English tea disasters

The 2016 St. Paul’s Episcopal Church English Tea was yesterday. Except for the one panic attack I have each and every year as food chair just before service, the event went spectacularly smoothly. But there’s a reason I panic every year. I have a history of disaster and it is never far from my mind.

It started about a decade ago when I was just a food helper. I was assigned to make the cucumber sandwiches. I diligently worked to make them perfect, precise, identical. And I brought them to the church kitchen to display them to the former food chair.

“Oh, dear,” clucked Donna Johns with a frown.

What? WHAT!

“You didn’t use the seedless cucumbers for the slices on the top,” she said. She didn’t say it, but I could hear her silently murmuring, “Unacceptable.”

The next year, after becoming food chair, I had my second cucumber sandwich disaster. I assigned someone to make them. They arrived, neatly stacked, in a Tupperware cake carrier with damp paper towels between each layer. Let me tell you about the cumulative effect of damp paper towels, delicate sandwiches and weight. By the time we got to the middle layers, the sandwiches had turned to white pasty mush.

Literally RUN through the grocery store between the first and second seating, Make an entirely new batch of cucumber sandwiches, sobbing the entire time.

Then there was the brownie bite debacle. We always have five savories and four sweets on the tea tiers. That fourth dessert has always dogged us. But the year I thought brownie bites would be a great idea was the worst. I bought these lovely decorative red foil baking cups. I baked 300 brownie bites. The tiers went out for the first seating. When the leftovers started coming back, almost every single brownie bite was there.

What? WHAT!

“Um,” said one of the servers. “The foil cups won’t come off the brownie bites. They’re kind of welded together.”

For that year — and only that year — there were only three sweets at the second seating.

Since then, I’ve got a system down. Only trusted cooks making the savories and sweets. Very few changes in the menu — we finally settled on a gingerbread spritz cookie for our fourth sweet.

So I apologize. I am sorry to anyone I yelled at or gave the hairy eyeball to. It was a momentary flashback. I’m over it now. Until the second Saturday in December 2017.



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