Toast Earth Day with a cup of tea

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Since 1970, Earth Day is celebrated on April 22 by 192 countries. It is the largest environmental event in the world and the worldwide activities demonstrate support for our fragile environment.

In Canada, where Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas is based, more than six million Canadians— that’s nearly every school-aged child—participate in an Earth Day  activity in their communities.

So here’s a toast to Earth Day. edc-logoLet’s boil water, toss some choice loose leaf tea (Fairtrade and sourced through the Ethical Tea Partnership) into the teapot. Steep for optimal flavour. Pour a cup. Savour. And sip to the good health of our environment. Recycle your tea leaves in the garden.

The Earth needs our help all year long.

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A. Mirabelli photo

Cheers!

The story of lime cordial butter biscuits

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DSCF0273The Lime Cordial Butter Biscuits began life as a Margarita. Tequila aside, the owner and chief baker at Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas  (that would be me), fell in love with the taste of fresh lime juice in her very first Margarita on the beach in Ixtapa, Mexico.

And so the Margarita gave birth to the Lime Cordial butter biscuits, where the freshest limes are incorporated.

Enjoy these refreshing biscuits!

Simply Splendid Lime Cordial Butter Biscuits

3/4 unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 yellow corn flour (the finest grade you can obtain)
2 teaspoons line zest (use a culinary plane or rasp to obtain the lime zest)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Green coloured sanding sugar (or coarse decorating sugar); optional

Preheat oven to 350F of 160C

In medium bowl of electric mixer, beat butter on medium/high speed to 30 seconds.

Add sugar and slat to butter and beat until combined, scarping the sides of the bowl often.

Using a wooden spoon, hand mix the flours – white and corn, lime zest and vanilla with the butter. Cover and chill until the dough is easy to roll.

On a floured board, roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thickness; use your favourite cookie cutter to cut shapes. Arrange your cutouts two inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Lightly sprinkle sanding sugar on the cookies.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until the edges of your cookies turn golden, The number of biscuits you get wil depend on the shape of your cutouts

The April 2014 List

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At the start of every month, we offer you a short list of pleasant activities to consider, 
some focused on afternoon tea, some not.

Herewith five suggestions for April 2014

 Cherry blossom time
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“It’s official: First cherry blossoms mark the start of spring”. This was a headline in the Japan Times of 27 March 2014. Trees at Yasukuni Shrine were under constant observation for signs of the handsome pink and white blossoms. Their appearance marks the beginning of two weeks in which Tokyo’s parks, temple grounds, schools and streets will explode in pinks and whites.  Elegant and beautiful; yet cursed for expiring too soon. Cherry blossoms bloom at the mercy of the weather. The blooming period can last up to 14 days. Two weeks at best. Their peak is when 70 percent of the blossoms are open. The National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C. has been set for April 8- 12, 2014 according to the chief horticulturist for the National Park Service.

 

Maple syrup time
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Towns and villages up and down the eastern seaboard are celebrating the sweet sticky stuff. Our maple trees will seep liquid gold this month! The cold winter kind of guarantees it. Often referred to as the first agricultural crop of the year, maple syrup comes from the sap of sugar, red and black maples in late winter and early spring. The process starts with ‘tapping’ to collect the sap and then boiling it down to make the unique, wholesome and pure maple syrup. We definitely practice what we preach and we’re off to the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival in southwestern Ontario on Saturday April 5 to taste, smell, experience and sample (of course) the local maple syrup.

 

Bill Cunningham exhibit at the New York Historical Society
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American photojournalist Bill Cunningham is one of our favourite contemporary photographers. Cunningham photographs people and the passing scene in the streets of Manhattan every day, focusing on how people use clothing to express a personal style. He has made a career taking unexpected photographs of everyday people, socialites and fashion personalities. These photo essays appear in the Style section of the Sunday New York Times. Back in 1968, he embarked on an eight-year project to document New York’s architecture and fashions. Scouring the city’s thrift stores, auction houses, and street fairs for vintage clothing, and scouting sites on his bicycle, Cunningham generated a photographic chef d’oeuvre entitled Facades, pairing models in period costumes with historic buildings as backdrops. The Facades exhibit runs until 15 June 2014 at the New York Historical Society Museum and Library, one of America’s pre-eminent cultural institutions, dedicated to the dynamism and influence of New York on the world. After visiting this fascinating exhibit, we plan to repair to the Museum’s fine restaurant, Café Storico, for a cup of Earl Grey.

 

Kid-friendly afternoon teas
We’re on a mission to bring afternoon tea to children everywhere. Start them young, we say! So from time to time, we will blog suggestions for afternoon teas that would enthrall a princess, thrill a pirate and deliver a treat to all. We often cater multi-generational afternoon teas – teas that include a grandma or two and several grandkids. Young children are thrilled to be included in grown-up activities and afternoon tea is no exception. Each child has a china cup and saucer and we dedicate one teapot to … apple juice. Older children can have a teapot of berry tea or drink regular tea with lots of milk. So this month, think of all the kids in your life and gather them round the table to take tea with you. Keep sandwiches simple – like turkey with a thin spreading of apple jelly; remove the crust, cut in four triangles and there you have it: a splendid afternoon tea for the younger set.

 


Earth Day – April 22

Walk in the park, hike a nature trail. Discover the sheer pleasure of reconnecting with the earth. Celebrate Earth Day with hydrating cup of Fair Trade tea.

