When I was growing up in New York City, my mom gave me the children’s book Eloise, about a little girl who lives in a room “on the tippy-top floor" of the Plaza Hotel. I loved it, and was so excited when she took me to the Plaza for afternoon tea. I couldn’t believe I was eating scones and tiny sandwiches where Eloise had lived. I was in heaven. So was she.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized how sad Eloise’s story was, and that there were some similarities in my life. (Also, you can no longer go to the Plaza for tea.)
My mother and I had a very complicated relationship. We were incredibly close, and she was an amazing woman, admired by many, but sometimes very difficult and absentee. I never really looked up to her, in fact, quite the opposite, and our relationship did not have time to mature and repair, since she died when I was 25.
I was recently in Paris with my husband, a well-known jazz musician touring Europe with his trio; I was doubling as the tour manager. On a day off, we went to Mariage Frères, where I had been with my mom on a mother/daughter trip in 1999. It’s a beautiful historic tea shop and restaurant, with a tea museum upstairs. My husband and I treated ourselves to a full meal, much like I'd done with my mother. The memories were palpable.
Our trip almost two decades ago was supposed to be a work trip for my parents, who were co-directors of dance and ballet at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., but my father decided he didn’t want to go, so there I was in France with my mom. On the surface, the trip was about modern dance, excellent food, and museums (mostly Monet). We were always foodies and, even before Yelp or Trip Advisor, my mom had an amazing ability to turn a corner and find the perfect and most delicious meals anywhere in the world.
On this trip, we bonded more than ever before. We talked about mistakes we’d both made, and she opened up about her regrets as a parent. She had started leaning heavily on me for emotional support when I was very young, but on this trip we were finally finding even ground. And it was at Mariage Frères where we broke ground. Inhaling the exotic scents of all the different teas (not yet sold in the United States), we spent what seemed like an hour choosing which to drink, what kind of scones to have, and remembering our time at the Plaza.
It was the last trip we would ever take. When we returned to New York, she was diagnosed with cancer and died three years later. I hadn’t been back to Paris since, until this recent trip with my husband.
Despite the acuteness of loss, this amazing tea emporium, which has maintained the same address for 164 years, reminds me that some things are lasting and that there's comfort to be taken from that. The reassuring permanence of Mariage Frères kept me smiling through memories and tears.
Ariane Malia Reinhart is an arts administrator, dance/acting audition coach, and actor/singer/dancer in New York City. She can be found at www.arianereinhart.com and @arianeny1.
8 oz. self-rising flour
pinch of salt
2 oz. butter, cut into pieces
1 oz. sugar
5 oz. milk
1 egg, beaten
Preheat oven to 425 F.
Lightly grease a baking sheet.
Mix flour and salt, and rub in butter.
Stir in sugar and then milk to form a soft dough.
Turn out on a floured work surface and knead lightly.
Pat out to a round about 3/4 inches thick.
Cut into 2-inch rounds with a biscuit cutter or glass, and place on a greased baking sheet.
Gently knead remaining dough and cut out more scones.
Brush the tops of the scones with the beaten egg.
Bake for 12 - 15 minutes until golden brown.
Serve with strawberry jam and clotted cream.
(Recently, while getting ready for renovations, I came across a recipe box that my mother kept, including this one for noodle pudding. It doesn't have anything to do with tea and scones, but finding it brings back so many Mom memories.)
1 stick butter
1/2 lb. cooked noodles
1/2 lb. cottage cheese
1/2 pt. sour cream
1 c. milk
3 eggs, beaten
3 T. sugar
1 t. salt
8 oz. can crushed pineapple, drained
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Save some of the butter for dotting the top of the casserole before baking.
Melt remaining butter and use a bit to grease the casserole.
Combine melted butter with all other ingredients, and pour into casserole.
Bake for 1 hour.
For added interest, sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on top before baking.