Queen for a day tea

Today, Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her 91st birthday.  In honor of her birthday, I’m posting Lady B.’s “Queen for a day” tea from last year! 

Lady B. surprised us all when she announced that she did not want any assistance with her upcoming tea for the Victorian Tea Society.  She said she wanted to pamper us and make us all feel like a “Queen for a day!”  Wow!  Talk about Royal Treatment!

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Royal invitation

Queen B.’s royal invitation instructed guests to “wear tiaras and bring (their) best manners.”  My favorite queen of all time is, of course, Queen Elizabeth I (isn’t she everyone’s favorite?!?).  I once went through a phase where I went crazy over everything Elizabeth I, especially books and movies.  I decided to pay tribute to Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, the epic poem dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I, by dressing up in a Renaissance costume, complete with a garland of eucalyptus, peacock feathers, and green foliage for my hair.  I planned to arrive to Queen B.’s as the Faerie Queene!

The road to Queen B.’s was strewn with rose petals and a Fairy Crossing!  My heart danced a little jig and I knew then I was in for a special treat.  Queen B. sure knows how to make a Queene feel at home! 🙂

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Queen B.’s Fairy Crossing (click on photo to enlarge)

After the Fairy Crossing, the queens were invited to sit on this welcoming bench as their arrivals were announced.  Notice all the crowning touches from the pillow to the accents, the curtains, and the bench cover!

Queen B's crowning glory

Queen B’s crowning glory

Once inside the palace, we admired this enchanting table in the foyer while Queen B. made an unexpected grand entrance from the staircase!

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Enchanted welcome table made by Queen B. requiring 6 yards of tulle!

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Queen B's crowning touches everywhere!

Queen B’s crowning touches everywhere … including the “other throne” room (aka commode)! (click on photo to enlarge)

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More crowning touches and some Victorian flair!

Before Royal Tea was served, Queen B. instructed us on how to be queenly with “Her Royal Highness Lessons, course 101.”

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After we successfully completed the course, we made a Coronation Toast to Queen B. to initiate the Royal Tea.

Coronation toast

Coronation toast

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Her Royal Highness Butternut squash soup

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Enchanted broccoli avocado berry salad

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Starting at 12:00m, clockwise: Kensington Palace Turkey and Provolone, Her Majesty’s Ham and Swiss Cheese, Princess Diana’s Tiara Smoked Salmon Mousse Canapes, Once Upon a Time Egg Salad, and Royal Coach Curried Chicken Salad Croissant

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Queen’s Throne Shrimp cheesecakes (these were amazing!)

Royal scepter fresh fruit

Royal scepter fresh fruit

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Tea time double chocolate scones

Double Chocolate Scones
Yield:  12 scones

2 c. all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 c. unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa powder or unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 c. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. fresh orange zest
1/4 t. salt
1/3 c. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 c. dark chocolate chunks (I used chocolate chips)
1 c. heavy whipping cream
l large egg
3/4 c. pecans or nuts of your liking *optional
Preheat oven to 425F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, orange zest, and salt, whisking well. Using a pastry blender, cut butter into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add chocolate chunks, stirring to combine. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine cream and egg, whisking well.  Add to flour mixture, stirring until just combined.  Dough will be sticky.  IF mixture seems dry, add more cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, until a dough forms.  Drop dough by heaping tablespoons onto prepared baking sheet.
*Optional sprinkle scones with large decorative sugar or coarse raw sugar.
Bake until a wooden pick inserted in centers comes out clean, 8 to 12 minutes.  Cool on baking sheet for 5 min. and serve warm.
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Chocolate Cream
1 c. heavy whipping cream
1/3 c. chocolate chips or more depending how chocolately you want it.
In a medium saucepan, heat cream til very hot, but not boiling.  Remove from heat and add chocolate chips whisking til melted.  Pour mixture into a heatproof glass or metal bowl and set in a larger bowl filled with ice.  Let cool whisking occasionally.  Using a hand-held mixer, beat chocolate mixture at high-speed until stiff peaks form.  That’s it.  Easy peasy!

After the scones course, we assembled outside to have dessert in Queen B.’s gazebo.

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Ha, I didn’t even notice until now that I captured a lizard running across the path in the foreground! 🙂

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Crown fold napkins, lace crowns on bottom of teacups. and embroidered crowns on lace coasters (stiched by Queen B. herself!)

Crown fold napkins, lace crowns on bottom of teacups, and golden embroidered crowns on lace coasters (stitched by Queen B. herself!)

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Dreams Do Come True strawberry cheesecake

A royal thank you!

A royal thank you!

