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Afternoon Tea for the Ladies
About once a month, a group of ladies from my church and some others from another local church, gather in the Sitting Room at Lambhill for a couple of hours of thoughtful discussion on uplifting subjects – and for good, old-fashioned Afternoon Tea!
The fire was lit, the views outside, of Mount Taranaki (Egmont) faded as the clouds drew in, and freezing rain began whipping the house, just as all twelve ladies were tucked in around the Sitting Room, in armchairs and sofas, with their crocheting and notebooks. The teapot was emptied – and refilled – and we talked about things dear to our hearts – and searched those hearts, together.
Lambhill Tea Blend
Over years of hosting afternoon tea for groups, I have found the perfect blend of tea, that almost everybody likes. It is mild and gentle, and goes well with Afternoon Tea food: This is my secret Lambhill Blend! and it is equal quantities of Twinings’ English Breakfast Tea, and Twinings’ Lady Grey Tea. (For a 1 litre teapot, I would use 2 teabags – one of each tea. If you have loose-leaf tea, use 2 tea-scoops – one of each tea.) Always use a teapot, even if it is only for you. And always use a pretty china cup and saucer set, even if it is mismatched, and only cost you spare change… Life is too short to skimp on Moments!
Rose and Vanilla Cake
This is the recipe for the cake illustrated in the slideshow above, decorated with icing sugar and a General Gallieni Rose (this is one of my experiments which worked – I belong to the “Sorceror’s Apprentice” school of cookery!… some of my experiments in the kitchen are spectacularly revolting and inedible, but others are Quite Alright and Respectable):
Cream together: 125grams butter and 3/4 cup of sugar.
Add: 2 eggs, 2 tbsp rose water and 1 tsp real vanilla essence.
Mix in: 2 cups of flour and 3 tsp of baking powder.
Bake in a greased, lined round tin at 180 degrees C (350 degrees F) until cooked in centre.
(You could cover with vanilla frosting, or dust with icing sugar, or split in half and fill with whipped cream coloured pink…..)
The kitchen ready for a quiet afternoon tea meeting at the table…
I like my silver tarnished…
Which would make my great-grandfather Henry Roberts shake his ghostly head, because he was the New Zealand agent for Sheffield cutlery-makers, Martin & Hall, in the early to mid 20th Century… Much of the silver-plated cutlery we use today at Lambhill, came from him. Not this teapot, though: this came from a second-hand shop. Great places, second-hand shops: you can buy well-made, pretty items there that you could neither find nor afford from the modern shops.
Tea with Friends and Neighbours
Recently, Fernielea changed hands. Fernielea is a two-storeyed c.1870s farmhouse outside Fordell village, which we can see from the drive here. Our good friends, the Cullens, sold it, and new people moved in. Spin and Joan, Jonathan and I welcomed them to the neighbourhood, and have kept in touch. It is lovely to see a new family enjoying that old place.
The other day, Spin, Joan, and Val from Fernielea met up with me here in the kitchen for a cup of tea and nibbles – and a look at the gardens. It was very heartening: Val said, if I was feeling down about the weeds, then I should go and see their garden, and I would be feeling much better!
Another salutory lesson about perfectionism for me, this tea-visit, was not to go to too much trouble, necessarily – not all visitors appreciate it! In true form, I had spent a morning arranging flowers for the principle rooms, before the neighbours came – only for us all to stay in the kitchen! Would she like to walk about and look at the house, I asked, but she said, “O no; I’ve seen it!” (I would have looked again! And every time I was invited to!!!) Of course, the flowers did not go to waste. I enjoyed them for days and days and days. And anyway, a room looks more alive and garnished with fresh flowers…
Poetry Reading: Mother, Sister, Daughter…
My niece, Chloe, has recently had her first baby, and published her first small volume of poetry, titled, ‘Unfurl.’ Her mother, my sister Aydie, was so proud that she wanted to celebrate Chloe’s work, and so she organised a poetry reading at Wanganui’s lovely small bookshop, “Paige’s Book Gallery,” in Guyton Street. (It is a a brilliant shop, and I order many of my books through them.) The poetry reading was advertised on flyers, and in a Chronicle newspaper article, and Aydie and I were to read a few of our poems, and Chloe was to read hers. I have not written much poetry for the last few years, being busy with other projects, but Aydie particularly wanted to read one I’d had published in a university anthology, and another I’d written for my fellow students at a university creative writing weekend.
In the end, I couldn’t make it to the reading, so Chloe read her poems and Aydie read hers and mine – but I was able to bake some biscuits for it, and deliver them to Aydie a few days beforehand, to be served at the reading out of old cake tins which once belonged to our mother and grandmother.
Recipe for Swedish Christmas Biscuits
This is the version I cobbled together from several online recipes, and this is what I made for the poetry reading. It makes a lot of biscuits, which is great at Christmas because you can give some away in small tins or jars, hand them around visitors, and eat them yourself!!! I love the Swedish taste for cardamom with cinnamon. That combination is what they use in their delicious cinnamon buns, too.
2 small or 1 large egg; 1 tbsp ground ginger; 1 tbsp ground cinnamon; 2 tsp ground cloves; 1 tsp ground cardamom; 150ml honey or golden syrup and treacle; 200g butter; 200g raw or brown sugar; 1 1/2 tsp baking soda; 4 cups of flour.
Boil the honey or syrup in a saucepan, briefly, then add butter and sugar, and stir in to melt together. When cool, stir in eggs and spices. Add baking soda in a little water. Mix up, singing Christmas carols, and then add and mix in the flour. Rest it in the fridge for 2-3 hours, and it will harden enough to roll out.
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C with a fan, or to 200 degrees C without a fan. Paper some baking trays, roll out the dough thinly on a floured board, cut into shapes, and lay on the baking paper, leaving space between each. Cook 10 minutes until a little darker, then cool on racks. Eat all the bent ones at once! (Well, I am telling you what I did!!!) Swedes like these biscuits to be crispy. You choose how long you cook them, according to the softness or crispness you like. “God Jul!”
Tea From Paris!!!
At Christmas, my niece, Amelia came home. After several years’ working at the Hague, she now lives and works in Paris. Her apartment is near the famous old Parisian tea-shop, “Mariage Freres.” She had seen chic Parisiennes trotting in – and out, holding pretty carrier bags – and felt a little sceptical of the usefulness of buying tea from such a place… Eventually, her curiosity got the better of her, and she ventured in… … … What a revelation! “It was LOVEly!!!!!” she reminisced: “I bought three teas at once!” And then she thought, “Wouldn’t Aunty Janette love this?!” and decided to choose one to bring home to New Zealand for me at Christmas. This is the one she chose for me, so carefully:
The Uses of Tea….
Apart from a brilliant remedy for shock (add sugar or honey in this case), I find that tea is good for slowing down and “being in the moment.” That is, if you take time to do it properly. It is an especially important thing to do if you are on your own for any length of time. Otherwise, it is too easy to get caught up in tasks, lists of jobs, housework, and thinking and planning and researching and creating. That’s what I find, anyway! I’ve never been good at slowing my mind and slowing time and being Zen.
This is my recipe for Doing Tea Properly, for one:
Choose a teapot of the right size to hold several cups of tea; pick one that gives you pleasure to look at, that pours well, and is comfortable to hold. Find a china cup and saucer that delight you. See whether they look well beside the teapot. Next, find a smallish-but-not-too-small jug for milk (if you take milk in tea); it should be pretty or plain, but pleasing and definitely Not A Dribbler! Find a tray that accomodates all of these comfortably, as well as (to taste – be as simple or as elaborate as your mood prefers:) a cloth or paper napkin, a pretty dish for sugar (in cubes, or white grains, or my favourite – golden-coloured raw sugar), silver teaspoons, a tiny jug of cream, a silver tea strainer, a pretty china plate for dainty nibbles, a tiny vase of flowers.
I do not usually eat anything with a pot of tea, unless I have been working hard and need energy. The tea will give you a lift, and keep you going, especially if you drink the whole potful!
Now, boil more water than you will need, and pour some into the pot for a few moments to warm it. Then, swill out the hot water, measure in the tea (2 teabags, or 2 dessertspoonfuls of loose-leaf tea) and reboil the water. Pour in and fill the teapot while the water is boiling. Shut the teapot lid and cover with a cosy or pretty folded cloth, to keep it hot.
