Several years ago, when I joined the Yahoo e-group, Afternoon Tea Across America [ATAA], I became connected to many wonderful tea-loving women. Through this Internet group personal friendships were established via private correspondence, phone conversations and in some cases, meet-ups in person.
Martha is an ATAA friend. Through our communications, I knew if I ever traveled to Southern California I would make every effort to see her. When plans for such a trip began to materialize, I wrote saying we might finally be able to meet in person if it worked with her schedule. We were both excited at the possibility.
She graciously extended an invitation to come to her home in Laguna Hills rather than meeting at a tearoom or other designated place. From her posts I knew she was a hostess extraordinaire, but I told her not to fuss - an informal visit on her patio over a cup of tea would make me happy. She wrote back and said if it was possible, to plan to arrive around 10:30 or 11:00 a.m. and not be in a hurry to leave.
On the day our flight arrived in California I received a thoughtful e-mail from her with the subject heading: Welcome to California The brief e-mail said: "Good morning Phyllis, Sending you wishes for wonderful days in California! Enjoy our sunshine... I hope that each thing you have planned fulfills your expectation and brings happiness to you and Jerry. Looking forward to celebrating our California Springtime with you on Thursday!" It was signed with her signature closing, "Start each day with a beautiful thought", Martha.
On Thursday morning, April 11th, we had a nice breakfast at The Hills Hotel. I hope to recreate the yummy breakfast burrito here at home. But it soon paled in comparison to what I was about to experience at Martha's. Our hotel was close to her house, so at 10:30 we were off for an in-person meet-up - even though I felt I had known her for years through our correspondence.
Upon arrival, her front porch set the stage for a wonderful time with the theme, "California Sunshine Tea" and the inclusion of birds. It also implied this was going to be more than an informal visit on her patio!
A fresh floral arrangement in a teacup sat inside a birdcage, with a personalized keepsake welcome card on the outside.
After greetings and hugs, we sat in her living room chatting for awhile before going out to her beautiful poolside patio. She has a wonderful tradition that whenever a friend visits for the first time, if possible, their handprint is made in cement to put in one of her gardens [she has an organic herb kitchen garden as well as flower gardens].
Below Jerry is mixing the cement for my handprint.
~ Martha and Me ~
The cement had to set a few days before unmolding. Martha sent a picture of my handprint in her herb garden after we returned home. My handprint is right near the nasturtium plant. I'll explain the significance of that later on in this post.
Martha has a beautiful bergamot tree/bush in her yard, so I had to take a picture of that since bergamot oil is used to flavor Earl Grey tea. It typically grows in southern Italy and France.
Then we went inside to begin what I call a magnificent 'gastronomic experience' that lasted all day. The French savor each bite, never rushing through their meals, so we did likewise. What Julia Child experienced in France, we experienced in Laguna Hills - the food was beyond satisfying hunger. It was gratifying, sensual, and exciting as Martha applied her cooking skills from classes/lessons in France. Her California Springtime Tea took incredible thought, time, planning, and preparation for every bite of food as well as the aesthetic details. A HUGE labor of love!
In the family room a table was set using the birdcage that housed her mother's birds when she was growing up. The reason for the bird theme - Martha had read on my blog [and in e-mails] that cardinals were the theme of my daughter's Valentine's Day wedding and luncheon, and were significant in her dating relationship.
She searched the Internet to find bird shaped cocktail glasses [which she had drunk from at an establishment previously]. When she finally found them, she served us Welch's Sparkling Rose Grape Juice as our non-alcoholic aperitif.
Possessing her great-grandmother's well-read Swedish Bible, and aware that it's our guideline for living as well, the second part of the appetizer was Salmon Tarts with real Applewood Smoke, presented in individual wooden antique Bible books.
My hubby was quick to capture the smoke in a photograph as Martha lifted the lid when she brought the salmon tarts in from the grill.
