December high tea at Marlene’s

My friends N. and S. wanted to do something “fancy” for the holidays this year.  Since Christmas tea at the Hotel Del last year was so disappointing, we wanted to make sure we had a better experience this year.  After plans for tea at the Grand Del Mar and the Park Hyatt Aviara fell through, I suggested going to Marlene’s Tea & Cakes (of course :))!  (NOTE: The Grand Del Mar serves hors d’oeuvres for tea during the holidays and by “hors d’oeuvres,” they mean “cheese, crackers, and champagne”–say whaaat?)

As my friends remarked, Marlene has “impeccable taste!”  Marlene’s Tea & Cakes is, hands-down, my favorite place to have afternoon tea.

Don’t you love the Royal Albert Christmas china?

As usual, Marlene’s menu was delicious!  I really appreciate that she is able to accommodate vegetarians (advance notice is required).

Roasted winter vegetable soup with puff twist

S. ordered the vegetarian option. I loved that the vegetarian sandwiches were marked with little sprigs of parsley!

The cranberry white chocolate scones were delicious!  Marlene bakes the best scones!

I LOVE the gingerbread reindeer cookie!  It’s almost too cute to eat!

When I first tried a savory cookie, it produced one of those “wow” moments in my culinary world.  Well, now there’s a savory eclair!  What do you think of that?! 😉

Savory eclair with tomato, ricotta, and basil

Thank you N. and S. for sharing a lovely afternoon with me!  It was a wonderful way to end the year.  Merry Christmas and a very happy new year to all!

The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of love and of generosity and of goodness. It illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things.

–Thomas S. Monson


2nd Annual Afternoon Tea Fundraiser

[NOTE: This is post two of two related posts.  This is the followup to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  I cannot take credit for any of the photos in this post except for one or two.  I am grateful to the guests who were able to capture photos of the event.]

Last year, my philanthropy group hosted an afternoon tea fundraiser to celebrate our 35th anniversary.  It was such a success that we decided to try making it an annual event.  I’m happy to report that our 2nd Annual Afternoon Tea Fundraiser was a sold out event!  We hoped it would be equally successful but selling out was a pleasant surprise!  This year, the proceeds from our fundraiser will go towards college scholarships for needs-based students.  We have always offered merit scholarships but we are so proud to be able to offer needs-based scholarships for the first time in the history of our organization.

Since planning an afternoon tea is time consuming and requires a lot of work, we knew we had to raise the fundraising ante to justify our time and efforts by making this year’s tea even more successful.  To that end, the Tea Committee worked hard all summer to come up with new and fresh ideas for fundraising activities to get guests excited about attending our event.  We listened to their ideas about how to improve the event and recruited an emcee, solicited 3 new vendors, organized a bake sale, put together mystery grab bags, and implemented a new payment process.

Mystery gift/grab bags sold for $15/each. These were a big hit!

Mystery gift/grab bags sold for $15/each. These were a big hit!

Succulent arrangements ranged in price from $10-30.

These 2 arrangements were my favorite! I also liked the teapot bird feeder in the foreground.

Fascinators for $15 and hats for $25.  Everything sold out!

Guests really enjoyed the shopping component of the event.  It was a good opportunity to shop for gifts before the holidays, to support local businesses, and contribute to our scholarships fund.  In addition to shopping, guests could also admire all the different table settings which our own members put together with fine china and linens from their own private collections.

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Tea by the sea

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I love Paris

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Garden tea

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Beauty of roses

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Cheerful flowers

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Caribbean blues

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A formal affair

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Christmas tea

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Foliage of colors

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Leaves falling, autumn calling

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Eclectic elegance

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The Wizard of Oz

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

While all the tables were wonderful, my favorite table of all was E.’s.  Her theme was Cherry blossoms and I especially appreciated the thoughtful and handmade details that went into her table setting from the crocheted napkin rings, to the cute kimono favor boxes (stuffed with goodies), to the original water color painting inviting her guests to “share a spot of tea” with her.  The colors of her tables evoked cheeriness, elegance, and charm, just like cherry blossoms!  Click on the photos below to enlarge (must see!):

And last but not least, the food was catered by none other than Marlene’s Tea & Cakes!  As our emcee quipped, “Marlene is a magician and her food is delicious. My favorite thing was … everything!” 🙂  I couldn’t have said it better myself!

