A Christmas Tea: Winter Strawberry Salad

This salad is very pretty for a Christmas Tea. A bit different from the usual Poppy Seed Dressings, the sour cream gives this one a fantastic flavor.


½ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange peel
1 teaspoon poppy seed

6 cups salad greens
½ cup thinly diced celery
¼ cup finely chopped sweet red onion
2 cups sliced fresh strawberries

Stir together all dressing ingredients and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. Just before serving, toss together salad ingredients and dress.


A Christmas Tea: Roasted Red Pepper Soup

5 large sweet red peppers
4 cups chicken broth
1 16-ounce can tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
sour cream

Cut pepper in half. Remove seeds and stems. Place cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake in 425º oven for 20 minutes. Place in paper bag and close. Allow peppers to cool then peel off and discard skins.

Coarsely chop peppers; place in a large saucepan. Add broth, undrained tomatoes and garlic. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Cool mixture slightly. Transfer to blender and process until smooth.

Return soup to pan. Heat through. Ladle into bowls and top with a dollop of sour cream, if desired.


My World Wednesday: Christmas Dishes

I have good Christmas china that I use for Christmas dinner and pretty and practical Christmas dishes from Correll that I use for every day in December. But my favorite Christmas dishes are the ones in the photo. An overall green holly pattern with bright red berries gives these dishes their festive look. The plates are scalloped on the edges to resemble a holly leaf.

This china wasn’t sold in fine department stores; it came from the local 5 & 10 back in the 1960s through the early 1970s. It was manufactured by the Lefton Company.

George Zoltan Lefton, a Hungarian immigrant, founded his company in 1941. When the US wanted to help rebuild Japan after World War II, Lefton was one of the first in line to sign up to have the Japanese make his products. Early pieces are marked “Made in Occupied Japan.”

The holly dishes have small red stickers on the bottom of each piece saying “Lefton China.” Because the dishes were washed by hand and used only on special occasions, the stickers are often still visible. The pieces were packed in green boxes decorated with holly leaves. They were usually packed away with the rest of the Christmas things in these protective boxes and that’s how they are found today.

My original dishes belonged to my mother. Or maybe I should say that they belong to my mother. She never actually gave them to me but what’s that saying, possession is 9/10s of the law? (Hi, Mom!)

Through the years, my husband, the inveterate collector, began spotting pieces at yard sales, flea markets and antique stores. There are still plenty of them around but since eBay, the prices have risen significantly.

The photo shows only a tiny portion of our dishes. We have many little trays and candy holders, covered bowls and boxes. There are several sleighs and reindeer available. We even have several pieces that we’re not certain of their function. A rotating Christmas tree pierced with holes to hold something or perhaps it was a pomander of some kind and a lantern without a spot to put a candle are two of our mystery pieces.

The Lefton Company made some really kitschy things in its heyday and they are all considered collectible today. If you have some little figurines or knickknacks, turn them over and look for the Lefton name. Lefton was bought by OMT Enterprises a few years ago and now exists in California.

If you come to my house for Christmas Tea, you can be sure I’ll be using these dishes.


A Christmas Tea: Menu

This Christmas Tea menu is festive without being fussy. Much of it can be prepared ahead to avoid the last-minute rush. Use whatever cookies, candies and other goodies you already have in the house for part of the dessert course.

Christmas Red Pepper Soup

Winter Strawberry Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing

Gingerbread Scones with Hard Sauce

Asian Crab Cakes
Broccoli Cheese Tarts
Sweet Pear and Cheese Tea Sandwiches
Ginger Cashews

Bûche de Noël
Tiny Chess Tarts
Chocolate Cherry Tarts
Martha Washingtons
Christmas Cookies
Truffles and Chocolate-Covered Cherries

Boston Tea from Harney, a blend of black tea, cranberry and almond flavors--perfect!


A Christmas Tea

If you followed my advice from a post way back on September 29, called Planning a Christmas Tea, you’re well on your way to having a wonderful tea. If you didn’t, don’t panic. There is still time to get ready for a Christmas Tea!

You might think you can’t fit a tea into your already busy Christmas schedule. Too much extra work and bother, you feel. Think about it though, your house is, or will be, already cleaned and decorated, your Christmas dishes are down from the top of the cupboard. Your good tablecloth is ironed. You even have your Christmas CDs playing on the machine. The only things left to do for your tea are to invite your guests and make some food.

Go ahead and send a pretty invitation to your Christmas Tea but be warned that you’ll probably need to follow up with a phone call. And don’t be offended if some of the guests you’d like to have unfortunately have prior commitments. Think carefully about when you want to schedule your tea. An evening tea might be easier for your guests to attend than on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

Instead of constraining your taste because of the seasonal aspect, a Christmas Tea allows your style and personality to shine. If your home is decorated in a formal and elegant style, play to that with your gold edged china. Casual and cozy, get out your gingerbread dishes and have fun. You don’t have to think about this; just look around your rooms.

