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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Teatime Traditions

Upon the occasion of Sashenka’s 12th birthday, I decided to take the girls to one of the oldest, continuously-operating teahouses in the environs.  We would enjoy genteel conversation and dainty delicacies even if it killed us.

Mashenka, our 14-year-old, immediately liked the idea.  Sashenka, however, would probably prefer driving a Formula One race car off a cliff.

“It’s just an hour for us girls to do something fun together.  If it’s not really so great (I hesitated to use the term ‘your cup of tea’), it’s only an hour out of our day…” I explained.

“Davai!” she says in Russian, knowing I was trying, and we were off.

As with most tearooms, this one catered to… little. old. ladies.  Suffice it to say, we are Little Ladies, minus the old, so we create quite a stir.  The guys drop us off, walking us to the door, anxious for an excursion of their own, and there, at the front, chrysanthemum-lined sidewalk, an elderly woman who is exiting the establishment stops us.

“Are you girls going for lunch or for tea?” she inquires, totally ignoring the gentlemen accompanying us.

“Tea,” the girls reply, knowing the appointed hour for luncheon has passed.

“Then you must try the cinnamon twists—long, puff-pastry sticks with just the right amount of cinnamon on top,” she places her thumb and forefinger together as though sprinkling the spice, while whispering her hot tip for the day.

“Oh, we must!” I whisper back, thanking her for her kindness, knowing full well that Sashenka detested cinnamon, for some odd reason, just as our second son, Pasha, avoided peanut butter.

After we arrived, I saw that our reservation made the week before was really not necessary.  Ah well, Manners would never be out of style.  The three of us were seated at a white tableclothed table, freshly-cut flowers and handcut sugarcubes in silver awaiting.

Now, mind you, we had eaten some lunch not long before, a bit of soup.  I personally had no need for extra calories, so I gave the girls their choice of sweet or savory teatime delights.  We decided to order a` la carte, which was my first faux pas.

I had tried to sell the two girls on a Children’s Tea Selection which included a mini-scone, clotted cream and jam, a dainty, crustless sandwich or two, and a diminutive pot of tea.  But noooooo, we were feeling very grown up today, so rather than escape the tearoom to the tune of $10 a pop, it was more like $20 per person.

Birthdays are but once a year, my inner-self, Bob Cratchit counterpart argued.

For that princely sum, we received a plateful of whole wheat bread rounds, spread ever so thinly with boursin, so thinly that I believed they might have substituted the merest skim of  cream cheese, and topped with a sliver of twisted cucumber.  Two orders of scones, one cinnamon and one cranberry each, making four scones total with the crème fraiche and tiny pots of raspberry jam, but of course, Sashenka would have to eat the cranberry ones, leaving Mashenka and I to languish in cinnamon-land.  Then, naturally, the girls wanted dessert:  a portion of an Italian tiramisu` cake, which they said they could split, telling me that I could also lick the knife when I divided it for them, but which I argued was not done in Polite Society, whether at home or in public.

However, my finger may have grazed over the dull butterknife blade, on its way back to my tea plate.  Mmmm….

My daughters chose fruity blends of tea, raspberry for Mashenka and pear for Sashenka.  Personally, I felt that pear was a rather risky request, but Sashenka was bound and determined, and after all, it was her day.  I held my peace, my second faux pas.  Our waitress had suggested that the girls sniff the tea leaves first if they preferred, before making a choice, but you know our Bartologimignano brood:  always firmly persuaded one way or the other, whether right or wrong.

Turns out she was wrong.

Sip, sip, sip.

“Mama, I don’t think I like the pear tea…” she started.

The waitress had mentioned, much to my dismay, that should the girls not find one of the teas to their liking, she could easily bring a pot of another looseleaf variety.  Thus began our foray into the Princess and the Pea tasting routine.

“Try Mashenka’s and we can order the raspberry for you,” I offered, upon which she tasted from her sister’s cup and pronounced her pleasure.

“Mama, maybe I should try yours, also…” she hedged her bets.

I poured her half a cup and the princess declared that she would drink mine, instead.  Unsure what turn the story might take in the next few moments, I simply requested a new cup from the waitress.  Sashenka could share mine.

The rest of the hour, Sashenka the musical chair maiden alternated between a cup of English Breakfast Tea, and a cup of Raspberry, back and forth, back and forth.  My original plan was to order Earl Grey for myself, but somehow, I had a sneaking suspicion that the taste might be too strong for the more undeveloped palates among us.  Birthdays were for sharing.

The check was brought in an elegant, wooden box, while Handel’s Water Music played in the background, and I revived myself with smelling salts.  The bill was not as bad as the tearooms with professional harp players and more substantial fare, I reasoned.  Doing some brief, mental calculations, I came to the conclusion that owning a teahouse may be a wise future investment, as long as the Little Ladies were willing to help.




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