Top 10 posts of 2018 from Tastes Like Tea

Happy new year! I thought it would be fun to look back at the top 10 posts of 2018 on Tastes Like Tea!

I was really happy to see the Afternoon tea at Hogwarts at the top because that was definitely my favorite tea of 2018. 😊

The Christmas tea at the Hotel Del post, from 2016, is the only post on this list that was not posted in 2018.  It is not only one of the top 10 most viewed posts of 2018 but THE most viewed post on this blog of all time!  The irony is that Christmas tea at the Hotel Del is my last favorite afternoon tea experience–EVER!  If you decided not to have tea at the Hotel Del after reading my post, then thank you, I feel like I did a good deed.  There are so many other worthy places to have afternoon tea! 😉

  1. Afternoon tea at Hogwarts (Victorian Tea Society)
  2. The Royal Wedding afternoon tea (Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe & Afternoon Tea)
  3. Tea tasting party (Victorian Tea Society)
  4. Afternoon tea at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar
  5. Spring tea in a cottage (Julian Tea & Cottage Arts)
  6. Fall bounty tea (Victorian Tea Society)
  7. Vegan tea fare and games for 2
  8. High tea in Dubai
  9. Christmas tea at the Hotel Del (2016)
  10. The Witches tea 2018

Thank you very matcha for visiting Tastes like Tea last year!

Wishing you much sereni-tea, festivi-tea, prosperi-tea, gaie-tea, and longevi-tea in the new year!

 

Advertisements

To Tea or Not to Tea That is the Question

I usually have Christmas tea with my friends S. and N. but December was so crazy busy that we were not able to get together before Christmas.  Therefore, we celebrated after Christmas with a combination Christmas and New Year’s tea at Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe & Afternoon Tea!

I was very impressed by the vegetarian tea menu on my first visit to Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe.  When I found out they also had a vegan menu I knew I had to come back for that, if nothing else!  Shakespeare’s also hosts themed teas throughout the year so that’s another good reason to come back.  How fun is that?!

For the special Christmas tea, all guests received a Christmas cracker.  A gift and firecracker in one, it was perfect for a Christmas and New Year’s celebration! 🙂

The inspiration behind Shakespeare’s Christmas tea menu was a traditional English Christmas dinner.  This post focuses on the vegan menu only.

The featured Christmas spice tea was served first.  We sampled 4 other teas: Black currant, Guava ginger white, Mr. Darcy, and Earl Grey Creme.  We liked all the teas except Mr. Darcy which had a dry, acidic finish.  The lemon peel in it was also overpowering.

Our Christmas tea starters were Yorkshire pudding or vegan Pumpkin and parsnip pasty.  The Yorkshire pudding looked so good!  I loved the idea of the pumpkin and parsnip pasty but I tasted neither pumpkin nor parsnip.  The filling in my pasty seemed to have only potato.  Parsnip tends to have a strong flavor so I was surprised I didn’t taste it.

Regular savories: Egg Salad with Chives finger sandwich; Bubble & Squeak quiche, Stilton & Roasted Chestnut Vol au vent; Mini Sausage Roll with Branston Pickle; Rosemary & Thyme Chicken Salad finger sandwich; Turkey, Lettuce & Cranberry Butter finger sandwich

From an aesthetic standpoint, I think the food was nicely presented and the concepts were interesting.  However, I was a little disappointed in the execution of the vegan offerings in general.

Tea caddy for vegan menu (S. and I had the vegan menu)

I didn’t care for either of the vegan sandwiches.  The cucumber mint sandwich had margarine and I don’t like butter or margarine anyway so this is just my personal preference.  Otherwise, it tasted like any other cucumber sandwich.  The mango chutney and cream cheese sandwich was too sweet.

Vegan savories: Cucumber sandwich; Mango chutney and cream cheese sandwich; Chestnut vol au vent; Mushroom and spinach saute

Unlike the sandwiches, the savories suffered greatly because they were served cold. 😦  The potato pancake/flapjack was salty and soggy.  The chestnut filling in the vol au vent was dry and practically non-existent.  The spinach and mushroom saute was OK taste-wise but the portion was measly and it was just so … boring!  How about adding a puff pastry covering, pie crust, or toasted bread crumbs to make it more interesting?  Or maybe serve it in an edible bowl of some sort, like a mini bread bowl, or fried wonton skin bowl?  Anything!

Vegan: Cucumber sandwich; Mango chutney and cream cheese sandwich; Potato pancake/flapjack; Chestnut vol au vent; Mushroom and spinach saute

Vegan savories: Potato pancake/flapjack with Branston pickle; Bubble and Squeak Toast Point; Grapes

The Bubble and Squeak was a great idea but like all the other savories, it suffered because it was cold and the toast point simply didn’t belong.  I would have preferred the Bubble and Squeak as a mash (smooth or chunky) which would have worked better with the toast point.  A Bubble and Squeak “cake” covered in panko (like a crab cake) would have been nice too.

Vegan: Bubble and squeak with toast point

I have sampled Shakespeare’s scones twice: once as a takeout and once in the tea room.  Both times, I thought the scones were excellent!  The vegan scone, unfortunately, was not as good and needed something other than vegan butter and jam.  It looked just as good as the regular scone but it was much drier and seemed saltier.  I was so disappointed.  I don’t mind eating a scone without clotted cream, butter, lemon curd, or jam because a really good scone doesn’t need condiments!

Vegan scones with raisins served with Earth balance “butter”, strawberry jam, fresh strawberries, and mandarin orange

Oh no, saving the worst for last!  The desserts were NOT good and two of them were even horrible!  The chocolate coconut stack was filled with citron (or candied fruit) and was the vegan stand-in for the Dundee cake (Scottish fruitcake).  I liked it better than fruitcake but that’s really not saying much since I hate fruitcake.  The strawberry rhubarb cup was dismal: one piece of rhubarb and one piece of strawberry in a thin pool of sauce.  It could have been greatly improved simply with more filling and a crumble or streusel topping.

Vegan desserts: Tea cookie, chocolate coconut stack “fruitcake”, strawberry and rhubarb (minus the crumble), strawberry sponge cake

And now for the horrible … the strawberry sponge cake and tea cookie.  The sponge cake was flavorless (no strawberry flavor) and not even sweet enough to be called a dessert (the mango chutney sandwich and Branston pickle were sweeter!).  The vegan buttercream frosting was more salty than sweet but the worst was the texture of the cake which was dense, wet, chalky, and mealy!  The tea cookie also had a weird texture (it didn’t crunch or snap “right”) and tasted like cardboard.  It also didn’t seem like it had enough sugar and you know me, I usually think that desserts tend to be “too sweet!”  If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought they were made with gluten-free flour.  By now, I really wished I had ordered the vegetarian menu instead of the vegan one. 😦

The final dessert for the vegan menu was a chocolate-covered strawberry which I liked “best” of all the desserts.

To (vegan) tea or not to (vegan) tea, that is the question!  I know this seems like a harsh review but it’s only because I want to support Shakespeare’s efforts to accommodate vegans.  To my knowledge, Shakespeare’s is the only tea house that offers a vegan menu so they get kudos for that alone.  As it turns out, the owner herself is vegan and she really wanted feedback to make the menu better.  I commend her for trying and hope that her next vegan menu is better!  Because of their excellence in all other areas, especially in their service, I have confidence that the vegan menu will improve.  That said, N., S., and I had a wonderful time ringing in the new year at Shakespeare’s!

Instead of a tea quotation, I will leave you with this because it made me laugh!

Happy holidays!  Happy new year!  May the new year bring you much tea and joy!

Royal Christmas Tea at Marlene’s Tea and Cakes

Happy Christmas!  I didn’t think I would be able to have Christmas Tea at Marlene’s Tea and Cakes this year but an expected surprise and gift came my way and I was able to share the experience with my friend P. and her 11-year-old daughter, N.

Interestingly, the first tea house I ever visited was Tea-upon-Chatsworth with P. and N., where we celebrated N.’s 1st birthday!  Therefore, I was so honored to have the privilege of sharing that experience with N. again, on her first visit to a tea house since her 1st birthday!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Upon entering Marlene’s Tea & Cakes, I heard a little voice whisper in wonder, “Ooooh, it’s so fancy in here!” 🙂

As soon as we were seated, N. spotted the beautiful tea favor and could not resist eating her gingerbread cookie “tag”!  With a big smile, she declared it “really good!”  P. and I warned her to save the cookie for later since there were many, many more treats yet to come!

Sugar and creamer

The afternoon was a treat for the senses.  Marlene’s Royal Christmas Tea consisted of a delectable holiday themed menu, personalized tea favor, and live harp music.  To start, we sampled 3 teas: Creme au caramel (rooibos), Roasted almond & fruit (herbal), and Strawberry rose (herbal).  P. and I both liked the Creme au caramel best.  N. really liked the Strawberry rose which she enjoyed with cream and sugar!

Live music

Winter vegetable soup with puff twist

IMG_2587

Caddy (photo by P.)

Savories and sandwiches

IMG_2592

Savories and sandwiches (photo by P.)

Left to right: Mini beef Wellington; Ham, cheddar, and tomato; Yorkshire pudding with tomato and basil; Blue cheese mascarpone and red onion confit quiche; Green Goddess cucumber; and Turkey, Brie, and bacon jam.

N. had just seen Gordon Ramsay on TV make beef Wellington so she was very excited to see the mini beef Wellington on the menu.  Delighted, she marveled after each bite, “Mmm … They’re … so … flaky!”

Cranberry and white chocolate scones

N. was a natural when it came to tea etiquette: she sipped her tea quietly, used the serving tongs for the food, and took great care whenever someone poured hot tea for her.  She was a perfect lady and a joy to watch–a tea lady in the making!

Fresh fruit: Red grapes, watermelon, kiwi, cantaloupe, and pineapple

Desserts: Gingerbread man: Christmas Petit four; Chocolate covered cherry cookie, and Peppermint cheesecake trifle.

Petit four (love the Christmas colors!)–best petit four ever!

As usual, Marlene outdid herself with the food!  Everything was delicious and the tea favor desserts were a great souvenir to take away so we could continue enjoying afternoon tea at home.

Thank you P. and N. for having afternoon tea with me–it was a pleasure and I hope we can do it again sometime!

Thank you Lady S. for your generosity and thoughtfulness which gave me an unexpected opportunity to spend some quality time with a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile.  It was a priceless gift that certainly made this season special for me. 🙂

Happy holidays!

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire …”
–Edith Sitwell

Fall Bounty Tea

Happy Thanksgiving!  You are invited to the last Victorian Tea Society (VTS) Tea of 2018, celebrating Fall’s bounty!

Lady S. hosted her first afternoon tea for VTS and what a tea it was!  Warm and inviting notes of Autumn greeted us, from the beautiful fall wreath on the front door to the beckoning fall colors and decor inside.  I just wanted to curl up on her couch in front of the fireplace with a good book and a cup of tea!  Never mind that it was 80 degrees outside! 😉  I will let the photos speak for themselves as Lady S. left no detail unturned.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The welcoming Fall table

Every setting had an egg cup with fresh flowers. Lady J., who loves purple, got a purple egg cup!

Unfortunately, Lady K. could not join us but Lady S. set a seat for her anyway (with her tea favor bag) so she could be with us in absentia!  Notice the real acorn cap!

Do you love these napkin holders or what?! Lady S. is so creative and crafty–she made all the table decorations.

Lady S. put a lot of thought into the menu, choosing craveable fall ingredients such as sweet potatoes, kale, apples, turkey, mushrooms, cranberries, oranges, pumpkin, cinnamon, and even candy corn!  With the exception of one sandwich, the menu was vegetarian friendly!

click to enlarge

Sweet potato soup with cheddar shortbread leaves by Lady S.

The sweet potato soup was delicious and creamy–it was hard to believe there was no dairy in the soup!  Lady S. said the secret was in the peels!  The cheddar shortbread leaves were a wonderful accompaniment!

Sweet potato soup
(From Cook’s Illustrated)

1 shallot, sliced thin
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 1/4 cups water
2 pounds sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
Salt and pepper
Minced fresh chives

Scrub, peel, and chop sweet potatoes, reserving about 1/4 of the peels.  Set aside.
In a soup pot, saute shallot and thyme sprigs in butter over medium high heat until shallot is translucent.
Add 4 1/4 cups of water to the shallots and bring to a boil.  Turn off heat and add chopped sweet potatoes and reserved peels.  Steep 20 minutes.
Add  brown sugar, cider vinegar, salt and pepper and turn heat to medium high.  Cook 10 minutes.
Remove thyme sprigs.  Using a blender (filled no more than 1/2 full), puree soup 45-50 seconds in batches.  Serve warm.

Cheddar shortbread leaves by Lady S. (photo by Lady J.)

Cheddar Shortbread
2 cups finely grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 (1 stick) butter, melted
1-2 teaspoon water, if needed
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine cheese, flour, and seasonings.  Add melted butter and mix with hands to form a dough.  Add 1-2 teaspoons water if the dough is too dry to hold together when squeezed into a ball.
On floured surface, roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness.  Cut into shapes with cookie cutter and place on parchment lined baking sheet.
Bake 12-15 minutes, cool on wire rack.  Makes approx. 2 dozen.

Kale and smoked almond salad by Lady T.

Everything about this salad was delicious!  Lady T. said it was a big pain to put together but we all thought it was well worth the effort!

Kale and Smoked Almond Salad
(From Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street)

2 shallots, thinly sliced
5 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons honey
8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Ground black pepper
1 cup smoked almonds
4 ounces chewy white bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
2 bunches lacinato (dinosaur or Tucsan) kale, stemmed, washed, spun dry and thinly sliced crosswise (10 cups)

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the shallots, vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let sit for 10 minutes, so the vinegar can “cook” the shallots. Whisk in the honey, 5 tablespoons of the oil and 1/2 teaspoon pepper; set aside.

2. In a food processor, process the almonds until coarsely chopped, about 8 pulses; transfer to a large bowl. Add the bread to the processor and process to rough crumbs, about 20 seconds. Add the thyme, the remaining 3 tablespoons oil, the paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Process until incorporated, about 10 seconds.

3. Transfer the crumb mixture to a large skillet over medium and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp and browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.

4. Add the kale to the bowl with the almonds and massage the greens until the kale softens and darkens, 10 to 20 seconds. Add the dressing and crumbs and toss to combine. Taste, then season with salt and pepper.

Egg salad, cucumber sandwich by Lady ML, cheddar and apple on pumpkin bread by Lady S., turkey pinwheel sandwich by Lady J., tofurkey pinwheel by Lady S., and mushroom delight (mini mushroom tart) by Lady Henni (photo by Lady J.)

Mini Mushroom Tarts
(From the Kitchen of Lady Henni)
Pie crust
(from the Better Home & Gardens Cook Book)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
6 – 7 tablespoons cold water
Put all ingredients for the pie crust in a food processor and process until dough comes together.  Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 mins.  Then roll out the dough about 1/8″ thin and cut with a biscuit cutter (2.5″).  Place dough in mini tart pans.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 mins. until light brown.
Mushroom filling
2 lbs. crimini mushrooms, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 c. parsley, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 c. vegan cheese sauce (optional)
Saute all ingredients except vegan cheese sauce until mushrooms are cooked down.  Add vegan cheese sauce to desired consistency.  Fill baked pie crusts with warm mushroom filling.  Garnish with fresh thyme leaves and/or pie crust leaves.  Serve immediately or reheat in microwave before serving.

Cheddar and apple on molasses wheat bread by Lady S. (photo by Lady J.)

Molasses Wheat Bread
(Adapted from Martha Stewart)
1/4 cup flax seeds
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup toasted wheat germ
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup oil (canola or grapeseed)
3 cups buttermilk
(vegan alternative: 3 cups almond milk plus 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar)
3/4 cup molasses
1 cup smooth apple sauce
Grind flax seeds in a spice mill until fine (or use pre-ground flax seeds).  Set aside.
Heat oven to 375 degrees with rack in center.  Lightly grease two 9 by 4 1/2 inch loaf pans.
In a large bowl, whisk together flours, flax seeds, wheat germ, baking powder, soda, and salt.  Add oil, buttermilk, molasses and apple sauce and stir until well blended.  Batter will be thick.
Divide batter evenly between two prepared pans.  Even out tops with a spatula.  Bake until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 45 minutes.  Remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack.
The bread may be frozen, double-wrapped in plastic wrap, up to 3 weeks, or refrigerated up to 1 week.

Turkey pinwheels by Lady J.

Turkey Pinwheels

(Tip: Make these roll-ups one day ahead, wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap,
then slice before serving)
1 sheet of Lavosh or 1-2 large tortillas
whipped cream cheese
cranberry relish (you can use canned cranberry sauce)
sliced turkey luncheon meat
2 whole Romaine lettuce leaves
Spread cream cheese very lightly on lavish or tortilla—to the edges.  Top lightly with cranberry relish, leaving approx. 2 inches uncovered at one end.  Cover cranberry relish with a single layer of turkey.  Place Romaine leaf at the end that has all three layers and roll TIGHTLY toward the end with only cream cheese.  The cream cheese will seal the roll. Wrap roll tightly in waxed paper or plastic.  Slice to make pinwheels before serving.

Extra cranberry sauce for the turkey pinwheels

Cranberry orange scones by Lady S. with lemon curd and Devonshire cream by Lady B.

Cranberry-Orange Scones
(Adapted from Martha Stewart)
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon table salt)
1 stick frozen unsalted butter
zest of 1 orange
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 cup cold buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Whisk together flour, baking powder and soda, granulated sugar, and salt.
On a box grater, grate frozen butter on medium holes.  With your fingers, gently fluff the butter and orange zest into the flour mixture so it is evenly distributed.  Add cranberries and buttermilk and stir until just combined.  Do not over mix!
Scoop 1/3 cup size mounds of dough onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, spaced 3 inches apart (the scones do spread a little).  Bake until bottoms are golden, 15-20 minutes.  Let cool completely on sheet.

Fall chocolates, candy corn cookie, and pecan sandies by Lady S.

Pecan cookie, apple bundt cake, and candy corn cookie by Lady S.

The food was not only bountiful but really hit the spot!  So delicious!  We marveled at how Lady S. managed to do so much baking: cheddar shortbread, cranberry orange scones, apple bundt cake, pecan cookies (her grandmother’s recipe!), and candy corn cookies!  Even though we were stuffed to the gills by the time dessert rolled around, Lady ML looked over the menu and in a conspiratorial whisper exclaimed, “Oooh, there’s also petite pumpkin pies!  Where are those?  Did we miss them?”  Lady S. had done so much baking that we thought she did not get around to making the pumpkin pies so we did not mention them. 🙂  Well, it wasn’t until much later that Lady S. realized she had forgotten to serve the mini pumpkin pies, much to her chagrin, and much to our regrets!

The forgotten petite pumpkin pies (photo by Lady S.)

Look at these lovely fall tea cozies that Lady S. knitted!  I totally would have worn them as hats!  Comedian Billy Connolly’s famous quip immediately came to mind, “Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn’t try it on.” 🙂

Knitted tea cozy by Lady S.

Knitted tea cozy by Lady S.

During the tea party, the ladies all took turns writing on thankfulness leaves which we tied to tree frames.  At the end of the tea, we read the leaves aloud to share our thoughts of gratitude which covered all aspects of life: family, friends, health, homes, siblings, spouses, and work.  It certainly made us feel grateful and appreciate what we had.

Thankfulness tree

Lady S. also knitted beautiful infinity scarves/neck warmers with a leaf pattern as tea favors for all the ladies!  Everyone got a custom, personalized color.  I love my scarf!Thank you Lady S. for hosting a memorable, unforgettable afternoon of bounty and gratitude!  You really outdid yourself and I continually find inspiration from you and your creativity!  You’ve given me much to think about and reflect on as the year comes to a close and I am so grateful that you are a part of my Life journey.

“No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.”

– John Donne

Disclaimer: Tastes Like Tea is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair and Victorian Holiday Party

Today is the last day of the 36th season of The Great Dickens Christmas Fair and Victorian Holiday Party (Dickens Fair).  A Bay Area tradition since 1970, it’s a grand event that takes place over 6 weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  If you’ve never been, it’s quite an affair that will appeal to all your Victorian sensibilities!

A few ladies of the Victorian Tea Society got together this year to attend the Dickens Fair on opening weekend, November 17.  It was their first field trip and proved exciting from beginning to end…

If you’ve ever flown to San Francisco, especially on an early morning or evening flight, in November or otherwise, there is a 101% chance it will be delayed due to fog or what Charles Dickens would describe as “implacable November weather.” That would be a best case scenario but instead, on this day, the skies of Northern California were not unlike Dickens’ London, with “smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.”  We arrived at the airport at the ungodly hour of 5:00am to discover that our flight had been canceled due to the wildfire in Paradise (AKA Camp Fire 2018) in Butte County that had started raging 10 days earlier.  The smoke from the fires reduced visibility to such a degree that every other flight was cancelled or diverted to nearby airports.  It was starting to look like we were going to miss the Fair entirely! 😦  As you can imagine, there was a “general infection of ill-temper” all around and we were behaving a lot like Ebenezer Scrooge, declaring, “I don’t know what to do!” laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoön of ourselves getting tangled up in our own pity party!  Granted, we now know that the Paradise Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history to date, so of course there were legitimate safety reasons for cancelling and diverting flights.  Our frustration and disappointment, however, had not to do with Mother Nature but with the way that Alaska Airlines handled (or didn’t handle) the cancellation … but that is a story for another time!

