Winter White and Spring Green Tea Party: Chambord Grapes Under Snow

I’m a poky poster today but it’s my husband’s fault! He offered to go to the store to pick up the grapes for this recipe. Instead of going to the store which is a couple blocks away, he went to Wal-Mart. Three hours later, he’s finally back home. In addition to my grapes, he bought a music CD, the ugliest slippers you ever saw and a huge bag of pretzels. That man cannot be trusted alone in Wal-Mart! Anyway here is the recipe, simple and delicious:

¾ pound seedless grapes (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons Chambord liqueur
1/3 cup heavy cream, chilled
1/3 cup light sour cream, chilled
1/3 cup plain yogurt
Chopped or grated chocolate

Cut grapes in half, if you like, and divide among 4 dessert dishes. Stir ½ tablespoon Chambord into each. In a small mixing bowl, beat heavy cream until soft peaks form. Add sour cream and yogurt and mix until soft peaks form. Spread over grapes. Just before serving, sprinkle with the chocolate.

If you prefer not to use the Chambord, fresh orange juice would be a nice compliment to the grapes. You can use low-fat sour cream and yogurt and frozen no-fat whipped topping in a tub if you prefer. But don't try to whip anything other than heavy cream.


My World Wednesday: Hot Tea Month II

I want to thank everyone who left a positive comment yesterday. I really appreciate each one more than you know. I’ve decided to continue to allow anonymous comments since receiving such a sweet one from an anonymous poster yesterday. Lots of people don’t have Blogger accounts but I still enjoy hearing their feedback.

It’s still Hot Tea Month so I thought I’d show my favorite teapots. These aren’t fancy but they work better than any other teapot I’ve had. They are Chatsford Teapots, made in England. These are two-cup size which are perfect for my own tea sessions. They are great to use for a small tea party too; everyone can have her own pot and the variety of tea she prefers. These pots come with a mesh strainer basket making it easy to remove the tea leaves after they’ve steeped. I think there would be more loose-leaf tea drinkers if everyone had one of these pots.

My friend Katherine at Yellow Rose Arbor tagged me for another meme. So here goes!

Four Movies Watched Over and Over:
Solaris, the original, not the Clooney version
Heaven Over Berlin, later made into City of Angels
Doctor Zhivago
Waking Ned Devine

Four Places I have Lived:
In a city apartment
In a 160-year-old farm house
In a brand new house we built
In a 100-year-old Victorian Queen Anne

Four Shows I Watch:
Barefoot Contessa
Friday Night Lights
Martha Stewart
Divine Design

Four Places I’ve Been:
A Reindeer Farm
A beach house on the bay
Snowmobile races on a frozen lake
A sailboat on windy water

Four People Who Email Me:
People from Ethiopia promising me great riches
People selling pharmaceuticals from their basements
People promising to help with equipment I don’t have
People who can’t spell

Four Favorite Things To Eat:
Steamed Shrimp
Mashed Potatoes
My mother’s caramel icing on a chocolate cake
Fresh Strawberries

Four Things I Look Forward to This Year:
Teaching my puppies better manners
Getting a new car
Or a new furnace
Continuing my blog and meeting new friends


My Anonymous Commentator

Yesterday I received a rather nasty comment, anonymously, of course. Apparently she was disturbed by my recipes containing fat and calories. I feel I must address this.

As Anita commented, tea party foods aren’t something we eat every day. Really, how many teas do any of us attend in a year? Maybe a couple if we’re fortunate. It isn’t too terribly difficult to amp up exercise and cut back on the meals before and after a tea party in order to enjoy delicious foods.

For the hostess who wants to serve lower fat and lower calorie foods at a tea though, there are some things she can do:

Take advantage of low- or no-fat salad dressings, mayonnaise, sour cream, cream cheese, milk and cheese. You won’t get the same rich flavor so you’ll need to further adjust the recipes by adding extra seasonings or other flavor.

Use low-fat, low-salt deli turkey for the tea sandwiches. You can’t make an entire tea menu with this but it is something to serve so that guests have an alternative to salads containing mayo.

Salmon is tasty and is currently a good-for-you food…unless you’ve recently read about the mercury in fish.

Make your tea sandwiches using whole wheat bread or use vegetables like cucumber or zucchini in place of bread. A circle of cucumber with a piece of salmon shouldn’t raise anyone’s weight or cholesterol count.

