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One Lump or Two?

“Little sandwiches” does not mean “Little work”

They’re just so, civilized, aren’t they? Those little mouthfuls, half of a half of a sandwich, attractively arranged on an oval platter, spiraling up in a graceful pyramid, unobtrusive yet oh so desirable. And their chums, the circular sandies, deftly carved out of another type of bread with another type of filling. Oh goodness, what a lovely tea party we are having!

You are indeed having a lovely tea party, if you are the guest. If you are the hostess, you are hoping you’ve made enough sandwiches, because even though all the tea party web sites say to allow 3-4 sandwiches per person, well, people are bigger now, what if it’s more like 6-7? And if you are the hostess of a tea party for 16, how much is enough? And figuring it out, is it arithmetic or geometry you’ve got to use? Four tea sandwiches per slice x 3 types of sandwiches x 16 people ÷ 4 sandwiches per person = how the hell should I know.

Making tea party sandwiches requires a great deal more effort than you'd think delicate things like that would, even if you have an assembly line (one of the great things about living in an actual city and having a 16 year-old niece living 35 miles away: nieces will be happy to do anything as long as they are doing it in the city with you):

  • You must butter the bread, both slices, so that the filling does not seep into the bread and make it all soggy;

  • You must not put too much filling on the bread, because it will only fall out the sides when one of the tea ladies takes a delicate nibble on the sandwich;

  • You must gently place the second slice of bread atop the filling, and gently smoosh things around to make sure the filling spreads out to the edges;

  • You must gingerly slice off the crusts of the bread after assembly, because if you do it beforehand the sandwiches will be all lopsided and sloppy-looking and not delicate at all.

Fill ‘er up!

Do yourself a favor and make the fillings the day before you make the sandwiches; you’ll run out of energy if you try to make everything on the day of the party (although it seems that you need to make the sandwiches on the day, else they become very unappealing).

Egg Salad-y bits

The rule of thumb is three types of sandwiches, so of course I came up with five (Stepford Wife, anyone?) until I realized I was wouldn’t be able to make that much stuff and was stressing myself out for no reason, and so just cut it back to three.

The traditional three are a chicken salad, an egg salad, and a cucumbery thing. The chicken salad was the easiest to make, because I did not use chicken…more on that in a minute. I hard-boiled a dozen eggs (with a little vinegar in the water for, something), the shelling of which gave me a callous on the side of my index finger. The cucumbers had to be shredded (thank goodness I finally figured out how to use my V-Slicer else I’d still be cutting them up!) then squeezed of excess water then mixed with the cream cheese.

We had run out of butter by the time we got to the cucumbers (a whole tub of Olivio!), but I figured cream cheese would be just as occlusive as butter, so we just mixed it all up and spread it on the bread. Wrong!

According to Wan, butter is oil based, cream cheese is water based, so the cream cheese is not an acceptable substitute. The cucumber/cream cheese sandwiches were very delicate indeed, because they practically fell apart by the time of the tea party.

Man might be able to live by bread alone

You could serve tea sandwiches of whipped cream and radishes and people would declaim them as the best thing ever eaten in the history of prepared food if the bread is good. And for tea sandwiches, good bread is thin bread.

I was loving those websites that said “buy a loaf of unsliced home-style bread from the bakery and slice it thinly using an electric carving knife,” because:

  1. Bakeries hardly make bread any more;

  2. Bakeries that do make bread make artisanal loafs that do not lend themselves to tea sandwich use;

  3. Me? An electric carving knife? I can’t even separate a pre-slit English muffin without tearing it into three, um, halfs.

Pepperidge Farm actually makes a loaf of bread called “Very Thin” in both white and wheat varieties; each loaf makes 60 triangular tea sandwiches (15 “big” sandwiches X 4 “small” sandwiches = more than enough for your tea party). The chicken filling went into the white, the cucumber went into the wheat. The wheat was made into circles using a 2.5 inch round cookie cutter (use metal cutters; plastic ones aren’t sharp enough and will rip the bread), and then cut in half to make half moons (because of the size of the slices, each big sandwich made one little sandwich, and 15 cucumber sandwiches wasn’t enough).

No really, have two

Those in the know will tell you that each type of sandwich should have a different shape, so that your guests will be able to tell the difference between them. I came up with the cleverly efficient idea of using a loaf of that cute 2-inch square cocktail bread you find in front of the deli counter to make the egg salad sandwiches. It turned out to be a bad idea, because the bread was not soft. So when my tea ladies bit into it, the egg salad refused to stay in the sandwich, and shot out the back. Good thing we were all family…

But it quacks like a duck

As a vegetarian, I was not going to prepare, let alone serve, something that I would not myself eat. So what could I serve that would still be tea party-y, but not go against my eating philosophy?

Quorn, my friends, Quorn. Quorn is a brand-name of this unbelievable U.K. product that has finally come to our shores. It is a myco-protein, and is so similar in taste and feel to chicken that nobody can tell they are not eating chicken.

Wan utterly delights in announcing to people “It’s slime mold!”  While I imagine that technically that’s true, that phrase is not to be found on the Quorn website (they say it’s made from a fungus), and so I have gotten Wan to agree to not tell people that any more. And since my mother almost choked to death once when I told her that her tuna sandwich was made with “tofu mayonnaise” there was a strict code of silence in the house until after the “chicken” salad was served.

The "chicken" salad got rave reviews. I teased my mother my eating "meat," and once she noticed, she seemed disappointed in me. I winked and said that maybe it wasn’t chicken; she laughed and called me a swear word. But in a ladylike fashion.

I can make that dish in three minutes – NOT!!

A realistic timetable

Irish scones at an English Tea

I’ll have one of those, one of those, and one of those (please)

How ‘bout a cuppa?

Thanks so much for coming

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