When answers are hard to come by, as they are in today's climate, people often look to the past. So what did the Victorians do when the bottom just fell out of everything?
Drank tea, probably. And ordered a few more dogs to be tossed on the fire with an ornate, engraved pair of sterling puppy tongs. Must keep that water hot, after all.
I tried to summon this devil-may-care abandon during a recent trip to Cape May, N.J., which besides the birds and beaches is well known for its Victorian decor and not surprisingly, preponderance of afternoon teas. What better place to escape from all those nasty red negative numbers?
My first tea was at the sprawling Queen Victoria hotel (102 Ocean St.), and was included in the room rate, as with most local bed & breakfasts. Despite the silver tiered trays of sweets and few different flavored teas, it wasn't much more elaborate than what I would make on an ordinary day to serve to guests.
But sitting outside in such good company, on a veranda in the deliciously soft October light while an endless stream of migrating monarchs floated by, made it worth the trip.
It's only a few hours south of New York City, but I felt it might as well be another, far more calm and civilized planet- albeit one populated by all old people in festive sweatshirts.
The next day I decided to try tea at the Carriage House Tearoom (1048 Washington St.), which is heralded in every Cape May guidebook as the place for an elegant experience.
The menu was certainly larger and the service more attentive than at the Queen Victoria, but still, the tea wasn't much to write home about.
It was all bagged, for one thing, even though it was proudly branded as Harney and Sons. This company's teas are fine, but still, they're in bags- the quality is never going to approach the full, round flavor of a cup of loose-leaf tea.
Against my usual nose-turn at flavored teas, I selected tropical green, which was an Indian green tea (intriguing, as I've never had this) mixed with pineapple. It was actually quite nice, and lightly fruity; if only the water in the teapot hadn't been boiling hot, it would have been a truly interesting cup.
The tower of homemade bite-sized treats, however, won me over. It may not have contained the most refined scones or the richest chocolate tarts I've ever had, but there is always just something so decadent about eating a sandwich the size of a lighter and with the crusts cut off. The clotted cream was real; the blueberry and pistachio-walnut tea breads were moist and tender; and the roasted vegetable and hummus, cucumber and mint cream cheese and egg salad sandwiches were delicate and just savory enough to offset all the sweets.
My favorite was the triple layered lemon-blueberry bar, which consisted of frozen lemon curd and a whipped, icy citrus layer atop a shortbread crust, straddling the end-of-summer, welcome-to-autumn feel of the whole vacation perfectly.
At $15.50 per person, it was a deal anyone could well afford to treat themselves to. Even if you're not royalty, you need clotted cream right now.