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July 19, 2007 at 2:38 pm Leave a comment

Know Your Tea Party Experts #2

Elizabeth Knight–Ms. Knight calls tea “the original comfort food” and her website Tea with Friends is a delight to visit. She is worth looking up if you are in the New York area, as her latest book: Tea in the City: New York (co-authored with Bruce Richardson) has led to guided walking tea tours of the city (see her website for additional details). The lover of the tea party with a minimum number of friends can sign up for her themed tours.  (I personally would choose The World in a Teacup-English, French, and Asian Traditions). Her credentials are extensive, including having served as a tea sommelier for the St. Regis Hotel.* Yes, the choice of teas are extensive like wines and the fancier hotels need someone on their wait staff to focus on the tea exclusively.

Ms. Knight is known by the major media outlets as the “go-to” person when tea-related expertise is needed. Her knowledge of tea is not limited by culture and she experiences firsthand the many doors tea opens with people around the world. For example, according to her website, she will spend the majority of July in Japan.

She’s written a number of books including her best seller, Tea with Friends. It includes twelve tea party plans, one for each month of the year (I need to look up her Dog Days Picnic Tea, especially on this 100 degree day!). Her book incorporates lesser known tea traditions from around the world into the parties for those of us who are not yet world travelers.  For example, the January party is based on the Scotland New Year, Hogmanay. She includes the menu suggestion, some recipes, and information needed for the party like centerpiece and music suggestions.

There’s nothing like sitting down with my tea and a book to take me away to other places in a season when travel is limited.

If you missed my last Know Your Tea Party Expert post on Jane Pettigrew, you can find it here. Next time, I’ll share with you about Dorothea Johnson.

Who do you consider a tea party expert?

*Sommelier~A restaurant employee who orders and maintains the wines (or teas!) sold in the restaurant and usually has extensive knowledge about wine (or tea) and food pairings.

July 5, 2007 at 1:41 pm Leave a comment

A Joyous Day!

 

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May your day be filled with touches of beauty, a little elegance, strength for hospitality, connection to traditions, a moment to slow down in the midst of celebration, and tall glasses of iced tea shared with family and friends.

 

And thank you, dear Patriots, for sacrificing your tea and your lives.

July 4, 2007 at 7:41 am 3 comments

The Tea Party Food

In my articles section, you’ll find “A Tea Party’s Most Important Ingedient“. If you read it, you’ll learn that I believe the beverage you serve is more important than the food you serve. HOWEVER, the food runs a close second, especially if serving tea is your business.

Over vacation, I read the story of Alice Waters and her Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse. (If you’re in the food business, this is a must-read). Her philosophies have revolutionized the way many of us think about the food we eat. She says the food we eat is no better than the quality of its ingredients. If you are buying your tea food at Cost-co and it’s filled with corn syrup, white flour, and chemicals, it will taste like it. More and more people are experiencing and in return demanding a higher quality.

When planning your tea party food, think seasonal, freshness, and quality over quantity. What fresh fruit is in season? Use it every way you can. Same with the vegetables if you are planning salad or soup.

Remember the Ritz? Yes, Americans may balk at smaller portions initially. (Maybe a sign in the window that says, “If you want to feel stuffed for cheap when you leave~here’s directions to the nearest Sizzler” is out of the question). But just as customers need education on tea, learning the value or quality over quantity will take time, but can be done, none-the-less. Be sure to read Alice’s book for inspiration. She knew what she believed about food and never, never compromised.

Now the Fourth of July is not exactly the holiday that makes one think of hosting a tea party. However, at our annual family and friends picnic tomorrow, I will bring many quarts of my Cherry Iced Tea, so it qualifies, doesn’t it? Here’s the rest of the menu I decided on after pouring through some of my favorite books~the ones that organize menus by events, seasons, or holidays.

  1. Appetizer~gourmet crackers spread with Chevre (a goat cheese) and topped with roasted peppers and fresh basil.
  2. Side~Taking advantage of all the wonderful summer fruit and preparing a salad with raspberries, blackberries, nectarines, strawberries and honeydew melon. I will make a light dressing for it with honey and fresh-squeezed lime juice.
  3. Main~Oven-fried chicken because it’s a holiday and a little indulgence that I don’t relish in the rest of the year is a requirement. 😉
  4. Desserts~Yes, there’s two. Maybe. Remember, I don’t bake, but I do receive accolades for cookies. So if I decide to do the work, I want to try a recent recipe I found for malted milk ball cookies (vs. the traditional choco-chip). Middle son is with Grandma frosting a fun-fetti cake as a back-up (yes, Alice, I’m sure you don’t even know what a fun-fetti cake is).
  5. Beverage~Quarts and quarts of cherry iced-tea.

It isn’t easy to plan a menu that avoids wheat and dairy as much as possible (confirmed allergies in our family), stays within budget, and helps everyone feel like we’re celebrating. But it is great fun to think about how the food can be the best of our current season. We all can’t be Alice Waters, but using local and seasonal food whenever possible adds so much richness to our menus and delight to the tastebuds.

Are you able to visit local Farmers’ Markets? Does the season-of-the-year affect your menu plans?

July 3, 2007 at 1:33 pm Leave a comment

Aren’t Tea Parties for Retired Ladies Wearing Red Hats?

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No! Not a’tall!

In reality cultures around the world for thousands of years have held tea parties, or traditions surrounding the taking of tea. This is true for men and women alike. The Chinese kept tea secret for three thousand years, but once tea began to be traded, its consumption spread like wildfire. Japanese geisha and the daughters of English nobility were trained to serve tea with elaborate ceremony and decorum.

In fact, did you realize that the tradition of leaving tips originated in the English Tea Gardens? The distance between the kitchen and serving tea in the gardens was great enough to cool the tea down before the servers came to you. Boxes were placed on the tables and coins dropped into them T.o I.nsure P.rompt S.ervice so the upper class could drink their tea hot.

Throughout literature of all kinds, men and women drink tea in a ceremonial way. In “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, Marlow narrates the following before sailing out to sea. “I had a cup of tea–the last decent cup of tea for many days–and in a room that most soothingly looked just as you would expect a lady’s drawing room to look, we had a long quiet chat by the fireside.”  I remember the movie “A Beautiful Mind”. At the end, despite all his struggles, John Nash is finally invited into the Professors’ Club to take tea and receive the acceptance of his colleagues.

Americans let go of some of the tea traditions they brought across the pond along with their commitment to the crown when they fought for independence. The tea was thrown into the harbor and the baby out with the bathwater as tea became unpopular to drink. Yet despite this setback, the love of the tea party remains throughout generations as young girls (and some boys!) play tea party from when they are very small. Traditions surrounding tea crop up from the hearth to the university. And in our diverse cultured nation, the opportunity to experience other countries’ tea traditions can be as easy as driving to the closest city.

The tea party is NOT just for retired ladies who wear red hats. The tea party is about traditions, friendships, and cultivating beauty. To enjoy the Western traditions of tea, one does not need to love everything Victorian or wait until they reach a certain age. Anyone can enjoy the tea party.

Do your family or friends take tea with any regularity or ceremony? I know Tea Party Girl’s readers would love to hear about it.

June 29, 2007 at 3:01 pm 3 comments

Place Cards at the Tea Party-Yes or No?

When you host a tea party or similar event, do you think about where your guests will sit?

Some hostesses believe place cards/name cards are presumptuous. In reality, a gracious hostess helps their guests with this decision. A guest who finds a place card feels a place was prepared for her. It also avoids the inevitable discomfort and shuffling that takes place (especially among women!) when guests have to decide where to sit.

As a hostess, making the decision about where to seat your guests takes into account many factors and dynamics. It takes time. I think through who already knows one another, who needs help knowing the other guests, and try to find balance between the two. I also think through which personalities tend to dominate conversations. I often try to place two domineering personalities next to each other so they engage in a little healthy competition for the attention. This relieves those who hold back from feeling dominated. There are other factors of similarity and difference you might consider as a hostess that will provide the most enjoyable experience for your guests at a sit-down event.

Lady Dawnya teaches that intimate is never more than eight and a table of four can sometimes be too small. I tend to agree and keep it in mind when planning my guest list and place cards. Last November I hosted a high tea (dinner meal) for twenty-two. I planned two tables of eight and one of six.

Tea Party Girl’s answer to the question of whether or not to use place cards is yes. At sit down events, place cards ultimately serve your guests.

So, dear readers, how are you cultivating relationships over tea this summer? Do you enjoy hosting others? Is your home a place of refuge and relaxation that you want to invite others into? When is the last time you hosted a few friends for a pot of tea and a little-touch-of-something?

June 28, 2007 at 12:52 pm 1 comment

The Tea Party-Will it Sabotage Your Diet?

While spending time at the lake today, I spoke with a woman who gave up coffee starting last weekend. She shared with me her need to completely get off caffeine. I told her about my four best-selling herb blends and offered her some samples.

Approaching forty years old, I often find myself in conversations about diet and health with other women. While some of us battle our weight more than others, the older I get the more it seems we all battle with feeling good. Caffeine, alcohol, white sugar, and white flour are all big no-nos in our quest for energy and pain-free living. And the traditional tea party at first glance can include many of the “bad foods”.

Some of my articles, including “Tea as Dessert” and “Give Up Coffee for Green Tea, Are You Crazy?” already address some of the concern. Here are a few other thoughts I had after my conversation this afternoon.

The hostess of the tea party can be sensitive when planning her menu to the reality that many of us who love afternoon tea also want to be wise about what we eat. It’s important to plan menus that include smaller portions (a tea tradition) of many kinds of food. Don’t plan a menu of primarily white-flour based sandwiches, scones, and sweets. Explore how you can bring in cheeses, meats, vegetables, and fruits for a varietal menu. It will look beautiful, too.

As a guest of an afternoon tea, it’s important to remember it is not the goal to leave it stuffed. Appreciate the process of nibbling, tasting, and slowing down. Make each bite count. Make sure what you’re eating is something you really like.

As for the tea, practice drinking it without filling your cup with milk and sugar. Tea as a beverage is one of the super-foods and it’s wonderful to imbibe without guilt. The tea party does not need to sabotage our diets and health.

June 27, 2007 at 3:32 pm 2 comments

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