You will have noticed we changed the name of this monthly feature from: Afternoon tea, five things to do in ….
to the zippier and simpler title of The List.
Enjoy the April 2014 List!

 

 

 

Afternoon tea with Naomi Duguid, Culinary Anthropologist

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Dear readers and tea lovers everywhere,

Welcome to a regular feature of our blog,
 ‘Afternoon tea with …. 
people of note’

Today, we’re delighted to take tea with Naomi Duguid, traveller, writer, photographer, cook, friend and mentor. We’re thrilled Naomi was able to stop by, virtually speaking, between travels to Thailand and parts of old Persia – more about that later.  Naomi is often described as a culinary anthropologist because she sifts and blends her passion for food, culture, people and history so successfully in her cookbooks. More than tasty recipes and pretty pictures, her books have heft – intellectual, culinary, and yes they are also big. Her abundant curiosity defines her cookbooks as she explores foods in situ – discovered, described, tasted, discussed, bought, cooked, photographed and eaten in local villages with local villagers.

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Taste Canada with circle copyiacp_cookbook_awards_square_thumbHer latest book Burma: Rivers of Flavor celebrates the food cultures of Burma. It won the 2013 International Association of Culinary Professionals Culinary Travel Cookbook Award. Considered the gold standard among cookbook awards, these awards promote quality and creativity in writing and publishing – the ne plus ultra of culinary literature. She is also the co-author of six award-winning books of food and travel: Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through South-East Asia, winner of the James Beard Cookbook of the Year award; Seductions of Rice, winner of Taste Canada Cookbook Award; Flatbreads and Flavors, winner of another James Beard Cookbook of the Year Award; Home Baking, another Taste Canada Cookbook Award; Mangoes and Curry Leaves; and Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Stories from the Other China – won the 2009 James Beard Award for Best International Cookbook.

Taste Canada recognizes and celebrates superior writing and publishing in English and French throughout Canada’s culinary world.  The James Beard awards honour diverse culinary heritages.

So many awards reflects so much passion. Congratulations, Naomi! So let’s begin with a cup of oolong tea brewed to perfection and steeped only briefly as Naomi prefers her tea weak. Her Ladyship (that would be me) pours two dainty cups of oolong and we start our virtual interview.

images-1Did you ever think you would be Naomi Duguid, Culinary Anthropologist, when you were growing up?
I didn’t think in those terms at all! Three of my four grandparents came to Canada from Europe; both my grandfathers were in the First World War and my father in the Second for six years, in fact he met my mother – a Canadian physio in England and they married in London in 1948 – so Europe was very much part of the family conversation. When I was 10 years old, my family went to England so that my brother and I could meet the people my parents knew during and after the war. What I do remember very vividly is my mother telling us on the Empress of England, while crossing the Atlantic, “it was our job was to be interested in the people we met”. For me, I think this advice was seminal.

So your curiosity took flight at a tender age?
YES!

Your cookbooks deal with food, people, culture. What’s the trigger for this trinity?
Books – especially cookbooks – need context in order to make the content ‘breathe’. Some people will relate to location photographs, others to the recipes and pictures. I feel very strongly that a cookbook cannot ‘breathe’ , cannot relate to the wider world, until there is a connection between the food, the people and their culture. I use personal experience stories to bind my cookbooks. I am really interested in food as a way to understand the world – everyone thinks about food; everyone does something with food. I’ve taken the most basic tool we have – food – to understand and appreciate the broader world.

You took a leave of absence from the legal profession to travel. Your plans were return to the law?
Yes; I was about to make partner and I thought I should take a leave to travel first. I got a five-month leave of absence, my partnership was protected. But after three weeks of travel, I knew I wasn’t going back. I only have one life and I felt travel was a call, not a push. Travel is one of my passions.

Ever miss the cut and thrust of the law?
I practiced employment and labour law; I was using my brain to make arguments; I still make arguments – I just changed hats! Nothing is wasted.

I get the sense you’re in love with Southeast Asia; when did this affair begin?
I first visited Thailand and Burma in the 80’s. And growing up, I read a lot about this part of Asia, because of the British connection so all Southeast Asia was a real place to me, a place that I could see in my mind’s eye. There isn’t a country or place that I love more than others. I’m comfortable anywhere my curiosity gets a workout. There are a million things to learn, especially about other people’s food.

imagesYou started a niche travel service.
Yes, ‘Immerse Through’. It’s about immersing small groups of people to really look at things, and to engage with what they’re seeing. Food is the easiest thing to engage with. So we look at food, shop and cook and talk about food. We discuss menus and meals but I don’t give out recipes; I hand out money and send people to the market to buy food and to engage with the vendors. We learn how to prepare food the local way and cook using traditional village braziers. Each day we go to a different market and repeat the experience and learn more about local foods. This way, the mind and the body have memories.

What gave you the idea for this concept of food travel?
For me, immersion is associated with travel, with crossing borders and engaging with people and with their culture wherever I am, and with making myself vulnerable. I immerse myself through food and people. I have spent the last twenty-five years travelling, researching, writing and photographing to make cookbooks come alive, so food traditions, traditional foodways are what turn me on.

Who typically attends your trips?
Every year is different; chefs, foodies, people looking for a more authentic travel experience. Many strands come together and we always have fun. The next trip to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand is 01 - 07 February, 2015. Following that, I’ll be travelling to Rangoon with a small group on a food-focussed trip to Burma.