To Her Royal Highness, Queen B.
I rarely venture out of my kingdom so imagine my delight and appreciation for the great efforts you made to make me feel at home with reminders of my beloved Faerie Land.  I was equally enchanted by your resplendent palace, scrumptious royal tea, and the company of charming visiting queens from other faraway lands.  Thank you Queen B. for the royal treatment and unforgettable afternoon.  I hope you will visit me in my kingdom someday.

Your humble servant,
The Faerie Queene

“It’s all to do with the training: you can do a lot if you’re properly trained.”

–Queen Elizabeth II

Happy birthday to The Queen!

Passion for Purple Tea

Lady B. threw a surprise “thank you” tea in honor of Lady J. who served as our Victorian Tea Society (VTS) coordinator for the past six years.  Additionally, Lady J. introduced the ritual of afternoon tea to several of us (including yours truly) so we had much to be thankful for!

The biggest challenge in planning the surprise tea was scheduling.  Finding a day/time that suited Lady J. but also the rest of the VTS members was difficult (4 months in the planning).  In the end, six members were able to make it, so it was well worth the effort!  Secondly, organizing a ruse for a visit to Lady B.’s house without giving away the surprise was yet another challenge.  Lady J. thought she was visiting Lady B. for an afternoon of quilting.  Lady J.’s reaction was priceless.  She was genuinely (and maybe even shockingly) surprised, especially when we all yelled, “Surprise!” and she couldn’t figure out what the surprise was.  After all, it wasn’t her birthday, there was no special anniversary, and … why were we all dressed in purple?

As Lady J. stepped down into the sitting room, everyone yelled, “Surprise!”

Since Lady J.’s favorite color is purple, we decided to honor her by hosting an all-purple tea by wearing purple and serving purple foods!  Ironically, between seven of us, none of us owned any purple table settings!  Lady J.’s monopoly on the color purple is indeed indisputable! 😉  But Lady B. got creative and did a beautiful job utilizing existing resources!  Good job, Lady B.!

Using clear glass and white tableware works for any occasion! Dress up the table using flowers from the garden, accessories such as candles and ribbons, and choice tablecloths.



Purple sugar!

Three types of purple themed tea were served: “Recognition” Huckleberry tea, “Tribute to you” Vanilla Rooibos tea, and “Thankful for you” Blueberry black tea.

A really, really cute knitted tea cozy by Lady S.

Lady S. knitted these cute and lovely tea cozies which looked fabulous on the tea table and also kept the tea nice and hot!  I secretly (well, not so secretly–I declared it aloud) wanted to wear them as hats!

Another really, really cute knitted tea cozy by Lady S. This one has violets with yellow flower buttons!

Gratitude toast with pomegranate juice

The menu offered many ways to say thank you to Lady J.  Purple dishes with sentiments of gratitude!

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Great beginning …

“Heartfelt thank you” spinach & purple cabbage salad with “Forever grateful” Bleu cheese or Ranch dressing by Lady B.

Enticing savory and tea sandwiches …

“Twice as nice” purple sweet potato hummus & roasted veggie on naan and Cheddar and pickled red onion on brioche toast by Lady S.

Pickled red onions
(From the kitchen of Lady S.)

1 medium red onion, halved and sliced thin, then rinsed in cold water
1 cup mild vinegar (red wine, white wine, or rice vinegar work well—if you use white vinegar, dilute with water in a 50/50 ratio)
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Place sliced onion in a mason jar or heat proof bowl.  Bring vinegar, lime juice, sugar, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan just enough to dissolve sugar and salt.  Pour hot vinegar mixture over onions and let sit for at least 30 minutes.  Refrigerate.  May be eaten right away or kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

“She’s got the beet!” Beet and purple potato stack with dilled goat cheese by Lady Henni

“Sincere thanks” egg salad & purple cabbage sandwich by Lady B.

Spring chicken salad sandwiches on purple bread by Lady MH

Palate cleanser …

“Friendship” Blackberry and watermelon fruit on a skewer by Lady B.  Notice the lacy “fan” on the ends of the skewers–we are big “fans” of Lady J.! 🙂

“Much obliged” Huckleberry cream scone with “Danke Schon” Devonshire cream, “Gracias” lemon curd, and “Merci” Huckleberry jam by Lady B.

Perfect ending…

“You’re the best” purple (lavender) moon cakes with peanut, coconut, and sesame filling by Lady ML.  These are known as “snowskin” mooncakes which resemble mochi in taste and texture.  Gorgeous AND delicious!

Gift for Lady J. — Memory book by Lady K. (Beautiful job, Lady K.!)

And now for some purple fashions!

Lady S. knitted matching purple spring hats for all of us!  Thank you, I love my hat! 🙂

Lady J.’s necklace from Cuba. It’s a recycled fork!  Cool!

