This past weekend I celebrated my 22nd birthday with what has now become a birthday tradition – an excessively long and filling tea party. After what must have been my fourth or fifth party (I’ve kind of lost track of when it started), the routine’s settled. The guests change a little, the sandwiches, tea, and desserts vary, but the base of it remains the same: four delicious and individually filling courses stretched across three hours or more of laughs, gossip, and good times.
I got the inspiration from a high tea I attended years ago at the Chateau Frontenac, a beautiful hotel at the heart of Old Quebec City. I was about 11 at the time, and, as my dad likes to point out, completely floored by the experience (I didn’t speak above a low whisper for the duration of the meal out of fear that my vocal vibrations would break something beautiful). My backyard tea party has become a far more casual meal (especially since I usually rely on the guests to help me create it), but infinitely more satisfying.
If you’re looking for a template for a tea party, I find that mine works very well. In my opinion, the best tea parties are smaller, intimate affairs (I don’t like to have more than six people at mine) set in nice locations (we lounge on my parent’s back porch for hours staring at the summer blooms). Aesthetically, I prefer the hodge-podge of mismatching teacups and teapots, tableclothes and napkins, but that’s up to your taste (it’s also a lot easier if you happen to be like me and my mother and collect random pretty elements that don’t necessarily make up a whole set).
For me, the first course consists of three types of tea sandwiches. This year, I did cucumbers, cream cheese, scallions, and red onion, apples and brie, and ham, cheddar, and mayonnaise, but in the past I’ve also done pear and blue cheese and lox and cream cheese. I like to use white bread – it’s both aesthetically nicer and more reminiscent of childhood – with the crusts cut off. After preparing the sandwiches normally, cut them along the diagonals so that each sandwich is a cute obtuse triangle.
The second course is always scones. I’ve used store-bought scones in the past, but this year my friend William (who also happens to be a tea fanatic and provided delicious tea for the party) made some homemade scones for us in the shape of teapots. Scones are incomplete without delicious spreads, and if you choose sweet (not savory) scones, I would recommend buying some good jam (I like Bonne Maman’s raspberry preserves) and some clotted cream. If you’ve never had clotted cream before (I believe it’s far more popular in the British Isle than in the U.S.), you need to buy a jar right away. Eat all of it, and then don’t buy another jar for the rest of the year because don’t be crazy, that stuff will kill you. Lather your scones liberally with it.
After two carb-heavy courses and lots of tea (no lie – we usually go through about two teapots per course so we’re getting pretty jittery at this point), you need to take a break. That’s where the berry course comes in. If you’re doing this in the winter I would substitute more seasonal fruits, but for a summer tea party, a sweet and tart berry medley is a perfect palate cleansing course. My mother has these adorable glass pear dishes, so I pile a carton each of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries into the five or six pears. If you feel like you haven’t consumed enough fat yet (and that would probably mean you haven’t eaten any clotted cream, so, shame on you), you could make some homemade whipped cream to top the berries. I decided it wasn’t really necessary.
The final course is dessert. In the past, I’ve bought pre-made petit-four cakes and made coconut macaroons. This year, I bought Linzer tart cookies and almond macaroons from a local bakery. Other great cookie choices include the ever-popular macarons, palmiers, or, as Lucas suggested, Argentine alfajores (you really can’t go wrong with dulce de leche). You probably won’t need many desserts, since everyone’s stomachs should be busting at the seams at this point, but why would you say no to leftovers? That’s right, you wouldn’t.
Tea parties often come down to the details, so I love to round out the party with cute elements like sugar cubes instead of loose sugar and cake stands (both real and improvised). Ultimately, you don’t want to stress out about any one thing. Just enjoy the tea, the food, the company, and the chance to just kick back and relax for a few hours. Also, remember to wear a hat. A tea party is nothing without hats.
Do you have any recommendations for further tweaks on tea parties or backyard parties in general? I’m always looking to improve mine.
I’ve now got a little over a month left until my thesis is due and a little over twenty out of eighty pages written. To say that I’m stressed out would be an understatement. Appreciating the beauty around me helps, though. These pictures were taken over Intersession, when I was trekking back from the library after struggling to progress on my thesis. I usually miss golden hour and the sunset, because I’m either studying, at work, or just not paying attention, but the orange glow is too beautiful to be ignored.
I’ve found that making small goals helps, with infinitesimal rewards along the way (typing this is a reward for writing a paragraph). I’ve also made a time table for progress, that puts me around ten pages a week until Spring Break, which will be super-crazy-crunch-time. At some point, I may just have to lock myself in one of Princeton’s many towers and not let myself out until my thesis is done.
I’m going to do my best not to turn into a hermit though, and keep writing on here and doing fun things. I have a rough plan for a dress I want to make, based on the Russian nesting dolls dress from Modcloth, the Asbury Park ice cream fabric, and a little seersucker. Maybe I’ll post my sketch of it here along with some fabric samples. I think I might let myself order the ice cream fabric once I finish my second chapter of my thesis as a treat.
Until then, I’ll keep dreaming about a post-thesis world in April, where every night I’ll stay up late talking, and every day I’ll work on whatever project I want, and I will be blissfully, blissfully happy. It’s hard not to daydream too much, but I know I’m less productive when I do so, and the less productive I am, the less likely I’ll have time to actually complete the projects I dream about.
Good luck to everyone else struggling with their (lack of) thesis!
I looked out the window and saw that, due to erratic New Jersey weather, a London-esque fog had settled over the street, cloaking all the eating clubs in an orange haze. It was beautiful. Moments like these are what being in college is really about – realizing the magic in the wee hours of the morning, in happy exhaustion, whether you’re alone doing work or having a late night chat with friends.
We sent my sister Susan off for a three month long backpacking trip through New Zealand on Monday through the NOLS program. The bag she’s carrying on her back will accompany her over mountains, into sea kayaks, and who knows where else. It also weighs probably forty pounds or more. She’s pretty excited, and if I enjoyed the same sort of masochistic activities that she does, I would be too if I were her. I’m actually just glad that I’m not the person living off of three pairs of underwear for three months.
P.S. Shame on me for skipping two days of photo taking. That being said, this exercise is more of an aspirational challenge, and the more I complete of it, the better.
Have you ever been backpacking for an extended period of time?
The view from my window in the snow. Sometimes, when you’re bogged down by work and stress, you forget to notice the details. I sometimes hate this window, because it’s the only one in my room and it’s so small (and I love natural light), but it’s such a beautiful architectural detail on the club’s front. Every once in a while I remember to stand at my window and gaze out at the street and be thankful that I’m surrounded by so much beauty.
A couple days ago I got violently sick with some sort of stomach bug/food poisoning. I’ll spare you the nasty details, but I will tell you that the number of times I vomited was potentially an all time high, so…that’s a plus? Anyway, my photo taking became understandingly limited. This cake is an aborted attempt at a beautiful birthday cake for my friends Olivia and Katrina. I didn’t want to serve it, because it either probably gave me food poisoning or was infected with my germs. Nonetheless, I will return to my lavender gradient cake plan someday, and it will be amazing. This I promise you.
I want to make a concerted effort to be more positive in my daily life. Part of that is letting go of negativity and instead focusing on what makes me happy. Today, that is getting started hanging my paintings in frames I spray painted. I chose Gum Drop (lavender) and gold as my paint colors because they are both so fun and beautiful.
What makes you happy?