Soup is usually on my tea party menu. Use a vegetable based soup like tomato or red pepper and don’t add any extra cream or milk. Corn starch can come to the rescue when your soup is too thin.

Another usual tea course is the salad course. No bacon, no cheese, limited avocado and no-fat dressing isn’t too hard to pull off.

There isn’t much I can recommend for the dessert tea course except to use fruit instead of pastries, tarts, breads and chocolates. And there are some low-carb, low-fat sherbets. Maybe you’ll even be comfortable serving a tea bread or muffin made using applesauce in place of some of the fat. It is possible to use Splenda in place of the sugar.

It is difficult to replace the butter called for in most dessert recipes. You’ll probably just have to do without when it comes to those desserts.

But that brings up another point. Scientists just told us that it is healthier for us to use real butter and lard (yes, lard!) instead of a lot of fake stuff. It seems that what’s good for us changes every month. Maybe we’d all be better off eating the foods we enjoy in moderation and not trying to follow the latest fads.

That leads me to my last point. Ask yourself if you eat for pleasure or whether you eat only to survive. Food tastes good. It gives some of us pleasure. It makes some of us happy. Happiness is supposed to contribute to a long life, isn’t it? It is not something scientists can measure so it is often overlooked by that community. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of happiness. Serve your tea guests the foods you feel comfortable with but strive to have your guests leave your tea party happy. That’s the most important thing.

Now for the disclaimers: I do realize that there are people who can never eat certain foods because of medical conditions or allergies. I’m not suggesting they abandon their dietary restrictions for even one tea party meal. I am further not suggesting that everyone should give up eating the foods they feel are right for them to maintain a healthy life. I am saying that enjoying a tea party meal a few times a year isn’t going to hasten your demise if you are otherwise a healthy person.

Finally, there are a lot of blogs out there. I am sure there are many that address the eating style that “Anonymous” enjoys. Although if she’s such a strong believer, it seems to me that she would have had the courage to use her own name. Being a cowardly weasel, now THAT’S something to be ashamed about.


Winter White and Spring Green Tea Party: The Tea

Before beginning with the individual recipes for this tea party, I want to say a word about the tea itself. White tea has been a favorite in China for centuries but here in the US we’re just getting to know it.

White tea is made from immature tea leaves that are picked shortly before the buds have fully opened. The tea takes its name from the silver fuzz that still covers the buds which turns white when the tea is dried. The exact proportion of buds to leaves varies depending on the variety of white tea.

Early spring provides the best white tea. When the time is right, workers carefully hand-pick the silver buds and select leaves. There is no picking on rainy days or when frost is on the ground. White tea can only be picked for a short time each year, sometimes only two days, making it rare and precious.

The buds and leaves are then steamed and slowly dried. Unlike black or green tea, white tea is not rolled, and only slightly oxidized, making it the least processed tea. The result? A pale tea with a sweet, silky flavor. People who have tried both note that white tea lacks the “grassy” aftertaste so often associated with green tea. Furthermore, studies indicate that white tea is better for you.

A study at Pace University in 2004 showed white tea had more anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities than green tea. White tea contains higher catechin (an antioxidant) levels than green tea due to its lack of processing. Catechin concentration is greatest in fresh, unbroken and unfermented tea leaves. Furthermore, one study examining the composition of brewed green and white teas found that white tea contained more gallic acid, theobromine, and caffeine. White tea contains less fluoride than green tea, since it is made from young leaves only.

Brewing white tea is a bit different from brewing black tea. Generally, around 2 to 2.5 grams or 1.5 teaspoons of white tea per 6 ounces of water should be used. White teas should be prepared with 180° water (not boiling) and steeped for 2 to 3 minutes. Finer teas expose more flavor and complexity with no bitterness if the brewing time is increased. On successive brews (white teas produce three very good brews and a fourth that is passable), extend the time by several minutes per. The third brew may require as long as 15 minutes to develop well. Temperature is crucial - if it is too hot, the brew will be bitter and the finer flavors will be overpowered.

If you haven’t tried white tea yet, what are you waiting for!


