The Royal Wedding Afternoon Tea

Lady MH hosted the spring tea for the Victorian Tea Society at Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe and Afternoon Tea.  Months in the planning, Lady MH reserved the entire tea room for 15 lucky guests to revel in a Royal Afternoon Tea to celebrate the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.  Since the tea was held on Sunday, May 20, many of the ladies spent the previous day watching the nuptials on TV before taking their hats off to (or putting their hats on, as the case may be) Prince Harry and Meghan at the tea party!

The timing of the Royal Afternoon Tea party not only coincided nicely with the wedding event itself but Lady MH somehow managed to arrange for some English weather too!  Though we didn’t get rain, the May gray was too good to be true!

The table settings were elegant and simple in style, just like Meghan

Lady MH’s gifted all the guests with crown brooches (not pictured), pocket mirrors (not pictured), and this exquisite royal crown cookie by Penny’s Custom Cookies. I think this Penny’s best design yet!

I really love this idea! These alphabet beads identify the type of tea in the teapot. It certainly takes the guess work out of which tea goes in which teapot!

All guests got their own pot of tea. Guests can choose to sample any tea in the Corner Shoppe.

The tea party commenced with the singing of the English national anthem, “God save the Queen.”  Since this was an English-American wedding, I wondered why we didn’t dispense with all tradition and also sing the “Star spangled banner” …?  However, the menu was an English-American fusion of tea delights so all was forgiven for this little oversight. 😉

NOTE: The photos that follow reflect only the vegetarian menu.  Overall, I enjoyed the vegetarian menu very much but I want to point out that Shakespeare’s also offers a vegan menu!  Had I known, I would have chosen the vegan menu since that option is not usually available at tea houses.

Stilton port pate with pickled beetroot and toast points

The roast chicken vol au vent was an homage to the royal couple’s engagement day since Prince Harry proposed to Meghan Markle over a roast chicken dinner.  The vegetarian version of the roast chicken vol au vent was filled with roasted vegetables!

Left, clockwise: Egg salad with coriander, brie cranberry quiche (hidden), cucumber and mint butter, roasted vegetable vol au vent, English cheddar and arugula, vegetarian sausage rolls, and in the center, Branston pickle (which, by the way, was not vegetarian)

Branston pickle, a sweet and sour chutney or relish of chopped vegetables (traditionally: carrots, rutabaga, cucumbers, and cauliflower) in a “brown sauce,” was served as an accompaniment to the sausage rolls.  I had never had it before and it was sweet, sour, and crunchy with the distinct flavor of Worcestershire sauce which, by the way, is not vegetarian.  I don’t know for certain whether the Branston pickle served here actually contained Worcestershire sauce because I didn’t get a chance to ask but it certainly tasted like it.  Just a heads-up!

I was so happy to get a vegetarian sausage roll!

Excellent scones and real clotted cream!

Fresh fruit course

The selection of desserts were wonderful in concept and execution and appropriate to the theme of the royal wedding.  That said, those of you who know me will appreciate the irony of the selections:

  • Syllabub: Syllabub was included on the menu as a tribute to tradition.  Originating in the 16th century, syllabub is a quintessential English dessert that consists of whipped cream with sugar and wine (in this case, it was Champagne).  I think I was the only one who could taste the Champagne. 😉
  • Banoffee pie (banana and toffee pie): The inclusion of banoffee pie on the menu was a nod to Prince Harry’s fondness for everything banana.  Apparently, the royal couple almost ordered a banana wedding cake which, in my opinion, sounds even worse than fruitcake!
  • Princess tiara shortbread: Everyone’s favorite British (Scottish to be exact) biscuit but my least favorite cookie! 😦

Champagne syllabub, banoffee pie, and princess tiara shortbread cookies

To end the Royal Wedding Tea celebration, all guests were served a “slice” of Prince Harry and Meghan’s wedding cake, lemon elderflower cake with lemon buttercream frosting.

Lemon elderflower wedding cupcake

This Royal Wedding tea party boasted the largest attendance of any Victorian Tea Society event to date.  Members and friends of the Victorian Tea Society came together to share the experience of afternoon tea which this plaque in the Corner Shoppe summed up quite completely.  Thank you Lady MH and co-hostess, Lady K., for hosting a royal occasion that will be remembered for years to come and congratulations to the royal couple!

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Spring tea in a cottage

Happy spring!  As a token of her gratitude for helping her co-host her Tea tasting party earlier this month, Lady B. treated a few of the VTS ladies to afternoon tea at the Julian tea & cottage arts tea room.

Bright and cheery white and yellow daffodils painted our way to Julian, a 19th century gold rush era mining town located in the Cuyamaca Mountains in San Diego County.  Its current residents live 45 minutes from the nearest supermarket and 1 hour from the nearest movie theater.  I had never been to Julian in the spring so this was a rare treat.

Julian Tea & Cottage Arts

Established in 1995, the Julian Tea & Cottage Arts occupies a historic house built in 1898 for Clarence King, son of the gold miner George Valentine King.  King struck gold in 1871 and founded the Golden Chariot Mine, the second most productive in the Julian area.  The house served as the King family’s residence until 1927 when Mrs. King sold it to their daughter, Lucy Bell, for $10.

I last visited the tea room 5 years ago and with the exception of the scones and the fun tea shop, there was little to entice me back for a 2nd visit.  Fortunately, things can change in 5 years and I’m happy to say that there was marked improvement in several areas, most notably, their sandwiches and service.

Sandwiches (left to right, clock wise): Olive cream cheese (open face), toasted sharp cheddar with chives (open face), cucumber, egg salad, salad and hummus (croissant), chicken salad (croissant)

I ordered the vegetarian menu which was very good.  On this visit, their menu was all vegetarian by default except for the croissant chicken salad which was replaced by a salad and hummus croissant.

In addition to afternoon tea and scones, the Julian Tea & Cottage Arts tea room also offers a lighter lunch menu for walk-ins, smaller appetites, or for those who don’t have the luxury of sitting down for afternoon tea.  Their lunch offerings are named for some of the historic players in the history of the King House, including George Valentine King, Drew Bailey, and Lucy Bell.  Their soup du jour on this occasion was pumpkin soup.

Lady B. ordered the Lucy Bell lunch: Half a sandwich with a green salad or soup, and tea

Their scones are still as excellent as I remembered: Crispy on the outside, warm and fluffy on the inside.  I would have preferred Julian apple butter or jam but the cherry blood orange jam was interesting.  Also, their lemon curd is made in-house!

Perfect scones!

While I was impressed with their cheesecake dessert on my last visit, I did not care for their bread pudding dessert.  However, this is more of a personal preference because I have yet to meet a bread pudding I actually like!  It’s simply not one of my favorite desserts so I cannot even tell you if this was a good version.  Overall, the tea service itself was excellent.  I was really happy with their tea, food, and service!  The tea server was friendly, professional, and knew exactly what she was talking about.  The tea itself was properly brewed (as it was last time) and kept hot.  The quality of the food was a vast improvement over my first visit.

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Bread pudding

I can’t end this post without mentioning a cute tea thing.  Lady B. was carrying a most curious purse!  I thought, why is she carrying a teapot around?  Then she revealed it was a purse or “tea bag” by Parisian designers, Pylones!  I love the little details such as the tea bag tag button closure and the lid flips up to reveal a compact mirror.

CUTE TEA THING: Tea bag from Pylones

Thank you Lady B. for treating us to a lovely and memorable spring afternoon!  It was absolutely my pleasure and privilege to help you host a tea.

Tote bag in the Julian tea & cottage arts shop (photo by Lady J.)

Tea tasting party

Lady B. hosted a tea tasting party for the Victorian Tea Society winter tea, our first tea of 2018!  She set the stage with this cute teapot invitation that required lifting the lid to learn the details: Lady B. would provide all the food but the guests were to bring a teapot and share their favorite tea!

As always, Lady B. welcomed her guests with inviting signs leading up to her house.  It’s always a new adventure to visit her as there is always something new to see in her garden!  On this visit, I spied some joyful signs:

Inside, Lady B. decorated the house and tea table with teapot and teacup themes for her tea tasting party.  See if you can spot them all in the following photos!