Thank goodness for kindness, Uber, and incompetent hotel staff because we eventually got on a flight to San Jose, took an Uber to Daly City in time to get into the Fair, and managed not only to keep our hotel reservation in San Francisco but unexpectedly got an upgrade to a suite!  I would like to believe that this turn of luck had something to do with the dose of gratitude we picked up at the Gratitude Cafe that morning! 🙂

“It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

The important thing is that we made it to Dickens ol’ London and were able to get a taste of the Fair after all.

Map of Dickens Old London

Bustling with people of all ilk

Deep in the bowels of the Cow Palace, we found the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and feel of Dickens Old London.  It was dark, damp, dirty, loud, and bustling with people of all ilk, complete with questionable Jack the Ripper alleyways, street performers, and pubs.  In contrast to the dark and dirty sights and sounds, the air was punctuated with the delicious smell of sweet pastries and bread, and savory aromas emanating from the meat pie and chipper shops!  Both exciting and confusing to one’s senses.

During our stroll through Dickens London, we got accosted by chimney sweeps, bumped into the Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Come (very creepy, he looked just like the Grim Reaper), the Ghost of Christmas Present (he was just as Dickens described, “a jolly giant” with dark brown curls wearing a fur-lined green robe and on his head a holly wreath), and helped clear the way for Her Majesty, Queen Victoria and her Royal Guard.

Ignorance and Want

It was actually quite magical, like the Renaissance Faire but bigger, better, and more authentic!  I did find out later that the folks responsible for the Ren Faire (Red Barn Productions) also founded the Dickens Fair!  P.S. The Cow Palace itself was as interesting as the Fair!

“They are Man’s and they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance and this girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”

― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

With only 4 hours to spend in London, we had to bide our time wisely.  We took a not-so-leisurely stroll trying to take in every street, attended the Saucy French Postcards Tableaux Revue (think Pageant of the Masters except with tableaux vivants of French postcards), the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (Wonderland Story time), and watched kids making fairy houses.  If we had more time and if I actually knew what we were getting ourselves into, I would have joined the Silk Road Ceilidh and participated in some parlour games! 🙂

Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (Wonderland Story Time)

Finally, the highlight of our visit was securing a 4pm reservation for afternoon tea at Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe!

Photo by Lady S.

Photo by Lady J.

We each got our own little souvenir pot of tea with PG Tips

 

The scones course was served first

The sandwiches were served next: Egg salad, smoked salmon and cream cheese, cucumber, and watercress

The food was not at all impressive but we knew we were paying for the privilege to sit in the fabricated tea shop and for that, it was worth the experience of doing so.  The tea shop was very crowded and loud, more pub-like than afternoon tea-like, but fun nevertheless!

There was so much to see and do at the Fair that we definitely needed a whole day, or even an entire weekend to participate in all the activities and shows.  The performances and shows were first-rate, the costumes great, and there is something for everyone, as far as activities go.  I am so impressed with the detail and cannot imagine the planning and volunteers (?) required to pull off this event!  My only complaint is that the shops are all very expensive so I did not feel that I could buy anything though I wanted to support the event.  In fact, I felt a little bit like Oliver Twist, wistfully looking through the windows:

“There are a good many books, are there not, my boy?” said Mr. Brownlow. […]

“A great number, sir,” replied Oliver; “I never saw so many.”

“You shall read them if you behave well,” said the old gentleman kindly; “and you will like that, better than looking at the outsides…”

However, Mr. Brownlow also declared that “there are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts” and this was enough to convince me that the grapes were probably sour anyway!

Many thanks to Lady S. for planning a memorable and fun field trip for VTS!  Thankfully, the skies had cleared a bit the next day, which bode well for our flight home.  And we even got to do a bit of sightseeing!

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

―Ebenezer Scrooge

The Witches Tea 2018

We’re deep into October!  YAAAY!YAASSSS!!

AWWWW YEEEAHHH!