The only extra decoration to bring in might be fresh flowers if you don’t have them already. While you can use any decorations on your table, you really do need to have flowers too. If you are good at arranging, a beautiful bouquet with greens and berries, along with fresh flowers would be lovely. My favorite though are roses. Use ball ornaments as vases to hold a couple roses at each place setting to match your centerpiece. Roses should last a week after your party so they might do double duty even for your Christmas dinner.

It is nice to give a little take-home gift to each guest. I prefer homemade things, especially this time of year. Line up the gifts on a table by the front door or use a basket so no one gets missed as everyone is leaving. I’ll have some suggestions for gifts to make coming up in future posts.

The menu and recipes for A Christmas Tea will start tomorrow. If you feel you don’t want to cook or bake for this tea, you don’t have to. Specialty stores as well as your grocery store will be only too happy to make everything for you. These businesses have special menus they use only for the holiday season so take advantage of that.

The most important thing to keep in mind for this tea, as for all others, is creating a special experience for your guests. Everyone is so stressed now either from too much shopping or year-end crunches at work. Give them a reason to unwind and appreciate this holiday season. Make each guest feel pampered with you personal care and attention. When your guests walk out your door, they should feel renewed and full of joy!


My World Wednesday: Happy Thanksgiving!

These interesting Thanksgiving post cards belonged to my husband's great aunt. The postmark indicates that they were mailed in 1907 and 1908.

A patriotic Thanksgiving theme isn't something we usually see in our cards today but it is quite appropriate, isn't it?

A cozy home scene to remind everyone what life used to be like long before 1907. Notice the teapot with the dishes on the mantle.

Pilgrim couples walking in the snow. The guy seems to be carrying his Bible and his gun.

A very fancy turkey wearing a nice hat, striped trousers and spats. This one says, "Thanks, I will come to your dinner of a turkey dressed, providing you will give me, a piece of the breast."

I won't be posting again until next Monday. Until then, I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving.


Tea with the Animals: Tea Sandwiches for Children

Peanut Butter and Jelly Rollups don’t require a recipe but here are some assembly directions: Trim crusts from bread and flatten with a rolling pin. Spread with peanut butter and then jelly. Roll up from the short side and place seam down on the plate. I used a frilly pick because I know kids love them. Obviously don’t use a pick with very small children.

Ham, Swiss and Apple Tea Sandwiches are just as simple. Top thin bread with deli ham, apple slices and Swiss cheese. You may use mayonnaise or butter on the bread if you believe your little guests will like that but if you aren’t sure, leave it off. Use your favorite animal-shaped cookie cutter to cut out the shape, pressing through all layers at once. It is sometimes easier to work with frozen bread; the cutters seem to go through easier with fewer raggedy edges. These sandwiches can be made up to 4 hours ahead by covering with a slightly damp paper towel and then wrapping in plastic wrap and storing in the fridge.


Tea with the Animals: Little Piggy Scones

Kids of all ages will love these scones. Don’t be afraid to make them; the dough, unlike many scone recipes, is super easy to work with. They taste great with just a hint of sweetness.

2 cups flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter
8 ounces sour cream
1 egg, separated
20 raisins or currants

Stir together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center. Mix 8 sour cream and egg yolk; add all at once to dry mixture. With fork, stir just till moistened.

Turn dough out onto floured surface. Knead gently 10-12 strokes. Pat dough into ½-inch thickness. Cut 10 circles with a 2 ½-inch round cutter for heads and 10 circles with a 1-inch cutter for snouts. From scraps cut 20 triangles for ears. Place heads 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet.

Brush snouts with egg white mixed with 1 tablespoon water. Place on heads just off-center toward bottom of head. Brush ears with egg white mixture and press into position. Make jowl impressions by cutting deeply into dough with a spoon. Use the pointed end of a bottle opener to make two marks on the snouts and a mark below snout for mouth. Brush with egg white mixture. Add raisins or currants for eyes. Bake in a 400º oven about 15 minutes. Makes 10.


Tea with the Animals: Merry Christmas Mice

Here is another cute and super easy recipe that kids will love. If the kids are the ones hosting this Christmas tea, they’ll love helping to make these chocolate mice. This recipe, as well as the photo, are from the Taste of Home web site. You can find tons of great recipes there.

24 double-stuffed Oreos
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons shortening
24 red maraschino cherries with stems, well drained
24 chocolate kisses
48 sliced almonds
1 small tube green decorative icing gel
1 small tube red decorative icing gel

Carefully twist cookies apart; set aside the halves with cream filling. Save plain halves for another use. In a microwave or heavy saucepan, melt chocolate chips and shortening; stir until smooth. Holding each cherry by the stem, dip in melted chocolate, then press onto the bottom of a chocolate kiss. Place on the cream filling of cookie, with cherry stem extending beyond cookie edge. For ears, place slivered almonds between the cherry and kiss. Refrigerate until set. With green gel, pipe holly leaves on the cream. With red gel , pipe holly berries between leaves and pipe eyes on each chocolate kiss. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.


