Back in the Early Mesozoic Era, when I was in graduate school in Iowa, Sunday afternoons were particularly fraught. Friday afternoons were great – on Friday afternoon, I had the illusion that with two glorious empty days, an infinite amount of studying would transpire. Fridays I felt justified in taking an evening off. But Sunday afternoons, surrounded by books and unfinished work, with Monday looming on the horizon....Sunday afternoons were pretty gloomy.
When the weather was good, I often took a brisk walk to shake out the cobwebs. Unfortunately and far too often, the weather made a brisk walk seem like sheer madness. On Sunday afternoons with rain or sleet pounding on our windows, my roommate and I would stay in for an impromptu afternoon tea.
I've had far fancier teas since. In those days, our tea fare consisted of nothing more pretentious than a few chocolates from the drug store, and maybe cookies from the vending machine. The tea itself was excellent: my roommate was from China, and early in our association she gently explained to me that I'd never had a decent cup of tea, and proved her point by taking over the tea-making duties. Although I've had afternoon teas with far more variety and quality of food, I've never had any so evocative of warmth and comfort. We had nowhere to go, and not much to do to amuse ourselves, but for a half-hour as the sun went down, we wrapped ourselves in safety and savored what we had.
Those days left their mark. All these years later, a rainy weekend will see me putting the kettle on and rummaging in the pantry for whatever might be pressed into duty as "tea fare". On a recent weekend, we pulled out all the stops here and did tea good and proper.
Technically, it was "high tea", as it included several kinds of sandwiches and deviled eggs, as well as scones and bonbons. People often assume that "high tea" is a particularly fancy tea offering, but that is a misconception. High, in this instance, actually means "late" as in "it's high time": high tea is a heartier meal than just tea, because it does double-duty for dinner too. As such, it is actually less formal than just "tea". But more filling.
If you would like to create your own tea, high or low, many of the recipes on this site can be pressed into service. On this occasion, I made two kinds of scones from A Little Refined and miniature pumpkin muffins from Cinderella's Carriage. It was a team effort, with sandwich-making, egg-deviling, and tea-brewing all adding bustle to a rainy afternoon.
So much has changed since graduate school, and mostly for the better. But some things have not. There is, again right now, nowhere to go and not much to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon. There is, again, the sense that the future looms and our efforts feel puny. If I could travel back in time and talk to those graduate students, what would I say? Would I say "When the pandemic comes, it'll last longer than you could possibly imagine"? Or "Invest in Google, yes that really will be a thing"? I think I would say "Stick with it, things will get so much better." I think I would say "Pour another cup of tea."
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