What are you working on right now?
Persian World – that’s the working title of my current book project. I’m interested in the regional culinary legacies of Iran, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iraqi Kurdistan… as a mater of fact I’m off to get my visa for Azerbaijan after our tea.

Do you have a publication date?
2016 – the autumn.

Like all your books, I’m sure the photography will be sumptuous.
Thank you! I do all the location photography; a professional photographer hired by the publisher does the food photography.

How do you celebrate big moments?
Eating with friends.

Chocolate ice cream or vanilla?
Neither; mango sorbet.

If you could dine with any fictional character it would be …
Dorothea from Middlemarch.

What’s you guilty pleasure?
Staying up reading in bed until ridiculously late hours.

Best advice you’ve ever received …
At 17, I spent a year in France. My father told me time and money are both in short supply but time is in shorter supply.

Quickest mood boost …
Doing something physical out of doors, on my own or in the company of my two boys.

Favourite Canadian city ….
Toronto.

Who would play you in the movie of your life?
Meryl Streep would make sense.

What you appreciate most in your friends?
Intelligence and good humour.

Your idea of happiness?
Feeding friends.

Your idea of misery?
Grief, possibly ….

Your favourite virtue?
Respect for others.

Your defining characteristic?
Curiosity.

Bon voyage! And we’re looking forward to Persian World.

This blog is about brewing …. Tea

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Last week we received a tweet from the lovely Theresa Lemieux, also a tea lover, asking for brewing tips for the perfect cup of tea. We are always happy to share anything about tea – the beverage and the rituals.sexy-theresa-59 But before sharing brewing tips, I want to introduce our readers to Theresa. “I am a home cook and gourmand and a slave to the whims of picky children. I love holiday feasts and feeding a crowd.’ Her philosophy is that really great food is simple food, and shared food is the best of all.  We totally agree, Theresa. A quick look at her website – Ciaodownwithmamatheresa – will reward you with a photo essay of the countryside north of Toronto. On the current home page, there’s a very evocative  three-picture introduction to an essay of photographs of southern Ontario (Canada). The middle picture in this introduction speaks to me. Click on the link to see the full essay of amazing nature pictures from one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Thanks for sharing Theresa!

And now for the brewing tips

Start with a choice loose leaf tea. We recommend buying two or three flavours and types of loose leaf tea in foil pouches and storing these in cool, dry place. For example, a single estate Darjeeling tea, a blended black tea like Early Grey, and a white or green tea will give you ample variety.

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Credit: A. Mirabelli

Next step is your teapot – a good earthenware, ceramic, or porcelain teapot works best. We love the sterling silver teapots of yore – but to us, the taste of the tea is just not quite to our liking. Make sure your teapot is ‘squat’ – that is fat at the bottom to accommodate the blossoming tea leaves. See our blog on ‘Brown Betty’.

 

Now to the actual brewing

Bring a kettleful of COLD water to a roiling boil. Pour a little boiling water into your teapot – about a quarter of the teapot. Let stand for about one minute; give the water a swish and then pour a little into your teacup …. Might as well warm the teacup too!

This part of the tea brewing process readies the teapot for the tea leaves.

Drain the teapot; measure a scant tea spoon of tea leaves into the bottom of the teapot; pour the corresponding amount of the water that has just stopped boiling into your teapot – the usual ratio is one teaspoon of tea leaves to one full cup of water.

Steeping the tea leaves

Your have now brewed an excellent cup of tea; the next step is steeping the tea – this little act that can make or break a perfect cup of tea.

The steeping process begins the minute the boiled water hits the tea leaves in your  teapot. Allow the tea leaves to blossom in the hot water – we don’t like infusers because you never get all the tea leaves to expand and release their flavours. Steeping now becomes a question of personal taste. How do you like your tea – light and gently flavoured or dark and richly flavoured?  Every kind of tea will have a different steeping time. For example, you may want to steep a green tea longer than a black tea. Play around with steeping times until your taste buds let you know, with apologies to George Bernard Shaw and Professor Higgins for paraphrasing, “By jove, I think you’ve got it!”

Use a tea strainer to pour your cup of tea. Inhale deeply. Sip gently.

Do you have questions about tea – the beverage or the ritual? Send us a comment or tweet us.

We are blessed, and lucky, to have wonderful clients

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This posting is an acknowledgement of the many blessings in the life of a small business.  Every business, large or small, benefits from personal recommendations but small enterprises are especially dependent on word of mouth recommendations. So at the risk of blowing our horns too loudly, we are sharing a digital ‘word of mouth’ recommendation.

“Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas entered our lives a few years ago. It would not be December without a visit from Marilyn. Three sisters, and sometimes a fourth, invite our daughters and friends to spend one heavenly afternoon sharing a glorious tea party. We all dress up in our finest hats and gloves. Next December (2014) we hope to be joined by the first member of the next generation.  It has become such a special tradition, we cannot imagine skipping even one year.”

