I read Alice in Wonderland for the first time when I was in the fourth grade, but before I met Laurie, I had attended only one tea party, Dangerous Vision’s mad tribute to Lewis Carroll’s birthday. We did drink tea at our house when I was a kid, but only when we were sick; inevitably it was Lipton that my mother fortified with honey and lemon.
(On one memorable occasion I awoke in the middle of the night with asthma, a first for me, and I was terrified. I got both my parents up, and for what seemed like hours we all sat in the kitchen drinking tea and looking for the jokes in Mom’s women’s magazines while I wheezed like an old engine. I suppose it was sort of a tea party. I felt closer to my parents that night than at almost any other time in my life.)
Of course I’d seen movies and TV shows in which old ladies in pastel summer dresses and big-brimmed hats sometimes drank tea while they sat around gossiping about people who weren’t there. It didn’t seem like the sort of thing a real guy would do voluntarily.
But Laurie’s idea of tea was what I learned the Brits called afternoon tea, which was less an opportunity to drink cups of tea with your pinky raised than it is a chance to fill up on little sandwiches. As far as I am concerned, the tea is just an excuse.
Since being introduced to the classic British tea party, I have experienced it at many tea rooms, restaurants, and hotels. Most of them offer a variety of teas served along with a limited number of savory sandwiches and sweet pastries in a silver tray with three or four levels. But my favorite tea is the one at the Huntington Library — a place that includes acres of grass, trees, and flowers, as well as art galleries and the library itself.
The Huntington grounds include a small, charming building they call the tea room. One needs to make a reservation some weeks in advance, but it is worth the trouble. For, in addition to the tea — which is, after all, just tea — there is a large buffet that contains not only the standard sandwiches like cucumber and egg salad but many I’ve never seen before. The carrot and ginger sandwiches, which sound kind of unlikely, hooked me immediately.
I also have a weakness for the little cream-filled éclairs and the brownies. Even though I have eaten very good versions of both at home, eating them at the Huntington gives them a special aura. One might expect the Mad Hatter or the March Hare to show up at any moment.
The important part of all this is that you can return to the buffet as many times as you want to. One dare not be on a diet. This tea is no place for self-control.
Next Saturday Hazel is throwing her yearly Wisteria Tea. I won’t be going, mainly because it is a ladies only event. But I hope and expect that Laurie will bring home leftovers. I don’t have to attend a tea in order to appreciate those little sandwiches.