Tea with the Animals: Reindeer Cookies

Use your favorite peanut butter cookie recipe or save time with a premade mix. There are no difficult to shape parts or hard to find ingredients here.

1 package (17 1/2 oz) peanut butter cookie mix*
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
60 miniature pretzel twists for antlers
60 semisweet chocolate chips for eyes
30 red hot candies or red M&Ms for noses

*You can leave out the cookie mix, egg, and oil, and use your own peanut butter cookie dough recipe.

In mixing bowl, combine cookie mix, oil and egg. Beat until well blended. Shape peanut butter cookie dough into a 7 1/2-inch roll; wrap in plastic wrap.

Refrigerate for about 1 hour, until chilled and firm. Unwrap and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Place cookies 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Using thumb and forefinger, make a slight indention about 1/3 of the way down the sides of each slice. Press in pretzels for antlers, chocolate chips for eyes and a red hot for the nose.

Bake at 350 degrees for 9 to 12 minutes, or until light brown. Remove to wire racks to cool. Makes about 30 cookies.


A Tea with the Animals: Fruit Kabobs with Dip

Size your skewers to the age of the children enjoying this tea. The smaller the child, the smaller the skewer should be. For very small children, forget the skewer completely and serve the fruit pieces in a pretty bowl. Use whatever fruit you enjoy, grapes, pineapple pieces, maraschino cherries, strawberries—most kids like these.

Creamy Caramel Dip

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
¾ cup brown sugar
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 cup cold milk
1 package (3.4 ounces) instant vanilla pudding mix
Assorted fresh fruit

In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and brown sugar until smooth. Add the sour cream, vanilla, lemon juice, milk and pudding mix, beating well after each addition. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour. Thread fruit chunks onto skewers and serve with this dip.

Rose Michelle at A Cup of Tea with Friends has given me this You Make Me Smile award. Thank you so much! If you haven’t visited her blog, please do. She’s a military wife who works helping military families. If you’ve been thinking of the war in Iraq in an abstract, political way, she will bring it down to a human level for you. She’s warm and funny and she loves tea too.


My World Wednesday: Details

There is is an old saying, the devil is in the details. I think that’s true and I will add that an old house’s personality is in those same details. Here are a few details around my house.

Acid brushed copper everywhere:


Door knobs

Inside hinges

Switch on the light? Hmmm, not here.

Every corner needs protection:

Beautiful door knobs:

Original fretwork:

Leaded stained glass:

Even in the attic:


Tea with the Animals: Children's Tea Menu

This is a very simple and easy to prepare menu for a children's tea party. I’ve included foods that aren’t foreign or scary for little appetites. If you are serving tea to older children or those who are more adventurous, by all means, use some of the items from previous afternoon tea menus I’ve given. As you can see, this menu can be used any time of the year.

Fruit Sticks and Dip
Piggie Scones

Turkey-Apple-Swiss Cutouts
PB&J Rollups

Mice of Chocolate
Panda and Monkey Cupcakes
Reindeer Cookies
Gummi Bears and Animal Crackers

Chamomile Tea or Pink Lemonade

As always, recipes start with tomorrow's post!


Tea with the Animals, a Tea Party for Children

Tea with the Animals is a tea for children. It can be held any time of year but it is especially nice at Christmas. While my animal friends are teddy bears, any stuffed or toy animal is appropriate. A little boy might not have a teddy bear; a toy dinosaur is probably more up his alley. Each child should be encouraged to bring his/her favorite to the tea.

Have some ribbons, lace and other trims that the children can use to “decorate” their animals. Craft store doll hats, small garlands, scraps of felt or fabric are also good to have on hand. You might even consider raiding your own costume jewelry for things the animals might wear.

A good idea is to arrange a little photo spot with a small chair and table set for tea. Pose each child individually and take his/her picture while both the child and the animal are still looking good. Print out the photos and slip them into little frames to take home. Any office supply store will have these frames and often you’ll find seasonal ones.

After the children have dressed their animals and had their photos taken, invite them to the tea table. While I don’t recommend using your best china, I do think children deserve to put on their dress-up manners and eat off real plates with real silverware. They really will notice pretty things even if they don’t comment on them. Mix some of your own animals in with the decorations around the room but don’t place them on the table. You don’t want anyone reaching for or fighting over those animals.

I recommend sending paper invitations addressed to the child. If you look, you can find ones with animals around a tea table but of course, that isn’t absolutely necessary. This invitation could become a keepsake of the child’s very first tea party so make it special.