It was so gratifying to see a full house!  With 164 guests in attendance (a 21% increase in attendance over last year), we raised $5300 (45% more than last year) for scholarships.  One guest commented that our event was, “Better than high tea in London!”  I don’t think we could have received a higher compliment!

“There are two i’s in Fundraising – they should stand for inspiration and innovation, not imitation and irritation.”

–Ken Burnett

September High Tea at Marlene’s Tea & Cakes

I was thrilled when Marlene’s Tea & Cakes agreed to cater our upcoming afternoon tea fundraiser and couldn’t turn down an opportunity to join Lady J. for a tea tasting.

It’s no secret that my favorite tea house is Marlene’s Tea & Cakes.  I have posted about Marlene’s many times and never tire of having afternoon tea there (and that’s saying a lot because I get bored easily when it comes to food).  If you have never visited Marlene’s, you are missing out!  Let me count the ways …
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The table settings are always gorgeous and meticulous (ironed white tablecloths, fresh flowers, delicate china, crystal glasses …).  Most tea houses get the table settings and ambiance just right.  However, they usually fail in one of three areas: Tea, food, or both!  I don’t care how beautiful, charming, or cute a tea house is.  If the tea house does not serve properly brewed tea or decent food, it is neither a tea house or a restaurant.  A pretty house will not keep me coming back.  Marlene’s is the complete package!At Marlene’s, the tea is always hot and, most importantly, properly brewed.  Marlene brews and tests every pot of tea herself.  She won’t serve anything that isn’t up to her standards.  I have the utmost admiration and respect for her passion and commitment to excellence and quality.  She is a woman after my own heart.

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My favorite tea from Marlene’s tea menu, (above) hands-down, is Paris.  On this visit, Lady J. and I tried the Lady Londonderry and I dare say it’s a close second to Paris.  Other wonderful teas are Creme au caramel and Roasted almond & fruit, which happen to be caffeine free.  If you don’t know which tea to choose, Marlene is happy to help you make a selection!

Lady Londonderry Tea (Black tea, lightly and elegantly flavored with strawberry, lemon balm leaves, calendula and sunflower petals)

Ahhh …! The food …!  My favorite thing about Marlene’s is the food.  Marlene excels in tea foods and makes savories and sweets equally well.  Her menu changes monthly with ingredients that keep up with the seasons–her culinary creations are imaginative, creative, gorgeous, and delicious.  I look at her menu every month just to see what she comes up with next!

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Potato leek soup with puff twist (I love that Marlene left some of the red potato peel in the soup to give it texture!)

Marlene also takes great pride in the plating of the food.  I appreciate the effort she makes in the presentation–she is an artist.

Bonus: Banana bread with our scones!

Marlene’s sandwiches are the freshest in the business.  Even though both Lady J. and I know a few tricks about tea sandwiches, we still marvel at the freshness of the sandwich breads at Marlene’s!

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Egg salad and watercress sandwich; Cucumber and carrot sandwich; Turkey, cheddar, and apple butter panini; Mini beef Wellington; and Bleu cheese mascarpone red onion confit quiche

This double chocolate zucchini bundt cake is why I love Marlene’s.  She’s always willing to push the limit and try something different.  This cake was scrumptious!

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Double chocolate zucchini bundt cake

In addition to being a top notch chef/pastry chef, Marlene is a gracious, warm, and lovely hostess.  She tries to make every visit special whether it’s a personal visit to the table, an extra pot of tea, or additional goodies not on the menu (on this day, we got some banana bread with our scones).  I highly recommend a visit–plan an elegant party, have tea with a loved one, or invite your girlfriends for tea.  You will not be disappointed with afternoon tea at Marlene’s Tea & Cakes!  NOTE: Reservations are required.