Matching recycled fork bracelet!

Thank you to Lady B. and all the wonderful ladies of VTS for a colorful afternoon tea that Lady J. will not soon forget!  The table setting and foods were fantastic!  Lady J., thank you for your leadership, guidance, friendship and for sharing the joys of afternoon tea with us.  We look forward to enjoying many more afternoon teas with you!

Kumquats and tea, just in time for spring

My Dad has a dwarf kumquat tree that yields hundreds of fruits at a time!  Originating in China, kumquats are known as “gold oranges” in Chinese and symbolize good luck.  The size of grapes, kumquats are eaten whole (skin, pulp, and seeds) and are the smallest citrus fruit in the citrus family (NOTE: They are not part of the genus Citrus but classed in their own genus, Fortunella, named for the botanist Robert Fortune who introduced the kumquat to Europe in 1846.  And there I thought the name, Fortunella, was a nod to the Chinese meaning of kumquats–still, an appropriate name and happy coincidence! Interestingly enough, Fortune is actually better known for a different achievement.  A real live tea smuggler, he is best known for introducing tea plants from China to India via the British East India Company in 1848.  His actions may have helped India achieve its status as the world’s second largest producer of tea after China.  How’s that for a kumquat-tea connection?!)I’m not a big fan eating kumquats out of hand so I’m always trying to find new ways to consume them.  I like using them like lemons (try squeezing them over your salad or fish!) or oranges.  Though kumquats are too small to juice like oranges, you can make a kumquat puree with your Vitamix (just add whole kumquats) that you can add to your smoothies.  You can even freeze the puree for a rainy day.  My current obsession, however, is using kumquats for tea! 🙂

Kumquats are rich in Vitamin C and fiber so you can get both in the morning with your cup of tea!

Crush a kumquat, add a Earl Grey tea bag and hot water!

Kumquat Earl Grey tea
(Idea from Nola)

Crush a kumquat in a teacup, add boiling water and your favorite Earl Grey tea (one tea bag or loose leaves).

The kumquat actually intensifies the bergamot flavor in Earl Grey tea!  I didn’t expect that but learned that the essential oil of kumquat peel is rich in bergamot.  I did not care too much for the tartness that the kumquat juice imparted to the tea so I might squeeze the juice out next time and use only the peel.  If you like bergamot, try adding a kumquat to your morning tea.

In traditional Chinese medicine, kumquats are used to treat a cough (by eliminating phlegm) or sore throat.  Try any of the (hot tea) recipes below the next time you have a cold.  If nothing else, the Vitamin C will do you good. 😉


Kumquat honey “tea”
(Great for a cough or sore throat!)

Kumquats, halved
Honey

Squeeze the kumquats halves, releasing their juice, into a teacup.  Throw in the kumquat halves, honey to taste, and add boiling water.  Stir and enjoy!


Kumquat fruit tea (pour hot water)

Kumquat fruit tea
(popular in Taiwanese tea houses, recipe adapted from various sources)

4 kumquats, halved
1-2 slices of lemon or lime (optional)
1 Tbsp. honey or 1 inch sized rock sugar
1 Tbsp. loose tea leaves or 1 tea bag
(Chinese black or green tea, smoky varieties also work well)

Squeeze the kumquats halves, releasing their juice, into a teapot.  Add the kumquat halves, lemon/lime slices (if using), and sugar.  Add the tea leaves to the tea strainer and pour boiling water to cover the tea leaves (see photo above).  Steep for 5 minutes.  Enjoy hot or cold.  (I don’t add the lemon/lime since the kumquats are tart on their own.  If you like the flavor of lemon/lime without adding tartness, I suggest adding the rind only)


I really like this recipe for a kumquat “tea” concentrate.  This would be great to have on hand during the summer, to whip up a refreshing pitcher of fruit drink or iced tea.  It would also be great atop plain oatmeal or yogurt!

Kumquat “tea” concentrate

Kumquat “tea” concentrate
(Recipe from Angel Wong’s kitchen)
Makes approx. 1 jar

2 dozen kumquats
3 – 5 key limes or 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup honey
3/4 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup water

Slice the kumquats and key limes, remove and discard seeds.  Add sliced kumquats, limes, honey, and sugar into a saucepan and cook until mixture is thick and bubbly.  Add the water and cook for 5 minutes more until caramelized.  After the mixture has cooled, transfer to a clean sterilized jar.  To serve, add 2 big dollops of concentrate to a tea cup and mix with boiling water.  Stir and enjoy, or add a black tea bag if desired.  Store leftover concentrate in the refrigerator. 


