I’ve often wondered about playdates; are they really for kids or secretly for mums? After all, so many of us with little bubs, especially those of us who stay/work at home, can at times be rather deprived of adult conversations and grown-up time. How lovely would it be to sit with friends, sip tea (or Champagne) from pretty cups, pick at gorgeous nibbles, and engage in stimulating, uninterrupted chatter?
Since life for us mamas is all about striking a balance, I took a go at bringing my high tea dreams to a recent playdate I was hosting and well…you can totally have it all mama! (At least, everything except the uninterrupted chatter.)
I bring you…the High Tea Playdate! It’s a definite crowd-pleaser; all my mama friends were oohing and aahing over the set-up, achieved in 5 easy steps:
1. Visual appeal.
It’s time to take those crayons and unread mail off the dining table, pop on a tablecloth and doilies, and pull out all the china and lovely bits and bobs you have tucked into cabinets and drawers.
The basic items you will need are cups and saucers, pretty little teaspoons, a sugar bowl, milk jug, plates and stands for nibbles. I’m not asking you to go out and buy Royal Doulton, but I bet many of mamas have some nice pieces just lying around gathering dust…so it’s time to use it!
If you need a little help, get in touch with my friend It Soh at The Buttered Cat for the most drool-worthy vintage cups and china (people always gasp when you say things like “Oh that cup is from the 20’s”). Little decorative details are always welcome (I love Shiva Designs), so if you have some nice silverware or a cake stand you’ve never used, now’s the time! Be sure to yourself to a lovely bouquet from Flowergirl for the most amazing vintage arrangements.
2. Plan the menu.
Keep it fairly simple or your mama friends might hate you for unnecessarily raising the bar on playdates. You want two to three things to munch on and a nice pot of tea. I prefer masala chai (Indian tea) myself, but you could make any tea you like.
When planning the menu, don’t forget to check if any mamas are vegetarian, on a diet, or if any bubs have food allergies. And because this is after all a playdate, everything you make MUST be kid-friendly! Bite-sized or mini-anything is preferred, and you want a good mix of sweet and savory.
Food suggestions include an assortment of biscuits, finger sandwiches, mixed berries, mini sausage rolls, muffins, scones, Indian Pakoras (see recipe below — not very healthy but crazy delicious and always a massive hit), or mini samosas. Feel free to improvise and step outside the boundaries of typical high tea menus!
My playdate mamas all happened to be in super-health-conscious mode so I opted for berries, Manchego cheese and crackers with quince paste, homemade guacamole with blue-corn baked chips, plus some cashews and dates. By arranging everything beautifully on lovely servingware, the whole experience is elevated and everything just tastes much yummier! Accompaniments like clotted cream with scones, cream with strawberries or jams served with the muffins really add depth as well.
3. Cook and serve ahead.
The last thing you want is to be running around when your guests arrive. Whether you are cooking or just plating up (i.e. pouring those chips out of that bag) do it well ahead of time and have the whole table arranged and spruced up buffet-style before playdate time. This way, mamas enter, gasp in amazement, take obligatory Instagram photos and then everyone can tuck right in.
4. High tea for kids?
Oh right, I almost forgot about the kids! Of course, have plenty of kid-friendly food options as discussed, and depending on the age and gender of your little ones, you could go ahead and even set up a separate tea party for them. Ikea has some adorable little cups and saucers for little girls and boys who would like to class up their act. If you have a 2-year-old boy, you can go ahead and skip this step unless you enjoy breakage.
5. Have fun!
In case any of these tips sounded terribly snooty, I wanted to stress that this is a playdate and therefore I’d still opt for yoga pants over high tea frocks while un-self consciously singing the latest nursery rhyme in lieu of relaxing instrumentals. Once we’ve had a few sips of tea and put down our cups, we’ll almost certainly return to running around wildly!
For more high tea-appropriate recipes, check out the chapter “How to Throw a Fabulous Chai Party, darling” in my book Cooking with Indian Spicebox.
1 cup (150 g) fine chickpea flour (also known as gram flour or besan)
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon finely chopped green chili or jalapeño
3 tablespoons finely chopped coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon cumin seeds
Pinch of red chili powder
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vegetable or canola oil + extra oil for frying
3⁄4 cup (175 ml) water
Green chutney, or use store-bought coriander chutney (make sure there is no coconut in the ingredients)
- Sift the chickpea flour into a large bowl, using a fine sieve. Add the onion, green chili, fresh coriander, salt, cumin seeds, and chili powder. Stir in the tablespoon of oil.
- Slowly add the water and stir until you have a smooth, thick, creamy batter.
- Heat more oil for frying in a wok or kadhai (Indian wok) — it should fill at least one-third of the pan.
- Once the oil is hot (this takes about 2 minutes on medium-high heat), test the temperature by dropping in a tiny bit of the batter — it should sizzle and rise to the top. Use a tablespoon to scoop up the batter; gently drop several individual spoonfuls into the oil (keep the dollops close to the surface of the oil — you don’t want any splashing grease). Definitely start with a test batch of one or two to ensure you have the oil at the right temp (successful frying is all about the perfect oil temperature!) and that the pakoras have cooked all the way through. Also, taste your test pieces to make sure you have enough seasoning in the batter. Adjust seasoning before frying more.
- Continue frying about five to six pakoras at a time; you don’t want to overcrowd the pan. The pakoras will sizzle, rise to the top of the wok, and quickly start to brown. Using a slotted spoon or skimmer, flip the pakoras over so that they brown evenly on both sides. Once they are golden brown, transfer them to a plate lined with kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil.
- Serve hot with a dish of Green Chutney on the side.