High Tea … often Misunderstood …

Contemporary English afternoon tea menu...rustic scone, fritatta, fruits and black tea…lovely and not too sweet – this from Samovar Tea House in San Francisco

High tea is often confused with an Afternoon Tea; however, they are actually two distinctly different eating occasions. Each serves a relevant purpose.  Afternoon tea is said to have been inspired by the Duchess of Bedford who complained that she got famished between lunch and dinner and thus the traditional three-course “snack” of savory finger foods, scones and assorted petite sweets came into being served in upscale salons and sitting rooms all over England.  Afternoon tea can also be called a “low tea,” as it is often served in a salon or sitting room on low tables with participants relaxing in chairs or lounging on chaise’s or low furnishings.

High tea is a meal.  Often partaken by the working class; however, today, many who desire a special tea menu at a meal time blend the two.  A few months ago we put on a high tea for our niece and 20 family members which included a demonstration of scone making and tea tasting of three fancy green and oolong teas.  What was originally to be an afternoon tea turned into a dinnertime tea tasting; thus it became a “high tea” where we served a meal of multiple salads, hamsteak sliders, curried egg salad, along with scones and sweets.

The host wanted me to demonstrate two things for the group…1) how to make scones and 2) how to make a great cup of tea, which we did. We finished the meal with three petite desserts…decadent dark chocolate brownies, organic strawberries with mascarpone & cream fraiche, and, for our 8 year-old birthday girl who just loves pink, vibrant, pink frosted mini vanilla cupcakes.

The scones were a huge hit, served with raspberry jam, my tart lemon curd and creme fraiche.  The birthday girl, her sister and cousins served, and they were excellent at it, including exuding tons of personality in the process. Uncle David (my husband) oversaw everything beautifully as usual.  All had a great time and appeared to enjoy the scone making and consuming them fresh and hot from the oven, along with tasting the various oolong teas.

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The High Tea meal plating … 21 plates set to receive the ham steak biscuit slider and another salad…already plated are the egg salad stuffed rolls and the endive & watercress salad.

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One of my most favorite salads…bitter, sweet, salty, & crunch endive, watercress, bleu cheese, toasted pecans in a light champagne vinaigrette

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Grilled hamsteak with mustard on a fresh, warm yam biscuit to make a savory slider – these were a hit.

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Curried egg salad stuffed into hollowed out dinner rolls…seemed like a great idea when I saw them on a cooking show…ended up with almost everyone eating the egg salad out of the roll and leaving the roll (too much bread…particularly when you have awesome yam biscuits and scones to come).

And just a reminder, as mentioned in my last post….Next up…I am almost ready to launch my “communing with books blog”…am excited to see where delving into the classics will lead, along with contemporary “classic” authors too.  And know that many of the works include a tea time!  (such a civilized thing to do 🙂

Decadent Dark Chocolate Brownies...bite sized...from Tea With Betty...one of our desserts

Decadent Dark Chocolate Brownies…bite sized…from Tea With Betty…one of our desserts and always the favorite dessert for adults.

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I was told that the birthday girl just LOVED anything pink…the brighter pink the better, so I went for it…the pink was not a shy one…they loved them.

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Demonstration of jasmine tea  being released from my favorite diffuser into a glass tea pot

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My husband took care of the crowd…he is fabulous at doing that

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Our birthday girl and her sister were truly darling and enjoyed the entire evening…their service was excellent too

Tea & Tolstoy … Devouring War & Peace 31 Pages at a Time

My Lenten commitment - 2016 was to read War and Peace (unabridged)

A little “tea and Tolstoy” in our room in Carmel…on a Winter’s day…

While consuming lots and lots of tea, I accomplished a goal I’ve had for over a decade… to “re-read” a complete, unabridged, beautifully translated version of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  How this came about? I was a Russian Lit minor in college and for decades have professed that my favorite book of all time is War and Peace.  However, I was 21 years old when I read this epic tome and had been wondering whether it would hold up over time as #1 for me still…I mean, I’ve read a lot of great books since then.

Part of my love for everything “tea” came from reading this book in my early 20’s.  I remember that there was a constant referral to teatime throughout the text …  and often tea was taken in the most remote places..with generals in a tent, in a Russian battlefield, in the cold of winter … prepared for them by servants who lugged their leader’s samovars and tea through tough terrain.  Tea was seemingly ALWAYS present.  Men drank tea as much or more than women.  This constant taking of afternoon tea struck me as being oddly civilized, while all around,  thousands of lives were being destroyed, often on the whim of an arrogant officer’s shallow desire to gain favor, accolades or medals from a general, prince or the “great” Napoleon.   

