Tips for organizing a fundraiser afternoon tea event

Having organized several afternoon tea events in the past, I can share a few tips.  I imagine that planning a fundraiser tea is very much like organizing a wedding, and maybe just as much work!  It is truly a labor of love because I would not want to do this for a living!

  1. Theme/Cause: Establish your fundraiser theme/cause and use it to inspire and promote your event.  Our 1st fundraiser afternoon tea event theme was “Sip, savor, & celebrate” and our cause was to fund and support scholarships and philanthropies in our local community.
  2. Establish a budget: Work with your treasurer to determine a budget.
  3. Choose a venue: The first and most important detail to sort out is the venue.
    1. Choose a venue that is big enough to accommodate your guests and accommodate your budget.  Most tea rooms cannot accommodate in excess of 40 persons so if you plan to have a larger event, consider one of the following: country clubs, banquet halls, club houses, restaurants, hotels, gardens, and churches.  Many of the same type of venues that are popular for weddings are also appropriate for high tea.
    2. Does the venue allow you to choose your own caterer and servers?  Or do you have to use their caterer and servers?
    3. Will the venue provide the china/dishes, tablecloths, tea/coffee cups, napkins, etc. for your event?  Is there an extra fee?  Or will you need to provide your own?
      1. Part of the charm of afternoon tea is eating and sipping from china.  If you have the option to provide your own table settings, and you have a motivated organization, you may wish to consider this option!  It’s a lot of work but also fun and well worth the effort.  Otherwise, the plain white table ware (including coffee cups) provided by most venues is just fine.
    4. Recommend no more than 8 guests per table, even if the tables can accommodate 10.  If you plan to use tea caddies, one caddy for every 4 guests works out well.  We once tried tables for 4, which were ideal for creating the intimacy of the afternoon tea experience but it was logistically difficult given our lack of resources (both people and time).  With twice the number of tables, the setup and cleanup was too much work.
    5. Contract details:
      1. Itemized cost for venue rental (deposit, headcount, final payment) and any extras such as use of kitchen facilities, table/chair rentals, tablecloth and tableware rental, decorations, service, etc.
      2. Include time for setup and cleanup if needed
      3. Establish deadlines and timelines
  4. Choose a caterer: Though the focus of the fundraiser is not the food, it doesn’t hurt to have decent food and service.
    1. If the venue requires their own caterer, arrange for a food tasting before committing to the venue.  Make sure there are enough servers for the event.  Inquire about tea service.
    2. If the venue allows you to choose your own caterer, inquire with your favorite local tea rooms about whether they offer off-site catering services.  There are also general caterers who cater all types of events–ask your favorite caterer.
    3. Does the caterer also provide hot tea, iced tea, and beverages (water)?  Not all caterers provide beverages (e.g., drop-off catering).
    4. Does the caterer provide their own servers?  Some caterers provide food only (drop-off catering) and you have to serve the food buffet style or hire your own servers.
    5. Contract details:
      1. Itemized cost for food, per head (deposit, headcount, final payment) and any extras such as use of kitchen facilities, service, etc.
      2. Include time for setup and cleanup if needed
      3. Establish deadlines and timelines
  5. How to price your event: Know your audience.  Add a 20-40% cushion to your per person catering/venue cost.  For example, if your base cost per person is $36, suggest a ticket price of $50 per person (40% cushion).  This way, your organization will generate some proceeds from ticket sales, if your other fundraising activities are not as successful.
  6. Reservations: Advanced reservations are a must!  No walk-ins.  Most caterers require a final headcount and 50% or full payment 1-2 weeks in advance of the event.  Suggestions to avoid any last-minute mishaps:
    1. Require payment to reserve a spot
    2. Early bird reservations may help with boosting attendance
    3. No refunds after the RSVP deadline
    4. Specify “no walk-ins” on promotional materials
    5. Specify whether children are welcome (e.g., “No children under 2 years”)
  7. Promotional materials
    1. Distribute “Save the date” cards/flyers (email and paper, see also #6) — 3 months before the event
    2. Distribute promotional flyers (email and paper) — 2 months before the event
    3. Design menu (one per table or one per guest)
    4. Design event/souvenir brochure
    5. Table numbers
  8. Ideas for fundraising activities:
    1. Teapot flower arrangements for sale or auction

      Teapot flower arrangements for auction

    2. Teapot centerpieces for decoration but can also be sold or auctioned

      Teapot centerpiece

    3. Silent auction (handmade items, spa treatments, afternoon tea packages, tea themed gift baskets, theater/dinner package, etc.)

