My grandma is cooler than your grandma. I may be a bit biased since we share the same DNA, and I'm sure your grandparents are plenty cool, but for reals, my grandmother knocks me out. She went through World War II in Europe, hiding in caves, bunkers and barns and moving from country to country, trying to stay ahead of the chaos. In her 50s, she started a bread business in New York's Chinatown while teaching at a university. She loves sports, especially tennis, and is probably the oldest member of the Rafael Nadal fan club. She's a bit of a gambler and hosts weekly mahjong games; even our Uno card games get pretty heated. At a handful of years shy of a century, she's still beautiful, strong-willed and funny; I will be lucky to have a life even a fraction as vibrant as hers.
Every moment we spend together is precious. I like taking her to the movies (action flicks are her fave), though she always tries to convince me to sneak into a second film. But I really love just listening to her tell stories of a life lived fully, imagining them playing out cinematically in my mind. Like her granddaughter, she enjoys going out to eat and usually has room for dessert, so, as a treat, I booked a table for my mom, my grandma and me at Tea-Upon-Chatsworth, a sweet little tea shop on an older block of Point Loma.
We walked in and I knew I'd chosen well by the way my grandmother's eyes lit up at the lace curtains and floral-patterned chairs. La Boheme was playing overhead, and the place reminded her of the tea houses she used to go to in Europe. Though the room seems a bit Laura Ashley-gone-mental, everything from the vintage tea sets to the table linens is just mismatched enough to be charming. I tried to sit up straight and keep my elbows off the table, a little excited for the whole ceremony of our tea experience. I'm not a pinky-out kind of person, but I did do a lot of make-believe tea partying as a kid, though back then it was mud cupcakes, dirt sandwiches and hose-water tea.
I'd called ahead and ordered us the deluxe High Tea, which includes enough food for a good lunch and runs about $30 a person, though there are abbreviated tea services that cost a little less. You each get your own tea pot and can choose from a list of black teas, green teas and herbal infusions. The ladies like Darjeeling, and our nice tea guide, Carol, decaffeinated our pot by steeping the leaves and pouring off the first batch of water, which gets rid of most of the caffeine. She set down a three-tiered serving stand, spilling over with tiny finger foods and decorated with vines and flower petals. Grandma is smiling big, which makes me happy.
We started from the bottom up, with the savory snacks—warm onion and feta tartlets, asparagus quiche and two-bite sandwiches. The next level held homemade scones, cake-like and tender and served with homemade rose-petal jam and Chatsworth cream, which tasted like a blend of cream cheese and sour cream. We munched on fresh fruit, which, like the rest of the menu, changes seasonally, as grandma sipped her rose-flavored ice water and reminisced about picking cherries from trees behind her house and tangoing with my grandfather in the dance halls of Berlin.
We finished off the top tier of lemon curd tarts, cookies and apricot-chocolate cake, and I poured everyone another cup of tea. Tea-Upon-Chatsworth allows two hours for each seating, so we never felt rushed. Relaxed, we settled in as my grandmother told us a story about making apple strudel with her friends in Vienna before escaping to Bulgaria. I was determined to listen until every last drop was drunk.
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