There are two schools of thought about whether milk or tea should go into the teacup first. I understand that “milk first” betokens working-class origins because it meant you had cheap, weak, china that could not stand the shock of hot tea, and needed the buffer of cold milk. I like “tea first” so as to admire the elegant amber liquid in my cup before the milk clouds it… All the same, I’ve found that teacups are easier to clean if you put the milk in first, because it stops teastains on the china. (But that is easily fixed during washing-up, by filling the cup with water and adding a few drops of household bleach and leaving it for five minutes before emptying and washing as usual.
I start my day (after cleaning up in the kitchen) with a pot of tea, and generally have at least one other pot of tea later in the day. In this way, I like to think that Camellias are my staple food. Tea is simply the leaves of Camellia sinensis – a plant we have here in the Lambhill garden. Its flowers are not showy. They are small, simple white blooms. Very modest and retiring.
Drinking Solitary Tea, Summer, Lambhill.
Hammersley Cup and Saucer, vintage embroidery…..
Ecclesiastes 2: 24-26:
“A [person] can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This, too, I see is from the hand of God, for without him, who can find enjoyment? To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness…. “
…And Tea Together
I took these two photos last Saturday morning. My father had kindly come out to Lambhill from town, for the morning, to drive the tractor and help Jonathan split and stack firewood. This is always hard and hot work, and Dad has diabetes, so I always make sure Jonathan brings Dad up for a good morning tea and also a hearty lunch, if he is working all day. Saturday was far too hot, and after they came in, bringing Joan, whom they had met out on the farm on the other tractor, they drank tea, ate almonds, cheese and biscuits, and then went off to do a little more work, before stopping for the day. I hurried into the pantry to catch a shot of Dad and Jonathan setting off back to work after morning tea. I was a fraction too late – but you get the idea! (We are very grateful to my father for his kind toil on our behalf, and on Spin and Joan’s behalf. On Saturday, both our piles of firewood grew by a large trailer-full, which we will all enjoy burning this winter.) By the way, Dad’s bran-new red car is in the second photo; it was so dusty after he had driven it up and back down the Lambhill driveway, that he gave it a good wash when he got it home!
Lockdown Lunch in Autumn
During the Covid-19 national lockdown, April 2020, Jonathan is at home – although he is working from our Sitting Room. How nice, then, to make a happy Autumn lunch for those inside our “household bubble,” which include Jonathan, Me, Spin and Joan. We had some small pears Spin and Joan had given us from the old Lambhill orchard, as well as some of our own Merton Russet apples, and a smattering of feijoas – which all needed using up. I decided to make them into a cake.
Autumn Fruit Loaf
1 1/4 cups sugar beaten up with 200g butter, then add in: 2 cups flour, 2 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp cinnamon, 2 eggs, and 4 cups finely-cut apple, pears, feijoas, or other seasonal fruit. Mix, then spread into a loaf tin lined with baking paper, and bake at medium heat (180 C) for about an hour or an hour and a half – until firm in the centre. Cool on rack.
For lunch, I served this loaf, in thick slices (so damp and delicious!), thick sausage-and-leftover-roasted-vegetable soup, toast and crackers. And tea!!
Jonathan’s favourite Hammersley Cup
Tea on the Meadow
…And then some Small Friends arrived…
Tea with a friend in August (Winter)…
Tea in September at Lambhill…
Springtime Tea on the Verandah by the Meadow….and Called Into the Meadow….
It was late October, 2020, and the wind blew soft but determined, and it was warm. Skipper, in his cage, and Millie the dog came out with me. Millie drank milk out of a saucer. And the long grasses called us in, once we drank the whole teapot dry…
I love Transferware china with Hand-painted Detailing!
Builders’ Coffee, August 2021….
September 2021: Solitary Tea in Lockdown
But tea always connects me in my mind to friends…. Here, the Cornishware teapot was one I bought from a friend, and the tray cloth was given me by another friend…
A Spring Tea Party
Morning Tea on the Lawn: With Aloes and Millie!
Millie loves milky tea. I use lactose-free milk anyway, so it’s fine for Millie.
The cake is banana, with whipped vanilla cream on top. I’d split the cake recipe into two tins, to make two low rounds – and gave one to Spin and Joan (with cream, of course!!)
The aloe flowers are in bud, and I love them: they are cool and smooth, and look like strange fish… When the orange flowers open, bellbirds, tui, and wax-eyes visit them for their own morning teas, of aloe nectar.