Librarians love a Mad Tea Party - both in recipes and in books!
I have never outgrown my love for tea parties.
Once I was old enough to actually have tea in my tea cup, I began searching for new and fabulous places to visit for tea.
I've been to The Plaza and The Pierre in New York, The Savoy and The Waldorf in London (which hosts an amazing Dancing Tea), the wonderful Tao of Tea on Belmont here in Portland, the lovely Jade Teahouse and Patisserie in Sellwood, and I've hosted dozens of my own teas.
Aside from cutting up all those tiny sandwiches, which can be tedious to say the least, I love the ceremony of it all. Planning is a huge part, even down to the color of the food items, the table linens, the special china and the even more special guest list.
There's something very festive about a tea party. People behave differently than they do at, say, a brunch. Guests have shown up in hats and vintage dresses, without even being asked. Everyone seems happy nibbling on tiny sandwiches and even tinier scones and tarts. (These are the same people who normally gobble down burgers the size of dinner plates.)
Speaking of which, many of my tea party guests have been men. While none of them have shown up in vintage dresses, they do literally dig right in and have a grand old time heaping their plates with the tiny sandwiches. The egg salad and watercress sandwich is the most popular among the male of the species - at least at my parties.
Anyone can have a tea party. Throw an old tablecloth across your dining room table, get out all your mismatched plates and tea cups, pick some flowers from your garden to cram into a jelly jar, and put the kettle on the stove.
A tea party is an attitude, rather than an event. Think 'Alice In Wonderland'. Don't worry about having the perfect silver set or how to make clotted cream. And when you need a clean cup, do what the March Hare suggested: 'Let's all move one place on.'
So here are this librarian's suggestions for Mad Tea Party menus:
• Egg salad and watercress (throw something interesting into the egg salad)
• Smoked salmon and cream cheese (no bagels allowed)
• Tuna mixed with relish
• Cucumber, tomato and watercress (spread a tiny bit of soft butter on the bread)
• Anything else that fits on a small triangle or rectangle of bread. When children are invited, I have included peanut butter and jelly. I'm not proud. Or embarrassed. I go for what works. (It should be understood that the crusts have all been hacked off before you even start the process of making the tiny sandwiches.)
• Clotted cream (buy it ready-made!)
• Petit tarts (make them, or buy them at Whole Foods' bakery section)
• Tea! (Experiment. There are dozens and dozens of places around town to purchase an amazing array of teas.
And since this is, after all, a library column, the further good news is that there is also good reading about tea, all of which are available at your local branch library:
• Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (juvenile fiction)
• Afternoon Tea at Pittock Mansion, The Pittock Mansion Society
• Tea Party: 20 themed tea parties with recipes for every occasion, Tracy Stern
• Totally Tea-rific Tea Party Book: Teas to taste, treats to bake, and crafts to make from around the world and beyond, Tanya Napier
• Pearl Tea: Historical stories of Lents, Oregon 1861-1954, Judith Quinlin Burch
• Story of Tea: A cultural history and drinking guide, Mary Lou Heiss
• For all the Tea in China: How England stole the world's favorite drink and changed history, Sarah Rose
• Tea Chings: the tea and herb companion, Ron Rubin
• Perfect Blend, Trish Perry (fiction)
• Sweet Tea at Sunrise, Sheryl Woods (fiction)
• Tea Time, Karen Rostoker-Gruber (board book)
• Fancy Nancy Tea Parties, Jane O'Connor (picture book)
• All the Tea in China, Kyril Bonfiglioli (fiction)
• Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson
• Tea with Jane Austen, Kim Wilson
• Boston Tea Party in America, Mary Hall
• Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America, Kate Zarnike