The Ladies' Tea Guild

Friday, December 31, 2010

Ring in the New Year with some tea punch!

Pomegranite tea punch.
Tea can be combined into so many delicious recipes, both healthy and decadent.  This recipe is refreshing during hot weather, and festive for the holidays.  It is a favorite beverage with the members of the South Bay Ladies’ Tea Guild. 

Ladies’ Tea Guild Pomegranite Tea Punch
2 liters lemon-flavored carbonated water, chilled
1 liter brewed apricot or peach black tea, chilled
2 to 3 cups pomegranite juice, chilled
1 tablespoon rose water
ice cubes
culinary rose petals or nasturtium flowers for garnish 

Combine the iced tea, pomegranite juice and rose water in a large container and chill thoroughly.  Just before serving, transfer to a punch bowl and add the ice and lemon-flavored carbonated water.  Float edible flowers, especially organic rose petals or nasturtiums, on top for garnish.  Serve immediately. 

You can vary this recipe with any kind of red juice, if you don't have pomegranite.  Cherry and cranberry juice are very good, but orange juice would probably work just as well.  Rose water can be found in the International Food section of many grocery stores in the United States;  it is often used in Middle Eastern cooking, and will be on the shelf with the Middle Eastern  packaged foods.  If you don't have apricot or peach-flavored black tea to use as a base, you can use a bit of canned or bottled apricot or peach juice, or just leave it out and use plain black tea instead.  Edible flowers are most easily available in the late springtime, so if you can't find any this time of year, leave them out. You can replace them with lemon slices if you like.

This punch is lightly fizzy, floral and fruity, and has a lovely, festive, clear dark red color, plus it has antioxidants and Vitamin C.  If you wanted to make it alcoholic, you could use champagne instead of the carbonated water, and have something similar to a Bellini, which would be delicious.  However you celebrate, stay safe and healthy as you begin your new year!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Cuccidati for Christmas!

Homemade cuccidati!
I remember having a huge pink bakery box of Italian Christmas cookies at my grandma's house every year.  Being allergic to nuts, I couldn't eat many of those cookies, but I remember how good they looked and how everyone enjoyed them.  I've been making more of an effort to research Italian and Sicilian traditions, especially holiday and food traditions, and re-create them.  This year, it was Sicilian Spiced Fig Cookies, or Cuccidati.  Instead of the traditional filling of spices, dried fruit and nuts, I left out the nuts and made a cookie that I could eat!  Here is the recipe that I used:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday baking.

Cuccidati (but they're missing their sprinkles) from Wikipedia. 
I'll be working on some holiday baking this afternoon before I sing my last two gigs with the Lyric Theatre Victorian Carolers later today, so we'll see how much I can get done.  On the schedule: Sicilian cuccidate, more gingerbread (cake) and gingerbread cookies, and possibly some Italian anginetti and/or anise toast. 

The gingerbread cake will be for gifts, along with jars of homemade jam.  The gingerbread cookies will be made in two shapes: houses and donkeys.  The gingerbread houses will be decorated as Victorian houses, and the donkeys will be decorated like Italian donkeys (with red saddle and blue bow around neck).  The other cookies will be for the family.  There is a lot of advance preparation, and chilling of the dough, so I'd better get started!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Afternoon tea in San Jose: Satori Tea Bar.

Satori Tea Bar street sign.
Did you know you could have afternoon tea at Satori Tea Bar in downtown San Jose?  The shop is not only a good source for flavored and unflavored loose tea blends, and a quiet place to sit and enjoy a pot of tea and a pastry.  Victoria, the owner, has put together a couple of afternoon tea menus that can be customized to suit an occasion or the dietary requirements of the customer.  Advance notice is, of course, necessary!  There are two options: the Demi Tea and the Full Tea.  The Demi Tea costs $21.95 and includes a pot of your choice of tea, a scone with clotted cream, jam and honey, and four large tea sandwiches. 
Demi Tea plate with savories and scone

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Use tea to make your own Christmas gifts!
Now that the Christmas season has begun, everyone is thinking about affordable, yet thoughtful gift ideas that will please their loved ones.  Of course, tea makes a wonderful gift in and of itself, but did you know that tea can be used to make many things that can be given as gifts?  You can make a variety of gifts that are useful and attractive, and save money doing so.  Here are 10 inexpensive, fairly easy ideas for food and cosmetics that your friends and family would love to receive:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Making a late-Victorian day cap, ca. 1882

Day caps.  Frank Leslie's Lady's Magazine, 1863.
Now that the winter is closing in, we costumers start thinking about sewing projects that we want to complete for the holiday season.  There are so many fun events happening all over the United States that it can be hard to choose which ones to attend!  Here in the Bay Area we have the Great Dickens Christmas Fair going on, and California costumers love to go there in Victorian costume.  The best costumes are complete outfits, including all the little details of accessories, like day caps, that make you look like you've stepped out of the past.

Monday, November 29, 2010

12 San Jose area holiday events for 2010!

Christmas bells.  Image from
Well, now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, and the turkey leftovers are getting eaten up, it's time to start thinking about Christmas and other winter holiday celebrations.  Here are some interesting things happening in the San Jose area in the next few weeks:

1. The Great Dickens Christmas Fair: November 26 to December 19, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva Avenue, Daly City, CA.  General admission: $25 (discounts for advance purchase online).

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Take time out this week with a tea party!

Photo: Nikolay Dimitrov.
Most of us across the United States are gearing up for Thanksgiving in the next week.  A quintessentially American holiday, with a profoundly religious background, the Thanksgiving feast, shared with as many friends and relatives as possible, can be a very stressful project.  It's easy to get hung up on the details and forget the purpose of the holiday: to set aside the difficulties and celebrate the blessings of family, friends, food and good deeds for an entire day.  Celebrate those who have provided for you and helped you to become the person that you are today.  Keep yourself in an attitude of gratefulness and appreciation by delegating some work to those who will share the meal with you, and put your feet up once in a while with a cup of tea! 

You can "taste-test" some of the treats for the big day by making them ahead of time and enjoying them before the frenzy of preparation.  A Thanksgiving High Tea is also the perfect way to use up leftovers after the holiday!  Here are some recipes you might want to add to your tea table; they would also make great additions to a special breakfast on Thanksgiving day.

Cranberry Orange scones
Butterscotch-Ginger scones
Cream scones
Pumpkin butter
Apple butter
Mock clotted cream
Spiced-Tea Cranberry Sauce

Mushroom Croustades
Pumpkin Fritters
Maple Shortbread

Interesting links:
“Thanksgiving tea ideas”
“Thanksgiving meal tea and food pairings”
“Hostess a Thanksgiving Tea Party” by Sheila Kosmicki
“A Thanksgiving Tea Party, Relax and Enjoy!”