Each hostess knows how many guests she can handle. Consider the age of your tiny partiers and whether they can sit at the tea table and behave well or whether they’ll need mom or another adult standing by. There is a huge difference between age 4 and age 8. I believe though that children of any age can appreciate this tea party. Just don’t invite more children than you know you should. Too many guests and the party will be ruined.

Instead of having tea in the usual courses, for children, offer everything but the desserts at once. You might want to consider filling plates in the kitchen. You can’t expect small children to pass serving dishes. If you know your little guests well you probably know what they won’t eat but it never hurts to encourage them to try a bite of something new. Just to be safe, check with a parent about any food allergies.

Although I’ve been drinking tea for as long as I can remember, you’ll have to consider whether you want to serve it to your guests. Some parents object to the caffeine and have their own ideas about what’s right for their child. You could serve a fruity tisane instead or a chamomile tea both of which contain no actual tea. You might even try lemonade or a fruit punch. Whatever drink you decide to serve, do use real cups and saucers. Demitasse cups work especially well.

There is no reason to avoid background music at a children’s tea. For Christmas, there are some CDs especially for children. My favorite for this tea though would be Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals.”

A consideration when hosting a children’s tea is what to do about parents. Do you want them to stay around or do you want them to drop their child off and leave? At Christmas, most people will appreciate a couple hours to get away on their own. But you probably will need some help to serve this tea. Think about how you want to handle this because, if you don’t, the parents will make the decision for you.

Another unique problem with children’s teas is how to handle an overwrought or out of control child. Hopefully you won’t need this but just in case, you might want to prepare in advance a room where you or a helper can take a child until s/he feels better. Stock a few books or a small toy. Sometimes a quiet environment away from all the excitement is all it takes for the child to calm down and enjoy the rest of the tea party.

If you’d like to have an activity after the tea is finished and the table cleared, you might want to make treats for some real animals. If the children are older, they can string popcorn and whole peanuts into garlands to be placed outside on trees for the birds and squirrels. Pinecones spread with peanut butter and rolled in birdseed is another nice treat. Orange cups can be filled with berries and nuts and placed on the tree branches.

I often like to send little gifts home with my tea guests. For this Tea with the Animals, each child will have the photo taken earlier. I think that’s enough. Children are so used to fancy birthday party goodie bags. I wouldn’t want them to think of teas in quite that same way. That’s just my own feeling though. If you do want to give the children something to take home, a big cookie wrapped in cellophane or a popcorn ball snowman are both simple and sweet.

Here are a few Tea with Children Dos and Don’ts

1. Do invite boys.
2. Don’t make decorations overly feminine if you’re expecting boys.
3. Do ask the children to dress up. This helps to reinforce party manners.
4. Stand back and do let the children’s imaginations lead the way.
5. Do keep paper towels handy and expect some spills.
6. Do serve the foods most kids enjoy.
7. Don’t plan for the tea to last too long. Kids have short attention spans.
8. Do give a couple tea pointers but don’t stand up and lecture.
9. Do have one helper for every three small guests, more for very tiny children.
10. Do ask the children to stay in their seats, no jumping up and down.
11. Do have some adult refreshments in the kitchen for any mom-helpers.
12. Do set a specific time for the tea to end and include that information on the invitation.
13. If you are hosting a tea for little family members, do sit at the table with them. No need to play waitress.
14. Do use seasonal decorations around the house.
15. Do prepare yourself that things might not go as you’ve imagined and planned.
16. Do enjoy yourself and the children will have fun too.

Coming up tomorrow, Tea with the Animals recipe ideas! And by the way, my bears in the picture are sitting in a high chair that held generations of my husband’s family. They are drinking tea from a little set that belonged to my mother when she was a child.


Tea Break Treats: Lemon Pound Cake

One last Tea Break Treat, Ina Garten's Lemon Pound Cake. I love Ina. She's my favorite Food Network star and I have all her cookbooks. I found this recipe online here.

½ pound unsalted butter
2 ½ cups granulated sugar
4 extra-large eggs (at room temperature)
1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
¾ cup buttermilk at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 ½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease two 8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2 ½ -inch loaf pans.

Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for about 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time, and the lemon zest. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine ¼ cup lemon juice, the buttermilk and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour.

Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Combine ½ cup granulated sugar with ½ cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves and makes a syrup. When the cakes are done, let them cool for 10 minutes, then invert them onto a rack set over a tray, and spoon the lemon syrup over the cakes. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour over the top of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.


Tea Break Treats: Muffins

Muffins, a favorite breakfast food, make a great tea break treat too. The Pumpkin Muffins are made with whole wheat flour so they’re extra good for you. The batter can be held in the fridge several days so you can have a fresh, hot muffin in only minutes.

