A Little Taste of Childhood

When I was little, I would sometimes get “invited” to my Grandmother’s house for tea parties. The kind of tea party where you had to wear a frilly dress and act like a lady. Which would not have been a problem for me, because when I was a little girl I was about as girly as you could get. Hair like Goldilocks and a wardrobe to match. There was definitely a period of at least a year (probably longer) where I refused to wear pants unless there was a skirt over the pants. Sometimes I wonder what happened to that girl?

Anyway, back to the tea parties.

There would be fancy cucumber sandwiches–you know, the kind with the thin crustless bread, lots of butter and a smattering of the best French sea salt. Probably quiche as well, rich but light, and filled with things like asparagus and salty cheeses. Salads of delicate greens, thinly sliced radishes and green onions, drizzled with vinaigrettes aromatic with fresh herbs and honey.

And sweets, of course.

Looking back, I probably didn’t even like to eat all of those foods. I was a pretty picky kid. I might have eaten sandwiches and sweets alongside my tea (which was probably more milk and sugar than tea to begin with). I remember the teas as being held in great big dining rooms filled with light that bounced a hundred ways off the clean china, the silver shining dully against pale linens. In reality they were held most often in humble but beautifully decorated spaces that were big because we had a big family. And they gave my grandmother an excuse to dote over me. I especially liked the dressing up, part, obviously. And the dramatics. I was kind of dramatic.

I can’t wait to have tea parties with Lilli, it’s gonna be so awesome and nostalgic.

In the meantime, I have to content myself with concocting ways to have fancy tea in a grown up fashion. Another half birthday (mine, yesterday) was as good an excuse as any, I supposed.

One more tiny tale about me and childhood: I can’t recall getting to have very many birthday parties at school. I have a summer birthday and was cursed to also have a half birthday that only comes every 4 years. So if my class was the kind of class that celebrated summer birthdays on your half birthday, I was out of luck twice. They only way I ever got a party was one of those lame “all the summer birthdays at once” sort of parties. And let’s not fool ourselves, friends, those parties are NO FUN if you are a kid and you want your birthday to be all about you.

So this year my half birthday got marked, just like Joe’s. I’ll be 30 in August, so there’s no better way, really, to draw out the time until that big 3-0 while at the same time challenging it to meet me head on.

Not that I actually had a party mind you. Fancy dessert is good enough for me.

These little party puddings did not disappoint, either. It has seemed to me that tea inspired desserts have been popping up here and there lately, and I have to admit I’ve wanted to try my hand at these little puddings for quite a while. I think I bought the fancy tea way back in December.

I adore Earl Grey tea. Bergamot is my dream scent. If I could pick one scent to have around me constantly for the rest of my natural life it would be bergamot. Or maybe Daphne, but that’s not really an edible so it doesn’t count here.

These little custards are in the classic French tradition of which I know my Grandmother would wholeheartedly approve. They are soft and creamy, melting on the tongue to leave a trace on the breath of warm citrus and floral notes that could come easily straight from the month of June, but are also appreciated on dreary Winter days like we’ve been having here this week.

Earl Grey Pots de Creme
makes 6

1 cup half & half
1 cup milk
½ cup sugar
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
½ tsp lemon zest, finely grated
⅛ tsp salt, optional
3 Tbsp Earl Grey tea, or 3 tea bags (less if you like weaker tea)

Bring tea, cream, half & half, and lemon zest to a simmer. Steep for 30 minutes, then strain out tea.

Preheat oven to 325ºF.

Whisk sugar, salt, and egg yolks until smooth. Reheat cream to just a bare boil, then slowly add to the egg mixture while whisking constantly but slowly.

Place 6 small custard cups or other small ramekins in a high sided baking pan large enough so that the cups won’t touch. Carefully pour hot water into the dish until the cups are immersed halfway up the sides, being careful not to get any water in the cups themselves. Divide the custard mixture between the cups and remove any big bubbles that have formed on the top.

Some might cover the pan with foil, but if you “forget”, it’s not that big of a deal. Bake for ½ hour, or until the custard is set around the edges but still loose in the middle. It will continue to cook as it cools.

Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Chill for several hours, or overnight.

Half Birthday’s Aren’t Just for Kids

I know this guy. We get along pretty well, so sometimes we hang out. Usually we don’t get to hang out by ourselves, but that’s OK with us since the rest of the usual group can be fun too, since they’re our kids and all.

Anyway, this guy’s name is Joe, and today is his half birthday. Normally grown-ups don’t celebrate half birthdays but that is just a crying shame. This morning when he flipped the calendar page he realized the date and wanted to know if he could have half a birthday cake.

I think he was a little surprised when I said sure, but who likes to get their hopes up and then have them dashed? Certainly not me.

So I made him one. I cheated a little and used a cake that had been in our freezer, pretty much just waiting for the right moment to come along. One when it would be thoroughly enjoyed.

Slathered with buttercream, who can tell the difference anyway? Ok, so the buttercream was in the freezer too, colored a very garish yellow from Lilli’s first birthday. 

We also had a Thai inspired feast for dinner, to go with our chocolate cake. Most of the foods in the meal weren’t anything special because this week we are trying to kind of clean out our freezers and use up leftovers because Joe’s kind of a frugal guy. I had some leftover teriyaki salmon that I turned into fish cakes with some lime, ginger and some cilantro straight from the garden. And I had some lemongrass and half a container of tofu so I made a quick curry tofu soup with a little bit of coconut milk. Well, maybe a lot of coconut milk.

The soup came straight from my own brain. The fish cakes too, which is maybe why they weren’t very pretty–they ended up more like fish hash than cakes but oh well. I don’t know how to cook Thai food like a pro, but I do love to eat it so I think I at least have that going for me. The recipes probably aren’t that authentic, but they were pretty simple and that’s helpful if you’re also trying to entertain a silly silly little girl while making dinner.

The cake came from Fanny Farmer, a book I use very frequently. There’s something about the old recipes that I really love–they are classic, sure, but mostly it’s how they are written. They’re so matter of fact. I have to tweak them sometimes, but I don’t mind a bit. There are a lot of pages stuck together, and the gold hardcover is starting to break down in places, but that just shows how loved it really is.

Fudge Cake
Adapted from Fanny Farmer, 1965 edition
makes two 7″ or 8″ cakes

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar, divided use
1/2 tsp vanilla
4 oz good semi sweet chocolate
5 Tbsp boiling water
3 eggs
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350ºF

Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Cream together butter, vanilla, and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy.

Meanwhile, over a double boiler melt the chocolate. Once it’s melted smooth add the boiling water and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar.

Add to the butter mixture. Next add the eggs, one at a time. Beat after each addition, scraping down the bowl as needed.

Add the flour to this mixture alternating with the milk.

Divide in the pans and bake about 20 minutes, rotating half way through. Check with a toothpick and give it 5 more minutes or so if needed. Cool completely before frosting.