanks for stopping by. How wonderful that you also have a BW tea set! Yes, you should definitely unpack it and . . . did you say you have bears?! I’m sure they’d love a tea party 🙂 !


  10. Yum! I think I’ll bake up some BBB to take to my next writing group meeting – to be savored with some freshly steeped Scottish Breakfast Tea, of course! My daughter and I will be heading to the library to day to check out Eileen Spinelli’s book as well. She’s so talented!


    1. Oh, how exciting. You and your daughter are in for a treat! And it sounds like a very delicious meeting coming up with BBB and Scottish Breakfast Tea :).


  11. Love, love, love this book and the incomparable Eileen Spinelli! My 10 year old pulls this book out and has tea time with her stuffed animals. Mr. Cornelius would be invited if he is willing to come to Tucson. =)


    1. Great to hear that! Alas, Mr. Cornelius hates to fly. Otherwise, he’d dash out to join your daughter and her animal friends. 🙂


  12. Oh, Jama, I love your posts and the books you discover and share with us all. As I said last week, I prefer iced tea, but still this post and the book tempt me to have a cuppa during this brief time of the year when hot tea is appropriate in Houston.


  13. I love my tea and I love my apple crisp, but it looks like I’m going to have to expand my repertoire to include Brown Betty!


    1. You really should, Brown Mary Lee. I’m still contemplating whether to change my name to Betty Rattigan or go with Brown Jama. Any thoughts?


  14. Dear Jama,
    We were without power for several days. I’m just
    getting to your post. I can’t stop smiling. Thank
    you so much for featuring Tea Party Today.
    I will definitely be trying your version of Brown
    Betty. It looks heavenly. And you are an angel.


    1. Sorry to hear about the outage! What a terribly tough winter it’s been. Glad the post made you smile. Thank you for writing this book — Cornelius sends special thanks for the Teddy Bear Tea poem especially. 🙂


  15. GAH! So many delights. Of course I savored your post over my third cup of tea, and will now have to add Eileen’s book to my wish list. I adore your polka-dot tea service and Cornelius poking out of the pot. Teatime with you is always a treat, Jama!


  16. Jama,
    I love love love Eileen Spinelli’s work. I’m always grateful for her monthly poetry share on her blog. I look forward to stopping by to see what she is up to each month. My students always love her work, and I find her to be the perfect mentor because of the diversity of her writing.

    There’s nothing worse than a tea party grump. What a fun read! Of course, the recipe and story were extra treats.

    Always love stopping by. Thanks as usual,


    1. So nice to hear you’re such a huge fan of Eileen’s work and love sharing her poems with your students. It is uncanny how her poems ooze child appeal and also seem to touch the child inside every adult, even tea party grumps like me :).


      1. Well, I’ve met Mrs. Spinelli face-to-face twice (or thrice???) and have been in the same room as Mr. Spinelli (a lot of people were talking to him, so I didn’t get to meet him 😦 ). 🙂


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