If you are cold, tea will warm you,
If you are heated, it will cool you,
If you are depressed, it will cheer you,
If you are excited, it will calm you.

–William E. Gladstone

Post-holiday high tea

Our friends J. and S. were visiting from out-of-state for the holidays and one thing on their must-do list was to have “English style afternoon tea.”  We knew just where to take them: Marlene’s Tea & Cakes!  If you have friends and visitors from out-of-town, consider taking them out for high tea at Marlene’s Tea & Cakes, a hidden San Diego gem that only locals seem to know about!

outsideMarlene’s in a beautiful part of San Diego, off the beaten track, smack dab in the middle of a residential community called Santa Luz.  Situated in the central coast/valley ecoregion of San Diego County, two-thirds of the community landscape is comprised of native grasses, drought tolerant, and native trees and shrubs.  That alone is worth the visit, to see the native side of San Diego.  (NOTE: Ignore the other one-third of the landscape: the lawns and golf courses!)  Nothing evokes “home” for me like the sights and smells of California coastal sage scrub and soft chaparral!  And to all you cyclists out there, it’s also a great community to ride through with rolling hills, interesting scenery, and little traffic!


J. and I admired the gold painted eucalyptus leaves in this floral display that made it stand out!

J. and I admired details such as the gold painted eucalyptus leaves in this floral display!

dsc07130-smallMy favorite thing about Marlene’s is the menu–it changes monthly.  For that reason alone, I have visited Marlene’s more than any other tea house (see previous posts here).

decembermenuDid I mention that Marlene’s soups are excellent?

Winter vegetable soup with puff twist

Roasted winter vegetable soup with puff twist

I love a tea house that regards its tea service as seriously as the food.  The tea varieties here are top notch and Marlene brews every pot of tea personally to make sure it’s brewed properly (thank you, thank you!) 🙂  You can’t go wrong with any of the teas.  Even the water is special here–depending on the time of the year, it could be flavored with strawberries, cucumbers, lemon, or a combination!



Sandwiches and savories: Ham & cheese, Green goddess cucumber; Turkey, brie & cranberry sauce, Mini Beef Wellington, and Blue cheese and mascarpone red onion confit tart


Cranberry & white chocolate scones with an orange glaze and fresh fruit


Desserts: Peppermint cheesecake trifle, Christmas petit four, White chocolate lemon truffle, and Millionaire’s shortbread tart

dsc07023rev-smallAnd last but not least, Marlene makes excellent scones.  You don’t need clotted cream and definitely not lemon curd.

scones-small-2dsc07156-smallThank you J., J., and S. for sharing afternoon tea with us!  We look forward to having tea with you again soon!

“In Britain, a cup of tea is the answer to every problem.
Fallen off your bicycle? Nice cup of tea.
Your house has been destroyed by a meteorite? Nice cup of tea and a biscuit.
Your entire family has been eaten by a Tyrannosaurus Rex that has traveled through a space/time portal? Nice cup of tea and a piece of cake. Possibly a savoury option would be welcome here too, for example a Scotch egg or a sausage roll.”

David Walliams, Mr Stink

November high tea

The Tea Committee celebrated their hard work on the anniversary tea in September by having high tea at (where else?) Marlene’s Tea & Cakes.  Still my favorite tearoom to date, I’m always happy to have afternoon tea here!  The food and tea were fantastic as always!



Beautiful table settings 


Roasted almond and fruit herbal tea with roasted caramelized almonds, apple, cinnamon, and beetroot pieces (yes, it really is a lovely reddish rose color). This tea tastes like an almond bear claw!


