When I was in my 20s, I took magazines literally. I'd spend hours with Gourmet magazine, concocting trifles requiring an architect's precision, fussing over whether jam-filled cakes were lined up perfectly as pinstripes along the edges of a clear glass dish. Nowadays, I'd just use a different serving bowl.
This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.
I thought about this as I perused "The Vintage Tea Party Year," a book less about throwing tea parties than parties in general. It's a lovely craft guide and cookbook written by Angel Adoree, a British entertaining guru who's made a mark in London by catering vintage tea parties. Her company supplies the china and even hairdressers to transport guests to an earlier era; this book, her second, aims to instruct on how to get similar results at home.
Even if I don't follow instructions, I still love books like this one for the ideas they offer. Tea cups should be used more often as serving dishes. And why not bake single-serving cobblers in flip-top jars? Just when you begin to worry the wedding chapter is about to take a Martha Stewart-style dive into a cranberry bog, Adoree's sense of humor crops up: Serve beef casserole in a jar.
Here's how to use a book like this: Consider the circus-themed children's tea party chapter. Homemade popcorn boxes? Buy them instead. Tacos rolled into cone shapes? Brilliant, and no more difficult than a regular taco. A carousel assembled from homemade animal crackers and marshmallows? Forget it — but maybe consider the marshmallows, since they're simple to make and tastier than store-bought. Fresh fruit gelatin served in decorative candy dishes? Totally doable: not much more trouble than Jell-O, but if you have to go with Jell-O, use the neat serving dish idea. Chunks of banana hollowed out and filled with — let's stop right there. That's just silly. But you could easily pare that recipe down to something delightful: Freeze the banana, dunk it in chocolate, roll it in nuts and top it with whipped cream and a cherry. Looks like the photo in the book, even if it's not.
This is a picture book that aims to inspire, and it hits the mark; the key is not to confuse inspiration and aspiration. Who cares if your own take on it doesn't live up to the expectations the book sets? Speaking of which, parents beware: Adoree includes instructions on how to turn your child's hair into Minnie Mouse ears. Good luck with that.
Jennifer Day is the editor of Printers Row Journal.
"The Vintage Tea Party Year"
By Angel Adoree, Octopus, 303 pages, $29.99