Pumpkin Muffins

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup canned pumpkin
¾ cup chopped nuts (optional)
¾ cup raisins, dried cranberries or chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 375º. Grease muffin cups or fill with paper liners.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices in a medium bowl.

Cream together the butter and sugars in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the vanilla and pumpkin. Add the dry ingredients mixing until evenly moistened. Stir in the nuts and raisins, cranberries or chips, if using.

Scoop into muffin pans. Bake 22 to 24 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes before removing the muffins from the pan.

If you like blueberry muffins that aren't so sweet, this is the recipe for you.
Maine Blueberry Muffins

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, thawed if frozen
2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup milk
¼ cup butter, melted and cooled

Preheat oven to 400º. Grease muffin cups or fill with paper liners. Toss blueberries with 1 tablespoon of the flour in small bowl. Set aside.

Whisk remaining flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into large bowl. Using wooden spoon or mixer, beat eggs, milk and melted butter to blend well. Stir milk mixture into flour mixture only until just blended (batter will be stiff). Fold in floured blueberries as you stir.

Spoon batter into muffin pans, filling each 2/3 full. Bake 15-18 minutes until lightly browned and toothpick comes out clean. Makes 12 muffins.


Tea Break Treats: Chocolate Pound Cake

Here’s another suggestion and recipe for a tea break treat. Chocolate Pound Cake is really good without any icing or glaze at all. Just sprinkle some powdered sugar over it for a lighter taste.

Chocolate Pound Cake

3 cups flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ cups butter, softened
2 ¾ cups sugar
5 large eggs
2 squares (2 ounces) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, grated

Preheat oven to 350º. Grease and flour, or spray with Pam for Baking, a 12-cup Bundt pan. In a bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa and baking powder. In another small bowl, mix milk and vanilla.

In a mixer at medium speed, beat butter until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until well blended. Increase speed to medium-high; beat until creamy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low; add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. With mixer at low speed, alternately add flour mixture and milk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat until blended. Stir in the grated chocolate.

Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Cook cake in pan on wire rack 10 minutes. Invert cake onto wire rack to cool completely.

Drizzle glaze, below, over cake and serve in wedges.

Chocolate Glaze

3 (3 ounce bars) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream

Break chocolate into pieces and process in a food processor until very fine. Remove the chocolate to a small, heavy saucepan.

Heat the cream to the boiling point and pour three quarters of it over the chocolate. Cover for 5 minutes to allow chocolate to melt. Gently stir together until smooth, trying not to create air bubbles. Allow to cool until just tepid. If the glaze is too thick, add some of the warm remaining cream by the teaspoon. If the glaze is too thin, stir in a small amount of the melted chocolate. When the consistency is correct, use at once.

To go with the Chocolate Pound Cake, have a handful of walnuts. Chocolate and walnuts have a natural affinity. And walnuts are so good for you.

And for tea, try a rich black Golden Monkey (Jin Hou) from Silk Road Teas.


My World Wednesday: Music

I'm not sure sure how it happened but I live with two pianos, a pump organ and two Victrolas. I guess that’s what happens when one lives in a large Victorian house. “Normal” people wouldn’t want these large pieces taking up space in their homes. But I think they are unique and wonderful and I wouldn’t dream of getting rid of any of them.
This pump organ was manufactured just up the road by the Weaver Organ and Piano Company. It’s hard to date it exactly but it was made some time between 1882 and 1912. This particular organ is in need of restoration and there are indeed companies that sell replacement parts for these old organs. I find there is still something lovely about it. At Christmas, it gets decorated with ribbon and greens.

You might notice that this piano has a strange door on the front. Open it up and you’ll see the roll holder of a player piano. Piano rolls were made of perforated paper. A pneumatic system caused the holes to be read and the piano keys depressed. Another door at the bottom of the piano opens to a set of foot petals that must be pumped to build up that pneumatic pressure. This instrument was built by the Cunningham Piano Company in Philadelphia, probably in the 1890s.

Player pianos were really popular until phonographs hit the scene. The most famous pianists and composers or the day recorded rolls. Since they are only paper, the rolls tear easily and get destroyed. But for those who want them, originals are still available and remastered ones are still made by niche companies. Player pianos can perform very complex music although it doesn’t sound just like the real thing because of the minute differences in pressure and timing that a musician sitting on the bench would use. It is fun to have one though and quite good leg exercise.

Since I mentioned the phonograph, here is one of my Victor-Victrolas. There is lots of information available about these because each one had a serial number. This particular model was manufactured in 1917-1918 and sold for $130.00 at that time. Like the player piano, this provides exercise too as the phonograph must be cranked with the little hand crank you see in the picture. This model has an internal speaker and the upper doors are opened to project the music.