My sister got me these napkins for Xmas! How can I resist not hosting a Witches Tea??

I can’t believe it been 3 years since I last hosted a Witches’ Tea!  That is waaay too long and it’s time to bring back the tradition! 🙂  Welcome to the revamped, plant-based Witches’ Tea!

This is the 2nd time I’ve been able to make use of my Halloween teapot cozies!

Isn’t it funny how much a teapot resembles a pumpkin?

N. made a ginger butternut squash soup with her Instant Pot! Perfect for Fall!

Green Man Salad

Open faced tofu “egg” salad sandwitch and vegan grilled cheese sandwitch fingers

Cranberry scones

Plain scones (vegan)
(Adapted from The Miniature Moose)

2 c. flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 can (12 oz.) coconut milk
Optional: 1/4 c. dried fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, etc.

* If using AP flour, add 1 Tbsp. baking powder and 1/2 tsp. salt

Mix all ingredients together just until combined.  Add 1-2 Tbsp. flour as needed to make dough less sticky.  If should be a very soft dough.  Scoop biscuit-sized balls of dough on a baking sheet, or form dough into a 1″ thick round cake and score with sharp knife.  Bake at 425 degrees for 15-17 mins. until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  If baked as a round, break apart or cut before serving.

Kosher tea cookies (almond, apricot, and raspberry filled) from S.

Almond jello with mango by Henni (colors of Autumn!)

Chinese almond jello

2 1/2 c. unsweetened almond milk
1/3 c. sugar
3 g agar agar sticks (or 3 g agar agar powder)
2 tsp. almond extract
Fresh or canned fruit (to serve)

Soften agar sticks in warm water, then drain (I scoop out the agar with a slotted spoon).  Add the milk, sugar, almond extract, and agar agar to a medium saucepan and heat until agar agar is dissolved.  Pour into a 8 x 8 pan and chill until firm.  Cut into cubes and serve with fresh or canned fruit or your choice.

Skull bracelet (yeah!) from S.

Sansevieria cylindrica (aka Cylindrical snake plant, African spear or spear sansevieria, a succulent plant native to Angola)–Hostess gift from S.

Ahhh, my year now feels complete!  Thank you, ghoul friends, for coming to the Witches’ Tea!

Happy Halloween!

“Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing,—
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and ca[u]ldron bubble.”

 

William Shakespeare

3rd Annual Tea Fundraiser

This is the 3rd year my philanthropy group has hosted an afternoon tea fundraiser.  I’m happy to report that, like our 2nd Annual Afternoon Tea Fundraiser, this year’s fundraiser was also a sold out event!  The proceeds from our fundraiser went towards merit scholarships for college-bound students.

Like last year, we recruited an emcee, solicited 3 new vendors, organized a bake sale, put together mystery grab bags, implemented an improved payment process, and secured Marlene’s Tea & Cakes for the catering.  With all the logistical details in place, our biggest challenge was encouraging enough volunteers to decorate tables and help with the fundraising activities.  This will remain our biggest challenge because it really does take a village to host an afternoon tea fundraiser!

Here are some photos of the themed tables from our event.  Hopefully you will take away some inspiration for your own tea table!

Autumn Floral

Traditional Asian

Delicate Flowers

Midnight Mystique

Fall Fantasy

Paris

Butterfly Garden

Lavender Winter Wonderland (table setting and photo by Lady J.)

The Rose Garden (photo by Lady J.)

Majestic Peacock

Here Comes Santa Claus

A Formal Affair

Hawaiian

My table theme was “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.”  I redecorated and repurposed my Alice in Wonderland tree from last year for the centerpiece by transforming it into the Whomping Willow. 🙂  Depending on the angle of the Whomping Willow, you can see the following: flying keys, flying Ford Anglia, flying acceptance letters, Hedwig, Dobby’s socks, Weasley clock, goblets of fire, or Cornish pixies.  The table setting was similar to the one I set for the VTS Afternoon tea at Hogwarts the month before.  Harry Potter fans were thrilled!

As usual, the catering by Marlene’s Tea & Cakes was excellent!  Marlene also made our tea favors this year which were delicious: Pear scones!

Thank you to all the volunteers and guests who made this year’s fundraiser a success!

“He who allows his day to pass by without practicing generosity & enjoying life’s pleasures…breathes but does not live.”
-Sanskrit Proverb