Please come in and enjoy yourself!
One lump, or two? If you’re a fan of Looney Tunes, you know that’s a loaded question! There are many options for sweeteners (to be explored at a later date) and some prefer their tea straight, nothing added. The subject reminds me of an ill-fated trip to Chinatown, many years ago.
But first, do have a seat and make yourself at home. El Nino hit with a vengeance a few days ago and sharing a cup with a friend is the perfect opportunity to escape for an hour. Shall we? Since Mr. Watterson advises exploiting the weather for a good book, tell me, what have you been reading in 2016?
I’ve prepared tea for two, including asparagus soup to ward off the chill, salmon cream sandwiches, and a sumptuous array of sweets to dally over. Let me pour you a cup of strong, apple spice tea while Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, one of my favorites and appropriate for the weather, plays in the background.
We’d made the trek to Chinatown for an adventure. On a budget, our shopping was of the window variety, and we happily roamed the streets feasting our eyes on the unusual goods inside brightly lit stores. I can’t recall my age, but it was the early 1970’s, so I must have been in single digits, and probably clad in hot pink bell bottoms. Normally quite the street urchin, sporting a deep tan with scraggly blonde hair and in need of a hot soak, I’d been tidied up for the outing.
The climax of our excursion would be tea in an authentic Chinese shop. We spied just the place around the corner from the main drag. The store’s narrow façade sported intricate gold carvings on red columns and a pagoda-like porch roofed with green tiles. My mother grasped my hand and tugged me into the tight, dim parlor. This was no superstore with aisles of lanterns, ceramic foo dogs, and clay pots. A sense of apprehension hit me as my gaze was drawn to an illuminated area in the back where two petite, but foreboding, figures stood behind a counter. I shifted my eyes to the shelves that lined the walls, containing various examples of Chinese porcelain. Several tables filled the floor space while two old women in traditional dress kept watch from the rear of the store. We were the only customers.
Mother headed for the shelves and picked up a diminutive blue and white vase. The object was almost immediately snatched from her hands by one of the women. We’d stumbled into a shop that sold authentic antiques. Protective of her merchandise, the store owner knew the value of her treasures. Ming, perhaps? Somehow, she’d made it from behind the counter to our location in a split second, without a sound. The wizened lady frowned, shook her head, and pointed to a table. The volume of wrinkles on that small face made it nearly impossible to see her eyes. Mum smiled, graciously I might add, and followed directions. Once seated, my mother nodded pleasantly, and asked for tea.
A prolonged, hushed conversation between the two shopkeepers followed, before both disappeared into a back room, robes rustling. Soon, a porcelain pot and two miniscule cups, no handles, were delivered to our table. I couldn’t wait to sample the mysterious tea provided by these exotic ladies! Mother allowed the brew to steep a few minutes while the women watched us from behind their counter. Even at my young age, I got the idea they were ready for us to leave.
When the tea was finally poured, what a disappointment. It was green! Forgive me if you’re a green tea devotee. I’ve never been a fan of the stuff, although I occasionally drink it now, when I feel puny or run-down. Mum’s face fell. She also was no green tea enthusiast. She made eye contact and waved at the two ladies. One approached, and my mother asked for sugar. The matron stared as if she knew no English. Again, Mother said, “Sugar,” and pointed at our cups. This time, Mum meant business. The shopkeeper glided back to her partner and another long conversation ensued, in Chinese, of course. Then, they both retired to the back room. We didn’t hear from them again for a good ten minutes. The tea in our cups grew cold.
Eventually, our attendant reappeared, toting a stoneware box. She grunted and placed the item in front of my mother, then spun with a flourish and joined her friend. Under their watch, Mother pried the lid from the container, lowered her eyes to its contents, then threw her head back and laughed out loud!
She tilted the box so I could see what was so funny. There, inside the confines of the sugar bowl, was a hard as rock crust of granules that even a jack hammer would have trouble loosening. Obviously, it hadn’t been used in years. We took a few swallows of the tepid, unsweetened green drink, paid (Mum still smiling and pleasant), and left. My mother considered it all a humorous, amusing adventure, which is a good way to look at minor disappointments, don’t you agree?
This tea will save me time tonight as I intend to serve the family the remaining soup and full-sized sandwiches for dinner!
For the soup, sauté butter & a thin-sliced shallot in the bottom of your soup pan. Add two bunches of asparagus (bottoms removed — the smaller the diameter the stalks, the better) cut into one inch pieces, and continue to sauté, adding salt and pepper. Stir in a large can of chicken broth (3-4 cups) & a handful of fresh basil. Simmer for fifteen minutes or so. Allow to cool. Blend with hand mixer (or transfer to blender, then back to soup pan). Slowly whisk in cream (start with 1/2 cup and increase to your own preference) & season to taste. Reheat on low before serving.
For a yummy surprise, I added a small scoop of herbed chèvre (found at my local big box store) to the bottom of each bowl, as well as an heirloom cherry tomato half and chives. The tiny squaw roll sandwiches were made with a salmon spread from my market’s deli aisle and fresh spinach leaves. I simply cut the squaw rolls in half, lengthwise, to make each tea sandwich.
To make the carrot tie for the sandwich, peel a large carrot. Use the peeler to remove a long, paper thin slice from the vegetable. Cut this, lengthwise, into string-thin strips. Tie one strip around each sandwich and clip ends with kitchen scissors. Now your sandwiches look like tiny presents for your guests!
Include a squirt of lemon juice in the store bought salmon spread to enhance the flavor and give it a fresh taste.
I added marzipan fruits to leftover Christmas cookies for the dessert course. Marzipan is made from almond paste and is one of my favorite treats. A three tiered serving plate, laden with sweets, encourages lingering with several cups of tea and conversation.
I utilized a set of cute teapot napkin rings, purchased years ago, as a special accent. Keep an eye peeled when out and about for inexpensive details to add to your table.
Plaid napkins and placemats add the cozy feel on a frigid day. To raise the glam, consider wrapping your napkins with a lace doily attached by a ribbon. If you like, these could be gifts for your friends to take home as a remembrance of your special time together!
Do you have to go? Already? Oh my, it is getting late. The time flew, didn’t it? Thank you for coming. We really must do this again, soon!
COPYRIGHT 2016. VICTORIA BENCHLEY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED