My first afternoon tea menu

I've finally done it!   My first afternoon tea menu has been created, implemented and served - yay!!

le menu

I created this tasty tea assortment as the result of partnering with Kim Murphy, the activities director at Heron Manor, a local assisted living facility just down the street from my home.

Kim contacted me several weeks ago with the idea of putting on a royal tea for the residents in commemoration of Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday.  I was all ears.

la table

I was responsible for all the food planning, preparation and set up, and Kim kindly provided the tables, linens, assorted tea cups and saucers (many of which belong to a 97 year old resident there!), place settings, tiered servers and rose nosegays.

Everything but the fig spread and the strawberry jam was made by my own two hands.  I love that. 

orange currant and lemon scones

finger sandwiches

sweet treats

salted caramel, chocolate and lime ginger shortbread
It was a grand time.  There were a handful of men in the largely female audience of 25 attendees.  Some of the ladies donned lovely hats or tiaras in addition to dressing up for this queenly occasion.

Kim had chosen Earl Grey tea with vanilla and lavender, as well as a lemon herbal tea to serve alongside the goodies.

I spoke briefly about the practice of afternoon tea, and Kim presented some interesting facts about Queen Elizabeth along with showing a series of royal photos covering her life and reign.

A lovely afternoon with even more lovely people.


And so it has begun.





Afternoon tea at the Townsend Hotel


a medley of petite treats

After a lovely week of warmer weather and sunshine, spring is doing its best to hold sway, even though this week looks to be cooler and intermittently rainy.  But you know what they say . . . . showers bring spring flowers and all that.

early primroses blooming in our little courtyard

This past Sunday Steve and I took a drive over to the other side of the state to pay a visit to the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, Michigan for their afternoon tea.  As I consider how I might go about offering such an enjoyment to small groups here in Grand Rapids, I'm always up for seeing how different places manage that particular delight.

Birmingham is a northern suburb of Detroit.  Due to the pouring rain, we weren't able to stroll around the ville, but as we drove through the main business district, we sensed an upscale community with an array of interesting shops and eateries.

Upon our arrival at the hotel, the hostess introduced us to Laura Klein, the tea director.  Laura and I had communicated by email in past weeks, and it was good to finally meet her in person.

We were ushered into the tea room, a lovely muraled space with a fireplace, fireside sofas and several traditional tables which were all set for tea.  Steve and I chose a cozy spot along the wall with a nice view of the fireplace across the room.


ready and waiting for guests

There were orange cranberry scones already in place on Wedgwood's Oberon pattern china - soft autumnal colors which blended very nicely with the overall decor of the room.




Mascarpone cream and house made lemon curd were in place as accompagnements for the scones . . .




in addition to small jam jars of Dickinson and Bonne Mamam (our favorite "store bought").




The Townsend offers Harney and Sons teas, and the Earl Grey won out over the raspberry herbal for us.  Ginger, our server, was immediately at hand to pour, and she kept our cups topped off throughout our stay.

Laura stopped at our table often and was very willing to share her tea expertise, answering my questions and giving me advice and tips on how one might proceed in developing an afternoon tea concept.  Her best advice - as you start out "keep it simple"!

Once our tea had been served we started in on the scones - crisp exterior, moist interior and a noticeable orange essence, although I felt the baking powder taste was a bit too forward.  The mascarpone and lemon curd pleasantly complimented the orange-cranberry.

Soon the tea sandwiches and sweets were delivered . . . .


 

offering a generous and traditional assortment (with some Townsend twists) of finger sandwiches and petite sweets.

Below are salmon/egg salad/crème fraiche/caviar on wheat and beef tenderloin/citrus horseradish cream/watercress on rye . . . .

 

followed by chicken salad/maple walnut butter on puff pastry, hummus/cucumber/tapenade on pita and asparagus/boursin topped with quail egg on white.




My favorites were the asparagus/quail egg and the chicken salad, although the beef/citrus horseradish was pretty tasty as well.

I found the hummus/cucumber/tapenade too briny, but I must admit I'm not a huge olive/pimento fan.

The sweets medley consisted of chocolate covered strawberry, white chocolate raspberry teacup, chocolate glazed éclair and orange flavored teacake, providing a pleasant spectrum of textures and flavors.


 

Steve had decided ahead of time that he wouldn't partake of the traditional tea, and so he ordered an omelette with potatoes and English muffin - pretty basic Sunday noon fare and plenty to eat.




We continued chatting with Laura as we sipped our tea and took some breaks between taste testing.

For the pièce de resistance we were surprised by beautifully presented trays of petite sweets, prepared expressly for us by the hotel's pastry chef.

Lavender cupcake, fresh fruit tartlet, strawberry and mango gelées in pastry shells, green tea mousse and raspberry cream éclair  - quite a selection!

While the assortment was pleasing to the eye, when it came time to taste, I found the gelées a tad too gelatinous and the strawberry and mango flavors not as fresh and natural as I had hoped.

The fresh fruit tart was delicious and the pastry shells were not at all bad for commercially stamped out products.

It's all about learning, all the time!




Laura was kind enough to send some samples of their loose and bagged teas home with us as well as "doggie boxes" of left over treats.

Our visit was a positive and enjoyable experience.  The ambience of the tea room is just right, the staff are knowledgeable and attentive, eager to please and very willing to talk about their trade with the likes of us.  The menu is well thought out and offers an array of tastes and textures.

Try it sometime and see for yourself.

Not bad for a Sunday drive, wouldn't you say?!




Tickles tea room

Last week for a nice mid-week break, sister-in-law Dorothy and I met up at my condo in Providence, hopped into the Subaru and made the quick 10-15 minute drive east on 195 to Swansea.  Our tea goal this time - Tickles - a boutique/cafe/tea room rolled into one.




I had first learned of Tickles a couple of months ago from Tish Bodell who has a classy "permanent botanicals" business at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket.  It had been on my radar for an after-the-holidays outing, and it was time.  As it turns out, they also have a newly opened restaurant, The Aviary, right next door.




We had no trouble finding a parking spot in, what we later discovered, was a HUGE parking lot stretching around the back.  Upon entering the building one can go off either left or right and browse the sprawling boutique, full of jewelry, clothing, cards, bags, tea accoutrements and more.

Heading back toward the hostess stand one passes a display case full of assorted chocolates . . .





and, a few steps farther, a pastry case holding cupcakes, cookies, bars, cannoli, cakes, pies and what appeared to be large baking dishes of perhaps fruit crisp or bread pudding.




The tea room is cozy with a cottage like feel, decorated in pink hues (with a bit of Christmas decor still in view) and lined with high shelves along the walls displaying an assortment of tea cups and tea pots.  There are a dozen or so tables and most of them were occupied during our visit.




We were seated promptly right next to the fireplace, and our server arrived shortly thereafter.  We had already taken a brief look at the menu, and it didn't take us long to choose the "afternoon tea" option, which would be perfect for the two of us to share a light repast.  We chose the white ginger pear tea to go along with our tea sandwiches, scones and sweets.


check out the tea sandwich options

Once our tea arrived we started right in . . .


Dor did the honors

and our two tiered afternoon tea assortment soon followed.




We were served classic cucumber, brie and apple and pesto chicken salad sandwiches, having been informed that the kitchen was out of the other two offerings (fig/prosciutto and salmon).





The bread was the same for all three - a soft, yet sturdy white bread which seemed a good vehicle for the toppings.  The cucumber was definitely our favorite with its lemon and dill cream cheese spread that was bright and oh-so pleasing with the crisp cucumbers.

We found the brie and apple to be uninspiring, kind of blending right into the white bread and lacking in any forward flavor.  Dor's observation on the pesto chicken salad was the need for some seasoning (just a touch of salt and pepper folks!), and I felt it didn't lend any particular attractiveness to the plate.

Next up - scones and sweets . . .




The cranberry scones had a pleasant flavor, nice texture and crumb, and the raspberry jam accompaniment was tasty (I was less fond of the fig jam, but, hey, it's all a matter of taste, right?).

The mini-chocolate-chip biscotti were a tad on the chewy side, although the hint-of-spice, caramel-y flavor was delightful, and they dunked nicely in our white ginger pear tea!

In addition we had some candied pecans and, the surprise of the bunch, a fudgey looking chocolate triangle that was ethereally light in the mouth.  Yes!

After a bit of tea sipping and conversation we headed to the boutique for some browsing, and then decided to check out the neighboring "Aviary" restaurant.

The short walk from the tea room passes through some outdoor patio areas and is nicely landscaped, as I'm sure the grounds in front of the building will be once they're completed.




When we entered, the hostess kindly allowed us a walk-through of the space, which consists of a large open room with a bar, lots of windows and light, and the "garden room" with a fireplace, potted plants and plenty more windows and natural light.


the garden room

All in all, the Tickles trip was worth it - a unique combination of shopping, food and atmosphere - and certainly there is nothing like it in greater Providence!  It's obvious the proprietors are putting their all into making Tickles/The Aviary a destination.

Kudos to them!






Christmas tea at Blithewold Mansion in Bristol, RI

It's been raining and dreary here in RI the past couple of days, so the timing couldn't have been better for Dor and I to add some holiday cheer and sparkle to an otherwise dismal day.

We had made reservations for Blithewold's Christmas tea some weeks ago, and, since December 9 was the date, we couldn't let the rainy, windy deluge stand in our way.  Dor picked me up in Providence and about 30 minutes later we were pulling into the parking lot at Blithewold, an English country manor style home on the waterfront in Bristol.

You can read more about the history of the place here:  http://www.blithewold.org/blithewold-history

Steve and I had visited Blithewold once before during the summer months and enjoyed touring the mansion and the grounds.  However, the place takes on an entirely different aura when it is decorated for the holidays.  And decorated it was!  What a sumptuous, lavish feast for the eyes!

I'll share just a few examples of what we saw, since, if I included every photo of every room, it would be simply overwhelming.  The entrance hall was inhabited by a two story high tree - here is the view of the treetop from the second level balcony.



We were directed into the main dining room for our tea experience.




All of the rooms in the mansion were decorated with a different holiday theme, the dining room's being "A New Year's Eve Party".  All was white, bright and glowing - we could just imagine spending New Year's Eve in this festive setting.




Mounted on the windows at either end of the dining room were clocks whose hands were poised at 5 minutes to midnight, as though everyone was waiting to shout "Happy New Year"!


tables set for afternoon tea
 Dorothy and I were assigned to Table 8 . . .



 which was set with mix-and-match tea cups, saucers, and our own sugar and creamer.

We had a view out to the water, but, sadly, it was foggy and rainy and there was not much of a view to be had.

Soon the servers were bringing Yorkshire/Earl Grey tea and warm scones to each table.  We weren't given a menu, so we rendered a guess as to the scone's flavor - I thought it perhaps a pumpkin or ginger-spice raisin (?cranberry) version, but it wasn't totally clear.  It did have a delightful texture and nice crumb.




 Next we received our two-tiered server with sandwiches and sweets.




The tea cozy was a nice touch, something we felt was missing at our other tea experiences earlier this fall.

We had two sandwich offerings - one the classic cucumber cream cheese on white bread and the other a cheese/red pepper jelly on wheat bread.  Both breads were moist and flavorful, however the cheese on the red pepper sandwich was very thin and hard, almost as though it had been sliced from the end of the rind.


the sweets portion

The chocolate madeleine was a tad dry (why do you think Marcel Proust dipped his?) with a subtle chocolate flavor.  Of the two small cakes I believe one was a financier with a berry baked on top and the other a moist, sense-of-pumpkin cake.  The meringue peppermint kisses were a cute addition to the plate and had a typical crispy-outside-slightly chewy-inside texture, however the mint flavoring was too much for our palates.

We sat, sipped tea, relaxed and chatted until it was time to vacate the dining room and allow the staff to prepare for the 3 pm tea seating, the second of the afternoon.  So up and away we went.

We strolled past all of the themed, decorated rooms in the mansion - all so well done, absolutely stunning and a delight to behold!

the mantel in the living room, themed "An Engagement Party"

a tree in the living room

 The afternoon teas are offered Tuesday through Friday at 1 and 3 pm and continue on through the New Year weekend (reservations required), so, if you're looking for a fun, festive holiday outing, head over to Bristol and Blithewold mansion!

Cheers!!

Boston Teatime

Boston Teatime

On a recent crisp, clear autumn afternoon I hopped on the MBTA purple line in Providence and soon arrived at South Station in Boston.  Since I had some time to kill before meeting sister-in-law Dorothy and her friend Grace for afternoon tea at the Boston Harbor Hotel, I took the prerequisite stroll down the Greenway and over to Quincy Market.   Tourists were out in force and a couple of buskers were performing for the crowds.

The Rose Kennedy Greenway


I meandered down city streets, passed the occasional historic building, walked through Post Office Square, and made my way back to the Boston Harbor Hotel for our 2:30 pm rendezvous.

Old South Meeting House

Post Office Square


From the foyer looking into the Sea Grille restaurant
Dorothy and Grace soon arrived after a somewhat slow T ride from Riverside, and we were seated at our rose petal strewn table in the dining room of the Rowe Wharf Sea Grille restaurant.  We had a lovely view looking out over Boston Harbor.

Our only task was to decide on the flavor of tea we wanted, since the tea menu is otherwise all-inclusive.  Dor went with Earl Grey (her fave), Grace with passion fruit, and I with Formosa oolong.  There are “tea-tails” offered as well, for those who wish to have an alcohol laced addition to the tea experience.

Our perfectly steeped pots of tea arrived and were soon followed by a three-tiered assortment of treats.   Everything was described by our server and looked very tempting, although I thought the presentation would have been more pleasing had the top and bottom plates been switched in position, thus improving upon the “top heavy” look.

We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon repast.  Once we had finished everything, save for two rather large pieces of the coconut chocolate chip shortbread bar, we voted for our favorites.  Of the sandwiches Dor and Grace gave the smoked salmon top prize, and I chose the Vermont cheddar and ham.  The grapefruit segment with the lobster salad was a nice touch, but the egg salad mousse was rather flavorless.

The menu described “warm lemon poppyseed and dried cherry scones, various pastry breads and Devonshire cream”.  In reality the scones were not warm, there were a scant few dried cherries involved (mine had none), and there were no “pastry breads” (unless the coconut chocolate chip shortbread bar is considered by those who made it "bread").  The Devonshire cream and fresh strawberries were tasty and did give a certain lift to the scones.

The sweets portion of the tier included raspberry mousse on a shortbread crust, passion tartlet topped with fresh blueberries, chocolate dipped strawberry and candied peanut topped PB cremeux in a chocolate cup.  The raspberry mousse was the winner, although Grace was surprised by the nice flavor and texture of the peanut butter offering, particularly since PB is usually not her first choice!

Once our tea pots were empty we bid each other adieu.  I headed for South Station and the train back to Providence, and Dorothy and Grace took a walk along the water before heading back to Douglas.

All in all an enjoyable afternoon with great company, tasty treats and a lovely autumn day!
The tea musketeers!