On the Table: Spartan Feast

why we love The Spartan Table — an Etsy shop that sells olive oil, herbs, and other essentials — and a recipe for the perfect salmon

A few snapshots of how we use our Greek goodies. Olive paste and oil dipped in bread; wild thyme and sea salt on tomato; wild sage added to strawberry rhubarb jam; a piece of chilled bergamot with tea; and the blue-green bottle we use to store the oil (in our dreams)

A selection of herbs on our vintage Swedish plate paired with a selection of glass jars we wish were in our cabinet and required reading for herb enthusiasts from the original herb enthusiast, Dioscorides, who mingled medicine, botany, and magic

Myth, they say, is all there is left of the Greek gods. But what about the olive trees and wild herbs that still grow on Spartan ground? Are they not traces of the ancient feasts laid out for hungry deities?

Every couple of weeks we receive a package covered in Greek stamps and an address that speaks of myth. Thyme, oregano, sage, savory, and mint mingle inside, and even before we open it, the scent of Sparta escapes from the cardboard crevices.

Our long-distance love affair with Sparta began with olive oil. Just a few drops infuses a crusty piece of bread or crisp salad with a lemony, light flavor. It’s a delicate one but always comes out as the top note.

The dried herbs — harvested by hand from the dry, mountainous valleys of Sparta — are not the dusty powders you buy at the supermarket. For us, not a day goes by without a pinch of savory, thyme, or oregano — cooked in stews, sprinkled on a juicy tomato, whisked into a salad dressing — and making most meals starts with the question: what herb would work well in this?

Even salt transforms in the harsh summer sun of the Peloponnese coast. Thick, irregular crystals hand-picked from the rocks of Mani taste like the sea that formed them.

Olive oil, sea salt, and dried herbs — a simple, but ambrosial combination. Which brings us back, in a way, to the Gods.

And now for how to cook the perfect fillet of salmon. Cut slits in the skin with a sharp knife and stuff them with a blend of sea salt, lemon zest, and thyme or savory. Hot pan, minimal amount of neutral oil. Skin down on medium heat until it’s crispy, then flip over, and turn off the heat. Let the fish sit in the pan and when you can’t hear it crackling you know it’s done.

Tea Talk: Current Favorite Teas, Cups & Tins

We love the English, but we prefer coffee in the afternoon and tea all day. We do have a few stand-by teas that are always on our shelf, but we love to mix things up and experiment with new blends. Because we’re either drinking tea or waiting for it to steep, we thought we’d share some of the blends in rotation at the moment.

Handmade & vintage goodies from Etsy (clockwise):
Crumlin Flow Cup by Beach Towne Vintage; Rose Petal Jam by Prem Rose Edibles; Copenhagen Coffee Cup by Transitions; Raspberry Linzer Cookies by Tereza; Blue and White Jar by Karen’s Chic N Shabby; Canteloupe Vanilla Bean Jam by Lemonbird; Blue Calico Teacup by The Mab House; Blueberry Jam by Sunchowder’s Emporia

Summer Rose
Rose tea is tricky, but when it’s done right you feel as if you’re sitting in a parlor with the windows open and overlooking your carefully dissheveled English garden. Most rose teas get the proportions wrong. The rose flavor is too strong and your cup tastes like an elderly aunt accidentally poured her perfume in it. Perhaps it wasn’t an accident and she really is as devious as you suspected. Anyway, this blend of rose and Ceylon black is fragrant but not overpowering. It works hot or chilled; both are fantastic and each brings out a slightly different set of flavors.

Earl Grey Lavender
Lavender seems like an odd addition to tea, especially to such an unimpeachable classic like Earl Grey. But we have taken quite a shine to this combination, and we promise it won’t remind you of a well-kept linen closet. Earl grey is another hit-or-miss blend for us because the proportions often overemphasize either the citrus or the bergamot instead of forming a lovely menage a trois with the black. Here, the proportions are just right. The zesty eagerness of the citrus and calm demeanour of the lavender work together, like Wooster & Jeeves in their best moments.

Jade Snail (with a twist)
These little knots unfurl into a subtle flavor with none of the grassiness often associated with green tea. We like to add a tiny pinch of matcha to intensify the flavor and turn the pale yellow color into vivid green, like a leprechaun sneezed in your cup. Another green that we’ve been loving recently is Calypso, so much so that we finished it before we could take a picture. The hint of fruit and coconut give it a pina colada taste that doesn’t overpower the green, especially when you add a bit of matcha. We can’t wait to brew this one iced with a few pieces of real fruit.

