Concerned by the empirical evidence in her date planner that she had not had sex for 177 days, and feeling rather bleak about the prospects of getting any, any time soon, Sara did something rather out of character; she agreed to see a friend of a friend who was a tea leaf reader.
They met in the restaurant at Sacks and ordered their tea. Sara was expecting someone Mystical. A believer in tie dye and patchouli. But other than having a shade darker red lipstick than was strictly necessary, in her black pencil skirt, white silky blouse and Ferragamos Rebecca fit right in with the late-lunching ladies. Indeed, Sara reflected, she looked a good deal smarter than she did.
Rebecca had always had the gift of being able to see the future in specks of tea, she said, as Sara drained her cup, turned it upside down and twisted it around on the saucer. Her mother had the gift too, though since she lived in Australia she found it more useful to read beer dregs.
â€œYouâ€™re not going to believe this but I can see a major mermaid.â€
â€œReally?â€ Sara did not believe it.
â€œYeah. Right here. Look.â€
It looked like a tea leaf.
â€œIs that a good thing or a bad thing?â€
â€œWell, Iâ€™m feeling that youâ€™re trying to decide between two worlds and youâ€™re not sure whether to go back to where you came from or to fully embrace where you are going.â€
Sara nodded noncommittally. That seemed pretty vague.
Rebecca tried again; â€œI see a cat in there. A very strong presence.â€
Interesting. Sara did indeed have a cat that was a very strong presence. Sheâ€™d rescued him as a kitten and needed to get him fixed as soon as the vet had an appointment.
And so the reading went on. It was going to be a good year to start new work enterprises. A good year to ask for a raise and to collaborate with a colleague who seemed distant. That was good to know, but it wasnâ€™t really helping. Eventually Sara had to ask; â€œWhat about men?â€
Rebecca squinted into the cup, really, really looking. If there were any men in there, they certainly werenâ€™t obvious. She looked up. She smiled sadly.
â€œThe tea leaves read the future thatâ€™s open to you at the moment, but if you change where you are now and what youâ€™re focused on now, the future changes too.â€
Sara supposed this was meant to be encouraging. Rebecca left her to her thoughts. Most of which were pretty bleak.
The waiter approached, â€œWould you like another cup of tea?â€
The words seemed to resonate with meaning. And that was when Sara decided. Yes. She would like a different cup of tea. Preferably one with men in it, and adventures and all kinds of non-work related good things. So she ordered another cup of tea, and, because every significant life decision deserves some form of treat, she ordered some cake as well.
Victoria sponge, that classic afternoon tea cake might not immediately seem the stuff of passion. Itâ€™s ever so slightly buttoned up, with an edge of primness and a whisper of stilted conversation. But look closer and youâ€™ll soon see the possibilities of the smooth billowing cream, sweet glistening strawberries, pillowy soft sponge and plenty of finger-licking. You need to be buttoned up if youâ€™re going to enjoy being un-buttoned, I suppose.
This recipe is adapted from one that my grandma collected from an old Good Housekeeping from the 1950s. It makes a skinnier cake than you might expect â€“ I think ideas about portion size might have been smaller, so I tend to make a 6:6:6:3 version for 3 18cm cake tins and stack the cake higher.4 oz butter (1 stick) â€“ room temp 4 oz sugar (1/2 cup) 4 oz flour (1/2 cup) 2 eggs â€“ room temp 1 tsp baking powder 2 tsp milk (approx) 2 cups of strawberries Â¾ cup of cream
- Pre-heat the oven to 375
- Cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy (this is where a mixer or an electric whisk comes into its own)
- Beat in the eggs one at a time
- Add the sieved flour and baking powder a spoonful at a time until incorporated
- Add the milk until the batter is a soft dropping consistency (you may need more milk â€“ up to about 1tbsp)
- Butter and flour 2 18cm cake tins (or use the fancy silicone ones â€“ I got some for Christmas and have never looked back)
- Scrape the mixture in
- Bake for 25 â€“ 30 mins until a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean
- Cool on racks
- Whip the cream and slice the strawberries. Spread on on of the cakes, sandwich the other on top. Decorate with more cream and strawberries if you like, or dust with a little confectionerâ€™s sugar (icing sugar) or even regular sugar