“May I make you a cup of tea?” Those eight words can mean so much more than a mere offer of liquid refreshment. They carry within them a deep understanding of human nature.

Here’s an example that comes to mind. At a recent family event in frigid New Hampshire where my wife and I were being introduced to an overwhelming number of new people (friends and family of our son’s fiancée), the mere opportunity to sit down together over a cuppa renewed us for the next round of introductions and polite small talk. (It’s hard remembering names, faces, and their corresponding stories and connections.) But what resonates is our future daughter-in-law’s prescience. She knows of our love for tea but could sense that we needed a respite. Offering us both a cup of tea, she was acknowledging our need to pull away for a bit, connoting care and concern about our well-being. With or without a dairy enrichment, here is the true “milk of human kindness” at work (spoken by Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s play). The next time you offer to brew a cup of tea for someone else, it’s heartening to think beyond the mere offer and acknowledge it as an expression of love and caring that this simple ritual can contain.

Wishing to sweeten the gesture even further, how about making the following simple buttery shortbread as an accompaniment to the gesture?

Essential shortbread

7 oz (approximately 1-1/2 c.) all-purpose flour
6 oz (1-12 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut up into ½ inch cubes
2.6 oz (1/3 cup) granulated sugar
½ t. sea salt
Optional topping: Granulated sugar, as needed to coat the top of surface of the shortbread as it comes out of the oven

With aerosolized pan coating, spray the bottom and sides of a 9-inch false-bottomed tart pan. Set aside.

Place flour, butter, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Using the steel knife attachment, process the mixture until it becomes a uniform sandy texture. Do not overprocess to a paste or a cohesive dough.

Pour the mixture immediately into the prepared tart pan. Press lightly to even out the mixture, making sure that the mixture is pressed neatly into the fluted edge of the pan. Now place into the freezer for approximately 15 minutes, or until the mixture feels firm. Remove from the freezer. Using the tines of a fork or the point of a small knife, make small holes all over the surface of the dough, at 1-inch intervals. Place back into the freezer for 5 minutes while the oven is preheating to 325 degrees F.

Bake on a sheet pan set onto the oven rack positioned halfway from the bottom of the oven, for approximately 35 minutes, or until a pale golden brown. When done, remove from the oven, sprinkle lightly and evenly with granulated sugar, if desired, and immediately cut the shortbread into 16 equal pieces. Using a small sharp knife, start at one edge and draw a straight line to the opposite edge, crossing the center of the circle.  Repeat the process and cut another straight line from edge to edge, crossing the first cut at the center of the shortbread, perpendicular to the first cut. Repeat, dividing each quadrant of the baked dough into 4 pieces, totaling 16 triangular pieces. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container, at room temperature. These last for a few days (though in my experience, they will be gone well before then.)

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