Butternut squash soup with puff twist (The soup is always excellent. I appreciate that it’s served hot)


Mini beef Wellington; Turkey, cranberry, and brie sandwich; Cucumber and herb sandwich; Toasted ham tomato and cheese sandwich; Blue cheese mascarpone and caramelized red onion confit quiche


Fresh fruit and Cranberry lemon scones (Marlene’s scones are the best!)


Pumpkin cheesecake trifle, Upside down pear gingerbread, Chocolate opera cake, and Raspberry & cream spritz cookie


My favorite is this little gem, the red onion confit quiche. The caramelized red onions are what make this so special!

The pumpkin cheesecake trifle was excellent. Tasted like fall!

The pumpkin cheesecake trifle was excellent. Tasted like fall!

Marlene made the afternoon even more special with her bonus surprise dessert, homemade banana bread (it was more like a cake!) following all the wonderful food we already had!  This is just one of the many ways that Marlene tries to make every tea experience a special one.  The proof is in the details and the pride she takes in everything she does.  Thank you Marlene, for caring so much!

Thank you again to the Tea Committee and Marlene for all your hard work on the 35th Anniversary Celebration Tea!

“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.”

― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

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:


Theme: Garden


Theme:: Garden


Theme: Garden flowers


Theme: Roses


Theme: Formal


Theme: Christmas


Theme: Lavender hyacinth


Theme: Eclectic garden


Theme: Halloween


Theme: Asian


Theme: Black and white


Theme: Japanese friendship


Theme: Animal safari


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), 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.


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


Mixed berry scones and fresh seasonal fruit


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!


A Mardi Gras Tea

Lady ML hosted a Mardi Gras themed tea for the Victorian Tea Society last July but I wanted to wait until closer to Fat Tuesday (February 28, a week from today!) to blog about it and inspire your party spirit! 🙂  NOTE: See also the January 2016 issue of Tea Time magazine for more ideas on hosting a Mardi Gras tea!invitation-largeThis tea was special for many reasons.  Firstly, we welcomed and introduced our newest member, Lady S. to the group.  And secondly, former member Lady L. happened to be in town so she graced us with her company and charm. And lastly, this was the Victorian Tea Society’s 2nd visit to Marlene’s Tea & Cakes, a testament to how much we enjoyed our first visit.  It was a wonderful combination of old and new friends coming together to enjoy and honor friendship.

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Roasted almond and fruit tea (tastes like an almond bear claw or as Marlene says, it tastes like Apple Jacks!  Strangely, it does!)

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Lady K. decorated the table with masks and strands of beads direct from New Orleans. And no, she did not have to anything revealing to "earn" those beads! ;)

Lady K. decorated the table with masks and strands of beads direct from New Orleans. And no, she did not have to anything revealing to “earn” those beads! 😉


Roasted tomato and red pepper soup with puff twist

Roasted tomato and red pepper soup with puff twist

Mini beef Wellington; Turkey, cranberry, and brie sandwich; Cucumber and herb sandwich; Toasted ham tomato and cheese sandwich; Blue cheese mascarpone and caramelized red onion confit quiche

Sandwiches and savories: Mini beef Wellington; Tomato and Parmesan gratin tart; Blue cheese mascarpone and caramelized red onion confit quiche; Cucumber and mixed herb sandwich; and Corn muffin sandwich

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Peaches ‘n’ cream scones and fresh fruit

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Desserts (left to right): Death by chocolate cake; Strawberry cheesecake trifle; Blueberry snow bar; and Salted Florentine lace cookie

Custom shortbread cookie mask

Lady ML gave us fans (not pictured) and custom shortbread cookie masks as tea favors!

It’s time for some Mardi Gras-inspired fascinators!

img_1824 img_1812blue-fascinator1211161545aThank you Lady ML for hosting a lovely tea!  Happy Fat Tuesday!

“Mardi Gras is the love of life. It is the harmonic convergence of our food, our music, our creativity, our eccentricity, our neighborhoods, and our joy of living. All at once.”

–Chris Rose, New Orleans journalist