A Tea for Liz

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Do come in!  I’ve prepared a celebratory tea in honor of my friend, Liz.


Liz is one of my internet friends.  Although we live on different continents, we’ve bonded over books, her love of geology (I think we might call her a rock hound in the States), and her fabulous sense of humor.  We have walked a similar path in recent months, during which she demonstrated her gift of encouragement.  She gave us a scare of late with a bit of ill health, but now that she’s on the mend, I wanted to put together a cheerful afternoon in her tribute.  Since we are separated by the Pacific, what better way to celebrate than a virtual tea?

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I’ve brought out charming porcelain from Pip Studio and made a blended brew of loose black tea leaves, dried currants, blueberries, apples, raisins, and hibiscus.   I’ve chosen a selection of joyful, popular tunes from the 1930s as our music.  With songs such as The Younger Generation, This is the Missus, Everything Stops For Tea, and A Reckless Night On Board An Ocean Liner, this album always puts a smile on my face.

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It’s summer Down Under, so I thought Snowballs might be in order.  They are a quintessential junk food item in America with a cream filling surrounded by chocolate cake, marshmallow and coconut.  Hey, it’s a virtual treat, so enjoy!  Plus, they match my china.

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Individual red velvet cakes and chocolate dipped strawberries make a decadent addition to the tea table.

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I decorated these cookies myself, in honor of Liz’s love of flowers.  The recipe came from my mother and can’t be beat for iced sugar cookies.

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A lace tablecloth and pretty linens from Pip Studio complete the décor.  My children bought me these heart-shaped stones on our trips.  I’ve included them to symbolize Liz’s interest in geology, minerals, crystals, and gemstones.

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A complimentary collection of pieces works well together and keeps the atmosphere fun and delightful, not stodgy.



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6 Tablespoons butter, softened
1 egg yolk, beaten
6 Tablespoons powdered sugar
1 cup sifted flour
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter & sugar thoroughly.  Add vanilla & beat until blended.  Add egg yolk, beating well.  Add flour gradually, beating.  Roll out on floured surface (I roll between 2 sheets of wax paper) – cut out with cutters & bake at 350 degrees for approximately 15 minutes.  Cool.  Decorate as desired.   I  beat together 1 box powdered sugar, 1 Tablespoon softened butter, 1 Tablespoon vanilla, & enough boiling water for correct consistency.  Then divide into smaller bowls & tint with food coloring to desired shades.  Keep icing under plastic wrap when not in use to avoid crust forming on top.  Cookies can be kept in tins or in refrigerator after icing dries.

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Thank you for joining me for this jolly afternoon tea.  Come again soon!

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A Viennese Tea

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Hello!  Please come in and enjoy the strains of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

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I’ve prepared a special late afternoon tea as a tribute to Vienna.  My husband and I visited this remarkable city back in the mid ’90s.  Memories of the opulent architecture, palaces, cathedrals, opera, Royal Lippizzaner horses, china, and pastries fill my head.  There’s no place in the world like Vienna for pastries.  A friend offered to show us around the city, and she’d placed Café Landtmann on our agenda.  Famous as one of Freud’s haunts, the restaurant sits near Vienna’s center of government.

“Isn’t it funny that the building that holds their politicians is called the Rathaus?” my friend commented.

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I’ll make a disclaimer right here:  Vienna is known for its coffee, not tea.  To the uninitiated, Viennese coffee can come as a shock.  It’s strong.  So strong, we thought our spoons might melt in our cups, and we affectionately started referring to the hot beverage as RotgutIMG_3239 sized.jpgEven in my younger days, my stomach couldn’t handle it.  Our friend suggested we try a Melange, the Austrian version of cappuccino.  Even that proved too stout.  I had to keep asking our waiter for extra milk.  Take a sip, add a shot of milk to the cup, nibble on a pastry.  Then start the process all over again until there is enough dairy to take the edge off the robust drink.

It was ten a.m. on a weekday, and Café Landtmann was filled with well heeled patrons.  Unlike Americans, the Viennese think nothing of leaving work for a leisurely pastry, coffee, and cigarette.  Our waiter, dressed in a black jacket, crisp white shirt and tie, accommodated me.  Paneled walls with fancy bouquet inlays and moldings, chandeliers, rich fabrics, and tall arched windows clad in lavish drapes surrounded me.  You get the idea.


All this luxury comes with a price tag, which leads me to my next standout memory of Vienna.  Back then, I drank a soda every day.  I’d become dependent on its sugar and caffeine.  In Austria, when you ask for a cola, you get a small juice glass worth.  I’d had it.  I was exhausted late one afternoon when I plunked down at an outdoor café opposite the famous Sacher Hotel.  “I’d like a large Coke,” I said to the waiter.  “Large?” he inquired, with raised eyebrows.  I don’t think he’d ever heard of the word in relation to a cola.  “Large!” I confirmed.