Winter White and Spring Green Tea Party Menu

Chambord Grapes Under Snow

Rich and Creamy Potato Soup

Iced Apricot Scones

Brie Crostini with Pomegranate
Scandinavian Shrimp Bites
Almond-Avocado Tea Sandwiches

White Pearl Cupcakes
Coconut Truffles
White Chocolate Strawberries

Harney’s Winter White Earl Grey Tea


Winter White and Spring Green Tea Party

The next tea party theme, Winter White and Spring Green, celebrates Winter but opens us to the possibility of Spring. Depending where you live, this is a tea that works well in the last two weeks of February or the first week in March. By then everyone has had her first tiny glimpse of longer days, brighter sun and just maybe a tender green shoot peeking out of the ground.

To set the mood for this tea party, bring out your best white tablecloth, napkins and dishes. White should be the dominate color with only the smallest touches of green for accent. For example, roll your silverware in napkins and tie with a light green ribbon. Use one green serving dish amid the white ones for each course.

White candles nestled in crystal bowls holding kosher salt will give a pretty, snowy appearance. Use lots. A length of white toile down the length of table, bunched and winding around the candles will add to the mood. Sprinkle white, crystal or mirror confetti lightly over the table for some glitter. Use just a bit as this isn’t the time for Christmas excess.

It is easy to find many different kinds of white and green flowers for a centerpiece. White tulips would be especially beautiful on this table. Whatever white flower you use, use only one kind. The centerpiece should be simple, almost stark perhaps, but beautiful. Keep in mind a late Winter landscape.

This tea party works best for the number of people your table will hold comfortably. This isn’t a tea to serve buffet style or to have your guests eat on their laps. And this isn’t a casual tea. This probably isn’t the tea to have if you want to invite only a couple guests. Take the time to go to a lot of effort and fill the table with your friends.

It is such fun to receive an unexpected envelope in the mail, savoring the possibilities until the card is opened and read. Send invitations to this tea party! Don’t buy them; make them yourself simply. Use a luxurious white card stock, one that keeps to the feeling of Winter. If you have a nice hand, write the invitations yourself. If you’re a messy writer, like me, use your computer to print the invitations using a fancy, decorative font. Black ink will look best.

Music is always a nice addition to a tea party. What better music for a Winter tea than something from snowy Russia. Fill the house with Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky.

Give your guests something special to take home. A small planter or low container of paper white narcissus bulbs would be a lovely gesture. Set the bulbs yourself but allow your guests to have the fun of watching them grow. Wrap the containers in cellophane so your guests won’t have a difficult time getting them home. You might have a few of these in bloom around your house to show how pretty those rather ugly bulbs will become.

This Winter White and Spring Green Tea Party won’t work for everyone in all parts of the world right now; not everyone shares my weather. But most places do have a winter season, even if winter temps there are 60º instead of the usual 80º. And my friends in the Southern Hemisphere will have their winter in six months.

Winter here can get so tiresome by the end of February. Give your friends a lift and a bit of hope that Spring will arrive with this tea party. With Christmas long past and Easter weeks away, this tea is just what the doctor ordered.

Recipes coming up next!


My World Wednesday: Hot Tea Month

This is National Hot Tea Month and I'm getting a late start celebrating. Well, not really as I write about tea and tea parties every day. Katherine at Yellow Rose Arbor is showing some of her favorite tea things so I thought I'd join her and show this Japanese Tea Set.
A few weeks ago, Anita at Prairie Dreams showed a tea set that she won at auction. It reminded me so much of mine that I had to go look at it again. Mine looks nothing like hers really but there is a similar feel or sense, I think. As she wrote, items made in Japan can be dated by what is written on the bottom.

In 1891 the McKinley Tariff Act was instated, requiring items imported into the United States to be marked in English with the country of origin. The name "Nippon" was chosen for items coming from Japan. (Nippon is the Japanese name for Japan.) In 1921, the official country of origin name requirement was changed to "Japan", thus creating a defined time period 1891-1921 in which wares were marked Nippon. Previous to 1891, items were either not marked at all, or marked with Japanese characters. During the period 1921-1941 porcelain should be marked "Japan" and roughly after 1941, marked "Made in Japan", though numerous exceptions appears to occurs. Pieces marked with JAPAN or MADE IN JAPAN in plain text without any company marks, in general date to the period immediately after the second WW. Some come with the addition of OCCUPIED JAPAN.

This pretty little set probably came to the US right after World War II. I think it is called Lusterware. It belonged to my husband's great aunt Beulah. She bequeathed it specifically to me in her will. I think I was the only one who shared her love of tea. I'm ashamed to say that I've never used it though. It is very delicate and I hate the thought of hurting it.

As I was photographing it, I noticed that the design on the teapot is not centered on the face of the pot but moved to the right side. I'm curious why they would do this, even if it was done on purpose, but I suppose I'll never really know.


Valentine's Day Afternoon Tea Party

When I started to plan my next Afternoon Tea Party theme, it seemed obvious to do a Valentine’s Day Tea. It’s a big holiday here in the US and there are a lot of foods and decorations associated with it. I’ve been struggling for the last two weeks to plan something that appealed to me around red hearts, chocolate and lace doilies. Bah, I just couldn’t do it.

When it comes to Valentine’s Day, it isn’t easy to keep the tackiness and kitsch away. And overly cute--no way! Victorian Valentine ideas have been done to death; I didn’t want to go there. And the food! I could have created an entire menu using heart-shaped foods! But, no.

So I’m going to pass on a Valentine’s Day Tea this year. That’s not to suggest the day shouldn’t be celebrated. Go ahead and bake a heart-shaped cake and give your sweetie kisses, candy or otherwise!

Come back Thursday to see what the next Afternoon Tea Party theme WILL be.


Martin Luther King, Jr. 1929-1968

"Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal."

“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

“The art of acceptance is the art of making someone who has just done you a small favor wish that he might have done you a greater one.”

“Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

“Whatever your life's work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.”


Chinese New Year Tea: Timetable

A Week Ahead:
Write Fortunes for the Fortune Cookies

Three Days Ahead:
Cook Pork for Sweet and Sour Soup
Prepare Ginger Ice Cream and Freeze

Two Days Ahead:
Bake Fortune Cookies
Bake the Chicken for the Mandarin Almond Chicken Salad
Prepare the Tea Eggs

Day Before:
Bake Almond Cookies
Prepare Jiaozi to the Point of Frying
Assemble the Chicken Salad

Tea Party Day:
Fry the Jiaozi
Prepare the Soup
Make the Crunchy Noodle Salad


Chinese New Year: Ginger Ice Cream

The Chinese not only discovered tea but also they were the first to make ice cream. Serve this ginger ice cream (or any other flavor you like) to go along with the almond and fortune cookies for the Chinese New Year Tea.

For the ginger syrup:
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 - 3 packed tablespoons grated fresh ginger

Milk mixture:
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons finely minced ginger in syrup (available at Asian markets), drained before mincing

Custard mixture:
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

To make the syrup, heat the water and 1/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the fresh ginger and stir; bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer the syrup uncovered for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

In another pan combine the milk, 2 tablespoons sugar, and the minced preserved ginger. Stir over medium heat until the milk comes to a scalding temperature, just short of a simmer, then remove the pan from the heat. Scrape the fresh ginger syrup into the milk mixture, and stir well to blend. Cover and steep 20 minutes to infuse the milk.

In a small bowl beat the egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar until the mixture is pale yellow, thick, and falls in ribbons from the beater.

Put the heavy cream in a medium-size bowl. Nest the cream bowl in a larger one lined with ice cubes and place in a large, fine mesh strainer alongside.

When the steeping time is up, bring the milk mixture to scalding again, stirring. Slowly add 1/4 of the scalded milk to the egg mixture, whisking constantly to temper the eggs, then pour the egg mixture back into the remaining milk, continuing to whisk. Cook over moderate heat, whisking slowly but steadily until the mixture reaches the custard stage, thick enough to coat and cling to the back of a spoon, 180 degrees on an instant-reading thermometer. Do not let the mixture boil lest the eggs scramble.

Immediately pour the custard through the strainer and into the bowl of cream set over ice. Scrape the pot clean, then slowly stir the liquid trapped in the strainer in order to coax it through the mesh. Press firmly and repeatedly on the ginger to extract all the liquid, then finally scrape the bottom of the strainer to claim every last drop for the cream. Discard the ginger solids. Allow the cream mixture to cool completely, stirring occasionally.

Once cool, the mixture may be sealed airtight and refrigerated for 1 - 2 days before freezing.

Freezing the cream:
Just before freezing, adjust the mixture with 1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, stirring and tasting after every several drops just until the ginger flavor is perceptibly heightened by the lemon.

Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. When the freezing process is completed, pack the ice cream into a clean plastic container, poking deep into the mixture, then pressing it with a spoon or spatula to eliminate any air bubbles. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the ice cream to prevent the formation of ice crystals, then return the mixture to the freezer for at least 2 hours to firm up and ripen.
Yields about 1 1/2 pints


Chinese New Year: Fortune Cookies

Fortune Cookies weren’t invented in China. In fact, they originally come from California. Asian workers building the railroads developed these cookies as a sweet ending to a meal. For your Chinese New Year Tea, make your own fortunes to add to the cookies.

1 egg white
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white sugar
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a cookie sheet. Write fortunes on strips of paper about 4 inches long and 1/2 inch wide. Generously grease 2 cookie sheets.
Mix the egg white and vanilla until foamy but not stiff. Sift the flour, salt, and sugar and blend into the egg white mixture.

Place teaspoonfuls of the batter at least 4 inches apart on one of the prepared cookie sheets. Tilt the sheet to move the batter into round shapes about 3 inches in diameter. Be careful to make batter as round and even as possible. Do not make too many, because the cookie have to be really hot to form them and once they cool it is too late. Start with 2 or 3 to a sheet and see how many you can do.

Bake for 5 minutes or until cookie has turned a golden color 1/2 inch wide around the outer edge of the circle. The center will remain pale. While one sheet is baking, prepare the other.
Remove from oven and quickly move cookie with a wide spatula and place upside down on a wooden board. Quickly place the fortune on the cookie, close to the middle and fold the cookie in half. Place the folded edge across the rim of a measuring cup and pull the pointed edges down, one on the inside of the cup and one on the outside. Place folded cookies into the cups of a muffin tin or egg carton to hold their shape until firm.


My World Wednesday: Of Dolls and Tea

Since my tea theme has been Chinese New Year, I want to show you these little dolls. They were given to my mother-in-law 80 years ago by her Aunt Dorothy. Aunt Dorothy lived in the Panama Canal Zone when it was being built (it opened in 1914.) She’d just finished nursing school when the call came out asking for nurses to go to Panama. While she was there, she met her engineer husband and they lived in Panama for many years. They had access to wonderful foreign things because of the ships passing through.

As you can see, these little dolls were well loved; they weren’t just kept on a shelf. They are dressed in beautifully embroidered clothing which is still in good shape. I don’t know any more about them, and in fact, had forgotten all about them until about 3:00 last night.

Now for a different turn, Katherine at Yellow Rose Arbor mentioned I might want to do the meme she had on her site. I’m going to give it a try but with a tea twist. I'm not going to tag anyone for this but if you want to use it, please do.

Here are the rules:
1. Link to the person who tagged you;

2. Leave a comment on their blog so that their readers can visit yours;
3. Post the rules on your blog;
4. Share 7 random and/or weird facts about yourself on your blog;
5. Tag 7 random people at the end of your post;
6. Include links to their blogs; Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

1. My earliest memories are of having tea and toast for breakfast. I was probably about 3 when I finished with tiny kid food and went to tea. Today researchers don’t recommend giving tea to kids because it may stunt their growth. It troubles me to no end to realize that maybe I could have been a professional women’s basketball star.

2. As a kid I put 3 heaping teaspoons of sugar in my tea and I loved lemon. Once I discovered quality tea, I didn’t need any sugar or lemon or milk.

3. Tetley Tea in bags was the tea of choice when I was growing up. I drank this every day for 30 years. And even today when I’m sick with a bad cold or flu, this is the tea I want in my cup…with lots of sugar.

4. In the days before Celestial Seasonings packed the grocery store shelves with colorful boxes of flavored teas, my mother managed to find big assortments of different teas. Each winter night after dinner, we each carefully picked one to try. I remember Earl Grey being a big favorite.

5. My mother-in-law took me to my first tearoom about 20 years ago. I was hooked the moment I sat down.

6. My friend Lisa and I meet in a tearoom at least once a month for a cream tea. We spend a couple hours talking over pots of tea and scones.

7. Lisa and I seriously considered opening our own tearoom. We even had a location picked out in the antique district of a local town. The more we thought about it though, the more we realized that all the cooking and baking every day would probably be too much of a grind. We’re much happier being customers today.


Chinese New Year Tea: Almond Cookies

Almonds are used for sweet rather than savory dishes in China.

½ cup butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1½ cups flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup finely chopped almonds
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 egg, lighten beaten
25 whole blanched almonds

Preheat the oven to 350º. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Cream the butter and sugar for 5 minutes. Add the egg and beat until smooth. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and slowly add to the butter, stirring until smooth. Add the chopped almonds and extract and stir until smooth.

Drop tablespoons of the mixture onto the baking sheet, spacing about 1¼-inches apart. Dip your thumb into some flour and make an indentation in the center of each cookie. Brush each cookie with the beaten egg and place an almond in the center of each indentation. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool slightly and transfer to a rack to finish cooling.


Chinese New Year Tea: Mandarin Almond Chicken Salad

Another little bite, much lighter after the fried dumplings.

½ cup finely chopped cooked chicken
½ cup drained canned mandarin orange segments, chopped
¼ cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
2 tablespoons Miracle Whip
Crackers of your choice

Mix chicken, oranges, cranberries, almonds and dressing; cover. Refrigerate at least 1 hour. Top each cracker with chicken salad mixture just before serving. Garnish with a sprig of parsley for more color.

Anita at Prairie Dreams tagged me for this You Make My Day Award! Thanks, Anita, you make my day too. Now I'd like to pass it on to Katherine at Yellow Rose Arbor and Rose-Michelle at A Cup of Tea with Friends.


Chinese New Year: Jiaozi

If you eat only one food for Chinese New Year, make it jiaozi (gee-owl'-zee). It will bring you luck all year long. For the tea, this is another item you might want to buy from your favorite Chinese restaurant. I wanted to include the recipe though for the adventurous.

6 cups Chinese (Napa) cabbage, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound ground pork
2 cups garlic chives, finely chopped
2 ½ tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
1 tablespoon cornstarch

50 round wheat dumpling wrappers
Red rice vinegar

To make the filling, put the cabbage and salt in a bowl and toss lightly to combine. Allow to stand for 30 minutes. Squeeze all the water from the cabbage and put the cabbage in a large bowl. Add the pork, garlic chives, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, ginger and cornstarch. Stir until combined and drain off any excess liquid.

Place a heaping teaspoon of the filling in the center of each wrapper. Spread a little water along the edge of the wrapper and fold the wrapper over to make a half moon shape. Use your thumb and index finger to form small pleats along the sealed edge. With the other hand, press the 2 opposite edges together to seal. Place the dumplings on a baking sheet that has been lightly dusted with cornstarch. Do not allow the dumplings to sit for too long or they will go soggy.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add half the dumplings, stirring immediately to prevent them from sticking together, and return to a boil. For the traditional method of cooking dumplings, add 1 cup cold water and continue cooking over high heat until the water boils. Add another 3 cups cold water and cook until the water boils again. Alternatively, cook the dumplings in the boiling water for 8-9 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and drain the dumplings. Repeat with the remaining dumplings.

The dumplings can also be fried. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a frying pan, add a single layer of dumplings and cook for 2 minutes, shaking the pan to make sure they don’t stick. Add 1/3 cup water, cover and steam for 2 minutes, then uncover and cook until the water has evaporated. Repeat with the remaining dumplings.

Serve with red rice vinegar.


Chinese New Year Tea: Tea Eggs

10 regular eggs or 20 quail eggs
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine
1 star anise
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cinnamon stick
3 slices ginger, smashed
3 tablespoons Chinese black tea leaves

Place the eggs in a saucepan with enough cold water to cover. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let the eggs simmer for 10 minutes. Refresh the eggs in cold water. Drain the eggs and lightly tap and roll the shells on a hard surface to crack them. Do not remove the shells.

Put the tea cooking mixture ingredients in a heavy bottomed bowl or saucepan with 4 cups water and heat until boiling. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 20 minutes. Add the cooked eggs and simmer for another 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the eggs sit in the tea mixture until cool enough to handle. Remove the shells and serve the eggs warm or cold, cut into wedges, with some of the cooking mixture on top.


Chinese New Year Tea: Sweet and Sour Soup

Of all the many delicious Chinese soups, this is my favorite. This soup is not difficult to make but you can buy it from your favorite Chinese restaurant for this tea if you can't find the ingredients.

