Category: SFH Food Talk & Recipes

How to Host a Tea Party – SFH Style

Three Generations – One Tradition

History & Tradition: You could fill a library with the many books on how to host a tea party. I know, I own several of them. But not one of those books taught me the important lesson I learned from my Mom and other inspiring  women who were part of my Southern upbringing. That is the lesson on how to be a “lady”.

No matter whether it’s a tea party, a dinner, or a church social, a “lady” is the woman who puts all others before herself, speaks kindly, and seeks to instill similar values in the next generation. In short, if you want to have a successful tea party, you invite daughters and granddaughters who want to become “ladies” and you share what you have learned from the “ladies” who were part of your upbringing.

And so it was on Saturday. The three generations of Serendipity Farmhouse “ladies” gathered and shared each other’s company, delighted in each other’s stories, and enjoyed fine teas and tasty treats.

Preparation: The Third Annual SFH Tea Party didn’t come about in a single day. It tookDSC_0323 three months of scheduling, menu planning, and shopping. There was a certain emotional tension in this process. Unlike my hubby who can live with things being “good enough”, I can’t handle the idea of a tea party that is only “good enough”. So, for the last three months hubby has been sleeping fine and I’ve had several sleepless nights.

Fortunately, I have been through this twice before. And even more fortunately I have my friend Nancy to call upon for advice and support. Needless to say, but it is worth saying anyway, Nancy is a “lady”.

DSC_0293Here’s one more essential item. It was also helpful that Mr. Monte was trained in place settings and table arrangement by service staff at Downton Abbey. You will notice his keen eye for measure and placement.

So, preparation for an SFH Tea Party requires only five important things:

  • A good plan,
  • A good menu,
  • A good friend,
  • A good hubby to run errands, and
  • A good Maine Coon cat with domestic service experience.

Food: So, just what does an SFH Tea Party menu look like? Take a look at the pictures to see just a few of the tasty treats that were offered.

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Now that I have your interest, here’s a list of what was served:

  • Assorted specialty teas (my favorite was the lavender)
  • Mints & chocolates (The 92% dark chocolate was gone in flash)
  • Cucumbers sandwiches (with organic butter or cream cheese)
  • Pimento cheese sandwiches
  • Scones (plain & cranberry lemon – provided by Happy Creek Eatery)
  • Lavender tea bread
  • Chocolate hazelnut wafer rolls
  • Banana blueberry mini-muffins
  • Lemon bars
  • Lemon and ginger cookies
  • Watermelon, cantaloupe, and grapes

Lesson Learned: It is the opinion of all the tea party guests and the soon to be world famous SFH test kitchen staff that the lemon lavender scone mix was a disaster and should be thrown into the garbage – which it was. The lesson is – never, ever, no not ever buy food mixes in the gift shop of any historical site. Why? The food mix may be only slightly younger than the historical site. Scone mixes from 1803 will never be used at an SFH tea party again.

Attire: Now this section is the most important and probably the most sensitive issue to be discussed in this post. I will use myself as an example. You will notice that my attire was comfortable and perfectly suited to the high expectations of an SFH tea party. Furthermore, Saturday was also the day of the running of the Belmont Stakes. My hat would have fit in that setting perfectly. Why? Because it was both traditional and stylish.

Now look at my hubby. He tried to persuade all at the tea party that his hat and other attire were both functional and sophisticated. Is there any doubt in your mind why he was summarily banished to his office upstairs with his son? I think the picture speaks for itself.






SFH Journal: 2018-06-08

Highlight: Today was the last full day for preparation for the Third Annual Serendipity Farmhouse Tea Party. Mowing, trimming, weed whacking, clearing off the deck – it all had to be done – and it had to be done properly. Last minute shopping included purchasing fruit, fresh vegetables, and dairy products.

One baker in Front Royal earned the SFH Seal of Approval. On short notice, he managed to put together the finest gluten free scones we have ever tasted. He distinguished himself by improvising when he couldn’t get the currants we wanted. He came up with a delightful mixture of lemon and craisins.

We, on the other hand, were not as successful with a particular scone mix. We followed the instructions precisely, but came up with an overly moist and sticky dough. In the oven, magic things did not happen. The scones did not rise. Undaunted by less than total success, we now have a new Serendipity Farmhouse specialty combining the best (or perhaps the worst) of scones and cookies. We call the new savory delight – SFH Scookies.

There is a strong possibility that the SFH Scookies might not make their formal debut at the Third Annual SFH Tea Party.

Weather:  Both temperature and humidity were higher today. Of course, this made the yard work more enjoyable.  (Detailed Summary – click here.)


Plantings: Nothing to report.

Harvest: Nothing to report.

Baby Back Ribs at SFH

It’s Memorial Day, the day when we pay tribute to those who fought under our flag to defend our Constitution and our nation. (See our SFH Memorial Day tribute for this year here.)

At the same time, we celebrate the day with family or friends. The backyard grill is likely the focal point of attention. It is no different here at Serendipity Farmhouse. Today, we would like to share with you our adaptation of the Genius Kitchen recipe for Foolproof Baby Back Ribs. Needless to say, the soon to be world famous SFH Test Kitchen has made this an even better holiday delight.

