Down the Rabbit Hole

28 10 2010

Let me put that title into context.

This was the setting:

Lovely Langdon

This was the food:

Scones

Sandwiches

Sweets

This is what it reminded me of:

Alice

 

And the occasion was my 29th UN-Birthday!

 

And speaking of Alice in Wonderland, this is what was missing:

Bad Girl

I’m kidding!

In reality, Langdon Hall is indeed a bit like Wonderland.  It’s a beautiful manor tucked into the middle of Cambridge, just off of Blair Road, and it is totally unexpected.  As me and my companions made our way up the long, winding road it felt like we were driving into a different world.  Gently sloping hills dotted with tall trees surrounded us and as we reached the crest of the main hill, the elegant and absurdly large façade of Langdon Hall greeted us with its white columns and stately presence.  The parking lot was full of cars one was more likely to see at an auto show yet I kept thinking that it would have been perfectly appropriate to arrive in a horse-drawn carriage.  Once parked, we made our way to the entrance, bypassing the garden walls through a “secret” walkway.  The resemblance to old English fairytale settings was uncanny.  When we arrived, we were told that it would be a few minutes wait and were directing to the sitting area where several antique chairs surrounded a wood fire which was snapping and popping away in the enormous fireplace.  Said fireplace was festooned with a deer sculpture or two and some large oil paintings.

After a few minutes, we were greeted by our waiter who was dressed in black and whites complete with a bow tie and gloves.  As he led us to our table in the tea room, we passed through a beautiful billiard room which faced the gardens as well as a living room (with another fireplace) and finally a red walled dining area that was set for a very formal dinner.  The only question that came to my mind was:  “Was it Professor Plum, in the Billiard Room, with the pipe?”

The place was certainly big enough to host a murder mystery dinner and definitely had enough nooks and crannies to make it both soothing and spooky, depending on the occasion.  The tea room, however, was far from spooky.  It was a beige panelled room at least 20 feet long with three separate seating areas and, of course, another fireplace.  We were directed to the white wicker chairs which surrounded an elegant coffee table that had been covered with a *real* white tablecloth and set with white china and silver cutlery.  As we settled in, the sunlight beamed from the sky through the trees leaving interplaying light and dark shadows all around us.  Classical music whispered in the background.  Instead of leaning back into our seats, we all felt the need to sit straight and fold our hands in our laps; after all, this was High Tea.

(Did anyone else happen to read that last bit in an English accent?)

We read through the tea options and each picked out a flavour.  I chose Black Tea while my companions chose Peppermint and “Old Blue Eyes” – a mixture of various berries – respectively.  We then read through the High Tea tasting menu.  If there was one “flaw” in this menu, it was the complete and utter devotion to all things baked and wheat-flour based; definitely not a good choice for someone allergic to gluten, but it was absolutely scrumptious!

I’m not a tea drinker, coffee is my preferred beverage, but the tea that was served at Langdon Hall made me understand why.  This tea was absolutely unbelievable and anything from a tea bag, no matter how expensive, could compare.  The tea that I was familiar with was probably the reason why I disliked it in the first place, but this experience converted me into a fan (of fine tea, mind you).  My drink arrived in a tea pot in its original form: dark, whole leaves that reminded me of bay leaves.  The hot water surrounding them was amber and full of flavour.  The taste was powerful and fresh yet totally familiar at the same time.  The peppermint tea arrived in a tea bag but I tasted it anyway; I strongly dislike anything minty but this, again, was very different.  The flavour was delicate yet powerful at the same time.  Old Blue Eyes was superb; the berries floated in the tea pot giving the liquid a rosy hue.  The flavour reminded me of fresh berries but in a richer, more serious format.  We sipped and savoured for a few minutes waiting for our platter of sweet and savoury delicacies to arrive.  And when they did, we dug right in – a silver, three tiered platter presented the deliciousness we were about to consume in a lovely way.

The bottom platter featured two types perfectly tender yet flaky scones – orange/ginger and cranberry – that were fresh out of the oven.  These were accompanied by homemade apple butter (ridiculously good), a berry preserve (a nice balance of tart and sweet with pieces of real fruit throughout), and clotted cream (need I say more?) which were served on the side in a simple, triple-bowl dish.   The centre platter held a variety of desserts including soft and buttery orange-flavoured Madeleines, chocolate squares covered in ganache, and miniature red velvet cupcakes with the most amazing cream cheese frosting ever.  This particularly delicious frosting was sweet but also tangy and speckled throughout with real vanilla bean; it was definitely low on sugar and high on flavour.  The top layer of the platter featured a collection of miniature sandwiches – mustard swirl bread with sweet chutney filling (spicy and sweet and absolutely amazing), pulled organic chicken on homemade white bread (not my favourite but still very, very good), trout tartar tartlettes (delicately flavoured and wonderfully refreshing; a runner up to the chutney sandwiches which were my favourite), and of course, cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches (with crusts!).  Oh, and there was also the seemingly endless supply of excellent tea.

We laughed at the seemingly small amount of food on the platter (all three of us could be classified as “serious eaters”) but once we had devoured it all and drank our tea, we were quite full.  And it was the kind of calorie consumption I had no worries about because it was WORTH IT!

When food is delicious and company is delightful and the setting is one of absolutely dignified elegance, one can’t help but think of Wonderland – no hookah pipes required.

A very merry un-birthday to me indeed!

If I'm Alice, who's the Mad Hatter and who's the Hare???

Images courtesy of the internet, thank you.

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Howling for…Chocolate

27 10 2010

“I must admit, I can’t explain, all these thoughts racing through my brain –

it’s true, baby, I’m howling for you…”

I would like to thank the totally awesome band, The Black Keys, for the words that inspired this blog because basically, this is how I feel about chocolate. I guess I must also admit that I can be a bit of a chocolate snob.  Once upon a time, I never used to read chocolate wrappers as obsessively as I do now, but lately, I’ve noticed just how bad much of the easily accessible chocolate tastes, hence all the reading…and obsessing.

Not chocolate, but almost as good.

When seeking out this precious treat, I am always willing to go the extra mile.  Literally.  Take, for example, my trip to Paris when my friend, Kat, and I decided to visit one of the world’s most famous chocolatiers.  We researched the location and devised our travel plan, executed the rather complex route we had to take via metro, and then proceeded to walk forty five minutes through some little-known neighbourhoods in the city of light – in the middle of February.  Was it worth it?  You bet!  The chocolates were definitely one of a kind and something we would probably never get to eat again.  The candy had that perfect snap to it and the fillings were complementary elements to the cocao which, mind you, was that perfect mix of bitter and sweet.  There were absolutely no cloying sweet, sugar saturated, fake fruit, tasteless truffles in sight.

Tres bien!

In my younger days, my brother and I would scour the house for any chocolate that might be hiding from our greedy little hands.  My mom actually had to stash the stuff in new hiding spots every week so that we wouldn’t devour it all in one sitting.  Times haven’t changed all that much, but the chocolate I grew up with has morphed quite a bit.  I remember the days when Poland was importing some very good chocolate to the Polish stores around the GTA.  Wedel was definitely number one in terms of taste and repertoire.  Sadly, some evil chocolate moguls of the North American variety (where reading a few labels reveals that “chocolate” seems to mean sugar, sugar, sugar and some cocao flavour) bought Wedel out.  This forever destroyed the fabulous taste and most famous name in Polish chocolate.

Wedel - not what it used to be.

Thankfully, Poland hasn’t got it all wrong (after all, they are relatively close to the Swiss and Dutch who are world famous for their chocolate and cocoa respectively) and there are still a few brands I trust; and that taste the way chocolate should taste.

In this...

...chocolate...

...we trust.

Thankfully, there are actually several brands of chocolate which are readily available in North America that are absolutely excellent as well – so perhaps I am not a complete chocolate snob after all?  😉

For example, I adore Kinder (although they’re actually a German company) and nothing beats the Kinder Surprise egg with the dinky toy inside.  Also, if you haven’t tried Kinder Bueno, I recommend it.  I also tend to visit the Lindt warehouse store fairly regularly where I like to bulk up (I mean, buy in bulk) various types of chocolate (although Lindt is actually a French company that uses Belgian chocolate).  When I am forced to buy chocolate from a vending machine – God forbid – I always end up choosing Snickers.  If I’m in a real bind, almost any chocolate will do – even the white stuff – although that has cost me many pointless calories over the years.  Independent chocolate shops are a favourite place to discover new combinations of flavours and any place that serves “real” hot chocolate – ie: chocolate and cream melted together and poured into a cup – makes me grin like a Cheshire cat.

Grin

So, I’m constantly on the lookout for better, more accessible, crazily flavoured chocolate for my palate.  I’ve tried hot chili chocolate (love!), garlic chocolate (not my thing), any chocolates containing alcohol (yummers!), salt chocolate (different and complex), 99% chocolate (an acquired taste but still good) and chocolate with flowers in it (rose and lavender to be exact).

So, have you had any good chocolate lately?

Note to readers: One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to chocolate is when it is stored improperly.  From the little that I know about this amazing confection, tempering is the process by which chocolate is melted with other ingredients and then solidified slowly to create specific shapes and densities.  The most common way to temper chocolate correctly is by melting it slowly over a double boiler and then tempering it on a marble slab.  Melting chocolate in a microwave or storing it in the fridge is actually the worst thing a person can do to chocolate.  Almost instantly, the silky texture disappears and is replaced by a crumbly, waxy mess.  I have witnessed this chocolate brutality in some stores and even in private homes where chocolate is stored in the fridge to “keep it fresh”.  Be kind to any chocolate you buy or receive – keep it in the cellar, cool room or even a wine fridge (turned up to a nice 10 degrees Celsius or so).

Pictures: from the internet – thank you to all these wonderful photographers.