Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pinkies Up!

I know there was that whole revolution thing 235 years ago and we became a nation of coffee drinkers... but having a tea party is just so much more fun!

Tea parties just don't happen that much anymore and I think it's a shame.  We tend to entertain in the evenings, relaxing at the end of the day before retiring for the night.  Tea parties, and other day time gatherings, are a welcome change and seem delightful and whimsical in comparison.

Generally speaking, there are a few options when it comes to tea parties:

- Late morning or late afternoon both work for tea parties.  Morning tea parties, around 11 o'clock, tend to be a bit more brunch-like.  Expect to serve a bit more food but stay with the tea concept: no pancakes and bacon or anything that requires a full-sized plate.  Morning tea may last a bit longer as it runs into lunch time, but expect guests to move on with their days.
- Afternoon tea, traditionally high tea at 4 o'clock, allows for a bit more diversity.  Given that, presumably, guests will have eaten lunch and will be eating dinner, they won't arrive expecting to be filled with food.  While you can still go all out, an afternoon tea party is an excellent way to entertain simply on a budget.  Guests know they're not staying for dinner which helps create a defined end for the gathering.

- You can keep it simple or go all out.  As I mentioned, if hosting a morning tea expect to serve more food but that doesn't mean it has to be fancy.  You also don't have to buy everything from scratch: do, however, buy quality pre-made products.
- While small or bite-sized snacks are traditional, there is nothing wrong with serving slices of a larger tart or cake.  Just make sure that anything you serve can fit on a petite plate and can be easily eaten with a fork or spoon alone, no knives required.  As guests are not sitting at a table, keep in mind that crumbly things, especially when cut, can make a mess on your guests and our sofa.
- There is no set number of dishes you have to prepare, but it's nice to have a variety, especially with a larger number of guests.  If serving several types of small snacks, make sure there are enough of each for each guest to have two.  Try to balance sweet and savory dishes.
- Then there's the tea!  I prefer to keep plain hot water in the tea pots and let guests select their own tea bags for their cup.  While many tea aficionados scoff at tea bags, they really are ideal for their situation.  Tea balls and other contraptions can be messier in a party setting and not all guests may be familiar with them.  Be sure to provide a variety of flavors and include some non-caffeinated and herbal options.  Prepare a tray with accompaniments including warmed milk, sugar, and lemon slices.  Don't forget to provide a bowl for discarded tea bags and wrappers!  On warmer days I also like to provide iced tea as an option.

The tea party I recently threw is definitely an example a fancier gathering that I went all out for.  While it was certainly great fun and I enjoy the challenge of putting together such an event, it certainly doesn't represent the standard.  That said, it was surprisingly easy.  I was able to complete much of the work ahead of time.  All tart crusts were made the day before as well as the fillings, leaving some simple assembly and brief baking to be done before the guests arrived.

The Menu:
- Cucumber sandwiches (a classic for sure)
- Toast bites with cream cheese, smoked salmon, and capers
- Asparagus goat cheese mini tarts
- Strawberry frangipane mini tarts
- Lemon cream mini tarts
- Grapefruit cakes
- Assorted chocolates (store bought)

I will be covering the recipes in detail in the days to come!

The most important part of any gathering, tea party of otherwise, is to make sure you have fun.  Whether you throw an elaborate party for twenty or have two close friends over for tea and cookies, entertaining should be a pleasure!  In other words... enjoy!

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