Victrolas played 78 records. You’ve probably seen them. As my machines belonged to my husband’s family, we inherited their record collection as well. I recognize some artist’s names like, Kay Kyser, Gene Autry, Al Jolson, and Gene Krupa. Those must have belonged to “Grandpa.” Other records were pre-1930 jazz: Harmony Joe, House of David by the Original Memphis Five, Bake that Chicken Pie, It Don’t Do Nothin’ But Rain. There were lots of records in the collection by black artists; I think they belonged to “Great Grandpa.”

These old instruments and machines help to create a Victorian ambiance in my home and it is special to me that they’ve come down in the family. All of these pieces are over a century old. I hope that they can exist for another century.


Tea Break Treats

Sometimes the best tea break treats are the most humble. Having grown up on tea and toast, I still find a slice of freshly baked bread to be high on my list of foods that go well with tea. Here’s the famous New York Times recipe from Mark Bittman for Quick Whole Wheat Bread. Top it with butter and preserves or eat it plain.

Oil or butter for greasing pan
1 2/3 cups buttermilk or plain yogurt, or 11/2 cups milk and 2 tablespoons white vinegar (see Step 2)
2 1/2 cups (about 12 ounces) whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup molasses.

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8-by-4-inch or 9-by 5-inch loaf pan, preferably nonstick.

2. If using buttermilk or yogurt, ignore this step. Make soured milk: warm milk gently — 1 minute in the microwave is sufficient, just enough to take the chill off — and add vinegar. Set aside.

3. Mix together dry ingredients. Stir molasses into buttermilk, yogurt or soured milk. Stir liquid into dry ingredients (just enough to combine) then pour into loaf pan. Bake until firm and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes before removing from pan.

Yield: 1 loaf.

Lighter Whole Wheat Quick Bread: Use 1 1/2 cups whole wheat and 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour; omit cornmeal. Substitute honey for molasses. Beat 1 egg into wet ingredients in Step 3. Proceed with recipe.

To accompany this tea break favorite, add some fresh fruit.

Enjoy peeling an orange. Really think about it. Inhale the scent. Feel the juice as it spritzes on your fingers. Eat it slowly.

With this tea break, carry Earl Grey in your thermos. It will go perfectly with this homey bread and orange pairing.

More tea break suggestions coming up on Thursday!


A Tea Break

“Tea, though ridiculed by those who are naturally coarse in their nervous sensibilities . . . will always be the favourite beverage of the intellectual.” --Thomas De Quincey (1785–1859), English author.

“…is there anything in the world lovelier than fresh warm bread and a mug of sweet golden tea?” -- Frank McCourt, 'Angela's Ashes’

Those are two of my favorite thoughts about tea. While I don’t claim to be an intellectual, I believe a cup of tea can help spark one’s thinking. It can give a kick physically. And the time spent sipping the tea is relaxing, allowing our batteries recharge.

Every consideration you’d give one of your tea guests, you must give yourself when taking a tea break. A pretty cup, saucer and spoon are all necessary elements. A cloth napkin, a tea tray and a comfortable chair can’t be forgotten either.

When taking a tea break, move away from your desk or work area, if possible. In warm weather, a balcony, porch or shady backyard swing provide the perfect setting. As it gets colder, a spot in front of the fireplace, a favorite chair at a sunny window or on a sofa underneath an afghan are nice places to take tea. For those working away from home, look for rooms that aren’t being used. An empty conference room, a little used library, even the board room are all places you might hide for a few minutes while enjoying your tea break.

An afternoon tea break should be a simple affair. Something sweet, something chocolate, fruit, nuts, a bite of cheese all make good choices. Unless you’ve missed lunch, there is no need for soup, sandwiches or salads.

In order to save more time to enjoy your tea break, brew your tea ahead of time and keep it hot in a glass lined thermos. At the appointed hour, you’ll need only to pour your tea and plate your tea goodies. This is an especially good idea for people at work where a microwave might be the only way to heat water.

Just as you savor your tea and sweets, now is the time to savor some music as well. Listen to every note, listen as the themes weave in and out, hear a bit of Bach in Busoni. While music is my favorite tea break activity, you might enjoy reading poetry, looking through an art or travel book or simply sitting with your own thoughts. I don’t recommend reading a novel, a book on your favorite hobby or making to-do lists. Those things engage your mind in ways that aren’t going to recharge you.

The little oasis of a tea break in the middle of the day will improve your attitude, fuel your creativity and provide a way to de-stress. Don’t feel you aren’t worth it. Don’t feel you don’t have time.

Tomorrow I’ll post some more tea break ideas, as well as, several recipes. These will be make ahead treats that can be packed in a pretty bag or basket and taken to your work area.


Measuring By Weight

Because of the global nature of the Internet, many recipes online list ingredients by weight. Several of my cookbooks have done this too. I’ve found that weighing is faster, easier and more convenient than measuring. For my own conversion of recipes and for others who might want to use this method, here is a little chart to help.

