Just trying to make it sound a bit more “British!” 🙂 I have lots to say, I feel, because it has been days since I’ve blogged – weeks, really, since I’ve written regularly – and so much has been happening with us, in the country, and in the world. I’m sitting down tonight to get started, but it will take me a few posts to catch my blog up with my thoughts, so I’m going to keep things monochrome tonight, posting only about the party and not mentioning, except right now, what happened in Connecticut. I am still attempting to wrap my mind around it, along with the rest of the nation, and have too many things going on in my head to be able to say anything coherent. Quite possibly, the few people who are reading my blog might want to read about something other than that tragedy, if only for the few minutes it gives them to exhale. Reading this post may also give you the desire for a nice, hot cup of tea (I refuse to say “cuppa,” even though I just moved back from the UK, because I think it makes me sound like I’m trying to be British; I will continue with the use of the word “nappy” for “diaper,” however, because it’s in an effort to keep my 2-yr-old saying nappy, since it sounds so cute) so be sure to pause long enough to ix that for yourself right now:
That’s just a teaser, since I must begin at the beginning. As I have alluded over the past week, my nights – nay, my very early mornings – have been devoted to readying my house for this party. But not really. Lest you think (those of you that attended) that I overdid it in order to trade cookies with people over cups of tea, that really is not the case. I knew I wanted to have a wee tea party at Christmastime when my house would be decorated for the festive season with just a few friends, and one of these friends suggested it be a cookie exchange. I set the date based on what I thought could be accomplished with regards to unpacking the house and organizing our lives by December 14, and I knew that having the party would surely motivate me to get our house more under control in time to decorate it properly and to hose a small gathering. Having that date set certainly lit a fire under me, and I am SO THANKFUL that the house is so comfortable, clean, and cute now (excluding, of course, most of the upstairs; I am choosing to block that part out :)) I was, indeed, up til….ahem…very late three nights in a row with my holiday baking prepwork (grocery shopping followed by grinding and soaking flour), the baking itself (which went loooooong after my help left), and the final boxes that needed to be unpacked and put away along with the few areas still needing their holiday dressings, but it was all worth it. 🙂 I had intended to have people arrive to a beautiful table laden with lovely place settings, pots of tea on the counter for tea on arrival while we all chatted and assembled the last few things, and crafts for the kids to enjoy. Emily had come at 10:30 to help, bearing a Bigby’s iced coffee, and the first guests arrived around 11 (all of this was half and hour behind schedule – so glad the guests were a bit behind – meaning we sat down for lunch thirty minutes later than planned and were a bit rushed after the party getting to our next event – but more on that later.) She was here to assemble the cheese tray, cut up the veggies, and then, most importantly, supervise 14 children during the party. Hahahahahaha. That sounds so simple. We did have the crafts ready to go, so kids headed out back to the patio to assemble ornaments from “gumballs” (not sure of their true names) and toothpicks. The adults helped them spray the glitter on afterwards, but they didn’t turn out as glittery as the ones I made with the kids a few years ago using actual craft glue and glitter. Oh well – lesson learned.
The other “craft” was making Christmas trees using star-shaped sugar cookies. It was the rolling out and baking of these cookies that actually kept me up all night – since you have to refrigerate the dough in between rolling sessions to firm it back up. Of course, I still had plenty to do while I waited on the dough, so it was a win-win situation. Apparently, we should have used two of each size star (I made these last year as well – you would think I could remember that detail for just twelve months) because the trees turned out short, squat, and rather un-tree-like. But they taste yummy – which is all that matters. My sugar cookie recipe has got to be THE BEST ONE ON THE PLANET, and I may post it in the next week some time. A friend, Sarah, in Hawaii gave it to me after her children brought us Christmas cookies one year and I promptly ran next door to beg for the recipe. They were that good.
During this time, the ladies inside were not, I repeat, not relaxing. Rachel, mother of five ages 7 and under, was helping her little ones with the crafts a bit (her husband had come along, too, and helped out a lot with their 9 month old baby and the boys when they all went off for a picnic later.) Joell was on scone duty, since I had to necessarily feed my guests homemade scones if it was going to be a tea party. I had prepared the things the night before but didn’t want day-old scones for a party and had waited til the morning to put them together. Unfortunately, I was still cleaning, etc, in the morning and didn’t get to the scones before Joell arrived. (What could I have been doing, you ask? Thursday night were things like organizing all the books on our living room bookshelf because there were multiple boxes of them hanging about downstairs, putting up garlands inside and out, redoing the Christmas trees outside that had fallen three times, scrubbing week-old spills up off the floors, handwashing the big dishes from all the baking, blah, blah, blah….) Claire jumped right in to help her, and they accomplished the task like cooking-show veterans. And, may I say, they were OUTSTANDING – triumph number 1 of the day.