On our recent trip to Carmel, I decided to lug my 1,279 page hardback book along and see if I could muster the tenacity to start.  As the Lenten season began while on our vacation, I made it a goal to finish reading the book in 40 days…that meant plowing through 31 pages a day to accomplish this task. Many are long, hard pages, as there was French language to wade through with the English translation depicted at the bottom of the page.  There is also lots of philosophy and dissertation about  ‘life in all it’s manifestations” expounded throughout by the brilliant author.

Well, I did it!  It took Tolstoy five years to write it and me 37 days to read it.  And yes, it holds up beautifully.  What an awesome, remarkable book.  I am truly glad that I read it again at a time in my life when I can more fully appreciate Tolstoy’s philosophy and astute reflections on history and what factors manifest war and peace – o.k., and there are great love stories throughout too   :-).

I can attest that the referral to tea time is prevalent in War and Peace, and just as in Downton Abbey, the setting of taking tea encouraged a great deal of drama and dialogue.  I almost think that we really could solve most of the world’s problems over a cup of tea – if only we had the will to do so :-).

Reading Tolstoy again reinforced for me how “teatime can be anytime and anyplace,” and that,  great literature is great for a reason…because the universal themes of life transcend time.   I felt accomplished when done and comforted that while many things have changed since the war in 1812, the comfort and civilized rituals around having a cup of tea has withstood the test of time and continues to be a good thing in the scheme of life.. and war and peace.

Drink tea…it’s good for you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Just My Cup of Tea

The idiomatic expression “my cup of tea” is used to describe something you like or enjoy.  This morning, as I left my exercise class, I decided that I would enjoy exhorting a cup of tea from my sister as I knew she still had this awesome chai oolong on hand that was “calling my name”.   She happily let me in, made us breakfast, had me steep the tea and said, “get whatever cups out you like”…I spied her gorgeous Italian tea cups and pulled them out.  The tea tasted so refined out of these cups.   It reminded me just how special a beautiful, porcelain or unique serving vehicle can make one’s tea experience.  I’ve been rushing around lately, consumed with the “stuff” of life…but this little experience brought me back to appreciating the calm and joy of a simple ritual…made more special by using the “good cups”…

What I just love about tea....every day, if I am lucky, I get to take comfort in the ritual of steeping a pot

Every day, if I am lucky, I get to take comfort in the ritual of steeping a pot

I came home thinking about how much I enjoy tea tastings and that tasting cups are intriguing to me…the anticipation of trying new varietals is exhilarating and is one of my favorite things to do.  In flipping through photos, I came across these favorite tasting experiences of recent months…

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My niece and friends tea tasting at Seventh Tea Bar in Costa Mesa Ca...

Tea tasting at Seventh Tea Bar in Costa Mesa Ca…beautiful stainless tea pots with temperature gauge, timers, gongfu lidded cups for steeping….quite the fun ritual of which I was saddened to find out when meeting friends for lunch this month that Seventh is gone, now a French bistro 🙁

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Samovar in San Francisco, as one might expect, offered the most contemporary, and yet traditional individual tea services.  D. ordered the Matcha, served in a personal beaker, I had the Russian menu, with a smoky Russian black tea and milk to temper and fine the tannins…just a delightful experience – I also love their press tea pot.  Each tea comes out with it’s unique steeping accessories.

Our tea service at Samovar...individual Matcha for D and Russian Caravan with milk for me

Our tea service at Samovar… Russian Caravan with milk for me

Another sleek individual tea service, using a press from Samovar

Another sleek individual tea service, using a press from Samovar

Matcha tea service for one at Samovar (SFO)... what a cool beaker

Matcha tea service for one at Samovar (SFO)… what a cool beaker

While I haven’t actually experienced the Italian tea shop, La Vie Del Te.  I am enjoying their Special Oolong (a gift from my good friend A…) and imagine drinking it from the beautiful white and fleur designed individual service here, photos from their website… with a French Macaron? (what?, notice the pastry stand) (I’d actually rather go for a little biscotti) 🙂  What a gorgeous, stylish personal tea pot and cup.

La Vie del Te...in Italy I want this set!

La Vie del Te…in Italy
I want this set

Lastly, two of my favorites – Tea with my darling husband in Carmel this winter…enjoyed while playing dominoes

Tea Time in Carmel with a game of dominoes with D.

Tea Time in Carmel with a game of dominoes with D.

And tea with my sister…using her Italian tea cups…and some scrambled eggs with salami…a spontaneous awesome sister experience!

This morning's tea and eggs...V's Italian tea cup brought out the best in the tea

This morning’s tea and eggs…V’s Italian tea cup brought out the best in the tea

Remember…get out the good cups!!!!

Tea Shirt ... at Samovar, San Francisco... I love the tasting cups depicted on our server's shirt...and DRINK TEA...It's Good for you!

Tea Shirt … at Samovar, San Francisco…
I love the tasting cups depicted on our server’s shirt…and DRINK TEA…It’s Good for you!

 

Samovar Tea Lounge…San Francisco Here I Come

The February issue of Food And Wine Magazine had a beautiful article about the modern teahouse.  Titled, Time For Tea, by Megan Krigbaum, she writes; “Spectacular new imports have helped create a tea obsession on par with the cult of coffee.  Here’s the latest news on the antioxidant rich drink.”  We are introduced to several beautiful tea shops, tea ware, and recipes.  In a few days, I am heading up to San Francisco…and am definitely going to spend time at Samovar Tea Lounges she writes about.  They look to be my idea of THE modern tea lounge…ones that I wish existed near our home.  Below are photos from their website…I will be taking my own and sharing with you soon, along with a bit of feedback as to which teas hit the mark for me and which pairings with foods were memorable.  In looking at their International tea time menus…they are reminiscent of how I laid out Tea With Betty (my tea manual)…seems what inspired me to write the book has, at last, come into existence in Northern California…

 

Samovar Tea Lounge...there are three locations...I plan to hit all of them when in San Francisco...

Samovar Tea Lounge…there are three locations…I plan to hit all of them when in San Francisco…

 

Various photos from Samovar Tea Lounge locations in the Bay area...can't wait to visit them all

Various photos from Samovar Tea Lounge locations in the Bay area…can’t wait to visit them all

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Reviewing these tea houses ought to be great fun…and they look to be so healthy too…

 

Mom’s Sweet Potato Biscuit … Re-engineered…Gluten free, Soy free & Yummy!

Food is memories.  That’s what my sister wrote in an email to me this morning after she watched the movie, 100 – Foot Journey, last night – Her email comments inspired me to write today.  Thanks sister 🙂

I just love food and learning anything about food, but have been a bit frustrated and stymied because some of our old food memory recipes don’t work for the whole family anymore.  Stubbornly, I don’t want to give up on these food memory foods; therefore, I decided to figure out how to re-engineer our most favorite family recipes… with a little re-work, re-invention, and responsible food sourcing…I’m inspired again and coming up with products that work for our dietary needs today…it’s turned out to be a feel-good journey too.

The first recipe I’ve re-done is Mom’s yam (or sweet potato) biscuit recipe.  For over 30 years, Thanksgiving at our family’s homes have included a petite yam biscuit served with her homemade pumpkin butter.  In the late 1970’s, Mom, (Betty), had taken cooking classes where she came away with petite bite recipes for her catering business.  Many of those stuck with the family as favorites for holiday dinners, happy events (cocktail parties or showers), and offered at tea time.  These yam biscuits hit a chord with all of us as a must have served with the Italian chicken soup course on Thanksgiving day.

Our niece has taken over the helm as the yam biscuit and pumpkin butter maker for our holiday dinner (often for over 25 guests).  With a new baby in tow, we shared duties this year…her pumpkin butter was the best I ever remember consuming.  For the yam biscuits (we often substitute with organic sweet potatoes as they are delicious and easier to source), I substituted the flour and fat historically called for to ensure everyone at the table could comfortably consume the biscuits, slathered with her stunning pumpkin butter.  We have gluten-fee, soy free, sodium reduced diet needs to accommodate.  The old recipe called for all purpose flour (wheat) and Crisco (soybean oil) … I substituted with William Sonoma’s Cup for Cup Gluten-free (wheat free) flour and chilled Kerrygold Grass-fed Unsalted Butter (soy free).  While a bit of a sticky, challenging dough resulted…the biscuits were just fabulous…and everyone could eat them.  We cut them small (1 1/2″ round) so they instigate your appetite and don’t fill you up.  Although my nephews can eat a dozen at a sitting 🙂

Below is the new recipe…gluten free, soy free and even me…the diabetic… can happily fit one into my meal plan.

Organic sweet potato biscuit prepared with gluten free flour and grass-fed butter

Organic sweet potato biscuit prepared with gluten free flour and grass-fed butter

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Sweet Potato Biscuit

I suggest baking them just prior to serving as they are sooo good served hot (or you can bake them ahead and heat them for a few minutes on a low temperature just prior to serving).

The first time we learned of these biscuits was at a Southern foods cooking class. They were served with a slice of country ham and honey mustard—a savory little “slider” that’s perfect for tea time.
Makes approximately 24 ( 1 1/2”) biscuits.
PREP TIME: 10 minutes TOTAL TIME: 50 minutes (including prepping yam and baking time)
Preheat oven to 400° F.