The tea tasting was a grand affair with 7 different teas and the stories that went along with them!
Lady B: Rooibos (A friend introduced Rooibos to Lady B. and it has since become her favorite tea!)
Lady K: She first tried Scottish caramel pu-erh when trying to reduce her coffee habit and learning of its weight loss benefits.
Lady J.: She first tried Lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) tea (herbal) at a tea house that had its own lemon verbena bush.  Lady J. was so impressed that she now harvests her own lemon verbena leaves from her garden.
Lady S.: She first encountered Sunny slopes (herbal with apple, kiwi, orange peel, rose petals, and strawberry) at a coffee cart.  She had been suffering from a sore throat and the owner recommended Sunny slopes.  It’s now her favorite tea!
Lady T.: Chocolate mint rooibos (Lady T. really prefers ginger peach tea but was not able to get her hands on her favorite brand so she brought her 2nd favorite tea)
Lady M: Genmaicha (green tea) is special to Lady M. because it’s the tea that she was served when she was welcomed and married into her Japanese family.  The tea, while very delicious, is her favorite because of its sentimental value.
Lady H: Read about Yogi tea (black tea) to see why it’s one of my favorites.  On a side note, my everyday go-to breakfast tea is Yorkshire Gold (black tea).

The teas were all delicious but wait until you see the foods!  Lady B. made all the food herself!  Having hosted a few tea parties myself, I can tell you that this is a Herculean task to attempt on one’s own (Note: I do not recommend this!).  The time and attention that Lady B. put into this tea party is no small feat.  She did a beautiful job!

I love the quilled rose at the top of the menu

Creamy broccoli soup with brown rice and teapot shaped toast

Spring lettuce cucumber salad with Boursin cheese and Rooibos tea

Crustless quiche with tomatoes and asparagus

Grilled veggies (red pepper, olives, mushrooms, artichokes) on French baguette toast with herbed cream and goat cheese

Veggie bean teapot on Muenster cheese toast

Sandwiches, left to right, clockwise: Veggie bean teapot on cheese toast, Cucumber carrot on rye, Grilled marinated veggies on French bread, Artichoke hummus turkey roulade with havarti cheese and asparagus, Avocado egg salad canape on spelt bread

Lady B. experimented with making her scones in advance by shaping and freezing them.  They looked perfect out of the freezer but they did not rise during baking.  According to the King Arthur Flour website (must read!), chilled/frozen scones will yield a higher rise and should be allowed to “thaw” only as long as the oven is preheating.  I think the experiment is worth repeating and I appreciate Lady B. blazing the way with new baking techniques!

Although, as Lady B. pointed out, they did end up looking a bit like teapots AND they were delicious! 🙂  Everyone devoured them enthusiastically.  The homemade lemon curd was also excellent!  After the scones course, Lady B. announced we were going to have dessert outside in the garden and gazebo!

In the gazebo, the pink (Lady B.’s favorite color!) and white table was replete with parasols in addition to teapots and teacups.  It was such a cute theme!

The ladies outdid themselves with the hostess gifts, as Lady B. was very touched by them all.

Cross stitch by Lady T.

CUTE TEA THING: Tea charm bracelet by Lady S.

And last but not least, Lady B. had a surprise gift for each of us: customized cross stitched tea towels!  Each one was unique.  This one is mine and the design is very me, don’t you think? 🙂

“Something special for someone special”

Thank you Lady B. for your time and care in creating the beautiful tea towels and for hosting a memorable and delectable tea tasting party!  I look forward to sipping tea with you again soon.

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

Over the Rainbow Tea

Today is the 78th year anniversary of the film, The Wizard of Oz.  Since its release on August 25, 1939, The Wizard of Oz has been viewed by more people than any other movie.  Nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 1940, it got edged out by Gone with the wind in one of the toughest Best Picture races in Oscar history!

Last weekend, Lady MH hosted her Over the Rainbow Tea for the Victorian Tea Society’s summer tea, paying tribute to this beloved film based on the book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)!

A motley cast of characters (Dorothy, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Wicked Witch Elphaba, a munchkin, Glinda the Good Witch, and the Mayor of Munchkin City) arrived to find Lady MH’s humble abode transformed into the magical Land of Oz!  She left no detail unturned.

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Lady J. pointed out that there is a real Land of Oz in Valley Center, CA with streets called Emerald City Dr., The Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy Lane, and Wizard Way!  There is even a Camino de Oro (Golden road).  No … Lady MH does not live here!

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Emerald City green salad by Lady K

“It’s a twister!  It’s a twister!”

Mini twister chicken salad sandwiches by Lady MH (like the tornado stuffed croissants?)

Wicked cucumber sand-witches by Lady SL

Follow the yellow brick road …

“Oh, dear! Oh, dear!” cried Dorothy, clasping her hands together in dismay. “The house must have fallen on her. Whatever shall we do?”

Petite twice baked “house” potatoes by Lady Henni

Petite twice baked “house” potatoes
(From the Kitchen of Lady Henni)
Serves 8

8 petite potatoes
2 Tbsp. cream cheese
1 Tbsp. Parmesan Cheese
1/4 tsp. pepper
Few leaves of kale
Salt, to taste

Bake or boil the potatoes until a fork easily pierces the flesh.  Add the kale leaves to the potatoes just until wilted.  Drain potatoes and kale.

If the potatoes are small, make a V-cut into the tops of the potatoes and remove the cut potato.  If the potatoes are a little big, cut them in half.  Using a teaspoon, scoop out the potato to create a “bowl” and reserve to make mashed potatoes.

Season the mashed potatoes with cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, pepper, and salt to taste.  Add more cream cheese or water/milk as needed to get desired consistency.  Fill the potato “bowls” with the mashed potato using a piping bag or spoon.  Reheat or bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 mins. until tops are browned and potato is heated through.

Wizard of Oz mushroom delight by Lady SH

Wizard of Oz mushroom delight
(from the Kitchen of Lady SH)
Serves 8

1 1/2 lbs. white button mushrooms
1 Tbsp. olive oil
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 Tbsp. white miso
Chopped parsley, thyme, and basil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Mix butter, olive oil, and white miso together and toss mushrooms in the mixture until coated.  Roast the mushrooms at 425 degrees for 1/2 hr. until the juices run.  Garnish mushrooms with the chopped herbs.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately, or at room temperature.

Rainbow fresh fruit cup by Lady J.

Lemon curd, cream, and scones, Oh my!

“We must be over the rainbow!  Now I … know we’re not in Kansas anymore!”

“Over the rainbow” surprise dessert by Lady KM.  I love this complete themed dessert!  Follow the yellow brick lemon bar, over the rainbow cake, to the Emerald City cookie.

Lady KM is the talent behind this impressive rainbow jelly roll cake.  These bright colors were achieved using gel food coloring or Wilton icing gels that were mixed into separate batches of cake batter.

Custom shortbread cookie by Penny’s Custom Cookies

Afternoon tea charms!  Hostess gift from Lady ML

Red slipper yoga socks! Hostess gift from Lady Henni

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you Lady MH for hosting an enchanting afternoon!  I enjoyed my journey to the Land of Oz with the whole gang and hope our paths cross again very soon … (will there be a sequel?!).

My favorite quotation is (of course) …

Hostess gift from Lady KM

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Movie Idols and Classic Films Tea

You are invited to a Movie Idols and Classic Films Tea!  Lady T. hosted the 2nd Victorian Tea Society tea of 2017 with a show-stopping, star-studded event.

Oh yes!  We got the red carpet treatment …

… and, of course, there were surprise appearances by A-list celebrities from the past and present!

Lady J. and I arrived on the red carpet first and as we made our way out of our “limousine,” a pair of familiar feet suddenly appeared before us!

Lady J. exclaimed, “Hey, WHERE did YOU come from?!”  Indeed, it was as if Mary Poppins suddenly dropped down from sky, Lady S. was so light on her feet!  It was truly a magical (and spooky) moment!

One by one, the stars began arriving.  Can you name the following stars, movies, and/or characters who showed up to Lady T.’s party?

Megan Follows (Anne of Green Gables), Alicia Silverstone (Clueless), Rosalind Russell (Auntie Mame), Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), June Allyson, Chinese movie star on vacation (Zhang Ziyi), Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins)

Inside at Party Central, touches of Hollywood graced the sky, walls, table, trees …

During our meet and greet, Lady T. served up delicious cocktails worthy of any Hollywood party!

 

 

When Lady T. initially announced she was going to host a “Movie Idols and Classic Movies Tea,” I asked her to define “classic.”  Lady T. told me that for the purposes of her tea, the term “classic” could refer to any decade.