      Silent auction (handmade quilts, hats, gift baskets)

    4. Opportunity drawings for afternoon tea themed gift baskets

      Gift baskets

    5. Invite vendors (clothing, art, jewelry, accessories, tea, hats) to sell merchandise onsite with agreement to donate 10-20% of sales.  Establish a standard policy for working with and engaging vendors.
    6. Assemble “mystery gift bags” with goodies to be sold at fixed price
    7. Bake sale (everyone loves hostess gifts and food!)
    8. Place empty glass jars at each table so that guests can “vote” for their favorite table settings with quarters
    9. Handmade and handcraft items boutique sale
    10. Decorate hats for sale or auction
    11. Monetary donations (leave an empty teapot or basket at the checkin table for monetary donations)
  9. Volunteers
    Form a committee and recruit volunteers to help plan the event and/or work the day of the event.  You may need help with the following:
    PLANNING

    1. Scout out and choose a venue; drawing up contract
    2. Choose a caterer, organize tasting, decide menu, determine final headcount, and draw up contract
    3. Take reservations and payment
    4. Solicit donations (monetary or materials goods for door prizes, gift baskets, silent auction, etc.) and write acknowledgement letters
    5. Make seating arrangements
    6. Design promotional materials (see #5)
    7. Organize tea favors (optional but recommend–nice gesture for guests)

      Tea favors (handmade plant stakes)

    8. Organize fundraising activities
    9. Organize door prizes (guests love door prizes)
    10. Create table centerpieces (these can be decorative or part of door prizes, raffles, silent auction)
    11. Organize tea music and/or entertainment (optional–fashion shows and live music are popular choices)
    12. Organize decorations and table settings (if you are doing the table settings, plan for 1-2 volunteers per table)
      DAY OF THE EVENT
    13. Emcee(s) for event (welcome, announcement of door prizes, auction close/winners, and opportunity drawings)
    14. Guest checkin and greeting
    15. Raffle ticket sellers
    16. Close of silent auctions and drawing tickets for opportunity drawings
    17. Checkout for silent auction winners and taking payment for sales
    18. Setup and cleanup (includes decoration and table settings)

And lastly, promote, promote, promote!  Promote on social media, with flyers, by email, and most importantly, word-of-mouth!

I may have left out some details but I will update this post as needed.  I’m also happy to answer any questions in the comments below.  Wishing you a successful afternoon tea fundraiser!

“Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.”
-– Henry Rosso

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35th Anniversary Celebration Tea Fundraiser

I am a member of a philanthropy group that has hosted several afternoon teas in the past anniversary-menu(2011, 2014, 2015) including a holiday fundraiser tea in 2012.  The holiday fundraiser tea was the most successful holiday fundraiser in the history of our organization but as an afternoon tea, it was a disaster (NOTE: Don’t ever plan an event with the Carmel Mountain Ranch Country Club.  I usually don’t like to give negative reviews but if you read my post about our experience, you will see why).  It left such a bad taste in our mouths that we spent the last few years trying to make up for that disastrous tea by catering our own afternoon tea events (we executed everything ourselves from start to finish!) and trying to win back our members’ confidence in the potential for afternoon tea fundraisers.  We didn’t charge our members for these “member appreciation” tea events which also doubled as membership drives.

Nonprofit organizations such as Soroptomist International, Zonta International, Junior League, and Friends of the Braille Institute have a history and tradition of hosting successful afternoon tea fundraisers.  For our 35th anniversary celebration, we decided to follow in their footsteps and host our first afternoon tea fundraiser.  [Stay tuned … I will be blogging all about organizing fundraisers in an upcoming post!]