Food -- Ounces - Grams

Butter-- 8 - 227
vegetable shortening-- 9 - 256
cake flour--4 - 114
all purpose flour-- 4.25 - 121
bread flour-- 4.5 - 130
whole wheat flour-- 4.5 - 125
cornstarch-- 4.2 - 120
dutch processed cocoa--3.25 - 92
Hershey's cocoa-- 2.9 - 82
heavy cream-- 8.12 - 232
milk, buttermilk-- 8.5 - 242
molasses-- 11.25 - 322
corn syrup-- 11.5 - 328
honey-- 11.75 - 336
water-- 8.337 - 236
lemon juice-- 8.75 - 250
orange juice-- 8.5 - 242
amaretto-- 8.75 - 250
Chambord-- 9.1 - 260
Cointreau-- 8.5 - 244
Kahlua-- 9.6 - 267
kirsch-- 7.8 - 224
rum-- 7.8 - 224
Vodka-- 7 - 200
almonds, sliced-- 3 - 85
walnuts and pecans, coarsely chopped-- 4 - 114
hazelnuts-- 5 - 142
pistachios-- 5.32 - 152
almond paste-- 10 - 284
granulated sugar-- 7 - 200
superfine sugar-- 7 - 200
confectioners' sugar-- 4 - 115
light brown sugar-- 7.66 - 217
dark brown sugar-- 8.4 - 239
1 large egg, in shell-- 2 - 56.7
1 large egg, without shell-- 1.75 - 50
1 large egg white-- 1.05 - 30
1 large egg yolk-- 0.65 - 18.6
baking powder-- 1 teasp - 4.9
baking soda-- 1 teasp - 5
cream of tartar-- 1 teasp - 3.1
gelatin-- 1 teasp - 3.1
poppy seeds, 1/4 cup-- 1.25 - 36
salt-- 1 teasp - 6.7
vanilla extract-- 1 teasp - 4
grated citrus zest-- 1 teasp - 2

Fundraising Tea Party

Organizations are always looking for good ways to raise money for their causes. Churches, civic groups, even local fire companies often hold sandwich sales, raffles and all-you-can-eat breakfasts or dinners. Once in a great while, some brave soul in a church or group will come up with the idea to host a tea and charge admission. Yes!!!

Hosting a tea is a great way to make money. The work can be spread around to all the members. Cooking and baking, decorating, hosting a table, creating items for sale, there are jobs for every talent.

The Christmas season is one of the best times for a group to host a tea. Families and friends are always eager to add a new tradition into their lives. What could be nicer than going to tea together on a Sunday afternoon!

Here are some things to consider when hosting a fundraising tea. I write as though only women will be preparing this tea but we all know that husbands, sons and friends play a part too.

Sell tickets in advance. Decide how many tables your social hall or other venue can hold comfortably. Consider how many helpers you’ll have. Then set your limit depending on how many seatings you want to make. Do you want to devote a weekend to the tea with seatings on Saturday and Sunday? Once you decide, you’ll know exactly how many guests to prepare for and this will save wasted food/dollars.

Try to get all the free advertising you can. Let other groups in your area know about the tea; they might help with little notices in their bulletins or newsletters. Local newspapers are always looking for social news so send a little press release announcing your tea. Don’t make it sound like an advertisement but a write up of an elegant social occasion. You might even get a reporter calling you for extra details for a full story.

Since you’ll probably have lots of ladies helping to waitress, assign them to specific tables with one lady as the head hostess. Each group can be in charge of providing their own table covering, dishes and centerpieces. You’ll probably use the silverware that’s available from the venue’s kitchen. You can assign a theme for each table or leave it up to the individual group.

The atmosphere is almost as important as the food. Inexpensive lattice can be nailed to a frame and then decorated with flowers, greens, inexpensive fabric, Christmas ornaments, oh, the list is endless. This helps to set the overall theme while creating more intimate settings around tables and providing a sound block. Decorated Christmas trees can also help to define serving areas and cut down on noise.

If you have donated items that you’re going to sell, use them for decorations around the room. Ladies love details and will be more inclined to buy when they can see how they might use the items in their own settings. If you don’t have little things to sell, you might ask an antique store to loan some things that you can use for decorations. Or beg, borrow or steal from your own members. (Well, perhaps stealing isn’t such a good idea.)

Follow the lead of most tearooms and serve soup as a starter course. Decide on one recipe and pass it out to each table head. She can assign her people to make the soup at home and bring it to the tea ready to serve. If you have lots of electrical outlets, each table can have a crockpot full of soup on their service table so that you can offer seconds. Soup is a good idea because it can be made economically in big batches and it fills the ladies up so you can go smaller/lighter on the expensive things.

Scones can be made ahead and frozen. Pop them in the oven for ten minutes, serve warm and no one will know they weren’t freshly made. Again, you can pass out the recipes and have them baked at home or you can have a group baking day if you have access to a kitchen. If you can get some ladies to donate their homemade jams or jellies for on the scones, that would be extra special.

The savory course can be served on individual plates that have been filled in the kitchen assembly-line style while the guests have their soup and their scones. Cucumber sandwiches are typical and tasty. If you’re making them in the morning, be certain that the cucumbers aren’t going to release water or you’ll have soggy bread. Cream cheese based sandwiches are really fast to make and will hold well. And since this is a fund raiser, maybe add chicken salad to give a nice bang for the buck. If you use a chicken stock based soup, your cooks will already have lots of chicken to use. With all the sandwiches, cover with a lightly dampened paper towel, wrap in plastic and store on trays in the fridge. Your sandwiches will hold from morning until afternoon this way. Some pretty herb sprigs or edible flowers help dress up the plates.

Why is it that individually made desserts always taste best and look most special? Try to have three small desserts instead of one big hunk of something. Lemon curd tarts is always a favorite and not difficult to make. A bar cookie will give you a lot of servings for the effort. A strawberry, plain or chocolate dipped, or frosted grapes really add to the dessert plates.

Please don’t use coffee urns to heat the water for the tea. You can never get the coffee oil completely washed away and you’ll taste it in your tea. It’s most simple to make ahead a tea syrup, boil water on site and add it to the serving teapots.

Your local high school might have some music students who will play for a small fee. This is especially nice as people are arriving and finding their seats. It helps to remind people that company manners are most welcome. Lots of social halls have pianos so perhaps too you could ask a pianist or organist in your group to play before and after the tea. Unless a kid is a real child prodigy, don’t allow children to provide the music.

And thinking of children, I’ve seen small children disrupt public teas. It’s a long time to sit still and some mothers think nothing of letting their kids run loose or cry or scream incessantly. You might want to make the teas for adults only. That gives mom a chance to have a day out. I wouldn’t recommend offering babysitting/nursery service as that won’t prevent kids running around before and after, when mom should be looking over all the lovely things you have for sale.

Do set up tables to sell crafts or other donated items but only the highest quality. Sell a little cookbook of the recipes that you used at the tea. Add some other tea party recipes that your members submit. Nothing fancy on the outside but the recipes should be well typed and double-checked for accuracy. You could take the cookbook to any office supply store to have bound. Charge for the cookbooks based on how elaborate you’ve decided to make them. When people know the money is going to a good cause, they won’t hesitate to spend.

If you’re really going to make an event of this and the guests will be dressed up, you might have someone take photographs and print them out on one of those photo printers. Fit the picture into a cute paper frame, (you can buy them at office supply stores.) Charge a dollar or two and each lady will want to buy one to show her husband how cute she looked.

Make extras of the scones and desserts, fill jars will the lemon curd you used for the tarts, and sell them too. Moms often like to bring little treats home to share with the kids. Almost everyone will take a chance on a door prize. If the door prize(s) has been donated, even better.

Teas are a lot of work and take many volunteers. But if you have a successful first year, you’ll have everyone in town wanting to come next year. Your group’s treasury will be feeling full!


One Lump or Two?

One small way to make your tea guests feel special is to offer them pretty sugar for their tea. The height of tea sugar elegance used to be plain white sugar cubes. They are still popular and definitely better than offering regular granulated sugar. There is something so fanciful about using little sugar tongs to pick up a cube and dropping it into the tea cup.

Taking the sugar cube one step further, decorate it! As the picture above shows, add a little flower to the cube. This is easy to do with plain sugar icing. Just mix some confectioners’ sugar and a bit of milk; don’t use butter or it will leave a greasy film on the tea. I usually pipe simple drop flowers in my tea party color and add center dots of icing in a contrasting color. Let the flowers harden before storing them. Your guests will think you spent hours on this but really it takes longer to wash the decorating bags and tips than it does to pipe the flowers.

If you aren’t into piping or don’t have time, another little trick is to dip one side of the sugar cube into food coloring. You’ll get a pretty edge of color on every cube. Again, allow the cubes to harden before storing or they might melt.

One of my favorite sugars to use for tea is demerara. Demerara sugar is coarse-grained, partially refined raw sugar. Demerara sugar comes in various shades of golden brown and has a molasses flavor. Turbinado sugar is a further refined type of demerara sugar with a pale color and a mild flavor. Here in my part of the world, we’ve been seeing a lot of advertising for “Sugar in the Raw” which is simply Turbinado sugar from Hawaii.

La Perruche brand sugar lumps are rough-cut chunks from cane sugar. They too are fun to serve at tea. You’ll recognize La Perruche sugar when you see the parrot on the label. This sugar comes in both white and brown, as shown above.

You don’t have to wait to try these sugar ideas until your next tea party. Treat for yourself and use them at your daily tea break.