Tea With Antiquities

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I have found that museums are enjoyable places to take tea.  Virtually every one has a restaurant, tea house, or coffee shop.  Usually, the food proves delicious.  I can’t think of a better combination than a day admiring art and a delicious cup of tea with a bite to eat.  If the gallery has a decorative arts wing, so much the better.

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Did you know that there are entire museums dedicated to porcelain, silver, and china?  One of the best I’ve seen is the Silver and Crockery Museum in the Hofburg Palace (Winter Palace) in Vienna.  When I visited, the Hofburg tour — then available only in German — proved sparse (I’ve learned it has since improved).  However, the Crockery museum, located below the palace, was amazing and well worth the price of entry.  It turned out to be one of our favorite sites.  Even my husband enjoyed the experience!

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The British Museum has a magnificent array of teapots as well as some important cups and saucers, including early Jasperware.  The place is enormous, so be sure to start your day early.  We enjoyed lunch there and the unusual teabags (see photo below).  No, that’s not a tissue protruding from my teapot!  My companion chose a cappuccino as a pick-me-up.  After all, perusing a large gallery can be exhausting.

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You never know what you’ll come across when exploring a museum.  At the National Portrait Gallery in London, we happened upon a special exhibit on the Brontë Sisters.  We got lucky — just a right place, right time kind of thing.  After hearing about them for my entire life, I got to see the actual tiny books and scraps of paper on which the girls wrote.  It was a treat I hadn’t anticipated and one for which I am grateful.  Read about some of what I saw here:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/12057053/National-Portrait-Gallery-to-reveal-mysteries-of-shadowy-Bronte-brother.html

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I’m lucky to live near many world class museums.  I’ve never been disappointed with the exhibits or the tea!  So, escape the summer’s heat, find a nearby museum, and lose yourself for the day!

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COPYRIGHT 2017. VICTORIA BENCHLEY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Tea and Elephants

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Hello! So glad you could pop by.  I’ve set our tea things in the foyer, and I’ve already poured everyone a cup.  So, come on in and find a comfy chair.  Is the weather dismal where you’re at or unseasonably warm?  It’s been crazy this year, hasn’t it?

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I don’t really believe the quote above, but it does sometimes seem plausible, especially if uttered from the back of an elephant — think the Carthaginian general, Hannibal.  Whether excited over a success or depressed regarding a bad experience, tea seems to help.  The phrase, “Let’s have a cup of tea,” can add to an impromptu celebratory gathering amongst friends, or bring a small dose of comfort when soothing a companion.   Teatime is also the perfect opportunity to share a few secrets.

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My husband and I had been married at least ten years when, over a cup of tea, I casually mentioned that I had ridden elephants.  At the time, it seemed an appropriate comment given the direction of our conversation.  He almost spewed a mouthful of hot liquid all over the table.  I didn’t realize most people hadn’t had the opportunity to ride one of the enormous creatures.  When I revealed that I’d been on camels too, well, he nearly fell over!

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Money was tight growing up. My parents, children of the Great Depression, believed in living frugally.  That being said, my mother was prescient enough to splurge when a golden opportunity arose, and I’m grateful for her wisdom.

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I could only have been about two or three years old when I first encountered an elephant up close and personal.  In the parking lot of a local grocery store, a man showed one off, along with a camel.  It goes without saying that government regulations then weren’t what they are now.   I don’t know what Mom paid, but I paired up with a young boy and rode the elephant, fed peanuts to the animal, and petted his trunk.  I will never forget the experience, especially what it felt like to move with the beast and have the pachyderm’s hose-like snout gently caress my hand and carefully remove the nuts.  He wasn’t threatening in the least, in spite of his size.

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Not long afterwards, it was my mum who informed me of the emotional nature of these magnificent creatures. When she was a child in Montreal, it seems a jealous one stomped a woman to death during a parade when its trainer stopped and paid a lady in the crowd too much attention — gruesome, I know, but true.

