Guests use taste buds to assess high-tea fare


IMAGINE A tea party where guests scrutinized the scones, critiqued the curd and judged the jam. It sounds like afternoon tea with the Mad Hatter, except that this party played a valuable role for the hostess, Toni Johns of Kings Contrivance.

Johns is preparing to open a Victorian-style tearoom, which she will manage, on Main Street in Ellicott City this fall.

Called Tea on the Tiber, it will be on the first floor of the building that houses Source, Unlimited, an interior design shop owned by Oakland Mills residents Bill and Barbara Andrews. The tearoom is associated with the shop.

On a rainy Monday this month, a group of women gathered at Johns' Huntington home to taste and assess high-tea fare. It looked like a typical, albeit fancy, social gathering - sumptuous smells wafting from the kitchen, table bedecked with fresh flowers, delicate china and a spread of biscuits, jams, jellies, sandwiches, soups, baked brie cheese, stuffed mushrooms, pastries, pies, cakes and 25 varieties of tea.

The difference was that, along with a china teacup, each guest was issued a spiral notebook and pen to write evaluations of everything she tasted.

Johns set up the tasting to help her select items for the menu of the tearoom, which is scheduled to open in early November.

"I want to know what you like and what you don't like," Johns told her guests as they partook of the treats. "I don't want to buy anything you don't like."

Some of the guests were friends, some were friends of friends and some happened to hear about the event and gladly put their taste buds to good use.

"Everything I've tasted is delicious so far," Tyrrell "T" Garland said between samples of three lemon curds and Johns' brief tutorial in eating scones with clotted cream. Other tasters included Barbara Andrews, Jennifer Browne, Donna Michener, Joyce Smith, Debi Bolster, Hannelore Vallotton, Doris Homan and Barbara Gastrock.

Andrews said she decided to open a tearoom in her shop because "our clients would come in during the day and they always wanted something to eat." She and Johns want to ensure that their menu pleases their customers.

"This is a very important day," Andrews said. "It's important to have input." Four hours and countless scones later, the guests departed, leaving not much in the way of food but plenty of opinions for Johns to mull over.

Fish out of Columbia

A fish created by Columbia Art Center ceramics instructor Christina McCleary, has been added to Baltimore's "Fish Out Of Water" exhibition. The sculpture, named "Halibrick" and weighing almost 300 pounds, is sponsored by Fannie Mae and displayed in front of the Legg Mason building in downtown Baltimore.

McCleary, 27, working at the art center in Long Reach, covered the fiberglass fish form with more than 4,000 miniature bricks over eight weeks. That is enough bricks, if they were standard size, to cover the facade of a townhouse, said John Plevyak of L&L; Supply Corp., which has supplied the bricks for Oakland Mills Village Center and Howard County schools.

McCleary said she did not realize how time-consuming the sculpture would be. "I thought I would just be cutting bricks and sticking them on," she said. But the curves of the fish body required her to custom-make the tiny bricks, molding them wet to the form, then removing them one by one and firing them in the kiln. She numbered the bricks, measuring 1 1/2 inches by half an inch or less, so that she would know where to place them.

"It took so much more time. I didn't realize all the thinking and planning it would involve," said McCleary, a graduate of Maryland Institute College of Art. She said she thought about giving up after a month of making tiny bricks but that "not finishing wasn't an option. I have a work ethic."

Now that she has finished "Halibrick" and it is on display - she and a "strong friend" installed it Sept. 10 - McCleary feels a sense of "pride in the fact that I was able to persevere and get it done."

Oakland Mills relief drive

The Oakland Mills High School Student Government Association and Human Relations Committee are teaming up for a fund-raising drive to help victims of the terrorist attacks Sept. 11.

Checks, made payable to OMHS Relief Fund, may be hand-delivered or mailed to Oakland Mills High School, 9410 Kilimanjaro Road, Columbia 21045, Attn: Vincent James/ S.G.A.

Information: 410-313-6945.

Parting words

Christina McCleary's brick fish experience has given the ceramist a new confidence in her ability to get things done.

"No project since has seemed so difficult," she said. Lately, when asked to do something, her reply is, "Sure, I can get that done. It's not a fish."

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