Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Mother's Day Tea

With Mother’s Day right around the corner, you might be trying to come up with some unique gift ideas for your wife or mom. Why not host a tea party in her honor?

If you have young children still at home, you could enlist their help and organize a tea just for your immediate family. Or, if you’re a teenager or grown “kid,” you could host a tea for your mother all on your own, or as a joint effort with your siblings. You might want to invite other members of your extended family to the tea as well, such as your dad, aunts and grandmothers.

A Mother’s Day tea party for Mom may sound like a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be. Your mother (or wife) will be thrilled that you put the effort to organizing this kind of event for her. If you have children, they can actually do a lot of the preparation work, and chances are they will be thrilled to help out.

What all is involved in throwing a party like this? At the very minimum you will need a teapot, tea, teacups and saucers, dessert or luncheon plates, eating utensils, and some food accompaniments such as finger sandwiches, tea breads, pastries or cookies on nice serving plates.

During the tea party, you will want to have several different types of teas on hand, so that everyone at the tea party can take their pick. “You might want to fill the teapot with a standard blend like Earl Grey or orange pekoe, and then have a tea kettle with hot water on hand to fill individual cups with alternate choices such as herb or green teas or flavored black teas,” suggests Marsha Yarbrough, owner of The Lavender House Tea Room in McKinney, Texas.

You can either buy the standard bagged teas, or loose leaf teas. If you do the latter, you’ll need a small tea infuser for each guest and a large brewing basket for the teapot. The afternoon of the party, you will need to start steeping the tea for the teapot right before Mom arrives. To do so properly, Yarbrough says you should fill the pot with very hot boiling water and steep your tea 5 to 7 minutes, depending on how strong you like it.

In terms of food accompaniments, there are a lot of easy options. You could just pick up a bakery cake or a deli quiche from the supermarket, cut it into small pieces to serve, and then arrange it on a plate. Buy a loaf of banana bread from the bakery and slice that up, or a dozen fancy cookies. You could also pick up some “to go” sandwiches, scones, muffins or pastries from a tea or coffee house.

If you have children who are good in the kitchen, you might want to let them prepare some simple foods. Sandwiches are easy. Spread hummus or garlic cream cheese onto cocktail-sized breads and top each with a thin cucumber slice. Or, blend a package of Good Seasons Zesty Italian salad seasoning mix with a tub of whipped cream cheese, and spread that on cocktail breads before topping them with cucumber slices. Cut peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into fun shapes using cookie cutters. Or, trim the crusts on bread slices, cut them in half into triangles, and then put tuna or chicken salad between each triangle-shaped half. Arrange the sandwiches on a pretty serving tray.

As far as sweets go, you could also buy some refrigerator cookie dough rolls for your kids to slice up and bake (under supervision by Dad), or a cake mix that could be baked into cupcakes and frosted with ready-made icing.

There are a number of scone mixes available that can be prepared by the kids as well. “The dough can either be rolled and cut out into triangles, or dropped by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet,” suggests Debbie Perroni, owner of The Vintage Garden Tea House in Montgomery, Texas. You can buy scone mixes from specialty stores like Cost Plus World Market or tea house gift shops. Be sure to pick up some lemon curd and Devonshire Cream to spread on the scones. Assorted jams, jelly and apple butter are also yummy on scones.

Obviously, if you are an adult “kid,” you may want to do some more involved baking. You may want to bake some shortbread, almond crescents or jam thumbprint cookies. You’ll find recipes for these cookies in most cookie cookbooks. They are all perfect for teas. The peach and fruit tarts, raspberry bars, banana bread, mushroom appetizer quiches and raspberry bars which I highlighted in my earlier blog posts are also good additions to a tea party menu.

What time should you plan on having your tea? Afternoon teas traditionally take place between 2 and 5 pm. Plan to have your tea in a peaceful area of your home, such as the formal living room, sunroom, patio or porch. Everyone will either sit around a coffee table or a folding card table that you set up. Cover the table with a nice tablecloth. If you really want to make Mom happy, splurge and buy some flowers for a table centerpiece. Set each place setting with a plate, teacup and saucer, napkin, dessert fork and spoon. Place the teapot somewhere near center of the table. You will also need a creamer for cream or milk, a sugar bowl with its own spoon, and spreading knives with each condiment.

Your children could “invite” Mom ahead of time to the tea, with a homemade “formal” invitation which they hand to her several days before the tea. Alternatively, they could surprise her right before the tea is ready to be served. (This would involve getting her out of the house for the morning and then bringing her back inside the house when the tea is ready to let her see a beautifully-decorated table).

If all this still seems like too much work, another option would be to take Mom out for afternoon tea at a local tea house. You can locate one near you by checking out the TeaGuide Worldwide Tea Room Online Directory (www.teaguide.net). Just type in your zipcode and you will be given a list of tea rooms that are close to you, along with a designation of whether or not the tea room is “child-friendly.” (Note: not all tea rooms allow patrons under 12 years of age, either because they have a lot of fragile objects lying around or they cater to patrons who want “adult time.”)

For Mother’s Day, it’s best to make reservations at least 2-3 days in advance since tea rooms get booked up fast for holidays and seating is limited. Expect to pay on average around $15 per adult and $10 per child.

Whatever option you go with—whether hosting a tea on your own or taking your mother out to a tea room—it’s all a wonderful way to show your appreciation, love, and in truth, hospitality, to a very special female in your life. Happy Mother’s Day everyone!

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