Saturday, June 25, 2011

Outdoor Tea Party

Ah…the lazy, hazy days of summer! No better time to invite a few friends or neighbors to an outdoor tea party. Impromptu or planned, it’s easier than you may think. Set up a portable table in a corner of your yard or patio, or cover the picnic table with a colorful cloth and floral-pattern paper party napkins. For a centerpiece, gather blooms from your own garden (or from the local farmer’s market) and place in a vintage pitcher or vase. Even a few interesting-shaped branches will do. Lemons or limes placed in a clear glass bowl also make a lovely centerpiece for an outdoor theme party. For a more natural look, look for a few smooth, medium-sized stones and lay down the center of the table on a layer of moss (available from most craft or flower shops.) Intersperse votive candles among the stones to cast a warm glow. If you wish, you can even hang a chandelier or colorful paper lanterns from branches of a tree. Vintage teacups in a floral pattern and mismatched teaspoons add an elegant, yet fun and casual flair. Plus, they can be collected throughout the year at thrift sales and antique stores.
Offer different varieties of tea and set out milk, honey and sugar. Serve tea sandwiches, such as watercress, cucumber and cream cheese, or egg salad (with bread crusts removed.) Sweets might be petit fours, fresh berry tarts or mini-cupcakes. The idea is that no other cutlery other than teaspoons should be needed at an afternoon tea. Everything should be dainty finger-food, and it’s generally a good idea to serve both savory and sweet foods. For a traditional English tea, consider scones with jam and clotted cream (for an easy, delish recipe for homemade scones, see my previous post “Tea and Devon Scones.”) For fun, you might want to ask guests to don fancy hats, or keep it simple casual dress. Anything goes, really, just relax and enjoy these first long days of summer!
Martha Stewart’s Crisp Vegetable Sandwiches:
4 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, basil, tarragon, or mint
8 slices wheat bread
1 piece (4 inches) cucumber, very thinly sliced into rounds
2 radishes, trimmed and very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons softened butter

Place cream cheese and herbs in bowl; stir with a rubber spatula until combined. Spread cream cheese on 4 slices of bread; layer with cucumber and radish slices. Spread remaining slices of bread with butter. Place, butter side facing down, on radishes. Trim crusts; cut sandwiches in half.

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