I hope this post inspired you to incorporate kumquats into your afternoon tea ritual.  During my research for this post, I was very amused to learn that kumquats made an appearance in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix so I will leave you with this striking visual–you may never see kumquats in the same light again :):

“According to the magazine, if you turned the runes on their heads they revealed a spell to make your enemy’s ears into kumquats.”

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

NOTE: For all you Harry Potter fans, the unnamed ears to kumquats transforming spell first appeared in the 1 September, 1995 edition of The Quibbler.  When Harry Potter and Ron Weasley first encountered Luna Lovegood, she had been reading The Quibbler upside down, supposedly in an attempt to read the runes to reveal this spell.

Rosewater pistachio shortbread

I would never mess with a really good chocolate chip cookie–it doesn’t need improvement. I don’t quite feel the same way about shortbread. To me, classic shortbread is a good cookie base with simple ingredients, making it the ideal cookie for infusing with different flavors, right?  I know a few diehards who would prefer if I just stuck to making classic shortbread but I recently gifted myself with not one but TWO new shortbread molds which will finally allow me to bake more than one batch of shortbread at a time! Oh my, think of the possibilities! 🙂

Last month, I had grand plans during Chinese New Year to experiment with Chinese influenced flavors for shortbread but Time escaped me and I missed the window of opportunity (next year, I promise!).  Instead of dwelling on bygones, I decided to look forward to the next new year’s holiday for more timely inspiration, the Persian new year, Nowruz.  Spurred on by a recipe in the February 2017 issue of Bon appetit, the timing was perfect for developing a Persian flavor influenced shortbread in time for Nowruz: Rosewater pistachio.

Rosewater pistachio shortbread
(basic recipe adapted from Lucy Ross Natkiel’s Nut Shortbread recipe in The gourmet shortbread book)

1/2 cup butter, cold
1/2 cup powdered sugar (unsifted)
1 cup flour, minus 2 Tbsp. (unsifted)
2 Tbsp. rice flour*
1 Tbsp. rosewater
1/4 c. shelled roasted unsalted pistachios

Using a food processor, add all ingredients and pulse the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs and the butter is fully incorporated into the flour. Spray the ceramic shortbread pan very lightly with a non-stick vegetable oil spray. Pour the shortbread “crumbs” into the shortbread pan, and working out from the center, firmly press the dough into the pan. Prick the entire surface with a fork. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes, or until it is lightly browned. Be sure that the middle is thoroughly cooked and doesn’t look slightly opaque or the shortbread might stick in the pan.

Let the shortbread cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before you flip the pan over onto a cutting board. If the shortbread does not come right out, put a cutting board on top of the pan (the cutting board should be bigger than the pan) and while holding the pan against the cutting board, turn it upside down and firmly tap one edge of the pan against the board. This should loosen the shortbread and it should drop out. Cut the shortbread into serving pieces while it is still warm, otherwise the edges will not be clean.

*You can skip the rice flour and just use 1 c. flour, if you wish. The rice flour makes a flakier cookie.

Happy new year!  Happy Nowruz!

“Yesterday is gone and its tale told. Today new seeds are growing.”

– Rumi

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Spanish Flair Tea

Lady J. was on a Mediterranean cruise that took her to a shop in Spain where she found a teaspoon with a flamenco dancer on its handle. She was so enchanted by it that she wanted to buy a few more but there was only one lonely spoon available.  As Lady J. was leaving the shop, the excited owner called her back, “Señora! Señora!”  He rummaged through a drawer and managed to produce exactly 7 more spoons for a total of 8 spoons!  Lady J. couldn’t believe her luck and snatched up the entire lot.  This is how a special teaspoon inspired a theme for an afternoon tea!

The teaspoon that inspired an afternoon tea!

The flamenca teaspoon that inspired an afternoon tea!

“Bienvenido!  You are cordially invited to a Spanish Tea!  Come dressed with Spanish flair!  Add a rose, fan, Mantillla shawl and/or peineta and feel like you’re in Spain!”

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Lady J.’s creative invitation!

dsc07228-smallimg_3210-smallAfter sharing her story of how a teaspoon inspired her creative spirit, Lady J. wanted us to share a creative project we’d worked on in the past or were currently working on.  We were all very impressed to hear each other share about our creative endeavors in areas such as sewing, scrapbooking, making memories, baking, luncheons, home organization, and music!

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Photo by Lady K.

Photo by Lady K.

Really cute condiment dishes from Spain

Really cute condiment dishes from Spain

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Centerpiece of Spanish majolica plates, fans, and succulents in ceramic pots

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Salt and pepper shaker

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Notice this flamenca teaspoon! All the spoons were different!

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Sugar bowl

dsc07230-largeLady J. came up with a wonderful vegetarian Spanish tapas style menu and picked some delicious herbal teas for a siesta.  Lady J. served an iced hibiscus sangria (non-alcoholic) and 2 hot teas from Teavana: CocoCaramel Sea Salt (dulce de leche, anyone?) and Berry kiwi colada.

Hibiscus sangria iced tea

Hibiscus sangria iced tea (infused with blood oranges, lemons, strawberries, blackberries and pineapple) (photo by Lady J.)

Sopa de ajo

Sopa de ajo (Castilian garlic soup) by Lady Henni

Sopa de ajo
(Adapted from many recipes by Lady Henni)
Serves 4

4 c. veggie stock (or other stock/broth)
1 c. bread cubes (1/2″ cubes, rustic loaf of crusty bread)
10 cloves of garlic, minced
3 eggs, slightly beaten (yolks broken up and slightly mixed with whites)*
1 1/2 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika
Pinch of saffron threads
1/4 tsp. black pepper (optional)
Chopped red and yellow bell peppers for garnish (Viva España!)

Heat up some olive oil and add bread cubes.  When bread is slightly browned, add minced garlic and stir until garlic is fragrant.  Add veggie broth, saffron, paprika, and black pepper (if using).  Bring the soup to a boil and pour eggs into the soup slowly in a stream.  Stir the soup while the eggs cook.  Serve immediately.  Garnish with chopped red and yellow peppers and parsley.

* If desired, you can poach the eggs whole instead of breaking them up.

Spanish olive salad

Ensalada de Oliva (Spanish Olive Salad) (Recipe from Pillsbury) by Lady T.

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Veggie paella (made with couscous, onions, peas, carrots, and red bell peppers) by Lady J.

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Champinones al ajillo (Spanish Garlic Mushrooms) served with crusty bread (Recipe from Lovefoodies) by Lady MH

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Pan con Tomate (Spanish-Style Grilled Bread with Tomato) (Recipe from Serious Eats) by Lady K.

Pan con Tomate
(Recipe as taught by my friend S.)

Cut a crusty loaf of bread into small pieces and toast the bread.  Rub a clove of garlic on the surface of the bread.  Cut a ripe tomato in half and rub the open half onto the surface of the bread making sure to get tomato goodness and juices on the bread.  Discard the tomato skin.  Drizzle bread with olive oil.  Sprinkle with sea salt.  Enjoy!

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Spanish Tortilla (Potato Omelet) (Recipe from Food 52) by Lady ML

Frutas Frescas (Fresh Fruits) by Lady J.

Frutas Frescas (Fresh Fruits) by Lady J.

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Churros Bollos (Churro Scones) by Lady S.  These scones were to die for!

Churro oat scones
(From the kitchen of Lady S.)

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. oat flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. (1 stick) very cold butter cut into small cubes or grated on a box grater
2/3 c. cream

Topping: 3 Tbsp. sugar mixed with 1 tsp. cinnamon

Sift together dry ingredients.  Using a pastry blender, fork, or food processor, add butter.  Work until texture is like lumpy oatmeal being careful not to overmix butter.  Add cream and work just enough for dough to come together into a ball.  Flatten and roll into a 1 inch thick circle (about 9″ in diameter) and cut into 8 wedges.  Sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar topping.  Use a flat spatula to place scones 2 inches apart on a parchment lined baking sheet (these scones spread a bit so don’t put them too close together!). Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 mins.

Serve with clotted cream or Devonshire cream, fudge sauce, dulce de leche, chocolate cream, caramel sauce, lemon curd, etc.

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Tarta de Santiago (Almond Cake) (Recipe from The Bossy Kitchen) and Chocolate covered carquinyolis (Catalan biscotti) by Lady B. (photo by Lady J.)

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Tea favors from Lady J.: Custom shortbread cookies by Penny’s Place. Notice the cookies are shaped like fans!

After this wonderful feast, Lady T. declared she was so full she could not eat another bite and would have to skip dinner.  I laughed at her misfortune but, to my chagrin, later discovered that I too could not eat another bite so no dinner for me either!  Thank you Lady J. for hosting an unforgettable afternoon!  My only regret was that I couldn’t take a siesta in your garden after the tea. 🙂

La comida a reposar; y la cena a pasear.
(After dinner rest a while, after supper walk a mile)

–Spanish saying

Rise of the humanists

I have been fascinated by the Italian Renaissance for as long as I can remember.  So much so that I feel I must have lived a previous life during the Renaissance.  Though the Renaissance was not by any means all moonlight and roses, I love the food, art, philosophy, architecture, music, history, and ideas that came out of this period in history.  I finally visited Italy for the first time last year and it was a dream come true–it was everything I thought it would be, AND more!  Everywhere I turned, history came alive for me and I may as well have stepped back in time.  I was moonstruck in Firenze, feeling giddy knowing I walked the same streets once traversed by the Medici Family, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci.

Because of my interest and lifelong interest in the Italian Renaissance and my love for culinary history, I decided to host an Italian Renaissance afternoon tea for the Victorian Tea Society.

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As the hostess for this tea, I faced many challenges.  The last-minute challenges I faced were timing and conversation, due to recent current events.  Conversation and friendship are the most important components of a tea party and even our society guidelines gives suggestions for the hostess’ role in this regard quite clearly:

Art of Conversation/Sharing: Members to let hostess know in advance if they have something to share/discuss, keeping conversations on a pleasant and positive note. Any time a member or guest brings up an unpleasant topic (i.e., politics, religion, personal problems, negative issues, etc.), it will be up to the hostess to direct the conversation back to more pleasant topics.

Normally, this is not a problem with our group but hosting a tea fresh on the heels of the most derisive and divisive presidential election in our nation’s history, the topic of politics assuredly weighed heavily on everyone’s minds.  How could I steer our conversation away from the events of the past week?1112161009a-small

As soon as all my guests arrived, I announced that we would not discuss politics for the next 3 hours and concentrate only on “pleasant conversation”!  Since the theme of the tea was the Italian Renaissance, I took the liberty to explain that one of the reasons I loved the Renaissance was the rise of humanist thought.  Humanism started in Italy with thinkers like Petrarch, Machiavelli, Cosimo de Medici and then spread across Western Europe in the 14th-16th centuries.  Renaissance humanists believed that by studying the classics and humanities, they could better understand people and the world.  Secular and human interests became more prominent during this period, creating a new consciousness that promoted the virtues of intellectual freedom and individual expression which influenced everything from art, food, music, literature, law, and philosophy to politics.  Humanism was important because it bridged the gap between medieval religious dogma/superstition and the modern scientific method and critical thinking (rationalism).  As the hostess, I urged and invited my guests to embrace and embody the spirit of the Renaissance humanists, to learn from our history, and strive to become better human beings!  And we would do this one Tea at a time! 🙂

Putting aside my last-minute challenges, my main challenge was to organize an afternoon tea around a theme that was not tea friendly or conducive to tea foods.  I wanted to preserve the look, feel, and tastes of afternoon tea without compromising my theme.  In the end, I got inspiration from the Renaissance master himself, Leonardo da Vinci, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”1112161010-small

So the table would not look too empty, I made a simple centerpiece using candles with medieval designs (although they could pass for Renaissance) surrounded by rosemary branches, tangerines (during the Renaissance, these would have been bitter oranges), and pomegranates, ingredients heavily featured in Italian Renaissance cooking.

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Table centerpiece

I served the food as a Renaissance feast so I didn’t use tea caddies for this tea party but I did enlist a co-hostess to help me serve the food (Thanks Lady S.!).  This worked out well to help promote conversation across the table which is sometimes difficult with tea caddies in the way.

I also made simple placecards which were perched on cupcake pedestals.

1112161009-small-2For the tea favors, I wrapped bottles of flavored olive oil and balsamic vinegar in paper that resembled Italian majolica, tin-glazed ceramics.  The tin glaze created a white opaque surface that was ideal for painting and gave majolica its characteristic luster and bright colors.  It was also non-porous making it ideal for storing liquids and for use as apothecary jars.  Majolica was first developed in the 14th century with production peaking during the Renaissance and dwindling by the 18th century.

I had a lot of fun creating the menu and researching Renaissance food and cooking.  I wanted to create a vegetarian menu that was as authentic as possible while upholding the idea of an afternoon tea.

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Erratum: The last dolci should be ricciarelli, not riciarelli.

I served 3 different teas, 2 hot teas and 1 iced tea.  I bought the first 2 teas at the wonderful Oronero tea shop in Firenze.  The first teas, Il Sogno di Michelangelo (The dream of Michelangelo), is an oolong tea with pinenuts, raisins, cornflower, sunflower petals, and safflower.  The second tea, Palazzo Belfiore, was blended specially for a 15th century residence, now a guest apartment, with the same name.  It’s a blend of two types of blacks teas (China and Ceylon), with notes of pomegranate, orange peel, safflower, and chocolate.  The third and final tea was an iced tea, Persian melon white, from the St. James Tearoom.  Though it’s not an Italian tea, I chose it to give a nod to Marco Polo and other merchants/traders/explorers of the Renaissance period who, I imagine, must have introduced exotic fruits like Casaba melon to Europe.  The Palazzo Belfiore was, hands-down, everyone’s favorite tea of the day.