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Years later, after other fortunate meetings with more elephants, I attended Circus Vargas with a date. This wasn’t my first trip to the big top, either.  The man I went with insisted we ride on the elephant available for short forays around the grounds.  I wasn’t so excited about the prospect.  The animal was enormous — we had to climb atop a platform and walk a rickety plank to get on its back — and frankly, grumpy looking.  I think the fellow (my date) just wanted the chance to get up close and personal with me.  Everything turned out fine in the end.  We had a pleasant trip around the lot, and we broke up a short time later!

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When I recently read that Ringling Brothers was closing its tent, I felt terrible. I know there are those who dislike circuses, and I can respect their position.  Over the years, I’ve been to all kinds of these performances, ranging from the most famous operations to small boutique outfits.  I also will never forget when we took our own children to see Ringling Brothers.  My oldest, then about five, turned to me at intermission after confetti cannons had gone off raining thousands of bright paper strips down on the audience and said, “It’s just like a dream!”  He seemed in a wonderful, happy daze as he experienced the unique magic of a circus for the first time.

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Since then, I’ve since discovered many interesting facts and theories regarding elephants, who continue to hold a soft spot in my heart. Some of these are incorporated into my new book, The Pernicious Pachyderm, available now as a pre-order on Amazon (to be released March 25th).  The story also features a small circus.  I cannot believe this is the seventh novel in the Duncan Dewar series.  If you think you might enjoy reading about this unusual case, please click on the cover image below.

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How are you enjoying your tea?  Today, I chose to brew a simple, naturally decaffeinated blend, Red Rose.  Three bags make the perfect pot, steeping for just three to five minutes.  Do have two or three Swedish orange ginger snaps with your cuppa.

What do you think of these darling cups and saucers?  When I first spotted them, I immediately thought of my childhood.  They’re from British designer Cath Kidston (check out her webpage at http://www.cathkidston.com/).  While no teapot was available, I did manage to pick up the matching dessert plates.  I adore the pretty floral pattern, and the rickrack border made me think of days gone by.  So, I incorporated a quilt made from 1930s fabrics as my tablecloth.  I love the cheerful yellow!

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Thank you for coming.  I hope you’ve enjoyed our chat.  Have you had any unusual animal encounters?  Please share them in the comment section.  I’d love to hear your stories!

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It’s so grand,
The biggest thing to live on land!
Can use its trunk,
To smell and eat,
To rip off branches,
Taste so sweet!
A herbivore,
Eats trees and fruits,
Will not hunt meat,
But might like roots!
Flapping ears,
Like birdies wings,
Used for fans,
And hearing things!
Has a very,
Special nose,
Kind of like,
A garden’s hose…
Trunk holds water,
Like some sinks,
Sprays in mouth,
For cool, wet drinks!
And if you look,
Lined up in rows,
You see toenails,
But not its toes!
Elephants have,
Thick gray skin,
Both Asian and the African!
Two types exist,
Can walk at birth!
Biggest mammal,
Roaming Earth!
~Via Mr. R’s World of Math & Science http://sciencepoems.net/sciencepoems/elephantsbordersized2

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COPYRIGHT 2017. VICTORIA BENCHLEY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

A Tree-side Tea

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Come in and have a seat by the tree.  The fire is roaring and that old-fashioned music you hear is Fred Waring’s Christmas Magic, a staple of my childhood.  Go ahead, grab a sugar cookie and warm up with a cup of ginger spice tea!

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I finished my holiday baking Friday night around midnight and put the final touches on the tree late the following evening.  This year, it’s been a mad rush to the finish line.  I still have wrapping and shopping to do for the Christmas Day feast, but that’s all under control.  Have you completed your to-do list?  Purchased and wrapped that final gift?  Whispered your heart’s desire in Old Saint Nick’s ear?  Sat on Santa’s lap?

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On the 25th, I’m cooking for thirteen people – cherished family and friends.  That would have been a medium-sized group in my childhood, but nowadays it counts as a large gathering.  I enjoy hosting the dinner.  I just wish I had a spare refrigerator!  Fitting everything inside seems to be our biggest challenge each year.  I start prepping about five days beforehand and quickly run out of space in the fridge.  To save time, I’m purchasing the desserts and concentrating on the meal.  Of course, I’ll also serve a tray of my homemade cookies and fudge.  What are your plans for the holiday?

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My husband helped with the candy making.  We struggled with a recipe for Penuche.  For those unfamiliar with this treat, it’s a maple/pecan type of fudge.  Every year we toil to get it right.  Producing the perfect candy is a science.  My mother, who’d been making fudge since she was a young child and had the scars to prove it, could do it all by feel – me, not so much.  I’m ashamed to say that out of six attempts, only two passed muster.  We adjusted the temperature, analyzed the difference between the molasses content of light verses dark brown sugar, consulted with Martha Stewart regarding the correct amount of butter, and enjoyed the time spent together.  In the end, my husband (a scientist type) declared, “Ah, the Penuche, she is a fickle beast.”  We will redouble our efforts next year!  If any of you have discovered the secret to this recipe, please have mercy on us and share!

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Recipes:

Ice Box Cookies 

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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.  Divide icing 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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Farmhand Snowballs

12 oz. white chocolate chips
24 Ritz crackers
1/4 cup peanut butter
Chocolate chips, coconut, chopped nuts, colored sprinkles, etc. for decorating

Spread cracker with small amount of peanut butter and top with another, creating a dsc04645resizedsandwich.  Repeat and set aside.  Place desired toppings in small bowls & set aside.  Cover cookie racks or cookie sheets with wax paper & set aside.

Melt white chocolate in double boiler until smooth, stirring constantly.  Carefully dip sandwiches in chocolate to coat completely.  Working quickly, remove the cookie and place on wax paper.  Top with choice of decoration.  Cool completely.  Store in airtight tins.  I double this recipe to make two dozen.

NOTES:  Utilize tongs to avoid burning your fingers when dipping.  Figure out which method works best for you.  I also use a large spoon to aid in the coating process.  If you want to get crazy, coat both sides of Ritz with peanut butter and vary adding chopped nuts, coconut, and mini chocolate chips to inside of sandwiches before dipping.  These cookies are delicious and always a huge hit.  People have fun trying to figure out what’s inside and how you made them.

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Thank you for joining me and do stop by in the New Year.
Merry Christmas!

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COPYRIGHT 2016. VICTORIA BENCHLEY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

My Favorite European Salon de Thé (Tea)

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I have an all-time favorite Salon de Thé (see September 12 blog, A European Tea Adventure).  No doubt, Angelina remains on the top of my list.  Explaining why isn’t so straightforward.  I really wanted to love Ladurée, another well-known tea room.  I had dreamed of enjoying a cup of tea and a pastry there for so long.  Don’t get me wrong, it proved a nice experience and the brew was excellent.  However, it just couldn’t compare to the Belle Époque café. The staff seemed friendlier at Angelina, the prices lower, and the cheerful ambience just couldn’t be beat.  And, after all, there is just something about being in Paris.  The other tea rooms in Italy and Switzerland didn’t stand a chance.

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To be honest, Angelina had an advantage.  I’d spent many a fall afternoon there twenty years before, savoring all of their delights.  montblancsizedA favorite among Parisians, the 100 plus year-old establishment greets guests like an old friend.  The café is best known for its thick African hot  chocolate and its Le Mont-Blanc, a scrumptious pastry made with meringue and chestnut cream.  For the first time visitor, I’d recommend either or.  In other words, don’t try to combine the hot chocolate and Mont-Blanc at once.  Go for Le Mont-Blanc and a cup of their signature tea.  Not a tea lover?  Sample the decadent hot chocolate.  Then come back the next day to experience a different confection.  If it’s a meal you’re after, anything on the menu will do.  Their salads, omelets, and sandwiches are all delicious, as is the bread and butter you’ll be served.

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The mercury had risen to a beastly hot temperature.  We’d spent the morning at the Louvre, just down the street.  I needed a boost and could think of nothing better than a visit to Angelina.  The café did not disappoint.  Little had changed since my last visit, except their china and the size of the crowd.  We had to wait in line, outside, for the first time—I’m guessing the price of being there in summer.  It was worth it!

