Afternoon tea is all about relaxation, enjoyment, and taking time to refresh the spirit.
Creating a daily tea ritual is one way to bring a little grace into modern life and sharing our tea ritual with others only doubles that grace. Everyone seems to be busy these days but how nice it is to stop the comings and goings now and then to spend time around the tea table with friends and family. This is a most simple but elegant way to entertain.
We have the telephone, e-mail, text messages and social media, but to sit across from our guests, listening and sharing in person… that’s special. Hosting afternoon teas is one very nice way to celebrate the importance of relationships.
And so today I’ve invited three dear friends to join me in my afternoon tea ritual. The door is open ready to receive my guests. We could be meeting at a tea establishment, but I think there’s something special about sharing tea in a home. After all, we work to make our homes cozy and comfortable. These efforts should not be for ourselves alone. Sharing our home doubles the joy our home gives us. Sharing anything and everything doubles the joy. Sharing in life is important. What have you shared lately?
Each of my teas is served in a different setting. Creating these different sets in different rooms is a large part of my fun. I choose different linen, different china, different flowers and at least one different food item at each tea. Today I’ll be serving on the porch, but as guests arrive, one by one, we’ll gather in the library, then go out to the porch all together.
An afternoon tea party is a little like a theatrical presentation. Having details in place and a plan of action helps to make things run smoothly. Also it’s nice to have pretty things for your guests to enjoy – music, fresh flowers here and there, fragrance… These and other little niceties may not be necessary but they will delight your guests and make their visit more enjoyable.
Earlier in the day I made scones, my basic recipe. Over the years I’ve learned it’s not important that the food served be elaborate or very plentiful, just that there’s something to nibble on. The most important thing at tea is the tea itself and the sparkle of joyful eyes as they share, listen, laugh and enjoy each other.
Raspberry preserves and clotted cream are a perfect accompaniment to the scones and really all the food one would need for afternoon tea is not only about the food. It’s about the sharing and relaxing together. Simple and easy does it. But if you do enjoy cooking and baking the sky is the limit.
I decided to add some Caper Deviled Eggs and Cucumber Canapes
with Lemon-Pepper Aioli to today’s tea menu. Something old, something new.
The ingredients for the eggs are: 6 hard-boiled eggs, 3 tablespoons mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard, 1 tablespoon very finely chopped celery, 1 tablespoon very finely minced capers, 1/8th teaspoon salt and a garnish of parsley.
The aioli is made by combining 1/4 cup of mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice, 1/8th teaspoon of pepper with 1/8th teaspoon of salt. This aioli is piped atop a thin slice of English cucumber which sits on a thin slice of white bread.
Scones, deviled eggs, cucumber slices, simple items, quick and easy to make, but pretty finger foods to present at table.
And though the food is simple I try to make the place settings special by adding flowers. Simple but lovely, flowers create magic with their beauty and grace. Of course if you love to collect pretty things as I do now is the time to use the embroidered linen napkins, the silver, the cutwork tablecloth and the antique china. These things shouldn’t be collecting dust in the cabinets. They should be used and enjoyed regularly.
Without very much work at all the table is ready to receive my guests.
And here they are. Terri, Carol and Joni, three lovely ladies who make my day and my tea a very enjoyable experience.
The porch got a going over before the girls arrived… a little dusting and polishing. Cleaning is never my idea of great fun, but when company is coming I have a good reason to do that cleaning and then not only is the house nice and shiny for the company, it’s also nice and shiny for me and my husband.
So I encourage you to host your own afternoon tea. You may think tea parties are a thing of the past, but you’re wrong. There’s something about an afternoon tea that makes it seem just right for us now. It’s a complete treat – a physical pleasure. a social gathering, a chance for intellectual exchange and a spiritual experience for we’re sharing plenty of spirit at tea.
Most of all the afternoon tea experience enriches everyday life by gilding the moment with importance. It celebrates life in a most genteel way. When your tea is over you’ll sit back on your porch remembering all the fun you had and you’ll feel a sense of satisfaction knowing that you and your creativity brought people together sharing joy.
Only you can loosen your day’s demands.
Treat yourself and your guests to the old world pleasure of
Here I am at my Country Inn. I’m scheduled for a little adventure today, but before I take off I need to explain a few things about how Country Inn Days work.