Tea Tins
Our tea shelf looks so much more polished and put together with these tins, each with a different pattern but all in shades of blue. We got these on Amazon in big and small sizes to accomodate our must-have favorites and samples.

Teacup of the Moment
This cup from Anthropologie has had its fair share of sea voyages, if you count in leagues of tea, that is. The sailing ship and octopus tentacles that loop around the outside remind us of Delftware and the trade routes established by the Dutch East India Company to bring tea from China. This cup is definitely not dainty; it’s quite large and thick, with a wide tentacle handle. It even works well as a soup mug.

Rosewater Revolution

Revolutions, they say, are not made with rosewater. But, then again, history books do not trace the footprints of fleeting perfumes as they mingle with sweat, conceal death, and intoxicate the living. Perhaps we’re won over by extremes, swayed by gallons of spilled blood, when just a drop will do, a slip of the hand while you prick your skin picking petals then crushed and steamed into clear liquid.

Patrick Gordon, Rose Pavé; Jewelry by Jiro Kamata
Handmade items to buy (clockwise): Necklace by Tiffany Key; Ring by Jasmine Scott; Vase by Jonathan Cohn; Resin Bangle by Beadevolution; Fuschia Vase by Mahaila Glass; Necklace by Hook & Matter; Ring by Kaz Evans; Ring by Spotted Dog Farm

Just a drop, on the wrist, between silk gloves and satin sleeves, so that when she holds up her hand to a nobleman the embroidered garden comes alive: small birds, flaming hearts, and scrolling vines envelop the pair in a memory sealed solely by its sweet smell. Keep the glove, she says. Only after her scent has faded does he notice the Tudor rose stitched in silver thread, a token of allegiance that shifts their exchange from personal to political. No longer did the rose wander through monasteries, for the pleasure of monks blind to its erotic charm, but in the garden of a court eager to air out the musty fumes of Catholic incense. Rosewater, married to flesh, was a personal statement, a signature more powerful than the written word. Drop by drop, it fueled the Reformation.

Flowers by Martin Klimas; The Gloves Dream by Min-Ji Cho
Handmade items to buy (clockwise): Body Oil by Rebel & Mercury; Rosewater by Elma Sana; Toner by Lalun; Rose Water by Rose Bazaar; Toner by Botanical Labs; Soap by Pure Naturalis; Bath, Body & Tea Set by Kyra Botanica; Bath Salts by The Perfumed Workshop

Just a drop, or two, or three, on your skin and in your hair, and you might just take your mind off the sweat pouring down your body. It’s summer in India and we’re about three centuries behind air conditioning. The Mughals brought peace from the north and their gardens became laboratories for the cultivation of pleasure and profit, creating scents that put Hampton Court to shame. Distilling rose petals first took place in the private quarters of the nobility, until the oil that settled on top proved sweet enough to merit a production line in the garden. And who can resist rosewater when it infuses the syrup that drips from fried dough, still warm, breaking the fasts of peasants and princes. Rosewater, then, is an essence of power, an agent of change. Which brings us back, in a way, to revolutions.

Tea with a Side of Art

A new exhibition at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne looks at the work exhibited at the Lyons teashop in the 1940s, which commissioned British artists for paintings that would brighten up teashops ruined during the second world war. We selected one of the paintings and put it in company with some whimsical teapots and our favorite teas.

• George Hooper’s Hotel Entrance looks like what would happen if a Fauvist directed a film noir, with bright colors living alongside shadows.

• Kristina Logan’s Violet Teapot is cast in glass and has a handle of lampwork beads the Hatter would be proud of.

• Susan Thomas’ Teapot looks a little bit like a purple slug moving in a rippling motion.

• Kazem Arshi’s Teapot partially covers deep brown clay with layers of turquoise and purple glazes.

• Butiki Teas’ Watermelon Xylophone is a light blend of silver needle, amaranth, and organic watermelon flavor.

• Adagio’s Summer Rose is our favorite drink of the summer. The blend of black tea and rose petals is not too sweet or overpowering.

• Elena Miller’s Purple Man Teapot has a green hat to keep your tea warm.

• Dan Saultman’s Teapot has a rich patina of copper shimmering through gradations of light turquoise.

• Adagio’s Earl Grey Moonlight adds a touch of creme to the traditional blend for an even more decadent companion to your scone.

