As a personal chef I am often alone in the kitchen. Many times I will meet a new client, spend 45 minutes talking to them about their food needs, get a key to their house and then never see them again. I had a client for a while that even though I had been in their house every two weeks for over three years, I had only seen them twice.
However, on occasion, my clients are home when I am in their kitchen. They might work at home or be a stay-at-home parent but usually they are elderly.
I cooked for Betty almost every week for five years. When I was there I could always count on two things. One, the kitchen would be a little messy when I arrived and two, the TV would be on and tuned to either the news or a judge show.
Over the years we talked a lot. At first it was mostly about food, where we had eaten over the weekend, what she might like for me to make the next week. In time we started talking about more, politics, vacations, Project Runway, the big news story of the day. Her favorite topics, however, were gardening, her pets and especially her family.
In the summer, we would go out together into her garden so that I could harvest fresh vegetables to use for her meals. She was always concerned about my safety as I stepped over fences (designed to keep the rottweilers out of the garden) to pluck tiny carrots from the ground.
When we met, Betty was in fine health. I watched over the years as her legs started to fail her, going from needing a cane, to a walker until she eventually needed a scooter to get around. I never once heard a complaint. I could always tell when she was anxious about something because she would “pace” in her scooter, rolling from the back door to the living room over and over again. I always wondered how long she could keep that up before she would have to plug it back in.
One of Betty’s favorite things was throwing a party. Any excuse to have her family over (especially in the summer so they could be in the garden) was welcome. Often, rather than making meals for the week I would make hors d’oeuvres for an upcoming party. One of her favorites to include was tea sandwiches, specifically cucumber-mint tea sandwiches. Over the years my recipe changed a bit, honed for her tastes. The recipe started with all butter, went for a time to all cream cheese before finally settling on a combination of the two.
Betty passed away last week at the age of 91. As I sat, thinking about our time together, I was reminded of a time when she told me that the day after her last party she had enjoyed leftover cucumber tea sandwiches and a martini for lunch. I loved seeing the absolute glee in her eye as she described this slightly naughty thing she had done.
So today, as I reflect on, and write about Betty, I am munching on her favorite, Cucumber-Mint Tea Sandwiches. And of course, toasting her memory with the perfect vodka martini. Cheers to you Betty, you will be missed by all who knew you.
C U C U M B E R – M I N T T E A S A N D W I C H E S
Makes 4 sandwiches (16 triangles)
Tea sandwiches are not tea sandwiches if you don’t cut the crusts off of them. While this may seem wasteful, I can admit to making more than one lunch out of tea sandwich crusts. If you make these in advance be sure to cover them well as they will dry out if they sit for too long.
4 Tablespoon butter, softened
4 Tablespoon cream cheese, softened
4-5 Tablespoon chopped fresh mint
8 slices potato bread
1 cucumber, sliced thin
Stir together butter, cream cheese and fresh mint. Taste for seasoning and add a pinch of salt (or two) if necessary. Spread the mixture on all eight slices of bread. Distribute cucumber slices evenly over four of the pieces of bread and then top with a second slice of bread to make the sandwich. Carefully cut the crusts off of each sandwich then cut each sandwich diagonally into quarters.