Afternoon tea, philosophy, and me

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 As my “dead friend” Mister Rogers used to sing:

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood

a beautiful day for a neighbor

Would you be mine?  Could you be mine?

Won’t you be my neighbor” …

and join me for afternoon tea?

The dogwood tree is beginning to bloom

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I see it out my windows bringing me joy at every appearance.

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so the porch is the perfect place to entertain guests today.

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and some of the hydrangeas are changing from green to a lovely lavender color

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It truly is a beautiful day in my neighborhood, the perfect day for a tea party — but then any day is a perfect day to share with friends.

 Most times when I entertain I like to experiment with a new recipe.  Today that recipe comes from the book “Tea and Inspiration” by Mary Pielenz Hampton.

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I’ll attempt to make little tarts called “Maids of Honor”.  Legend has it that  these tarts were enjoyed very much by Henry VIII.  Supposedly, he came upon the maids of his wife Catherine eating them, so he named these tea goodies in their honor.

If these tarts were fit for a king, queen and her maids of honor I should think they would be just fine for me and my guests

So let’s gets started.

First I make the pastry by using my mother’s tried and true recipe.

2 cups flour, 1 tsp salt, 3/4 cup crisco, 5 T cold water

Mix in a cuisinart for a minute and you have a lovely pastry dough.

Now  to roll out the pastry onto a lightly floured surface and cut 3 inch circles out using a wine glass.

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Next, we place the rounds into a greased and floured muffin tin pressing the pastry to the sides.

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Now to prepare the filling

In a mixing bowl, lightly beat 2 egg yolks.  Beat in the 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of blanched ground almonds, 1 tbsp flour, and 1 tsp finely grated lemon peel or lemon zest.  Slowly add the 2 tbsp of heavy whipping cream.  Carefully spoon about 1 tablespoon of mixture into each pastry cup.

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Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the filling is set and a light golden brown color.

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 Carefully remove from tins and place on a wire rack until completely cooled.

And we have a yummy “Maid of Honor” tart.

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An up close look at the tart

With my baking finished it’s now time to organize the tea.  Because I’m not sure which teas my guests enjoy I will be offering them a selection.IMG_3072[1]

I set out four tea pots ready to be of service once my guests declare which teas they’ each prefer.

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And because I’m never sure if my baking experiment will turn out I like to have insurance.  Today the insurance is a fruit and custard tart.

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This tart along with my Maids of honor mini tarts could be enough, but being Polish and the daughter of a great hostess, I was taught to always have more than enough goodies at a party.   I purchased a few more things which I’ll slice and make ready for my guests in the hope that they will surely find something that appeals to them.

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Now that the food is under control it’s time to check that the setting is ready.  Let’s go out to the porch.

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I set out the tea cups, adjust the silver and napkins, check that the tea treats are nicely arranged and start the music.

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So you see there’s not much to planning a tea party.  Afternoon tea is an exercise in gentility and like letter writing it is almost a lost art in today’s world, but I think it is an art worth our time and attention.

Amy, one of my favorite pen friends who lives in Kingston, Pennsylvania, recently sent me a quotation.  The words are from Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher and the father of Taoism.  It reads:

“To attain knowledge, add things every day.  To attain wisdom, subtract things every day.”

Lao Tzu’s words make sense to me.  If we clear our lives of clutter and create time for learning and solitary reflection or reflection with others, we just might find our lives to be more rich, in fact GOLDEN.

Any minute my guests will be arriving.  Today I have 3 ladies invited to tea — an old friend, Barbara; a new friend, Gerry ( who happens to have been my high school English teacher.  I never knew Gerry well back then , but after meeting her at a wedding recently I thought it would be lovely to get to know her now); and Gerry is bringing a friend, Sandy. (Sandy was in my high school graduating class but we never knew each other back then).

Someone old, someone new, someone borrowed, and this time only one borrowed guest, not the usual two,  because my seating  arrangement only has room for four.  And here they are.

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I always ask my guests to be prepared to share a passion or favorite thing so Barbara brought a book of the poetry she’s written.  Barbara was a teacher and she’s a very good writer.

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Sandy talked all about the joys of being a grandmother.  She told us of her fun in babysitting  her little granddaughter.

Here you see Sandy and Gerry looking over some of my letters for I shared my delight in the Art of Letter writing.

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Gerry told us all about her mother who almost lived to be 100 years old.  Her mother’s passion was sewing and all forms of needlework so now Gerry’s passion is to find a home for all those things her mother made.  Each month she gives something away and this month it’s a pretty apron.IMG_3091[1]

Guess who gets that pretty apron?  If you guessed me, you’re right!

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Now I have that apron to wear at my next tea!  As you may know when you give good things come back to you and with this tea I gained a pretty apron.

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a lovely bowl of flowers thanks to Sandy

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and the best gift of all – new and old friends.

Back in 1895 there was talk that it was probably inevitable that the excessive nervous tension and high speed of life was bound to have a deteriorating effect on all branches of art including  the art of conversation.

They were right to worry for with time it’s only gotten worse.  Letter writing, afternoon tea, in person conversations are truly taking a hit.

But

 the good news is all these arts are still there for us.  They’re just waiting for our participation.  Take Lao Tzu’s advice and cut out some clutter, make some tea, read  an intelligent book, write a letter and/or invite some friends for an afternoon soire,

The mere chink of cups and saucers tune the mind to happy repose.

So till next time

Relax and live richly

Baking Day and Tea for Two

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Ready, Set, Bake!

I’m in the mood for a little tea party – this time a Tea for Two.  Of course this means I need to whip up a little something  to serve my guest.  Come join me in my kitchen.

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Ingredients are at hand, along with a few decorations to inspire me.  There are the two French chefs sitting in the window

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and

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eggs ,  rolling pin,

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milk,

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and  wisk  with a serving tool.

Now for the recipe

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I think I’ll try something new today.  This Apricot Swiss Roll looks yummy.  I found the recipe in a National Trust book called Tea- time-Recipes by Jane Pettigrew.

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 So let’s get started!

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I mix the eggs with the sugar

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Gently fold in the flour

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Finally placing the sponge into the prepared pan

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I probably should have mentioned the apricots earlier.  They were sliced and placed in a dish to marinate.  The recipe called for brandy, but I had cognac on hand and cognac works  just fine.

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While the sponge bakes I prepared the dish towel by coating it with super fine sugar.  As soon as the sponge comes out of the oven it is rolled in this towel with the help of a rolling pin, and set aside to cool.

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So while the sponge is cooling let’s go out to the porch and set the table

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On this early Spring day I think I’ll serve at a table tucked in the corner so my guest can enjoy a little nature while she sips and chats with me.

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You’re looking at a big old Buckeye tree and wonderful little white flowers that pop up in the lawn every April.  But back to the kitchen for us.  The sponge is now cool and ready to assemble.  (It actually takes at least 30 minutes for the sponge to cool but we’re dealing with the magic of blogging here).

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I got a little carried away with whipping cream using more than twice as much as the  recipe called for, but what can I say?  I love whipped cream.  After spreading  the cream over the sponge I applied the apricots and untoasted almonds.

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Then came the moment of truth.  Time to turn this concoction into a roll.  I take a deep breath and ROLL AWAY!

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And “Ta Da”!  Here it is

Apricot Swiss Roll

Time to take it to the table

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The table is set with my Laura Ashley Tea for Two china.  Now all I need is my guest.  I’ve invited my French friend Stephanie.  She is an excellent cook and baker so I wonder what she will think of my Apricot Swiss Roll.

And she’s arrived with one of her children – little Arpad.

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Arpad is neither interested in tea nor Swiss Almond Rolls.  He is interested in the great outdoors – so off he goes to play amidst the forsythia.

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Meanwhile back at the ranch, I mean porch, it’s time for Stephanie to taste my creation.  Will she approve?

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YES!

Stephanie gave me her culinary stamp of approval and this coming from a French woman made me proud.  Of course she would have only a small piece of my Swiss Roll.  The French are very good at appreciating and enjoying their food, but in small portions.  Besides, Stephanie is an athlete, a runner.  She wouldn’t dare overeat and get chubby!  Just look at all the medals she’s won at various marathons in the United States and abroad.

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Stephanie and I sipped, nibbled and chatted.

It was a delightful Tea for Two

and a successful Baking Day as well.

I hope you take the time for both now and then.

And just in case you’d like to make a Swiss Apricot Roll for yourself I’ll share the recipe.

Why?

You know.

SHARING DOUBLES THE JOY

Swiss Apricot Roll

For the Sponge: 2 eggs, 3 oz. super fine sugar, 3 oz. self-rising flour, sifted

For the Filling: 14oz. apricots, drained and juice reserved  1 oz. untoasted flaked almonds

                                1-2 tablespoons brandy, 1oz. toasted flaked almonds, icing sugar

To make the sponge, preheat oven to 325F.  Grease and line 7 x 11 in tin.  Beat the eggs thoroughly.  Add the sugar and continue beating till frothy.  Fold in the flour and turn into the prepared tin.  Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until sponge springs up when lightly pressed.  Remove from oven and invert the tin on to a clean tea-cloth dusted with fine sugar.  Roll the sponge immediately round a wooden rolling pin and leave to cool.  Meanwhile slice the apricots and soak in brandy.  Just before serving, carefully unroll the sponge and spread with the whipped cream.  Arrange the apricots over the top and pour on the brandy.  Sprinkle with the untoasted almonds and carefully roll the sponge up again.  Place on a serving dish, pour a little of the reserved apricot juice over the sponge, sprinkle the top with toasted almonds and dust with icing sugar.  Serve immediately.