Traveling Teacups: Honey Madeleines

The flavor of honey really comes through in these madeleines. These are very simple to make but a madeleine mold is required to get the traditional shell shape.

¼ cup butter
2 eggs
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon honey
½ cup flour
½ teasp baking powder
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter madeleine molds. In a small saucepan, melt ¼ cup butter. Cool. In a bowl, beat eggs and sugar until pale and thick. Stir in melted butter and honey. Sift flour and baking powder onto egg mixture, then fold in. Spoon mixture into prepared molds. Bake 10 minutes, until light golden-brown. Leave in molds 2 minutes, then turn out and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Dust lightly with powdered sugar. Makes 12.


Traveling Teacups: Chocolate Fudge

You'll need a pan with high sides to make this fudge because it really bubbles up. You'll also need a candy thermometer. This recipe is a bit more bother than 5-minute fudge made with marshmallow cream but I promise that the extra effort is worth it. The only real difficulty with this fudge is waiting the six hours until it hardens!

3 cups sugar
1 cup half-and-half
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
¼ cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoons butter plus additional for greasing the pan
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Line a 10” square pan with wax paper and let the edges overhang by a couple inches. This is for easy removal. Butter the paper and set aside.

Combine the sugar, half-and-half, chocolate, corn syrup, butter and salt in a deep, heavy saucepan. Stir over low heat until the sugar and chocolate are completely dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil.

Clip a candy thermometer to the inside of the pan. Raise the heat to medium and cook without stirring until the mixture reaches 236º (just short of the soft boil stage). Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool undisturbed until the thermometer reads 110º.

Add the vanilla and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture loses its gloss and thickens to the consistency of cake icing. Using a buttered spatula, spread the mixture into the prepared pan and let it rest at room temperature for at least 6 hours.

When the fudge is firm, grab the edges of the wax paper and pull the candy out of the pan. Using a sharp knife, cut the fudge into bite size pieces.


Traveling Teacups: Zucchini Bread and Honey Butter

This recipe makes two loaves. Freeze one for another time.

3 cups flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup oil
2 ½ cups sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
2 cups grated zucchini
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350º. Grease and flour two 8”x4” pans. Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Combine the oil and sugar in a large bowl and beat until light. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the zucchini and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and stir just enough to combine. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pans.

Bake for about 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for about 10 minutes. Invert and cool before serving.

Honey Butter

¾ cup butter, softened
½ cup honey

Use a food processor or electric mixer to combine the butter and honey. Refrigerate until firm.


The Traveling Teacups Menu

The Traveling Teacups menu is a simple one. It has lots of tasty treats. They are easy to carry and no hassle to arrange. Remember to always keep the cold food like the sandwich fillings cold.

I don’t include soup or a salad for this tea as it requires extra dishes and carrying containers and these are messy foods to eat for older folks. I like my scones warm from the oven so I take tea bread instead.

Traveling Teacups Menu

Zucchini Bread with Honey Butter
Egg Salad Tea Sandwiches on White and Brown
Ham Salad Tea Sandwiches on Brown and White
Homemade Pickles
Thumbprint Cookies
Fresh Fruit
Chocolate Fudge
Guangdong Black (Guang Dong He) from Silk Road Teas

Things to Carry in Your Tea Basket

Teapot and thermos of prepared tea
Plates, teacups, saucers, spoons, knives for spreading the honey butter
Pretty napkins
Sugar and a couple artificial sweetener packs
Lemon slices (older ladies like this)
Tea towels for protecting the cups and saucers and teapot
The tea food packed in disposable containers so you can leave any leftovers behind
Freezer packs
A flower and vase for the tea table
Prepared reading material, you might not use this but it is good to have just in case

Things to Carry in Your Head

Older ladies often ask me to say a blessing before eating so be prepared.
Have a couple leading questions ready. All people love to tell their stories so give your guest that opportunity.
Keep in mind the reason for this tea. Even if annoying things happened to you that morning, put on your happy face and don't mention one word of complaint.
Don't get so caught up in laying out the tea food that you ignore your guest, even for a moment.
Allow yourself to feel joyful.


A Traveling Teacups Tea

One of the nicest ways to share tea is with an elderly lady or a shut-in, someone who is recovering from an illness or maybe just doesn’t get around as she used to. You bring the tea to your guest’s home and spend time pampering her there.

This is a light, simple tea. The biggest chore is making certain you have everything packed with you. You’ll need not only the tea bread or muffins, a couple tea sandwiches, some sweets and the tea to serve but also the cups, teapot, napkins and plates. While your guest probably has the hardware in her own kitchen, you can’t expect her to provide this.

The food should be rather light, simple to eat and not require a knife and fork. Highly seasoned food, food containing large pieces of nuts or fruit and food that is sticky should be avoided. Older folks who aren’t well often have trouble with their digestion and their teeth so make it easy for them.

I carry my food to the tea in a market basket and take the tea, already prepared, in a thermos bottle. I use throw-away containers for the food and surround them with a couple ice packs. Everything is cut into serving size pieces when packed. I wrap my teacups and plates in pretty tea towels to protect them.

Plan on keeping the visit short if your guest is recovering from an illness or surgery. Even the best intentioned, most welcome visitors can be tiring. If your guest is feeling pretty well but is a shut-in, plan your exit strategy in advance. I don’t mean that to sound harsh but sometimes it is difficult to get away as your guest will want to talk and talk and not let you out the door. Assure your guest that you’ll be back another time but that you have to get to an appointment. You don’t need to reveal that your appointment is dinner with your family.

