Tea and Hospitality

Tea – a hot drink that is made by steeping the dried leaves of tea plants in boiling water.

Hospitality – the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests.

Put these two together and what do you get?

The Afternoon Tea Party

Even though I love coffee and drink coffee all through the day when the afternoon rolls around it’s time for tea. There’s something about the tea ceremony that is just too civilized and gracious not to be enjoyed daily, but to host an afternoon tea is especially wonderful because it’s a way to visit with old friends, encourage friendship with the new people you meet while also enjoying your own afternoon tea.

To host an afternoon tea all you really need is the tea and a friend, but of course you can add as much to the occasion as you like. Because I enjoy working with food I usually serve three things at my teas – a sandwich of some kind, scones, and a dessert,

The sandwiches at my last tea were cucumber

Cucumber, butter, salt and pepper on white bread

The scones served were one of my favorites – Cream scones with orange butter.

The Cream Scone recipe – 2 c, flour, 1/3c. sugar, 1 Tbsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2c. currants, 1 c. heavy cream. Process: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Stir together the first 5 ingredients. Gradually stir in the cream. Gather the dough together and knead lightly on floured board. Pat to 1/2 inch thick. Cut with 2 inch cutter dipped in flour. Arrange on ungreased baking sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. You can glaze the scones with a creamy mixture of 1/2 c. powdered sugar, 1 tsp. orange zest and about 1 Tpsp. of frsh o.j.

Orange butter is easy to make. Beat together 1 stick of unsalted butter (softened), 2 Tbsp. frozen o.j. concentrate, with the zest of 1/2 orange, 1/4 plus 1 Tbsp. powdered sugar. Smooth into ramekin and smooth top.

Yum

For dessert at this tea I whipped up a plate of creme puffs. I like to fill them with coconut creme pudding mixed with whipped cream.

Of course you could invite friends over and simply serve a cup of tea with a smile and friendly conversation. Sometimes I do just that. Food is not always necessary. It’s opening your home to friendship that’s most important and it’s good to know that serving tea is healthful as well as good-tasting. It’s a gormet bargain. Most teas cost only four or five cents a cup, and even the very rarest varieties are only about fifty cents – so go ahead and buy the best.

You can serve your tea at the sofa, on a little tray between two easy chairs, or at a table – anything goes. Whatever works in your home is the perfect thing for you. I like to serve in different rooms each month, use different china, different linen, different everything for each of my teas. I try to fully utilize my spaces and enjoy using all the things I’ve collected over time.

My Autumn tea was larger than usual. I invited five guests, all neighbors. I usually keep my tea parties small – one, two or three guests, but occasionally I’ll host up to five guests and I’m the sixth. Larger teas need larger tables.

A centerpiece is often flowers or something from nature. For this tea I chose Autumn leaves.

I used a favorite set of china from France. How I love French things. The napkins were old and delicate to co-ordinate with the cutwork placemats. It’s all art, putting a table together.

Each place setting welcomes my guests.

My guests arrived one by one and until they all were here we sat in the library and chatted.

Once the last guest arrived the tea party began. We went to the table and the rest was history. Afternoon tea is a pleasantly nostalgic and remarkably enduring custom. An hour whiled away with tea treats, music, conversation, and late afternoon light is a wonderful way to slow the pace of our busy world and recapture the sense of well-being that we need to carry on with the rest of our days.

Afternoon tea is also a great way to enrich our old friendships and cultivate new ones.

Take a break each day for your own afternoon tea and partake in the age old Art of Hospitality inviting others into your home now and then too.

It’s wonderful fun. Take it from me . . .

The “Spirit” of Hospitality

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It’s October and Autumn is in the air.  Spirits are in the air too.  There’s one particular little spirit that flutters back and forth past the porch of my 1853 Jeremiah Brown House. It’s a little white ghost. Whenever I see this ghost my thoughts wander off to a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  The poem is called Haunted Houses.

“All houses wherein men have lived and died are haunted houses…there are more guests at table than the host invited…my friend at fireside cannot see the things I see nor hear the sounds I hear.  He but sees what is, whereas unto me all that has been is visible and clear.”

