I was published again this month in Vintage Life magazine, and while it's an utter thrill to see my articles and recipes in print, this time around I'm rather disappointed (and it's not the first time...) The article I wrote has been shortened without me being asked first and the recipe sadly has been misprinted. I am therefore providing both the full article and you can find the recipe here. I hope you enjoy it!
When I was a child - like many children - I loved throwing tea parties for my huge variety of toys. Even though all the cups were plastic and the teapot was empty, I imagined I was laying out the finest bone china, the tea was some exotic blend I hadn’t even heard of, and the toys were served delicious cakes and delectable sandwiches (see I was a foodie even then). My teddies and dollies were in their Sunday best and on their best behaviour - probably the only time both they and I were! As I grew and played with my enviable collection of Barbie and Sindy dolls (and Disney Princess dolls - they were always my favourite) I made them have dinner and tea parties with each other rather than me hosting it for them - me hosting would have been just plain weird. Now I’m grown up (in body at least), I still yearn for those days of having tea parties so have to force them on friends and family. There is still something so magical for me about that tea party spread; tiny morsels of cake and finger sandwiches as if made for pixies, the heavenly scent of sugar and tea or coffee hanging in the air and beautiful crockery adorning the table. It always feels to me that there is fairy dust enveloping everything and I am swept back to being a child playing make-believe with my toys. Although now I’m not dressed in my Super Ted pyjamas, I’m dressed in an elegant frock imagining it’s 1952 - I’m still playing make believe to a certain extent.
One of my favourite things to eat as a child was a fondant fancy, which is also known as a French fancy. They fascinated me with their colours (the pink and yellow ones at least, the brown ones were pretty dull), their soft interior and sweet and slightly crunchy exterior. They were definitely one of the more magical treats we had as children. Most of us know them as one of Mr Kipling’s “exceedingly good” cakes, and the eponymous cake maker is credited with introducing this little coquettish confection to Britain in 1967.
I realise there are a lot of steps in making these fancies, including an abundance of putting in and taking out of the fridge, but these steps are so crucial. Chilling the cake ensures a smooth coating of buttercream. Gluten-free cakes are typically more crumbly than regular wheat flour cakes, so in order to coat the sides of your fancies and not destroy half the cake in the process; chill, chill, chill. Whilst these are notoriously tricky to get right (does anyone recall the technical challenge on the Bake Off) when you do, they truly are some of the most delicious and magical treats you could want on your tea party table. Try not to touch the sides too much when you ice them to ensure there are no fingerprints; you want a neat and smooth finish.
I would recommend serving these gorgeous little pixie cake treats alongside a Victoria Sponge (see issue 82 for my recipe), lashings of tea and some gluten-free finger sandwiches (crusts removed, of course) stuffed with smoked salmon and cream cheese, cucumber (obviously), egg mayonnaise and the perennial favourite, cheese and pickle. You could also include the very traditional coronation chicken - purportedly created in 1953 for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation which was originally made by poaching chicken with aromatics, then dressing the cooked, cooled and shredded meat in a combination of softened onions, curry powder, tomato puree, wine and water, seasoning, sugar and lemon juice which is simmered and cooled, then has mayonnaise and apricot puree folded through and finished with whipped cream. The more modern version is rather easier where the chicken is coated with a blend of mayonnaise, mango chutney, curry powder, lime or lemon zest and juice and seasoning.
This spread is almost certainly more than I could have dreamed of as a child, but creating it now allows me to get that little magic spark back. Like Roald Dahl said “those who do not believe in magic will never find it”, and with this vintage-inspired tea party I definitely believe in magic and I hope you will too.
Hopefully, you have all been excited to find out who I am planning to invite to my fantasy dinner party! There will be some guests who I'm sure you'll think are pretty obvious, and some I hope you either may not know of or, like me, will want to find more about. But let's start at the beginning and with one of the more obvious guests to dinner...
Given my penchant for vintage dressing, especially the style of the 50s, it should be no surprise that Marilyn would be a guest at my fantasy dinner. That she would be my first guest is perhaps more of a surprise. The thing is, I can't remember a time when I wasn't a fan of Norma Jean. She has always been there.
Marilyn, whose early life was full of heartbreak, and whose incredible life under a microscope ended at the same age I am now. Just 36. From a brown-haired girl-next-door married to her first husband at the tender age of 16 in order that she didn’t end up back in an orphanage, to the platinum blonde bombshell who couldn’t move without someone noticing or taking a picture of her.
Having spent a lot of my life reading countless books about her, watching her movies and many a biopic of her life, I have even more love for her. She clearly suffered with mental health problems (not surprisingly given her unusual upbringing, childhood abuse and her mother being diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic), and addictions. All she wanted was to love and be loved. She desperately desired a child, but her beautiful curvaceous body, into which she pumped endless pills and alcohol, could not sustain a pregnancy. She married three times in a desperate bid to find the love she desired, but none of her husbands could love her the way she wanted. She needed the father she never had.
I would love to have Marilyn for dinner; I would love to just listen to her talk about her interests. She was incredibly intelligent and I’m sure she was never able to really show that due to her persona as ‘the dumb blonde’. I wish I could ask her how and why she died. Did she commit suicide? Was she murdered? Or was it (as I believe) just an awful accident.
I would probably spend an inordinate amount of time simply staring at her because I think she was so incredibly beautiful which might freak her out somewhat, but I'm sure she would handle it with aplomb. After all, she spent her life being stared at.
So, there you have it. My first guest at my fantasy dinner party. What do you think? Would you have Marilyn for tea?
Stay Hep, Cats
My friend Charlotte has a weekly feature on her blog about fantasy bakes (click here for her most recent). She talks about who she would like to bake a cake for and why. I love reading these every Monday to find out for whom she is going to bake and what her reasoning is for wanting to provide (imaginary) cake for them. I don’t want to steal her idea because it is hers and she is what makes it, but I did want to take inspiration from it.
As a foodie, the age-old question is always “if you could have a dinner party and invite anyone, living or dead, who would you invite?”. I adore this question, as it gives you the freedom to think about all the cool, interesting and in some cases, perhaps, inappropriate people you would have around your dinner table. This thought led me to think that perhaps I could write about my fantasy dinner party. So each time I post I will add a guest to the dinner party and explain why I would want them to attend, I also hope to come up with a fantasy dinner menu too (which may or may not include recipes).
Charlotte, I hope you don’t mind that I have kind of stolen your thing…
So, stay tuned for the fantasy dinner party, it will probably give you some interesting insights into my psyche (though perhaps might not be something you want!).
Stay Hep, Cats