Basil Tea

The children's tea set, laid out for five. Our fifth child is expected in February.
The children’s tea set, laid out for five. Our fifth child is expected in February.


When our newborn son Basil was in the NICU, tea became our lifeline. We discovered on the day after our twins were born that Basil, the youngest twin, had an upside down stomach, what’s called a gastric volvulus. His brother was cleared to go home with us, but Basil needed surgery. He was only two days old when the surgeon walked into the room where we were praying with our priest and announced an incredible finding. When the surgery team flipped my baby’s stomach back into place, they found that the flip had concealed a dangerous diaphragmatic hernia. In essence, our son only had the right half of his diaphragm. Miraculously, and to the surgeon’s amazement, Basil’s stomach had flipped in the womb to block the hole. Because of the volvulus, Basil’s lungs developed normally. He had to have his diaphragm reconstructed and a little Goretex patch added, but he would most likely be okay. His problem became a miracle that we received without asking. Our tiny baby was cut wide open, but he would heal.

Even with a hopeful prognosis and the help of my amazing sister who came to stay with us, Basil’s recovery time in the NICU was stressful for us. With three other children including Basil’s newborn twin at home, I could only visit my youngest child once a day. Fortunately, the hospital had a 24 hour café that served tea. Like the wires stretching out from Basil’s machines when we held him, tea reached across the gap between medicine and Mama, health and home. We would sip our courage from favorite mugs at home before we drove to see him. We would sip a salve for our sorrows from paper cups when we had to leave him.

We took our boy home on a freezing day, snuggling him and his twin together in a wrap against the cold. Our first order of business after settling the boys in their crib was to brew a pot of tea. The hospital stay behind us at last, we thawed to peaches under the influence of our favorite Keemun.

Our Basil is strong now, steeped in love and healing. We celebrate him week by week, making home the way we always have. We lay the tea table: plates and cups and spoons on a tray, slices of lemon, brown sugar cubes, an apt pitcher for cream. At center, with a cozy for when the babies’ sweet cries invariably interrupt us, a piping pot of tea. Each day that passes, we look forward to a future we were afraid to let ourselves imagine in the NICU. When I imagine it, my children gather at the tea table, one, two, three, four, five, to look at the day’s teacakes. They argue over who will pour and settle on their big sister. Basil’s toddler hands, pudgy and elegant, grasp his little porcelain cup as he waits his turn. He drinks his cream cooled tea and smiles. He knows he is home.

Something for Tea This Week

For our Orthodox wedding tea party in July, I asked my caterer to make dates stuffed with chèvre and pistachios. She added a drizzle of local honey to make this resplendent treat:

They were wonderful. Photo credit: Pelikan Portraits, 2014.
They were wonderful. Photo credit: Pelikan Portraits, 2014.

This weekend, I wanted to make a special tea treat for my in-laws while they were in town. We didn’t have pistachios in the house, but roasted unsalted almonds worked splendidly for our home version.

They aren't as pretty as the catered ones, because I made these under the influence of my four children.  :-)
They aren’t as pretty as the catered ones, because I made these under the influence of my four children. 🙂

If you want a change from biscuits this week, why not give stuffed dates a try? Here’s the home version of the recipe. It makes about 18 stuffed dates.


4oz. log of goat cheese (chèvre)

1/2 lb. fresh medjool dates

About 20 roasted, unsalted almonds (may used spiced or salted if you’d like)

Split the dates with a small knife and remove the pits. With a spreader or shallow spoon, add about 1 teaspoon of chèvre to each split date. Add one almond (or pistachio) to the cheese section of each date and squeeze dates closed a little. Serve immediately or freeze for up to a month. If refrigerated in a sealed container, they taste best when eaten within a couple of days; after that the cheese dries out.

These tea treats are deceptively filling. They make a wonderful addition to autumn tea tables. We have been enjoying them with Taylors of Harrogate Assam. Which tea do you prefer with stuffed dates?


Why We Gave Up Family Dinners and Switched to Tea

We’re supposed to sit at the table for dinner. Everyone knows this. But in our house, we rarely manage. Maybe it’s because my husband and I remember family dinners of our youths as tense affairs. Maybe it’s that we just don’t have time to clear the dining table of projects more than once a month. Or that our children won’t stay at the table for more than five minutes anyway. Or that conversation lags as we try to shovel in our meals before a baby cries. (All of the above.)

After trying and failing several family dinner improvement plans, we did what conscientious parents are not supposed to do. We gave up on dinner. Once the stress was off, I found myself looking forward to time with the family in late afternoons. A new pattern emerged when we evicted dinner guilt. We started having family tea.

Even if the children wreak havoc through the house, the tea table is a spot of order and graciousness. This is the table in process of being laid for tea.
Even if the children wreak havoc through the house, the tea table is a spot of order and graciousness. This is the table in process of being laid for tea.

My husband and I have always loved sharing tea together, but we didn’t always make a fuss over it. That is, until I started feeding the kids at the train table in the living room and putting the kettle on when the sun starts sinking. That china that is too much bother for a dinner serving is just fine for a bowl of nuts and a plate of cheese and crackers. Our posh serving pieces that have scarcely seen the light since our oldest was born are the perfect frames for cookies and baked treats. Unlike dinner, which just didn’t work for us, tea brings out our best.

The children sometimes take tea with us around the table. More often, they run up to the tea table and glory in the permissiveness of tea treats. We parents get a hot beverage boost and have the chance to finish a few sentences while the cracker tray empties into little bellies. We all let loose, calm down, relax, and reorient at the tea table. Which, if my dinner related guilt reminds me correctly, was supposed to be the point of family dinners.