A Mad Tea-Party

“Ever drifting down the stream, lingering in the golden gleam; life, what is it but a dream?” ~ Lewis Carroll (from Through the Looking-Glass, 1871)

Between vacation and working for a culinary camp this summer, I’ve spent the past month surrounded by amazing food with few opportunities to cook it for myself. I was craving a creative cooking challenge, so yesterday, I did something that has served me well many times in the past: I threw a themed party.

My history with themed parties goes back a long time (probably all the way back to my teenage obsession with Party Monster). Over the years I’ve hosted a couple of murder mysteries, some themed dinners, and I’ve had a costume party with a specific theme for my birthday every year since 2009. These parties have gradually featured more and more food as my interest and experience in cooking has grown. Some of the culinary highlights have included Ancient Roman and Egyptian dinners and a party featuring only food from the pages of A Series of Unfortunate Events (pasta puttanesca, salmon puffs and chilled cucumber soup, among other things).
This time, I decided to have an afternoon tea party outdoors on my apartment building’s terrace, inspired very loosely by the Mad Tea-Party in Alice and Wonderland. I’m a huge Lewis Carroll fan (the original Tenniel illustration of Alice knocking over the jury-box decorates the back of my phone case) but I had never had an Alice party before, so really I was killing two birds with one stone. I decorated with paper doilies and appropriate EAT ME and DRINK ME labels, and made an assortment of tea party snacks.
Here’s what was on the menu:
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Makgeolli. If you never tasted it or smelled it, you’d swear it was tea.

Tea. Naturally. I got some cheap teapots off Amazon and brewed a few different kinds, chosen mainly for their potential to be mixed with booze: peppermint, Earl Grey and jasmine green.

There was also artichoke tea, which I picked up in Vietnam. It was very good; dark brown in color, it smelled like brown sugar and tasted faintly of a freshly steamed, unseasoned artichoke, as it should. A Vietnamese friend told me it’s believed to cool down your body, which I know is true of other teas like chrysanthemum as well. We mixed it with rum and ginger ale, which may not cool down your body but doesn’t taste half bad.

Makgeolli. This is a rice liquor (sometimes called “rice wine”) that I made according to the recipe of my usual source for all things culinary and Korean–Maangchi. I just made it because I’ve been wanting to. The only connection to my theme is that it does look rather like tea with milk. It was pretty easy to make, tasted great, and is old enough of a beverage to deserve its own Ancient Recipe post (forthcoming).

Tuna salad on endive spears. I’ve made this as an hors d’oeuvres for parties before, except usually I use imitation crab meat (which I was unable to find in time).
Hong Kong egg tarts. These were really fun to make. I chose a fairly simple recipe, rather than going the authentic route and making Chinese puff pastry, which sounded a bit more complicated than the puff pastry I’m used to. I loved how cheerful they came out looking, like tiny suns.
Two kinds of finger sandwiches. The white bread ones are Japanese chicken katsu (panko-breaded fried chicken cutlet with mayonnaise and tonkatsu sauce). The pumpernickel ones are cucumber and herb cream cheese.
Jam-pennies. A British tea snack and supposedly a favorite of Queen Elizabeth II. Butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread cut into little circles (I used a shot glass. The Queen most likely does not).
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Bonus image: it wouldn’t be much of a Mad Tea without a hatter. In the process of putting this costume together, I learned that the “In This Style 10/6” on the label in the Hatter’s hatband is not the hat’s size, it’s the hat’s price (ten shillings sixpence).

Fairy-bread. A favorite of Australian children, fairy-bread is simply buttered bread with sprinkles on top. In keeping with my theme, I like to think it has something to do with the “bread-and-butter-flies” of Looking-Glass World.
All in all it was a pleasant afternoon and an excellent excuse to get friends together, sit out in the sun, and most of all, cook.
New ancient recipe coming soon! (I do still write about ancient food, I promise.)

I’m in a Youtube Video!

Ancient food is great and all, but every now and then I get a craving for something a little more contemporary. Possibly my all-time favorite modern cuisine is Korean food. There’s something irresistible about it to me: the spiciness, the colors, the seemingly endless variety. I frequently make Korean food at home, and everything I know about it I learned from Youtuber and bestselling cookbook author Maangchi. I’ve been watching her videos for years and even got featured on her website once. Naturally, I was extremely excited when I got invited to be a part of her latest video project. A few weeks ago, Maangchi led me and four other fans (including a fellow Andrew) on a tour of the mega-size Korean grocery store Hannam in Fort Lee, NJ. The video below is the result, the first in a four-part series made in collaboration with the Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corp.

We had a busy and information-packed day, getting to taste ingredients, ask questions, and sit down to lunch with Maangchi herself. In the video above you can see us tasting raw Asian sweet potato (my first time eating it raw). Someone compares it to chestnut, but my first thought was that it tasted just like the tiger-nuts I’ve used in Ancient Egyptian recipes, crunchy, starchy and lightly sweet. The comparison makes sense because tiger-nuts are actually a small tuber, not a nut.

Meeting Maangchi and getting to tell her about this blog was a really special experience for me, but perhaps my favorite moment of the day was seeing how excited she got over some jars of fresh, unfiltered fish sauce. “I never see this in the US!” she exclaimed. I smiled because it looked exactly how I imagine garum, the ubiquitous Ancient Roman fish sauce, ready to be strained and divided into its component grades of liquamen, muria, and allec. Perhaps there’s more correlation between my culinary interests than I realized….

Enjoy the video, and expect an ancient Korean recipe in the future!