Tablescapes

One Last Time

As you may know, I spend roughly half the year in Rockport, Maine, and half in Houston. This is the time of year when we start thinking about the return to Texas, and this is done with some regret. It is always hard to leave friends with whom we enjoy so many good summer times. This week we have shared meals, a last one at our house so I could use up whatever edibles were left.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASetting the table is always the first thing that happens when folks are coming for dinner. Ordinarily that is the easy part, but this one had me going in all different directions. I wanted to use the pumpkins and gourds that have been part of every table for the last month. To change them up a bit, they were worked in around a piece gotten some years ago from TJ Maxx.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat was the easy part. For some reason I couldn’t decide where to go from there. I tried this and that and finally decided to let the centerpiece be the star of this last table.
Playing off the colors in the runner, black plates were used on brown placemats. That’s pretty subtle for me!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom there, I added the harlequin patterned plates that are favorites.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor whatever reason, they just didn’t strike me right so it was back to the cabinet for more black. Additional color would have to come from the salad that would be served on them.
I liked the coppery tone of the flatware with the darker ones, but having it lay alongside the plate didn’t satisfy me. Are you beginning to feel my struggle?
Ultimately, copper and silver were combined and after several arrangements contained in a napkin.

There’s nothing left to do but add a mix of stemware
pa194660.jpgand sweet little cordials for the remainder of the puffball soup that had been in the freezer.

After so many tries, it was time to walk away and be satisfied with the result.
pa194675.jpgConsidering the changes, it’s a good thing I started early preparing the table otherwise dinner may never have happened. Later in the day the sun hit just right on the pumpkins and gourds, and I knew it had been the right decision to let them be the star. Now if I can just figure out how to get them to Houston…….


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Tablescape Thursday

Table Settings, Tablescapes

Last Minute Doings

Planning ahead is not one of my long suits.  No, last minute spontaneity is my game, and more often than not it works pretty well.  Sometimes it takes a couple of phone calls to make something happen, but rarely does last minute not work out particularly when the invite includes food!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile dinner is cooking away,  I prepare the table, and there is usually something on it  that gets me started.  Here, it’s some of my trusty  bottles filled with flowers from the garden.  What would I do without them as they make a centerpiece so very easy. These are left from San Pellegrino beverages, and I find them perfect for grouping.

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My table settings are generally simple and defined by color, pattern and a touch of whimsey, all combined here in the placemats and napkins.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASubtle hued dishes, one of my many sets gotten at TJ Maxx, are tonight’s choice.

Now, I could have stopped here, but I couldn’t resist adding these salad plates, each one different and suggestive of something that could have been created by Picasso!  As I think about them, I can’t help but smile remembering the unexpected snowy day in Provence where an artist kindly opened his shop and let my daughter and me have a look.  He definitely came out ahead!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust as I was finishing the table, the placemats made me think of the little monkey bells sitting on a bathroom shelf.  How could they not become part of what is turning out to be a very fun table!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWell, that’s it.  Everything is about ready, and in a few minutes the doorbell will ring announcing the friends who we are lucky to have join us.  I do love these last minute gatherings!

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Entertaining, Random

Tips for Hosting Houseguests

Having a house in Maine means lots of company which I thoroughly enjoy, but it also means going for days without writing a word except in the ship’s log!  Having just said goodby to friends, it seems a good time to share what I’ve learned about hosting visitors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe most important thing is to provide comfortable spaces that allow guests to unpack and settle in.  A bedside reading light is always a good idea as is having books and magazines for nighttime perusal.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAdults like having their own bathroom, and  I make sure each has shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and, of course, fluffy, fresh smelling towels.  There’s also a hair dryer  just in case someone forgets to bring their own.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore guests arrive, I stock the refrigerator and pantry with foodstuffs making sure to have checked in advance to see if anyone has any special dietary needs.  Most people don’t expect us to provide much in the way of meals, but I like to have some things ready to share. For breakfast, there’s generally a made ahead of time egg casserole ready to pop into the oven and always there are muffins bursting with those wonderful little Maine blueberries.  These, too, are so easy to make in advance and freeze until time to use them. The important thing is to make it easy for guests to find something to eat that will make them feel at home and, of course, you never want to run out of coffee in the morning!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor most of our guests, traveling to Maine is an all day affair.  Rather than go out for dinner the first night, we have a lobster dinner with lobster a few hours out of the water thanks to my lobster guy.  

blueberriesTo finish dinner off, there is blueberry cobbler topped with  ice cream made in minutes in a little electric freezer, one of my favorite kitchen tools.  We may have another dinner or two at home, but we alternate with meals out at one or another of the wonderful restaurants in the area.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe whole key to having guests is to enjoy yourself and not try to do too much.  I’ve found that most people are more comfortable in our home when they feel they are helping out whether it’s assisting with a meal or cleaning up after.  I welcome their participation not only because it makes things easier on me but because it’s fun to work together.  No time is this more true than at 5 PM tini time when we relax on the porch for appetizers and drinks that everyone has had a hand in preparing.  

Having houseguests is fun so long as you don’t make it too hard on yourself.  If you have great tips, do pass them on.

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Table Settings, Tablescapes

For the Girls

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the last post, I confessed to not being able to leave a dining table top bare, and these azalea filled chicks took over the center.  A couple of days later, they have become inspiration for a tablescape.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt took only one glimpse into the cabinet to see what dishes would be a perfect complement.  As with so much else that is used here, these came from TJ Maxx.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe thumbprint glasses were a great find at a very cluttered antique shop.  It was the color that made them irresistible.  There has to be a reason , don’t you think?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot being in this house all the time, I forget what things are where.  When I opened a drawer and rediscovered this flatware, the stainless went back into the drawer.  The quality of the flatware is not the best, but the colors couldn’t be better. 

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The napkins are held in place by those things that supposedly help people keep track of their wine glass.    They don’t always keep someone from picking up the wrong glass, but they work very well as napkin rings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am in Maine a few days ahead of the hubby which is good excuse for a girls’ night, always such fun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe gals have already volunteered to bring appetizers, salad and dessert which makes for very easy entertaining.  I think we all enjoy meals more when we don’t have to do all the preparation.  Speaking of, now that the table is done, it’s to the kitchen to do my part.  I’m thinking lasagna, always a good dish to feed a crowd and easy to make ahead. 

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at home, Table Settings, Tablescapes

Hearts and Flowers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt didn’t take too many years of marriage to realize that if Valentine’s was going to have a romantic dinner it had best be at home.

While the hubby has many wonderful traits, thinking ahead to make dinner reservations for one of the busiest nights of the year isn’t one of them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s possible he wouldn’t even remember Valentine’s unless he saw it on the calendar or someone reminded him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen he would call and suggest we go out for dinner.  Good deal I would think, but when the time came we’d go first one place then another only to find out there was no room.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter a couple of hours of being turned away, we’d go home, both of us a little irritated, for a bowl of cereal or on a good night a grilled cheese sandwich.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow we look back and laugh at those attempts as we enjoy dinner at home.   Sometimes it’s just the two of us, other times we have friends join us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI think the other husbands are quite happy to come here as it takes the pressure off them to plan a special night out.  For all of us, it’s an enjoyable evening in a relaxed setting with what is usually pretty good food.

No matter how you acknowledge Valentine’s, I hope it is just right.

i so appreciate your visit and especially the comments you leave behind

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Entertaining, Tablescapes

HomeStyle

As many of you know, I live in two very different places, Maine and Houston.  While it is a privilege, there are some challenges to picking up life where it left off.  This is particularly true in Houston where people have so many options that keep them busy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo reengage with friends, I make an effort to have someone over for dinner most every week.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany, especially the husbands, are very appreciative because most of our Houston friends have ceased to prepare meals at home but opt to eat out or pick something up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost of the dinners are quite simple as the purpose is to visit.  The table isn’t fussy either, but I do give some thought to the personalities that will gather round it and go from there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALike many of you, I have lots of dishes and since I have no rules for how they are used, mixing and matching comes naturally.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOften, I have no idea what is going to happen, but surprise is part of the fun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACan you tell I was in a very playful mood, pushing the boundaries with pattern, color and texture.  Whether or not a table setting makes the food taste better is debatable, but it sure does go a long way toward making people feel welcome and in many cases reflect the character of the people who join there.  What would you say about this foursome?

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at home, Entertaining, Table Settings, Tablescapes

Continuing On

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For more years than we can remember, 8 of us have gathered once each month for what we call gourmet night.  Most of the time it’s here in Houston, but we’ve also made it happen in Hackberry, Louisiana, Charleston and Rockport, Maine.  No matter where we are, it’s a fun evening of lively conversation, laughter and good eats. Best of all, it is a continuation of long time friendships.

How it works is the host couple plans the menu, generally 4 courses, and sends it to each of the other couples with their particular food assignment.  This works very well as no one has to do an inordinate amount of preparation.

IMG_5627When it’s my turn, as it was in January, I have as much fun setting a table as planning the menu.  In fact, I usually set the table several days in advance and let it help determine what should be served.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMore often than not my table is inspired by whatever textile I pull from my abundant collection.  This one is a beauty from Thailand handwoven of silk.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom there, I look around the house to see what would work as a centerpiece, and it is always a surprise to see what captures my eye.  Very often you can be sure it has a touch of whimsy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith this being the first gourmet of the season, it seemed right to add a little glamor to the table, and I chose to use china that once belonged to my mother.  That means the table is as fancy as it’s ever going to get in this house.

Napkin folding is one of those tricks that makes a table special, and none could be easier than this one that forms a pocket for the flatware.

IMG_5618As I was finishing the table, it struck me as somewhat sophisticated which made me think the meal should be the same.  From somewhere in the recesses of my mind came an image of Beef Wellington.  Along with brie topped with a sundried tomato mixture, watercress soup, roasted fingerling potatoes and a chocolate raspberry tart it was perfect for a dinner celebrating friendship and a new year.   

29112_beef_wellingtonDon’t let the idea of Beef Wellington scare you off.  It’s not as hard as it appears.  There are many recipes, and all have some mushroom/onion/garlic mix spread on puff pastry that is wrapped around a tenderloin.  I used baby bells which are more flavorful than button mushrooms, and I also encased the beef with thin slices of pancetta which added a little mystery to the taste.  I wish I had added some chopped spinach to the mushroom mix now that I think about it.  As with any recipe, it’s always fun to experiment with your own touches.

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Tablescape Thursday