Inn Days are days of imagination. I can enjoy sharing breakfast, lunch, tea, cocktails and/or dinner with other inn guests and not who you might think. Inn guests are usually interesting spirits of the past, but sometimes they are spirits of the present too. The critical word here is spirits. These spirits arrive at my Inn for a few days at a time, usually from the library or the local book shop. They are the spirits of people contained in biographies. Many of these spirits become what I like to call my “dead friends”, but others are still alive and well.
You see, with imagination a biography can bring a spirit to life. With imagination I can enjoy the company of all sorts of great and famous spirits who become guests at the Inn just as surely as I can enjoy visits with living, breathing friends. Imagination does it all.
I invite some of these spirits to be guests, but others sort of come on their own. This is how it works: I go to the library or book shop each week and select biographies. For chance to work I close my eyes, pick a few more books, and voila! The Inn has an interesting and varied guest list! After all, we’d have no control over the guests who might be staying at a real Inn so why should the Inn of Country Inn Days be any different? Fun, huh?
Well, guess who’s one of the interesting people who checked into the inn this week. He was my companion for breakfast today.
Yes, it was Stonewall Jackson. He joined me with the help of a wonderful book written by Donald A. Davis. I knew very little about Thomas Jackson before breakfast, but after I spent just a little time with the man I can say I really like and admire him. Did you know he made it into West Point even though he was just a roughhewn frontiersman, not an educated gentleman from a prosperous family like the other newcomers to the school? He said, “I knew I was very ignorant, but I had the energy and the intellect to succeed.” I love that sort of confidence in a person, don’t you?
Over a breakfast of poached egg, orange juice and coffee I sat spellbound as Tom told me details of his life – how he swung 28,000 soldiers out of the front line, moved them across the front of the enemy, and outflanked the Union army in one of the most important battles of the Civil War. I learned the South always thought they had a chance as long as Thomas was around, but sadly hecame to his end when his own men fired upon him as he was returning from a scouting mission. They mistook him for the enemy. He had been hit three times and lay mortally wounded. Several days later, with his left arm amputated, he died of pneumonia brought on by his wounds.
I hate sad endings, but Jackson’s life was one to be proud of and I look forward to getting to know the man better. Hearing the stories of such dynamic people is nothing but inspiring. I’m so glad Stonewall Jackson is here at the Inn. I shall look forward to hearing more of his adventures, but it was time for a little adventure of my own.
Today’s Adventure Day took me to a town called Ravenna. Ravenna is very much “Main Street USA”. It was founded in 1799 and developed throughout the 1800’s. The downtown area is full of nostalgia, reminiscent of a time when Main Street was a place where people would congregate, converse and do business. I happen to love historic towns.
I love the architectural detail found in the old buildings of old towns. Maybe it’s my years living in Boston, but I’m always looking for old places to explore and I found one today.
Here in Ravenna I found a big, old antique shop full of treasures. The building is a treasure in itself. Just look at the detail at its ceiling. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.
I love all things old so I was in my glory here. What an adventure to look at household items that were used by people of the past, people like Stonewall Jackson. It’s a little like going back in time, isn’t it? Of course I was hoping to find some treasure I could take home with me too, a souvenir of my Adventure Day. What would it be?
This china was absolutely beautiful, but my cupboards are bursting with china already. I dare not add more, at least not until I add more cupboards. I’ll keep you in suspense as to what treasure I found today, but let me now introduce you to a nice lady I met here.
This is Pam. She is one of the antique dealers responsible for this shop and she is a very nice and engaging lady. On Adventure Days I not only discover places and things, but I’m happy to say I also discover very interesting people, people who sometimes become great friends. I hope Pam will be a future guest at one of my Sharing Teas on another Country Inn Day so she can tell me all about her passion for antiques and how she got into the business. We had a very fun chat at the shop and I know she’d be an entertaining companion at tea. But it’s time for refreshment and speaking of tea Pam told me about a tea shop a few doors down. I must investigate.
And here it was. It’s Susie K’s Cafe and Tea Room. I love a privately owned and operated tea room. I guess I have a little bit of English in my blood, or at least in my spirit.
I stepped inside. It’s quiet. I missed the busy lunch crowd. Good! I found a table against the wall where I could sit, relax, and enjoy the company of another “dead friend” who happened to come along with me on this Adventure Day. As I enjoyed lunch I could be entertained with her stories. Who is this person? I’ll tell you in a moment, but first let me introduce you to Susie, the owner of this tea house.
Doesn’t Susie K look happy? She must love her work. She was very sweet and friendly full of good old Midwestern warmth. We chatted and she told me how she rents her place out for parties and meetings, how she bakes her own pies from scratch, and how she’s always there to mingle with her guests. I liked that! She offers the personal touch.
But how ’bout some tea.? It was time. And what a pretty cup! I ordered my favorite, Earl Grey.
JoDel was my server. She’s another happy person. You know it’s good to surround yourself with happy people. JoDel told me about all the specials on the day’s menu and it’s always quite the decision – what to choose. Everything always sounds so good to me. I love food, don’t you?
I finally selected the chicken salad with strawberries, blackberries and a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. There was a little bonus sweet bread on the side. Yum! So there I sat with my food and my tea and my “dead friend” having a yummy break on this Adventure Day.
Who was my “dead friend”? It was Audrey Hepburn. Don’t you love her? She shared her very own words with me through the book, “How to be lovely” written by Melissa Hellstern. Here’s a few of the things Audrey told me at lunch:
“The most important thing is to enjoy your life – to be happy – that’s all that matters”.
“I heard a definition once: Happiness is health and a short memory! I wish I’d invented it, because it is very true.”
“I could always hear my mother’s voice saying, ‘Be on time,’ and ‘Remember to think of others first,’ and ‘Don’t talk a lot about yourself. You are not interesting. It’s the others that matter.'”
But my favorite thing that Audrey told me at lunch was this:
“All my life I’ve been in situations where I’ve had no technique, but if you feel enough, you can get away with murder.”
Yes, Audrey was a very entertaining companion for lunch and she always inspire me. You just don’t meet many true ladies these days, ladies who have her looks, but also her lovely spirit. Audrey could eat anything without gaining a pound. I’m not so lucky, but when I heard that Susan makes her own pies from scratch I had to try the coconut creme pie. How could I refuse it? It is a Country Inn Day after all, a day to celebrate life.
But time was marching on. I needed to get back to the Inn for evening activities. Before I left Ravenna though I drove around a little to view some of its old houses. I love old houses. If you aren’t familiar with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Haunted Houses” you must look it up for it says it all. Here’s just a bit of Henry’s poem:
“All houses wherein men have lived and died are haunted houses … there are more guests at table then the host invited …the stranger at my fireside cannot see the forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear; he but perceives what is; while unto me all that has been is visible and clear.”
Let me show you a few of Ravenna’s haunted houses.
Aren’t they great? But it’s time to return to my own haunted house, The Jeremiah Brown House, and here I am at its side door.
But before you go let me show you what I brought back from my Adventure Day. I brought home these lovely cordial glasses.
There’s eleven of these delicate, old gems in assorted colors. I look forward to using them for an after-dinner indulgence with or without coffee on Country Inn Days or whenever I’m entertaining.
I also picked up a bottle of Chambord on the way back to the Inn because fancy new glasses deserve a fancy new liqueur with which to christen them. I’m told Chambord is a cordial made from the world’s finest raspberries, blackberries and the exotic flavors of black raspberries,black currant, Madagascar vanilla and cognac. According to legend Chambord was inspired by a luxurious raspberry liqueur produced for King LouisXIV during his visit to Chambord in the 17th century and if it was good enough for King Louis it’s good enough for me.
And there’s one more goodie I brought back to the Inn from my Adventure Day. It’s a stack of very old Woman’s Day magazines. They were printed back in 1952.
Can you imagine a magazine that costs only 7 cents? I will enjoy future Country Inn Days curled up by the fire reading the pages of these great old periodicals.
So another fun Country Inn Day has come and gone. I’ve only told you about a small part of it, but next week I’ll be back at the Inn and I’ll share more highlights of these wonderful days of imagination and fun.
Now let me wish you happy days and leave you with some words from my lovely “dead friend’ Audrey Hepburn.
