Monday, February 6, 2012

The First Literary Tea 'salon'

If you read this blog fairly regularly, you may have noticed a gap over the last month.
Not too much content.
Not so big on the typing of words.
Not even pictures for a distraction!
This may be all the more disappointing after the momentum I had built up in December. Sorry, folks, for dropping the ball. I don't think the fractured arm completely accounts for it, either. I switched gears from an external, writing-focused effusion about upcoming changes in my life to an internal and social-based incubation of projects to prepare for those upcoming changes. So the stew is still stewing, I just turned the heat down and put the lid on- ya follow me? (another metaphor?!)

So, what have I been doing with my time? Not much cooking, unfortunately. I probably could be doing more, but that would entail visualizing each step of the cooking process in advance and then arranging for someone to do the parts that I can't manage (chopping, mixing, jar-opening, etc.) ahead of time, which is just too much planning, even for moi.
I made mujaddara (found first here, before it became a celeb and was posted here), a dish long on The List, and appealing in its super-easiness. Highly recommended.
Braised Fennel with Balsamic
And then a couple of weeks ago, I had to follow through on an idea I had back in November, involving a fair amount of cooking and advance shopping. In this case, I did have to ask a friend over to chop some onions and fennel and wash some dishes... The reason I felt so committed to hosting this soiree was that its goal was to raise some funds for a non-profit that was having real difficulties financially. It was founded by a good friend of mine and three other education reformers who were looking to take stock of where we are in the U.S. and around the world, and make education systems better for all those involved (donate here if you believe in the importance of this cause!).
I had a great theme for the party too: a Literary Tea. I was reading about bygone food cultures when a tossed-out reference to Literary Teas of the 1960s caught my imagination. It described them as cocktail hours for the New York publishing world, another pushy scene where writers and agents and publishers acted out the social version of Darwinism. Ech. Not my crowd. But 'Literary Tea' had promise, and I crafted my own theme, reclaiming and repurposing the name for better use.
I had grand plans for cooking soups and baking breads and whipping up desserts, but in the end, I admitted it was not realistic to think I would make all these things for 9 people- the max that would fit in my living room!  So I did some make-ahead things (twice-baked shortbread, Saltine toffee bars) and then relied on 1) fire-under-the-feet inspiration, fueled by 2) clean-out-the-refrigerator spirit. It worked out great! The stew (main course) that resulted included the following ingredients, roughly in order of throwing in:
vegetable broth
chopped carrots
tomato paste
cooked butternut squash
microwaved sweet potato
Trader Joe's precooked lentils
hot Italian sausage (farmer's market find!)

I asked my friends to contribute what they would have spent on bringing something to the dinner party, since I was taking care of everything (and replacing wine with tea, an AWESOME idea), and they went far beyond that, which was amazing. I was proud to contribute the amount that my friends had pitched in, topping it off with my own contribution, which amounted to $355. Amazing.
Along with the food and drinks, this salon was literary-themed, meaning:
I broke the ice with softball questions about favorite books of all-time and current books being perused. That went pretty well. After that, we dove into a long, involved round of The Origin of Expressions, which I was very excited about for this group. The game requires 1) the ability to bring forth useless factoids of world history and/or 2) the ability to fool people into thinking you know what you're talking about. Perfect activity for all these friends from grad school days, where you hone both of the above skills. One round was enough because of the complex scoring process, then we were on to Boggle, which a friend had brought- several lightning rounds ensued, and in closing, I can't believe I never played the game before. Awesome.

I hope you didn't think I've been idle. I hope you knew there must have been some close-to-the-heart reason that kept me from updating this blog more closely, because there was. But my Literary Tea was a success! and soon there will be lots more where that came from.

**cast coming off in 1 week! Happy Valentine's, indeed!**


  1. Wow, what a beautiful and snazzy website! I'm impressed!. I've enjoyed reading it and had a few laughs along the way. Hope that wrist heals quickly so you can get back to all your creative adventures.

  2. Looking forward to attending one of those new initiatives of yours when I am in DC!! And good luck enjoying using both hands again, cooking, writing, typing, running etc! :-)

  3. Yes, yes, will do! Thanks for commenting :-)

  4. As the friend for whom you fundraised at your Literary Tea, I am so grateful for your creativity and generosity! What a fun idea. I am in awe of your party organizing skills, especially with a fractured arm! Thanks, lovely lady, and thanks to your awesome D.C. friends for contributing to IDEA.