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AFTERNOON TEA

What I Love May 12, 2020

I have always savored the three-tiered layered tray with delicate crust-cut sandwiches, warmed scones with clotted cream and petit fours that make up the classic Afternoon Tea.  It was utterly delightful to have just discovered the origin of this wonderful culinary offering. Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame recently released his latest British historical drama, Belgravia. In Episode 1, set in 1840, the fictional character Anne Trenchard is invited for Afternoon Tea by the non-fictional Duchess of Bedford. Mrs Trenchard proclaims, “I’m so interested by your invention of Afternoon Tea.” The Duchess replies, “it does seem to have taken wing.” Historically accurate, this throw away line depicts the origin of Afternoon Tea. The Duchess could simply not endure the long period between lunch and 8pm dinner and so begun this renowned tradition of brewed tea with savory tidbits midafternoon.

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

The Anglican Church Ladies Tea Luncheon is where it all began for me. As a young girl my sister and I grew up serving tea at these wonderful functions. I have been collecting memories of Afternoon Tea ever since. Orlando has been my home for many years and so I have had the opportunity to enjoy Afternoon Tea at the Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes and the Garden View Tea Room Grand Floridian. Both use their Lobbies/Lounge area to provide exceptional ambiance. However it turns out the best scone I have ever eaten was at a very quaint Bed and Breakfast in Toronto, The Tartan House. Afternoon Tea is some times mistakenly referred to as High Tea. Although it sounds fancier, High Tea is actually the evening meal which includes hot food.

GARDEN VIEW TEA ROOM AT THE GRAND FLORIDIAN CELEBRATING MY DAUGHTER’S 25TH

TEA FOR A PRINCESS

My most distinct memory of serving tea is from 1987 in Bangkok. I was a volunteer onboard a Book Exhibition Ship docked in port. Our honored guest was the Princess of Thailand, Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. I remember the etiquette class we were taught before she arrived. We could not expose the soles of our feet to her as they are considered low and dirty. We served her tea without incident.

1987 BANGKOK, THAILAND SERVING TEA TO A PRINCESS

TEA WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS

My first Afternoon Tea with my daughter was at The Peabody in Orlando. Just after her 13th Birthday we sat against an elegant backdrop to have a graceful conversation about womanhood.  The finger sandwiches and sweets were delectable as we witnessed the ducks’ daily march down the red carpet in the lobby. We have since shared many lovely Afternoon Teas together including one at the Fairmont Palliser in Calgary for my Birthday. It was the first time I had fresh lavender infused in my tea and the aroma was delightful.

THE FAIRMONT PALLISER CALGARY, ALBERTA

I have also had Afternoon Tea with my son and daughter in law at the Oxford Exchange in the heart of Tampa. Exposed brick walls and a central water fountain creates a wonderful ambiance bustling with energy.  They have also brought Afternoon Tea, including fresh macarons, to my home on Mother’s Day and gifted me with a Tea set from their trip to England.

A Saudi Royal Family once gave me boxes of tea, sorta. Our friends who catered for them during their Florida visit always had leftovers of which I was the lucky recipient.  As I sipped their Middle Eastern brews I wondered about their lives in royal palaces in arid deserts.

I have enjoyed authentic Afternoon Tea in an English Home in London where our gracious hosts also treated us to Cream Tea in the shadow of the Queen’s residence, Windsor Castle.  

Another great story takes me to the subcontinent. I was at a school village in India. After a short cultural presentation we were offered hot chai. It was my first time having this exotic brew. The aroma was so enjoyable and the taste spicy sweet.

Iced Tea was once a favorite. I remember the first time watching the tea bags infusing water in a jug on the back porch of home in Mississippi in the blazing sun. A staple in the South, I drank it cold for many years.

THE ALICE IN WONDERLAND THEMED CELEBRATION TEA ROOM IN CELEBRATION, FLORIDA WAS THE PERFECT LOCATION TO BRING MY SPECIAL FRIEND HEND.

Lavender n’ Lace is a delightful Tea Room in Lake Alfred, Florida. I have celebrated my birthday there with friends. The walls are lined with tea cups and tea pots. This renovated house provides a most enchanting atmosphere for conversation and tasty cusine. The coconut cream pie is unparalleled in flavor.

LAVENDER n’ LACE TEA ROOM LAKE ALFRED, FLORIDA

The ambiance of the Moscow Tea Room in Ottawa is captivating. My husband and I first discovered exotic Smoky Earl Grey sitting in this distinctly appointed tea room near the Parliament Buildings on Sussex Drive. This exotic smoky flavored Earl Grey, a perfect choice for a Russian Tea Room, combines Bergamot with a touch of Lapsang and Gunpowder tea.

MOSCOW TEA ROOM OTTAWA, CANADA

My gracious sister treated us to Afternoon Tea at the Peninsula in Hong Kong during our visit in 1987. We also had Afternoon Tea that same year with dear friends in Singapore at the famed RAFFLES, legendary because of writers in residence Somerset Maugham and Ernest Hemingway. My friend Ann suggested we experience Raffles and I am so grateful as it is now a cherished memory. It is one of the few remaining great 19th century hotels in the world.

1987 RAFFLES SINGAPORE

I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon with my mother in law, sister in law and niece at the quaint Tartan Tea House in Nova Scotia where we donned fun hats. The following Christmas my mother in law gifted me the book Royal Teas: Seasonal Recipes from Buckingham Palace. I am determined to try my hand at making scones.