Sometimes the elderly friend has a husband or other person residing in the home. You’ll naturally want to include this person. The only exception might be paid help but even then, you should bring enough for her too. A nurse or housekeeper won’t necessarily join the party but she will appreciate having a special treat for her lunch break.

A special case for traveling teacups is taking tea to a person in a nursing home. The staff is usually very accommodating and genuinely happy their resident is having a special day but clear it with them first. You wouldn’t want to arrive only to find your guest is out for a doctor’s appointment. You’ll also want to find out if the tea can be served in the guest’s room or if you’ll need to set up in an activity room or even the cafeteria during off hours.

If your guest is in a private room, just close the door and no one will even know what you’re doing. If your guest has roommates, you’ll probably want to bring enough for them. If you are serving tea in a public room, look out. Chances are you’ll have curious folks coming into the room to investigate. They are lonely too and it is nice to be able to offer a little muffin or cookie.

You really don’t need any decorations for this tea since you won’t know exactly what kind of serving surface you’ll have. A single rose in a little vase would be the only thing I’d bring. Pretty paper napkins make clean up easier as you won’t have to carry them back home with you. Do use pretty china; it makes the tea especially festive. Plate the food for your guest so you won’t need any serving pieces.

If you have leftovers or extras, leave them with your guest to enjoy another time. You might bring extra fresh fruit to leave behind as it is so expensive and older folks often do without. On the other hand, don’t leave a large amount of anything. Being frugal, your guest might feel obligated to eat the leftovers even after they have gone past their prime.

For some guests, conversation is all the activity they want but you might want to offer to read. The Bible, old fashioned poetry and short stories from magazines like Guideposts or Readers’ Digest are always favorites. If your guest has a piano in her home, you could offer to play for her. Old hymns, songs from her childhood or school days work well.

Some older ladies love being around children, perfectly behaved children. If your guest asks to see your kid and you know she can sit calmly without demanding your attention, go ahead and bring her along. Often children make older folks nervous though. Don’t ask to bring your kid or even hint. Do this only if your guest asks.

Traveling Teacups is a very rewarding way to share tea. Your tea guest will be so delighted and you’ll feel happy that you were able to do this for her. I especially love the stories about my town that my older ladies can tell, as well as, stories about how they raised their families in long ago days. I promise that you’ll get more from this experience than you’ll give.

Tomorrow: Traveling Teacups Menu


Tea Etiquette

A lot of people today seem to be making a living from selling tea etiquette. There are entire books devoted to this subject and long chapters in most every other tea book. Tea etiquette lecturers proclaim that they are experts, trained by some prestigious-sounding institute. And page after web page tells us how to behave at teas. To all this I say, "Nonsense!"

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate good manners and a broad working knowledge of etiquette. But make it practical, make it relate to real situations, don’t try to make rules for the sake of making rules. I like the etiquette of "don’t gross out your dining companions." You know, don’t chew with your mouth open, don’t put your used napkin on the table, don’t mess your food around on your plate. And I appreciate the etiquette of formal situations; this keeps everyone on the same page. At a funeral when everyone is distressed, no one needs to think of what to do, the rules of etiquette take over.

Do we really need a rule of etiquette that tells us not to touch the side of the teacup with the spoon? Common sense and even absent-minded observation tells us that the teacup is delicate and clanking against it with a spoon might damage it. And why must it be prescribed which way the teapot sits on the table? The hostess should be able to reach the handle easily, nothing more.

And then there is always the pinkie question. So many teacups have either tiny handles or no handles at all. A tea drinker might find it more comfortable to extend her pinkie--that shouldn’t elicit snickers from her companions. Who cares!

The owner of a Brighton tea shop called the Tea Cosy was recently made fun of by a London newspaper writer for having a list of rules on how to behave in his tearoom. There, being critical of the royal family will get you kicked out as quickly as slurping your tea. A tearoom close to me in the US used to state in their ads and web page that "Tea is a dress up occasion. Hats and gloves are not mandatory but they are appreciated." Then a long list of banned clothing followed. In both cases, the owner is trying to foist his fantasy onto his customers. It is up to the customers whether to buy into this silliness or drink tea somewhere else.

My rules of tea etiquette are the same as my rules for any time one eats in public: don’t make a mess and don’t annoy your dining companions, be gracious, be kind, be upbeat.


Lemon Sorbet

This recipe requires an ice cream freezer. If you don’t have one, you can find delicious sorbet at your local grocery.

1 cup sugar
1 ¼ cups water
4 lemons
1 egg white

Boil together the sugar and water, until the sugar has dissolved. Add strips of the peel of two lemons into the sugar syrup. Add the juice from all four lemons to the syrup. Strain out the peel and add the mixture to the ice cream freezer. Churn until thick. Add the egg white and continue to churn for 10-15 minutes until firm enough to scoop. Pack into plastic containers and freeze until it hardens or until you’re ready to serve it.


The Firefly Tea: White Chocolate Truffles

Truffles are so easy to make and always seem very special.

16 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped or 16 ounces white chocolate chips
½ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon clear vanilla
20 ounces of white chocolate, melted, for dipping

Place the 16 ounces of chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside.

Heat the cream in a small heavy saucepan over low heat until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan and the cream begins to give off steam. Immediately pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Add the vanilla and stir until it is completely incorporated.