Still suffering from the embarrassing holiday tea fundraiser of 2012, our early recruiting efforts for the 35th anniversary celebration were dismal.  Six months into the planning, we thought we might have to cancel the event.  Two weeks before the RSVP deadline, our recruiting efforts paid off and we ended up with 16 tables (8 seats each) for a total of 128 guests (just 30 guests short of our goal)!

Here is a taste of the 16 beautiful table settings at our recent anniversary celebration:

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Theme: Garden

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Theme:: Garden

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Theme: Garden flowers

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Theme: Roses

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Theme: Formal

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Theme: Christmas

Theme:

Theme: Lavender hyacinth

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Theme: Eclectic garden

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Theme: Halloween

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Theme: Asian

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Theme: Black and white

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Theme: Japanese friendship

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Theme: Animal safari

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Theme: Diwali, festival of lights

We were so happy and lucky to have our tea catered by Marlene’s Tea & Cakes!  Marlene outdid herself with the gorgeous presentation and delicious food.  She and her staff did an excellent job with the table service and high praises were heard all around.  Needless to say, our first fundraiser afternoon tea was a success in the food and service department and with that, our holiday tea fundraiser faded into distant memory …

anniversary-menudsc06468-smallIn case you were wondering where to buy 3-tier caddies (plate stands), Amazon.com is a good source.  I like this one because it’s simple and you can decorate it as you wish.  It’s the same as the one in the photo above which has been spray painted gold.  Use any 10-11″ sized dinner plate.  You can get $1 white or glass plates at the Dollar Tree store that will fit this caddy just fine.

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Left to right, clockwise: Turkey and brie scone sandwich, Egg salad sandwich, Cucumber sandwich, Cheddar, bacon and potato frittata, and Red onion confit quiche

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Mixed berry scones and fresh seasonal fruit

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Left to right, clockwise: Lemon almond poundcake, Fruit tarts, Red velvet cake, and lemon bars

Red onion confit quiche, Cucumber sandwich, and Egg salad sandwich

Red onion confit quiche, Cucumber sandwich, and Egg salad sandwich

See the pretty luster dust and flowers on the desserts? These are the little touches that guests remember

See the pretty luster dust and flowers on the desserts? These are the little touches that guests remember!

Though our fundraising efforts didn’t pay off as well as we’d hoped, the popularity and success of the overall event was evident when guests and members alike exclaimed that they couldn’t wait for “next year!”  When the Tea Committee started planning the 35th anniversary celebration back in March, we knew we wanted to make the event a special one.  We did not, however, anticipate making it an annual one!  This gave us an incentive to start planning for next year with a focus on our fundraising activities to make it even better!

This event would not have been possible without the vision and contributions of the Tea Committee and Marlene Spawton.  Congratulations and thank you for making it such a success!

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Christmas fundraiser tea

Afternoon tea is a great theme for a fundraiser.  Some people experience afternoon tea for the first time at a fundraiser and seasoned afternoon tea goers are eager to invite their tea-minded friends to join in the fundraising efforts!  It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.

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Tea flyer/invitation

I helped organize a holiday (Christmas) afternoon tea fundraiser for 115 persons.  It was an event that was 6 months in the making, involving an event planner, food tasting, floor and space planning, entertainment planning, and overseeing a team of 15 busy elves women.

Unlike most boys and girls around Christmas time, the fundraiser event was unfortunately more naughty than nice and therefore, made Santa’s bad list. 😦  However, to keep holiday spirits high, I will start by telling you about how it was nice! 🙂

Nice: The day of the fundraiser was beautiful, sunny, and crisp.  A wall of windows bathed the banquet hall with a bright winter light.

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Nice: The simple white table settings gave us many options for decorating.  Guests were seated at tables for 8, 9 or 10.

Table setting

Quite nice: The miniature cloisonne teapot ornament tea favors were a big hit.  

Tea favor: Miniature cloisonne teapot ornaments

Tea favor: Miniature cloisonne teapot ornaments

Very nice: The Tea Committee came up with many creative ways to raise funds for our selected charities, including silent auction, boutique sale, bake sale, and raffle for gift baskets full of tea related goodies.

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Fixed price bake sale (homemade baked goods that made perfect hostess gifts)

Fixed price boutique sale

Fixed price boutique sale

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Silent auction: Fascinators that guests could wear right away if they were the successful bidder.

Extremely nice: Each member of the Tea Committee also created a holiday centerpiece for each table.  Since all the centerpieces were for sale, guests had an incentive to visit every table, so they could get a chance to bid on their favorite centerpiece.  This was also a great way to encourage guest mingling and social interaction.

And now for the naughty … 😦

Naughty: Our event planner promised us tea caddies even though we offered to bring our own.  Imagine our horror when we saw their idea of a tea caddy: 3 stacked glass cake pedestals!  They were so heavy and unwieldy that the manager asked all 115 guests to vacate the tables while they were being plated to avoid any accidents!  I think it’s perfectly acceptable to do this at home in an intimate setting but dangerous in a restaurant or banquet type setting.

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Makeshift precarious tea caddy

More naughty: The tea service was disorganized and untimely.  Guests received their sandwiches before their tea.  Many were still waiting for their first cup of tea while others were already getting seconds.  Though 2 types of tea were served, some guests only got to sample one of the teas.  Tea should have been served first!  What is afternoon tea without tea?

Capture (Small)Very naughty: Lack of quality and quantity of food!  One of my co-chairs, T., and I attended a food tasting at the country club to organize the menu.  The sandwiches at the tasting were fresh, delicious, and some of the best tea sandwiches I’d ever had.  The actual sandwiches served at the fundraiser were an embarrassment.  Not only were they much lower in quality than what we sampled but they did not provide enough of each type of sandwich for each guest.  Some guests ended up eating 3 ham and cheese sandwiches!

There was also a passed hors d’oeuvres on the menu (mushroom caps with goat cheese) but again, there was a quantity issue.  The wait staff did not pass out the hors d’eouvres individually to the guests as specified in our contract.  Instead, they walked around offering them to guests which means that some guests took more than one, so others got none.

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Clockwise from left: Cucumber, ham and cheese, egg salad, and gourmet chicken salad

Naughtier still: Buffet style dessert.  Though we agreed to this arrangement, we realized in hindsight that it was a mistake.  Buffet style is not a good idea for afternoon tea anyway because it is unrealistic to expect guests to take just one item.  Additionally, given the placement of the tables and the number of guests, the buffet made the event feel very chaotic and disorganized.

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Assorted petit fours (store bought??)

Unforgivably naughty: Store-bought cookies and missing scones!  The scones were supposed to be served tableside but apparently, there was “some kind of fiasco in the kitchen” and there were not enough scones for everyone.  The manager didn’t notify us and the surviving scones were surreptitiously added to the buffet tables, perhaps with the hope that guests would not notice their absence.  What is afternoon tea without a scone?

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Buffet style dessert with assorted cookies (some store bought) and only a few scones

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Don’t be deceived by pretty sweets!

Santa’s bad list: Don’t plan your events at the Carmel Mountain Ranch Country Club!  Following our event, we contacted the manager in good faith by phone, letter, and email to thank him and his team.  We even offered to hold our event there again next year, if improvements could be made.  All our attempts at contact were ignored.  Though the planning committee made sure all the details would be in place prior to the event, the execution of the actual tea was out of our control and did not live up to our expectations or to our contract.  There were many disappointed guests and I was unhappy with the quality and quantity of the food as well as the service.  It is times like these when I wish I ran my own catering company.

Santa’s good list: Our first holiday tea was the most successful holiday fundraiser in the 31 year history of our organization!  The proceeds from the fundraiser benefited 3 local charities assisting needy families during the holidays.  Despite Santa’s bad list, guests were still able to see the quality work of Santa’s elves.  Several guests remarked that we should become professional event planners or that they would hire our committee to organize their weddings!  I couldn’t ask for higher praise.  Congratulations to all the busy elves of the Tea Committee who made this fundraiser such a successful one!