The beauty of this recipe stems from two important facts:

  • You can put the ribs on the grill and then turn around and spend some time with the ones you love; and
  • Even if it rains, as long as your grill has a cover, the grill will cook the ribs while you stay dry on you porch.

Serving Size: Enough for up to four people.

Recipe Ingredients:

  • DSC_02511 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon paprika [we use smoked paprika]
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder [we use onion powder]
  • salt & fresh ground pepper
  • 3 lbs pork baby back ribs [we use 1 rack of ribs]
  • [we add a dash of cayenne powder]
  • 1 cup barbecue sauce [beautiful spouse love Sweet Baby Ray’s]

Recipe Directions:

  • Preheat gas grill for high heat.
  • In a small bowl, combine cumin, chili powder, paprika, garlic [or onion] powder, [cayenne] and salt and pepper Mix well.
  • Trim off the membrane sheath from the back of each rack. [We merely slice the membrane between each rib.]
  • You can do this by running a small, sharp knife between the membrane and snip or”shimmy” off the membrane as much as possible. [We have found trimming off the membrane to be time consuming and generally not worth the effort.]
  • Don’t skip this step because it prevents the ribs from being chewy.
  • Sprinkle or “throw” as much of the rub onto both sides of the ribs as desired.
  • Do not rub the spices in, because the ribs will turn too dark and spicy.
  • Place aluminum foil on lower rack to capture drippings and prevent flare-ups.
  • Brush grate with oil, and lay ribs on top rack of grill.
  • Reduce heat to low, shut grill, and leave undisturbed for 1 hour.
  • Do not lift lid at all during this time period!
  • After one hour check for doneness, depending on your grill you may need to continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes (our grill takes one hour exactly). Brush ribs with barbecue sauce and grill an additional few minutes until sauce is slightly absorbed and a little brown around the edges.
  • Serve ribs as whole rack or cut between bones and pile individual ribs on the platter.

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The entire meal consisted of:

  • Baby back ribs
  • Fresh green beans
  • Whole potato salad, and
  • Ice cream sundae




SFH Journal: 2018-09-20

Highlight: There is a reason this is called Serendipity Farmhouse. When a very kindly and neighborly neighbor has an excess of fresh oysters in the shell and she offers you 20-30 of them, that, my dear friend, is “serendipity”.

0520181632Now, I’ve been to many New England clambakes, and I’ve had my share of stuffed quahogs. We have made oyster stew and eaten raw, fried, and smoked oysters. But, never ever in our lives have we grilled or shucked fresh oysters. So, we did a little reading and research and found out it’s quite simple. Someday, we will run a feature article and show you how it’s done.

We did have one rather unexpected and interesting surprise during this cooking adventure. We found a strange reddish creature inside one of the oysters. Even though it was quite small, it looked, if not menacing, at least ominous. We extracted the oyster from its shell and examined the creature. It looked like a small crab. What manner of beast was this?

Once again, we did a little reading and research and were happy to learn that this little guy was – an edible delicacy. To quote one article, “It’s called an oyster crab, or pea crab, and if you speak Latin it goes by the name Zaops Ostreum.” (Check out The Edible Ocean: The Crab Inside Your Oyster)

Edible serendipity – the ‘oyster crab’

Weather: Yes, there was some rain, but there was enough clear weather to grill some oysters.  (Detailed Summary – click here.)

Plantings: Nothing to report.

Harvest: Nothing to report.

SFH Journal: 2018-05-16

Daily Highlight:  Although we had a very simple meal of pasta salad and mozzarella caprese for dinner, the fact that we can now use fresh basil from the herb garden adds to the level of enjoyment. As the season progresses, there will be more fresh items from our gardens and from Waterpenny Farm, located within walking distance from Serendipity Farmhouse.

(Caprese – denoting a salad of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil; we add extra virgin olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.)

Weather: The rain continues. Although the high temperature of 73º kept life pleasant, the average humidity of 91% reminds one that the hot sticky days will return.  (Detailed Summary – click here.)

Plantings: Nothing to report.

Harvest: Clipped just enough basil from the herb garden for our mozzarella caprese.

Goat milk cheese? – Yes, now!

You say you like cheese? Go to the store to buy cheese and you get what you get. What you get might be surprisingly delightful or it might not suit your palate at all. For example, buy chèvre (perhaps the least complex type of goat milk cheese), and you might react in the same way my beautiful wife did when I bought some for her- it’s too sour or it’s too bitter.

Taste is a puzzling and unusual sense. You can be sure there is more disagreement about flavor than the visual beauty of a sunset. We can usually agree about what we see and what we feel, but flavor and aroma are perceived more personally. So, even though my true love and I could drink goat milk together we were divided by store-bought chèvre.

Indeed, I have a loving wife, and she would never let anything divide us, not even a type of cheese. So, I received a present some two years ago – a chèvre cheese-making kit. It was a chance she had to take – perhaps homemade goat milk cheese might be better than store-bought.

Dairy_dare-01Dear readers, the rest is history. My wife’s intuition was sound and now homemade chèvre is a regular and lasting part of Serendipity’s Daring Dairy repertoire. We hope you will come to enjoy making your own chèvre as much as we do.

So, now it’s finally time to dare to make chèvre in the soon to be famous SFH test kitchen.

Preparing to Make Goat Milk Cheese

Knowing nothing about the process herself, my enterprising spouse did some quick  research and determined the market was filled with simple, inexpensive cheese making kits. She selected the Chèvre Cheesemaking Kit by Roaring Brook Dairy. It worked just fine. Since then, however, we have become more confident in our own abilities and we purchase our own supplies and continue to experiment with the process.

If you are using a kit, the cheesecloth and cheese mold will be provided. If not, you may need to make a trip to the store or look online to get those items. Everything else you need should already be in your kitchen. Following is a list of the items we use:

Required Utensils & Equipment


Comments / Notes

1x – Medium stainless steel or  non-aluminum pot  We use stainless steel
2x – 1-cup measuring cups
1x – Set of measuring spoons
1x – Spatula or slotted spoon  For stirring
1x – Thermometer
1x – Colander or sieve
1x – Glass or plastic bowl  Larger than colander or sieve
1x – Cheesecloth  Available in kits or sold separately
1x – Cheese mold  Available in kits or sold separately
1x – Butter knife


As you may recall, when it comes to dairy, there is almost always a kitchen controversy. In the case of Julia, Butter & Serendipity Farmhouse, the cause of concern was ultra-pasteurization. Although it seemed to make no difference in making butter, the use of ultra-pasteurized goat milk can adversely affect development of curds for chèvre.

Although we here at SFH have direct access to raw goat milk at Reality Farm, you may have to do some online research to find raw goat milk or simple pasteurized goat milk. (Here again my beautiful wife distinguished herself by doing a great job of research – she not only found the goat milk, she also found a place where I can visit the goats. She brings joy to my life.)

Listed below are the ingredients we use.



Comments / Notes

½ Gallon goat milk Avoid ultra-pasteurized
1   Level tsp. citric acid  Available in kits or sold separately
¼  Tablet rennet Available in kits or sold separately
 1 Tsp. cheese salt  We recommend only 1/2 Tsp.
 2 Tbsp. herbs de Provence  Or season to taste

Making Goat Milk Cheese

We said earlier that chèvre is perhaps the least complex type of goat milk cheese. It takes us roughly 45 minutes at the front end making the cheese. Then, after the cheese drains and sets in the refrigerator, it will take another 10 to 15 minutes for seasoning. Of course all the kitchen rules apply – clean hands, clean utensils, and have all ingredients and utensils ready to go.

Step 1 – Ingredient Preparation: Dissolve the citric acid into a cup of cold water. Dissolve the rennet int 1/4 cup of cold water.

Step 2 – Heating the Milk: Heat the goat milk slowly to 185º. Add citric acid and stir 30 seconds. Add rennet and stir 30 seconds.

Step 3 – Developing the Curds: Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes. Press the curds with the back of a spoon. If a dent is left, the curds are ready. If not, allow to stand for 2 more minutes.

Step 4: – Draining the Curds: Drain the curds into the cheese cloth and colander. Let the curds drain for 10 minutes, then gently mix in salt.

Step 5: – Forming the Cheese: Using a spoon, gently pack curds into the cheese mold. Cover the mold, place it on a small plate or in a small bowl. Allow the cheese to drain and set in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Step 6: – Seasoning to Taste: After 2 hours, remove the cheese from the refrigerator and slide the butter knife around the edge of the cheese until it is separated from the mold. Extract the cheese. Place seasonings on a plate and roll the cheese, covering the exterior.


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There it is! Goat milk cheese, ready to eat!


You can store it for up to seven days, but it is usually consumed within a day or two. By the way, grandchildren will ask for seconds and thirds. Make sure you make a lot.

If you’d like to see a more detailed demonstration watch this video.

Goat milk cheese? – No, not just yet.

My wonderful and caring spouse has urged me, counseled, and outright ordered me to write a post for you about how to make goat milk cheese (chèvre). Rest assured, I will do so in very short order, but I have decided to disregard my beautiful wife’s good counsel for the time being in order to write a slightly different post.

Why do I dare to run the risk of causing distress for my wife or, more likely, for me? I dare because, when we here at Serendipity Farmhouse delve into the mysteries of butter, cheese, kefir, and other dairy products, we do it with gusto and with daring. Dairy is an exquisite challenge that should not and can not be taken lightly.

So, rather than put the cart before the horse, or more rightly the cheese before the goat, we want you to know the source of the primary ingredient in the soon to be world renowned SFH Chèvre. The only way we can take you to the source of our goat milk is by introducing you to a beautiful “reality” – and that reality is Reality Farm in Washington, Virginia. For now, we will just use a few pictures to introduce you to Reality. When the time is right, we will give you a full tour.

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If you would like to learn a little more about reality farm, check out Reality Farm.