“Not to live for the day, that would be materialistic- but to treasure the day. I realize that most of us live on the skin – on the surface without appreciating just how wonderful it is simply to be alive at all. Pick the day and enjoy it to the hilt. The day as it comes. People as they come…”
Today is a play day. Today I’m going visiting. Today I’m not playing the part of hostess. Today I am playing the part of guest!
Today it’s my friend Andy who is playing the part of host. He’s invited me to tea.
Andy has also invited my friend Evelyna to tea.
When was the last time you were invited to tea?
When you give, good things come back to you. If you entertain now and then, chances are, from time to time you will be entertained as well.
It’s another beautiful day in my neighborhood, a grand day to go visiting, but then any day is a grand day for friendship and visiting.
Evelyna and I arrive at Andy’s house and we are greeted by a glorious apple tree bursting with color. It is apple blossom time you know!
Evelyna is so delighted with this tree she runs up to it and caresses its blossoms I can’t blame her. I want to do the same thing.
The beauty of nature is all around us here in Andy’s yard.
There are all sorts of romantic, old fashioned garden structures at every turn. They enchant us.
We approach the wisteria-covered arbor and slowly make our way to the door , all the while admiring the beauty of nature on this lovely Spring day.
When finally at the door we knock and…
Andy appears – all smiles. “We’re here”, we say. “And we’re bearing hostess gifts. Evelyna brought one of her famous pumpkins rolls and I brought Andy one of my favorite books of spiritual meditation.
We sit relaxing like ladies of leisure, talking to Andy from the next room while he fusses in the kitchen with last minute details…
and then it’s off to the tea table which is set beautifully just for our pleasure. How wonderful!
More fresh apple blossoms grace the table and Andy has set little boxes of chocolates at our plates. They serve as sweet favors.
Lunch is simple, but delicious – chicken salad croissants accompanied by fresh fruit.
Andy even decorated our plates with apple blossoms. What a guy! When it’s apple blossom time we should all take advantage of the splendor and bring those blossoms in to be enjoyed up close. That’s true of all the lovely flowers blooming in our Springtime gardens – lilacs, lily of the valley… Everything!
The ice water on our table was garnished with orange slices and the tea was cherry flavored. There was also a delicious broccoli soup.
Our tummies were happy and full, but there was more. Evelyna, being a master baker, decided to bring a bit of dessert,
It’s nice to have friends who are master bakers… masters at anything, especially if they share their mastery with their friends.
Evelyna brought us two goodies. She made raspberry lemon tartletts. They consisted of a butter cookie shell filled with lemon curd and garnished with fresh bursting raspberries and mint. She also made walnut mocha squares. These squares are a Croatian recipe. They consist of brown sugar pastry topped with espresso infused mocha cream (YUM!) and garnished with chocolate beans.
Evelyna tells us the delicious chocolate beans are hard to find, but she has a source – shops called “Earth Fare”. They carry the luscious little gems should you want to buy some for yourself.
We ate. We drank. (tea) We chatted.
Though all of us are busy, it is so very nice, and quite civilized, to pause now and then taking time for tea – taking time to appreciate nature – taking time to foster friendship. Two hours of this repast and off we went… refreshed! We returned to our lives with renewed contentment and the warm fuzzy glow that only beauty and friendship can provide.
Are you familiar with the life and work of Ralph Waldo Emerson? I met Emerson some years ago when I lived in Boston. Because I’ve always loved old houses and historic towns I spent a lot of time in Concord where Emerson lived. Concord is a charming town just outside of Boston proper. I’d pop over to Emerson’s house often, stroll through his rooms, look over his books – why I even was in his bedroom many times where I saw quite a few of his personal things, like the actual dressing gown he wore most evenings. I’d walk around his garden and spend time with him, pondering his shrewd observations and penetrating perceptions.
Now you may wonder how I could do that. After all, Emerson was born in 1803 and I’m not 210 years old as Emerson is. Well, if you know me at all you know I have lots of friends – some local, some letter friends far away, some living and some who are what I call “dead friends”. “Dead friends” are people from the past who I get to know through their writings, accomplishments and other work. Emerson is one of those “dead friends”.
Emerson was not only a fine and popular lecturer in his day, but lucky for us he was also a writer, capturing his thoughts on paper. It’s so important we all do this, write, or how will people of the future know we ever existed, not yet understand what we were all about?