I got my big beverage (a little more than a can’s worth), and I’ve kept the receipt in a scrapbook of our trip, along with a photo of my husband’s shocked expression (this is the man who chose to walk from a train station in Salzburg to our hotel in order to save cab fare, busting a wheel on his luggage that required an expensive fix — much more than the $5 fee for a ride).  The soft drink cost $7, in 1995, with a good exchange rate.  I must add, it was worth every penny to me!

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I’ve chosen the most opulent spot in my house to set up our tea.  In honor of the Sacher Torte, ubiquitous in Vienna, I’ve prepared a strong apricot tea.  See these pretty Mozart Kugeln candies?  I first sampled them in Austria.  They are filled with a chocolate cream surrounded by hazelnut, almond, and pistachio paste.  I’ve also sandwiched apricot jam between wafer cookies, topped with a dark chocolate piping — another tribute to the torte.  Try one of these apple blossoms, a yummy pastry topped with caramel.

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In Vienna, we saw a production of The Magic Flute.  The composer is featured throughout the city, as is Strauss.  Formal waltzes are held several nights a week, so you can dance the night away, if that’s your cup of tea.

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My wedding dishes grace a lavish cabinet.  I think the china motif reflects an Art Nouveau design.  The city offers many examples of the movement.  One of my favorite painters is Gustav Klimt, but I missed the opportunity to see his work in Austria.

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These napkin rings are cherished keepsakes of my visit to Vienna.  I regret not purchasing the matching place card holders.  Perhaps I couldn’t afford them after paying for my cola!

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Don’t be afraid to use your best china.  It’s meant to be enjoyed.

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Drape your tea table with rich fabrics, like this damask runner with tassels, for a special touch.

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Pipe chocolate icing in the form of your guests’ initials onto treats.  I used a store bought tube.  Snip the corner off a Ziplock bag.  Squeeze a small amount of icing into the plastic bag and pipe whatever design you desire.  Practice on a paper plate until you feel confident moving on to the treats.  I suggest freezing small amounts of icing to thaw out as needed.  This way, you will always be ready to add a monogram on a cookie, cupcake, or candy.  Your friends will be thrilled with the personalization!

Thank you for coming.  If you ever get the chance to visit Vienna, jump at it!  I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself, and do pop by anytime!

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A Sweetheart Deal

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Hello!  Please settle in, as we enjoy selections from Bach’s lute suites!
I’ve prepared a tea tray in your honor!

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A sweetheart deal implies one of the parties involved in a transaction receives a better than normal incentive or bargain.  Unfortunately, we aren’t always wise enough to recognize one of these arrangements.

Remember the classroom excitement that built before Valentine’s Day?  Depending on the efforts of our Room Mother, the day could prove exceptional.  We all had white paper bags, ready to be stuffed with greetings by our classmates.  valentineSpace sized.jpgIf lucky, the party included disposable nut cups, filled with tiny pastel candy hearts, pretty doilies, punch, and a cupcake.  Oh, how I wish I’d saved those adorable valentine cards!  For some reason, my father always provided the colorful notes I would give to others.  He’d come home with a package or two, a few days ahead of time.  I would add that he also brought each family member luxurious chocolates, a splurge, when the holiday arrived.

By the time I entered high school, we’d moved from Los Angeles to the rural Midwest, a difficult adjustment for a teenager.  One year, out of the blue, my dad presented me with two boxes of valentines to give to my friends.  My face must have said it all, I’m ashamed to say.  Mortified, I complained to Mom, “No one gives these things out anymore!”  I can still see the top card of the collection, visible through a cellophane window in the carton.  A darling bright yellow duck with an umbrella, trailed by a flock of ducklings, winked at me.

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“You don’t have to pass those out.  Just toss them when your father’s not looking.  It makes Daddy feel good to buy those,” she said, amused, adding, “it reminds him of his childhood.”  Oh, how I wish I’d saved those cards!

My college years proved a dry, desert wasteland as far as Valentine’s Day goes.  I somehow managed to be single every February.  Our family used to laugh when Grandfather mentioned he’d always dump his girl right before this holiday, to avoid having to buy a gift.  Now, that didn’t seem so funny.  Walking through a dorm lobby stuffed to capacity each year with amazing floral arrangements, meant for others, was no fun, I can tell you!

