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.”

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.

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).

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

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! 😉

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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

VTS Autumn Tea 2015

Lady K. hosted the 2015 Victorian Tea Society Autumn Tea.

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The table settings are meticulous. See the tablecloth

invitationautumnteaI had been wanting to visit Marlene’s Tea & Cakes ever since they opened so I was excited when I learned that Lady K. had chosen to host the next VTS tea here.  DSC05862 (Small)Marlene’s is an elegant white tablecloth tea house and I appreciate the spacious interior.  I get nervous when I visit tea houses with too many china cabinets and furniture arranged in too-close-for-comfort quarters resembling Victorian parlors.grass

The next important detail was the tea.  It was brewed properly (thank you, THANK YOU!), the temperature of the tea stayed warm for a long time, and the selection was wonderful.

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Paris (black tea with bergamot and hints of vanilla and caramel). A very smooth black tea. Excellent!  I love the lady bug on the inside of this teacup!

menuOne thing I really appreciate about Marlene’s is the attention and care given to the food, its quality, its presentation, and its variety.  They change their menu monthly (not just seasonally!) which keeps customers coming back (unlike other tea houses that shall not be named)!

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Mango & Friends herbal tea, lightly sweetened by dried mango, oranges, and blossoms

Butternut squash soup

Butternut squash soup (delicious with a hint of curry!)

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Sandwiches and savories (left to right, clockwise from top): Cucumber sandwich, Blue cheese mascarpone and red onion confit quiche, Sweet & savory turkey pinwheel, Ham and sweet potato biscuit, and Mini beef Wellington.

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Fresh fruit and raspberry & white chocolate scones.  See how the fruit is so nicely cut?

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Bonus dessert: Marlene’s pumpkin bread with cream cheese frosting

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Desserts (left to right, clockwise from top): Marlene’s teacake (shortbread), Pumpkin bread, Carrot cake, Mini pumpkin pie, and Chocolate toffee trifle.

All the food was excellent.  Furthermore, Marlene was a pastry chef before she opened her tea house and it shows in the quality and creative execution of her desserts!  I don’t understand tea houses that outsource their desserts or foods. 😦

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Lady K’s tea favor (vegan gluten-free sugar cookies from Starry Lane Bakery). The fall colors and theme were a very nice touch!

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Lady M’s tea favor (Pumpkin spice potpourri)

One of the Victorian Tea Society’s traditions is to buy a gift for the hostess.  Lady K. received a Downton Abbey Christmas tea ornament from Lady T. that was particularly charming.  I had to include this here as a feast for the eyes since it possesses the hallmark of every good miniature: Details!  You will see something different from every angle!

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Downton Abbey Christmas tree ornament with silver teapot and 2 china teacups (photo by Lady J.) FRONT

Okay everyone, all together now … “Awwww … how cuuuute!!”  I know, right? 😉

Photo by Lady J.

Cucumber sandwiches and scones (photo by Lady J.) BACK

Marlene’s is definitely going down in my books as my favorite tea house!  Thank you Lady K. for hosting a wonderful autumn tea!

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St. Patrick’s Day Tea

May you always have walls for the winds,
a roof for the rain, tea beside the fire,
laughter to cheer you, those you love near you,
and all your heart might desire.

–Irish blessing

Lady T. invites you to a …

invitationLady T. hosted the first Victorian Tea Society tea for 2015, a St. Patrick’s Day tea, to ring in the first official day of spring.

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Shamrocks, gold coins, and festive polar bears

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“A four leaf clover for good luck”

DSC05295 (Small)Lady T. designed her St. Patrick’s Day tea menu to include lots of potatoes and green colored foods.menu

Green bears too!?

Green bears too!?

Lady K.'s Irish soda bread and Lady T.s' green shamrock butter

Lady K.’s Irish soda bread and Lady T.s’ green shamrock butter

D. says that only Americans make soda bread with raisins or currants.  I hate raisins in any form but I enjoyed Lady K.’s soda bread with currants!  A testament to her baking skills!