I found this cranberry-orange scone recipe on a blog when I was searching for the recipe for clotted cream. (The clotted cream was triumph number 2 for the day and deserves a bit more description momentarily.) Throughout this time ladies were slicing up my mini-bread loaves for the tea sandwiches (which I thought would be more fun that just cutting the crusts off regular bread and cutting the sandwiches into fourths), spreading them with peanut butter and jelly for the kids and two different cream cheese spreads (one with horseradish, the other with fresh dill) for the grown-ups, and then filling them with cucumbers or salmon. Oh and making the egg salad for the last set of sandwiches. It was seriously a madhouse in my kitchen. Children played well throughout, and then it was suddenly time for “tea.” In England, “tea” can mean many things. The thing Americans call “high tea” (you know – little sandwiches, scones, desserts, tea) is actually “afternoon tea” in the UK. What they call “high tea” is really a light meal, or a heavy tea (however you slice it) meaning cheese, cold meats, breads – a working man’s quick dinner after coming in from a long day. It came into fashion over the years since people no longer wanted to wait for the formerly popular “supper” hour of around 8pm. They don’t call it “high tea” anymore, though, but just “tea.” Whenever someone in England asks you for tea, he generally means a meal at 5pm-ish. This is also what they call the meal they feed their children at “dinner” time – around 5pm – and then they will often put the kids to bed and have a later “supper” themselves. But I digress. Rather than having the table looking marvelous, I was searching frantically for the white tablecloth in moving boxes at 10:25am (so, no, it wasn’t ironed.) I was throwing random cups and plates onto it (I have yet to unearth the cute Christmas china) as people were beginning to take their seats, and the tea was steeping only after most were actually seated. Then I think we threw whatever butter knives were left in the drawer at people so they could properly attire their scones (Most knives had been used during the Christmas tree cookie craft, so a few of us were actually using steak knives.) We gathered the girls and sent the boys off to the nearby pavilion for a picnic with a basket full of pigs in a blanket, peanut butter and jelly, tiny scones, and Christmas Oreos.
To elaborate on triumph number 2 – the clotted cream – the recipe only called for heavy whipping cream, but it couldn’t be ultra-pasteurized. I was able to find just plain, pasteurized cream at Whole Foods, and then I poured it into a glass bowl and put it into the oven at 180 degrees. An hour later I re-read the recipe, and it said to put it into an oven-safe pot with a lid on it, so I transferred the cream to this pot, feeling like I had probably ruined it. I was supposed to leave it in there 8-12 hours, but I had to take it out after a few hours to start cooking the sugar cookies for the party. I just left it on the stove near the back, the warmest part whenever the oven is on. When I went to bed finally at….okay, four, I popped it back into the oven at 180. I took it out at 10am. I was then supposed to let it cool at room temperature for 8 hours (I think), then refrigerate it for a similarly long time. We sat down for tea at 1pm, so into the fridge it went (at 10), out it came (at 1), with me never knowing whether or not we were going to have clotted cream for our tea time. I plunged my spoon into the pot hoping to find it amid the liquid cream still left, and I ended up fishing out about 1 cup of clotted cream (I had started with 3 cups of heavy cream.) I was ecstatic that we had clotted cream for our fresh, warm scones. Happy in a way only someone who had had clotted cream in the UK and now lives in America can be. Oh – yum. I couldn’t wait to eat my scone. I dished up the cream, deposited the tea pots on the table, and then came the third triumph of the day – hot tea that was perfectly brewed (not oversteeped, nor under), at the same time with a warm scone and clotted cream. It all just came together so nicely that I thoroughly every bite.
Okay, enough about the tea. We distributed our particular cookies to each others stashes, gathered our things, and ran out the door all in about fifteen minutes. I was taking the children to a local nursing home to sing a few carols along with the other Goose Creek homeschoolers, and we were already running a bit late. I hated to end the party, but the show must go on! Here we are singing a few tunes, before running along to a gift wrapping party for something else and then off on a date to the The Hobbit with John: