Thursday, March 20

High Tea

OK. So... High Tea... a HUGELY important issue for the past four weeks.

Normally it's me who obsesses about fine details of event organisation, this time is has been my beloved elder sister.

The High Tea fascination started last summer when Caroline and I attended the Sunday 'Tea and Cakes' held in Ribchester Parochial Hall. Hamming up our parochialism, we drunk tea in fine bone china cups, sticking our little fingers out, sipping noisily and giggling whilst saying in lilting tones, 'Oooo, that's a lovely cup!' or 'Is the pot still warm?' or 'I might just have another drop' ... anything we felt would make us sound like sixty year old quaint ladies.

We eventually progressed from the parochial hall to the pavement outside my Mum's house complete with fresh tea pot and cups (my Mum lives in a very quaint village with very little movement or traffic and mostly just walkers passing through the streets - it's not like we set up on Oxford Street) ... and a game of dominoes which we felt added to the whole theme of the affair. Both Mum and Caroline's husband were highly embarrassed at our antics and refused to join us, but truthfully we put a smile on all passing villagers' faces and drew lots of complimentary and friendly comments. People were LOVING our respect for the High Tea.

So, Caroline decided this Easter we should devote an good portion of an afternoon to a full High Tea ceremony. Dainty sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, jam, tiered cake stand, fine bone china, napkins... the lot. We are recreating the Ritz in 1910 essentially.

Caroline and I disagree over quite a bit, whilst we all share the same sense of humour and idea of fun and silliness, certain issues divide us... High tea has proved to be one of these.

So here, I am setting down MY idea of how High Tea should be held.

I have to accept that Caroline is the originator of the event and so she WILL get the final word, but that doesn't stop be publicising how I think High Tea SHOULD be held...and how it could be held IN THE BEST WAY.

Cups and saucers
Fine bone china without a doubt. This is not up for discussion. Anyone planning High Tea cannot call it High Tea without fine bone china which is fundamental to the ceremony earning its title as such.
Drinking form
The cup should be held with three fingers, with the little finger sticking out. Tea drinking should be carried out with pursed lips and a light sipping sound as the tea is sucked between the lips and into the mouth. A soft 'Ah' or smile is requisite after the sip. If the tea is hot, gentle blowing whilst maintaining eye contact with your companion is a must.
When the tea is returned to the saucer, the eye must follow the movement and the cup should be placed back upon the saucer with a slight 'chink' sound.
Conversational topics
Polite conversation on topics such as; weather; tea blends; the health of mutual friends, are to be had.
Serving platters
A three tiered cake stand is de minimis.
My mother has a lovely wooden 19th c cake tier for just this instance upon which doilies will be placed.
Bread variety
Sandwiches are where Caroline and I really fall out. For me - it is obviously white bread only. The upper class in 1910 ate white bread with their high tea, not brown or wholemeal. I don't care if health concerns prefer wholemeal these days, observance of old-norms take priority. White bread is also softer than brown bread. Soft genteelity is the key to this affair and thus only white bread is acceptable.
Sandwich shape
This is the KEY to mine and Caroline's disagreement... she is creating FINGER shapes i.e. thin rectangles. I find this totally abhorrent and fear that my entire enjoyment of the event will be marred by the sight of 'finger-shaped' sandwiches.
CLEARLY triangles are THE only option. EVERYONE knows it is triangles. Try telling Mrs Eldridge this. I simply cannot understand that she fails to comprehend this crucial matter.
That the sandwiches must be crustless of course is accepted by both of us. Anything else would be ludicrous.
Sandwich fillings
Salmon... accepted and approved of.
Being a veggie, Caroline suggested cheese as a cucumber alternative... a variety of sandwiches is, of course, key to pleasing your guests and a sign of indulgence. Caroline was suggesting sliced cheddar. I was quite defiant on this score. I can't imagine sliced Cheddar in Brideshead Revisited. I have insisted on cream cheese.
I know I am right.
Clotted cream and jam being the accompaniments, scones must be plain. Raisin and cherries are for butter. To load cream and jam and cherries would be gluttonnous in the extreme.
Strawberry jam is indelicate as the strawberry pieces tend to be large and clumsy. I advocate a finer blended jam such as raspberry or blackcurrant.
That's it. Butter. Not margarine (the prospect of which makes me faint with anxiety)
Butter must be served ina matching butter dish of course. If you want to really impress, cut into small cubes.
Cloth. White. To be unfolded and dropped over the knee.
I support the use of the napkin as a finger cleanser throughout the eating process. Suggesting that the finger tips can be pressed lightly against the material if they should become sullied. Caroline disagrees and feels the napkin should be used for one purpose only, the dabbing of the corners of the mouth after the guest has finished eating. She recommends rubbing the finger tips together over the plate to any occasion where crumbs or melted butter/cream interfere with the guests fingers.
Whilst I appreciate the picture of crumbs falling lightly onto a plate beneath finger tips, I also feel the napkin 'dab' to be both practically more effective and just as quaint.
In this instance, we can both pursue our own actions as we feel appropriate at the time.

So that is the basics as I see it for a proper and genteel High Tea.

I am most concerned by the sandwich shape issue and will report back on whether rectangular shapes do indeed marr the occasion.

I shall of course be wearing a 'tea dress'. That goes without saying.

Tuesday, March 18

Some random recommendations

OK - some random recommendations :

I advise watching the following films:

The Notorious Bettie Page
Lovely film in both colour and black and white.
Most fascinating part of this is appreciating the complete naiveity of Bettie's attitude to her work. Or, in complete opposite, her absolute broad-mindedness in relation to nudity and 'costume poses'. I can't make my mind up on that - the two seem to meld together oddly.
Apparently Dita Von Teese went up for the role and was refused. I think this was a good call, both for the film and Dita's career. Bettie was clearly an original and fell into her position as Pin Up Queen; Dita has consciously developed a similar status and positively courts comparison with Bettie. Had she taken the role, she risked being labelled as a mere Bettie-wannabe and thus lose credibility.. rather than earning the position as a modern Pin Up in her own right.

As for benefits for the film, merely because Dita knows Bettie perhaps more than anyone else on the stage at the moment, and of course sported the famous Bettie haircut for some years, doesn't give her the requisite skills for conveying the role. They were right to use a bona fide actress for it. Perhaps people would have seen 'Dita' rather than 'Bettie' in the celluloid too.

Being a sucker for romance and musicals, this was high on my to watch list. It disappointed in no way except that
they DIDNT end up together :(((
But actually... despite the fact I was wringing my skirt the whole way through due to my pre-sentiment they may not in fact end up in a lover's bliss, I was kind of appreciative of that the writer hadn't gone for the easy ending. To such an extent he even chose to deny us a tearful farewell!
If you are a fan of acoustic singer-songwriters, I'd be surprised if you didn't love the score. The protaganists/singers voices are PERFECTLY suited and for an UK film, a lot of which I find stressful to watch, it was very relaxing. There was raising of the fact of hardships that Eastern-European immigrants suffer but the film managed to balance social realism with an essentially idealistic and romantic purpose. France always seems to do this better than the UK . UK films I find tend to be clumsy-handed and can only ever acheive one over the other.


Chilli Chocolate
Yes it's old-hat and I'm sure most have tried it but I recently went to a Harvey Nics 'Chocolate and Wine' evening and was blown away by a dark chocolate and chilli variety (of a producer/ label I am afraid I can't remember). If, like me, you had not tried it before, YOU MUST! It REALLY brings out the dryness of bitter chocolate in a most excellent manner.

James Bond 'Scrambled Eggs'

Essentially, you cook the eggs over a low heat for about fifteen minutes, with the addition of disgusting heart-attack amounts of butter. The eggs must never catch, and they must be stirred pretty much CONSTANTLY. OBVIOUSLY add salt and pepper, and then a choice of parmesan (about two mins before service) OR finely chopped garlic (it DOES actually do well in here - about eight mins before service) OR herbed cream cheese (same as with parmesan for addition timing) OR fresh cut herbs OR nothing!... depending on your taste buds... Christ, I have lived with someone who added lemon curd to fried rice and tuna once with the explanation/indefensible defense it was equating to 'sweet and sour'!!!! Who am I to judge your culinary delectation?

('James Bond' eggs BTW as Fleming gives a full description of Bond making eggs this way in the short story '007 in New York' - it has now been included in edited versions of Octopussy and The Living Daylights. Fascinating!)

Final recommendation is

High Tea

High Tea will be blogged soon - it is amusingly serving as the cornerstone of my family's Easter and an absolutely inappropriate amount of conversation has been had on the intricacies of this. It thoroughly deserves a posting in its own right.

Sunday, March 16

Numbers 12 - 14 of 357 things that annoy me

Misuse of word 'tapas'

This is driving me crazy.

I get excited everytime a new 'Tapas Bar' sign comes up as my favourite food is tapas but invariably upon perusing the menu I discover it is not at all a tapas restaurant, just an establishment owned by a restauranteur with no respect for his product or own integrity. Normally you find dishes such as 'bowl of olives with herbs' alongside 'foccacia bread and hummous'.

This Friday was the worst instance of misrepresentation I have thus far come across. Under a huge 'NEW TAPAS BAR' sign, came a short list of example dishes...

'Lattes, croissant, panini'

For FUCK'S sake. No even at a STRETCH could you claim it to be tapas.

Women with large prams

Like this one.

It's entirely, unnecessarily large. It's about five or six times as big as its inhabitant. It's my belief this trend of oversized prams stems from the same place that the urge to buy a Porsche four by four does. Which I also have no truck with.

It's not necessary to cosset a baby in a truck or drive one unless you are moving large mounds of earth.

It's an extension of our label-obsessed culture, conspicious-consumption society and its entirely selfish. You can't MOVE down the street for the things. And to add salt to the wounds.. mothers inevitably get cross and make some snidey remark at other pedestrians for getting in THEIR way!!

A particular question posed by a waitress at Negresco restaurant this Saturday

It was the inaugural 'Hen night without a hen' and my chosen restaurant was the fantastically decorated Negresco... chosen because the decor matched with my latest corset purchase :))))))

Fortunately the food was excellent so I wasn't berated for my ridiculous basis for choosing.

An excellent restaurant in all respects with the exception of the fact the waitress asked Meghna, who had ordered swordfish, 'How would you like that done?'

Meghna... after an understandable period of perplexedness responded haltingly, 'Medium??'.

Someone needs to take the nice waitress in hand.

And now, lest you harbour the erroneous belief I am only filled with conniption ( :)))) ) I shall detail those things which have pleased me of late.

The women with the sling

Today, I travelled back from Manchester and was gladdened in my heart to see a sensible lady hoiking her infant around in a sling. It wasn't even a specifically-designed baby sling. It was just a large rug-type affair she has wrapped around her allowing her to strap the infant on her back, thus enabling her to move with minimum intrusion throughout the public highways of the City of Manchester.

My inability to network

This should perhaps come under the banner of 'things that annoy' me but the latest exemplification of my ineptness in this corporate skill made a colleague and I laugh so it has to come here.

Usually finding it difficult to engage on an acceptably 'corporate-level' I dread attending networking events and the trauma of honing in on a suitable topic of convrsation I can genuinely enjoy engaging in (I think this is my downfall - I think you aren't meant to enjoy it, only PRETEND you do... I'm pretty awful at 'pretending' too though, so even that realisation doesn't help matters.) UNusually, I came across someone who I did have an interesting conversation with. A young psychotherapist specialising in existential psychotherapy.

So we had a nice chat about Camus and Sartre (and of course Freud - you just HAVE to) and how their ideas are applied in a psychotherapeutic way.

Upon exiting the networking event, I spotted the therapist so went over, tapped him on his shoulder, told him I was leaving and that it was nice to meet him and good luck in his latest endeavours (was setting up a business of his own) I left feeling especially pleaseed with myself at how smooth I had been, not only in engaging a 'colleague' for half an hour pleasantly but also being so careful as to 'finish' the network professionally.

I turned to note to my friend/colleague Claire, who had accompanied me as I said my professional farewell, that the therapist had looked strangely at me when I went to say goodbye and pondered on why this could be. Claire indulgently explained that my networking efforts were much noted but that perhaps next time, I should make sure I said goodbye to the same man I had been taking to in the first place, and not some random stranger who didn't know me from Adam.

Much unprofessional giggling ensued.

A wordy website

Drawn to my attention by a fellow linguaphile:

Isobel Faye Higgs

My new little cousin. And I'm so PLEASED it's a girl! MORE girls in the family! Whooo-hooo!