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I grappled over which sweet to choose and went with an incredible creation called the Désirée—a combination of raspberry custard, cream puff, cookie, and I don’t know what.   It proved one of the best pastries I’ve ever had and the perfect accompaniment to my cup of tea.  I’m not ashamed to admit my eyes rolled back in my head and my lashes fluttered with each bite!

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Did I mention the salon’s beautiful decor?  The interior transports the customer to another time.  I can’t imagine a trip to Paris without a stop at Angelina.  I was thrilled to discover that it still charmed and refreshed guests, just as it did twenty years ago.

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Everyone seemed happy as they sipped their tea, chocolate, or coffee and indulged in a meal or dessert, and the mood proved catchy.  Families gathered at larger tables, engaging in pleasant conversation.  A grandfather bounced a baby on his knee, while a toddler strolled from chair to chair, smiling at aunts, uncles, and strangers.  A couple to my right, probably newlyweds, doted on each other while sharing their sweets.  My husband held my hand.

Our lovely waitress cheerfully chatted, encouraged, and served us.  She added to the fantastic, lively atmosphere.  I could have sat there for the rest of the day, blissfully observing the clientele and drinking cup after cup.

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There are fancier places to have tea and those more of the moment.  If I have to give one reason why Angelina is my favorite spot, it would be because the place is just so happy.   That’s right.  It’s a happy place, one of my happy places.

So, when you’re lucky enough to be in Paris, visit the Louvre or the Musée de l’Orangerie.  When your feet get tired and your eyes weaken, enjoy a stroll down the Rue de Rivoli, past posh shops and tony hotels.  Or, take a route through the Tuileries.  Just be sure you end up at 226 so you can experience what Parisians have enjoyed for over 100 years!  You can check out Angelina’s delightful web page and video here:  http://www.angelina-paris.fr/fr/

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COPYRIGHT 2016. VICTORIA BENCHLEY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

A European Tea Adventure

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I recently traveled through Europe.  While overseas, finding fabulous tea rooms became one of my goals.  To my surprise, I found Babington’s Tea Rooms near the base of the Spanish Steps in Rome.

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Venice boasts the oldest tea room in the world.  If you sit outside in la Piazza and enjoy the live music, that cuppa will cost you about fifty dollars, US!  If you’re on a budget, choose one of the tiny tables for two inside.

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In Switzerland, our quaint hotel served a simple, yet satisfying tea (I noted they had enthusiastic British tour groups coming and going).  The colorfully wrapped Swiss sugar cubes grabbed my attention, along with the charming view.

In Paris, I visited Angelina’s and Ladurée in the same day (time was limited)!  Okay, I shared a pastry at each with my companion, but we ordered our own individual pots of tea.  I’ll reveal my favorite tea room in a future blog.

 

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However, the big shocker became the plethora of coffee houses in London!  We found Starbucks, Café Nero, M&S Café, and Coffee Republic on numerous street corners.  Where were the tea rooms?

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True, I found lovely places to take tea in Bath and small villages.  What the major museums served  wasn’t too shabby either.  But, what about the rest of London?   On foot, we searched and finally settled for Café Concerto, near Trafalgar Square.  This is actually an Italian restaurant that offers tea.  I must say, they put on quite a spread and we left totally satisfied with our cream tea.

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Things change.  That’s a fact I rarely enjoy.  The last time I stayed in London, about twenty years ago, coffee shops did not populate the streets!  I have nothing against those little beans.  In fact, I drink a cup every morning—lovingly prepared by my husband.  It’s how I start my day.  Still, that caffeine-laden drink doesn’t produce the same effect as a cup of tea.  And I find little else nicer than partaking of a pot in the afternoon, or mid-morning for that matter.

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So, go on trendy coffee shops packed with hipsters, try to take over the world.  There will always be those of us who rely on that bastion of comfort and civility, nourishment and nicety, pampering and peace.  Tea, please!

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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

 

Independence Tea

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Hello!  Please come in and join me for a tea in celebration of Indedpence Day.  Yes, it’s hot outside.  But as long as we have a bit of shade, you will find our tea refreshing.  It’s been a while and I’d love to hear your news.  Are you planning a vacation this summer?  How about something special on the Fourth?
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While I was growing up, the 4th of July was one of our “big” holidays.  In other words, cousins, aunts and uncles gathered at our home for unlimited soft drinks (remember bottles of Strawberry, Grape, and Pineapple Crush?), watermelon, homemade ice cream (I, as the youngest, got to sit on the ice cream maker while others turned the crank), and a barbeque.  All of these things would have provided enough excitement, but my father added fireworks in the driveway after dark to complete our event.  To this day, some of my cousins count their memories of the 4th as their best childhood experiences.

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Now, fireworks are illegal in most areas of California, so we stick to viewing the professional shows.  We still do a barbeque and fill an ice chest with soda pop.  The drinks aren’t the once-a-year treat for my kids as they were for us, but I allow them to have as many as they want.  Gone is the large crowd of relatives, replaced by one or two relations.   But, we still have a roaring good time.

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I want to recapture some of that fun with this late afternoon Independence Tea.  In honor of our Founding Fathers, I’ve brewed a pot of blueberry blend from James Madison’s Montpelier, where I visited several years ago.  It smells and tastes wonderful!

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I hope you enjoy our miniature steak and goat cheese salads.  Mixed greens, sliced New York steak, chèvre, and pecans provide a delicious bite.  Cold, roasted red pepper soup with a hunk of cheese and chives will tickle your palate, while stuffed miniature heirloom tomatoes provide another colorful and tasty treat.

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In the spirit of summer, our sweet course includes rhubarb and strawberry jam stuffed lady fingers with raspberry cream cheese filling.

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Tips:

  • Find a shady spot, preferably where a light breeze flows, to serve tea.  Schedule the event later in the afternoon to avoid the day’s highest temperatures.  I chose a covered patio featuring a fountain.
  • Set aside steak from a prior barbeque for use in salad.  I just grilled an extra cut the night before.
  • Utilize a melon baller to remove the insides of mini-tomatoes.  Save the top of each tomato for garnish.  Beat cream cheese, cream, and fresh herbs together for filling, keeping in mind taste and consistency.
  • For cold red pepper soup, drain a bottle of roasted red bell peppers.  Place peppers in blender with a quarter cup of cream.  Blend.  Add more cream until desired consistency is reached.  I add a splash of hot sauce for an extra zing of flavor.  Pour into cups and add a hunk of soft, white cheese (I used chèvre).  Insert two, inch-and-a-half long chive pieces into cheese as garnish.  Serve.
  • I froze the lady fingers back in January and thawed them for this dessert.  If you cannot find lady fingers, you can always substitute sponge cake.  Spread with jam of your choice.  If desired, add mixture of cream cheese, marshmallow cream, and seedless raspberry jam.  Sandwich together and serve.
  • When enjoying hot tea in the summer, consider keeping the accompanying food cold.
  • Add a festive arrangement in sync with the occasion.

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Thank you for joining me. Please share your favorite Fourth of July or summer memory!
Happy 4th to you all!

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COPYRIGHT 2016. VICTORIA BENCHLEY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

A Haiku Tea

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Welcome.  Come in and join me as I brew some tea!  I hope you’ve brought your favorite Haiku poem to share.

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A Haiku consists of three lines.  The beginning and ending verses each contain five moras (similar to syllables), while the middle has seven.  Sometimes this varies after translation, as Haiku poetry originated in Japan.  Kobayashi Issa, considered one of the greatest Haiku masters, penned this:  “Everything I touch, with tenderness alas, pricks like a bramble.”

I was delighted to discover the above Haiku by Shiki.  It reminded me of time spent with my beloved mother.  She grew up memorizing poetry in school–lots of poetry.  I think our modern education system misses the boat by not requiring this of today’s student.  She could recite poems of any length – right up through her eighties.   Some of her repertoire, like those verses passed down from her civil war era ancestors, has been lost to time, but most remains well known and familiar.  I grew up with the words of Dickinson, Coleridge, Wordsworth, etcetera, being spouted at opportune moments!

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What about the persimmons?  you ask.  There are two types of this fruit.  Don’t confuse the large, yellow or orange imposter, seasonally available in grocery stores, with what we had at home.  Our persimmons were harvested in late fall, after most of the leaves were gone from the trees, and baked into highly prized puddings.  There are even festivals dedicated to this wild, small brown delicacy.