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Fast forward to the first year my oldest son attended school.  The big occasion approached, and I could not wait to buy some of those enchanting tokens from my childhood.  ValentineSodaFountain2 sized.jpgImagine me standing in the drug store aisle, horror on my face, discovering only movie and television themed cards!  Power Rangers for Valentine’s Day?  No thank you!  Obsessed, I searched all over town for the real thing.  Certainly, someone carried proper love notes for children?  Nope.  Time had passed me by once again.  Depressed, I waved the white flag, and settled on some ugly superhero greetings with a heart-shaped sticker.  I included a lollipop to soften the blow.  The kids had no idea how gypped they were, having never seen the greetings available in my youth.  Oh, how I wished I’d saved those packages my father gave me!

Have you already guessed what I learned from these experiences?  I had become just like my dad!  Several years after the card fiasco, both my boys had “official” valentines.  I determined to provide proper items for these little girls.  I may have overdone it just a tad.  You can be the judge, but my youngest looks scared and embarrassed in these photos.  The girls appreciated their gifts, so perhaps I can justify my temporary insanity.

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Looking at these pictures, I feel soooo guilty!

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In an attempt to ensure you come away with a special memory, I’ve made tea just for you!  I’ve even managed to find some reproduction vintage cards to warm your heart.  I purchased these online from Victoria Trading Company.  I hope they bring a smile to your face.

What Valentine memories or traditions can you share?

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I’ve brewed a custom, strong blend of youthberry and wild orange blossom black tea.  This stands up to the scrumptious chocolates.  I’ve included strawberries and store bought éclairs, so you’ll feel pampered, as well as ladyfingers sandwiched with raspberry cream.  Enjoy!



In my area, ladyfingers are only available around Christmas.  I stashed a package in my refrigerator, so we’d have some today.  A combination of marshmallow cream, cream cheese, and seedless raspberry jam (made only with fruit, no added sweeteners) makes up the filling.  I suggest making a full recipe of the cream (1 package cream cheese + 1 jar marshmallow cream, beaten together with an electric mixer).  Set aside the small amount (perhaps 1/4 cup) required to make these elegant sandwiches, and refrigerate the remainder.

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In a small bowl, mix a teaspoon of jam and a drop of pink food coloring, if desired, with 1/4 cup of filling.  To assemble, spread between two lady fingers.  Top with a fresh raspberry.  The remaining mixture makes a wonderful fruit dip you can enjoy with your family later.

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Pretty pink transferware seems appropriate for Cupid.  The cups are Old Britain Castles by Johnson Brothers, which I first spotted years ago in a thrift shop.  If I recall, I couldn’t resist the square teapot, an inexpensive Chinese import found at a Cracker Barrel Restaurant (I also picked up the matching sugar & creamer, not pictured).

Photocopy any ephemera you wish to share with others, and keep the originals for yourself!  You can still find the real thing on Ebay, although be careful — someone may swoop in at the last moment and outbid you, as happened to me.

By the way, if you haven’t read Saki (see quote, above), locate a copy of The Complete Works of Saki (the pen name of H. H. Munro) to enjoy at your leisure with a cuppa.  His writing is so charming, you’ll find yourself richly entertained.

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Thank you for coming, Friends.  Drop by again soon!

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A Honey of a Tea

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Please come in.  I hope you’re ready to discuss bees, sweeteners, and whatever else may come to mind on this chilly day!

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I love bees, which some may find ironic considering our painful past.  As a child, summer meant a vacation to my grandparents’ farm in the Midwest.  Humidity, snakes, bugs, and bees were all included, free of charge.  Somehow, out of the fifteen or so grandchildren gathered each year, these buzzers attacked only me.  I became the victim of any number of varieties, from tiny pests, referred to as sweat bees, to hornets, wasps, and everything in between.  Grandmother, a product of the 1800s and just five feet tall, never allowed these things to vex her.  I’d observe her resting on the front porch, seated in her favorite yellow metal chair from the 1940s, on any given hot afternoon.  She didn’t bother to notice that several flying bushwhackers had alighted on her bare arms or legs.  My grandma didn’t own a pair of long pants, and the sight of her in a calico dress, with a bonnet she’d sewn herself from flour sacks, always warmed my heart.

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I looked forward to seeing my grandparents, but dread of the assault that would invariably come from the bee quarter caused me quite a bit of worry and stress.  I recall cousins rolling me on the ground, then picking stingers out of my stomach, and other such frightful experiences.

But, Grandma knew how to make things better.  She had a magic box, or treasure chest of concoctions the likes of which I’ve never seen anywhere before or since.  Mounted on the wall, right in the entrance hall (Grandmother was a practical woman, after all), the enormous medicine cabinet measured what seemed to be three by three feet.  Only one jar deep, the case’s dimensions allowed her to view the entire archive of remedies at a glance.

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In the days before all-powerful pharmaceutical companies and strict government regulations, she accumulated these cures from a man known as The Peddler.  I don’t remember him, but I’ve seen home movies of my siblings running down the hill to meet his old, beat up bus, full of merchandise.  He traveled the rural area with a wide array of products, allowing farm people to stay put and not waste valuable daylight with a trip to town in search of a sudden necessity.

My grandmother had a treatment for anything and everything in that cabinet.  She’d swab my abdomen down with a dark brown elixir that smelled repugnant but drew the pain from the stings, or rub a pasty ointment on my neck where another pest left a welt.  These antidotes worked, and they worked fast!

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I often think how I’d love to have those old bottles and cures in my home today, along with an enormous, but shallow, medicine cabinet so I wouldn’t have to peruse the kitchen and multiple bathrooms in search of an ibuprofen every time my head ached!

Grandma and Grandpa moved into town when I was eleven, and didn’t bring the case or its contents.  However, she still possessed the curative powers of a beautiful, gentle spirit.  That much never changed.

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At some point I lost my fear of bees, and when I planned my garden included plants designed to attract the creatures, along with hummingbirds and butterflies.  I haven’t been stung since a child, and now enjoy having them buzz by.  I became friendly with a huge black bumble for a few years.  He visited each spring.  Once, I hosed him down by accident when watering my flowers, and he chased me for a few yards.  The old boy had quite a personality.  Sadly, there just aren’t that many around nowadays, and I haven’t seen a pesky sweat bee in decades.

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Please, enjoy the special treats I’ve prepared for my tribute to the busy bee!

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Many ways to sweeten tea exist.  Of course, there’s white sugar, sugar in the raw, and dainty sugar cubes.  Imitation sweeteners work for diabetics or those counting calories.  The Russians favor placing jam in their cup before adding the steaming liquid.  I’ve yet to attempt this, but look forward to trying.  My favorite choice comes from bees.  An artificial powder is my norm, but every so often I switch things up and treat myself.  Did you know that there are many different types of honey, each suited to different kinds of tea?  I love what the little buzzers make from cactus, wildflowers, orange blossoms, and sage.  These all have their own subtle flavor.  There’s even a deep, rich nectar available in March and April from the avocado tree!  A vendor at a local farmers’ market provides my stash.  I recommend this strong flavor paired with a chai or another sturdy brew.

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Today I’ve chosen a delicate sage honey to accompany a mango Ceylon black leaf tea.  Do sample the Parmesan crisps topped with sautéed diced mushrooms and the fig crackers with goat cheese and guava preserves.  Each provides an explosion of flavor in your mouth!

Grab a pizzelle, the delicate low calorie Italian waffle cookie, some tasty black currant wafers imported from the Dolomites, and a rich cinnamon roll.  These will satisfy your sweet tooth after our savory bites.

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Have a comfortable chair, another cup with lemon and honey, and share some of your childhood memories.  I’ll bet you had a few run-ins with creepy crawlies, too.

What do you think of my flower cups and saucers?  Will they attract any bees?

Don’t forget to take a few Chimes with you for the trip home.  I discovered these orange and ginger chews at a local museum.

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I just had to share these gorgeous saucers with you!



The most time consuming part of this consisted of setting up the tea table and making the mushroom topping for the cheese crisps.  I’d hoped to add fig jam to the Parmesan rounds, but my local market didn’t have any, so I improvised with the delicious guava and was not disappointed.  For those not wanting jelly, I topped some with halved pear tomatoes.  To bring the goat cheese to a good spreading consistency, I recommend combining a quarter cup of room temperature cheese with a teaspoon of cream, using an electric mixer.  You can increase the amounts, based upon how many people you plan to serve.

To make the mushroom topping, dice three or four large brown mushrooms.  Be sure they are thoroughly rinsed, as dirt tends to cling to the caps.  Melt two tablespoons of butter in a small skillet (I prefer salted butter in this case).  Finely chop one tablespoon of fresh parsley.  Sauté the mushrooms, adding salt and pepper to taste.  Just before the butter seems completely absorbed (this only takes a few minutes) and bubbly, turn off heat, add parsley and cover until ready to serve.  This is a very simple recipe and could be jazzed up with shallots, a splash of wine, or more herbs.  My teenage boys, who don’t favor mushrooms, admitted they liked this!

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Fresh flowers, a gift from a friend, add to the cheerful ambiance.

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Terracotta napkin rings enhance the garden theme.


Thank you for coming, and I hope you’ll venture to try some of the more unique honeys on the market.   Do stop by again soon!

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“Like trains of cars on tracks of plush
I hear the level bee:
A jar across the flowers goes,
Their velvet masonry.

Withstands until the sweet assault
Their chivalry consumes,
While he, victorious, tilts away
To vanquish other blooms.

His feet are shod with gauze,
His helmet is of gold;
His breast, a single onyx
With chrysoprase, inlaid.

His labor is a chant,
His idleness a tune;
Oh, for a bee’s experience
Of clovers and of noon!”

-Emily Dickinson

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