A Last Fruits of Summer Tea

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Come in!  Our summer travels are over, my oldest is safely ensconced in college, and I’m ready to celebrate this slower season with an Indian Summer Tea.  TeaCanSizedPlease, help yourself and tell me what you think of the berry trifle flavor.  Do you like Spode’s Blue Chintz pattern?  Unfortunately, it’s no longer in production.  To find old discontinued china patterns, check out Replacements Limited at http://www.replacements.com .  I especially enjoy perusing their Vintage Finds pages.

 

 

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My summer seems a blur and I cannot believe October is in full swing.  One of our sons graduated from high school, and from that point on, I cannot remember much!  Oh, the trip to the Midwest when we caravanned in three cars — that I recall.  If you’ve read my bio, you know I enjoy a good road trip.

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Keeping everyone together over hundreds of miles proved no easy task.  We had one speedster (my-soon-to-be college freshman), a moderate driver (my husband), and a slow moving lover of Route 66 (my brother).  The Mother Road fan took us on a detour through an ugly, industrial section of Flagstaff, Arizona.  Yes, Flagstaff has at least one unappealing area.  We were hungry and short tempered, but everything turned out all right in the end.

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Speaking of hunger, please sample the fresh herb tea sandwiches, strawberry rhubarb pie and chocolate dipped strawberries.  I grow my own herbs in pots just outside my kitchen, so these were a breeze to put together.  Have a seat and enjoy!

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We stayed a few days at the Grand Canyon.  Miraculously, a cabin at the Bright Angel Lodge became available.  I’ve visited the Canyon many times and it’s always spectacular.  Both my boys hiked down to Indian Gardens with my brother while my husband and I played on the rim.  Did you do anything special this summer?

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My tea stash has grown to epic proportions.  Part of the reason is that kind people keep giving me tea!  Not a bad problem to have, right?  I’ve discovered many ways to store these gifts.  Aside from stacking boxes in my pantry, I often utilize pretty ceramics — as long as they have an airtight rubber ring attached to the lid, like the ginger jars featured here.  These work well for loose leaf teas.

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If you’ve got a cool dry spot, a pretty glass chest like the one I found at World Market makes a lovely display case.  By the way, these items sold out quickly from my local store!

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Of course, the wooden chest (a present from a sweet friend) is still a wonderful solution for sealed bags such as these and also provides a smart way to offer your guests their choice of brew.  Pretty airtight tins also make a colorful storage option for your stash.  What do you think of this unique cabinet I spotted on the Facebook page of Tea with Charlotte & Lucy?  Is it a doll house or a place to keep tea accoutrement?  Either way, it’s adorable!

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Recipe:

Herb Tea Sandwiches

Several slices of bread, frozen
1/2 cup cream cheese, softened
1 Tablespoon heavy cream
2 Tablespoons Fresh Herb of choice (I chose basil), chopped.  Watercress is also a great option.

Cut frozen bread into desired shapes with sharp knife or cookie cutter.  Set aside & allow to defrost in Ziploc bag.  Beat together cheese and cream.  Gently stir in herbs.  Spread on one side of bread shape.  Form sandwiches.  Serve.  Makes 12 tea sandwiches.  NOTE:  bread shapes can be prepared in advance as can herb spread, if refrigerated.  Assemble before your guests arrive.blogscan050REsized

 

Thank you for joining me.  May your transition from summer to fall be peaceful and glorious!

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COPYRIGHT 2017. VICTORIA BENCHLEY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Making the Perfect Tea Sandwich

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Come in, dear friend.  I’ve arranged a special corner where we’ll have our tea, and the seat of honor is reserved for you!

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I’m using a tea set with special meaning.  I purchased the pattern years ago while visiting my parents.  Made of porcelain, the pot, cups, and tray resemble old time enamelware.  Charming!

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I found the set on a day trip to wonderful Spring Mill State Park in Indiana (see details of the park here: http://www.stateparks.com/spring_mill_state_park_in_indiana.html), where you can view a restored pioneer village and grist mill.   Watch corn being ground beneath the enormous, turning stone as the mill wheel spins, and then buy a bag of freshly made cornmeal.  See weavers painstakingly working a large loom and explore the tiny general store.  Examine the stump of a behemoth tree and scratch your head at its size!  There’s so much to experience.  Once a thriving community, the town was eventually abandoned.  To maintain an authentic atmosphere, parking is not permitted near the hamlet, so come prepared to do a little walking.  I have to admit, there’s something haunting about the place.

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My folks and I had been to the site before, but on this occasion my husband and children joined us, and it proved an especially sweet time.  Adjacent to the park is a worthwhile and moving memorial/visitor center dedicated to local hero, astronaut Gus Grissom (see http://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/5580.htm).  You can see everything in one day or spend the night in the lodge and enjoy a leisurely visit.  Be sure to take it in if you are ever traveling through The Middle, a.k.a. Indiana.  You can get to Spring Mill easily from the central or southern parts of the state.

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Do you have any hidden gems that make wonderful day trips in your area?  Please share the details!  How about a special family time that evokes sweet memories?

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Why don’t we sit and have a sip of smooth, mellow pear tea.  It seems the ideal match for our savories.  Today, I’ve made Stacked Thai Bites and cucumber sandwiches (recipes & tips below).  I think they’re perfect!  Taking the time to create a special effect, like diagonal stripes, pays big dividends.

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I’ve always harbored a soft spot for Shabby Chic and vintage décor.  Since my husband isn’t quite on board with an ultra-feminine style (nor does he see the attraction in peeling paint), I have settled for a few touches here and there – nothing too overpowering.  For our tea, I’ve utilized an antique as a table.  My mother bought the trunk at a country auction back when I was in high school and refinished it with Laura Ashley paints.  She wallpapered the inside, too — a great touch!  Over the years, some of the paint has chipped, but I like the effect.  A family member recently claimed that Mom purchased it at a relative’s sale, and that it did, in fact, belong to one of my ancestors.  If true, that would be fun, wouldn’t it?

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My great aunts hand painted these lovely plates.  I think Rachel Ashwell would approve.
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For sweets, let’s indulge in mini angel food cakes with strawberries and Snickerdoodle banana napoleons with mint cream.  The cakes are store bought and the napoleons easy to make with packaged cookies.  Both look and taste divine.

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Tips:

  • For the perfect tea sandwich, freeze the bread before cutting into shapes.  This will allow you to have clean lines without damaging the bread.  Bread will thaw within minutes of removing from freezer, so work fast.  Use cookie cutters to make layers that fit your theme.
  • After cutting frozen bread, store in Ziploc or plastic wrap in refrigerator until needed.
  • Be sure to soften whatever spread you use in sandwiches.  This will keep your bread from tearing and provide a smooth layer.
  • When making tea sandwiches, remember appearance is as important as taste.  Keep sandwiches small and appealing to the eye.
  • Consider an unusual spot for serving tea.  Tea for two is perfect for this since you are only accommodating a small group.  Your guest will appreciate your creativity!

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Recipes:

Stacked Thai Bites for 2

2 large pieces sour dough bread, frozen
1 large slice good quality deli roast beef
3 medium to large radishes, cut into paper-thin slices
2 Tablespoons cream cheese, softened
Cilantro
Wooden skewers or toothpicks

Cut frozen bread into ten identical small squares, making sure crust is removed.  Set aside to thaw.  Set aside 5 radish slices & 5 cilantro leaves.  Spread roast beef with thin layer of cream cheese.  Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and add enough radish slices to cover in single layer.  Roll and use sharp knife to cut into 1″ slices.  Place slice between two bread squares.  Top with a reserved radish slice and hold together with skewer.  Tuck a reserved cilantro leaf beneath radish & serve.  Makes 5 mini tea sandwiches.

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1 English Cucumber, washed
2 Tablespoons Cream Cheese
2 slices firm bread, frozen
Wax paper

Cut 4 identical rectangles from bread, making sure crust is removed. Spread each rectangle with cream cheese.  Set aside.  Cut cucumber on the diagonal into paper-thin slices.  Layer slices across each bread rectangle in desired pattern (I chose diagonal).  Cucumber slices should overhang the edges of the bread.  Flip sandwich face down onto wax paper and carefully trim excess cucumber with sharp knife.  Turn sandwich over and remove wax paper.  Serve.  Makes 4 sandwiches.

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12 Hannah Max Cinnamon Sugar Cookie Chips or
other small cookies
1 large banana
Whipping Cream
Fresh Mint

Cut banana in half, lengthwise. Cut each length into 4 pieces (8 chunks total) – adjusting size according to the diameter of your cookies – and take a shallow slice off rounded side to provide a flat surface.  Assemble napoleons with three cookies.  Begin with a cookie & alternate between cookie and banana chunk, ending with a cookie.  Top with whipped cream and small mint leaves.  Serve immediately.  Makes 4 napoleons.

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Thank you for joining me.  I hope you enjoyed our time together.  Drop by any time!

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COPYRIGHT 2017. VICTORIA BENCHLEY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

A Bountiful Fall Tea

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In accordance with the above quote, I’ve made an extra strong brew this afternoon.  Do come in and enjoy a cup (or two) of Ginger Tea from TrueBrit.  It’s a blend of Ceylon and other black leaves mixed with ginger.  I find it delicious!  With the increase in temperatures, we’ll take our break on the porch.

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One of my children will soon be reading 1984 for his English class.  I got excited when I saw it on the required book list.  I’m wondering if it will have the same impact now that the year has long passed and a new generation of readers, unfamiliar with the Cold War, WWII, and largely protected from exposure to tyranny, has come along.  I read Orwell’s classic in high school, sometime around 1980, and found it powerful.  Do you have a favorite book that affected your own young perspective?

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I realize I’m rambling a bit, but has anyone else noticed that tea is just better in England, Orwell’s homeland?  I even prefer the Lipton there!  I returned from my travels this summer with oodles of tea.  That’s how I roll.  My souvenirs consist of tea leaves, tea bags, and a few sweets (those are better in England as well).  So, if you spot any in your local import store, don’t hesitate to indulge.  You might find yourself enjoying the best cuppa ever!  By the way, did you know George Orwell was the pen name of Englishman Eric Arthur Blair?  His sister ran a tea house for a time, and he also lived in India (both adding to his tea pedigree), as well as on the Isle of Jura, Inner Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland.  He died young at age 46 of tuberculosis but lived an interesting life.  He spent time in Paris and Spain, where he was wounded fighting in the Spanish Civil War.

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I’ve kept our food simple today, utilizing cocktail cucumbers and pretzel rolls, along with fresh herbs.  Simple butter cookies complete the table.  I’ve mixed diced honey ham with two different flavors of cream cheese for the fillings.  Everything came together in a jiffy.

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Tips:

  • Keep an eye out for teas imported from England. img_2898resized You’ll want to give them a try.
  • A supply of store-bought butter cookies comes in handy when entertaining.
  • When weather permits, move your gathering outside.  Soon it will be too cold for the great outdoors.
  • Flavored cream cheeses are readily available and add a nice punch to sandwiches or crackers.
  • Check your local grocery for specialty breads.  The mini pretzel rolls I found proved perfect for small tea sandwiches and tasted delicious.
  • Use a melon baller to scoop out soft vegetables.  Stuff with your favorite filling.  Cocktail cucumbers are refreshing and tasty when filled with diced ham and herb-infused cream cheese.
  • Don’t be afraid to include fresh herbs.  They add a great taste to your creations.  Just watch the amount, so you don’t overpower any subtle flavors.

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Thank you for joining me, and do pop by again soon!

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COPYRIGHT 2016. VICTORIA BENCHLEY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

An Endless Summer Tea

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Please come on back, cool off in the shade and relax!  I’ve prepared something special today to counteract the weather.

While everyone else barrels towards fall, we are facing 100 degree temperatures and non-stop sunshine.  I’m not complaining.  I know plenty of folks would trade places with me in a minute.  I just happen to love all four seasons.  When my boys were small, I bought fake leaves and we played with them in the living room.  fall sizedWe threw them off the stairs, enjoyed watching as they drifted to the floor, and piled them on top of each other.  It’s a memory my children still talk about, even though we only did it once.  That’s how desperate I get for fall!

I had a busy summer, including a wonderful trip to Europe (more about my search for the perfect tea room in a future blog).  I received some disturbing news from a friend recently.  While I know sharing a cup of tea won’t solve anyone’s problems, it remains a good place to start.  A comforting cup, along with caring fellowship and maybe even a prayer request or two, might be just the ticket.

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My children still aren’t back to school, so now my days are spent in preparation for that milestone.  My oldest will be a senior in high school, which includes added responsibilities, transitions, and stress, both for him and his parents!  Tell me, how did you spend your vacation and what challenges do you see on the horizon?

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Let’s start with a taste of my grape slush. You’ll find it refreshing!

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Please settle in while I pour you a cup of my newfound (rediscovered) favorite tea, Lady Grey.  It’s not easy to find in the States, so I loaded up while in England.  I hope you’ll enjoy this bright, zesty brew with a hint of citrus.

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Enjoy a cold sandwich.  The mini squaw buns are filled with fresh pineapple and cream cheese, along with honey-cured ham slices.  Turkey breast, fresh spinach and cranberry jelly fill French bread wedges.  I’ve chilled some fresh fruit kabobs and baked pecan diamonds and coconut cookies.  What do you think of the flowers?  I love apricot roses!

Check out this adorable creamer and sugar bowl.  I got them as souvenirs when I visited the Queen Mary as a child, in Long Beach, California.

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 Tips:

  • Consider using old souvenirs and collectibles to brighten up your table. They’ll spur conversation among your guests!
  • Throw a lace cloth on your table. It will add a special touch to your gathering.
  • If it’s hot, chill as much of your food as possible. It will create a nice balance to the hot tea.
  • In warm weather, choose a lighter flavored brew, as opposed to a heavy, spicy flavor.
  • Keep barbeque skewers on hand from your local grocery for fruit kabobs. I cut the wooden spears in half with pruning shears to keep things dainty.
  • One can’t go wrong with a crisp blue and white color scheme — no matter the season.
  • Utilize interesting glassware, such as cordial stems, for bite-sized portions of custards, ices, etc.

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Recipes:

Grape Slush

This recipe is simple, yet requires some elbow grease.  Your family will love cooling off with the leftovers.  Make at least one day in advance.

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  • 1 large bottle concord grape juice
  • 1 bottle Squirt lemon lime soft drink

Carefully pour above ingredients into 12 x 9 inch, glass baking dish.  Cover and place in freezer.  Check every hour.  As soon as liquid begins to freeze, scrape with spoon.  Continue to scrape during freezing process until entire pan has slushy texture.  Cover until ready to serve.  Garnish with mint leaves and maraschino cherries.

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Thank you for joining my respite from a busy summer.  Do pop by again soon!

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COPYRIGHT 2016. VICTORIA BENCHLEY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED