By Gemma Doyle from the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series by Vicki Delany
Today's the big day. The afternoon tea fundraiser for the West London Theater Festival. All the stops have been pulled out: the event is going to be a full proper afternoon tea, outdoors at the oceanside estate of the Festival’s director Rebecca Stanton. Each ticket costs two hundred bucks, every table will have a festival actor or crew member sitting at it. Guests are invited to sip Prosecco and wander the lush grounds before sitting down to tea.
Sounds perfect. The only thing not so-perfect, is that I won’t be sipping sparkling wine and Darjeeling with the guests but slaving in the kitchen and pouring tea.
Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room, of which I am part owner, is catering so they’ve put me to work.
This year the centerpiece of the festival is a production of The Hound of the Baskervilles, which my business partner, Jayne Wilson, and I are hoping will be a huge boon to us. Not only theatre lovers but Sherlockians of all types will be flocking to West London to see the play, and where would the crowds go before or after the theatre but for afternoon tea at Mrs. Hudson’s and engage in a shopping frenzy at the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium, located next door at 222 Baker Street.
I must say, I don’t think the festival director has chosen her cast wisely, however. Surely Sir Nigel Bellingham, legend of stage and screen, is far too old to play The Great Detective. Not to mention far too much of a drunk. Let’s hope Sir Nigel rises to the occasion and doesn’t let us all down. As they say, the show much go on.
Meanwhile, I’m trapped in the kitchen. And that is not my natural environment.
This afternoon, we’d be serving smoked salmon and cream cheese on wheat bread cut into pinwheels, finger sandwiches of thinly sliced roast beef with locally made mustard and fresh arugula on light rye, cucumber with a touch of cream cheese on white bread triangles for the vegetarians, and egg salad, also on thinly sliced white bread.
I liked making the sandwiches; it suited my orderly mind. I cleared everything off the back countertop and laid out the slices of bread in a long row. I went up and down the line following Jayne’s instructions: buttering the bread, laying on the filling, adding pretty herbs and fresh greens as required, putting the tops on, cutting them into the proper shapes with a careful eye for uniformity of size. Then I carefully placed the tiny, gorgeous sandwiches onto platters and covered them tightly in plastic wrap. Jocelyn ferried them to the fridge.
I made five hundred small sandwiches. I was rather pleased with myself, but Jayne, being Jayne, wouldn’t allow me to rest on my laurels. “Fiona’s overwhelmed out front. Jocelyn, take off your cooking apron and go and help. Gemma, you’ll have to finish the cupcakes.”
“Yes, you. They need frosting.” One hundred and twenty-five tiny, perfect coconut cupcakes were cooling on a high shelf. The kitchen, as I have said, is small. We were running out of room to put all the food. “The frosting’s made. All you have to do is use an ice cream scoop as a measure. One scoop on each cupcake. Don’t worry about covering the tops to the edges. When that’s done, give the frosting a little swirl with a knife to make it look pretty and sprinkle coconut on top.” While she talked, Jayne mixed the dough for the next batch of scones. I set about icing coconut cupcakes in the same assembly-line fashion I had with the sandwiches.
“A swirl, Gemma. Just a swirl,” Jayne said. “If you’re trying to make a work of art out of each one, you’ll be here all day.”
I studied the cupcake at hand. I hadn’t been trying to re-create the London office tower nicknamed the Gherkin in coconut icing, but it did bear a slight resemblance.
Vicki also writes under the pen name of Eva Gates
Visit Vicki at www.vickidelany.com
Visit Eva at www.lighthouselibrarymysteries.com
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Giveaway: The Cat of the Baskervilles, The fourth in the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series, will be released on February 13. Vicki has an advance reading copy to give to one lucky reader. Leave a comment below to enter the contest. US and Canada entries. Contest closes Friday Feb 2, 2018