The first course was Ribollita, a famous Tuscan bread soup dating from the Middle Ages, when servants collected trenchers of uneaten bread for boiling in their own dinners.  It is a hearty soup containing stale bread, cannellini beans, and vegetables.  Tomatoes were not used in Renaissance cookery but this soup is so delicious that I wanted to share it.  My friend S. originally turned me onto Ribollita at a previous New Year’s tea and it’s become a favorite in our winter rotation.  Leave out the bacon for a vegetarian/vegan version.

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Ribollita

Tramezzini are triangular-shaped Venetian tea sandwiches with fillings such as tuna, proscuitto/ham, asparagus, and hard-boiled eggs.  Though they are not a Renaissance food, they utilize ingredients from the period and were invented as an alternative to English tea sandwiches.  Usually eaten as a snack or for lunch, most tramezzini have some kind of meat in it but we made 2 vegetarian versions that pleased everyone: Paprika egg salad, arugula, and edamame (substituted for fava beans) and polenta crostini with mushrooms.

Polenta crostini with mushrooms and Paprika egg salad with edamame and arugula

Polenta crostini with mushrooms by Lady K. and Paprika egg salad with “fava beans” and arugula by Lady ML

Meat, cheese, and egg pies or tarts were popular during the Renaissance.  Spinach and herbs such as parsley, fennel, chervil, and ginger often appear in Renaissance recipes for egg pie.  Lady B. served a delicious spinach and herb quiche (egg pie).

Spinach and herb quiche

Spinach and herb quiche by Lady B.

Panzanella salad is another recipe dating from the Middle Ages that makes use of stale bread.  There are many recipes for Panzanella salad but leave out the tomatoes for authenticity.  To learn about the origins of Panzanella salad, I refer you to Emiko Davies’ post on Bronzino’s Panzanella.  Lady J. based her recipe on Davies’ suggestions.

Of all the dishes for the tea, the one that I was most excited about was the Spiced walnut linguine.  It’s a pasta dish that can include any combination of popular spices from the Renaissance period such as cloves, nutmeg, saffron, cinnamon, allspice, coriander, and pepper and epitomizes the sweet-savory taste that is so characteristic of Renaissance cookery.  Lady MH added some Parmesan cheese which contributed to the savory aspect of the dish.  She also presented the pasta beautifully on mini ceramic plates which added to the Renaissance feel since Renaissance food was not very colorful, comprised mainly of neutral tones.  I really enjoyed this dish and can’t wait to try making it myself!

I love savory scones and this tea was the perfect opportunity to incorporate it.  Since I didn’t have much time to put this tea together, doing less was ideal.  In this case, we didn’t have to make scone condiments to go with the scones. The idea for these scones were inspired by the cheese & sundried tomato scones I once enjoyed at Avoca cafe in Dublin, Ireland but I couldn’t find the recipe and came across Feta, olive, and sundried tomato scones instead which were just as delicious!

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Feta, olive, and sundried tomato scones by Lady T.

Biancomangiare, “white dish,” originated during the Middle Ages, perhaps with the Arab introduction of rice and almonds to Europe.  Variations of the dish existed across early modern Europe (French blancmange, Turkish tavuk göğsü, Spanish manjar blanco, Danish hwit moos, etc.).  I highly recommend checking out Emiko Davies’ beautiful blog post about The art of Renaissance comfort food, if you would like to learn more about the origins of biancomangiare.  The biancomangiare I chose to serve at my tea is a vegan version based on various recipes for “Sicilian white pudding,” touted as the most traditional and famous white food in Italy.

Biancomangiare

Biancomangiare by Lady H.

Biancomangiare
(adapted from various recipes online)

4 c. unsweetened almond milk (store-bought or homemade)
6 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 c. sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp. rosewater or orange blossom water

Mix 1 /2 c. almond milk with 6 Tbsp. cornstarch to make a slurry and set aside.  Put remaining 3 1/2 c. milk, sugar, cinnamon stick, and rosewater in a pot and heat to just under a boil.  Add the cornstarch slurry and heat just until thickened (until mixture coats the back of a spoon).  Pour the mixture into individual cups or one big pan.  Chill at least one hour until firm like pudding.  Garnish with chopped pistachios, pomegranate seeds, ground cinnamon, organic edible rose petals, mint leaves, unsweetened cocoa, etc.

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Ricciarelli (almond cookies) by Lady S.

Ricciarelli is a traditional Italian cookie made with almonds that originated in 14th century Siena.  They are chewy, light, and crisp at the same time, similar to a French macaron but better!  Everyone went crazy for these cookies!  Fortunately for us, Lady S. made 2 batches! 🙂  And Lady MH declared Lady S. her new best friend!  Yes, these cookies are quite enchanting indeed.

Ricciarelli (almond cookies)

(Recipe from Fearless Fresh)

3 c. fine almond flour (NOT almond meal)
1 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar, divided
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 egg whites
2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. lemon zest

Combine the almond flour, granulated sugar, 1 cup of the powdered sugar, the baking powder, and the salt in a bowl.

In a separate large bowl, beat the egg whites into soft peaks. Fold in the almond extract, vanilla extract, lemon zest, and almond-flour mixture. Stir until completely combined.

Use a tablespoon to scoop out a large ball of cookie dough. Roll the dough into a ball in your hands, then use the bottom of a glass to gently smash the cookie into a disk about ½-inch thick. Roll in the remaining powdered sugar and set on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Let sit, uncovered, on the counter for about 45 minutes, or until the surfaces dry out just a touch. Preheat the oven to 250°F (121°C).

Place the cookies into the preheated oven and bake for 22 to 27 minutes, until they are golden brown around the edges.

Cool completely on a cooling rack, then store in an airtight container for up to a week.


And last but not least, a tea fashion show to illustrate how creative everyone was with their tea attire!  Hair garlands, crocheted snood, hair bands, Renaissance style dress, and a dress with constellations, a tribute to Galileo.

Thank you ladies, for a wonderful and memorable afternoon!  The food was delicious and I couldn’t have asked for better company.  It was definitely one for the ages! 😉

Instead of ending my post with a quotation about tea, I’m going to end with some prudent words from my favorite Italian Renaissance masters, to remind us of our humanist duty to think for ourselves, continue to learn, and not blindly accept the dogma of the day.

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”
–Michelangelo

There are three classes of people: Those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see.”
Leonardo da Vinci

“You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.”
Galilei Galileo

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”
Leonardo da Vinci

Sunday tea for 2

My friend J. invited me to a Saturday tea for 2 a couple of years ago.  It was high time for me to reciprocate and invite her to tea too.

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J. is a fellow yogi so I folded these lotus napkins just for her!  Instructions for the lotus napkin fold as well as other lovely folds can be found on the Fab Art DIY website.

Lotus napkin

Lotus napkin

J. and I also share a similar tastes and philosophy about food.  Though we both eat meat and seafood occasionally, we also have a great appreciation for all things tofu and vegan/vegetarian.  It is not uncommon for us to wax lyrical about tofu, matcha, unusual veggies and fruits, mochi, and things like pickled french fries. 🙂

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Chicken salad croissant sandwiches and open faced tofu “egg” salad on multigrain bread by Henni

Tofu “egg” salad
(adapted from various recipes online and in cookbooks)

1 pkg. 14 oz. extra firm tofu
1 celery stalk, very finely chopped
2 Tbsp. eggless mayo (optional) or silken tofu
2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp. dried minced onion or 1/4 c. finely chopped white, red, or green onion
1 tsp. Dijon or whole grain mustard
1 tsp. dried dill or 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. kala namak (black salt)
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

Press and dry the tofu.  Using a fork, coarsely mash the tofu with all other ingredients in a large bowl.  Serve cold or at room temperature as you would egg salad.  Refrigerate any leftovers.

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Salmon salad sandwiches with arugula and lemon by J.

Salmon sandwiches

1 can salmon
Chopped onion
Chopped celery
Lemon juice
Yogurt and/or mayo (just enough to keep everything together)
Chopped arugula (or other greens)

Mix all ingredients together with a fork.  Use as a sandwich filling.  Garnish sandwiches with fresh herbs, sliced radishes, lemon slices, etc.

J. had mentioned that the Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe had really good scones. In fact, so good that she got up early this morning to buy some of their fresh scones. I have to admit they were the best scones I’ve ever had, anywhere. They were a treat indeed.

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Best scone I’ve ever had!

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Vegan chocolate chip cookies and D.’s famous oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

My favorite (vegan) chocolate chip cookies
(adapted from various recipes online)
(Yield: 16-20 cookies)

1 cup flour (your choice)
1/4 cup unrefined sugar (turbinado or sugar in the raw)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup oil (canola, vegetable, grapeseed, etc.)
1/4 teaspoon molasses
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until there are no dry spots and the dough comes together.

Using a cookie scoop, place rounded spoonfuls onto a lined cookie sheet and flatten the tops a bit using your finger. Bake for 11 minutes at 350 degrees. Let rest on cookie sheet 1 minute before transferring to cooling rack.

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Thank you J. for having tea with me on a Sunday morning!  I enjoyed the tea offerings very much and the company even more!

“A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”

–Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States (1933-1945)