THE TARTAN HOUSE IN BEDFORD, NOVA SCOTIA

MY CULTURAL FAUX PAS

My experiences with Tea also includes a more simpler exchange on the Champs-Elysées. My greatest regret was not visiting The Mariage Fréres just around the corner from where we were staying in the Marais. It is France’s oldest Tearoom and the world’s most exclusive luxury tea merchant with their 600 varieties of tea. I was on a budget during my 3 day whirlwind trip of Paris and so I relied on more inexpensive brews.

It was on our third day that I had just completed a walk from the Eiffel Tower to the Arc De Triomphe and I had not yet had my morning tea.  It is now late afternoon. I am grumpy. I am scouring the Champs-Elysées and every side street and finally spot a McDonald’s at the Galerie Des Champs. I was elated. I spoke the entire order en Francais. Deux thé s’il vous plait et un hamburger. C’est Combien? 4 Euros, I even asked for trois sucres. My thirst was finally quenched on a sultry afternoon in Paris. But I know for Francophiles to mention McDonald’s and France in the same breath is a cultural faux pas. C’est la vie.

TEA ON THE CHAMPS-ELYSEES PARIS

Daily I drink only British Black Teas, PG Tips or Typhoo. I use evaporated milk, a left over habit from my childhood with my Grandma.  On occasion I will drink Herbal Teas. My favorite being Rishi’s Mystic Mint which I was first introduced to at an Airport beverage counter. Earl Grey is also a favored Tea I drink occasionally.

 So many delightful memories associated with sipping tea. I cherish all the occasions that I have shared Afternoon Tea. A pleasing setting to converse and mark life’s special moments. Forever grateful to the Duchess of Bedford for her exceptional insight to host this afternoon ritual in the great salons of 19th Century London.

Henry James The Portrait of a Lady 1881
There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as Afternoon Tea.”

Entwined With Vines

What I Love February 14, 2020

When I was in my twenties I traipsed around the world. My younger self embraced the opportunity to travel and document the work of a non profit. It was on these jaunts that I started to observe and absorb the nuances of culture in the regions we traversed. Food, traditions, colors, décor, and landscaping were all catalogued into my impressionable mind. I was collecting ideas and inspiration that would carry me a lifetime but was oblivious to what was happening at the time.

Collecting Ideas

I had a job to do. My husband and I photographed and wrote about the organization we served. But as I traveled by bus and by boat down country lanes and alongside motorways in Western and Eastern Europe, then later through waterfronts of South East Asia, I was drinking in the surroundings.  I was making mental notes at what I most admired and enjoyed. I was exposed to sights that would never have graced my eyes in suburban America.

Lasting Takeaway

One of the most lasting takeaways from my time abroad was the vine covered stone cottages that dotted the countryside of England and streets of Europe. A home ensconced with vines was magical I decided. The greenery created a warm and decidedly welcoming environment. 

When we bought our first home, I was determined to mimic the beautiful landscapes I had fallen in love with. In faith, as a young mother, I planted two small ficus repens vines that cost me seven dollars each. I never thought what two decades of growth might bring.  I could only envision a front porch wrapped in vines. Life was too busy to try and imagine twenty years in the future.

Over the years the vines not only enveloped my entrance and graced my porch but also my front windows and over the garage.  It seemed overnight runners had spread around both sides of the house and along the back to my delight.  They were utterly enchanting. Everyone from the UPS driver to trick-or-treaters commented on how magical my home was, reminiscent of a scene from The Secret Garden.  The vines wrapped my home while inside our family cocooned. My little English Cottage in the South brought a wonderful presence to the cul de sac. My home regal with greenery bespoke of country living with carefree abandon.

They Grew With Ease

The vines required little of me. They never needed water or fertilizer. They would occasionally get slightly unwieldy and would need to be trimmed.  Once they reached a certain height we bought a gas powered trimmer to ease the work. We sometimes had the offer of help which we heartily welcomed.

As the branches entwined themselves around one another our family entwined our lives around one another. Two children, two dogs and two parents found solace from the world inside those walls. Life carried on year after year as the vines grew and grew.

North side of my home

Certainly much has been said about trees having feelings. It is believed that trees make friends and care for one another. They can feel pain and have emotions. Peter Wohlleben’s film Intelligent Trees documents this phenomenon. Although vines are slightly different, as their stems require support which my home was happy to oblige, I think it can be said my vines and I had a symbiotic relationship.

These vines inextricably became a part of me. I lived in the house with vines. But our relationship came to an abrupt end. The Home Owners Association deemed they violated the Housing Bylaws. So after almost 20 years of growth, of winding and weaving on the walls of my home they were removed one warm sunny afternoon in February. The woody tendrils had rooted into the stucco but the branches were so interlaced they pulled down like one sheet. I have lost something that took years to create.  Under their presence I raised children, amused dogs, hosted dinner parties, welcomed guests, toiled and rested while these magnificent plants wove their beauty.

New Chapter

After the vines came down

I am standing steadfast against the waves of sadness that greet me every time I leave my home. I grieved when I saw all my vines piled high on the curbside to be taken away. A piece of me goes with them.  I want to embrace this new chapter. I want to welcome the opportunity to be creative in dressing up these four bare walls with an engaging palette.  I want to add window boxes, shutters and draping Petunia Bordeaux. I will dig deep into my youthful memories and hope to find those hidden gems that will help make my house a home once again.

Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, & peace be to all that you have
1 Samuel 25:6

A Dog’s Legacy

What I Love January 29, 2018

Our family pets were a Golden Retriever named Rosie and rescued Jack Russell affectionately known as Dixie Doodle. We shared living space for almost 20 years. Our family of four was made more complete with the antics and unconditional love of these two dogs.