Sharing in Letters

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As I sat on my porch this morning getting ready to write my letter of the day, I gazed out the window and it sure looked like rain was on the way.   It wasn’t but a few minutes later that the rain did come – and a welcome visitor it was.  Hudson has been very dry lately and all the trees and plants have been mighty thirsty.

Any hour, any day, any situation,  is a good time to write a letter, but sitting peacefully while watching and listening  to the music of raindrops is an especially delightful  accompaniment to letter writing.

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I pulled out my stationary and pen, sipped my morning coffee, and enjoyed the raindrops bouncing against the flagstone as I pondered just what to say in my letter to favorite pen friend Joy.  I was answering a sweet little package she recently sent me… yes,  I mean package.  Joy is always surprising me with the creative-looking letters she sends my way.

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This time Joy put pages of blue-lined letter paper into a little white bag, the bag was decorated with delightful pictures.  This bag then went into her envelope.  It never ceases to amaze me how many different ways Joy will package her letters to me.  Such visual fun she offers all her lucky correspondents.  So what could I now send  Joy that might delight her half as much?

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Because we both enjoy cooking and baking I decided a pretty recipe card with an interesting recipe might be something Joy would like.  Yesterday I was reading a favorite blog, Poppy’s Patisserie, and I came upon a three-ingredient brownie recipe.  Many people commented on her blog saying they loved this recipe so I took it down. Besides the fact that these brownies are supposed to be delicious, they also seem very simple to make. (And we all know simplicity is truly appreciated by most people these days.)  The recipe calls for only 3 ingredients and one bowl to dirty, Yes! I thought Joy might really like this recipe. I can’t wait to try it myself  and you might like to try it too. If you do try it and like it don’t thank me, thank Poppy.  Here it is:

Nutella Brownies

Ingredients  – 1/2 cup Nutella spread, 1 large egg, 5 T. plain flour, 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts (optional)

Process  –  Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease or line 6 muffin tins with paper cups.  Wisk egg and Nutella together.  Add flour and wisk some more.  Put mixture in tins and sprinkle with nuts.  Bake 13-14 minutes.  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream

Pretty simple, huh?

I hope the recipe will please all of us, especially Joy, but I also wanted to send her another thing, a Friendship Book.  Have you ever heard of Friendship books?  Most people in the States haven’t, but my pen friends over seas seem to know all about them.  They send me Friendship books in most of their letters.

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Some Friendship Books

Friendship books come in all shapes and sizes with various looks.  They’re usually quite small, 4 x 6 inches or smaller, so they can easily be tucked into a letter envelope.  Inside the little Friendship book people put their names , addresses, a list of their favorite things, and they either say “Hello, just passing through”, or they say, “Please write me”.

The book is signed and then is sent off  in a letter to another  friend who signs the book and passes it on again.  The last page of the book will say “When full please return to”…. and the name and address of the creator will appear.  It’s really fun to see how these little books get around, and all along their travels  they give letter writers the opportunity to connect.  I have found many delightful correspondents  with the help of these little jewels.

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Some people design darling little Friendship books.  Here’s one created by my pen friend Tamra.  She lives in Portland, Orgeon.

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Take a look inside.  People fill the little books in as they please.  There are no rules.  You can create your own Friendship books any way you like.  If you  get in the habit of inserting one in each of your letters you can feel proud that you’re helping  to spread love and friendship around the world.  It’s fun, especially when, like a boomerang, your Friendship books start returning to you filled with new perspective letter friends.

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I like to create my Friendship Books using ribbon and polka dots.  If you’re one of my correspondents it’s just a matter of time before a Friendship book will arrive in a letter from me to you.

There are so many things to enjoy in life and many of them can be shared in letters.  Tasty recipes and Friendship Books are two things I especially enjoy sharing in my letters. I wonder what you like to share in your letters.  Maybe you’ll write and tell me.  I’m always open to new ideas.

So write a comment on this post.  Write a letter to me. Write a letter to someone else.

Just Write!

A letter of Joy

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One of Joy’s letters

I’m a lucky girl.  I have some wonderful pen friends, and wonderful pen friends are essential  to the full enjoyment of  the Art of Letter Writing.  This could be part of the reason why some people never fall in love with letters.   They lack quality correspondents, quality correspondents like my friend Joy.  Joy is a treasure.  She shares my love and appreciation for beauty so each of her letters is a feast for the eyes and a feast for the spirit.   Even before I read what Joy has to say I’m delighted by the sheer look of her letters.

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Joy’s letters always contain some visual surprises.  Take the envelope above.  When was the last time you received a letter addressed  to you with the individual letters of your name cut out from a magazine? Now there’s a fun idea I may have to copy in one of my next letters.  Creative pen friends give each other all sorts of fun, artistic ideas.

 I’m always saying “sharing doubles the joy’, but as you can see, sharing also doubles,  or at least stimulates, our creativity.

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Joy had been living in Switzerland until recently so she  subscribes to a Swiss magazine and she shares it with me in bits and pieces.  The above picture posted at the start of her letter, with the inviting table setting, ( which inspired me to create my own pretty table) bears the inscription – Life is beautiful,  See what I mean?  Joy is always sharing beauty in her letters – literally!

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Joy and I both enjoy cooking and baking so we’ll often exchange recipes in our letters, recipes we’ve tried and liked.  The salad above was one of Joy’s favorites.  Don’t you love cookbooks with pictures?  I sure do, so I appreciated the picture of this salad  every bit as much as its recipe –  and now I share both with you.  Why?  You know.  Sharing doubles the joy!

GRILLED VEGGIES WITH  MOZZARELLA

You’ll need: 3 red onions, 4 small tomatoes, 1 yellow bell pepper, 1-2 zucchini, olive oil, 2 mozzarella balls, lemon juice (fresh), freshly ground pepper, salt, fresh basil

To Prepare: Peel onion.  Wash veggies.  Wash basil and dry.  Slice tomatoes and onion into halves.  Slice the peppers into quarters.  Slice the zucchini.  Brush the veggies with olive oil and grill.  Leave the tomatoes off for last.  Cut up the mozzarella into small chucks.  Mix veggies, cheese and basil together on a plate.  Sprinkle olive oil and lemon juice over top and salt and pepper to your liking.  ENJOY!

Naturally a great pen friend like Joy deserves good letters in return, so I try my best to reciprocate with pizzazz.  I’ll sometimes look through my collection of art books to inspire my stationery designs for Joy’s letters.  Children’s books are especially delightful sources for inspiration.  Take this one:

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“The Little Hands Art Book” by  Judy Press.  This book may have been designed for 2 to 6 year olds, but it has lots of wonderful art ideas for those of us who happen to be a wee bit older.  Consider paper dolls.  Have you ever made paper dolls?  I hadn’t.  Somehow this skill escaped me till I recently came upon this great little book.

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Once you learn the technique of making paper dolls you can make paper anything to decorate your personal stationery – paper snowflakes, paper music notes, paper houses, or how about my paper flowers?

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These flowers were so fun and easy to make – I drew them, cut them out, painted them and then affixed them to my paper using a glue stick, allowing their petals to flutter freely in the breeze.  A little  grass drawn beneath the flowers and voilá!

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 one- of -a- kind art work for my special penfriend’s letter

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And before I seal the envelope on the letter I’m sending off to Joy I just may tuck in one of my new tested recipes.  After all, one good recipe shared deserves another, and I discovered  a great recipe for baked yeast doughnuts recently.  Here you see the donuts raising on parchment paper.  Maybe you’d like the recipe too. I’ll add it to this post.  It comes from  a wonderful blog called Maggiesonebuttkitchen or was it Poppy’s Patisserie?  Both blogs have great recipes.  If you visit either one tell them Carol Ann says hello.

IMG_4645[1]No Fry Doughnuts

Ingredients:  2 pkg. active yeast, 1/4 cup warm water, 1 and a half cups whole milk, 2 eggs at room temperature, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. nutmeg, 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, 1/3 cup shortening, 4 1/2 cups flour, 1/4 cup melted butter

process:  Dissolve yeast in warm water and mix, add milk, sugar, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, eggs, shortening and 2 cups of flour.  Mix at low speed i minute scraping bowl.  Beat 2 minutes at medium speed scraping bowl.  Stir in remaining flour and mix till smooth.  Cover.  Let rise till double.

Turn dough onto floured board.  Roll dough around to coat with flour.  The dough is soft.  Roll to 1/2 inch thickness.  Cut with floured doughnut cutter. (2 1/2 inch with 1/2 inch hole in center.)

Place two inches apart on parchment paper, cover and double in size.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes till golden.  Brush with butter and then glaze as you wish.

Glazes

Cinnamon sugar:  1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon (toss in bag)

Chocolate glaze:  4 oz. semisweet chocolate chips, 1/3 cup butter, 2 cups powdered sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla, hot water (Melt butter and chocolate, add sugar and vanilla and stir.  Add enough hot water to make glaze.

Vanilla Glaze:  1/3 cup butter, 2 cups powdered sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla, hot water

Note:  The chocolate glaze is nice with sprinkles and the vanilla glaze is nice with coconut

Happy Baking!

And so I come to the end of another visit with you.  It’s been a pleasure sharing my joy – my friend Joy, the joy I receive from her letters, and the joy I find every day in The beautiful Art of Letter Writing.

Till we meet again

TAKE JOY!

So Glad You Could Join Me For Tea and a Chat

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Sugar, Mint or lemon?

Did you notice I’m wearing the apron my former English teacher gave me at one of my last afternoon teas?  Thanks Miss Kaftan.

Now do come in,  sit down on the sofa out here on the porch

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or maybe you’d prefer to sit in a rocker.

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Just make yourself comfortable.

Modern life can keep us so on the go and it’s good to be on the go, it really is,  but not every minute!  We  are so wise to recognize our need for regular pauses in our day.  Some people never take time for themselves, poor things.  We’re enriched when we pause to take time for intellectual reflection.  Our days feel  brighter when we include others – sharing, exercising courtesy and cultivating friendships.  We grow in  peace and hope when we take time to reflect on our spiritual roots, and we’re  refreshed  when we pause from our busy work  to do a little daydreaming or to focus on the beauty that’s all around us.

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Beauty like a  birdie at the window feeder…

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Beauty like a lovely flower…

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Beauty like the nature outside our window.

It’s so nice you could join me today.  We’re both taking a break from the hustle and bustle of life.  What have you been doing today?  Maybe you’ll leave a comment at the end of this post and tell me about your day.  I’d like that.  Can I offer you a chicken croissant?

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Don’t worry about the calories.  You have to eat, don’t you?

I was in the mood to do a little baking today.  I’m  always searching for good scone recipes and today I found two.  Both recipes came from a book by Tricia Foley called Having Tea  and here it is.

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I made Buttermilk scones and Cream scones. Both turned out quite nicely.  I cut back on the salt a bit, but other than that Tricia’s recipes were the best I’ve found so far.  Here are the ingredients for both recipes:

Buttermilk Scones

1 and 3/4 cups of all purpose flour, 1 tsp. sugar, 3/4 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, approximately 3/4 cup buttermilk

Cream Scones

2 cups all purpose flour, 2 tsp. sugar, 3/4 tsp. salt, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1 cup heavy cream

The buttermilk scones bake at 450 degrees F for 8 to 10 minutes

The cream scones bake at 425 degrees F for 8 to 10 minutes

For both recipes you mix the dry ingredients, cut in the butter or liquid till a soft dough forms, then roll out on a floured board to the thickness of 3/4 to 1 inch.  Cut dough with a sharp 2 inch round cookie cutter,  bake.

AND YOU HAVE SCONES!

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Please, have one.  Have two!  I made plenty.  Add a little Raspberry jam

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and Devon cream.

When you serve scones at tea, adding  jam and Devon cream or whipping cream, it’s rightly called a CREAM TEA.  If you bake a batch of scones, leftovers can be frozen, and at a moment’s notice you can enjoy a cream tea yourself or delight any friend who pops in unexpectedly.    Of course, when was the last time you experienced drop-in company?  Sadly, the days of visiting seem to be a thing of the past. People today are too busy for such civilized pleasures.  Not me!  I am the champion of old world pleasures lost to modern times – Hosting afternoon teas, Creating handwritten letters, Calling ahead to pay a visit to a friend or relative.  Such things as these add a gracious element to life, an element that  doesn’t cost much money (if any at all), but rewards us with  a certain joy which no amount of money can buy.

Think how you would delight a friend if you popped over to their home bearing a pot of flowers or a basket of strawberries.  That’s exactly what my friend Joni brought me on her last visit.

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 This is Joni.  She is one of my intelligent friends who not only takes time for herself,  focusing on her many blessings, but she also makes time for others, doing nice things for them.  That’s a winning combination. I’m so lucky to have Joni as a friend.  I hope you have friends like Joni too,  and  I hope you are a good friend to others, making time for them.

Maybe tomorrow you’ll mix up a few pitchers of ice tea,

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call a friend or two, and invite them over

or

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buy a pot of flowers

or

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a cake

and go visiting.  Call ahead and visit a friend or relative showering them with your time and appreciation.  Sharing doubles the joy, and taking this time out in your day is well worth the effort.  But in between visits with others remember to take time for yourself – time to dream, time to putter, time to exercise your creativity, time to relax.  It’s so good for your health and it’s so good for your spirit.

And speaking of spirit, you can always enjoy tea time with God.  There’s even a book to help you with that. and here it is.

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This book is a Quiet Moments with God  devotional, published by Honor books.  If you need a little company and no one is available why not share your teatime break  with God.  This book will help.

I remember seeing an old film called The Ghost and Mrs. Muir way back when.  I loved this film and wished  I too had a friendly ghost who shared my old 1853 house, a ghost I could talk to and gain inspiration from  –  and then it hit me!  I do have my very own friendly ghost and so do you.  It’s a ghost , who though invisible, is with us all the time.  It is a very special ghost too.  It is the HOLY GHOST!

Yes, I’m a spiritual person, aren’t you?   So why shouldn’t we  invite the Holy Ghost to tea now and then just as we would invite other friends?  There’s an idea!  (BIG SMILE)  And these great ideas  do not come to us unless we  take time from our busy routines to pause and relax and ponder.

So, I’m very glad you stopped by for tea and this chat.  I was having fun with my birdies and  baking , but sharing with you made my fun even better because… you know…

Sharing doubles the joy!

So drop by again, and until then, be sure to take time out of your days to dream, to share, and to BE!

Like my Boston University tee shirt  says

B U

(That’s short for Be You!)

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.