Marilyn, Justine and Jocie from Toronto and Winnipeg

Cranberry and white chocolate cake.  Photo credit: Charles Wakefield

Cranberry and white chocolate tea bread. Photo credit: Charles Wakefield

Cranberry and white chocolate tea bread

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries – roughly chopped
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup sugar, divided in two
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk at room temperature
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg, at room temperature; lightly beaten
1 1/2 vanilla extract
6 oz white chocolate, ‘hammered’ into bite size bits

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees; butter an 8.5 x 4.5 x 3 inch loaf pan, or other similar volume pan – for the holidays, we chose a round pan.
  2. In a small bowl, stir together cranberries and two tablespoons of sugar. set aside
  3. In a large bowl, stir together flour, remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, baking powder and salt.
  4. In another small bowl stir together milk, melted butter, egg and vanilla until blended.
  5. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture; add milk mixture and stir just to combine. Stir in cranberry mixture and the bits of white chocolate.
  6. Scrape batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 60 – 70 minutes or until cake tester inserted in the centre of the tea bread comes out clean.
  7. Place pan on wire rack for 10 minutes; remove tea bread from pan and allow to cool thoroughly on rack.

Enjoy!

Afternoon tea with Nettie Cronish, vegetarian goddess

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 Dear readers and tea lovers everywhere,

Welcome to a regular feature of our blog,
Afternoon tea with …. 
people of note’

Today, we’re taking afternoon tea with Nettie Cronish, a chef of extraordinary talent and ardent advocate for all things good and healthy to eat. She is a natural and organic foods chef, a culinary instructor and cookbook writer. Her motto: Delicious is a pre-requisite for healthy. And she’s passionate about the planet and its inhabitants and does what it takes to ensure both survive.

Organic and fair trade Earl Grey tea leaves are steeping in a handsome teapot; both Nettie and Her Ladyship (that would be me) take our tea clear. We sit back; curl our feet under us on the (virtual) couch and chat.

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You’ve written several cookbooks which are landmarks in vegetarian kitchens: Nettie’s Vegetarian Kitchen, New Vegetarian Basics and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Being Vegetarian in Canada. You have another book coming out in a couple of months. What’s the focus?
My last book was Everyday Flexitarian: Recipes for Vegetarians & Meat Lovers Alike – a guide for unwavering meat lovers and committed vegetarians. Now I’ve co-authored with Pat Crocker another Flexitarian cookbook, Flex Appeal, which showcases healthy, delicious recipes prepared in 30 minutes or less.

So, saving time is the focus?
Flex Appeal is all about balancing our ethics with our taste buds; vegetarian friends with meat-eating friends. Choosing to reduce your meat intake, and to buy organic vegetable, free-range chickens and animals raised humanely and without drugs on small mixed-crop farms are all ethical alternatives to a strict vegan diet. Good cooking still remains the focus but as the mother of three and a gal who works, I know a thing or two about saving time!

You are known for your philosophical and ethical approach to food. Did you new-vegetarian-basics-150x150have a conversion on the road to Damascus?
Perhaps on the road to and from the Kibbutz!  Reflecting back, I see many influences that contributed to my philosophy. I grew up in Toronto in a kosher home, so I understood very well the dietary interface of a kosher kitchen – dietary rules rather than flavour; later I worked in a restaurant where I came into contact with vegetarian cooking. After high school, I took a year off and lived on a kibbutz where I learned to cook mostly vegetarian meals – and the seeds of ethical food consumption began to root. It wasn’t until I hit the University of Toronto that I committed to being a vegetarian.

What is your first food memory?
I remember my grandparents’ bakery around Phoebe Street and Queen Street West – Zimmerman’s. Long gone and the site is now a school.  Also my mother was a very good baker and I remember her Bundt cake made with yeast, cinnamon, caramelized sugar – I remember waking up smelling the wonderful aroma.

When did you get into food in a serious, professional way?
everyday-flexitarian-150x150Well … I have a psych degree from U of T, worked as a counselor and did not take any ‘classic’ cooking courses, so … this is what happened: My sister knew a guy who started an alternate educational service called The Skills Exchange and he needed someone to teach vegetarian cooking. He knew my sister had a sister who was vegetarian, and that is how I became a food instructor.

Interesting! Did you know this would lead to vegetarian guru status?
Hardly! My break was a reporter named Ellen Roseman, who at the time worked for the Globe and Mail (she’s now the pre-eminent personal finance and consumer columnist at The Star). She took my course and then wrote about it; readers got the impression I was a vegetarian caterer and my phone did not stop ringing. So I rented kitchen space in Kensington Market and catered.

You certainly seized the day!
Yes; I catered and later I took over the deli counter at Goldberry’s on St. Nicholas Street (alas, also long gone!) and cooked vegetarian meals for the lunch trade. And what do you do with leftover lunches? Start a frozen vegetarian food company!

Do you still have the frozen food company?
My frozen food empire was growing and that was a good thing. Somewhere along the way I managed to get married and choices had to be made …. I chose to have a baby and our son Cameron was born and the frozen vegetarian meals were shelved.

But you kept up teaching?
Yes and cooking. I am the resident culinary instructor at The Big Carrot (Toronto’s premier natural food market) and I teach at other venues. I worked with renowned chef Chris Klugman when he was head chef at King Ranch Spa north of Toronto. I applied to be the vegetarian chef and Chris to his everlasting credit in my eyes, hired me. I would often do demonstrations for the guests who were interested in vegetarian cooking.  I left the Spa when it closed.

You also give a lot of time to food-related boards.
Yes, I’m on the boards of Fairtrade Canada and Taste Canada. At Fairtrade Canada, we’re responsible for certifying that Canadian products bearing the Fairtrade certification meet international Fairtrade standards.  Also we want fairness and decency for farmers, artisans and the planet to be meaningful in the marketplace.  Taste Canada is the annual awards, recognizing and celebrating superior writing and publishing throughout Canada’s culinary world, both English and French.

Unknown-2You’re hosting a dinner party for 10 – describe your menu.
Organic vegetable platter and quinoa humus – possibly a red quinoa – and cashew butter instead of tehina and flat bread. Next, a black lentil and organic apricot soup jazzed up with Indian spices. The main dish would be tofu ‘meat’ balls made with fresh herbs, chopped garlic, miren, ground flax rehydrated in a vegetable broth. The tofu balls are baked first and then quickly stir fried with a little chili sauce. Dessert would be basmati/cinnamon rice in coconut milk with fresh mango chunks and crowned with fresh berries and a sprig of fresh mint.

Sign me up for your next dinner party! Who from history would you like at your dinner table?
Eleanor Roosevelt. She’s a fascinating character from a powerful dynasty but knew how important it was to relate to everyone.

How do you celebrate big moments?
Food would definitely be part of the celebrations – I have 3 kids; my mom is 93 and they all have their favourite foods.

Favourite way to pass a summer day?
At the cottage on a quiet lake in Muskoka: No telephone, no computer.

Guilty pleasure?
English line of potato chip called Tyrells Hand Cooked English Crisps.

Best lesson from a mistake?
To let go; forgive yourself  (if required), learn and move on.

Best surprise?
When I got pregnant at 45. I felt so grateful.

Best advice you’ve ever received?
Stop and listen. Empty your head and be in the moment – still your ego.

Quickest mood boost?
Coffee – fair trade, freshly roasted. I roast my own coffee.

Favourite Canadian city?
Toronto

Contemporary celebrity you admire?
Lily Tomlin

Your current project?
A cookbook on beans and seeds.

Here is one of our favourite recipes from Nettie’s dessert repertoire; it’s downright delicious, to die for yet hugely wholesome. Pair it with our Buckingham Palace Garden Party tea, and you have a royal treat. This Chocolate Beet Brownies recipe is a crowd pleaser at any party.

Chocolate Beet Brownies

Chocolate-Beet-Brownies-300x225Recipe tip: Roasting beets in the oven is really easy. Just wrap them in aluminum foil, poke some holes, and place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet in the oven at 400⁰ F for 75 minutes (until soft enough to pierce). Use your leftover beets for a delicious addition to a salad or side dish.

Ingredients:
8 oz roasted beets (2 small/1 medium beet, peeled)

8 oz unsalted butter (2 sticks – 1 cup)

¾ cup dark brown sugar

¾ cup white sugar

4 eggs large

1¼ cup cocoa powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp pure vanilla extract

¾ cup unbleached white flour

1 cup chocolate chips, preferably 60 percent or more cacao

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Puree roasted beets in food processor until smooth
  • In a medium pot over low heat, melt butter. Turn heat to medium-low and add both sugars. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, about 2–3 minutes, and remove from heat.
  • Beat the eggs on medium with a mixer for about 2 minutes. Add cocoa powder, salt, baking powder and vanilla extract, and incorporate well
  • Add pureed beets and butter-sugar mixture and mix well. On low speed, add flour and then chocolate chips, scraping the sides as needed
  • Butter a 9 x 13 pan generously, add batter and bake 30 minutes until knife comes out clean or with just a few crumbles.
  • Cool in the pan before turning out onto a cooling rack.

ENJOY!

The Armenian Relief Society – helping wherever there is a need

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Lavender shortbread favours for guests attending the 2014 IWD Lunch hosted by the Armenian Relief Society of Toronto

Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas is honoured to participate in this year’s International Women’s Day Lunch on Sunday March 2, 2014 and hosted by the Roubina Chapter of the Armenian Relief Society.  We are pleased to contribute our signature lavender shortbread for all the guests.

Our signature lavender shortbread in honour of the fundraising efforts of the Roubina Chapter of the Armenian Relief Society

Lena Ohannessian, Chair, 2014 International Women's Day Lunch

Lena Ohannessian, Chair, 2014 International Women’s Day Lunch

“This is the fifth annual lunch and proceeds are going to the Canadian Cancer Society and to the Armenian’s Women’s Shelter in Armenia. ” says Lena Ohannessian, Chair of this year’s lunch.  The guest speaker is Annie Demirjian, a Canadian working for the United Nations; she is the Practice Leader with UNDP-Europe and CIS and is responsible for UNDP’s Democratic Governance portfolio for 22 countries.

Ani Hotoyan-Joly, Chair, Armenian School of Toronto

Ani Hotoyan-Joly, Chair, Armenian School of Toronto

“The Armenian Relief Society serves the social and educational needs of communities everywhere, seeking to preserve the cultural identity of the Armenian nation and, whenever and wherever the need arises, to bring humanitarian help to all communities in distress – Armenian and non-Armenian alike,” says Ani Hotoyan-Joly, Chair of the Board of the Armenian School in Toronto.

The A.R.S. is an independent, non-governmental and nonsectarian organization, with affiliate entities in 26 countries. Its aims are: To promote the spiritual and physical well being of our communities; to enhance the education of the Society’s members and encourage their involvement in public service; to encourage participation in local organizations engaged in community activities and social services compatible with the principles of the Society; and to cooperate with organizations with similar humanitarian aims.

Afternoon Tea: Five things to do in March

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At the start of every month, we offer you a short list of pleasant activities to consider, some focused on afternoon tea, some not.

Herewith five suggestions for month March 2014

The weather. Think thaw. Drink tea.
This winter has been obscenely cold in many parts of the world.  The only remedy is a cup, or two, of steaming tea. An unknown person, also called Anonymous, penned these words about the month of March: “March is an in between month, when wintry winds are high. But milder days remind us all, Spring’s coming by and by.” So take heart and drink tea!

Who said green tea was not Irish
St Patrick FestivalOn March 17 everyone is Irish. Celebrate all things fine and Irish over the course of four days rather than one day. Parades, live music, great bands, painted faces, foot races, fireworks, donning of the Green by one and all; buildings bathed in green light, dancing and did we mention lively libations? Take in the four-day St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin, March 14-17, 2014.

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Spring training (Baseball)
If you’re in or around Dunedin, Florida, now is the time to catch the Boys of Summer – Toronto Blue Jays edition – for a game as it should be played – in the sunshine. Grab a ticket to spring training, available until March 27; fill the flask with iced tea and cheer the Blue Jays.

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Happy Birthday
High Renaissance man-about-the-arts Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, was born in March, on March 6, 1745 to be precise, in Caprese, Italy. He was a painter, sculptor, architect, poet and visionary – in short, the man remains a seminal influence in Western civilization.  Reacquaint yourself with David, the Sistine Chapel, the Pieta – if a trip to Italy is not in the cards, borrow books from your local library, make yourself comfortable with a pot of tea, a couple of biscotti and enjoy this man’s prodigious output.

Daffodils
DaffodilsThe quintessential spring flower – if you live in frozen lands, as we do, dream about daffodils. They will pop their heads soon, we hope!

Afternoon Tea with Anne Bergman, The Kitchen Director

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Dear readers and tea lovers everywhere,

Welcome to a regular feature of our blog,
‘Afternoon tea with …. 
people of note’

red jacket, chair, megaphoneToday we’re having tea with Anne Bergman, The Kitchen Director. Anne helps you take a leading role in your kitchen – she imparts knowledge and confidence to master food, meals, time, space, dietary restrictions and budgets so you can make your kitchen work for you and your lifestyle. In short, Anne will make you the Director of your kitchen.

A pot of Assam has steeped and Her Ladyship (that would be me!) pours two steaming cups of tea. Both Her Ladyship and her guest take tea clear.

Anne, what an interesting, and international background you have.
My parents are French; I was born in Vancouver, and grew up in Ottawa. I spent my childhood summers in France. I studied in Montreal at McGill University where I majored in Asian Studies and then in Boston where I obtained a Masters in Public Health. Public Health combined my interests in making the world a better place, international travel/work, education, communication and health.

You learned to cook at your grandmother’s apron strings. Do you have any of her original recipes?
Yes, I learned to cook in Provence. Recipes? Ha! My grandmother did not use recipes. She would list key ingredients, assuming that you would know the obvious things such as onions and garlic for a stew, or sugar and butter for baking. I asked her to write her “recipes” for me once upon a time. She started a notebook for me, which included key concepts of cookery, as well as some favourite recipes. In one of those recipes, from her childhood in a tiny village in Ardeche, she notes that my recipe will never taste the same because the water will be different.

Nonetheless, do you have a special recipe from your grand-maman?
I remember her pain d’epices, “spice bread”. She made it up each time, depending on what was around. Her inspiration for this bread was the health of one of her daughters: the doctor told her to avoid a number of ingredients, so she made her pain d’epices up. She used up whatever sweet condiments/jams/honey she may have at hand at the time. This pain d’epices was really delicious with marmalade!

What are your fondest recollections from that time?
Wednesday morning market. Although there is a market every day for produce and other basics, the Wednesday market is huge. Vendors of all sorts come to this one, so you can find clothing – high end clothing on hangers, and more fun, the piles of all sorts of clothes at rock bottom prices, pastries, honey, stuffed animals. … So much fun and beauty and bounty for a kid! It was also very hot, as I visited in the summer. My grandmother would buy me a pastry, leave me in the little parkette in the shade, and come back to fetch me after she had done the shopping.

To go to the market, we had to leave at 8 a.m. at the latest. And we had to be dressed properly – something clean, brushed hair, not a big deal unless you’re a kid on holiday! Today, I keep this tradition with my girls, (14 and 12) but the market has changed and it is much, much bigger. Departure time has moved up to 7:45, to be able to find a parking spot. My grandmother would be horrified.

Another very fond memory is my grandfather’s garden. Part of my grandmother’s cooking was based on the garden. My grandfather was and still is an amazing gardener. He grew a variety of fruit trees (peach – yellow and white, apricot, plum, almond and olive), as well as grapes, and many vegetables. We’d come back from the market to find the terrace covered in large baskets full of these things. My grandmother would be thrilled, and would sometimes utter something about the amount of work it was going to take to cook it all. Bounty of Provence!

sitting with spoon, megaphone, white shirtTED (Technology, Education, Design) conferences are global exchanges of leading ideas worth spreading. You were a speaker at TEDx in Tokyo recently. (TEDx is designed to give communities the opportunity to create local TED-like events). How did this come about?
My stepfather was the Canadian Ambassador to Japan so he and my Mom met some very interesting people. One of these was putting together a TEDx talk in Tokyo and asked if my mom would like to participate. My mom couldn’t, but passed along the most beautiful recommendation for me. There were many airline points offered up, and childcare too, so my husband and I flew to Tokyo for a week. It was amazing!!

You sing in an award-winning choir. How did this come about?
In 2006 I was invited to a concert by Cantores Celestes. To be honest, my preconceived idea of a women’s choir wasn’t that great. I was completely blown away and when one of my friends who was in the choir pushed me to audition, I did. I have been singing ever since. The choir was founded 25 years ago by Kelly Galbraith, and the amount of passion, dedication and love she has for her choir’s members is extraordinary. Her gifts to us, and to our audiences never cease.

So you like to sing out loud?
Singing is part of who I am, and I often sing in the kitchen.

How do you celebrate big moments?
I love to spend a summer day by the water or in the market and I mean any kind of market. It could be produce, artisanal, indoors or outdoors. The point is I love meandering and meeting the artisans, so this is a real treat.

As The Kitchen Director, you are immersed in menu planning and cooking. If you could plan and prepare a meal for a celebrity, who would it be?
I would love to share a meal with Naomi Duguid. Naomi has travelled, and written extensively, about the foods in exotic locations. Her recent book is BURMA: Rivers of Flavor.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Spending too much time in a market or a bookstore.

The best lesson from a mistake?
Keep going.

The best surprise you’ve ever had?
Being invited to speak at TEDx in Tokyo – so perfect.

Best advice you’ve ever received?
From my husband who told me the name of an educational institution doesn’t really matter; it’s the reputation that counts and what you do with the learning you received.

Quickest mood boost?
Tea!

What is your favourite season?
Autumn because it’s not too hot nor too cold; famers market are bursting; everyone is in a good mood.

What is your workout routine?
(Broad laugh) … I have intentions.

What are your thoughts as you begin 2014?
2014 is the Year of the Kitchen. I want everyone to know joy, power, confidence in the kitchen; also the Year of the Kitchen means understanding the power of your health and enjoying simple and extraordinary foods. Whatever your able to do in the kitchen do it joyfully.

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Sipping sherry is hip. Again.

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“A proper afternoon tea is an experience to be savoured, not rushed. When I arrived for tea, a charming waitperson offered me a glass of sherry – a wonderful way to meet the other guests before tea was served. The well-appointed tea table, the exquisite tea fare and the aromatic and superbly brewed loose leaf tea made the event memorable.”

Sipping sherry is hip. Cool. And enjoying a well-deserved renaissance.

Crystal SHERRY glassThis fortified wine is of Spanish birth, although there are very respectable cousins in Australia and South Africa. The operative word however is fortified – which explains why sherry is served by the thimble in specialty gasses – known as sherry glasses, of course.

Thanks to the efforts of a stellar English chef, Heston Blumenthal, and renown wine writer Jancis Robinson, sipping sherry and tea are very fashionable. Blumenthal is the chef-owner of the Michelin triple-starred Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire and Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in London. Described by Decanter magazine as ‘the most respected wine critic and journalist in the world’, Jancis Robinson writes about wine for the Financial Times as well as many other publications. So when they take up cause of sherry and tea, we know a huge trend is about to be unleashed around the world. In other words, we pay attention.

Blumenthal said he regretted the decline in popularity of sherry, which was a vital part of afternoon tea as conceived by the Victorians: “I think it’s a very under-rated drink. Sherry has a fantastic affinity with food,” the renowned chef said recently.

Afternoon tea is the very splendid idea of Anna, Duchess of Bedford, a Lady-in-waitng to Queen Victoria.  “Here in London the afternoon tea had the most high-rising socialites fighting to make theirs the best. They were very decadent parties,” says Chef Blumenthal.

So if you find yourself in the deep freeze that is currently gripping North America, keep calm and sip a glass of sherry followed by a lovely pot of hot tea.

If you have a family story or two about tea and sherry, please let us know. We are collecting stories for possible inclusion in a future book.

Afternoon tea: Five things to do in January

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At the start of every month, we offer you a short list of pleasant activities to consider, some focussed on afternoon tea, some not.

Herewith five suggestions for January 2014.

Count Blessings. Happy New Year! May 2014 be a year filled with peace, health, happiness, lots of sunshine and the best of whatever it is you desire. Celebrate and resolve to do only one thing: count your blessings.

Cover of "Twelfth Night: Or What You Will...

Party on. Celebrate Twelfth Night on January 5 to close the Christmas season. Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night or, What You Will, is a romantic comedy believed to have been written as a Twelfth Night’s entertainment for the close of the Christmas season in 1601 or 1602.

Shakespeare’s comedy of gender confusion, in which a girl disguises herself as a man to be near the count she adores, only to be pursued by the woman he loves. Hilarious. Order up the 1996 movie on DVD starring Helena-Bonham Carter, Ben Kingsly, Imogen Stubbs, Imelda Staunton and one of my favourite actors, Nigel Hawthorn.

wfc_6095_poster_sm_final-nosponsors-200x266If you are not a cowboy, or cowgirl, do something esoteric to start the new year –attend the 30th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada from January 27 to February 1. This is a grand celebration of western people, lifestyles and traditions. Cowboys, ranchers, rural and urban people gather to share their love of rural life in the American West with poetry and music, cowboy culture around the world, great art, western films, cowboy craft. For performers, program, ticket and general information go to https://www.westernfolklife.org/National-Cowboy-Poetry-Gathering-General-Info/national-cowboy-poetry-gathering-home-page.html

Throw a birthday tea party for Betsy Ross who was born on January 1, 1752 in Philadelphia. Betsy is the seamstress credited with creating the American flag in 1776.

Keep warm. Drink tea. Both are good

Afternoon tea: five must do’s for December

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At the start of every month, we offer you a short list of pleasant activities to consider, some focussed on afternoon tea, some not.

Herewith five suggestions for December 2013.

Nothing says winter in the Northern Hemisphere better than the wind - the cold, blustery wind, the harbinger of storms and snows and bundling up and enjoying it all. We love winter – yes it’s hard to believe but there are activities that can only be enjoyed after the weather turns. Like skating on a frozen pond, or skiing cross country or hot mulled wine, hot chocolate (with floating marshmallows of course!) or a pot of tea and scones and a roaring fireside.

So before settling in front of the fire, here are five activities to consider.

1. Organize an outdoor skating party for young and old. Bring out the old boom box and skate to some lilting melodies then switch over to more frisky music in the interest of keeping warm.  After a respectable time on the pond, adjourn to a fireplace and refreshments.

2. Organize a carolling party. Gather friends, print out a couple of carol sheets, choose a charity to donate any money your may receive and go door-to-door in your neighbourhood. Delight your neighbours then adjourn to the nearest fireplace and refreshments. If you live in or near Toronto, consider carolling at the historic Distillery District on Sunday, 15 December at 5:00 p.m. The merchants will lead the World Carolling Challenge and attempt to set a record and raise funds for the Daily Bread Food Bank.

3. Skip the tree and decorations this year. Decorate your home with an abundance live plants and candles.

4 lit candles

4. Host a Wassail party, a tradition that involves singing and drinking apple cider to the health of apple trees in the hopes that they might better thrive. Wassailing is big in the cider-producing English counties of Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Kent, Sussex, Essex and Suffolk. The beverage is a hot mulled <a title=”Punch (drink)” cider made with sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Modern recipes begin with a base of wine, fruit juice, or mulled ale, sometimes with brandy or sherry added. Apples slices are often floated to the mix. Toast apple farmers worldwide. 

5. December is the beginning of winter festivals. So bundle up and enjoy the Winter! The Niagara Falls Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls, Ontario runs until 31 January.

Niagara Falls trees lit

 Niagara Falls lit upThis festival boasts 125 animated light displays over a 5 kilometre route.

Join the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge in Wiltshire and celebrate the shortest day of the year on 21 December.

Winter Solice at Stonehenge

The Literary Afternoon Tea: A good book and a good cup of tea

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The perfect gift for everyone on your holiday list

2013 has been a stellar year for literature in Canada – starting with the Nobel Prize for Literature awarded to Alice Munro and Canadian-born Eleanor Catton winning two  literary awards.
definitive alice munro

Nobel Prize for Literature Alice Munro Dear Life
Man Booker Prize Eleanor Catton The Luminaries
Hilary Weston/Writers Trust Prize Graeme Smith The Dogs are eating them now
Rogers/Writers Prize Colin McAdam  A Beautiful Truth
     
ScotiaBank Giller Prize Lynn Coady Hellgoing
Cundill Prize in Historical Non-fiction Anne Applebaum Iron Curtain: The crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956
Governor General Prize for Literature Eleanor Catton The Luminaries

The Luminaries by Canadian-born Eleanor Catton

And for sports fans, we recommend Between the Pipes: A Revealing Look at Hockey’s Legendary Goalies by Randi Druzin

And for those who need a political fix over the holidays, we recommend the just published clarion call to Canadians: How we Lead – Canada in a Changing Century, by the Rt. Hon. Joe Clark, PC, CC., contemporary Canada’s most distinguished statesman.
HOwe we lead

For a Literary Afternoon Tea Gift, you choose:

A book, or books
The tea selection – our signature Baroness Grey or Buckingham Palace Garden Party tea or Darjeeling; you can choose one tea or two or all three
A selection of shortbreads and cakes
Anything else you may wish to offer –  a bottle of sherry, wine or Champagne

We provide:

An attractive box, tray or appropriate container
Lindt chocolates, truffles and California walnuts
A gift card with your message
Attractive wrapping
Delivery of your gift

Starting at $75.00; each tea tray is prepared to your custom specification.
marilyn@splendidafternoonteas.com

The Tea Lover

Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas:

This past year I wrote two blog postings about our good friend and author Cynthia Reyes. One posting celebrated the launch of her first book, A Good Home; the second was about apples – inspired by the apple trees near Cynthia’s Good Home and an old English recipe for apple cake, which with a little bakery magic became the Lady Cynthia Cake. I am grateful to Cynthia for her most recent blog, Tea Lover, (today’s blog posting!) wherein she recounts how much the cake was enjoyed by her friends and blog followers and paying tribute to our afternoon tea company, Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas.

Originally posted on Cynthia Reyes:

“Simply Splendid” 

As Christmas approaches, Marilyn Mirabelli is a very busy woman.

Marilyn, the person behind one of my favorite websites, has a tea catering company called Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas.  In the weeks leading up to Christmas, you’ll find her filling clients’ orders and preparing  to cater afternoon teas for tree-trimming or other Christmas parties. Marilyn Mirabelli knows her tea. And, since 2004, she’s been living her dream of having a thriving tea business.

Tea Table by Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas

Tea Table by Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas

As you’ll see on Marilyn’s website, she’s revived the afternoon tea in classic style:

A Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Tea unfolds with the well-appointed tea table: Crisp white tablecloth and tea napkins; china teapot and cups and saucers; freshly-made tea sandwiches that are trimmed and quartered, small cakes, biscuits, and of course, classic English scones with imported Devon double clotted cream. This…

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