Place the mixture in the fridge for 1 hour or until it is firm enough to shape into balls.

Scoop out a heaping teaspoonful of the chocolate and roll it into a ball between your palms. Dip the shaped truffles into melted white chocolate. Repeat with the remaining chocolate. If the mixture gets too soft to hold its shape, place it back in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Yield: about 30 truffles


The Firefly Tea: Petits Fours

Follow directions on a box of white cake mix. Pour batter into greased and floured jelly roll pan, 15 ½ x 10 ½ x 1 inch. Bake 20-25 minutes. Cool. Cut cake into small squares using biscuit or canapé cutter.

Glaze cake pieces by placing upside down, a few at a time, on wire rack over large bowl or baking dish. Pour Petits Fours Icing (below) over top so entire cake piece is covered at one time. (Glaze that drips off cakes into bowl can be reheated and used again.) Decorate using Decorators' Icing (below) or with silver dragees. Yield: about 35 cakes

Petits Fours Icing

9 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar (about 2 pounds)
½ cup water
½ cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon almond extract

Combine ingredients in top of double boiler and heat over boiling water just to lukewarm. Do not overheat icing or it will become dull. Remove from heat, leaving icing over hot water to keep it thin. If desired, tint parts of icing with food color (yellow for the Firefly Tea.) If necessary, add hot water, just a few drops at a time, until of spreading consistency.

Decorators' Icing

Mix 2 cups confectioners' sugar and 1 tablespoon water. Add more water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until icing is of the consistency that can be piped. Yield: ¾ cup


The Firefly Tea: Moon and Stars Cookies

2 ½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. Put the sugar into a food processor, add pieces of the butter, one at a time, and process until mixture is creamy. Add the eggs, lemon zest and vanilla and process until blended. Add the flour mixture and pulse until just incorporated.

Gather the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and keep in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350º. Lightly grease the cookie sheets or line them with parchment paper.

Unwrap the dough and cut into quarters. Keep out one quarter and stick the others back in the fridge until you’re ready for them. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Cut out the cookies and transfer them to the prepared sheets, leaving 2 inches space between cookies. Take care not to distort the cookie shape when transferring. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes, until the cookies are pale gold. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.


The Firefly Tea: Shrimp Skewers with Pineapple and Pepper

These Shrimp Skewers could be grilled but timing is imperative and the risk is great that the shrimp will be over-grilled. It is really easier to use a big pan and cook them in several batches.

2 pounds shrimp, 26-20 count, peeled and deveined
3 yellow peppers, cut into 1" pieces
1 fresh pineapple, cut into 1" cubes
1 jar sweet and sour sauce
1 stick butter

Thread one or two shrimp, yellow pepper and pineapple on a wooden skewer. Repeat until all shrimp are skewered. In a large sauté pan, carefully place the skewers without crowding. Add little pats of butter around each skewer. Brush with sweet and sour sauce. Heat for about 2 minutes and turn the skewers over. Brush with more sweet and sour sauce. Cook for another 2 or three minutes or until the shrimp are cooked through. Shrimp will lose their silvery blue translucence and turn pink and firm when they are cooked. Do not overcook.


The Firefly Tea: Miniature Salmon Quiches

This barquette shape makes an elegant presentation. You can, however, use mini muffin pans or round tart pans.

2 cups flour
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon red pepper
4 cups (16 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
4 eggs
3/4 cup milk
8 ounces smoked salmon, flaked
Garnishes: carrot curls, green onion brushes, red onion shreds, dill, celery leaves

Process flour, melted butter, salt and pepper in food processor until combined. Add cheese; process until well blended. Shape dough into 1 1/2" balls. Press dough into greased 2 1/2" barquette pans. Preheat oven to 350º. In a bowl, whisk eggs and milk. Stir in salmon. Spoon about 1 tablespoon filling into each pastry shell. Bake 15-20 minutes or until center is set. Cool in pans 5 minutes. Remove from pans, garnish, and serve warm or at room temperature. Yield: about 3 dozen quiches


The Firefly Tea: Pimento Cheese Tea Sandwiches

pimento cheese2
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup sharp cheddar, grated
1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, grated
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 – 3 tablespoons mashed pimentos
1 teaspoon onion, grated
thin sandwich bread

With a food processor or mixer, combine until well blended.

To assemble tea sandwiches: Cut rounds from center of the bread slices with a biscuit cutter. If you like, use a small cookie cutter or canapé cutter to cut a design in half the bread circles. Spread Pimento Cheese on the whole bottom rounds, top with the circles that have the cut-out design.


The Firefly Tea: Chicken and Pasta Salad

16 ounces uncooked rotini pasta
4 cups cubed cooked chicken
1 cup thinly sliced celery
½ cup chopped green onions
12 ounces fresh snow pea pods, trimmed
2 cups seedless red grapes, halved
8 ounces pineapple in juice, drained, reserving juice
1 cup slivered almonds, toasted
lettuce of your choice

1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger root
1 teaspoon garlic salt
2 tablespoons reserved pineapple liquid
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey

Cook pasta per package directions. Rinse with cold water until cool.

Mix salad ingredients, except almonds and lettuce. In a small bowl mix dressing ingredients until well blended.

Add pasta and ½ cup almonds to salad. Stir. Add dressing, toss to coat. Line serving bowl or platter with lettuce. Spoon salad over lettuce. Sprinkle with remaining almonds.

