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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
HenryJamesThe Portrait of a Lady 1881 “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as Afternoon Tea.”
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.
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.
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.
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 filmIntelligent Treesdocuments 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.
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
I love to garden. It started in my mid-forties and I prefer not to tell you how long ago that was. 😊 It began with scarlet red geraniumslike the ones you see spilling out of deep blue pottery in pictures of rural France. Then I started adding milkweed and nectar plants for my monarch butterflies. I have since found the most satisfying aspect of gardening is the inspiring motifs that I can glean.
WEEDS A Perpetual Source Of Inspiration
A weed is described as a plant growing profusely where it is not wanted. Removing it from where it’s unwanted poses many challenges. Herbicides are the method of choice to kill weeds. However, almost every herbicide, including Roundup, contains the chemical glyphosate. Glyphosate has a potential link to cancer.
The alternative method of killing weeds is to use Organic products that are low in toxicity. But the most safest way to remove them is done on your hands and knees one weed at a time. This all natural way is a constant source of inspiration.
Nature teaches me the most, through the process of weeding. Hand pulling weeds is time consuming compared to fast acting chemical herbicides but has zero toxicity. It makes me wonder what short cuts that I might be taking because I am unwilling to do the hard work. Could a quicker, easier method ultimately end up being destructive? This metaphor of taking the longer path helps ease some of my journey.
Weeding works best when it has just rained. A storm makes the soil pliable and the weeds pull out easily. I wonder if the storms of life help us wrestle with deep seeded issues. Could troubles make me more open to change, to be molded and shaped differently? Should I welcome some of the harder times to achieve more wholeness?
Over grown weeds will choke out all other plants. Weeding remind us that things in our life can creep up and take over if we don’t stay on guard. Be ever watchful that thoughts don’t become unseemly actions. We must be ever vigilant in what we allow our minds to dwell on lest certain thoughts can dominate our lives. Sometimes we need hand tools to get to the root of weed just like we made need professional assistance to deal with some issues in our life. Every weed I pull is an allegory to destructive thinking and behavior. We must daily and consistently work on pulling unhealthy thinking patterns out of our life just like we to have to daily continue to pull weeds so they don’t take over. The correlation between the undesirable in my garden and my mind is undeniable.
Fertilizing is another act of gardening that I can draw insight from. Chemical fertilizers works very well but do nothing to sustain soil and may result in a toxic buildup. So I chose an organic fertilizer over a chemical one.
I am reminded that I too must truly seek the right factors in my own life to grow stronger. Although something at first glance may appear to promote growth, a closer look proves there are some corruptible elements like in the synthetic fertilizer.
THE THREE Ps
Do you have any idea what leaves do…Photosynthesis! Those green leaves that grace every stem take sunrays and do a dance to create fuel to make the whole plant thrive.The “sunlight” that feeds me are bible passages, a combination of vowels and consonants inspired by God that speaks life into me.
Wisdom from on high, the precepts and proverbs, the lessons of David, Abraham, Matthew and John, parables and miracles all of it is used to teach me, set me straight so that I MAY PROSPER. I prosper in my soul, not necessarily in my pocket book, my soul, my relationships, my engaged life, my time as a sojourner in this life
The role of the bumblebee is to pollinate. He visits blossoms and spreads the pollen from one part of the plant to another, so they will make fruit. Their feat is majestic, their product sweet.
They go about doing what they do best, what they were created for. What am I created for? What harvest am I reaping with my activities?
Pruning gives deep inspiration. The gardener must prune the branches to produce fruit. Every season I carefully prune shrubs and cut back plants. The unruly growth and lack of fruit can only be rectified by pruning.
Pruning determines where branching will occur rather than controlling size or shape. The same is true in our own lives. In what direction am I growing? I must remove certain things in my life in order to flourish.
Inspired to Thrive
I hope the next time you dig into your garden you will be inspired to see the process in a new light. You too can receive life lessons from the simple acts of weeding, pruning and fertilizing. May the process of photosynthesis and the beautiful bumblebee provide you insight. A green thumb will inspire you to thrive.
“Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” Mark 4:8
“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” John 15:2
Scruffy hospitality is liberating! House cleaning is important but it shouldn’t prevent us from opening up our home. Mess means a house well lived in. Community building amongst friends and strangers is healthy for our souls even without the pinterest perfect setting!
A Wasteland of Dust
It remains invisible until I walk through the house and see my home from my guest’s point of view: fingerprints on the fridge, books and journals piled high next to our reading chairs, a thin layer of dust settled on picture frames and window sills. If the measure of dust on the top of the fridge is the true test of good housekeeping, I fail miserably.
Then there are the chips, the cracks and the broken. My shabby chic style is very forgiving and suits my personality. But anticipated guests can be the perfect incentive to clean and repair. Depending on the occasion I have been inspired to paint, buy new dishes and replace forlorn linen. All the acceptable flaws in my home start to stand out with the anticipated arrival of guests and my adrenaline kicks in.
But the desire to make everything picture perfect can be very limiting. Dust and messiness shouldn’t keep me from offering up my home for gatherings. We crave each other’s company. Scruffy hospitality is a brilliant trend. Don’t let the pressure of having pinterest perfect meals and settings prevent you from enjoying good company and conversation.
The housework can wait. What freedom to say, come for dinner and don’t mind the mess. It’s easy to throw together spaghetti with fresh baguettes and salad for perfect comfort food or suggest a potluck with a few of your friends.
Practicing Hospitality is life giving. Dr. Christine Pohl has an awesome teaching position, Professor of Church in Society. She researches and writes about how Christians should practice “welcoming”. She has two books I recommend – they are not recipes books or how to set an inviting table landscape.
Community meals can happen with a sink full of dirty dishes. Warm touches of candles and homemade dessert paired with stimulating conversation are the essential components of entertaining. I sometimes have Conversation Starters at each place setting to be sure everyone has the opportunity to share and help to get to know one another more.
A Lost Beatitude
Blessed are the guests. Buffing and polishing commences in their anticipated arrival! Or not and that’s okay.
always be eager to practice hospitality romans 12:13
I have finally learned the culinary secret to a hardboiled egg that peels perfect everytime. This has been adult pursuit of mine and I have only just mastered it. I am also stymied by the sheer number of types of eggs now available: caged, free-range, free-run, cage-free and now PASTURE RAISED. You can even purchase Mayo with Cage Free Eggs. Apparently the housing of the hen is the heart of the matter.
In the late seventies I was a teenager with a passion for social justice. When I learned that thousands of babies in Africa were dying from formula mixed with unsanitary water I got involved. Nestlé used unethical marketing practices to promote the use of formula over breast milk. A boycott of Nestlé products ensued. No more Nesquik or Toll House semi-sweet chocolate chip cookies. My commitment has lasted more than 40 years!
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.