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Enter the Tea Council of the USA 2010 “Sip of Success” internship contest!

Tea estate.  Image from
Do you love tea and need a job?  Current U.S. college students and recent college graduates are eligible to apply for a Sip of Success internship in the tea business, with the Tea Council of the USA!  Contest entry regulations are on the Tea Council’s website, but entrants have less than two days to put together and submit a 2-minute YouTube video entry which explains your passion for tea, your knowledge of its health benefits, and your interest in the tea business world. 

The winning entrant will receive a tea education through travel to tea-growing regions of Sri Lanka, Kenya, India and the United States.  You will live on tea plantations and learn about tea growing, processing and tasting, first-hand, from tea experts.  All entrants must be at least 18 years of age, and all entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. on Friday, November 19, 2010.  **UPDATE: the deadline for submissions has just been extended to NOVEMBER 30, 2010!** Good luck to all applicants!

Sip of Success entry form
Contest Rules and Regulations

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Local tea and history events for November 2010.
Tea at Satori Tea Bar:  Join the South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild in a relaxing visit to San Jose’s newest tea shop, Satori Tea Bar!  A pot of tea, scone, tea sandwiches and a treat are included. E-mail to R.S.V.P. or for more information.
    Date: Saturday, November 13, 2010, 1 p.m.
    Location: Satori Tea Bar, 37 N. San Pedro, (downtown, behind Peggy Sue’s) San Jose.
    Cost: $30 per person (pay in advance, please!)
    Suggested Costume: modern dress.

Fall Cornucopia: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays 11 am - 5 pm, November 28 - December 26. The Rengstorff House, 3070 N. Shoreline Blvd.,  Mountain View, CA 94043.  Phone: (650) 903-6392.

Hillsborough Antique Show and Sale: Nov. 5 - 7, 11am to 8pm at San Mateo County Event Center, East Palo Alto, CA.  Tickets are $10 for adults, $7 for seniors 65 and older.

Holiday Craft Show Boutique: Sunday, Nov 21, 9 am to 3 pm at Napredak Hall, 770 Montague Expressway, San Jose, CA.  “100 tables of some of the areas most talented artisans and craft experts. Free admission. Free parking. Snack bar on premises. Raffle and door prizes.” 

San Jose City Tree Lighting Ceremony: Nov. 26, 2010.  5:30 pm.  Plaza De Cesar Chavez (between San Carlos and San Fernando Streets). 

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair: November 26 to December 19, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva Avenue, Daly City, CA.  General admission: $25 (discounts for advance purchase online).

Monday, October 25, 2010

Some fun Bay Area autumn events.

Need ideas for things to do?  Just in case your schedule isn't full enough already ... 

1. Who Do You Think You Are? Intro to Genealogy: beginning Saturday October 2, 2010 from 11:00AM - 12:30PM.  At the California Genealogical Society and Library, 2201 Broadway LL2, Oakland, California 94612.  Phone: (510) 663-1358. “Volunteer members are available to help you use our extensive resources and online databases. Bring information about an ancestor's family and we will help you find them in the 1920 or 1930 census. Everyone is welcome the first Saturday of every month. Open 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.  Join us for a FREE Introduction to Genealogy Class every FIRST SATURDAY of the MONTH from 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.”

2. Sing Me Your Story, Dance Me Home: Art and Poetry from Native California:  October 2 - December 5, 2010, Tues. – Sun., 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. The de Saisset Museum at Santa Clara University, 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95053.  Phone: (408)554 – 4528.

3. Meet Author Mary Jo Ignoffo: Thursday, Nov 11 6:30pm at Barnes & Noble Stevens Creek, San Jose, CA.  “Come meet local writer Mary Jo Ignoffo as she talks about her new book, Captive of the Labyrinth, the first full-length biography of Sarah Winchester, the eccentric builder of the mystery house that bears her name.” 

4. The San Francisco Fall Antique Show: October 27-31, at Fort Mason Center, San Francisco.  This year’s theme: “Chinoiserie: Rococo to Eco.” “The San Francisco Fall Antiques Show is the oldest continuously operating international antiques show on the West Coast. The Show features approximately seventy dealers from across the United States and Europe, offering for sale an extraordinary range of fine and decorative arts representing all styles and periods including American, English, Continental, and Asian furniture, silver, ceramics, glass, jewelry, rugs, textiles, paintings, prints, and photographs.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Give a Halloween tea party instead of a gore-fest!

image from Halloween Cavern of Clipart
A whimsical Halloween tea party is a great reason to enjoy some season-appropriate activities: scrap-booking, knitting and crocheting, and Victorian projects like paper decoupage and cutting silhouettes.  You can also rent classic mysteries by Agatha Christie, or even Carolyn Keene (creator of Nancy Drew) on DVD to watch while you enjoy your tea.  Along with some chai, smoky Lapsang Souchong or other black tea, you could enjoy a selection of foods, including traditional tea sandwiches and scones as well as other comforting choices.  Some tasty menu suggestions:

Squash soup, garnished with sour cream, fresh basil and cilantro
Portobello Mushroom Puffs
Carrot Ginger Tea Sandwiches
Sliced Granny Smith Apples and Cheddar

Ginger Scones
Candied Orange Scones
Savory Black Olive Scones

Chai Tea Cookies 
Midnight Monster Munchies 
Mini Apple or Pumpkin Tarts
Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding with Cream Cheese Filling
Baked Pumpkin Custard
Pumpkin Cookies  

Many of these selections can be purchased ready-made, for your tea party pantry.  For example, butternut squash soup can be purchased in cans and pour-spout boxes, portobello mushroom puffs can be found in the freezer section, and there are several scone mixes, including a nice Ginger flavored one from Santa Cruz company Iveta Gourmet.  Just add a beautiful farmer's market bouquet of sunflowers or chrysanthemums to the table, and maybe some colorful dried (and cleaned) leaves, and you're ready to go! 

History Park’s Halloween event
“10 pumpkin facts: fun trivia and nutritional information”
San Jose’s Halloween articles

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pumpkin-flower sandwiches, an Italian snack ready for the tea table!

pumpkin flower. Wikimedia Commons.
My family, like other Italian families, enjoys a lot of old-world style recipes and habits when it comes to cooking.  One thing we like is to eat pumpkin and other squash flowers.  My great-grandmother came up with this recipe for a frugal sandwich filling that would make great tea sandwiches, I think! 

Pumpkin-flower sandwich filling (all ingredient amounts are to taste)
Green onion
Hot banana pepper
Pumpkin blossoms or other squash flowers

Cook, drain, and chop the bacon, reserving the bacon fat in the pan.  Wash and chop the green onion and pumpkin blossoms.  Chop the banana pepper. Saute them all together, and use to fill sandwiches. 