When I hear “classic movie,” my mind conjures the Golden Age of Hollywood from the silent era to the talkies and technicolor … movies such as Dracula, Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, movie stars such as silent film stars, Louise Brooks, Charlie Chaplin, and Lillian Gish, or the 1950s and 1960s glamour of Katharine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, or Elizabeth Taylor.  Regrettably, I haven’t seen many “classic movies” mainly because they were shown on TV late at night, when I was already in bed (all good children are in bed by 8pm, right?).  However, I was not completely deprived because I did manage to catch The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, and various Shirley Temple movies enough times to be able to recite or sing lines from those movies, which is a testament to how often certain movies are rebroadcast on TV, and always during the holidays.

Shirley Temple (date and source unknown)

Flower Drum Song (1961)

Mei Li (Miyoshi Umeki): “You smell good. You wear incense to scare away evil spirits?”
Linda Low (Nancy Kwan): “Oh no, to attract them!”

Flower Drum Song Orange Oolong Tea (photo by Lady J.)

I love Lady T.’s nod to Nancy Kwan with this Oolong tea and beautiful teapot.  While doing some research for this post, I came across an article, “Talk tea & see” in Time magazine (April 11, 1960), on a Nancy Kwan fansite (claims to be official) that I thought was about Nancy Kwan and tea (wow, what were the chances?).  The article made my jaw drop and I can’t resist including it here because I could scarcely believe what I was reading (say whaaaat?!):

Wonton-sized Nancy Ka Shen Kwan (5 ft. 2 in., 104 lbs.) is the most delicate Oriental import since Tetley’s tender little tea leaves. Last week 20-year-old Nancy was before the cameras in London filming The World of Suzie Wong, and from the first frame the part fitted like her own freckles. Furthermore, the new “yum-yum girl” has saved the movie … Lest anyone have any doubts that her East-West blend can stand comparison with Hollywood’s well-known brands, company flacks have already hastened to announce that under her high-buttoned cheong-sam (the Chinese sheath with the slit skirt), she is the equal of any Occidental. But Nancy promptly corrected the claim that she has “the ample bosom of the Nordics.” Said she demurely: “It is big for the Chinese, enough for the English, maybe small for Italians.”

Nancy Kwan in Flower Drum Song (1961)

A reflection of old Hollywood (or just Hollywood!), it is pretty crazy to think that this was considered a “compliment” at the time.  Sadly, the pressure and expectation for women to play by certain rules in order to be successful, accepted, or validated are still alive today, not just in Hollywood but in general.  The more things change, the more they stay the same?  Old wine in new bottles?  Alas, I could go on and on but this subject is technically inappropriate for pleasant afternoon tea conversation so let’s get back to Lady T.’s tea!

To test our movie knowledge, Lady T. unveiled a game to see how many movie quotations we could identify.  I got only 5 of the following correct.  Our special guest, Lady C. was a real movie buff and her impressive movie knowledge earned her 11 correct answers!  Congratulations Lady C.!  Playing games inevitably made us hungry (especially the sole “man” of the party, Harrison Ford), and Lady T. started off the celebrity tea with Elizabeth Taylor’s favorite, Chasen’s chili.  According to Hollywood folklore, in 1962, Elizabeth Taylor paid $200 to have 10 quarts of chili from Chasen’s Restaurant in Hollywood shipped to Rome, where she was on location filming Cleopatra.

Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Raintree County (1957)

Elizabeth Taylor Chasen’s Chili–by Lady T.

An American in Paris (1951)

Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly): “That’s, uh, quite a dress you almost have on. What holds it up?”
Milo Roberts (Nina Foch): “Modesty.”

An American in Paris (Strawberry Romaine Salad)–by Lady S.

Sandwiches (Cool Hand Luke Egg Salad Sandwiches, Gregory Peck Ratatouille Sandwiches (Veggie Sandwich), Chinatown Sesame Cilantro Sandwiches, The Wizard of Oz Cucumber Sandwich

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Dorothy (Judy Garland): “Someplace where there isn’t any trouble … do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It’s not a place you can get to by a boat or train. It’s far, far away… behind the moon… beyond the rain.  Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high …”

The Wizard of Oz cucumber sandwiches (to get paper-thin bread, use a rolling pin to flatten sandwich bread)–by Lady ML

Chinatown (1974)

J.J. “Jake” Gittes (Jack Nicholson): “Listen, pal. I make an honest living. People only come to me when they’re in a desperate situation. I help ’em out. I don’t kick families out of their houses like you bums down at the bank do.”

Chinatown cilantro sesame sandwiches–by Lady J.