16 servings


The Firefly Tea: Spicy Empanaditas

If you’re from certain parts of the world, empanaditas are old friends but I remember the first time I ate one. It was at a state fair where I had many other tasty food choices. The empanaditas were my favorite though. It wasn’t until recently, with the recipe and help of my lovely Latina neighbor that I made them myself.

If you want to use already prepared pie crusts, no problem. Roll over them a bit to press the seams before using.

1 large cooked potato, chopped into small cubes
1/2 pound fresh Mexican chorizo (spicy pork sausage)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2 teaspoon cilantro, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Pastry dough for a 9 inch, 2-crust pie
1 egg, separated
2 tablespoons milk

Cook and stir the chorizo until browned, breaking up any large clumps. Drain but keep about 1 tablespoon fat in the pan with the sausage. Add the potato, onion, jalapeno pepper, salt and pepper. Cook until onion is softened, about ten minutes. Sprinkle with the cilantro.

Heat oven to 400º. Whisk egg white and 1 tablespoon milk together, reserve. Prepare pastry dough; gather into a ball. Divide into halves, flatten them into disks, wrap in plastic and let rest in the fridge for at least a half hour. On a lightly floured cloth covered surface, roll 1 round of pastry into a circle, about 14 inches in diameter. Cut into 11 or 12 circles, 3 1/2 inches in diameter.

Spoon 2 teaspoons beef mixture onto center of each circle; brush edge of pastry with egg mixture. Fold pastry circle up over filling; press edge with fork to seal. Place empanaditas on ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining round of pastry and filling. Gather any remaining pastry; shape into another round. Repeat rolling, cutting and filling.Beat egg yolk and remaining 1 tablespoon milk until well blended; brush over tops of empanaditas. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve warm. About 34 empanaditas.


Dos and Don’ts for the Firefly Tea Buffet

Even though it is tempting, don’t invite more guests than you have seating and by seating, I mean a chair and a place at a table. I know some people are quite adept at eating while sitting in folding chairs, balancing their plate and iced tea on their knee but I find that pretty risky. The guests, after all, were asked to wear white.

Seating guests at tables also allows you to set the table ahead of their arrival. Napkins, silverware, and iced tea glasses should be in place. Just before you ask everyone to sit down, place the gazpacho and set a basket of the White Cheddar Scones and a little container of Chive Butter on each table. Keep the scones wrapped warmly in a napkin. Pour the iced tea now or fill the glasses as you visit each table. Keep a pitcher of water on hand too in case someone doesn’t want to drink the tea.

Your guests will finish their soup and get up to go through the buffet line in naturally staggered times. Be sure to place the tables and chairs so there are clear paths to the buffet.

Your buffet doesn’t have to fit on just one table. Use a separate table for desserts. Let everyone see what’s coming up next! You might use a small table to hold pitchers of tea, ice and water.

On the table itself, vary the height of the serving pieces. You can slip a box or big can underneath the tablecloth to elevate a dish but don’t do too many of these or your table will look awkward. Use your footed cake stands and yes, this is the time to use your three-tiered trays.

A few Dos and Don’ts for the Hostess:

*Don’t use paper plates, cups or plastic forks.
*Don’t bring foil trays or dishes that the food was cooked in to the table to serve from.
*Do have extra napkins.
*Do offer sugar, artificial sweetener and lemon on the tables even if you prefer your tea without those things. This is about making your guests comfortable, not pushing your own beliefs. (I add this one for myself.)
*Do pull your teenage kids into service. They can clear the soup, help keep the tea glasses filled, remove the plates as everyone goes for dessert and clear the tables when everything has been eaten. If you don’t have your own kids, borrow a neighbor kid, your niece or nephew, a couple girls from church, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find teenage help.
*Do keep a roll of paper towels and a dish towel or two handy but out of sight.
*Do serve the food if someone brings it as a hostess gift. That is, if there is enough to go around. Proper etiquette says you don’t have to do this but why risk hurting someone’s feelings by not using what they brought. Yes, even if it is Watergate Salad. Being kind and generous outweighs having a perfect buffet table.
*Do try to relax and enjoy the party. A nervous, fussy hostess will make her guests uncomfortable. The people you invited are your friends and none of them will be upset if they have to wait a few minutes for a tea refill.

Dos and Don’ts for the Guest:

*Do ask if the hostess would like help but if she says no, please believe she means no.
*Do stay outdoors unless you need to use the restroom. Don’t hang around inside when the hostess meant this party to be outside.
*Don’t bring food to the party unless you’ve cleared it with the hostess first. She’ll probably welcome your vegan-glutton free-no peanut-diet delight but give her warning. She’s probably already set her buffet table. Don’t make her scurry around at the last minute.
*Don’t annoy the hostess by asking “What’s in this?” unless you have an allergy that will send you into anaphylactic shock. If you want the recipe, you can ask her tomorrow when you call to thank her.
*Do try to be in an upbeat party mood. Do think of something interesting or funny ahead of time to contribute to the conversation if you aren’t a good spur-of-the-moment speaker.
*Do be receptive to tasting new foods.
*Don’t bring booze; this is a tea, not a BYOB party. The hostess might indeed serve something alcoholic but that’s totally her call, not the guest’s.
*Do look for signs that the hostess is ready to say goodnight. And say goodnight.
*Do write a thank-you note the next day or at the very least, call the hostess to let her know how great everything was. She’ll really appreciate it and you’ll be invited back again.


The Firefly Tea: White Cheddar and Chive Scones

These are the best savory scones I make. They taste a bit like Red Lobster’s Cheese Biscuits, only these are lighter, more delicate. The dough is a big sticky mess so put down a generous amount of flour before dumping it out. Flour your hands and the cutter too.

2 cups self-rising flour
½ cup butter
¼ cup sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
1/8 cup fresh chopped chives
½ cup buttermilk
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350º. With your food processor or a pastry blender, cut butter into flour until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add cheese and chives. Whisk together egg and buttermilk. Add to flour mixture. Stir enough to combine ingredients loosely.

Pour out onto floured surface and pat together in a circle to about ½ inch thick. Cut with a round biscuit cutter and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned. Makes only 8-10 scones so make several batches in order to have one scone per person. Serve with Chive Butter.

Chive Butter

1 stick of butter, softened
2 Tablespoons chives, chopped

Combine with a fork or whirl in the food processor. For a butter log, put the chive butter onto plastic wrap and form into a log. Refrigerate. Cut pretty round pats to serve. OR simply put the chive butter in a pretty container and refrigerate until ready to use.


The Firefly Tea: Apple Crunch Mini Muffins

I don’t like muffin papers on my homemade muffins. To have to peel that paper from a mini muffin especially seems like way too much bother. Simply grease the muffin cups or spray them with Pam for Baking spray.

1 ½ cup flour
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup shortening
1 egg, slightly beaten
½ cup milk
1 cup shredded, unpared tart apples
Nut Crunch Topping, below

Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon into the bowl of a food processor. Add shortening and pulse until fine crumbs form. Combine egg and milk. Add to dry ingredients all at once, pulsing only to moisten. Stir in apples. Use a small cookie scoop to fill greased mini muffin pans two-thirds full. Sprinkle with Nut Crunch Topping. Bake in a 375º oven for 12-14 minutes. Makes 36 mini muffins.

Nut Crunch Topping:
Mix together ¼ cup brown sugar, ¼ cup chopped pecans and ½ teaspoon cinnamon.


The Firefly Tea: Lemon Blueberry Bread


There are a lot of tea breads that I love. Lemon-blueberry tea bread is my favorite though. The flavor of lemon in this bread isn’t some pale background note; it is the main player. The sweet blueberries compliment the lemon, not the other way around.

When I bake tea breads, I don’t use a traditional 9” x 5” bread pan. I like smaller slices so I use a 12" x 4" x 2 1/2" pan. It holds the same amount as a 9" x 5" and recipes don’t have to be adjusted. The timing should be decreased, however. If you don’t have this special pan, you might want to consider cutting the slices of tea bread in half. Unless you’re serving only tea bread and tea, a whole big slice is just too much to eat.

Here’s the recipe:

1/3 cup butter, melted
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 eggs
1-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
½ cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup sugar

In mixing bowl, beat butter, sugar, juice and eggs. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; stir into egg mixture alternately with milk. Fold in peel, nuts and blueberries. Pour into a greased 12” x 4” loaf pan. Bake at 350º for 45-50 minutes. (If using 9” x 5” loaf pan, bake for 65-70 minutes.) Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine glaze ingredients. Remove bread from pan and drizzle with glaze. Cool on a wire rack. Yield: 1 loaf


The FireFly Tea: Yellow Gazpacho

Serve this cold soup in small bowls. You don’t want your guests to fill up on this before they get to taste any of your other food. You might also serve the gazpacho in stemmed glasses, cordial glasses or sherbet dishes. Garnish the soup with the size of the dish in mind.

3 pounds yellow tomatoes, chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
2 yellow peppers, seeded and diced
2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced
1/2 cup peeled and chopped jicama
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 slice stale bread (crust removed), soaked in water and squeezed dry
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup white wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
Dash hot pepper sauce
Garnish of choice

In a blender or food processor, puree the tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, yellow pepper, cucumber, jicama, bread and onion until very smooth, about 3 minutes. Add vinegar, white wine, olive oil, salt and pepper and combine. Pass through a coarse strainer. Chill thoroughly. Garnish with finely chopped tomato, cucumber, onion and/or herb sprigs of your choice and/or a dollop of sour cream.


Iced Tea

My menu for the Firefly Tea includes not hot tea but iced tea. I wanted to warn not to make the iced tea by the sun tea method. Yes, I know some people have used this method for years without a problem. But why take a risk?

The other day I took a photo of a cup of tea. I’d just thrown a tea bag into a warm water to get some color; I hadn’t made a proper cup. I’d absent-mindedly walked away from the tea and didn’t notice it again for two days. In that time, a thick layer of mold completely covered the surface of the tea. There had been nothing in that clean cup but a tea bag and hot water, no sugar, no lemon, just tea. Ick!

Tea made by the sun tea method never gets any hotter than 130º. That’s not high enough to kill bacteria. While the caffeine in black tea will help prevent some types of bacteria from flourishing for a few hours, its effects won't last beyond that.

In addition, studies at the University of Miami link kidney stones to tea consumption with the interesting finding that sun tea might be the culprit. It seems that the extended steeping time of the sun-tea process brings out components of the tea that might aid in kidney-stone formation. Oh, boy.

Here’s how I make iced tea: Brew a double-strength concentrate to start. Use one ounce of whole-leaf tea for each quart of water just off the boil. Let steep for three to five minutes and then strain the tea. Dilute the concentrate with an equal amount of water. Pour over ice. Cover and refrigerate any remaining tea. If you like sweet tea, add sugar while the tea is still hot so that the sugar will dissolve. Sometimes I even add lemon after the tea has cooled a bit.


Firefly Tea Menu

This tea isn’t served in courses; instead it is a tea buffet. Is the tea bread a dessert or does it belong with the scones? Who cares! Your guests will enjoy the food, recognize some things as typical tea party treats but it won’t matter the order in which they eat. You might notice the white and yellow theme continuing with the food.

Yellow Gazpacho Soup
White Cheddar and Chive Scones with Chive Butter
Lemon Tea Bread
Apple Mini Muffins
Pimento Cheese Tea Sandwiches
Salmon Mini Quiches
Chicken and Pasta Salad
Shrimp, Pineapple and Pepper Skewers
Spicy Empanaditas
Moon and Star Cookies
White and Yellow Petits Four with Silver Dragees
White Chocolate Truffles
Lemon Sorbet
Darjeeling-Ceylon Iced Tea Blend from Upton


Firefly Tea

Late summer is the perfect time for watching fireflies. And it is the perfect time for a Firefly Tea! Gather your friends, lots of them, to enjoy the last warm summer evenings.

Twinkling light is the first thing to think about when planning your decorations for a Firefly Tea. Get out your white Christmas lights and string them through your trees, on your garden fence, circling big pots of flowers. Speaking of Christmas, why not borrow another idea and place luminaries around your yard. Of course, don’t forget the candles. Bring out every white candle you have. Group them down the length of your table, set them on rocks in groups of three. If you have some hanging candle holders, attach them to tree branches.

Have you noticed how white flowers look underneath the moon? They have a beautiful glow that you don’t see in the daylight. Their scent is stronger then too. Bring any pots of your white flowers into your party space. Add one or two yellow flowers as well. If you don’t have any potted flowers, assemble little bouquets of cut white flowers in clear glass vases. Add one or two yellow flowers for color.

So far on the table we have white candles and white and yellow flowers. Use a white tablecloth as well as white dishes, if you have them. White and yellow napkins would be the perfect compliment. Sprinkle mirror confetti on the table for even more sparkle.

To make the setting even more special, sink some plastic pipe into the ground, drape white nylon netting between these poles and let it cascade down each pole to the ground. Loop a yellow bow around a bunch of netting to achieve a full, bloused look.

Some people are lucky enough to have lots of natural "music" in their yards. If you don’t, buy an environment CD that has the sounds of night creatures with only the lightest bit of instrumental music to accompany them. A Firefly Tea is all about soothing and natural sensory experiences.

I don’t usually ask guests to dress a certain way but for this tea, it adds to the atmosphere if everyone wears white or yellow clothes. Almost every woman has a pair of white slacks or a white skirt or even white shorts. Men have white or yellow golf shirts usually in their closets.

Yes, I said men! This is a tea where couples are invited. There is certainly nothing inherently feminine about drinking tea and no reason why men wouldn't enjoy this party. The only caveat is that you’ll need more food. A two-bite tea sandwich isn't going to go very far in satisfying a guy’s appetite. It is okay to go outside a normal tea menu to include more filling food for this event.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the Firefly Tea menu!


Three-Tiered Serving Dishes

Before I start on the next tea theme, I wanted to address a question I received about tiered serving trays. These trays are convenient for tearoom use because the waitress can leave it on the customer’s table and her job is done. It means a lot fewer dishes to wash too.

In my home, I prefer to plate the individual courses and bring them to the table. I would have to go to the kitchen anyway, to refill the teapot, to pull scones out of the oven at the last minute, to get the tea sandwiches from the fridge so they are nice and cold. I don’t find it awkward to leave the table for the few moments it takes to plate the food.

I’ve accumulated a lot of dishes through the years so it isn’t a problem for me to change plates four times. If, however, I didn’t have so many plates, I’d serve the courses on individual platters so that the guests could keep their same plates.

For large tea parties, I often serve buffet style. I place the food for all the courses on the sideboard for guests to help themselves. Here I do use tiered serving trays but holding one food only. My silver tiered tray might hold cream puffs and my blue tiered tray might hold only tea cakes. It doesn’t take long for a tray to be filled when you are serving a dozen or more people; it won't look skimpy.

I like offering my guests the option of returning to the buffet for seconds. I never count only one sandwich or scone per guest. Full platters, bowls or tiered trays let my guests know that it is okay to take a bit more. Some might find it surprising that guests do make a second pass but I don’t believe I’ve ever hosted a buffet tea where this didn’t happen.

For most people, a tea is a special occasion. Instead of bringing a tiered tray to the tea table with the complete menu and expecting the guests to help themselves, add an extra bit of attention and serve your guests yourself. Or serve your tea buffet style and let the guests know it is okay to take another stuffed grape…or three.


Timetable for the Summer Budget Tea

Up to Two Weeks Ahead:
Cook the chicken for the chicken salad and the soup broth. Store chicken meat and broth separately in the freezer.
Prepare and freeze scones. Reheat for 5 minutes in a 350º oven before serving
Prepare the Watermelon Ice
Bake the Vanilla Sugar Tea Cookies and freeze

Three Days Ahead:
Prepare croutons and keep fresh in a Ziploc bag

Two Days Ahead:
Prepare the carrot salad and store in the fridge
Prepare the Summer Cheesecake Bars but do not top with fruit

The Day Before:
Prepare the Mixed Vegetable Puree
Prepare the chicken salad and store in the fridge but do not make up the sandwiches
Defrost the Vanilla Sugar Tea Cookies and Frost

The Day of the Party:
Prepare the Egg Salad in Tomato Cups
Prepare the Cucumber Tea Sandwiches
Assemble the Chicken Salad Tea Sandwiches
Prepare the Stuffed Grapes
Defrost the Watermelon Ice 15 minutes before serving
Top Summer Cheesecake Bars with fruit just before serving
Make the tea!


Shopping List for the Budget Tea

You probably have many of these items in your cupboards already.

Olive oil
3 onions
Celery, 1 bunch
potatoes, 2
1 10 ounce package of spinach OR 1 cup chopped fresh spinach leaves
parsley leaves, 1 bunch
carrots, 2 ½ pounds
6 small tomatoes
1 cucumber
red seedless grapes
Fresh berries, small box
2 lemons
baking powder
baking soda
cider vinegar
nutmeg (optional)
Paprika for sprinkling
garlic salt
light brown sugar
confectioners’ sugar
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
raisins, 1 box
grainy mustard
unflavored gelatin 1 pkg.
3 (8 oz) packages cream cheese
Butter 2 pounds
14 eggs
3 cups heavy cream
Thin white sandwich bread
Whole grain bread
1 whole chicken


The Fourth Course: Sweets

Summer Cheesecake Bars
1 cup flour
¼ cup light brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
½ cup butter, melted

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Fresh berries for garnish

Preheat oven to 350º. Combine flour, brown sugar, pecans and butter in a bowl. Press this dough into an ungreased 13 x 9-inch pan. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

For filling, beat cream cheese and granulated sugar together in a bowl until smooth, using electric mixer; add eggs and extract and beat well. Pour over crust. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool completely. Cut into squares before serving. Decorate tops with berries. Yield: 24

*This recipe from The Lady and Sons Just Desserts by Paula Dean

Watermelon Ice

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons water
4 cups seeded cubed watermelon, divided
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey

Sprinkle gelatin over water; let stand for 2 minutes. Microwave on high for 40 seconds; stir. Let stand for 2 minutes until gelatin is dissolved.

Pour into a blender or food processor; add 1 cup watermelon, lime juice and honey. Cover and process until smooth. Add remaining melon, a cup at a time, and process until smooth.

Pour into a 9-inch square dish; freeze until almost firm. Transfer to a chilled bowl; beat with electric mixer until mixture is bright pink. Pour into serving dishes; freeze until firm. Remove from freezer 15-20 minutes before serving. Yield: 6 servings

Stuffed Grapes with Lemon Cream

1 package cream cheese (8 oz) 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup confectioners sugar 1 pound large red grapes
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

Beat cream cheese, sugar, lemon peel, and lemon juice until smooth. Cover and refrigerate 1 - 2 hours. With a sharp knife, cut an X through the top of each grape, being careful not to cut all the way through the bottom. Spread sections apart slightly. With a ½ inch star tip, pipe the filling to each grape. Grapes may be prepared and refrigerated up to 4 hours before serving. To hold grapes upright on serving plate, lay down a dot of filling and place the grape on top of that. Yield: 3 ½ dozen grapes.

Vanilla Sugar Tea Cookies
Make your own vanilla sugar with a vanilla bean placed in your sugar bowl for a couple days

2 ¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
¼ cup vanilla sugar
2 large eggs
½ tablespoons vanilla extract
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Cream the butter and vanilla sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture with a wooden spoon.

Turn the dough out onto a sheet of wax paper. Shape into an 8 ½ x 2-inch log and roll it up in wax paper. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 400º. Cut the dough into ¼-inch slices and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for about 8 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool. Ice with chocolate butter cream frosting. Yield: 3 dozen

Chocolate Butter Cream Frosting

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken up
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Combine chocolate, butter and milk in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on full power for 1 minute, then whisk until smooth. (You can also combine and melt the ingredients in the top of a double boiler over boiling water.) Add the vanilla and sift in the confectioners’ sugar. Whisk the mixture until smooth.


The Third Course: Tea Sandwiches

When I don’t serve a salad along with the soup course, I like to add it to the tea sandwiches course. In this case, I’ll mound carrot salad in the middle of the serving plates and surround it with the tea sandwiches. It gives the presentation an extra colorful crunch.

Carrot Salad

½ cup raisins
¼ cup cider vinegar
2 pounds carrots, peeled and grated
¾ cup light olive oil
Salt and pepper
Dash of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

Soak the raisins in the vinegar for a half hour. Drain, reserving the vinegar. Mix the raisins with the grated carrots.

Add the vinegar to the oil, season with salt and pepper, add nutmeg and mix with the carrots and raisins.

Egg salad in a Tomato Cup

8 hardboiled eggs, peeled and chopped
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons grainy mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Paprika for sprinkling
6 small tomatoes

Combine mayonnaise, mustard, salt and pepper in a bowl. Add the chopped eggs. Chill for at least an hour. In the meantime, slice the top off the tomatoes, about a quarter of the way from the top. Using a spoon, scoop out the pulp and seeds being careful not to poke through. Drain the tomatoes on paper towels while egg salad is chilling. Fill the tomatoes and sprinkle with paprika; do not top with the tomato cap.