We could have gone home after this with a feeling of royal treatment, but there was much more to come. We visited for a bit, and then Martha put on a Julia Child French Chef DVD [she knew I'm preparing for a Julia Child presentation soon], while she went into the kitchen to put the finishing touches on the main course of our amazing tea experience. When everything was ready she invited us into her dining room.
At each place setting was a small china handleless tea cup.
We poured Neiman Marcus Chicken Consommé into the cup from a vintage Japanese Sake container/dispenser that belonged to her aunt - a gift from the captain of a US hospital ship upon his return from a tour of duty in Japan in the early 1950's. Notice the bird on top which chirped when the consommé [or sake] was poured.
The first tea served was An Ji Bai green tea. A small vial containing the dry leaf was taken from a large silver chest for us to see and smell.
I drank my tea from a beautiful 1880's Coalport china teacup.
The consommé was followed by a Garden Salad in the shape of a wreath served on 'Hazelnut dirt'. It was served with Blood Orange Olive Oil & Cranberry Pear Vinaigrette.
Notice the bird shaped croutons that accompanied the salad.
Scones were served next with Clotted Cream and Passion Fruit Lemon Curd. With the Scones and Savories, Martha served Soderblanding Tea from Tea Centre in Stockholm.
Knowing that Jerry had gone on a trip to the Holy Land in 2018, she served Radishes on bed of Olive Crumble with salt from the Dead Sea.
Then she appeared with a show-stopper tray of true culinary art! I took pictures from both sides. Reading on my blog that I like Lettuce Wraps, she prepared Chicken Salad Nasturtium Leaf Wraps, hence the reason my cement handprint was placed by her nasturtium plant. Behind the wraps were Cucumber Spirals on house Crème Fraîche Pain de mie [soft bread]; Faberge Deviled Quail Eggs; and in the center - Manchego Cheese Ruffles in Herbs de Provence Cones that she made herself!
Turning the tray around are the following: Prawn Pipettes; Jambon [ham] cigars [crêpes] with hand harvested Fennel Pollen; and Mushroom Walnut Duxelle Endive Leaves
She knew that Beef Wellington is the signature dish at The Whitney where I work, so she made miniature Beef Wellingtons.
Interlude was Edible Raspberry Lipsticks in bird cages.
In 2003, Martha discovered the Plaza hotel in NYC had on their Afternoon Tea menu a tea with a $3 surcharge. It was Jasmine Dragon Pearls "served in a stemmed glass for your amazement." So, to finish our tea, [just before the desserts] Martha served Jasmine Dragon Pearls in a stemmed glass for our amazement! Take note of the dessert fork, because it has significance too.
Just when we thought we were done, Martha served home turned Rose Petal Ice Cream with Raspberry Coulis covered with a Caramel Spun Cage.
The California Springtime Tea ended with Martha's signature French Lemon Tart garnished with a Candied Violet, accompanied by Chocolate Mousse with Maldon Sea Salt topped with a Chocolate Medallion and Chocolate Pearls at the side. Divine! The dessert fork was engraved Julia Child. It was a gift to one of her neighbors on the East Coast. Martha bought it from a friend who inherited it from her aunt, who Julia gave it to.
Martha said she took up the cooking methods of Sous Vide and Modernist Cuisine to keep her mind active and they were both used for foods served during the tea. The Chicken Salad was from Sous Vide cooking method, and smoke for the Salmon Tarts, Olive Crumble, Hazelnut Dirt, Prawn Pipettes, Edible Lipsticks and Chocolate Mousse were from Modernist Cuisine methods.
This is magnificent Martha!
She sent us home with a container of California Camarosa Strawberries, which we enjoyed the next morning for breakfast.
As we descended the hill from her house, it was early evening. I reflected that I will never again in my lifetime be the guest/recipient of a tea on this scale. It was over-the-top, and Martha outdid herself. Julia Child couldn't have done better! This post is written with heartfelt thanks, Martha. Words of description and gratitude are simply inadequate!