Christmas tea at the Hotel Del

I have always wanted to have tea at the Hotel Del Coronado.  In my mind, having afternoon tea in the Crown Room at the Hotel Del must be one of the crowning jewels coveted by all who appreciate afternoon tea gems. 🙂  So when my friends N. and S. wistfully expressed their desire to have tea at the Hotel Del, I didn’t hesitate!

1220162044-largeAfternoon tea was served daily at the Hotel Del from the time it opened its doors in 1888 until the 1950s.  Today, it is only served during the week before Christmas.  If you would like to experience afternoon tea at the Del, make your reservations early (November) because seatings sell out every year.  Full payment is required for reservations with a 48 hour cancellation notice.

I could hardly wait for Tea Day!  As you can see, the description of Victorian tea at the Hotel Del is indeed very enticing!

“Take a step back in time with classic Victorian tea for the holidays. Enjoy a variety of teas, finger sandwiches and sweets while beautiful music sets the atmosphere. Ladies and gentlemen, mothers and daughters and good friends will love this charming tradition.”

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Entrance to the Del

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Front doors of the Del

The Hotel was decked out in Christmas cheer …dsc07050-large… and Hanukkah too!dsc07049-large-2According to Wikipedia, when the Hotel Del opened its doors in 1888, it was the largest resort hotel in the world.  Due to a lumber and labor shortage in San Diego at the time, the hotel would not have been realized if it had not been for lumber shipped all the way from Eureka, California and the labor of Chinese immigrants from San Francisco and Oakland.  The Crown Room was architect James W. Reid’s masterpiece.  Its massive wooden ceiling was installed completely with pegs and glue–Not a single nail was used.  Unless you are attending a special event (e.g., wedding) or Sunday brunch (which costs a hefty $93), you may never get to experience the glory of the Crown Room.  Ask me how excited I was, by the idea of having afternoon tea (a Victorian one at that!) in the Crown Room? 🙂

Crown Room (1888) (Photo from the Hotel Del website)

Crown Room (1888) (Photo from the Hotel Del website)

When we checked in with the hostess at the door for tea, we were escorted promptly to our table.  I was a bit confused upon entering the tea room.  The Crown Room was much smaller and not at all as grand as photos I’d seen.  What happened?  I know I’m getting older but my memory is still as sharp as an elephant’s. 😉

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The Coronet Room: The smaller, less spectacular “Crown Room”

As we sat down, it was difficult for me to contain my disappointment and my friends noticed.  S. inquired with the waitress about the Crown Room and much to our relief, we learned that we were not actually in the Crown Room but in the Coronet Room which is a smaller, less spectacular room next to the Crown Room.  While we were relieved to know that the Crown Room still existed and had not been re-purposed or made obsolete, we were nevertheless disappointed that we did not get to sit in the Crown Room as anticipated.  This, unfortunately, was the first of many disappointments …

dsc07065-largeAnother less spectacular sight … dozens of caddies filled with desserts, sitting out in the open room.  Pretty, but not so appetizing?  Unlike a buffet table where the food has a higher turnover, this food was displayed as part of the decoration and must have been sitting for awhile since we were the 3rd seating of the day.  The only other decoration in the room was a single Christmas tree at the entrance.dsc07068-largeThe Hotel Del is a white tablecloth establishment, but there was no fine china or proper tea cups!  Only coffee cups!

dsc07052-largeUpon seating, the wait staff (of which there were many!) offered us glasses of champagne (with a splash of raspberry chambord) and Martinelli’s (with a splash of pomegranate juice).  According to the waiter, the splash of chambord/pomegranate juice in the champagne/Martinelli’s reflected the colors of a sunset.  How very San Diego. 😉dsc07056-large

I liked the crown themed wall sconces

I liked the crown themed wall sconces

Apparently, the Hotel Del has not changed their tea menu in at least 11 years (or so that was the understanding I got from the wait staff).

NOTE: Tea costs $59/pp, not $56/pp. This does not include tax, gratuity, or parking.

NOTE: Tea costs $59/pp, not $56/pp as indicated on the menu. This does not include tax, gratuity, or parking.

The tea selection was small but the water temperature was just right for brewing loose leaf tea which made me happy.  The tea warmers kept the tea at the right sipping temperature.  I tried the black currant and Darjeeling teas (misspelled on the menu) and both were good.  I appreciated that we each got our own teapot so we could choose the tea we wanted.  My only complaint about the tea service is that the servers did not pour the first cup for us and we had to brew our own tea.  Though it is nice to be able to brew tea to my own taste, I prefer to do that at home and not to deal with tea leaves unless the tea room provides tea strainers.

dsc07071-largeThe next disappointment … the sandwiches, savories, and scones were served on plates and not caddies.  I think that took away part of the charm of afternoon tea.  There were also some tiny errors in execution that ruined an otherwise decent plate of sandwiches and savories.  Firstly, the toppings/garnish on some of the savories had fallen on the edge of the plate and the spoon with the egg salad was covered in cream on one side.  In other words, the plate looked messy (Note: I cropped the messes out of the photo).  Secondly, the herb cured salmon was excellent, probably among the best I’ve ever had.  Easily the best item on the plate, it was slightly ruined by the dried roe on top (I think it had been left out in the open for too long and had formed a hard crust on the outside).  The crab salad was a bit fishy but that seems to be par for the course because most crab savories I’ve had in tea houses have been on the fishy side.  I don’t mind briny but fishy is not appetizing.  With the exception of the cucumber sandwich, all the other sandwiches were made with toasted bread which was cold by the time it was served.  This gave the bread a crunchy chewy kind of texture that was a little hard to eat.  I also didn’t care for the golden raisin scone (raisins aside).

dsc07064-largeUnlike the sandwiches and savories, the desserts were served on caddies.  The desserts were generous and okay.  I was a little disappointed that the wait staff were not more knowledgeable about what was being served.  Sometimes, there aren’t enough wait staff in tea rooms.  At the Del, there were too many wait staff and unfortunately, all seemed equally uninformed.  They were also surprisingly casual and informal.  Again, my expectations might have been too unrealistic but for the location and the price tag of the tea ($79), I expected some basic tea serving etiquette and a little bit more formality.  On the subject of formality, I was dressed for tea (not even to the nines!) but felt overdressed.  There is something wrong about that!  It’s sad day when you’re having afternoon tea, at the Hotel Del no less, and you feel overdressed. 😦

dsc07075-largeLastly, “the beautiful music that sets the atmosphere” was a guy playing Christmas carols and popular holiday tunes on the electric guitar.  Hardly the “Victorian” or afternoon tea atmosphere or vibe I was expecting!  I had envisioned a harpist or a pianist.  Is that too cliche?

dsc07077-largeAt the conclusion of our tea, we asked for a sneak peek of the Crown Room.  I was very happy to see it was as grand as I had imagined.

Crown Room (2016)

Crown Room (2016)–the wooden ceiling constructed of pegs and glue only, no nails

Despite the disappointments, the tea prevailed where it mattered most.  As noted in the tea keepsake menu, “Afternoon tea … is the Victorian tradition of taking time to restore the body and replenish the spirit.”  Over the years, I’ve learned that the success of the afternoon tea experience is measured by the friendship and sharing that occurs over tea.  The icing on the cake is when the food, tea, service, and location come together to create that perfect experience but when it doesn’t, you can still have your cake and eat it too when you are in the company of good friends. 🙂  Thank you N. and S. for a lovely afternoon that I will always remember because of your company and friendship!

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Taking a walk behind the Hotel Del after tea

Just another boring sunny day in San Diego

Just another beautiful (boring) sunny day in San Diego.  Yes, this is winter.  Please send us your rain and snow!

The latest creations by the local Sand Castle Man:

dsc07095-largedsc07094-large dsc07096-largeWishing everyone a happy holiday!

“Teatime is, by its very nature, a combination of small luxuries
arranged in social symmetry. And although tea for one
is certainly a fine thing, the addition of a circle of dear
friends to share it with ensures the whole is larger
than its parts.”

–Author unknown

November high tea

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

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Beautiful table settings 

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

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

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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

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

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

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

The pumpkin cheesecake trifle was excellent. Tasted like fall!

The pumpkin cheesecake trifle was excellent. Tasted like fall!

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

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

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

― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

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

35th Anniversary Celebration Tea Fundraiser

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

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

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

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

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Theme: Garden

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Theme:: Garden

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Theme: Garden flowers

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Theme: Roses

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Theme: Formal

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Theme: Christmas

Theme:

Theme: Lavender hyacinth

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Theme: Eclectic garden

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Theme: Halloween

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Theme: Asian

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Theme: Black and white

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Theme: Japanese friendship

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Theme: Animal safari

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Theme: Diwali, festival of lights

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

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

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

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Mixed berry scones and fresh seasonal fruit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

St. James Tearoom

I first read about the St. James Tearoom in the November/December 2015 issue of Teatime magazine.  When I found out unexpectedly that I was visiting Albuquerque, NM in June, I couldn’t wait to make a reservation!

As soon as D. and I got off the plane, we headed straight for the St. James Tearoom.  It was dark, stormy day! 🙂  Great day for afternoon tea!0609161841-smallWhen we arrived, it took us a few minutes to locate the tearoom.  As you can see, the outside is a bit nondescript.  0609161533-smallThen we spied the entrance just beyond at the end of the parking lot.  (Yes, the weather was very strange indeed on this day although we later learned this was par for the course at this time of the year!)

0609161532-smallInside the entrance, ahhh, that’s more like it!  A sheltered courtyard, a much welcomed respite from the sweltering 98 degree heat!

0609161250-small The real surprise happens when you walk in the door … According to their website, “The purpose of The St. James Tearoom is to act as a catalyst for change in our society, toward a return to Grace, Civility, Beauty, Gentility, and Excellence.”  I heartily agree and support their mission!  We could use more of that everyday in our lives!

Tea and gift shop

Higby & Sons haberdashery

There are 10 gift “shoppes” (or sections) in the St. James Market where you can shop and browse to your heart’s content before or after your tea sitting.  My favorite shop was the Phipps & Co. Apothecary & Fine Loose Leaf Tea shop where I admired the proprietary house tea blends and resisted buying the store.  I ended up buying a tea called Persian melon white.  Here is the story of the tea in the St. James Tearoom Navigator:

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Hats and other tea accessories for guests

Hats and other tea accessories for guests

Are you lost? This signpost guides you in the right direction of your nook

Lost your way?  If so, this signpost guides you in the right direction of your destination.

0609161310-smallAs we made our way through the “shoppes,” we encountered a dress form with a sign that advised visitors to wait patiently until the appointed sitting time.  Hostesses then appeared to escort visitors to their personal, private tea room.  The owners of the St. James tearoom designed and built St. James with the intention “to maximize the guests’ feeling of being transported to a different time and place” and to that end, they succeeded!  For 2 lovely hours, we forgot it was 2016 and that we were actually in the desert.

The library

The Library (the curtains can be drawn between each space to create more private ones)

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Corridor to The nooks

One of many nooks. This one is 18 Duke St.

One of many nooks. This one is 18 Duke St.

Take the interactive tour online!

Another nook. This one is called Lea Hurst

Another nook. This one is called Lea Hurst

Munstead Wood (photo from St. James Tearoom website)–This is the nook where we enjoyed our afternoon tea!

The menu, which changes monthly, was so cute and clever.  The theme was Paddington Station and all the dishes and courses had names related to train stations.  Even more impressive was our waitress who recited the menu in one long breath with gusto and character!

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0609161335a (Small)I also appreciated that specific teas were paired with each course so we got to sample 3 different teas: Earl of St. James traditional black tea, Yin Hao jasmine green tea, and Summers’ Bounty scented black tea.  Though I sometimes like to choose the tea I want to drink, I also like the idea of having them paired specially with the foods.

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Platform 1 to Savories (served with Earl of St. James traditional black tea): Curried lamb sweet potato pastry, Station’s finest turkey & avocado sandwich, All Aboard cold pea salad, Cucumber with green olive and pecan cream cheese, and Quinoa in an endive caboose

Platform 9 3/4 to Breads (served with Yin Hao Jasmine green tea): Railway cheddar pinwheel with roasted tomatoes and St. James' traditional cream scone with lemon curd and clotted cream

Platform 9 3/4 to Breads (served with Yin Hao Jasmine green tea): Railway cheddar pinwheel with roasted tomatoes and St. James’ traditional cream scone with lemon curd and clotted cream

The food was excellent.  The Railway cheddar pinwheel with roasted tomatoes was surprisingly spicy!  I soon learned that “spicy” is the norm for New Mexican food.  So if a dish has the word “spicy” in the name, it is actually very spicy!  I enjoyed New Mexican cuisine very much and D. was happy that he didn’t have to slather his food with hot sauce.

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Platform 14 to Sweets (served with Iced Summers’ Bounty scented black tea): Tickets Please! Cherry Clafouti, Train car chocolate biscuit cake, Honey Thyme panna cotta with roasted apricot puree

We took a break in the middle of tea to read the St. James Tearoom Navigator, a coffee tea table book detailing the history, philosophy, etiquette, and specific location information of The St. James Tearoom (there was a copy in every nook).  A creative first-person narrative, the book is populated with stories, photographs/portraits, drawings, handwritten entries, ephemera, and maps.  It certainly added to the feel that we were in another place and time.

0609161353 (Small) 0609161407 (Small)When we got to the scone course, D. was very greedy and bit into his scone.  To his disappointment, he nearly lost half of it to the floor as the delicate crumb fell apart due to his rough handling.  I regretted not warning him sooner that the “proper” way to eat a scone was to break it off piece by piece.  He complained, “Why didn’t you tell me that earlier, before I made this big mess?!”  Oops!  Sorry. 😉

Really good scones! Look how fluffy they were!

Really good scones! Look how fluffy they were!  D. gave a thumbs-up to the scone.

Our favorite tea was the iced tea, Summers’ Bounty scented (peach) black tea that was served with the dessert course.  It came with a side of ginger syrup for optional sweetness.  Peaches and ginger are great together by the way!

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The iced Summers’ Bounty scented black tea was served with a side of ginger syrup. A tiny bit went a long way. The tea was great with or without sweetness.  It was a great iced tea for a hot day!

D. and I enjoyed the St. James Tearoom immensely and agreed it was very unique and worth a visit.  It was D.’s first experience with afternoon tea and I’m happy to report that it was a positive one that he would repeat again.

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Zentangle of hot air balloons inspired by Albuquerque

“A cup of tea would restore my normality.”
[Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Screenplay]”
―Douglas Adams

Sunday tea for 2

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

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

Lotus napkin

Lotus napkin

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

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

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

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

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

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Salmon salad sandwiches with arugula and lemon by J.

Salmon sandwiches

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

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

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

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Best scone I’ve ever had!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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