Friday, January 24, 2014

A Jane Austen -"Grow your Blog" Tea Party

There seems few better means of escaping the cold grey days of January than with good books, good friends and steaming cups of tea, so when the delightful blogger Vicki of Two Bags Full announced she would be hosting her second annual Grow Your Blog Party this month, (a fabulous way for bloggers and readers to meet and mingle), I immediately thought a tea party post with a literary twist would be fitting for celebrating this wonderful, if only virtual, gathering of creatives. 
 Coincidentally, one of my absolute favorite novels was first published on the 28th of January, and although that was over two centuries ago, in 1813, it is still wildly popular to this day.
The much loved Pride and Predjudice addresses very human themes which seem as relevant in modern times as they did in 19th century. The elegant language, vivid characters, witty observations and picturesque settings make this book truly a delight.
So why not celebrate the 101 anniversary of this timeless classic with a tea honoring it's author Jane Austen. Although the idea of a formal afternoon tea party as we know it, precedes Austen's time, we'll fudge the timeline a bit and with some semi-scratch tea treats and a few easy projects, enjoy the romance of the Austen era, if only for a few hours.
Please note, this is more a fanciful celebration of the spirit Austen's time and novels than an authentic regency experience, so please pardon any historical inaccuracies.
Tea Party Invitations
You'll Need
invitation printout large enough to hold tea bag
individually wrapped tea bags
blank cards or folded card stock and envelopes
I've seen this idea for invitations in shops and a while ago created a version for my sister in law's bridal shower tea. For this Austen theme fete I combined elegant vintage tea and frame images from the the Graphics Fairy
First, I simply printed and cut out my image. Then using a small craft knife cut a small slit along the top edge of the teacup following the design. 
I applied glue around just the very edges of the back of the image, avoiding center area, and attached to folded card stock (I chose a lavender shade). I let glue dry and slipped a tea bag into the cup (it is said Jane enjoyed tea from the Twinings Co.)

Menu Ideas
For the menu, any favorite traditional assorted teas, finger sandwiches and sweets are perfect fare. For my tea, I've included "not quite homemade" tea cakes and provided some links to a few other easy tea time recipes
   For wonderful historic regency recipes, visit Jane Austen U.K and for fascinating information about customs and fashions and more, pop over to Jane Austen's World.
Mrs Bennett's Lace Tea Cakes
"No Lace. No lace Mrs Bennett, I beg you"
                  an exasperated Mr. Bennett, Pride and Predjudice
Though frustrated with his wife's constant preoccupation with fashion finery, even Mr. Bennett might not object to a lacy sweet treat.
For the Tea cakes
Lacking for a proper (or for that matter, any) kitchen staff,
I enlisted the help of trusty Sara Lee for this easy treat.
Slice slightly thawed cake into desired shapes with a knife or cookie cutters and brush off extra crumbs. Set on wire rack over wax paper lined pan
Icing glaze
1 cup confectioners sugar
3 teaspoons Corn syrup
3 teaspoons milk
1/4 teaspoon orange extract (or desired flavor)
Blend ingredients together until smooth and glossy. 
Add small amounts of extra corn syrup if icing is too thick. 
Pour over cakes spreading evenly on sides and allow to set. Icing should dry to smooth shiny finish that is firm to the touch (this can take up to 40  minutes)

For the "Lace" Accents
Though there are many elaborate edible lace techniques and supplies sold in baking supply shops, I thought I'd try a quick and simple low cost method using colormist food color spray available at many craft stores or some supermarket baking sections, and some paper doilies.
Simply lay doily gently on iced cake, spray with colormist and carefully remove.

Warning: Colormist can stain skin and fabrics, so take care to avoid mishaps.
(I had purple hands for a good 24 hours)

For more PennyWise tea time recipes try
left to right
Earl Grey shortbread spoon cookies 
with lemon curd from my Tea at Downton Abbey Post
A more authentic historic recipe my May Day post
Cucumber baskets and Scones 
from Teatime on the Bunny Trail

"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery"
                  Jane Austen on her writing

Fan Favors
In Austens time, fans were not merely portable substitutes for air conditioning but were wielded as important yet subtle ways to express oneself and send messages to potential suitors. With that in mind it seemed fans would make fitting favors and though these are easy DIY paper varieties rather than fine antique silk and lace, they make fun keepsakes. Using scrapbook paper, humble clothes pins and craft accessories, these more contemporary versions feature Austen quotes and characters.
this charming image shows young ladies mastering the movements of this must-have accessory from a delightful collection of regency and vintage images at the blog bumble button

I found an adorable kids paper fan craft project at mrprintable and though it's geared toward little ones, I adapted it for this easy more grown up DIY 
You'll Need
Decorative paper & printouts of regency images
Wooden clothespins (the type used for dolls)
Paint in desired colors
Assorted Ribbons, Accessories & faux flowers
I received a delightful Pride and predjudice paper doll book by Dover publications from my aunt, and made copies of the characters on the cover (not wanting to cut into it). 
My craft store carried this perfect scrapbook paper book from DCWV called "Dear Jane" filled with quotes and beautiful patterns. 
To begin, I painted the clothes pins with craft paint and let dry thoroughly. 
I then created a few collages of images and words and copied them onto standard sized copy paper. The lighter paper provides less bulk and makes folding easier. (Each fan requires 2 sheets.)
Once happy with your designs simply glue 2 sheets together (at the shorter width) and channel your kindergarten skills by folding paper accordion style. 
I then trimmed the white borders off of the sides and while still folded cut a scallop edge for interest.
Insert folded paper into slit in clothes pin, trimming excess paper to fit if necessary and wrapping with clear tape.
*I slipped an oversize toothpick in the clothespin behind paper to keep it from being too floppy 
For the fun part, Camouflage tape by wrapping ribbon around top of clothespin and add coordinating flower or button accent.
Then wave coyly and work your magic!

Tea Time Accents
Second hand books tied with ribbon, make "novel" props
Tea Chest
Jane experts claim she had the honor of holding the key to the family's tea caddy (the leaves were far too precious to be under the watch of household servants ) For my tea, I reused a humble thrifted jewelry box which I had repurposed into a tea caddy for my Downton Abbey post.          
Rolled script spruces up faux floral and ivy

"There's nothing like staying home for real comfort"
                               Jane Austen, Emma

Thank you so much for stopping by and please pop over to visit more (than 500!) blogs from around the world participating in this wonderful party!

a little Austen humor
from somee cards

Centuries later, he's still a heartbreaker - tote bag

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Couer a la creme - a Valentine dessert

Leave it to the french to come up with a dessert as romantic as a Coeur a la creme. Sweet and creamy with a charming heart shape, this elegant but surprisingly simple dessert seems a perfect finish to a Valentines Day dinner, or any festive meal celebrating L'amour.
Interestingly I found many variations when searching for recipes: some use marscapone or cottage cheese, some add egg whites or gelatin. I adapted and tweaked a few recipes to come up with a tangy version with just a hint of l' orange. 

charming image from the old design shop, a delightful site with free vintage images

Orange Coeurs a la Creme
with Berry and orange liqueur coulis
& white chocolate crowns
(don't we sound fancy)
For the lovely heart shape, this dessert requires special molds with small holes on the base. These are available online and in specialty gourmet stores, but not having any available, I improvised with some supermarket disposable tart tins (99 cents for 8) 
I simply shaped tins into hearts and poked holes into bottom with a skewer
Coeurs a la Creme
1 (8oz) package cream cheese - softened
1 cup orange vanilla Greek yogurt
2/3 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
2 tablespoons orange juice
Blend cream cheese and sugar until fully mixed. 
Add in yogurt and extract until smooth

Cut cheesecloth into squares large enough so excess hangs over edge of tins
Dampen cloth, wringing out excess water
Line tins with cloth, pressing to conform to shape 
Divide mixture evenly among tins, smoothing and pressing firmly
Place cookie cutters in baking pan several inches apart and set heart molds on top. 
This raises molds and allows sufficient room for extra liquid to drain out.
Chill molds in pan in refrigerator 4 hours or overnight (some recipes say 24 hours)
As Moisture drains from molds into pan hearts will thicken and firm up
Once set, carefully invert onto plate, peel back cheesecloth and garnish with coulis, berries and crown
*My hearts were slightly soft when unmolded and could have used more chilling time but no need for panic, they can be easily reshaped once set on plate

Berry Coulis
1/3 cup favorite jam ( I used 4 berry)
a splash of orange liqueur to taste
Berries for garnish
This super easy sauce "recipe" works on ice cream, pound cake, pancakes etc. 
Heat jam in small saucepan over low and and a add a little orange liqueur 
press through strainer and let cool
Drizzle on plate or using squeeze bottle make decorative accents or write a romantic message
White Chocolate Crowns
wax paper
white chocolate or chocolate melts
melt chocolate according to instructions
pour melted chocolate into a plastic baggie or 
squeeze bottle or simply spoon into rough crown shapes 
 Add sprinkles
 Chill quickly until firm 

A few romantic accents set the scene. I decided to forgo the usual pinks and reds, which I overdid last year, for more aged tones of cream and ivory,
An old set of wings displayed at Christmas is repurposed for February 14th. 
A paper crown under glass speaks of courtly love.
 Music and script get a sprig of rosemary symbolizing remembrance.

Paper & Lace Crown

You'll Need:
 Scrapbook paper, 
lace edging 

I sprayed a section of lace edging with metallic spray paint, and once dry coated it with a quick layer of Modgepodge for extra sturdiness.
I then glued it to a band of gold cardstock, adding some scrapbook accessories and quick paper accents for a regal touch
Lace crowns have been wildly popular for some time, from simple to quite elaborate. For lots of other fabulous versions and links to tutorials visit Pinterest

 Wishing Everyone Lots of Joy and Love this
Valentine's Day

For a flashback to last year's Valentine ideas
pop over to PennyWise's post Love is in the Air     

              PennyWise Tips
For a speedier version, this same mixture can be made as one larger dessert by pouring mixture into one larger sieve set onto a deep bowl and chill until firm and moisture drained. 
This creates a mound shape which can be presented on a plate, garnished with berries or sauce and scooped onto dessert plates, served like a pudding or trifle,
or alternately scoop into ramekins and drizzle with sauce