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Three large, ancient trees stood on the edge of our garden.  Come fall, we’d lay plastic sheets down around their bases and let the wind do the work, collecting our prizes at the end of each day.  By the way, deer also loved this fruit and would always beat us to what hung from the lower limbs during the night.  If the fall breeze didn’t meet our quota, we’d throw sticks up into the high branches, knocking down more of the loose crop.  Not only did Mom bake delicious puddings, she froze the pulp in order to make persimmon ice cream.  I recently made my way up to the old garden but found that the trees were, unfortunately, no more.  I forgot that over thirty years had slipped by since those crisp autumn days when we collected the tiny treasures.

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Let’s get back to today’s tea.

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A few years ago, I enjoyed a meal in one of our local Chinese restaurants.  The place was a bit hoity toity, but had excellent tea.  I always order hot tea in these spots to accompany the food.  When I complemented the waitress, she was kind enough to give me a stash of tea bags to take with me!  IMG_3677crop sizedRevolution’s Citrus Spice Herbal Tea turned out to be the drink I so enjoyed.  I came home and brewed a cup.  Somehow, it didn’t provide the same experience as in the eatery.  That got me thinking.  The beverage I relished earlier that day came in a small, iron pot.  Could that make a difference?

Christmas rolled around and I let it be known I wanted an iron teapot.  My youngest boy chose one from World Market (see my blog Finding Your Happy Place) as his gift to me (such a sweetheart!).  A few days later, I put my new kettle to the test and, voilà, I had my perfect cup of tea!

 

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Today, I used my iron pot with a variety of loose leaves to brew our tea.  I utilized both the metal and a porcelain teapot for serving.  My brother gave me the floral set for Christmas when I was a young teenager, my very first real tea service.  I doubt he knew what he started when he chose that gift!  I still bring it out when we have Chinese food at home.

To make things easy, I purchased some sushi at a local store and added small squares of yellow cake for our sweets.

 

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   Let’s sit outside and enjoy the warm weather.  Do you have a favorite Haiku or any other poem you’d like to share?  Please do so!

This is my husband’s favorite Haiku:
“Stay the patient course
Of little worth is your ire
The network is down”
-Anonymous

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Tips:

  • When using an iron pot, employ a trivet to protect your work surface from the heat.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with different teas and pots to perfect your brew.
  • Ask guests to join in the fun by contributing their own favorite poem, story, etc.
  • If the weather is good, move your tea party outside.

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Recipes:

Mother’s Persimmon Pudding

2 Cups wild persimmon pulp                             1 teaspoon baking powder
2 Cups sugar                                                          Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda                                   1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs                                                                     2 Cups milk
2 Cups flour                                                           4 Tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and butter a 13 X 9 inch pan.  Combine pulp, sugar, baking soda, & eggs, mixing well.  Add flour, baking powder, salt, vanilla, milk, & butter.  Stir.  Pour into pan and bake for 50-55 minutes.  Serve with whipping cream or ice cream.


Mother’s Easy Persimmon Ice Cream

1 Cup frozen wild persimmon pulp
Pet milk

Place frozen pulp in good, sturdy blender.  Cover with Pet milk & blend until consistency of soft-serve ice cream, adding additional milk as needed.  Serve immediately.  NOTE:  this makes a wonderful, smooth treat.  If you find the persimmons not sweet enough, add powdered sugar, to taste, before removing from blender.

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Thank you for coming!  I hope you enjoyed our time together.  If you have a favorite Haiku or other poem, don’t forget to leave it in the comment section.  I’d love to hear from you!

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COPYRIGHT 2016. VICTORIA BENCHLEY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

Cinco De Mayo For Mom

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Come in!  I think you’ll enjoy this unusual tea.

A friend recently gave me homemade tamales.  Along with the traditional pork, chicken, and beef, she included delicious pineapple tamales for dessert.  On the West Coast, it seems that everyone loves these treats, and I especially appreciate the work that goes into them.   So, I had to share this unique flavor.  With Mother’s Day approaching, how better to give my guests some local favor and honor the moms amongst us?

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Many people make tamales at Christmastime and present them as gifts to friends and neighbors.  Tamales consist of three parts:  the filling (usually meat, but sometimes raisins for dessert), masa (dough), and corn husks.  The dough, made with corn flour, is wrapped around the filling and baked in husks.  Families often craft them in an assembly line fashion with multiple members participating.

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I’m a gringo and that rare breed, a native Californian.   My first experience with this wonderful ethnic food came as a child.  Neighbors presented us with dozens of tamales, including the raisin-filled dessert variety, as a Christmas gift.  My mother warmed them in the oven, per the given instructions, and served them for dinner.  I’m not sure how it happened, maybe because I was the youngest in a large family and no one paid me much attention, but I ended up eating them with the husks on!  I didn’t know to remove the corn husks first.

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Years later, I returned to California for my first real job.  The holidays came around and people began discussing tamales.  I made the statement, “I like tamales, but eating those husks is just too hard.”  Needless to say, stunned coworkers responded with, “W-H-A-T?”  I reiterated my remark and received an education on how to eat tamales, amid whoops of laughter.

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When my friend delivered the pineapple variety, something completely new to me, I was thrilled.  I’ve added some whipped cream and sliced strawberries to spruce up the plates and brewed a mild pineapple tropical tea to enjoy with these south of the border indulgences.   I’ve thrown some Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass on the CD player to remind me of my youth and add to the fun atmosphere.

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Tips

  • Choose a color palette that will enhance your theme.
  • Flowers always add a fresh and lovely touch, especially when your table is scant.
  • When going an unorthodox route, choose a tea that compliments the food.
  • Remember to include music in your tea party. Don’t forget this important element when setting a mood!

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Happy Mother’s Day, Happy Cinco De Mayo, and don’t forget to remove the husks!
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COPYRIGHT 2016. VICTORIA BENCHLEY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

Finding Your Happy Place

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I’m not sure I agree completely with the quote above.  Let’s face it, trials can come at any hour.  However, I concur with the comfort and happiness statement.  So come in.  Let’s forget our troubles for the moment, enjoy the French café music playing, and discuss our happy places!

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I’m always telling people, “That looks like my happy place,” or “That’s one of my happy places!”  In all honesty, it doesn’t take much to make me glad.  A stroll through Sur La Table or World Market can do the trick, or a turn with a good book accompanied by a cup of piping hot tea and some quiet.  When we get a spring visit from an Oriole (they visit rarely and only in spring), or some of my flowers are in bloom, a window becomes my cheerful spot.

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I live in a congested area.  The freeways are all jammed and the side streets aren’t much better.  Just getting to the grocery store can be a chore.  Thus, a seaside cottage on a remote Scottish coast often becomes the spot I long for.  A girl can dream, right?  My husband claims it appeals to him, too.  But wait, there’s more!  What about Paris in the spring time — or anytime for that matter?  Oui, j’aime Paris!

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I’ve chosen a Parisian theme for our tea today.  I braved my crowded town for all these store-bought items — still quicker than homemade.

Take a gander and choose what appeals to you from the herbed cheeses, olives, date crackers, croissants, jams, chocolate covered figs, and marzipan.

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Choose a tea.  I’ll brew your preference in your individual pot.   Sit a spell and tell me about your very own happy places, real or imagined!

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Mix-and-match cups, plates, and small tea pots make a fun, casual table.

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Tips

  • When combining different patterns, be sure your colors mingle well together.  I like to keep at least one constant.  Here, my napkins and placemats match with a crisp blue stripe.
  • Creating a theme always adds some excitement.  My French cheese plates and Café Paris teapots create a Francophile atmosphere.
  • Consider utilizing dinner plates as chargers to lend a little drama to your tablescape if your main dishes are on the small side.
  • Pamper guests with individual tea pots and allow them to choose their own brew.  They may even stay long enough for a second pot!

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Thank you for visiting and be sure to let me know about your happy place in the comment section!

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COPYRIGHT 2016. VICTORIA BENCHLEY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED