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I love a proper afternoon tea service much as the next Victorian lady, sometimes even with a modern twist. I’d hardly decline an invitation to tea at the Pierre (especially for the new menu inspired by the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden.)  But I also enjoy a modest tea at home, by myself or with a friend or neighbor, sharing a pot of gorgeous brew and some light and easy snacks. My garden is a real inspiration-a great luxury in Brooklyn. The first thing I do each morning is head out there with a strong cup of black tea and see what’s blooming before I get ready for rush hour. Lots of ideas spring up from those little sojourns (the white peonies just came today! I love peonies so put some fuschia ones in an old yellow teapot on our counter.) I often add these little embellishments to the tea table, like fresh violet ice cubes for water or iced tea or pansies baked into shortbread.  Even my four-year-old monster-loving boy has come to appreciate a little heart-shaped rose or geranium cake in the afternoon, sometimes even demands it.

Here are a few fun things you might try for a relaxing and oh-so-lovely afternoon pick-me-up as the weather gets hot and summer languor kicks in:

Little summer geranium cakes with rose petal jam: I enjoy digging into time-tested recipes and making a true old-fashioned Victoria sponge, just like in the old days. I also love the surprise and delight of new variations, like these lovely mini Victoria sponge cakes from Jee of Oh How Civilized. http://www.ohhowcivilized.com/blog/2012/10/30/how-to-make-mini-victoria-sponge-cake-step-by-step-recipe.html I must say they are much easier to eat and naturally allow for a bit more grace at the table (being able to serve finger foods rather than anything requiring utensils is another plus for simple summer teas.) I tweaked these even further with a little inspiration from the rose and geraniums coming up in my garden. Voila! Sponge cakes with geranium essential oil from Mandy Aftel and Harvest Song rose petal jam, which I picked up from Murray’s Cheese a few months ago and knew it’d come in handy someday, some way. I highly recommend investing in the Aftelier Perfume Chef’s Essence Exotic Oils kit, by the way (or putting it on the top of your dreamlist) if you enjoy experimenting–well worth it.

I eliminated the cream to lighten these up even more for the 80-degree-summer days we’ve been having in New York. Truly delicious and lovely with a geranium garnish. Note that in my first experiment with these I flaked out for a moment and forgot to add eggs before baking so I called it a crumble and served it with vanilla ice cream. Husband loved it! One lesson I’ve learned from the great ballerinas like Ananiashvili–in dancing, baking, parenting or pretty much anything-keep going if you make a mistake and try to make it fun. I made a version of these cakes earlier this spring (with violets) for the guys in my office and got some enthusiastic comments there too.

White teas & ricotta: I find white peony teas so refreshing in hot weather–they’re just so light and delicate, fresh as, well, a peony. I most enjoyed a Silk Road White Peony http://www.silkroadteas.com/white-peony-bai-mu-dan/ with a ricotta cheese and honey I tried at a pairing they did with Murray’s a few weeks ago (read more here about oolong and food pairings http://sensibilitea.co/2015/05/19/once-more-with-feeling-oolongs-food/)  Smith Teamaker’s No. 72 White Petal with chamomile and osmanthus flowers is so very nice too. Fresh and floral. http://www.smithtea.com/products/white-petal

Cold-brewed Bellocq Charleston iced tea with violet ice cubes. Courtesy of my garden table.

Cold-brewed Bellocq Charleston iced tea with violet ice cubes. Courtesy of my garden table.

Cold brew flowers: I’m not usually much of an iced tea drinker but was inspired by some  ideas at the World Tea Expo in Long Beach and have lots of thoughts now for possible experiments this summer. I started with this handy guide from Bellocq on cold brewing–honestly there couldn’t be anything easier. It’s perfect for summer–a lazy lady’s tea! I tried it with their Charleston–a Ceylon with chamomile and blue cornflowers that has always called up languorous but dainty Southern afternoons on the porch for me. It is gorgeous cold and frankly, just beyond, with fresh made violet ice cubes. http://www.bellocq.com/products/no-40-charleston Be sure to check out Bellocq’s guide below and their recipe for rhubarb-jasmine iced tea.

Rhubarb teaser: Don’t even get me started on rhubarb. I went late to the Saturday market and missed out (everyone in Brooklyn loves rhubarb.) But for now am more than satisfied with this black tea with rhubarb and berries from the lovely Palais des Thes. They paired it with canneles at their in-store events earlier this spring-delightful. Montagne Bleue works well with plenty of little baked treats and would be another simple yet sophisticated choice any tea gatherings you might want to host this summer. http://us.palaisdesthes.com/en_us/montagne-bleue-1712.html

Four o'clock tea. Palais des Thes Montagne Bleue with rhubarb & Jacques Torres canele. Courtesy of my dining room table.

Four o’clock tea. Palais des Thes Montagne Bleue with rhubarb & Jacques Torres canele. Courtesy of my dining room table.

Tea House Times and TeaTime Magazine are also marvelous resources for inspired afternoon teas (I’m toying with the idea of whipping up some blueberry tarts with fresh basil before too long.) On those days when you find yourself pressed for time, befriend your local bakery (I’m never sorry to pick up lavender shortbread or Earl Grey tea cookies from the marvelous Bakeri in my neighborhood–they are always obliging, too, with seasonal treats like rhubarb crumble.) If all else fails, you can hardly go wrong ringing a neighbor and throwing together a plate of Social Tea biscuits and a nice glass of iced Assam tea. I suspect it’s what my grandmother might have done.