Happy holidays!

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”

― Mother Teresa

High Tea by the FBI

Tea favor: Teapot shaped tape measure

Last year, I attended a high tea benefit event hosted by the FBI (Friends of Braille Institute).  I enjoyed it so much that I supported the event again this year.

This year, two culinary students from Grossmont College prepared the tea courses.  While this was exciting and I applaud their creativity, I actually think that the Friends of Braille Institute members did a better job themselves last year!

We enjoyed 2 teas from Infusions of tea: Earl Grey, and Rosewater Tulsi (a non-caffeinated herb from India, blended with rose, lemon, chamomile, coconut, stevia, and organic flowers).  The Rosewater Tulsi was quite nice.  [NOTE: Infusions of Tea closed its doors on December 28, 2011]

1st course (savories): (Left to right, clockwise) Smoked salmon and dill egg salad sandwich, Pecorino Romano with apples and fig jam, Ham salad canape with gherkin garnish, and Blue cheese and sage shortbread with goat cheese and cranberries.  The smoked salmon and dill egg salad sandwich was the only savory that I really liked.  I usually like savory shortbread but this version was ruined with the sweet goat cheese.  One of my tea companions observed that the shortbread was neither savory nor sweet but probably would have worked better as a dessert.  The ham salad canape was a bit strange and took me down Memory Lane to a flavor that made me think of my childhood: Deviled ham!  The main thing I remember about deviled ham is that the can was packaged in a white paper wrapping with a red devil dancing on it.  It had the texture of canned cat food and smelled like it too!  😉 2nd course (scone): Cranberry and cherry scones with orange glaze and honey butter.  This is one of the better scones I’ve had in a long time (i.e., texture-wise, it was not dry).  My tea companions loved the honey butter but I couldn’t bring myself to slather it on a cranberry and cherry scone with orange glaze!  There are 2 reasons I have a mostly “hate” relationship with scones: 1) I don’t think I’ve actually been lucky enough to have a proper scone!  The first scone I ever ate was aboard a BA flight–the scone was rock hard and tasted like cardboard.  The older English gentleman sitting next to me enjoyed his scone just fine.  In fact, he even asked me if he could have my clotted cream and jam.  I thought I must be in the minority when it came to not liking scones.  After that first experience, I’ve had only scones in the U.S. and I have not liked many of them.  2) I don’t understand why no one makes PLAIN scones?  Why does everyone add fruit, nuts, chocolate, glazes, and/or spices to their scones?  I think flavored scones are okay on their own but for a tea, they’re usually served with clotted cream, lemon curd, and/or jams.  How can one enjoy clotted cream and jams on scones that already have their own flavors?  For me, that would be analogous to spreading lemon curd on a chocolate chip muffin (can anyone say, sensory and sugar overload!?).   What is the “ideal” texture and taste of a proper scone?  I am still not sure …3rd course (fruit): Mixed berries with balsamic glaze and mascarpone cream.  This was one of the prettiest fruit courses I’ve seen at a tea but unfortunately, it was the most flavorless.  The berries were bland, balsamic flavor was not even noticeable, and the mascarpone cream tasted like plain whipped cream.4th course (dessert): Mini cupcakes: Red velvet with cream cheese frosting, vanilla with strawberry frosting, chocolate with mint chocolate chip frosting.  I think the idea was a fabulous one, especially since the mini size permitted guests to sample more than one flavor without bursting at the seams.  My favorite cupcake was the vanilla cake with strawberry frosting.  The strawberry frosting was amazing, both sweet and tart at the same time.  The mint chocolate chip frosting was my second favorite.  I appreciated the speckles of chocolate in the frosting which gave it a chocolate chip texture without overwhelming the delicateness of the cupcake.

“The proper, wise balancing
of one’s whole life may depend upon the
feasibility of a cup of tea at an unusual hour.”

― Arnold Bennett, How to Live on 24 Hours a Day

My first fundraiser tea

My friend L. invited me to attend a high tea benefit event hosted by the FBI (no, not that FBI), the Friends of Braille Institute (FBI)!  The fundraiser was for a great cause, to support the Braille Institute of America in its mission to “empower visually impaired people to live fulfilling lives.”  Extremely nearsighted since the age of 12, and almost legally blind without glasses or contacts, I appreciate what the Braille Institute does for the visually impaired.

High Tea by the FBI (Friends of the Braille Institute)

Tea favors: Bookmarks and Hershey’s kisses in an origami box

The event was meticulously organized and took the collective efforts of all the members who lent their personal china, volunteered their time to cook and bake the tea courses, created party favors, provided the tea service, etc.  Every table was unique and the teapot centerpieces were all for sale by silent auction.  There was also a harpist who played tea music during the tea.

After the tea, there was a guest speaker who spoke on the topic of seeing-eye dogs, one of the important services offered by the Braille Institute.  What an interesting talk!  I had no idea that there are some dog species better suited for the job than others (Lab Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds).  The dogs start training as puppies and are placed with an owner after 2.5 years of training.  It costs about $40K to train a seeing-eye dog.  They usually only work on average for 6-8 years.  The guest speaker shared touching stories about her relationship with her seeing-eye dog.  Putting her life in his paws everyday, her dog is her constant loyal companion that acts as her eyes and helps her with daily activities including crossing streets and taking public transportation.  She told her story with grace and humor and even managed to make a dog believer out of me!

High Tea by the FBI (Friends of the Braille Institute)

We enjoyed 2 teas: Earl Grey garden, a blend of classic Earl Grey black tea infused with lavender and jasmine blossoms, and Aloha, a decaffeinated green tea with papaya and pineapple

First course: (Left to right from top) Miniature mushroom toastie, BLT flowerette curried chicken salad on puff pastry, and smoked salmon mousse on cucumber slice

First course: (Left to right from top) Miniature mushroom toastie, BLT flowerette curried chicken salad on puff pastry, and smoked salmon mousse on cucumber slice

Lady MH went crazy for the mushroom toastie and we managed to nab the recipe off one of the organizers.  It’s a good thing I’ve preserved it here for posterity because it’s no longer available online.

Mushroom toastie
(based on Wonder bread Mushroom Appetizer Croustades
Yield: 24 servings

Croustade
12 slices Wonder® bread
3 tablespoons butter
2 green onions, chopped
8 ounces button mushrooms, finely diced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400F.

Cut crusts from Wonder bread and flatten with a rolling pin until quite flat, about ⅛-inch thick. Cut circles from the bread with a 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter. (You can cut 2 circles from each slice of bread.) Lightly brush mini-muffin pan with melted butter. Gently press each round of bread into a mini-muffin cup, forming it into a bowl shape. Repeat, making as many Croustades as specified in the recipe. Bake about 9 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown.

Cool slightly, then remove the Croustades from the pan and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack.

Mushroom Filling

Reduce oven temperature to 350F.

Melt butter in medium skillet over medium high heat. Cook green onions and mushrooms about 4 to 5 minutes or until moisture evaporates, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with flour and stir well. Add cream and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue cooking until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, lemon juice and cayenne pepper.

Fill cups and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes.

The story behind the sensation: Croustades are wonderful, versatile cups made from Wonder bread. Baked until hot and crispy, these bread cups are the perfect “bowl” for your favorite filling. Make small, appetizer-size Croustades in mini-muffin pans or choose larger, main dish-size Croustades by baking in regular-size muffin pans.

High Tea by the FBI (Friends of the Braille Institute)

Second course: Cranberry orange scone with lemon curd and strawberry jam

High Tea by the FBI (Friends of the Braille Institute)

Third (fruit) course: Frozen grapes with Moscato D’asti

High Tea by the FBI (Friends of the Braille Institute)

Final (dessert) course: Double chocolate budino with mint mascarpone cream (prepared by pastry chef, Susan Jasin of Cin Cin Poway). I was so thrilled to keep the demitasse cup

“When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?”

― Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog