Tis the Season

Since all things Christmas have a chance to shine only once each year, I make the most of them during December.  Without question, my favorite thing to do is dress the places we eat.

Always I start with a centerpiece.  Here it is a most traditional one using an antique mold and a variety of artificial accessories.

No dishes are more traditional or recognizable than these by Spode.  Getting them out of the cabinet year after year is like welcoming an old friend.

The placemats and napkins are almost as old as the dishes, and if memory serves me correctly, they, too, were a gift from mother.  Eventually they will be passed on to the more traditional of my two daughters.

Playful and fun are the flatware that I found a few years ago at Ross and the holly berry napkin rings that give off a happy jingle.

Adding a bowl for a soup starter and a holiday popper completes each place.

Thinking about who will join the hubby and me at this table makes me smile as I know there will be lots of shared memories and laughter.  That is what makes the holidays special.

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Tablescape Thursday

Sparkle and Shine

With lights sparlking and shining throughout the neighborhood, it seemed a good idea to bring some of that to a table where friends will gather for a bit of preholiday cheer.

Textiles play a big part of my table settings, and this sparkling handwoven fabric was a perfect starting place.

It is a piece from Morocco woven with silk threads so fine as to be almost invisible.  As in many other countries, much of the weaving is done by men, and this one was quite a character who was only to happy to show off his skill.  My hat is off to him for having the patience to weave  such a fine cloth as I know how long it takes when many weft shots are required to produce just one inch!

OK, back to the table. The textile was folded to create a runner on top of which are glittering ornaments and candles placed among the still shiny magnolia leaves left from the Thanksgiving table.

No dishes work better to add  sparkle and shine than china left to me by my mother.  For their background, I pulled out all the stops with gold trimmed linens and a gold charger.

Now there is nothing left to do but add the pieces necessary to complete each setting.

The look is more of  a big girl table than I usually do, but it is still simple  in keeping with my theory there should be no more  on the table than will be used.  I managed to include a surprise or two by having the napkin rings and the wine stems be different patterns.  I can’t stop myself from having a little something that is unexpected!

When evening fell, I couldn’t resist lighting the candles which put the finishing touch on the sparkle and shine.

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Tablescape Thursday

Perfect Gathering

For more than 30 years, a group of long time friends have met each month for lunch and to catch up.  We’ve raised kids together, volunteered at school and in the community, coached sports teams, shared our ups and downs, all of which translates to a lot of mutual history.  Now we have sons and daughters in law as well as grandchildren to add to the conversation.  Over the years, we’ve lost some of our group and we know that more change is coming.  What doesn’t change is the support we provide one another, and that is something for which we are all so grateful.

Sometimes we meet at a restaurant, sometimes at someone’s home.  This recent gathering was at home, and it was absolute perfection starting with the table.

The outstanding centerpiece was woven in and out of antlers, the real thing!  Our hostess said the antlers stay on the table year round to be combined with seasonal pieces.

Now, of course, is the time for all things fall.

Pumpkins mixed with candles, bittersweet and vegetables combined to create an effect that was just plain eye candy!

The choice of beaded placemats, gold chargers and simple rimmed china were an understated complement to the centerpiece.

As if not already perfect, the antler shaped napkin rings finished the table.

Of course, I couldn’t resist taking pictures to share and was trying to be subtle, but someone caught me in the act!  I have no shame when it comes to beautiful tables.  They are meant to be shared.

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Tablescape Thursday

Spooky Fun

HalloweenThe days around Halloween are my favorite when it comes to table tops.  There’s just so much fun stuff with which to work.

Halloween tablescapeWitches see the light of day

IMG_2371and spiders and bats come out to play.

DSC01659Black dishes never work better

DSC01656and long stemmed goblets are perfect for witches’ brew.

Napkins are folded just so to make  a pocket for flatware, too.

DSC01662Witches shoes are pointed and curled reminding if the shoe fits…….I don’t like the looks of this one so think I’ll wait for a prince to come along with a better choice.

Halloween tableAnd while I’m waiting for his arrival, I’ll munch on a kettle of corn!

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Tablescape Thursday

Next Step

DSC01572With the house having little touches of fall, it was a no brainer to have the next step be continuing them on the table for the evening dinner.   Already what can serve as a centerpiece is there making it easy to add the rest.

DSC01603None of my dishes reflect fall better than these.  The rich color with its arty black leaf outline is perfect, and I like using them for another reason.  They were a gift from a very special and thoughtful friend who knows how crazy I am about all things for tables.

DSC01579Some time ago this flatware was on sale at Target, and it has been such a good find. Its coppery contrast with the table’s wood surface adds such warmth.

DSC01586Thinking about what food is going to be served, I don’t put more dishes on the table than can be used.  Tonight there will be an entree and a salad, so nothing more than dinner and salad plates are needed.  The black salad plate complements the leaf outline, and its shape will be perfect for the salad.

DSC01593On any table, the napkin presentation is one of those little touches that make a table special.  One of my favorites is this one folded accordion style and fanned to make it stand.

DSC01592With the addition of wine stems and water glasses, a table can’t be much simpler than this.  It started with what was already there and has warm color and texture which makes any table inviting.

DSC01588I can’t resist sharing with you one of my favorite salads made with delicata squash, one with which I was unfamiliar. The attraction was its green and pale yellow striping, reason enough to give it a try!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor the salad, cut the squash into rings and remove the seeds.  Place them on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.  Roast at 400 until tender, roughly 15-20 minutes.  To prepare the salad, place mixed greens or any lettuce on a plate.  Top with the roasted delicata rings, sprinkle with craisins, toasted almonds and feta (optional).  My preference for dressing is a honey mustard vinegarette, but most any salad dressing would work.

I can assure you this salad will be a hit at your table not only because it is so tasty but because it’s a little different.

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Tablescape Thursday

Full Plate Thursday

Share Your Cup Thursday

Eating With Friends

If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him.  The people who give you their food give you their heart.

Cesar Chavez

How grateful I am to have friends who enjoy planning, preparing and gathering for a once a month dinner where a lot of heart is given. All of us contribute to the meal, which is always wonderful, and the hostesses do a bang up job of preparing the table.

DSC00331The most recent dinner was a visual treat. The delicately designed dishes are quite old, a memory of the hostess’s mother.

DSC00326Without question, they made a lovely setting when combined with silver and glass.

DSC00327Playing off the pale green in the pattern, the hostess found the perfect linen tablecloth and napkins.  All together the look was quite elegant at the same time warm and friendly.

DSC00334A few days before our gathering a storm blew through that flattened many of the small blooming things.  The hostess was clever enough to see that her damaged flowers perfectly matched the colors in the china, so, voila, a just right centerpiece made in a silver bowl.

DSC00332So there would not be question about where each person sat, there were name tags directing us to our place.  That is always a thoughtful gesture.

DSC00338The first course, a zucchini mold, happened to be my assignment.  It was something with which none of us were familiar, so we all experienced a new taste treat.  Not only was it tasty, it was easy to prepare which makes it worthy of making again as it gives a whole new way of presenting zucchini.

Zucchini Mold

1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil

2 lbs. zucchini, finely diced

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 eggs

1 c. grated Parmesan

1 T. chopped Italian parsley

1 T. unsalted butter  

1/4 c. fine dried bread crumbs

Preheat an oven to 350.  Grease a 9″ ring mold or individual molds with butter and coats the bottom and sides with the bread crumbs.  Warm the oil in a skillet.  Add zucchini, onion and garlic and cook until tender.Add a little water, if needed, to keep the mixture moist.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Transfer the zucchini mix to a bowl and add eggs, cheese and parsley.  Season with salt and pepper. Mix well and spoon into prepared mold(s).  Bake about 20 minutes or until firm.  Invert onto serving dishes and serve immediately.  (6 servings)

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A Time to Play

Creating a centerpiece is fun, a time to play and let creativity shine.  

tablescapeIt can begin with a kid’s toy

filled with flowersor a collection of sprinkler cans.

southwestern tableWhen the garden is blooming wildly,  gather a handful of blooms and arrange them in a collection of favorite bottles.  This is the simplest way to stage any tabletop.

tablescapeSculptural shapes are fun to use as part of a centerpiece and interesting textiles are great inspiration for color.

Halloween tablescapeSeasonal creations can be full of whimsey

white tablescapeas well as reflect the season’s bounty.

Valentine tableThere’s no time better than holidays for play.

Christmas decorPull out those favorite things and let them star on a table.birdhouse tableHave a collection?  Use pieces from it as part of a playful creation.

tablescapeEven a serious table can be play as it involves bringing beautiful glass and china and silver out of hiding.

IMG_1975What is wonderful about creating a centerpiece is that it can be used again and again as inspiration for tables.  Simple changes can create an entirely different look, so play and see where it leads!

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Tablescape Thursday

From Field to Table

IMG_1676Though I walk for exercise, my eyes are always open for what is blooming in fields adjacent to the path.  There’s Queen Ann’s lace, goldenrod, interesting grasses, cattails, lupine pods and things I can’t even name.  Often I come home with a handful that combined become part of lovely arrangements for the table.

IMG_1677My favorite way to arrange flowers is to put them in a variety of vessels.  It is simple and the containers can be placed randomly to create an easy centerpiece.

IMG_1678The cloth that is background for the flowers is folded on the diagonal leaving part of the table bare. When it’s time to eat, a couple of placemats fill and protect the bare space as well as reflect the quiet background of the cloth.

IMG_1681Playing off the cranberry color of the small vases and the flowers in the textile, these dishes are perfect.  They are  long discontinued from the 40’s and 50’s and were a purchase from an antique show some years ago.

IMG_1687Their appeal is not only the color but the unusual shape.

IMG_1682Adding the thumbprint glasses continues the color scheme and finishes the table.

IMG_1683Tonight the family will gather around what we call the big house meaning it’s a step up from the breakfast room.  Having teenage girls get involved in the table preparation is a great way for them to recognize that setting an attractive table can be very uncomplicated.  Sometimes a pretty table is also a gentle reminder to use good table manners!

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Tablescape Thursday

The Why of Table Setting

Friends who know I enjoy table setting have asked me why.  There are several answers, but the one that comes to mind first is that it is opportunity to be creative.  It took me a long time to recognize that, and once I did it opened the door to a new way of seeing.  The story of how I began to view setting the table as creative is another story which would take some time to tell.

flowers/tablescapeSo, how does one make table setting a creative process?  For me, it begins with there always being something on the table from which to draw inspiration.  Does that say something about my not liking bare surfaces? Here, it was nothing more than flowers arranged simply on a runner.

Now, I have to confess to being a dishaholic.  The beauty  is that it creates a variety of options when it comes to selecting.  With the colors of the flowers and the runner as influences, I picked these dishes for our evening meal, but the selection could just as easily have been a solid color that works well with a variety of accents.  By the way, places like TJ Maxx, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Goodwill are great resources for items that are both inexpensive and add flair to your table.

You will notice that the table is prepared for two, the hubby and me.  Whether it’s the two or us or company coming, the table will add to the experience of eating. That is a gift I give to others as well as myself.  

What is really important about setting tables or anything else for that matter is allowing yourself to acknowledge that you are creative!  From there, how you begin to see and think becomes second nature.

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Tablescape Thursday

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Foodie Adventure Revisited

Several of our Maine gourmet group joined us in Cortona for the April Foodie Adventure, so when we met for our first summer meal it seemed right to recreate some of what we made.

IMG_1487Setting the table to inspire memories of Italy was easy.  The centerpiece was a $3 find from the local Goodwill.

IMG_1488Clusters of red grapes repeated the look of the clusters on the candelabra.  Talk about an easy creation!

IMG_1394Dishes, each with a different Italian landscape and wine, bought some years ago at TJ Maxx completed the theme.

IMG_1393It’s hard to imagine a table coming together more quickly than this one.  With the plates having so much color and energy, there was no need for more than a simple background.

Now for the meal.  We prepared so many good dinners that it was hard to pick favorite dishes, but I finally decided on mozzarella with prosciutto and tomato confit for an appetizer and seafood pasta for the main course.  The appetizer was a big hit, and you might want to give it a try at your next Italian themed dinner gathering.

IMG_1400PROSCIUTTO BAKED BUFFALO MOZZARELLAWITH GARLIC & TOMATOES

2 T. olive oil

6 thin slices prosciutto

Tomato & Garlic Confit

6 6 oz. balls mozzarella

2 T. basil, coarsely chopped 

Brush the insides of small ovenproof ramekins with olive oil.  Line them with prosciutto, allowing some of it to extend to the top of the dish so it will crisp when baked.

Add 2 T. of the confit and top will a ball of the mozzarella.  Top with another tablespoon of the confit and drizzle with the remaining olive oil.

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes and allow to cool for 5 minutes.  Tope with basil and serve with crisp crostini.

Tomato & Garlic Confit

10 plum tomatoes

5 T. olive oil

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

1/2 c. finely chopped yellow onion

4 large garlic cloves, minced

8 oz. tomato sauce

1/2 t. sweet paprika

1/2 t. sugar.

Core and halve the tomatoes lengthwise.  Place them cut side up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and drizzle them with 2 T. of olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for 40 minutes at 350.

Heat 3 T. olive oil in a medium pan and sweat the onions for  2 minutes over medium high heat.  Add garlic and cook briefly.  Reduce the heat and add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, paprika and sugar.  Cook for 30-35 minutes or until the mixture becomes very thick.

Place the mixture in a food processor and blend to a fine paste.

Note:  I suggest using only 1/2 mozzarella ball or 3-4 little ones as this is quite filling.  Also, when you bake be sure to put the dishes on a cookie sheet to avoid trashing your oven with grease from the prosciutto.  I wouldn’t let the meat overlap  the sides of the dish.

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Tablescape Thursday