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Tea and Sympathy

The first – and only – time I went to Ireland, I stumbled through a grey Dublin morning with my best friend in search of a place to breakfast. I was a bit shocked by the many, many men perched on their pub stools with a pint resting on the ledge before them — it was only 10 a.m., after all. But mostly my mind was fixed on what I would eat: I wanted a proper cup of tea, and beans on toast. And I was able to partake in both of them that cool July day.

My time in Ireland was all too brief (just a Saturday morning to a Sunday afternoon), and I long to go back. I read books by Irish writers and picture its brilliant green hills shining jewel-like above a muddy sea, and am reduced to listening to Christy Moore and drinking a Bass Ale to console myself that I am not there. I want to go to the Orkneys, and to visit the Writer’s Museum that we didn’t have time for on that trip [Jameson trumped Joyce, unfortunately]. While the food was nothing much to speak of — mostly because the vegetarian offerings were somewhat thin — I still remember that breakfast in a dim restaurant when I ate my first beans on toast and drank a hot, milky pot of tea.

So when I went to Scotland a few years later, I was well-prepared. I knew I needed to eat as many breakfasts of beans-on-toast as I could stomach, and drink as many cups of perfectly brewed tea as I could stand. I learned on the train from London to Edinburgh that tea with milk is called “white tea,” and thus was careful to order all subsequent cups in this way. But Scotland gave me so many other culinary delights: the oat biscuits that are the perfect foil for a slice of sharp white cheddar cheese; vegetarian haggis; cream scones with jam; porridge; vegetarian breakfasts of fried mushrooms, tomatoes, beans, and toast. During my week there I ate scones and sipped tea and looked over a wild, highland landscape that became a part of me in a way that few places do (such as California; such as northern Greece). I developed a taste for whisky — its smoky swirl still lingers in my mouth — and delicious heather beer.

inverness to skye road.

[on the highland-road from Inverness to Skye right after Susan and I devoured our cream scones.]

When I lived in Washington, my friend Kate would sometimes whisk me off to Old Town Alexandria (Va.) to visit the British Connection, a quaint and homey little tea room nestled among that city’s old brick homes and cobblestone sidewalks. In addition to freshly baked scones, the menu boasts an assortment of United Kingdom standbys, including — yes! — beans on toast, vegetarian sausage rolls, toasted cheese sandwiches, and sponge cake. In the back of the restaurant is a little shop filled with an assortment of imported delicacies — lemon curd, Heinz vegetarian baked beans, glamorous teas, chocolates, beer — and the whole place smells exactly like the out-of-the-way tea rooms I visited in Scotland. The proprietress is outfitted with a proper English accent, and is very friendly — and she’ll let you linger for hours if you so wish.

I have been missing my tea-companions lately; they are too far away — in Edinburgh and DC, respectively. Fall has turned here in Northern California, and it is the right weather for tea-drinking. I miss going to Old Town for tea, and I miss Kate especially; she is one of the smartest, funniest, most interesting women I know, and from the very moment we met I knew we would be friends always. I wish we could slip off to share a pot of tea together, and a catch-up, and a talk about books and dogs. And I thought of her this weekend when I found myself craving a strong cup of tea, and a piece of cake.

tea time.

At the risk of being one of those cooking blogs (you know: the ones only and all about cupcakes), I offer yet another cupcake-recipe, this time for vegan cupcakes with chocolate frosting. I made them for a friend’s art party — she and her husband are vegan — and I must admit they are nearly as good as the whole-fat, animal-product ones (though to be honest, they lacked a certain tender crumb).

Vegan Yellow Cupcakes

1 TB apple cider vinegar (I used white vinegar)
1 ½ scant cups plain soymilk
2 1/8 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 1/8 cups sugar
½ cup oil
1 ¼ tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. coconut extract

Preheat the oven to 350º. Grease a muffin tin or line with cupcakes holders and set aside.

Place the apple cider vinegar in the bottom of a liquid measuring cup and fill the cup with soymilk to equal 1 ½ cups. Stir well and set aside (the mixture will curdle).

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another mixing bowl whisk together the soymilk mixture, canola oil, vanilla, and coconut extract. Add the wet to the dry ingredients and beat until smooth using a hand-held mixer, stopping once to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Fill each muffin cup with 1/2- cup of batter. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the middle of a cupcake comes out clean.

Let cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then remove cupcakes from the pan and place on a wire rack. Let the cupcakes cool completely before frosting. Frost with a vegan chocolate or vegan peanut-butter frosting.

Next time you visit I will make lots of pots of tea, and scones, and hunt down some devon cream.


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