Another type of spirit that is visible and clear to me is the Spirit of Hospitality.  Hospitality.   I think it’s  a wonderful thing, defined as the act or practice of receiving and entertaining strangers or guests in a friendly or generous way.

Strangers or guests

Do you entertain guests and even strangers too?  I do.  At many of my afternoon teas I ask guests to bring a friend. In this way I have the fun of meeting new people, and this makes me think of those words from the bible talking about the possibility of strangers being angels in disguise.

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We’re always told to love our neighbor, but one can’t love a person they don’t know, and in order to really get to know someone it’s necessary to spend time together… time spent chatting and sharing.  We can do this chatting and sharing in all sorts of ways and in all sorts of places.  I get to know many people from all around the world through the art of letter writing,  but I also enjoy getting to know people through in person visits and my favorite place for these visits is in my very own home.  That’s because . . .

 

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Home is where the heart is

Many of us work hard to make our house a home.  We fill our house with things we love.  We clean and polish, decorate according to our own unique taste, and in this way we express ourselves.  Our home captures our spirit.  Even if we’re not present a visitor can walk into our house and get a real sense of who we are.

So

if we’re trying to get to know people better and we want them to get to know us,  I think inviting them into our home is the best way and place in which to cultivate and grow friendship.  I’m surprised so few people share my thinking.  Don’t you enjoy being invited to someone’s home – for dinner, tea, cocktails or anything?   I sure do, and I equally enjoy doing the inviting.

I love to host intimate events where good conversation abounds.  Cooking and baking are two of my favorite things so it’s great fun for me to plan a dinner, luncheon or tea,  but even if cooking and baking are not your favorite things it’s still easy to entertain.   So why don’t more people share my thinking?  I wish I knew.  It’s not so much about food as it is about the sharing of spirit.

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Joy and Carol Ann

Recently I had a delightful day of sharing with one of my pen friends.  Meet Joy.

I first met Joy through The Letter Exchange, an organization for letter writers.  She was living in Switzerland at the time, but later she moved to South Carolina.  Through letters we’ve been sharing for years and getting to know each other very well.  We’ve become kindred spirits entirely through our letters.  But what a thrill when Joy told me she’d be passing through my town and wanted to stop by for an in person visit. How delightful!

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The day of Joy’s visit arrived.  I made  a batch of my cream scones with raspberries and whipped cream, pulled out my Laura Ashley Tea for Two china and strolled around my house and garden deciding where we should settle in to do our sharing.

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The weather has been beautiful this Autumn so I decided we should have our tea and conversation outdoors on the porch and since it would just be the two of us why not choose the small, open porch with a view of nature.

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I set a small cloth on the table and proceeded to arrange the china, going out to the garden to snip a rose and some mint and lavender. Nothing like flowers and herbs.  I wanted everything to be pretty for my friend.

Here, in this peaceful setting, we could talk and listen to each other, deepening our friendship.

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It’s not necessary to fuss with settings – food, china, flowers,  but I think these things are a very nice touch.  They can help in creating a very pleasant situation for a friend’s visit and can only help to make that friend feel special and highly valued.

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I’m a Romantic and beauty in any of its forms delights me.  Though I try to create beauty for my guests I must say I get a lot of joy and satisfaction from this beauty too.  Beauty seems to become us.

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Joy seemed to enjoy the scones – just that simple little food treat, but the real treat (at least for me) was the sharing of our spirits.  Friendship is a wonderful thing.  I don’t believe we’re meant to live solitary lives.  Friendship doubles the joy in life just as sharing doubles the joy.

We can share in a variety of ways.  I love the old fashioned ways – the art of letter writing and the art of hospitality. I encourage you to practice both arts.  They may be forgotten, but both arts are as delightful today as they ever were.

When you give good things come back to you.

Letters, Invitations to tea, friendship,  and more . . .

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I wish for you the wonderful kind of friendship Joy and I share.

Truly.

Carol Ann

Tea in the Outbuilding

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Ah tea!  

Afternoon tea is all about enjoyment, relaxation, and taking the time to refresh your spirit.  I love tea and its trappings.  I love to take a break each afternoon enjoying a cup of tea either in my library with a good book, at my tea table with some needlework, or perhaps if the weather is lovely I might take tea in the sun room where I can sip and commune with nature. But once a month I invite others to join me in this gracious ritual.  After all, the 1853 property which my husband and I  call home is “not for us alone”.  Sharing it and sharing tea doubles the joy.

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I like to alternate the location of my tea parties each month because changing locations means different tables to dress with different china. I’ll experiment with different recipes and invite different friends to each tea.  Variety is the spice of life you know.  Entertaining with tea is a wonderful way to reach out to others in friendship while also having the creative fun of designing each event.  My last two teas were held in our Outbuilding.  Come along and I’ll share a bit of those tea experiences with you. Up  the driveway we go…

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 approaching the circle…

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passing the circle…

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and there it is, the Outbuilding, once a chicken  coop back when the estate was a big old farm, but thanks to a few previous owners the building is now  a detached family room where I can get away from it all – or if not everything,  at least I can get away from the house if I need a change of scenery without going too far away..

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We pass the old barn which is now a three car garage and walk around to the front of the Outbuilding…

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and here we are!

Come on in.

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The beamed ceiling gives me the feeling I’m off in the mountains

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and the wood-burning fireplace is especially cozy on a cold or rainy day.

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We have seating close to the fireplace plus two other sofas and there’s a long built-in bench along the wall, plenty of seating in this old Outbuilding if we decide to have cocktails here before a dinner party at the house.  But for a tea I usually serve at the table, a table that was my maternal grandparent’s table once upon a time.  Ah, memories.

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I enjoy coming here on quiet days, sitting in my rocker that also once belonged to my maternal grandparents.  It’s the same rocker that held me on my father’s lap as a child, as I sipped his coffee sweet with sugar and milk, back in the day…  memories and more memories.  I love things old.

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But on the day of a tea there’s no time for daydreaming about the old days.  Instead there’s much hustle and bustle in the butler’s pantry where goodies are prepared and assembled to serve to my guests.  It is a little challenging carrying everything back and forth to and from the Outbuilding, but now and then this extra work is necessary if I’m ever to share the Outbuilding with others.

What will I serve my guests?

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  Meringues with strawberries and whipped cream?

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Shortbread and cookies?

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A simple coffee cake?…

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or perhaps a fancy cake I purchase from the bakery shop?

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I purchased  special antique tea china for the Outbuilding and I like to use a handmade crocheted tablecloth that my mother made a long time ago.

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Or sometimes I use a set of tea china that belonged to my parents.

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Of course we need some tea.  I offer a variety to my guests

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And candlelight is always nice…

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especially on a cool, rainy day.

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When the food is made, the table is set, the candles are lit and everything is ready all that’s needed are some guests…

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be they lady friends, old and new…

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or sweet children who happen to be my music students.

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It’s such a joy to do for others.  I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t enjoy entertaining, especially hosting afternoon teas.

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It is my hope that by sharing my afternoon tea experiences I may inspire you to invite others to your own home and share some tea with them…make it coffee or hot chocolate if you prefer, but reach out to others and share in your own intimate setting.  Make your tea your way, as simple or elaborate as you like.  It’s not the tea, or the food, so much as your  personal outreach and hospitality.

Share Joy.  Share Tea!

It’s another Afternoon Tea

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For thousands of years people have been drinking tea and enjoying the tea ceremony, but I think there’s something about afternoon tea that makes it just right for us today as well.  The health conscious should approve of tea’s natural goodness and those of us who are busy, busy, busy should enjoy the restful interlude it offers around 4 o’clock in the afternoon.  A tea ceremony has the ability to enrich everyday life and create  gilded moments.  Creating a tea ritual for ourselves is a very lovely civilized affair. but it’s also very nice to share the experience with others and though we can meet those others at elegant hotels or charming tea shops there is something very special about inviting people into our own homes.  It’s The Art of Hospitality,  an art (like the Art of Letter Writing) that is beautiful and should never die.

But who to invite?  We can invite anyone and everyone, old friends, new would-be friends, the young, the old and the in- between.

It’s easy.  Afternoon tea can be as simple or elaborate as you choose – a pretty china tea cup with a few slices of cinnamon toast would work just fine, but today I feel like fussing a bit.

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I recently bought a neat pan from William Sonoma that makes brownies or other simple cakes into interesting elongated shapes.  Today seemed like the perfect day to try out this pan.

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And I’m happy to say the pan worked very well. Aren’t these brownies cute?

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A little powder sugar to dress them up and a very simple recipe can look quite snazzy on the tea table.

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I always like to experiment with at least one new recipe for my tea parties so today that recipe is for a carrot cake and the recipe is a keeper.  Let me share the recipe with you.

Carrot Cake

For the cake:  2 eggs, 2/3 cup light brown sugar, 5 tbsp. vegetable oil, generous 3/4 cup self-rising flour, 1 and 1/2 cups grated carrot, 1 tsp. cinnamon and scant 1/2 cup shredded coconut

For the topping:  1/2 cup cream cheese, 3/4 stick butter,1/2 cup confectioners sugar, grated rind of 1 lime,toasted coconut and grated lime

Process:

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and line a 2 lb. loaf pan or a 7 in round cake pan.

2.Beat together the eggs and sugar until very creamy.  Add the oil and beat hard.  Fold  in the remaining ingredients and turn into the prepared pan.  Smooth the top,  then slightly hollow out the middle to avoid a very domed top on the finished cake.  Bake for 35-40 minutes   until golden and well risen and a skewer comes out clean.

3.  Remove the cake from the oven and turn out onto a wire rack to cool.  To make the  topping beat the ingredients together until light and creamy and spread over the top of the cake.  Make a pattern with the prongs of a fork.

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In addition to the brownies and carrot cake I also whipped up two other goodies to serve to my guests.  These chicken salad sandwiches served on wheat bread provided a little sustenance to the menu…

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as did little phyllo cups of egg salad.

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I also served my stand by recipe for scones.  I like to serve the scones with Devon clotted cream but today I decided to whip up ordinary heavy cream instead …and I always serve the scones with Bonne Maman’s Raspberry preserves.  Yum!

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Now it’s time for a little art play.  I dig out my watercolor pencils and create place cards for myself and my guests.  I’m matching the flowers on the name tags to the flowers on the table.

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These little touches make an afternoon tea special.

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So the food is prepared and the table is set and now all that’s needed are my guests. Today those guests are of the younger generation for as I said before afternoon tea is for everyone and if we adults don’t expose children to the finer things in life (like afternoon tea) who will?  Besides, I believe it’s important to have friends of all ages.  My older friends teach and inspire me and they make me feel young and my younger friends help me lighten up and remember what it was like to be young. Diversity is important, all kinds of diversity.

Well here they are now.

All these young ladies are angels and singing angels at that for they all sing in the Church choir I conduct.  How lucky I am to meet so many sweet young people (and they’re not all girls either). My next children’s tea will hopefully have a few boys attending for as I said before, afternoon tea is for everyone!

I can remember being eight or ten or 13 years old, can’t you?  I appreciated adults taking me seriously, talking to me and listening with interest to what I had to say. Afternoon tea is a great time for friends to share and get to know each other better.  Taking time, in person, with people we care about becomes its own reward.

I find creating the afternoon tea ceremony for guests lets me offer my friends and acquaintances what often seems in short supply these days – attention and the wish to please. Sure, it’s a little bit of work, but tea can be infinitely variable in style and complexity.  The food served can be simply made or for that matter even purchased.  As in so many things it’s really the thought that counts most.

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The time flies at my tea party and before I know it the party is over.  There’s a little washing up to do, but not much.

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And as the last tea pot is set on a towel to dry I’m left with a warm, satisfied feeling.  This feeling comes over me whenever I dabble in The Art of Hospitality. I’ve had such fun today.  I can’t help but start wondering about my next tea.  Who shall I invite? What shall I serve and where shall I serve it?  There’s much fun to anticipate.

So enjoy your daily afternoon teas but  I hope you invite others, young and old, to share the experience now and then.  Why?  You know.  Sharing doubles he joy.

It really does!