Lady T.'s potato leek soup

Lady T.’s delicious potato leek soup

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Lady B.’s spinach salad with spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, toasted pecans, feta, avocado, and warm maple Dijon dressing

The warm maple Dijon dressing was good enough to drink!

Warm maple Dijon dressing
(Adapted from Eating Well)

1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
1Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 thyme leaves (optional)
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

Whisk ingredients together and warm in a saucepan.  For best flavor, make ahead the night before and re-warm it before serving.

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Lady H.’s mini baked potatoes and Lady T.’s spinach artichoke puff pastry cups

The mini baked potatoes are a tribute to St. Brendan’s voyage.  They were made in the image of St. Brendan’s boat with a bacon sail and a savory deck of sour cream, scallions, and cheddar cheese, the ingredients comprising the colors of the Irish flag.

Now for a history lesson: Who discovered America?  Well, that depends on who you ask … the Italians/Spanish will tell you that Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492; the Chinese will tell you that ancient Chinese sailors from 2200 BC discovered America, or that Admiral Zheng He discovered America in 1421; and the Scandinavians claim that the Vikings reached America in 1000 AD.  Finally, the Irish claim that St. Brendan discovered America in 5th century.  Which theory do you support?

Spinach artichoke puff pastry cups
(Adapted from My Recipes)

1/2 (10-oz.) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 (14-oz.) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (2 oz.) shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper
45 frozen mini-phyllo pastry shells

Preheat oven to 350°. Drain thawed spinach, pressing between paper towels. Stir together drained spinach, artichoke hearts, sour cream, cream cheese, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, and a dash of freshly ground pepper. Spoon spinach mixture into pre-baked phyllo or puff pastry shells (about 2 tsp. per cup), pressing into bottom of each cup. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Serve immediately.

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Lady J.’s shamrock shaped corned beef tea sandwiches with mustard butter and cornichons

The triskele, triskelion, or Triple spiral is a Celtic and pre-Christian symbol found on a number of Irish Megalithic and Neolithic sites.  When Christianity came into the forefront in Ireland before the 5th century, the triskele took on new meaning, as a symbol of the Trinity (i.e., Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and eternity.  Its meaning can be interpreted so many ways that I cannot name them all here.  For the purposes of this tea, I declare that the triskele represents the 3 foundations of afternoon tea: Tea, Relaxation, and Friendship!

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Irish cheddar on soda bread with apple cranberry chutney (by Lady H.) and Goat cheese and fresh herb triangles (by Lady ML)

Goat cheese and fresh herb triangles
(From Tea time magazine, Sept./Oct. 2012)

2 (4-ounce) packages goat cheese, softened
1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
12 slices wheat bread, such as Sarah Lee Honey Wheat
Garnish: minced fresh parsley

In a small bowl, combine goat cheese, cream cheese, and cream, stirring until smooth. Add herbs, salt, and pepper, stirring to combine. Spread cheese mixture evenly onto 6 bread slices. Top each with a remaining bread slice.

Using a serrated bread knife, trim crusts from bread with a gentle sawing motion. Discard crusts. Cut each sandwich into 4 triangles.

Garnish by pressing additional parsley onto edges before serving, if desired.

Apple cranberry chutney
(adapted from Ocean Spray)
Yield: 1/4 cup

3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 cup peeled, diced apple
1 Tbsp. diced red onion
Pinch each: cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves
1 oz. dried cranberries

Combine ingredients in a small saucepan and cook until apples are tender, stirring occasionally.  Add water if needed for consistency.  Puree with a hand blender or leave chunky.  Serve warm or at room temperature.
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Lady T.’s double chocolate oatmeal scones with brown sugar glaze

Lady MH got into the swing of spring by serving her pistachio fruit fluff in glass cups that resembled planters and shovel shaped spoons.

Lady MH.'s pistachio fruit fluff

Lady MH.’s pistachio fruit fluff

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Lady MH.’s mint brownies–BEST BROWNIE EVER!!

Mint brownies
(from About Food)
Yield: 16

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp. water
1/4 cup fudge ice cream topping
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 tub vanilla ready to spread frosting

1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
Few drops green food coloring
1 cup powdered sugar

2 Tbsp. cocoa
1-1/2 Tbsp. water
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a heavy saucepan, melt butter with brown sugar and water. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 1 minute.  Remove from heat and blend in fudge topping with wire whisk.  Add sugar, beating well.  Then add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa and mix well.  Stir in 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips.  Grease 9×9″ square pan.

Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes or until just set. Cool completely.

In small bowl combine frosting, green food coloring, and mint extract and beat well until frosting is evenly colored. Spread over brownies in pan.

In medium bowl, combine powdered sugar and cocoa and mix with wire whisk. In microwave safe bowl, combine 2 Tbsp. butter and 1-1/2 Tbsp. water and microwave for 30-45 seconds until butter melts. Add to powdered sugar mixture and beat with wire whisk until smooth. Stir in vanilla. You may need to add more water to reach a pouring consistency. Then carefully pour this frosting over the green frosting and gently spread to cover.

Thank you, Lady T. for hosting such a grand tea!  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

“In Ireland, you go to someone’s house, and she asks you if you want a cup of tea. You say no, thank you, you’re really just fine. She asks if you’re sure. You say of course you’re sure, really, you don’t need a thing. Except they pronounce it ting. You don’t need a ting. Well, she says then, I was going to get myself some anyway, so it would be no trouble. Ah, you say, well, if you were going to get yourself some, I wouldn’t mind a spot of tea, at that, so long as it’s no trouble and I can give you a hand in the kitchen. Then you go through the whole thing all over again until you both end up in the kitchen drinking tea and chatting.

In America, someone asks you if you want a cup of tea, you say no, and then you don’t get any damned tea.

I liked the Irish way better.”

― C.E. Murphy, Urban Shaman

Diwali tea

In October, I hosted my 2nd tea for the Victorian Tea Society.  I wanted to host a tea to pay homage to one of the biggest tea drinking countries in the world: India.  I am also a big fan of Indian cuisine (especially South Indian cuisine), Bollywood, and Indian culture and religions.  I thought it would be nice to introduce the ladies to something different.
diwali invitation

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Diya on US postage stamp


Side note (11/18/16): The USPS just issued a postage stamp celebrating Diwali!  These would have added the perfect touch to my invitations!


Since I was hosting the fall tea, it was the perfect timing for Diwali.  Diwali is India’s biggest holiday, equal in importance to Christmas in the West and Chinese New Year in the far East.  Celebrated over 5 days, it commemorates the Indian new year and is celebrated by Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs alike.  The word, “Diwali,” means “rows of lights.”  Millions of clay lanterns called diya are lit all over India to signal the Festival of Lights, one of the most festive days of the holiday.  For my Diwali tea, I especially wanted to highlight the Festival of Lights and its theme of triumph of good over evil and light over darkness.

DSC04061 (Small)It is also said that Diwali is a celebration of our inner light and a time to cultivate spiritual wealth.

DSC04122 (Small)In addition to lights, it is also traditional to create rangoli designs on the floor of living rooms, on doors, or just outside the front entrance for good luck and to repel evil spirits.  A type of folk art, rangoli designs are traditionally created using rice, flower petals, sand, or flour.

I designed a peacock rangoli to welcome the VTS ladies.  I took a few liberties with the rangoli and used construction paper instead of traditional organic materials.  Also, instead of traditional diya which burn oil, I used tea lights that burned for 4 hours.  Since I planned my tea for a 4-hour sitting, I knew exactly when it was time to wrap up the Tea when the candles started burning low. 😉  As we all know, tea-loving souls like us can really go on and on and not notice the time.  Such is the delight of afternoon tea!

DSC04072 (Small)I had a lot of fun creating the menu. There were so many dishes I wanted to serve but I was mindful in choosing recipes that didn’t require too many ingredients since we all share the cooking.  I have to remember that my spice and herbs collection is excessive and that not everyone is a spice/herb junkie like me. 🙂

diwali menuI knew that my color theme would be red and gold because my dishes are red. 🙂

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See the peacock shaped napkins in the water flute glasses?