We should all keep journals and write letters. I write one letter every morning. This morning’s letter went to my good friend Evelyna.
Though Evelyna lives nearby allowing us the pleasure of in-person get-togethers our letters provide us with extra opportunities to share, and this sharing is lasting. My great grandchildren will be able to get to know me and my friendship with Evelyna some day thanks to those letters – just as I have gotten to know Emerson thanks to his writing.
By the way, Emerson thought letter writing was a very good thing as I do for he felt it helped people communicate gentle thoughts to each other. In his essay on friendship he wrote: “Our intellectual and active powers increase with our affection. The scholar sits down to write, and all his years of meditation do not furnish him with one good thought or happy expression; but it is necessary to write a letter to a friend, — and, forthwith, troops of gentle thoughts invest themselves, on every hand, with chosen words.”
Then there’s the subject of nature. I love nature! Emerson loved nature too. How about you? Do you take the time to wander fields and streams, hill and dale? I do hope so. Nature is so refreshing. Though my friend Emerson values friendship as I do, we both have felt the need to escape from society at times and enjoy the solitude and beauty that nature provides. Emerson put it this way: “Society (sometimes) seems noxious. I believe that against these baleful influences Nature is the antidote. The man comes out of the wrangle of the shop and office, and sees the sky and woods, and is a man again … But how few men see the sky and woods!”
A walk in nature can refresh us like nothing else. To focus on the details we see, like a patch of pretty daffodils… improves us somehow.
Perhaps this is because, as Emerson states in his essay on nature: “Every moment (in nature) instructs, and every object: for wisdom is infused in every form.”
Instruction can be had at tea time too. If I pull up a chair, open a book ( maybe one of Emerson’s books) light a candle and pour a cup of tea, new ideas come forth. So many ideas – for so many wonderful “dead friends” are there for us to enjoy. They have so much to share with us. But living, breathing friends make wonderful tea guests too, sharing their ideas.
I prepare a tray of goodies, invite a friend or two, and we take a break from our busy lives. Just as a stroll through nature can relax and refresh, so too can in-person sharing , especially if the setting is calm and peaceful.
I was pleased that the day of my last tea was cool and rainy for I was able to light a fire and fill the room with the twinkle of candlelight. In this setting time seemed to slow down and my friends and I could enjoy each other’s company – talk of our current interests and inspire each other with our joys.
Joni spoke of her love of baking, and in fact she brought me a beautiful box of her homemade cupcakes and fudge. She’s such a wonderful friend and such a culinary artist, not only whipping up luscious goodies in her kitchen, but packaging them so beautifully and sharing them with others – others like ME!
My other guest was someone new to me, Mary. I love to invite new people to tea, people I like but don’t know very well – YET! Tea can help transform acquaintances into friends and who doesn’t enjoy having lots of wonderful friends?
Mary spoke of her love for tennis and her work for our community foundation. She was a lovely guest – and not only because she also brought me homemade goodies, goodies that she baked just for me. Sweet, sweet, sweet!
Mary gave me lemon bread which I promptly wrapped in freezer paper so it will be fresh and ready for Sunday brunch. Yum! Oh to know ladies who have domestic skill and a generous spirit.
Another “dead friend” , Robert Louis Stevenson, said “The world is so full of a number of things I think we should all be as happy as kings”. I’m happy. You happy?
There’s tea. There’s nature. There are new, old, living and “dead friends to keep us company… and there’s so much more. I hope you are focusing on all that good, and I hope you’re sharing your joy. Why? You know.
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.
Ingredients are at hand, along with a few decorations to inspire me. There are the two French chefs sitting in the window
eggs , rolling pin,
and wisk with a serving tool.
Now for the recipe
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.
So let’s get started!
I mix the eggs with the sugar
Gently fold in the flour
Finally placing the sponge into the prepared pan
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.
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.
So while the sponge is cooling let’s go out to the porch and set the table
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.
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).
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.
Then came the moment of truth. Time to turn this concoction into a roll. I take a deep breath and ROLL AWAY!
And “Ta Da”! Here it is
Apricot Swiss Roll
Time to take it to the table
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.
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.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, I mean porch, it’s time for Stephanie to taste my creation. Will she approve?
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.
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.
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
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.