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour (substitute with Cup 4 Cup gluten-free flour).
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup Crisco® shortening (substitute cold butter – I used Kerrygold unsalted)
3 to 4 tablespoons heavy cream
Approximately ¾ cup mashed yam, boiled or baked, then mashed and cooled (substitute with sweet potatoes – use organic if available).

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
Cut in shortening (or cold butter) until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Add yam/sweet potato and cut in with a pastry cutter or two knives.
Add cream to form a soft dough that holds.
Lightly knead and pat down onto a floured surface to ¾” thick, cut into rounds using 1 ½” to 2” cutter. Do not use a rolling pin…use our hands to lightly pat down. Rustic looking biscuits are cute :-).
Bake in a buttered pan or sheet pan lined with parchment or Silpat® at 400° F for 18 to 20 minutes.
Serve hot with butter and sliced country or baked ham or with pumpkin butter.

 

 

What’s Been Going On? Relaxing, Reading, & Drinking Tea (of course)…

The past month just flew by for me… so, while my posts are normally singularly focused on a specific topic…this one will be a “mish-mosh” of sharing and catching up…and yes, we will end up with some tea talk too.

What’s been going on? Relaxing on the beach, reading food history books, and consuming plenty of tea…

Life's A Beach...in Carlsbad Ca. this summer...my spot is the one on the far left...

Life’s A Beach…in Carlsbad Ca. this summer…my spot is the one on the far left…

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We just returned from our annual family vacation to the beach in North San Diego County.  It’s just sooooo enjoyable having sustained time with the family. This was our tenth year with lots of sun, sand, boogie boarding, Uno Mod ( the new favorite game for us), and Auntie V. bought the boys their own Monopoly game.  Each morning, just a short walk from our condo, my favorite French pressed tea latte from It’s A Grind, the local’s coffee shop, was waiting for me.

My French Press Latte...ready to be "plunged" by one of my grandsons (they liked pushing down the leaves with the press button).  This is a comfortable, cool, local coffee / tea shop...lots of locals...we are locals for one week a year :-)

My French Press Latte…ready to be “plunged” by one of my grandsons (they liked pushing down the leaves with the press button). This is a comfortable, cool, local coffee / tea shop…lots of locals…we are locals for one week a year 🙂

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On the literary front…I’ve been fully engaged and enlightened by reading two books on the history of food.  They are literally changing my view of eating…both books were purchased from the famous, city-block sized Powell’s Books from our Portland trip last spring.  Am so glad that I have the actual books (not e-book format) so I can go back and forth and easily re-read portions.  Check these out!  The question of “what’s for dinner?” will never be the same (or simple) after finishing these well-crafted and researched books.

Outstanding food books...Reading Empires of Food is truly enlightening as the authors chronicle the fate of people and societies for the past 12,000 years through foods they grew, hunted, traded, and ate...and offers devastating insights as to what's to come... Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, a James Beard award winning book, is engrossing and makes you think about the politics, perils and pleasures of eating...both make the question "what's for dinner" not such a simple answer ...

Outstanding food books…Reading Empires of Food is truly enlightening as the authors chronicle the fate of people and societies for the past 12,000 years through foods they grew, hunted, traded, and ate…and offers devastating insights as to what’s to come… Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, a James Beard award winning book, is engrossing and makes you think about the politics, perils and pleasures of eating…both make the question “what’s for dinner” not such a simple answer …

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A gift from a friend…sometimes, friends surprise you with their thoughtfulness…as my exercise buddy did last month.  She knows I love tea, and she loves Tea With Betty, so when she and her husband were downsizing, they  decided that this beautiful Chinese tea set should come to me.  I am looking forward to serving tea from it and inviting her over…a dim sum tea with some of our mutual friends…when the weather cools a bit.

I was handed this beautiful, somewhat mysterious looking, Chinese box...

I was handed this beautiful, somewhat mysterious looking, Chinese box…

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I was handed this beautiful, somewhat mysterious Chinese box...lifting the lid exposed this stunning tea set...finely painted with a story I will attempt to figure out on the pot and cups...each are meticulously and finely detailed...the cups are double walled so easy to handle...just lovely.

Lifting the lid exposed this stunning tea set…finely painted with a story I will attempt to figure out on the pot and cups…each are meticulously and finely detailed…the cups are double walled so easy to handle…just lovely.

 

Lastly, exciting news? Tea Classes are coming.  I will be teaching Tea 101 classes at the Spice Merchants in Laguna Beach in October.  Next week I will share  information on Spice Merchants.  We plan to do several tea classes – specific to various tea types, countries of origin and brewing methods.  Watch for the details coming soon!