• Butiki Teas’ Caramel Vanilla Assam combines assam with all natural flavors that taste like dessert without being too sweet.

• Frank Saliani’s Teapot has a unique, whimsical form with blue-green glaze.

From the Garden

We’ve taken some liberties with how we serve our summer salad.

• Henri Matisse’s Végétaux boils down a plate of vegetables in a few paper cut outs that float between recognizable forms and abstract elements. Here Matisse is at his most direct, the culmination of his ever-loosening body of work. But compare it with Le bonheur de vivre – they look remarkably similar. The bodies start to look vegetal and the vegetables have a human quality.

• Carl and Evelina Kleiner’s Homage to Calder series is a playful take on his kinetic mobiles, with foods like carrot slices, marshmallows, and popcorn.

• Florent Tanet’s Colorful Winter series organizes fruits and vegetables by height, color, and texture. Who doesn’t like tonally arranged brussels sprouts?

• Jorey’s Peas and Pico de Gallo follow in Matisse’s footsteps with flat compositions of fresh ingredients.

• Jenny O’Connor’s Sachets are filled with organic dried herbs harvested at the Kirk Estate in Upstate New York.

• Anne Dowell’s Garden Bon Bons look like chocolates but they’re filled with herb seeds, compost, and clay.

• John and Robbyn Runyon’s Beets are hand-cut, filed and hammered from recycled metal so you can hang the bunch on your kitchen wall.

• Rhonda Turnbough’s Carrot Gossip is an abstract composition of colorful, overlapping forms inspired by plants and people.

• Erika’s Cumin has a nutty, peppery flavor perfect for chilis and curries.

• Annouk’s Sideritis is an herb collected on Olympus mountain and meant to be infused in tea – a true drink of the gods.

Feast

Tonight we’re serving a feast of summer fruits and exotic spices.

• Peter Lippmann’s Forbidden Fruits and Assiettes series display jewels among the remnants of half-finished fruit and fancy dishes. The hard surface of diamonds stands out against the juicy flesh of a tomato, but the two have a complementary lusciousness that evokes the glamour of fine dining. Lippman’s work echoes 17th century Dutch still lifes, which often depict the remnants of an expensive meal.

• This Still Life by an unknown 17th century French painter captures the bounty of summer at its peak – strawberries, asparagus, artichoke, snap peas, and roses.

• Aya Wind’s Green Beans peek out from delicately folded white towel. Her Dark Winter Roots displays kohlrabi and beets from their roots to their leaves.

• Melissa’s Za’atar is a blend of organic sesame seeds, sumac, salt, and oregano perfect for seasoning your own flatbread. Her Harissa is a deep red mix of Aleppo pepper, paprika, cumin, and other smokey spices.

• James Jams’ Super Cumin Spice Rub Blend combines cumin with thyme and parsley for a zesty finish to tacos or meats.

• Cathy Savels’ Tomato Slices layers one painted slice with another cast in plaster and filled with string.

• These BBQ Blends are six different rubs based on the Southwestern and Mexican flavors.

• Frank Krifka’s Radishes is a realistic depiction of the tiny bunches that appear in early summer.

Wild Strawberries

It’s strawberry season! Once you’re done devouring boxes of fresh berries, consider prolonging the pleasure with these fine goodies.

• Adriaen Coorte’s Strawberries on a Stone Plinth and Édouard Manet’s Basket of Strawberries depict the bounty any one of us might bring home from the farmer’s market in June. And yet each berry is singular, its markings dependent on a unique relationship between light and seed. Coorte’s berries are perfectly situated, while Manet’s are fleshy, even grotesque the more you look at them.

• Arian Spellman’s Strawberry Jam is made with low sugar and organic strawberries grown in Santa Barbara.

• Lushley’s Strawberries are covered with a thick layer of milk and white chocolate.

• Indiyani’s Macarons have a strawberry flavored shell and are filled with strawberry ganache.

• Kim Cortez’ Jam is made with strawberries and a little champagne for a little extra kick.

• Andrea Galvez’ Jam mixes strawberries with the dark, rich taste of balsamic.

• Jamie Styger’s Thumbprint Cookies are made of shortbread filled with jam and rolled in coconut.

• Gary’s Duo Suckers are split between chocolate and strawberry for those who want a little of both.

• Elizabeth Kelley’s Preserves are made with freshly picked organic strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice for a wide range of dessert recipes.

Girl with Cherries

So we grow together
Like to a double cherry, seeming parted
But yet a union in partition;
Two lovely berries moulded on one stem.
– Midsummer Night’s Dream

• The Girl With Cherries gets her half-smile and elegant hands from Leonardo, though the painting itself is attributed to one of his followers. The symbolism might be Biblical, but it’s more likely that it leans towards Greek myth. The female followers of Dionysus wore ivy wreaths around their heads, just like the girl in the painting. Perhaps this is a Renaissance version of a wild child Maenad.

• Paulette Tavormina’s Red Cherries and Plums is a photograph carefully constructed to resemble this Still Life by seventeenth century painter Giovanna Garzoni. Note the similar Chinese porcelain plates.

• What a pity that these kinds of cherry-ful Stockings are no longer in fashion. We’d have to go back to 1870 to see them in action.

• Leroy Coleman Jr.’s Bowl is made of maple wood with a cherry red resin rim.

• Coldwater Canyon’s Cherries are pickled in tarragon, peppercorn, and bay leaf for a rich flavor perfect with meats and cheeses.

• These Vegan Cherries are maraschinos covered in milk or white chocolate.

• Mary’s Bowl is made of cherry red fused glass.

• Julie’s Cheesecake Fudge is a decadent combination of cherry preserves, dark chocolate and Oreo crust.

• Mary Laskey’s Stacking Rings are four bands of sterling silver topped with delicious drops of cherry red, orange, yellow, and burgundy.

• Suraya’s Earrings are bundles of red and pink gems crocheted and knit with dark red thread.

• Charlie Michelle’s Truffles condense black forest cake into one luxurious bite.

Peaches & Cream

There’s nothing better than sinking your teeth into a juicy peach in the summer. If you haven’t had that pleasure yet, we’ve got some fresh alternatives.

• Adriaen Coorte sets a dramatic spotlight on his Peaches, exposing the blush pink tendrils on creamy, pale yellow skin. Although lavish vanitas displays are the most well-known of the Dutch golden age still lifes, Coorte’s depictions of market vegetables are, for me, more impressive. He can focus on three peaches, a bunch of asparagus, or a handful of gooseberries and render them with the complexity of a dramatic play.

• This Tumbler with its peach pink glass swirl dates back to 1885 England.

• This Porcelain Dish dates back to 18th century China and has the quirky combination of bats and peaches.

• Susan Dwyer’s Pair of Bowls fade from peach to white on their delicately uneven paper maché surfaces.

• Emy Uhlig’s Tie is made of cotton in a fleshy peach tone.

• Jaime Diehl’s Clutch is covered in peach fabric with a pattern of white dots that resembles pearl necklaces.

• Pegg’s Necklace strings together translucent glass beads in soft, peachy pink.

• Louis Jane’s Silk Scarf has a peach and pink pattern inspired by light hitting water lilies through trees.

• Leah Lerner’s Tote is made of peachy Italian leather with a dark brown strap.

• Miriam Perl’s Cloche Hat is made of straw and wrapped in grosgrain ribbon – perfect for a posh picnic in the summer.

• Joy Cain’s Silk Scarf is pleated and dyed using the Japanese art of Arashi Shibori.

Chocoholics Anonymous

Our day-to-day taste in chocolate may be more tame, but why not dream of these intriguing variations?

• NAM’s Chocolate Trail series of photographs look like gatherings only the Mad Hatter would dream up. These are not digitally manipulated composites. Invisible strings suspend the cups, flying macaroons, and dripping chocolate.

• These Chocolate Wheels by Mutter and Somers have a mill that shaves thin layers off the top, revealing a narrative of different designs like fractals and dancers.

• Dieter Roth’s Basel on the Rhine is chocolate brushed on a steel plate that has been slowly consumed by bugs since 1969.

• Joann’s Chocolate Orange Peel are the perfect combination of zesty and sweet.

• These Lollipops by The Frosted Petticoat are chocolate hearts with a steampunk detail and edible copper glaze.

• Adi’s Skulls are anatomically correct and made of pure chocolate, with a dusting of cocoa powder.

• Heather Oliveira’s Truffles are made from organic and fair trade ingredients in flavors like peppermint pink grapefruit and lavender honey earl grey.

• Zukr Boutique’s Lollipops are made of chocolate and ganache infused with Single Malt Dalwhinnie from the heart of Scotland.

• Amedo’s Chocolate Bark is an exotic blend of mango, sea salt, almond, and chili flavors.

• Nicole’s Chocolates are bite-sized robots made of milk and white chocolate.