The actress, Bea Arthur, was a vegetarian and this mushroom toast was her preferred way to start her day, every day.

Bea Arthur’s Vegetarian Breakfast (by Lady B.) and Claudette Colbert Cheese & Olive Puffs (by Lady K.)

Claudette Colbert

Splash (1984)

Remember the scene in Splash when Madison (Daryl Hannah) digs into the lobster at the restaurant? 🙂

Alan (Tom Hanks): … I do wanna talk about what happened in the restaurant.
Madison (Daryl Hannah): Oh, I am sorry, that’s how we eat lobster where I come from.

Splash- Shrimp — by Lady T.

Annie Hall (1977)

Annie Hall (Diane Keaton): “It’s so clean out here.”
Alvy Singer (Woody Allen): “In Beverly Hills, they don’t throw their garbage away — they turn it into television shows.”

Annie Hall Carrot & Pineapple Muffins with Lemon–by Lady T.

Tea at Five (2002)

Tea at Five was a one-woman play, written by Matthew Lombardois, based on Katharine Hepburn’s autobiography, Me: Stories of my Life (1991) which included stories about her life at the Fenwick estate, her family home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, where afternoon tea was a daily ritual.

Katharine Hepburn with tea and brownies? (unknown date and source)

Katharine Hepburn: “Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.”

Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies–by Lady Henni

American chef, Ruth Reichl, claims, “The best recipe I have for brownies comes from a friend who got it from a magazine about Katharine Hepburn. It is, apparently, her family’s.”

Katharine Hepburn’s brownies
(from Epicurious)

1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
2 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Melt together 1 stick butter and 2 squares unsweetened chocolate and take the saucepan off the heat.
2. Stir in 1 cup sugar, add 2 eggs and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and beat the mixture well.
3. Stir in 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt. (In the original recipe, 1 cup chopped walnuts is added here as well.)
4. Bake the brownies in a buttered and floured 8-inch-square pan at 325°F for about 40 minutes.  You can cut these brownies into squares, once they have cooled.

Or you can try my vegan gluten-free brownies…

Vegan, gluten free brownies
(yields 16 brownies)

2 Tbsp. unsalted almond butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 chia eggs (2 tablespoons ground chia* + 6 tablespoons water, whisked)
1/2 cup finely ground, blanched almond flour
3/4 cup chocolate chips

* NOTE: 1 Tbsp. chia seeds = 2 Tbsp. ground chia seeds. Can also use ground flax.

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.  Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil. Set aside.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together almond butter, sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, and chia eggs, using a spoon.
  3. Add cocoa powder, almond flour, salt, and chocolate chips to the wet mixture and mix with a spoon until incorporated.
  4. Pour batter into pan.  Smooth batter into an even layer.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool for 1-2 hours. Slice into 16 brownies. Enjoy!

La Dolce Vita (1960)

Journalist: “What do you think you like most in life?”
Sylvia (Anita Ekberg): “I like lots of things. But there are three things I like most. Love, love and love.”

Anita Ekberg’s Swedish apple cake–by Lady C.

Gone with the Wind (1939)

Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh): “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”

Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)

Gone with the Wind Strawberry Rhubarb Fool–by Lady T.

We certainly had some great movie conversations and I got a list of everyone’s favorite movies so I can watch them later on Netflix. 🙂  Thank goodness for Netflix because I would not be able to see classic movies otherwise!  Even when brick ‘n’ mortar video rental stores were the norm, classic movies were still in short supply.

Lady B.–Little Women (1949)
Lady C.–Auntie Mame (1958)
Lady Henni–American Beauty (1999)
Lady J.–Anne of Green Gables (1985)
Lady K.–Clueless (1995)
Lady ML–Arsenic and old lace (1944), An affair to remember (1957)
Lady S.–Blade runner (1982)
Lady T.–Gone with the Wind (1939), In the heat of the night (1967)

What is your favorite movie of all time?

Thank you Lady T. for hosting a memorable and fun tea for the ages!  It was an honor to have tea with your famous friends–I learned so much and ate too well! 😉

Just for fun, I came across these entertaining “Cup of fame” tea bag holders.  Go ahead punk, make my tea!

I’ll end this post with a quotation from D.’s favorite movie …

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick): “Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

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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! 🙂

Fairy crossing

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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Click to enlarge

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!

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).

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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