How I Threw A Champagne Afternoon Tea Party For Two At Home For My Birthday

Thursday, 16 July 2020

Although most cafes and restaurants are now open in London, I am still not confident enough to go out there and socialise. I believe that the virus is still very much with us and I don't want to take the risk. J and I have been very good in the last four months (only going out for essentials), so I know we can do more no matter how long it will take- even it means sacrificing my birthday traditions and doing things differently. 

This year, instead of travelling or having an afternoon tea with my friend somewhere in London, I decided to throw my own Champagne Afternoon Tea Party at home with J. It turned out to be one of the best afternoon teas I have ever had since I fell in love with the British tradition sometime in 2006.

It took me at least two weeks to formulate my menu. I am not a baker, so it was quite challenging to decide which pastries and cakes to bake. I escaped savouries as I am not very keen on them. Besides, I don't really know how to make them. So in the end, I came up with a very simple Afternoon Tea menu. 

Homemade Cupcakes
- I played safe with the cupcakes and baked what I thought would be easy. It was my first time to bake lemon cupcakes and red velvet cupcakes, but thanks to Mary Berry for her easy to follow recipes. I think I did well considering I don't really bake (except banana bread). One thing that I really need to work on though, is my frosting. I am still quite impatient but I know I'll get there one day. :)

Homemade Plain and Fruit Scones
- I learned how to bake scones back in 2016 when I was living in New Zealand and trying to learn new skills. So, apart from banana bread, scone is the only other thing that I can bake confidently. I have always used Mary Berry's recipe for my scones. On this occasion, I moulded the plain scones first, then added raisins in the remaining dough. The scones were served with clotted cream and strawberry jam.

Selection of Homemade Sandwiches
- I am not normally a fan of sandwiches, but I always enjoy them at afternoon teas. For my afternoon tea party, I chose to make three of my favourite sandwiches - tuna, egg and coronation chicken. J made the tuna sandwich and I used my own recipe for the egg sandwich. For the coronation chicken, I used the recipe I found on BBC Good Food. I used both white and brown bread for the sandwiches. 

Selection of Teas
- As this was an afternoon tea, I thought I'd present the teas that I have available at home.  I am a fan of Jasmine Green tea, so I have Queen Jasmine Tea from TWG, Blossom Tea  from a shop in Chinatown and Jasmin Zhejiang from Thé & Co (Strasbourg). I also have Fortnum and Mason's English Mint Tea, Rose Pouchong, Apricot Honey and Lavender and Camomile and Bee Pollen Infusion Teas. J had the choice between Harrods Afternoon Ceylon No 16 Tea and PG tips. Of course, he opted for the PG Tips (his favourite). :) I chose the Jasmin Zhejiang only because I haven't had it in a while. 

My Birthday Cake
- Who would have thought that I would be baking my own birthday cake this year? My original plan was to bake my favourite ube cake but I have failed twice already, so I didn't want to risk it on my birthday. Somehow I find the whole process of baking an ube cake tedious! Anyway, the only other cake I could think of was pistachio cake. And so I baked it- for the first time ever and voila!

The Champagne
- Our choice of Champagne that day was Moët. Nothing much to say really. :)

So, that's how I successfully threw a Champagne Afternoon Tea Party at home. I haven't had an afternoon tea with J before, so this was a good opportunity for us to experience it together in the comfort of our home. Although the whole preparation was not that easy, I really enjoyed it. In fact, I can now invite my friends for an afternoon tea at home. Perhaps when the virus is totally gone. 

The older I get, the more I prefer simple birthday celebrations. For the last few years, I have been celebrating my birthday with only a handful of friends - before or after my birthday, and separately. Then J and I would do our own thing in the evening of my birthday. I realised through the years, and most especially during the lockdown, that doing the simplest of things make me genuinely happy. That I certainly don't need fancy things to complete my birthday. So yeah, I now find more pleasure in doing simple things at home like throwing my own Afternoon Tea Party. :)

TIN x

44 and Grateful

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Today, I celebrated my 44th birthday in an unusual but very special way. Whilst we originally planned to celebrate my birthday outside London, the pandemic unfortunately prevented us from doing so. Some yearly traditions also had to be put on hold. For the last few years, my friend Pearl and I have been visiting flower fields as part of our birthday celebrations. I also have this tradition of dating myself the day before my birthday. This year is completely different. Although I didn't get to meet up with any of my friends or do any of the things that I would normally do on my birthday, I had the pleasure to celebrate it privately at home with my constant, J. 

This morning, I woke up exceptionally grateful. Despite everything that has been going on in the world right now, I am very blessed in so many ways. My life in the last year has been a roller coaster ride. It was as if life was constantly playing games with me. Every time when I thought that the universe was finally making up for everything that I went through the year before, a new challenge comes along. But I have been a firm believer that things happen for a reason, so here I am, still very grateful despite of it all. 

This year though, I am most grateful for the following:

1. The health and safety of my family and friends
- Last year, I had the fair share of health concerns personally and with some of the people I love. It was very emotionally challenging especially when my mother had the Covid-19 scare. So this year, I wish nothing but for my family and friends to continue to be healthy and safe. That is all what matters to me now.

2. My Life Partner
- I'm sure the pandemic has been one of the most challenging for us all. One thing that I am very grateful during this time of Corona Virus is having a life partner in J. I am very blessed to have been in lockdown with the best lockdown partner ever. Never did we once bickered at each other for the whole three months that we were in isolation. J made it easy for me not to miss the outside world. Most importantly, he made sure that we were both looked after.

3. Provision of Basic Needs
- The pandemic taught me that all I needed to survive in this world is food, shelter and clothing (okay, in addition- a phone and wifi so I can stay connected with my family and friends). I am beyond blessed to be living in a beautiful flat in Central London, to have more than enough food in our pantry and to have more than enough clothes to wear. For three months, I didn't have any reason to dress up. I didn't have any reason to wear my shoes and my bags. It was then I realised that I don't really need any more than what I already have. And knowing that a lot of people struggled to buy food during the pandemic, I made a promise to myself to spend my money wiser, and to help those in need a little bit more.

4. Closing Doors
- In December, I was made redundant. It was one thing that I thought I would never have to go through. I felt different kinds of emotions. For a normally positive person like me, I struggled to look for the silver lining. I thought I was a good manager and I was doing a great job. However, I ended up losing it all. I lost an exceptional team. My team. The team that I built. The people who believed in me despite knowing that I didn't have any managerial experience behind me. The people who respected me as a person and as a manager. The people who made it easy for me to succeed as a new manager. The people who treated each other like their own family. My people. I was so heartbroken, I cried most nights. Add to that heartbreaking separation from my people, the most stressful and unhappiest ending in my entire nursing career. I did things that I never thought I would ever do as a nurse, and as a manager. But I guess all the hardships and sacrifices were worth it, as what happened validated my purpose in life. And for that, I remain grateful.

5. New Beginnings
- I started my new job in the time of Corona Virus. Everything was and still is strange. It is quite difficult to explain how I exactly feel about this new job and the people I work with. But there is one thing that I am sure of- there is a reason why the universe brought me there. For now, I am grateful that I still have a job during this unusual time when a lot of people all over the world have lost their jobs and/or struggling to find a job. I hope and pray that things will be better soon, so everyone can go back to work and truly enjoy the (new) normal life again. 

And that's it. I am 44.

I wish not only for my family and friends' health and safety, but for love, compassion, kindness and peace in this time of hate, indifference and inhumanities. May we all eventually live as one, and may God bless us all.

Please stay safe.

TIN x

My Best Dining Experiences in Strasbourg, France

Sunday, 14 June 2020

A recent email from a couple I met in Strasbourg, France last year reminded me of one of my most unforgettable trips to date. Whilst I have already written about my awesome trip to the magical city of Strasbourg and the fairytale village of Colmar, I have yet to write about the restaurants that I visited in Strasbourg. 

Strasbourg (the capital of Alsace) is located at the border of Germany, therefore their cuisine is a combination of French and German. I have been to France a few times but I never had food like the food I had in Strasbourg. Alsatian cuisine is unique, hearty and generous. During our stay, I was eating out during daytime on my own, then J would join me for an early dinner after his conference. I stuffed myself with meat, bread and potatoes, with the occasional treat to our favourite ice cream place close to our hotel. I would definitely consider Strasbourg as one of the places that I would go back to for food, alongside New Zealand and Italy

1.  Le Clou - 3 Rue du Chaudron 
-  Apparently, anyone who travels to Alsace must eat at a "Winstub".  Basically, a Winstub is a traditional pub serving authentic Alsatian cuisine. It was the first thing that we did on our arrival to Strasbourg. We didn't have any restaurant in mind, so we wandered around Grand Ile and came across Le Clou, which is located in a rather romantic narrow alley. The restaurant just opened at that time so we had the pleasure to be seated where we wanted to seat. Le Clou gave us the standard of restaurant service in Strasbourg. The staff was very nice and obliging.

As I don't always have escargot when I go to France, I made sure that I had it in Strasbourg. It was not that cheap at €13.50 for six pieces, but it was delicious. Then for my mains, I opted for the very soft and satisfying traditional knuckle of ham wadele (€19.90). J on the other hand, had the onion soup (€8.70) and the authentic Brotwurst with Sauerkraut (€15.90). The serving was very generous and the food all in all, was very flavourful. I was very happy to have had our first meal at Le Clou.

2. Le Tire-Bouchon- 5 Rue des Tailleurs de Pierre
- J and I had the shock of our lives when our food was served at Le Tire-Bouchon. We both ordered their specialty dish without realising that one order was enough for two. The Baeckeoffe mit Drei Sorten Fleisch (€20.90) which basically means a casserole with three types of meat (lamb, pork, beef) and potatoes was apparently cooked for 8 hours. It was perfectly cooked to say the least and it tasted brilliantly. Although I didn't finish the whole dish as it was too much, I made sure that I ate all the meat particularly the pig's foot.:) The restaurant is located close to the Strasbourg Cathedral, so it is quite touristy in the area. However, I didn't feel that the restaurant was a tourist-trap. If anything, it was authentic and traditional. Definitely a good place to dine in whilst in Strasbourg.

3. Maison Kammerzell- 16 Place de la Cathedrale 
- Located next to the Strasbourg Cathedral, you might think that this restaurant is a tourist trap, and you are probably right. I went to the restaurant the day before my birthday to try their most raved Choucroute aux trois Poissons (3-sort fish €25.90). Although people have complained about the rude and slow service, I didn't experience it at all, hence the restaurant is on my list. The salmon, smoked cod and trout (I believe) was served on a Sauerkraut. It was buttery and truly delicious.

4. Au Pont Corbeau- 21 Quai Saint-Nicholas
- I cannot recall how we found this restaurant but I have a clear recollection of the flank of beef (€18.20)that I had for the mains. I have had bad experiences with well done steaks in the past, so I now normally ask for medium rare. The flank of beef was perfectly pink, juicy and tender. The serving was very generous for the price to be honest. It was served with pan-friend potatoes and salad. J went for the beef mignon (the price escapes me) which he also enjoyed. 

5. Le Petit Glacier-  3 Rue Austerlitz Proche de la Place du Corbeau 
- We visited this dessert place a few times whilst in Strasbourg and each visit was such a pleasant treat. I mean, how could you not possibly enjoy really amazing desserts? To be honest, I prefer simple desserts. However, I couldn't resist the over the top desserts at Le Petit Glacier. My choice of dessert was the very refreshing La Hawaï (€10.50) which was beautifully presented, so it was difficult for me to start eating it. Hehe. Basically, it is a collection of exotic fruits with passion fruit and mango sorbet, coconut ice cream and mango whipped cream. It sounds a lot but trust me, it is just enough for one. Well, if you eat a lot like me. Meanwhile, J's favourite was the La Chocolatiere (€9.30) - a mountain of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, cold chocolate, whipped cream and chocolate sauce. It was heavenly! 

6. Bristot Coco- 8 Rue de Ecurie
- We went to dinner here on the eve of my birthday. I came from Colmar that day and J finished his conference on time, so we had an early dinner. It was good timing actually because the restaurant was not even open when we arrived. Although we had to wait for a few minutes,  it also only meant that we could choose wherever we wanted to be seated. So, always our best choice- al fresco! The British lady who served us was friendly and chatty. The food was served in a timely manner. The quality of food was definitely good. We had a three-course meal and each meal was very satisfying to say the least. For starter, we shared a burratina with nuts and cherry (€10). For the mains, I had the very tender Entrecôte de Veau (€28). To be honest, we would have been fine with two courses, however their dessert menu was very appealing so we had the fondant au chocolat (€10). It was the best way to end our dinner experience at Bristot Coco.

7.  1741- 22 Quai des Bateliers 
- My birthday lunch in 1741 was an unforgettable one, and it remains one of the best birthday celebrations ever- more so because I had lunch on my own. It was the only second time that I actually dined in a restaurant alone on my birthday. The first time was unplanned. My then friend basically stood me up. We are no longer seeing each other if you're wondering if we are still friends. Haha.  Anyway, back to my 1741 story. I have been to many French restaurants before, but I never felt so intimidated as I did when I entered the elegant restaurant, mainly because I was alone. But I felt a lot better once I was seated. 

I was given a table in a quiet room as I requested, with only 3 tables set up for 5 guests. I was given the middle table which was an added bonus. Once seated, I was offered a small stool to put my bag on- a first restaurant experience. The food was not mind blowing, but it was excellent nonetheless. I had their 5-course meal for €105, without drinks. The whole experience made it totally worth it. The service was very professional and attentive. The company was warm and friendly. Unfortunately, the other guests only spoke French, so it was difficult to make conversation. They attempted to speak to me in English, as I did to them in French (with the few words I learnt from my previous travels to France). In the end, we used google translate.  

What made this birthday lunch extra special was the couple I met at the restaurant. After I blew my birthday cake, the couple bought me a small glass of Marc d' Alsace Gewurtztraminer, which apparently is a popular drink in Alsace. I drank it reluctantly, but I finished the glass.  Then as we were leaving, the lady handed me their business card and asked me to call them so I could have coffee with them at their house. It was so unfortunate that I didn't have any more time to see them again. However, I sent them a thank you card before we left Strasbourg and wrote my email address on the card. A few days later when I was back in London, I received an email from them. We have not stopped emailing each other since. They are actually the reasons why I am writing this blog right now.

8. Pierre Bois Et Feu- 6 Rue du Bain-aux-Roses
- J chose this restaurant for my birthday dinner, and he made a very good choice. It was a different experience altogether as I had my first flat iron steak- literally. And when I say literally, my steak was actually cooked using a charcoal flat iron box. It was very fascinating to watch the whole thing as I have never seen such a thing in my life. The whole experience was memorable. We approximately paid €35 per person which was not too bad.

9. Le Purgatoire- 34 Rue de Zurich
- Yet, another first in my food adventure. To be honest, I didn't expect my food to come in a tin can, but I tell you, it was the best canned food I ever had. I wanted to take some home but the waiter was not very accommodating, so I didn't take the courage to ask if they were selling them. It was so delicious and really cheap!

10. Caffe-Gelateria- 11 Place de la Cathédrale
- Everyday for a week, I was going to this cafe in front of the Strasbourg Cathedral to get my morning coffee. I would sit there for an hour or so, just people watching. Tourists flooded the area to visit the Cathedral at 0900 sharp. By this time, I have been to the church (they open at 0800)already so I didn't have to queue up. It was a good spot to enjoy the beauty of the intricately designed gothic cathedral.

With the current situation that we are in, I am unsure as to when we can safely travel again. In fact, I have no plans on travelling at all this year, except for one important travel I have to make once the travel bans are lifted. Until then, all I can do is relive the memories we have made before the world was turned upside down by the pandemic. Until then, we must stay safe.

TIN x

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