Have you ever considered how much life happens between meals? I’ve been more disciplined lately about taking legitimate breaks for meals – eating breakfast, then working; then stopping, making lunch, taking a break to eat, and then returning to work in the afternoon. I quit for the dinner bell, so to speak. There are hours between those three meals each day, and so much is contained within them: errands, adventures, work, etc.
I have a lovely weekly tradition with my friend Claire: one morning a week, we get together for tea time. It’s post-breakfast, pre-lunch, and it’s a time to relax and catch up, and to enjoy tea and a snack (this week, tea cakes, but I’ll get to that in a minute).
If meals are for nourishing, and the hours between meals are for living and working and making things happen, I think that tea time is about imagining, dreaming, planning. Tea time is a brief intermission from life. There’s a brilliant Peter Pan quote that illustrates just that:
Would you like an adventure now, or shall we have our tea first?
I think of Mary Poppins, interrupting the laughing party at Uncle Albert’s. Her schedule would not be thrown off for all the laughing shenanigans, so she hosts her tea time on the ceiling. It’s an intermission from the frivolity – the business of laughter – and really, tea time is a stop-time from our work, from the rush of activity that comes between meals.
One of my favorite poems is “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot. (Really, I still can’t understand why my students used to whine so much when I assigned it. I can’t look at a few lines of it without wanting to relive the whole thing.) When I think of tea time, I think of this excerpt from the poem:
Time for you and time for me
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of toast and tea.
As I work on my novel, as I slog through the hours, accumulate words, and work on revisions – rewriting over and over – that excerpt has special resonance for me: there will be time for me to work and re-work, to reimagine and make decisions and then re-think them – there will be time for all that, before I take a break for tea and cake. (Or whatever.)
And why the tea? Why the cake? Because that’s the time-out. That’s the excuse to indulge in ritual – to mix sugar and milk, or honey and lemon, into perfectly steeped tea. It’s a time to have a little snack – not a full on meal, but just a taste of something light and small and whimsical. The whimsy is important – tea time is about dreaming, thinking, processing. It’s the pre-cursor to what will be, the still beat where we think and eat and drink and talk.
Coffee is for work; tea is for the break.
This week, when Claire came over for tea time, I served tea, obviously, but also these darling lemon tea cake bites. Made in a 24-count mini muffin tin, these little babies are cute, light, sweet, and just a tiny bit tart. (And bonus – the recipe yields a lot of lemon simple syrup – I have leftovers and keep trying to decide what to make with it.)
More like a mini-muffin than a proper tea cake, these cakes are easy and quick to whip up, and they’re the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea, a friendly conversation, a dreamy pause from your day. Enjoy.