I made origami lotus flowers for the place names which were held up by a stick of cinnamon. The lotus is a popular symbol in many cultures including Indian culture.  It is also a symbol of enlightenment in Buddhist tradition so I thought it was a good choice for ringing in the new year.

DSC04125 (Small) (2)I decorated the dining area and table with many tea lights, some real, some flameless.

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Paper quilled candle holders (mock diya)

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Table setting

First course:

Sambhar by Lady Henni

Sambhar with cumin scented khakhra by Lady Henni

Lady MH's chaat salad and Lady Henni's samosa

Lady MH’s chana chaat salad and Lady Henni’s samosa

Chana chaat salad
(adapted from various recipes by Lady MH)

1 cup dried chickpeas (3 cups cooked or 2 14 oz cans)
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
3/4 teaspoon chat masala (optional, see recipe below or use store bought)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup fresh parsley or cilantro, finely chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup sliced cucumbers
6 cups mixed salad greens
Balsamic vinaigrette

Toss chickpeas with cumin seeds, cayenne, chat masala, sea salt and parsley/cilantro. Arrange cucumbers, tomatoes, and greens on a plate. Add chickpeas to top of salad and drizzle with vinaigrette.

Chaat masala
(from Lisa’s Kitchen, yields 1/4 c.)

1 Tbsp. cumin seeds
1 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
1/4 tsp. asafoetida
1 1/2 tsp. garam masala
1 1/2 tsp. amchoor (dried mango) powder
1 1/2 tsp. black salt
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/8 tsp. ground ginger

Dry roast the cumin and fennel seeds in a small frying pan over low heat for about 5 minutes or until the cumin seeds darken a few shades. Toss in the asafoetida and stir in for a few moments. Remove from heat and grind in an electric coffee grinder until powdered. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse to mix.  Store in an airtight jar away from heat and light for up to 2 months.

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Cucumber and carrot sandwiches and open faced cucumber sandwiches with mint and cilantro chutney cream cheese

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Curried chicken salad croissant sandwiches with jewel picks!

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Lady T.'s curried chicken salad croissant, Lady B.'s mint chutney and cucumber, and carrot and cucumber sandwiches

Lady T.’s curried chicken salad croissant, Lady B.’s mint chutney and cucumber, and carrot and cucumber sandwiches

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Lady K.’s shrikhand fruit custard (chopped mangoes, pomegranate seeds, pistachio nuts, and mint)

Kesar Dry Fruit Shrikhand
(adapted from iDiva.com)

2 ½ cups plain yogurt (non-fat Greek yogurt OK)
1 tbsp warm milk or water
¼ tsp saffron threads
¼ tsp cardamom powder
¼ – ½ cup confectioner’s sugar (to taste)
2 tbsp raw pistachio nuts, skinned and chopped

Put yogurt in cheesecloth and hang it up for 4 to 5 hours to drain the whey.  Soak saffron in milk or water for 30 minutes.  Whisk the drained yogurt, sugar, saffron milk, and cardamom together till the mixture is smooth and creamy.  Chill and serve with nuts and fresh chopped fruit.

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Lady J.’s ginger scones

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Coconut burfi and raw cashew chocolate chip cookie dough bites

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Tea favors: Homemade masala chai in an apothecary jar

As a fun activity, I painted henna designs for some of the ladies.

henna2DSC04056 (Small) (2)DSC04098 (Small)henna3I really enjoyed hosting my 2nd VTS tea and already have ideas for my next tea!

During this auspicious festival of lights, may the glow of joy, prosperity, and happiness illuminate your life and and your home.  Wishing you a Happy Diwali!  Namaste.

Om Asato Ma Sad Gamaya
Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya
Mrityor Ma Amritam Gamaya
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

Lead us from untruth to truth
From darkness to light
From death to immortality
Om Peace Peace Peace

–Diwali prayer