While pumpkins are in the stores now, it may be hard to find pumpkin flowers.  I may have to wait until the spring comes around again to make these sandwiches! 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Italian Picnic in San Jose!

While Italy is better known for its love of coffee, the country has a long history with tea, too.  Many Italian foods, especially pastries and sweets, go really well with tea.  Since October has been declared National Italian American Heritage Month, the South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild will be celebrating Italian contributions to the culture and life of the Santa Clara Valley with a picnic and a game or two of bocce.  

Vin santo with biscotti in Milan.  Wikimedia Commons
Italian Bocce Picnic: let’s celebrate Italian ingenuity and culture with an Italian picnic and game or two of bocce.  Italian picnic food and iced tea will be provided, as will a set of bocce balls for all of us to share. Gentlemen and children welcome!
    Date: Saturday, October 16, 2010, 1 p.m.
    Location: Backesto Park, N. 13th St., San Jose.
    Food Fee: $20 (Ladies' Tea Guild members)/ $25 (non-members)
    Suggested costume: summer/autumn day dress from 1870 to 1950, or modern dress.

R.S.V.P.s and food fees are required at least 48 hours in advance of the event, with the deadline being Thursday, October 14, 2010.  Reservations and cancellations cannot be accepted after that date.  Payments by PayPal and personal check can be accepted.  For more information or to reserve a spot, e-mail the South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild

National Italian American Heritage Month
An Italian American Dinner Party
Slitti Italian Chocolate with Earl Grey Tea
"Tea's popularity grows in Italy" by Jane Pettigrew
"Tramezzini: Italian tea sandwiches"
The Foods and Wines of Italy

Sunday, October 3, 2010

It's time for some chai!

Masala chai in India.  Wikimedia Commons.
Chai has become a very popular beverage in the San Jose area.  Local Indian restaurants serve it, as do Starbuck's and Peet's Coffee & Tea and most other local coffee shops.  You can also buy an "instant" powdered chai, and liquid chai concentrate at some local grocery stores!  But, some may ask, what is chai?  Americans know it as a sweet, spicy, creamy hot drink, but in India, its place of origin, chai means something else.

While China is known as the “birthplace of tea,” today other nations are major producers and consumers of the beverage. India has been a major tea growing region since the mid-19th century when, as part of the British Empire, India's indigenous tea plants were cultivated to provide tea for English consumption. Tea drinking within India became widespread during the early 20th century, and the tea itself -- without spices or milk -- is still known as chai there.

Other Asian tea customs combined to influence the creation of what we know as chai. Tea was spread throughout Asia by the Mongols, unified under Genghis Khan in the 13th century. The Tibetans, unlike most other Asian people groups, preferred black tea  to green tea, and they also drank it with milk or yak butter. This almost certainly influenced the British and Indian preference for milk in their tea, and caused Indian tea to be processed and blended specifically to taste best with milk. The habit of drinking tea with sugar came from the customs of Russia and the Middle East, brought to India through trade.

In India, the British method of preparing tea was altered to suit local tastes. Instead of infusing tea in an earthenware teapot, the tea leaves were added to a metal pot or kettle containing boiling milk and water. The tea was boiled with the milk and water, and sweetened to taste. When all these ideas were combined with the traditional Indian custom of using spices for medicinal drinks, the 21st century chai -- or, more accurately, masala chai -- came into existence.

Masala chai is prepared when spices such as cardamom, ginger, and cloves are added to the mixture of tea, milk, and sweetener. The combination and amount of spices, and the kind of sweetener (honey or sugar) is up to the taste of the person preparing the chai; it is sometimes said that “there are as many recipes for chai as there are households in India.” It is an everyday drink in many local Indian homes, and is commonly served at Indian restaurants.  It is delicious, and warming on a cool day!

Tea: East and West
"The History of Chai"
"Masala Chai"
"Chai" from the Merriam-Webster dictionary online

Sunday, September 19, 2010

_Young Victoria_ to be broadcast this week!

"The Young Queen Victoria" by Winterhalter, 1842.
For all those of you who haven't seen _Young Victoria_ yet (including me!), here's your chance!  Beginning Monday, September 20th at 9 p.m., KQED will broadcast the film on channel 54-2 (in Northern California).  It is scheduled to repeat (or finish, I'm not sure which) on Tuesday, and then be shown again the following weekend. 

The official website has some good pictures of the costumes, some of which are copied from actual garments worn by Queen Victoria!

The Young Victoria official website
The Young Victoria UK website

Thursday, September 9, 2010

What day is today? California Statehood Day!

"San Francisco in 1848" from ClipartETC
California's formal entry into the United States of America occurred on September 9, 1850.  Settled by the Spanish and mostly ignored by later Mexican rulers, who pictured the state as a sleepy backwater with less than 10,000 occupants, California was given to the United States in 1848 as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, just as gold was being discovered in the northern part of the state.  The earlier independence movement had been initiated by the Californio residents, who were people of mixed Spanish ancestry, born in California (especially descendants of the 18th century Spanish settlers), who identified themselves as Spanish Californians, instead of Mexicans, although Mexico technically ruled the state.  Newly-arrived (since about 1845) foreigners joined in the fight for independence, which resulted in the independent Bear Flag Republic being declared shortly before California's admission by the U.S.  These two events -- the Gold Rush and Statehood -- dramatically and rapidly changed the face of California life forever, and helped make California the place that it is today!

"California becomes the 31st state in record time"

Thursday, September 2, 2010

New costume idea (someday!): traditional costume from Calabria, Southern Italy.

I went to the Italian American Heritage Foundation's Italian Family Festa last weekend! I had been wanting to attend for years but finally made it, and it was a lot of fun. While a lot of it was vendors selling cheesy Italian slogan T-shirts, there was a cool booth with some ladies making Italian bobbin lace, and a bulletin board with color postcards of traditional Italian folk costumes. I have been wanting to make Italian folk costume for a while but now I have some pictures to work with!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Get out the croquet set and enjoy these last days of summer!

"A Game of Croquet" by Winslow Homer, 1866. Wikipedia.
Croquet is a vintage game that can be very formal and complicated, or it can be played in a much simplified manner that is perfect for home and public park games. You need a croquet set -- and these can sometimes be found at places like Target and Wal-mart, as well as specialty sporting-goods stores -- and you need a medium-sized to large grassy area. If you have a back or front yard that is covered in grass and fairly flat, and at least 20 feet long, that will work. If you don't have enough space at home, you can try a local public park. Bring your croquet set, plus a rubber mallet for tapping on the stakes and wickets (wire hoops) to stick them in the ground, as well as any picnic stuff you like. Shade canopies or umbrellas, beach chairs, picnic blankets, and Thermoses full of iced tea and lemonade are particularly recommended! English croquet lawn. Image from

While proper croquet has its set of rules, including the size of the court, and the spacing and placement of the wickets and stakes, if playing for fun at home or at the park, you can set it up in whatever space you have. Try to space the wickets and stakes at equal distances from each other, with one stake at each end of the court and one in the center. The traditional layout for the wickets is a figure-8 design, with the stakes making the ends and center of the "8" and the wickets making the sides, with one wicket also in front of each stake at each end of the court.

The object of the game is to be the first one to hit their ball through the last wicket and hit the last stake. Each player has to hit their own ball through all the wickets in order, hitting the stakes at each end and in the middle, first going one direction through all the wickets, and then going back through them all in reverse order. Each player gets one swing, or "stroke" for their turn, and if you swing and miss your ball, it still counts as a stroke! The only time you get more than one stroke for your turn is if your ball hits or touches another person's (or team's) ball as it moves after you hit it. In that case, you get to pick up your ball (you can't touch it at any other time unless you hit it out of bounds), put your ball right next to the ball that it hit or touched, and then hit your ball with a second stroke. The idea is that as you hit your ball, it hits the other one and knocks it out of the way. Then you get to take a third stroke (without picking up your ball) and hit just your own ball. Then your turn is over. All other rules are to be decided by all the players voting on whether or not to allow a certain thing in their game.
Croquet mallet, balls and stake. Image from
Since you have to move around the court so much, it would be helpful to bring some different colored ribbons or clothespins so that each person can mark the next wicket or stake that they are aiming for, after they finish each turn. There are a lot more rules, as well as special croquet terms, that apply to the full, "official" version of the game, but the American Backyard version preserves the essence and fun of the game without all the complexity.

If you're in the San Jose area next month, come on down to Overfelt Gardens and join the South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild at their Croquet Picnic! Here's the info:

Date: Saturday, September 11, 2010 @ 2 pm
Location:Overfelt Gardens, 368 Educational Park Dr., San Jose
Cost: $25 per person
Suggested Costume: summer afternoon wear from 1870 through 1930, or modern “garden party” wear in pastels or white, with hats and/or parasols. Vintage picnic gear like blankets, umbrellas, etc. encouraged!

Gentlemen and children welcome! Iced tea and picnic refreshments will be provided, along with a printed copy of the American Backyard Croquet rules. If you have your own croquet set, feel free to bring it along. Bring a camera for great photo opportunities!

R.S.V.P. and send food fee by Thursday, September 9. You can send payment by PayPal or by mail. E-mail for more information.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

'Teens costume for late-summer!

Getting ready for two local events coming up: a croquet picnic with the South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild, and the Antique Auto Show at History Park, both in September. A group that I volunteer with, Portraits of the Past, attends the Antique Auto Show in costume to provide ambiance, and coordinates a costume contest there each year. Usually I wear 1920s frocks to the Auto Show, because they're easy to wear and cute as all get out, but this year I think I'll do mid teens, say around 1916 or so. I have a dress, but I need a better hat, so here is an image from my antique print collection that I am thinking about using:
antique fashion print ca. 1913.
I think I have a modern sun hat in a similar shape that I can use, and I have a lovely vintage lace scarf that I will probably drape over the brim like some of the examples in the print. My dress is a sheer white with a woven windowpane design, and I wear it with a wide blue ribbon sash that I found in my grandmother's sewing box (which I inherited) after her death.

Here are some other Edwardian, 'teens and 20s costume images for my inspiration and your enjoyment. They include various members of Portraits of the Past at past Antique Auto Shows as well as the historic fashion shows that we perform in each month.
catalog image ca. 1915. From the Costumer's Manifesto.

Sears catalog image ca. 1917. From Costumer's Manifesto.

At the Harris-Lass House, June 2009.

photo ca. 1918. From the Sense & Sensibility website.

at the Antique Auto Show, September 2006.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Yerba mate tasting in San Jose!

Yerba mate gourd with straw. Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation.
Join the South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild for their August event, which will be a tasting class featuring different kinds of yerba mate, led by local tea expert Stephanie Thompson. Yerba mate and other refreshments, and all brewing and tasting equipment will be provided. Here's the event information:

Date: Saturday, August 14, 2010, 2 p.m.
Location: a private home in the Berryessa area of San Jose.
Cost: $25 (Ladies' Tea Guild members)/ $30 (non-members)
Suggested Costume: modern dress, or South American-inspired.

Contact the South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild at for more information or to buy a ticket. Credit card payments accepted through PayPal (e-mail and the Director can send you an invoice), until Friday, August 13th!

So what is yerba mate anyway? Yerba mate is a South American herb that has come onto the North American beverage stage within the last 10 years. It is one of the three known plants to be natural sources of caffeine, along with tea and coffee. It has been enjoyed by the Gurarani people of Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil for centuries. The plant’s Latin name is Ilex paraguariensis, also known as the yerba tree – and a relative of the holly -- and it is native to a small area of South America. It produces leaves which are cut, dried, and infused similarly to true tea; the infusion is served in a special gourd cup – called a cuia or guampa -- and is drunk through a straw – or bombilla -- which contains a strainer to remove the leaf pieces.

As with tea and coffee, yerba mate tends to be an “acquired taste.” It is said to resemble green tea in flavor. Proponents of the beverage sometimes claim that yerba mate is caffeine-free, but that is not really true. The energy-increasing substance in yerba mate is called mateine (i.e. the energy stuff that’s in yerba mate), but it is another form of caffeine (i.e. the energy stuff that's in coffee). However, yerba mate is said to be less addictive than coffee, less likely to cause the “jitters” from over-consumption, and it shares over 100 of the almost 200 beneficial chemical compounds in true tea. It is also touted as an appetite suppressant. Come and see what it's all about!

“Tea 101: yerba mate tea”
“Know your yerba mate” by Chris Cason, Fresh Cup magazine, July 2010 issue,
“Yerba mate History and Culture”

Saturday, July 31, 2010

What would Jane Austen eat with her tea?

Tea with toast and jam. Image from
Tea-drinkers in Jane Austen’s time liked to have a bit of food with their beverages just like we do, but tea time was not the feast of pastries that it often is today. One or two kinds of tea, bread and butter, and one kind of cake were about all you could expect to have with tea, otherwise you were approaching a proper meal. Tea was enjoyed with breakfast, and served more formally after dinner, especially if there were guests, and it's a lovely custom to revive. If you want to enjoy tea the way Jane Austen might have done, here are some menu suggestions:

Rose congou (Chinese black tea scented with roses)
Bohea (Chinese large-leaf black tea) or Pekoe (known as “orange pekoe”)
Hyson (Chinese large-leaf green tea)

Toast (homemade or country-style bread) or Toasted English muffins

Pound cake or fruit cake

China was basically the only tea supplier to England during Jane Austen's lifetime, so choose a loose-leaf, unflavored Chinese black or green tea. Twinings is one well-known tea company that was in business from the late 1700s. Offer sugar cubes instead of granulated sugar with the tea, and whole or skim milk if your guests want it (Jane didn’t have 2% or lowfat!). Save the cream for your coffee; it will cover up the flavor of the tea. Have a CD of classical music, especially piano or harp, playing in the background, and you will be ready for a wonderful tea experience in the style of Jane Austen and her contemporaries! You can also check out _Tea with Jane Austen_ for more great ideas, including recipes.

If you want to go all out and have a Regency-style tea served to you, and you're in California, you can go to Capitola and attend the Jane Austen Tea at Bloomsbury Tea Room:

Jane Austen Tea
Friday, August 6, 6:30 p.m.
Bloomsbury Tea Room,
911-B Capitola Ave
Capitola, CA
Cost: $34.95 per adult guest, $15.95 for children.
Limited Seating - Reservations Required

“Tea history: what type of tea did American Founders drink?”
“Teas of Yore: Bohea, Hyson and Congou”
Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson
“To Make Bread” Regency recipe from the Jane Austen Centre, Bath, England
“English Muffins” Regency recipe from the Jane Austen Centre, Bath, England
“To Make An Excellent Cake” Regency recipe from the Jane Austen Centre
“Jane Austen Historic Reciepts”

Thursday, July 29, 2010

How to have a Jane Austen tea party.

Jane Austen sketch, ca. 1804, by Cassandra Austen. Wikipedia, public domain.
In honor of the author Jane Austen, who died in July of 1817, why not have a Regency tea party? While afternoon tea – as a codified ceremonial social event – hadn’t been invented yet during Jane Austen’s lifetime, tea was already an important part of life for many people in England. In the Austen household, Jane herself was in charge of the tea and tea equipment, as well as making breakfast for the family, as part of her daily household chores.

Specialized tea china and silverware had been manufactured in Holland, England and France for almost 100 years by 1800, and was widely purchased along with imported Chinese porcelain. The tea cups were usually handle-less, after the Chinese style, and were used with cup plates which were small, shallow bowls, rather than fitted, flat “saucers” as we do today. These were accompanied by teapots and slop bowls (for the used tea leaves), and occasonally matching sugar bowls and milk jugs; when made of pottery or porcelain, tea things were included with small plates and coffee or chocolate pots and cups in “breakfast sets” which were highly popular with the middle and upper classes. Silver and pewter tea and coffee pots, tea spoons, tea scoops, sugar nippers and sugar tongs were available to upper and middle class families like the Austens.

It is unnecessary to use expensive 200-year-old antiques in order to get the Jane Austen/Regency “look”. Use a small round table, if you have one, just big enough to hold your teapot, sugar bowl and milk jug, and maybe a plate of toast. Any small table or flat-topped piece of furniture will do. Cover the table with a plain white tablecloth, an embroidered one if you have it, or a pretty tray to protect the surface from any spills and the heat of the filled teapot. You can have the cups, saucers, plates and cloth napkins on another table, like your coffee table – even a folding TV tray covered with a small tablecloth -- and the guests will sit on chairs and sofas around the room, holding their cup and saucer in their hand, and their plate in their lap. This is why non-messy finger food – bread and butter, and small tea cakes -- became the standard for tea parties; nobody can handle food plus a knife and fork! Just a spoon for stirring the tea.

As for the china itself, Blue Wedgwood, Spode and “Blue Willow” are patterns that were available to Jane Austen and are available to us, and “Blue Willow” and Spode dishes can be found at Marshall’s in the Great Mall of Milpitas! Use real silver flatware if you have it, or nice stainless flatware in a vintage-style pattern – nothing obviously modern. Some nice things can be found at thrift stores, Marshall’s, and Target, as well as the specialty dish stores. Try to find a decorative tea scoop and a pair of sugar tongs, as well. Make sure you have a tea strainer and an extra bowl to hold the used tea leaves.

Choose Twinings loose tea, tea from an established English company, or an unflavored Chinese black or green tea. Jane Austen’s England was familiar with jasmine-scented green tea, as well, although Earl Grey tea was not available until after Jane’s death. Take your tea out of its store packaging and put it into a decorative tea caddy for your party; this is an ornamental wood or metal container which can hold about a cup of loose tea leaves, and has a tight-fitting lid to seal out air, light and moisture. Empty tea caddies can be purchased at Marshall’s, at Cost Plus World Markets, and occasionally at Target in the housewares section. Measure out the tea leaves from the tea caddy into the tea pot with a decorative tea scoop or tea spoon. Put together a Regency-style menu and you are set!

“The Georgian Breakfast” from the Jane Austen Centre, Bath, England
“Tea in the Regency Era”
“Jane Austen Lived Before the Inventor of the Tea Party” by Jenny Wells
Jane Austen Life and Works Timeline History
“Chinese black tea in San Jose”
“Favorite Chinese green teas in the San Jose area”
“Tea history: what type of tea did American Founders drink?”
Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Disposable tea filter bags: lightweight, convenient, and so useful for tea-drinkers!

Japanese tea filter bags.
If you're going to get into drinking loose tea, or would like to carry tea with you when you go to restaurants (to avoid using the random stale tea they usually serve), it would be a good idea to have some disposable tea filter bags to prepare your tea. Several places in San Jose carry them. These filter bags are modeled on paper coffee filters, and on those cheesecloth sacks that we use to contain whole herbs and spices when infusing flavor into soups and other liquids. They are made in a few different designs, and are meant to be used and thrown away, although the sturdier kind can be hand-washed and re-used in a pinch.

One style is white, made of a kind of sheer fabric, and designed like those clear plastic sandwich bags with the fold-over tops. They hold enough loose tea for a 6-cup pot (about 1 to 2 tablespoons of tea leaves) and are sturdy enough to be hand-washed (or emptied, rinsed and soaked in boiling water) and re-used once. This style is an imported Japanese product. The other, more common, style is made of white or tan paper, like paper coffee filters, formed like a tube, closed at one end, with a long tab at the open end, which is meant to hang over the rim of your mug to keep the bag from turning upside down or sinking to the bottom of the cup. They hold about a tablespoon of loose tea, and are not strong enough to be re-used. This kind of filter bag is sold in San Jose under two primary brands: T-sacs, and Finum.

Finum brand tea filters.
Tea filter bags are sold at the many Asian markets in the San Jose area; the two grocery stores in Japantown (one on Empire between 5th and 6th Streets, and the other at 6th and Jackson) almost always have the Japanese mesh fabric kind, and often in more than one size. Certain San Jose shops sell tea accessories as well as tea and tea-based beverages; these include Lupicia and Teavana at Westfield Mall, and various Peet's Coffee & Tea locations. The tea and coffee shops tend to sell the T-sac style filter bags, along with the hinged metal tea balls and the washable fabric tea "socks". The Japanese fold-over tea filter bags are especially useful because they enclose the tea leaves and are less likely to let any of them escape if the bag turns upside down in your cup! You can also put them in your water bottle and turn your drinking water into cold-brew tea.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Have a summer-time traditional English tea!

Beatrix Potter Tea table setting, May 2007. Elizabeth Urbach.
Now that the weather is staying warm for the season, it is the time of year for spending the day in the fresh air. Whether in your back yard or in a local park or garden, a traditional English-style tea party is an enchanting way to entertain. Taking inspiration from beloved author and illustrator Beatrix Potter, one can put together a lovely tea party. Here are some menu suggestions for a Beatrix Potter Tea:

Black tea with milk and sugar
Chamomile tisane with honey
Lemon Squash

Strawberry preserves
Clotted Cream

Cucumber sandwiches
Egg and Cress sandwiches
Welsh Rabbit (Rarebit)
Sausage rolls

Tea Cakes
Summer Pudding
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Berries and cream

Decorate with vintage linens (if you have any) or at least cloth napkins and tablecloth, and floral china. Casual bunches and nosegays of fresh flowers, tied with ribbons, would also be appropriate. Stuffed animals, especially rabbits, ducks, mice, hedgehogs and other traditionally English creatures would also be a fun addition. Make sure to tie ribbon bows around their necks to dress them up for the party!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What do we mean when we talk about tea? The basics.

A "cream tea," not "high tea!"
Tea, as an event, rather than just a beverage, is becoming more and more popular in the United States, due to the fast-paced, ultra-practical nature of most 21st century life. Setting aside some time to socialize and relax over an elegant and beautiful assortment of snacks and sweets is an excellent way to stave off the adverse effects of stress, and good practice in “being civilized,” something that is noticeably missing from many aspects of modern society.

Having a cup, or pot, of tea as part of a daily break from the normal routine, has been a traditional part of life in many countries of the world. These "tea times", especially in England and the former British countries, have their own vocabulary that has become the standard when talking about Western-style tea culture. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand the different terms, and confusion results. Even tea business owners have been known to use the terminology incorrectly, treating the words as if they’re interchangeable. So we need a vocabulary: what is tea, anyway?

Tea: the beverage prepared with leaves from the tea plant. It can be served hot or iced, in innumerable varieties, flavors, or blends, and at any time of day. It is usually served black (without any additions), white (with milk, or milk and sugar), with sugar or honey, with lemon, or with both lemon and a sweetener. Tea contains caffeine, unless it has been decaffeinated.

If the beverage that you are drinking does not contain actual tea leaves, then it is not tea. It is something called a tisane, also known as an “herbal tea.”

Tisane: an herbal infusion made with culinary herbs, edible flowers, fruits, and/or spices, but no tea leaves. It can be served hot or iced, with or without sweetener, but usually not with milk. The most popular tisanes contain citrus, fruit, or another tangy ingredient that will actually curdle any milk it touches! Most tisanes are naturally decaffeinated. Certain tisanes can be taken as home remedies.

And now we come to the English-style “tea-time” vocabulary, indicating a break in the day in between the regular breakfast, lunch, and dinner hours. Anytime someone sits down with a cup of tea, it can be called "tea," but here are the time-specific terms to use when the time of day matters, like when inviting someone to join you:

Elevenses: a small mid-morning snack of a cup or mug of tea and a cookie or two, or some bread and butter, or toast and jam. A quick, casual event, like a coffee break, it does not require utensils like a fork and knife. Traditionally taken around 11 a.m.

Afternoon tea: a mid-afternoon snack, consisting of tea, served hot or iced, with bread and cake. “Bread and cake” is most often interpreted to mean scones with jam, sandwiches, and small cakes or bite-sized pastries, again, not requiring a knife and fork. If several sandwiches or “savories” are included on the menu, it can substitute for lunch, but everything must still be bite-sized and dainty. Cream teas are a variety of afternoon tea, prominently featuring whipped cream, clotted cream, and dairy-rich pastries. Afternoon teas can be simple or elaborate affairs. Traditionally served between 2 and 4 p.m., "afternoon tea" is what most people picture when they think about having a tea party.

High tea: often mistaken for afternoon tea, or a fancier version of it, high tea is actually a hearty evening supper. It is often served buffet-style, with meat pies, cheese, fruit, and other filling foods, requiring the use of a fork, knife, and spoon to eat. Traditionally served between 5 and 7 p.m., it began its existence as the early evening supper of the working classes after a long day in the fields, factories, mines or shops.

Many American tea parlors have created their own, non-traditional, take on afternoon tea by adding bowls of soup, plates of salad, quiche, raw fruits and vegetables, and heavier desserts like cheesecake, and giving it the name "high tea." While these meals are served between 2 and 4 p.m. like afternoon tea, and contain heartier foods like high tea, we can see that they are neither. They are, instead, a new kind of tea meal, and I think they should have their own term: how about American tea?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Decaffeinating your tea at home.

Wikimedia Commons. Tea bags.
Tea is the second most popular beverage in the world, other than water, but many tea-drinkers are advised by their physicians to avoid caffeine. It seems that most people are under the impression that de-caffeinated tea contains no caffeine, and is as safe as “herbal tea” for those who cannot have caffeine. For the record, tea is a beverage that is made from infusing the leaves of the true tea plant, Camellia sinensis, in boiling or hot water. Any leaves, flowers, bark or seeds from other plants, prepared in the same way, are not actually “tea”: they are properly called “herbal infusions” or “tisanes,” and most do not contain caffeine in their plant structure, so infusions made from them are completely caffeine-free.

Caffeine is a natural part of the tea plant, however, and most of the caffeine can be commercially removed. Traditionally, infusions made from commercially decaffeinated tea leaves are of inferior quality due to the extreme processing that the leaves receive to remove the caffeine, and it follows that they produce a beverage that lacks in flavor, compared to regular tea. As a result, de-caffeinated teas can be unsatisfactory to some tea lovers, besides the fact that they still contain small amounts of caffeine, and tea growers, manufacturers, and retailers have been working to solve this dilemma.

Over the past 15 to 20 years, some theories have developed relating to caffeine in tea, and some are repeated as fact, even by the most respected and truly knowledgeable people in the business, such as James Norwood Pratt, author and tea scholar, who wrote the highly-influential books "The Tea Lover's Treasury" (1982), and "The Tea Lover's Companion" (1995). Pratt is the Honorary Director of Imperial Tea Court tea room in San Francisco, and in his “New Tea Lover’s Treasury” from 2000, he describes the process that so many tea lovers have embraced:

"Caffeine is highly soluble and is one of the first constituents of the tea leaf to be extracted in steeping. Usually 80 percent of the tea's caffeine content is released within the first 20 to 30 seconds of steeping. You can enjoy virtually caffeine-free tea with small sacrifice of flavor, therefore, by discarding the water after the first 30 to 60 seconds of steeping and adding fresh hot (temperature depending on tea type) water to the
now-decaffeinated leaf." (Pratt, New Tea Lover's Treasury, p.182)

Unfortunately, the research done to test this theory has provided conflicting conclusions at best, and recent research actually indicates that caffeine is not extracted as quickly or completely from the tea leaf as is widely believed. Many tea experts, including Nigel Melican, founder and managing director of Teacraft, Ltd., consider the "30-second decaf" theory to be actually debunked, and relegated to the realm of urban myth. A 1996 study at Auburn University [Hicks M.B.; Hsieh Y.-H.P.1; Bell L.N. "Tea preparation and its influence on methylxanthine concentration." Food Research International, Volume 29, Number 3, April 1996, pp. 325-330(6)] tested it, infusing multiple samples of tea in boiling water, and concluded that only 9% of the caffeine was removed during the first 30 seconds of infusion. The researchers also found that it took approximately 3 minutes to remove 50% of the caffeine, about 9 minutes of infusion to remove 80%, and approximately 15 minutes to remove more than 96%. A separate study done in 2008 at Asbury College, by Chemistry professor Dr. Bruce Branan and his team provided similar results: after 3 minutes of infusion, only 46-70% of the caffeine was removed, and it took 6 minutes to remove approximately 80%. Since flavor and bitter tannins are also released with the caffeine, a cup of tea brewed after being de-caffeinated by this method would be unpalatable to most people!

While the hot-water decaffeination method does reduce the amount of caffeine in your cup of tea, if you have to avoid all caffeine, you essentially have to avoid all true tea. Tisanes are known to be completely caffeine-free, so until research indicates otherwise, a nice cup of herbal tea is best!

“Too Easy to be True: De-bunking the At-Home Decaffeination Myth” by Bruce Richardson, from Fresh Cup magazine, January 2009.
"Tea and the rate of its infusion” by Professor Michael Spiro. Published in Chemistry in New Zealand, 1981, pp172-174.
“Tea preparation and its influence on methylxanthine concentration” by Monique Hicks, Peggy Hsieh and Leonard Bell, published in Food Research International vol 29, Nos 3-4, pp.325-330.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Aztec Chocolate Bread Pudding.

Aztec chocolate bread pudding.
O.k., I'm a confirmed fan of bread pudding. Sweet or savory, filled with currants and lemon zest, butterscotch chips, or cheddar and onions, bread pudding is a simple comfort food to make, if it's not too hot to bake. Plus, it's just so darn frugal, especially for someone like me, who can't eat up a whole loaf of bread before it dries out or goes stale. I don't know if someone else has come up with this recipe already, but I threw together a bread pudding today (baking it in the toaster oven avoided heating up the house!) with a small loaf/sandwich roll of French bread that was thoroughly dried out, plus some chocolate. It uses Dagoba Aztec Xocolatl hot cocoa mix, thus the name, but if you don't have that, you could use your favorite intense chocolate cocoa mix, and add a dash of cinnamon and a dash of chili powder instead.

Aztec Chocolate Bread Pudding

1 small loaf or large sandwich roll of French or Italian bread, stale or dried out (but not moldy)
1 pint milk, plus extra
3 whole eggs
1/2 cup Dagoba Aztec Xocolatl cocoa mix
1/2 to 1 cup Ghirardelli dark chocolate (60% cocoa) chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes and measure out 3 cups of bread. Place in a medium bowl and pour 1 pint of milk over the bread. There should be more milk than the bread can soak up easily, so add more milk as needed; let the bread sit in the milk for 10 minutes or so to get soggy. When all the bread is saturated with the milk (there should be a little extra milk left in the bowl), smash the bread in the milk until each cube is broken up and the mixture makes a wet, chunky paste. Beat the eggs well in a separate bowl and stir into the bread and milk. Add the cocoa mix and chocolate chips and combine well. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish (or a 12-hole muffin tin) and pour the pudding mixture in, filling the container (or each muffin cup) to the top. [NOTE: If using the muffin tin, you may not have enough pudding mixture to fill every muffin cup. Don't worry.] Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes (15 to 20 minutes for the muffin tin) or until puffed, the top springs back when gently pressed, a knife blade inserted in the center comes out wet but clean, and the edges start to pull away from the pan. Cool in the pan before serving, (or turning the mini puddings out onto plates). Serve warm or cold, with whipped cream or ice cream. Serves 6 to 8.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Stewed Peas: proof that the Victorians ate their vegetables (at least during the spring and summer)!

This is from Godey's Lady's Book of 1860, the May issue or thereabouts. I love peas, and I happen to have some in the freezer, so I may be making this sometime soon!

Stewed Peas.

Take very young, tender green peas, and put into a stew-pan, with sufficient fresh butter to keep them from burning, but no water; season them with a little black pepper and a very little salt; set them over a moderate fire, and stir them about till the butter is well mixed through them; let them simmer till quite soft and slightly broken, taking off the lid occasionally, and give them a stir up from the bottom; if you find them becoming too dry, add some more butter; when done, drain off what superfluous butter may be about the peas, and send them to table hot. They will be found excellent. To the taste of many persons, they will be improved by a lump or two of loaf sugar put in with the butter, and also by a few sprigs of mint, to be removed before the peas go to table. Lima beans may be stewed in butter, as above; also, asparagus tops cut off from the white stalk.

Not that I need that much butter in my diet, though!

Friday, June 18, 2010

How to prepare matcha?

Prepared matcha with a Japanese sweet. Wikimedia Commons.
I've been a fan of Japanese food and tea since I was 8, but I've never had matcha except in cookies and things. One of these days I've gotta get myself some matcha and a proper tea whisk and see if I can make it properly!

So what is matcha anyway? The region around Kyoto, Japan, is the most important region for the growing and production of matcha, which is made from gyokuro tea leaves that have been steamed before drying, and retain their fresh green color, vegetal flavor and aroma. The tea is also grown differently, kept in the shade just before harvesting. According to In Pursuit of Tea: “The vibrant green color in matcha comes from careful cultivation. Tea plants are covered with mats several weeks prior to harvest, making it difficult for them to receive nutrients. In this struggle, the plant produces more chlorophyll and its leaves become supple.” The tea leaves are de-veined and ground into powder between two stones, before being packaged for sale.

Traditional Japanese preparation of matcha can involve the beautiful and meditative Japanese tea ceremony, or a modified technique more suited to everyday life. The modernized way to make a cup of matcha calls for a few more tools than are necessary for standard tea-making: a fine wire strainer, a small bowl, and a small whisk. The normal kettle, tea cup and tea spoon are perfectly fine for matcha, although it ads to the ambiance to use real Japanese ones. Matcha powder is whisked into hot water until it is frothy, and the tea leaf powder is left in the cup, to be consumed with the liquor. Since the entire tea leaf is ingested, matcha provides a higher level of Vitamin C and antioxidants than the standard tea infusion does. Here is the simplified way to prepare matcha:

Fill the kettle with fresh water and bring it almost to the boil, or bring the water to the boil, and then pour it into an empty teapot and let it sit for a minute or two. Set the wire strainer over the bowl and measure two teaspoons of matcha powder into it, then sift the matcha into the bowl. Measure one heaping teaspoon of sifted matcha and add it to the empty teacup (put the rest in an airtight container for later). Fill the teacup about ¾ of the way with hot water. Use the whisk to break up the clumps of matcha powder, then use rapid back-and-forth motions to whisk the matcha into the water and make it frothy. When the surface of the matcha is covered with froth, drink and enjoy!

For a different experience, why not try adding some matcha powder to a vanilla milkshake, sprinkling it over some vanilla or chocolate ice cream, or working it into a batch of shortbread dough? You’ll have a delicious new treat!

“Japanese tea from San Jose’s Japantown”
“Tea tasting 101: characteristics of good quality green tea”
“Matcha magic: the health benefits of green tea”
In Pursuit of Tea newsletter and website
“Matcha Green Tea – What is it?” Youtube video
“How to prepare matcha” YouTube video
Japanese tea ceremony YouTube video
another Japanese Tea Ceremony video on YouTube
Tea ceremony put on by teachers in Shizuoka
Casual home-style Japanese tea ceremony

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Gifts fit for a tea-drinker!

Loose and bagged tea.
Tea is becoming more and more popular these days, whether for its health benefits, its traditions, or just the range of flavors available from this one beverage. American tea-lovers have a wide variety of teas and tea equipment to choose from when purchasing for themselves or others. Some of the following items are available in grocery stores, craft stores and specialty shops in many areas of the country, but if none of these are for sale where you are, they can be purchased over the Internet. Here are some suggestions:

Good quality loose-leaf or bagged tea.
A nice tea mug or cup and saucer.
A new teapot.
An electric tea kettle.
A nice decanter or pitcher for iced tea.
A tea cozy, tea strainer, tea filter bags or other everyday tea equipment.
A piece of nice silverware for the tea table, like sugar tongs, tea tray, cream spoon, berry spoon, or dessert server. (Thrift stores can be great sources for old silverplate items at low prices!)
Gourmet food items for the tea party pantry. This can include packaged foods made with tea, or foods to be eaten with tea. Even something like a bar of good chocolate goes well with tea!
A nice cloth tablecloth or other tea party-appropriate linens.
A book about tea. This can include cookbooks for food to eat with tea, or tea history books, or even tea murder mysteries!
Music that can be played at a tea party.
Jewelry or other accessories with a tea theme.

Any other suggestions?

“Mother’s Day gifts for the tea-loving San Jose mom”
“Where to find tea filter bags in San Jose”
“Where to buy Chinese tea in the San Jose area”
“10 wonderful, affordable ideas for Christmas gifts, using tea”
"What should I keep in my tea party pantry?"
“Chocolate and tea: the perfect match?”
“Which foods go well with tea?”

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Lovely lemon pound cake.

Meyer lemon and thyme pound cakes.
I love having a Meyer lemon tree in the backyard, because it gives me lots of lemons to use in making lemon curd, lemonade, and in this interesting pound cake. I originally saw the recipe in the April 2009 issue of Victoria magazine, and decided to make it for a tea party this weekend. Since my birthday is also this weekend, and the recipe makes two cakes, it will also serve as my birthday cake!

The recipe is unlike traditional pound cakes because it has buttermilk and baking powder in it, which should lighten the texture a bit. I couldn't make the recipe as directed, however, because I don't have a mixer, so I don't know exactly how my hand-mixing has affected the cakes. They look flatter than other pound cakes, so I suspect that the extra leavening didn't compensate for my arms that could beat the batter only so much before giving out! The cakes smell good, and the batter tasted good when I tasted it, so I think my tea friends will like them anyway.

Meyer Lemon and Thyme Pound Cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 T. Meyer lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup fresh Meyer lemon zest
2 T. chopped fresh thyme
4 eggs

1 recipe Meyer Lemon Glaze

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Put oven rack in the center of the oven. Grease and flour two loaf pans, line the bottoms with parchment, and grease the parchment. In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder and salt, sift three times and set aside. In a separate bowl [I used a measuring cup] combine the buttermilk, lemon juice and vanilla and set aside. In a separate large bowl, using an electric mixer at high speed, beat the butter for 1 minute, or until soft and creamy. Slowly add the sugar, zest and thyme, then increase the speed again and beat the mixture for 10 minutes or until very light and creamy. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry (flour) and liquid (buttermilk) mixtures alternately to the butter mixture, stirring just until incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 40 minutes; then cover the pans with tinfoil and bake for an additional 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Transfer pans to a wire rack, and cool cakes in pans for 10 minutes. Carefully remove cakes from pans, and spoon Meyer Lemon Glaze over the tops. Cool completely before serving. Makes 2 loaves.

Meyer Lemon Glaze
1/2 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out

In a small bowl, whisk together the juice, sugar and vanilla bean seeds until smooth. Use immediately.

Alterations I made to the recipe: I couldn't find regular cake flour, so I used Gold Medal Wondra Sauce and Gravy flour. It seemed to be grittier than the regular flour, so I wonder how or if that will affect the texture of the cake. I substituted regular milk plus a tablespoon of lemon juice for the buttermilk, which I didn't have. Also, I only had 3 eggs, so I added a teaspoon or so of oil and water in place of the 4th egg. I didn't put the full 2 tablespoons of thyme into the batter, because my bunch of thyme was, largely dried out and I could only get a little more than 1 tablespoon that looked nice and fresh. When making the glaze, I used vanilla extract for the vanilla bean seeds, and only had 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar to use, so my glaze turned out too thin. But other than the above, I made the recipe exactly as instructed, and it looks and smells great! It will go nicely with some Phoenix oolong tea that I have.
Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)