Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Spot of Tea? or June: TTM, Part II

Dear reader, at long last, please enjoy this photo essay of the lovely English Tea I catered for the bridal shower my talented friend Debora threw! Her daughter was about to wed and move to London-town, so they wanted a traditional tea in the English style. Debora is of Mexican descent, and many of la familia and guests had never experienced the joys of tea sandwiches. Ay dios mio! So I made elegant cucumber and very pretty smoked salmon treats, using the only rye bread worth eating in L.A. (how I long for the fanatastic Jewish baking of my youth):
I also created super-girly strawberry and coconut tea sandwiches cut in the shape of flowers, naturally.
Mmm, and worth a mention was the fantastic fruit salad of Honeydew, Mango and Raspberries with Lime and Ginger. I've noticed when trying out the foods of another culture that though novelty is exciting, we all do better when there are also a few familiar elements. I found this recipe (thanks Cook's Illustrated) and thought, perfect! Mango and lime will be comfortable ingredients. And look at how beautifully it turned out! That is some sexy summer fruit.
I try not to overextend myself, so I hired my exceptionally gifted baker-friend LeeAnn to make chocolate-cherry and pear-ginger scones, as well as raspberry-marzipan and lemon-poppy muffins. Sweet Lord. (Those are my delicate cucumber sandwiches in the background. The secret is to mix in the tiniest bit of blue cheese, it makes them mysteriously interesting.) I find great eating (and catering) is often in the details: for this event I served only decadent Irish butter for smearing on the scones and muffins. Though these touches directly subtract from the bottom line (American butter is so much cheaper!), it's this attention to delicious, best-quality ingredients that differentiate good from f***ing fantastic. Why put in all that effort to turn out merely "acceptable" food? When people take a bite and I see their eyes pop out of their head because they didn't know it could taste so amazing, then I am successful.

So lastly here is yours truly, tired but pleased, shortly before the guests arrived. The flowers were arranged by Boriana, who I bet could trounce Martha in a Floral Goddess Smackdown any day. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of a beautiful table; it makes the food more appealing and guests prettier when beside it. (And please note, dear reader, how my outfit matches both the decor and the food. Oh that's no accident, I think of everything. Thanks, obsessive tendencies!)
I served a fabulous smoky black tea from Edinburgh (oops! ran out of English) in mismatched teacups. Guests got to choose their own, and many had been in Debora's family for generations~ a lovely touch. What a pleasure to help celebrate love and families coming together.

Growing up I often felt I didn't have a culture, that mine was standard American WASP; it didn't feel like anything special, or different. Like being surrounded by trees and not recognizing you're in a forest, sometimes I can't see my life clearly until I'm outside of it. I didn't appreciate the excellent Englishness of all the showers I got dragged to as a kid until I put this one on myself. I saw people say, "Cucumber sandwiches?" with wrinkled noses, or "What are those triangles?" as they pointed to the scones. Then their faces would break into bright smiles and I'd hear, "Ooooohhhhh" as they nibbled; I thought yes, this is the food of my people. Thank you, stuffy ancestors, for all the deliciousness you handed down to me. Cheerio!


M. C. Valada said...

Oh, delightful. I'm so glad you finally got around to posting this.

Every year when we got to San Diego for Comicon, several of the "wives of" get together to take tea. This started soon after I first attended in 1992, because our hotel, the Horton Grand, served tea. The first few years it was wonderful, with a service person who looked like Jean Marsh in "Upstairs, Downstairs" and dressed in Edwardian service splendor. Then she disappeared and the goodies went down-hill, and we looked for other locations.

We've done the Westgate and U.S. Grant teas, which were o.k., but no real great shakes, although they both had nice atmosphere.

In 2001, we found a spectacular place in Carlsbad--the "Ticky-boo Tea Shoppe." The ladies who ran it dressed in late-Victorian sartorial splendor and used recipes from their Scottish forebears. The place was totally Victorian in decor, with several rooms and nooks and a "fairy garden" in the back. They did special teas for special occasions, such as the Queen's Birthday.

The food was spectacular. My friends bought me a copy of the shop's self-published cookbook containing its terrific recipe for scones and a savory Stilton cheese cake.

I stopped in again about six months later on a trip south, but when we drove up from San Diego the following summer during Comicon, the place was gone. We stopped at the British shop down the street and they said the place had literally disappeared overnight. Speculation was problems with the landlord or the IRS, but we were very disappointed and were stuck with the two hotels in downtown San Diego for several years.

Last year, I discovered an on-line list of places for tea and we tried "Tea Upon Chatsworth" which is somewhat north of the San Diego Airport, but not quite as far as Sea World. It is our new favorite place for tea. The menu varies a bit, depending on the season, but the place is delightful.

I also found a place in El Cajon or one of the towns to the east of the city that houses some of the remaining antique shops we try to visit. (San Diego's antique shops have been sadly disappearing since my first trip there 15 years ago.) Sadly, I can't remember its name right now and I can't remember seeing it before, although the owners said they had been there for almost four years.

Here in L.A., the Gilded Rose tea house in Granada Hills is the one I tend to go to. Rose Tea Cottage in Pasadena is very nice.

When there is a possibility of a Triple Crown winner, I hold a tea for the Belmont Stakes and invite my women friends to dress up (hats encouraged) to watch and eat. It's been several years since a horse has won both the Kentucky Derby and Pimlico, so I haven't done one lately.

After Barbaro wiped the field at the Ketucky Derby last year, I started making plans, but then heartbreak, and I could bring myself to watch any races live again until this year's Belmont. I was intrigued by the idea of a filly in that race. I do wish I'd held the tea when that great filly Rags to Riches won. What a race.

M. C. Valada said...

That should be "could NOT bring myself to watch the races live." Ooops.