4 mushrooms
4 ounces lean cooked pork, thinly shredded
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 ounces firm bean curd, drained
½ cup canned bamboo shoots, rinsed and drained
4 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 tablespoon rice wine
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1-2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 eggs, beaten
1-2 teaspoons white pepper
Chopped scallion

Combine the pork, a pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon of the cornstarch. Thinly shred the bean curd and bamboo shoots to the same size as the pork.

Bring the stock to a boil. Add the pork and stir to separate the meat; then add the mushrooms, bean curd and bamboo. Return to a boil and add the salt, red pepper flakes, rice wine, soy sauce and vinegar. Slowly pour in the egg, whisking to form thin threads and cook for 1 minute. Combine the remaining cornstarch with enough water to make a paste, add to the soup and simmer until thick. Put the pepper in a bowl, pour in the soup and stir. Garnish with scallion.


Chinese New Year Tea: Crunchy Noodle Salad

This beautiful salad is an Ina Garten recipe. She's my favorite Food Network chef. This recipe can be served at room temperature or cold.

Kosher salt
1/2 pound thin spaghetti
1 pound sugar snap peas
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds, toasted
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 red bell peppers, cored and seeded, and thinly sliced
4 scallions (with and green parts), sliced diagonally
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds, toasted
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, bring another large pot of salted water to a boil, add the sugar snap peas, return to a boil, and cook for 3 minutes, until crisp tender. Lift the sugar snap peas from the water with a slotted spoon and immerse them in a bowl of ice water. Drain.

For the dressing, whisk together the vegetable oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, garlic, ginger, 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, peanut butter, salt, to taste, and the pepper, in a medium bowl.

Combine the spaghetti, sugar snap peas, peppers and scallions in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the spaghetti mixture. Add the scallions and the parsley and mix again.


Chinese New Year Tea Party: The Menu

This menu relies on both purchased items and homemade. Don’t panic if you see something unfamiliar. Recipes start tomorrow!

Cold Noodle Salad

Hot and Sour Soup

Chinese Chicken
Tea Eggs

Ginger Ice Cream
Almond Cookies
Fortune Cookies

Thousand Days Red Jasmine (Xian Tao), a display tea with a Litchi nut shape, opening to a red clover blossom, Jasmine scented. Find it at Silk Road Teas on the sidebar.


Chinese New Year Tea Party

Photo originally uploaded to Flickr by Weegolo.

Since tea was discovered in China, what better time for an afternoon tea party than Chinese New Year. This year the New Year comes in on February 7, 2008. According to the Chinese zodiac, it will be the year of the rat.

Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year and he named a year after each of the twelve that came. People born in each animal's year are said to have some of that animal's personality. Those born in rat years tend to be leaders, pioneers, and conquerors. They are charming, passionate, charismatic, practical and hardworking. Welllll, let’s forget about rats when it comes to this tea.

Red and gold are the colors of Chinese New Year. Red symbolizes fire which can scare away bad luck and gold stands for prosperity. Use these colors on your tea table and around your room. To make things extra festive, hang spring couplets, squares engraved with blessings, around the house. Paper lanterns make great decorations too. Entwine red paper or ribbon around indoor plants and trees for a simple festive touch.

Flowers play a big role in Chinese New Year. Fill the house with fresh blooms and flowering plants. Narcissus and chrysanthemum are both said to bring good fortune.

Invite your tea party guests using red paper invitations, of course. Set the party for 2:00 in the afternoon. Chinese New Year is celebrated for 14 days so afternoon tea any time during those two weeks is appropriate. You might ask your friends to dress in red and gold in order to get into the spirit of the holiday. This isn’t a particularly feminine tea so be sure to invite male guests too.

A Chinese New Year Tea definitely requires music. Chinese consider that sound influences the harmony of the universe. Confucius thought of music as the highest and ultimate means of calming the unrest and dispelling conflict. Buy or download some Chinese music. There is a lot of it around. It will add much to the atmosphere of your party.

One of the popular activities on Chinese New Year is the custom of Hong Bao. This involves giving small red envelopes filled with lucky money. The number 4 is considered especially lucky so if you can afford it, give each of your tea guests a red envelope containing $4. If this is an expense you don’t want to have, you can fill the envelope with four foil-wrapped chocolate coins.

Another custom is to give oranges and tangerines. These are symbols of abundant happiness. Along with the Hong Bao, hand each tea guest an orange or tangerine as they leave the party.

Naturally there are traditional foods served for New Year. For anyone who didn’t grow up in a Chinese kitchen, they are complicated to make and require great skill. But there are many Chinese-inspired dishes to serve at this afternoon tea and there is nothing wrong too with buying some things from your favorite Chinese restaurant.

My Chinese New Year Tea menu and recipes begin tomorrow. Why not order your Chinese decorations online today!


Fresh Start Tea: Grilled Pineapple

No real recipe here. Grill fresh pineapple slices, either outdoors on a grill or on your indoor grill pan. Top with a small scoop of ice cream or sherbet, any flavor or fat/carb content. And sprinkle on some berries, blueberries, sliced strawberries, red raspberries. This is a very simple, light dessert with a huge taste.


Fresh Start Tea: Cobb Salad

Add extra or different veggies, use skinless chicken breast instead of shrimp or use regular for the nonfat ingredients--whatever you prefer.

1/3 cup + 2 teaspoons nonfat sour cream
¼ cup plain nonfat yogurt
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 cups baby spinach leaves
8 ounces cooked shrimp
12 grape tomatoes, halved
4 ounces pared avocado, cut into chunks
3 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
4 slices crisp-cooked lean turkey bacon
1 hard cooked egg, very finely chopped

To prepare dressing, in small bowl, combine sour cream, yogurt, shallots, vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons water; blend with a wire whisk.

To prepare salad, combine spinach and 2 tablespoons of the dressing, tossing until well coated.

Transfer spinach mixture to large serving platter; top with remaining ingredients, keeping each separate in its own row.


Fresh Start Tea: Carrot Dill Soup

2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, diced
2 1/2 lbs. carrots, peeled and diced
2 ribs celery, leaves included, diced
8 cups chicken stock (homemade or canned)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne

Melt butter in soup pot. Add onion and cook over low heat until wilted, about 10 minutes. Add carrots, celery, stock, 1/4 cup dill, salt, black pepper and cayenne. Bring to boil, reduce heat and cover. Simmer until carrots are tender, 40 minutes. Allow to cool slightly. Puree soup with immersion blender in the soup pot OR, in batches, puree in blender or food processor. Return it to the pot, stir in remaining 2 T. dill and adjust seasonings. Heat through.


Fresh Start Tea Party

Ahhhh, the holidays are behind us. All the energy that we put into them can now be turned to other things. We can start or renew a hobby, organize and declutter our homes or reconnect and spend more time with our friends. I can’t help you with the first two but I’ll give you an idea for a way to enjoy a fun evening with friends, tea included. Have a Fresh Start Tea!

After all the holiday party food, decorations and outfits, the Fresh Start Tea is simple and basic. Invite two or three really good friends, friends that you don’t need to impress. Now don’t get me wrong, not needing to impress doesn’t mean not making an effort. But the effort is toward your guests not to external “things.”

Set up your tea table in front of your fireplace if you live in a cold area or on your patio if it’s warm where you are. You don’t need to decorate for this tea but fresh flowers on the table are never wrong. And glowing candles around the room always create an intimate feeling. Use your most simple dishes, the ones with clean lines and not a lot of fussy decoration. A tablecloth and cloth napkins are necessary even with this casual tea though.

You don’t need to send invitations for this tea. Call up your good friends and invite them over. This tea works best in the evening, after a day at work and in place of a regular evening meal. Make sure to tell your guests to wear whatever makes them comfortable. Good conversation is the main event for this tea. Everyone should have a story to tell about their holidays, the best things, the disasters, their in-laws. Play music very low in the background if you like but with all the talking going on, music won’t be a big feature.

I don’t think anyone wants to eat scones with clotted cream and several high calorie desserts right now. In order to keep things light, I’ll start with a soup. Next I’ve combined the salad and savory courses and then I’ll offer only one fresh fruit for the sweets course. A dessert tea will round out this tea party.

Start the tea with a cup of Carrot Dill Soup, made with a chicken stock base, it doesn’t use any heavy cream. It is fresh and delicious. Next serve a Cobb Salad, a light version that still has great taste and looks so pretty on the plate. Pineapple grilled to bring out its sweetness, topped with a tiny scoop of sherbet is a refreshing end to the tea. And the tea itself, a dessert tea that should be enjoyed all throughout the evening. The recipes for all begin tomorrow.