Thursday, June 06, 2013
TEA AND NO SYMPATHY
I’ve never been one for morning tea gatherings of the formal variety; or of any variety, if the truth be told. One reason being, for a woman, I have rather large hands compared to others of my gender. My fingers don’t comfortably or daintily handle the handles of fine china tea cups with the requisite finesse. Another reason is my pinkies are quite stubborn. They won’t curve daintily in a refined manner on command. With my pinkies being the size they are, it’s a good thing that genteel morning teas are off my list of social gatherings. The likelihood of my poking someone’s eye out is a realistic possibility.
Enjoying a cup of coffee with a friend or two once in a while is enjoyable; and once in a while I do so...but, I'm not one for regularly standing (or sitting) on ceremony with groups!
One day when I lived in Glenden, I was caught unprepared. Before I had time to evaluate the situation in which I found myself, I was blindsided into accepting an invitation to morning tea "with the ladies". Trapped in a moment of general chit-chat with the wife of the manager of the town’s one and only bank, she cunningly tossed in an invitation for me to join her and other ladies at her home for morning tea planned for a couple of days in the future. I began to sweat and squirm upon the realisation of my entrapment. Ignoring my discomfort, she granted me no sympathy whatsoever! I believe she actually expected me to curtsy and thank her profusely for inviting me into her inner circle. I didn't!
The morning of the grand occasion dawned.
Reluctantly I donned my finest finery and slipped on my high heels shoes.
Off to join the ladies I did go, dragging one foot after the other; or, rather, one foot placed lightly on the accelerator and my hand hovering over reverse.
I must add, if only to help paint the picture for you; the bank manager’s wife had placed her own self up high at the highest altitude on a pedestal, believing that to be her rightful position in the little township of Glenden. Not only was she self-appointed, but self-opinionated, too. She was, after all, the bank manager’s wife; a big fish in a very small pond.
With dread, wishing I was anywhere but parked outside her home, I approached her hallowed domain. Setting my best high-heeled-clad foot into her pristine abode, I inhaled deeply. Distracted by my entrance, a group of strangers momentarily glanced up from their perfectly balanced floral porcelain tea cups and saucers as introductions were made.
Like a deer caught in the headlights I was frozen to the spot. An urgent need to escape overcame me. I wanted to turn and run; to strip myself of my finery and replace it with a sarong. My desire was to return to my own sun-blessed verandah where I had no need to curl my pinky or make vapid conversation.
I wanted to be at ease within my own familiar surrounds where I could sit back with my feet resting on the railings while sipping on a cold beer, a red wine, or perhaps a Scotch or rum, depending on the mood of the moment; or, perhaps, with my large hands wrapped comfortably around my rustic, unrefined, earthenware coffee-filled mug.
That was my desperate desire; but I was cornered, surrounded by Stepford Wives, none of whom I knew (or met again), dainty porcelain objets d’art, lace doilies and lounge chairs with vintage, crocheted headrest covers.
To the rear of the celestial sphere a stylish dining table formally garbed in an ecru vintage lace overlay beckoned. Fine China and silver tiered cake stands and various other decorative platters bearing miniature, crust-less sandwiches, fairy cakes, cupcakes, pikelets and scones begged to be investigated and tasted. Crystal bowls, some filled with strawberry jam and others with whipped cream stood by to accompany the pikelets and scones.
With my good manners in place; shoulders back, head high, stomach in and pinkies un-crooked, butter wouldn’t have melted in my mouth.
I received no sympathy for the stress I suffered. My pinkies have never been the same! After a couple of hours spent privately agonising about where I wished to be, finally, I arrived back home again. As soon as I walked through my front doorway, I kicked off my heels (and kicked my bare heels in the air); tossed off my glad-rags and happily draped a colourful, tropical sarong around me. I raided my fridge for a cold, cold Crown Lager; and to the delight of the birds of the feathered variety, I joined them out on my verandah.
Cucumber-Salmon Sandwiches: Spread cream cheese on prepared slices of bread; place thin slices of smoked salmon on spread. Slice seedless cucumber as thin as possible; pat dry. Place on salmon; top with bread slice; trim crusts; cut into fingers or desired shapes. Rare Roast Beef & Horseradish Cream: Thinly slice rare roast beef. For the horseradish cream, combine 300g sour cream, 2tbs horseradish and ¼ chopped chives; season. Grab 12 bread slices; spread one side of each slice with the cream; divide beef and rocket over half the bread slices; top with remaining slices. Trim off crusts; cut into quarters.
Cranberry-Almond Scones: Combine 2-1/8 cups plain flour (or 1c plain flour and 1 cup + 1tbs whole wheat flour), 1/4c sugar, 1/8tsp salt and 1-1/2tsp baking powder; cut in 1/2c cold butter, sliced. Stir in 3/4c dried cranberries and 1/4c chopped almonds. In bowl, whisk together 1/2c cream, 1 egg, 1tsp vanilla and 2tsp almond extract. Add to dry mixture; stir until just moistened. Knead a few times until dough forms. Don’t over-knead. On lightly-floured surface, form dough into circle about 1-inch thick. Place on ungreased baking sheet; mark out 8 wedges without cutting right through; brush with some cream; sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 176C, 30-35mins; serve warm or cold.
Double Cranberry Crumble Cake: Heat 1-1/8c water to just below boiling; pour over 3tbs cranberry-flavoured black tea (or other fruit flavours); steep 3-4mins; strain. Cream 2c sugar, 1c butter and 1/2c oil; beat in 4 eggs; add 1/2c milk, 1c tea and 1tbs vanilla. Add 1/8tsp salt, 3-1/2c plain flour, 1tsp each baking soda and baking powder; stir after each addition; fold in 2c coarsely-chopped cranberries. Pour into greased 9x13-inch baking pan. Combine 3/4c sugar, 1/3c softened butter, 1/2c flour, 1tsp cinnamon, 1/2c oats and reserved brewed tea leaves (if desired); sprinkle over cake; bake at 176C, 55-60mins.