Please join us for a cup of tea! Those words conjure up memories of a bygone era when life seemed to be more casual and relaxed, a time when people looked with anticipation to that afternoon ritual. The table was always set with fine china and silver flatware… and, of course, there would be a crisp white linen tablecloth to showcase the beautifully handpainted porcelain pieces. The napkins would be delicate and dainty, often embroidered in lovely detail. Tea time meant that there would be a self-indulgent moment of respite from the hectic responsibilities of the day. There would be conversation with friends… there would be laughter, storytelling and, of course, delicious bits of gossip to share while slowly sipping a cup of that fragrant brew ritually poured from a gracefully delicate teapot.
In August of 2003 Dayton and I had opportunity to travel to Hong Kong to spend time together with Rick and Edith Hon, a delightfully charming couple I had first met on an earlier business trip to that exotic city. I was browsing through an antique shop close to the hotel where I was staying and met Edith, the shop’s owner, and her husband Rick, an extremely talented and successful commercial interior designer and artist. We became fast friends and stayed in contact with each other via email. In addition to spending as much time as possible with Rick and Edith we vowed to have High Tea one afternoon at the Peninsula Hotel, the Peninsula name being synonymous with the welcoming of the rich, famous and powerful from around the world since its opening in December 1928.
On our designated high tea afternoon we approached the forecourt and grand entrance of this magnificent hotel world-renowned for unsurpassed luxury and service. Our eyes grew wide as we stared in awe at the hotel’s fleet of signature Rolls-Royces all painted in a distinctive shade of green known as Peninsula green, these luxury automobiles being available for hire by guests of the hotel. We could only gaze wistfully upon them as we walked by, acknowledging the fact that we were fortunate enough just to be able to squeeze our wallets tight enough for one short hour or two of glorious self-indulgence in this 5 star hotel!
The setting for this English-style afternoon tea, reminiscent of Hong Kong’s colonial era, was the grand lobby, resplendent with marble colonnades and ornate old world gilding. It was elegance at its finest! As we were escorted to our table by the host we were embraced by the dulcet sounds of classical music wafting down from the stringed instruments of a quartet high above us in a prominent corner balcony. Our experience had begun!
As we all know, tea time is about more than a simple cup of tea. It includes delicate sandwiches and sweets, each of them being bite-sized so a variety of delectable treats can be sampled, savored and enjoyed. Afternoon tea is a tradition in our home but is certainly not as formal as the English-style high tea we enjoyed at Hong Kong’s Peninsula. Rather than having an assortment of goodies from which to chose we generally will have one generous slice or piece of something sweet that has been freshly baked to compliment the tea selection of the day. One of our favorites to have at tea time is a cross between two batter breads Mom used to bake, one of them a banana bread and the other an apricot nut bread. And, of course, I’ve added my personal touches to the following recipe!
Buttermilk Banana Bread with Walnuts & Apricots
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
1 1/4 C mashed ripe bananas (approximately 1 lb)
Baker’s Note: I routinely now use Burro bananas from Colombia (pictured above) which are available for purchase at the Berkeley Bowl markets located here in the San Francisco East Bay. They are a variety shorter and fatter than the traditional “Chiquita” bananas, which, by the way are perfectly fine for this recipe. The reason I like the Burro banana so well is that the flesh is intensely “banana” in flavor, almost as if the rich flavor of a whole bunch has been concentrated into each banana. The ripe pulp is yellow and buttery!
Cream together in electric mixer:
1/2 C (one stick) unsalted sweet cream butter, room temp
1 1/3 C baker’s sugar
Add, one at a time, mxing well after each addition:
2 eggs, room temp
1/2 C buttermilk
1 tsp baking soda
Add the buttermilk mixture to the mixing bowl and blend well.
2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
Blend sifted ingredients into the creamed mixture. Add the mashed bananas as well as the addition of:
1 tsp vanilla
Mix well. Stir in:
1 C coarsely chopped walnuts
1 C coarsely chopped dried apricots
Pour into greased and floured 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Bake for approximately 1 hour. Insert a toothpick into the center of the loaf to check for doneness. The toothpick should come out clean. If not, continue to bake, checking doneness again in 15 minutes. When done, remove from loaf pan and cool on a baking rack:
This genuinely is the best banana bread we’ve ever had… rich, moist and absolutely delicious. I normally bake three loaves at a time, which, by the way, can affect the baking time, reserving one for immediate enjoyment and placing the other two in the freezer. We’ve discovered, however, that they normally don’t stay there long! This bread is an exquisite treat while still warm, slathered with obscene amounts of creamery butter or cream cheese. It also warms well in the microwave by the slice. I warm it for 20 – 30 seconds and pull out the butter knife once again for an anytime treat… Bon Appetit!
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