Cucumber Sandwiches on Buttered White

1 cucumber
¼ cup butter, softened
1 tablespoons parsley chopped, stemmed leaves reserved for topping
Thin white sandwich bread

Slice the cucumber into ¼ inch to ½ inch rounds. Lightly salt the slices and allow to sit on a rack so that extra moisture is released, about 10 minutes. In a small bowl, mix the butter with the chopped parsley until well combined. Using a biscuit cutter or other round cutter, make circles in the bread that are only slightly larger than the cucumber slices. It is easiest to do this if the bread is slightly frozen. Spread the bread rounds with the parsley butter. Quickly rinse the cucumber slices and pat dry with paper towels. Top each bread round with a cucumber slice and decorate the tops with the reserved parsley leaves.

Chicken Salad with Grapes

For this particular menu, use the cooked chicken reserved from the soup course.
5 cups diced chicken
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup celery
1 cup red seedless grapes cut in half
Whole grain bread, thinly sliced

Place the chicken in a bowl. Add enough mayonnaise to coat the meat, then add the grapes and celery and mix gently but thoroughly.

To make the tea sandwiches: Top a slice of the bread with chicken salad and cover with another slice of bread. Be sure to spread the chicken salad to the edges. Trim the crusts from the sandwiches and cut on the diagonal. When plating these sandwiches, place a few celery leaves underneath the sandwiches, poking out, for garnish.


Time After Time Tea Recipes

There are many items that you’ll find yourself using at almost every tea. I’ll include them in this category instead of listing them in each group of recipes. So far we’ve used Strawberry Preserves and Devonshire or Clotted Cream.

Strawberry Preserves

It is such a treat for tea guests to have homemade preserves for their scones. Everyone will appreciate the effort you’ve made. You could make freezer preserves but jarred is so much better.

8 cups strawberries, cut into pieces
6 cups sugar

Combine the strawberries and sugar in a large pot and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally until all the sugar dissolves. Cook until thick, about 40 minutes. Keep stirring often and watch that it doesn’t scorch.

Ladle the hot preserves into sterilized jars, put on the lids and screw bands.

Process the jars in a boiling water bath, 5 minutes for half-pints, 10 minutes for pints.

Mock Clotted Cream

It gets thick like the real thing.

3 ounces cream cheese
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream

Combine all ingredients. Beat with electric mixer until stiff. Store in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

The Second Course: Raisin Scones

4 ½ cups flour and some for dusting
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter, cold, cut into pieces
1 cup raisins
2 ¼ cups heavy cream, divided
1 large egg yolk
Sugar for sprinkling on top

In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With a pastry blender cut in the butter until mixture resembles cornmeal. Fold in raisins. Pour 2 cups of cream into the flour. Using your hands, mix until the dough just comes together.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Press the dough into an 11 x 7-inch rectangle, 1 inch thick. Cut the rectangle into 16 triangles. Place the triangles onto parchment-lined sheets, cover with plastic and freeze for at least two hours.

Preheat oven to 375º. Mix the egg yolk with the remaining ¼ cup cream and brush over the tops of the scones. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake 30 to 35 minutes.


The Soup Course: Mixed Vegetable Puree

Make with vegetables from your garden or whatever you have in the fridge. The vegetables in this recipe are merely suggestions. You don't even have to soften the vegetables in olive oil or butter first. Just throw everything you have into the broth and simmer until it is all soft.

¼ cup olive oil or butter
2 onions, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 quarts of chicken broth
1 10 ounce package of spinach OR 1 cup chopped fresh spinach leaves
¼ cup parsley leaves
¾ cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Croutons, recipe below

Heat the olive oil or butter over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and potatoes. Stir the vegetables for about 10 minutes; don’t brown the vegetables. Add the chicken broth and simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 10 minutes more. Add the spinach and parsley. Simmer for about 10 minutes more to cook the green vegetables.

Put the soup in a blender or food processor. Stir in the cream and season to taste. Serve the soup with garlicky croutons on top and a swirl of olive oil.


Dice bread into cubes. Drizzle with olive oil or melted butter. Sprinkle with seasoned salt, garlic or onion salt, parsley, basil, oregano or any combination of herbs/spices you prefer.
Place on a baking sheet in a 225°F oven and toast until browned and crispy dry. Stir occasionally so that all sides are browned.


Menu for a Casual, Budget-Conscious Tea

The key idea to make this tea inexpensive is to create several dishes from one ingredient. For example, one chicken is used for the basis of the soup and for the grape chicken salad, carrots are used in cooking the chicken and for the carrot salad, and celery leaves decorate the plates, go into the chicken salad and simmer with the chicken broth. Nothing is left over and nothing is wasted. Another feature of this menu is that it stars seasonal fruit and vegetables from your own garden or from a farmers’ market. Abundant ingredients equal inexpensive ingredients.

For the First Course:
Mixed Vegetable Puree with Garlicky Croutons

For the Second Course:
Sweet Raisin Scones with Strawberry Preserves and Clotted Cream

For the Third Course:
Cucumber Tea Sandwiches
Grape Chicken Salad
Dilly Egg Salad in Tomato Cups
Crunchy Carrot and Raisin Salad

For the Fourth Course:
Summer Cheesecake Bars
Vanilla Tea Cakes with Chocolate Butter cream
Watermelon Ice
Stuffed Grapes