How It Started

When the gourmet group heard we were going to Sicily for another Foodie Adventure, a request was made for a Sicilian meal when we next hosted.   Lucky I was warned because that made me pay attention to tables and accessories when we were there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt a market I found a cloth which started the thought process.

I was very attracted to ceramic heads which were a reflection of the Moorish influence in Sicily.    I finally yielded to temptation and purchased two small ones that I knew would work into whatever tablescape would eventually evolve.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen the time came to put a table together, I brought out the chianti bottles which have been used  many times over the years.  Now I know chianti is Tuscan, but I figured as long as I kept the Italian thing going, it would be OK.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe same thing applies to the handpainted plates which were gotten in Ravello some years ago. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs I looked at the table, it dawned on me that citrus was everywhere in southern Sicily, so I went outside, cut a few stems of holly fern and arranged whatever oranges, lemons and grapefruit were in the refrigerator on the table.  They actually play off some of the images on the cloth which is proving to be quite an effective inspiration.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA dish towel doubling as a napkin and folded into a pocket for flatware

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand an orange atop the salad plate completes a table that turns out to be very reflective of sunny Sicily.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd to think it all started with a request for a Sicilian dinner which I’ll share next time.

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Centerpiece Wednesday

Tablescape Thursday

Once, Twice, Then Twice More

Holidays are for entertaining, and for me that means not reinventing the wheel for every occasion.  Knowing there would be several events here during December, it made sense to have a centerpiece that would work with whatever was going on on the table.

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This year much of my holiday decor focuses on trees, so it was a no brainer to repeat them on the dining room table.  These holly trees are my most favorite and while they are great stand alone pieces, I added a collection of finials for a bit of shine.  With nothing more than this, the table is ready to be filled with finger foods for an upcoming meeting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToo,  several casual meals for family and friends are planned during the month, and for each the table will take on a different look.  A brunch will feature Spode Christmas dishes set on a matching placemat that I happened to spot at TJ Maxx.  Though I swore not to buy anything new, how could I leave such a perfect accessory behind!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlways a table  with the Spode pieces comes together very quickly and invites adding fun complements like the candy striped flatware that gets used again and again during December.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor a dinner with friends, the Bella Ceramica pottery is featured.  While some things stay the same, different napkins and chargers give the table a whole new look.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor Christmas dinner, the setting  is a tribute to my mother whose china and Fostoria grace the table.  I am so glad to have these remembrances of her.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor seated meals, there is one change to the centerpiece.  The tallest tree is removed and replaced with a slender finial so that no one has to crane their neck to look at a person sitting opposite.

So, there you have it, four occasions satisfied with a single centerpiece. Thinking ahead about how your table will be used during the holidays and finding a common thread makes the rest quite easy plus it saves considerable time.  The bonus is that when the table is not set, it still looks attractive.

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Tablescape Thursday

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.

i  so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

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?

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

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Tablescape Thursday

Inspiration Thursday

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.

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

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Inspiration Thursday

Tablescape Thursday

Party Planning Tips

I don’t give a whole lot of parties, so when we decided to have a Christmas gathering I got a little anxious before making myself sit down to create a “to do” list.  That made things ever so much easier, and I hope you will find some of these tips helpful.

Three weeks in advance, send invitations.  Paperless Post is an easy way to do this and makes it very convenient for guests to RSVP.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA week or more ahead of time, create a centerpiece for the serving table.  For me, that sets the stage for everything else. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs soon as possible, get out your favorite cookbooks and look for new food ideas that will go well with old favorites. By the way, don’t be afraid to include some of the very good prepared party foods from Costco, Trader Joe’s or Sam’s.  That makes your work much easier.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce the selections are made, make a thorough shopping list.  Nothing is more frustrating than getting ready to make something and finding you don’t have all the ingredients.  

Make a workable schedule for food that can be prepared  several days in advance so that everything doesn’t have to be done at the last minute.  Doing as much as possible ahead of time is a great stress reliever!

Look through your cabinets for serving pieces that work for your menu items and complement the centerpiece.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALay out the serving pieces, plates and napkins to make sure they are cohesive.  FYI, this is one time I use paper!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStand back and with a critical eye judge your setup and make any changes that make the table more inviting.

With all the preliminaries done, you can take a deep breath knowing that you’ve got everything under control.  Of course, even easier than this is having the party catered, but if you bypass that option, it’s a good idea to have a helper in the kitchen during the party.  Having someone refill empty dishes and keep everything orderly in the kitchen allows you to enjoy the party without worry.

For any gathering, I like to keep things as simple as possible and have a few favorites like this blue cheese spread that take only minutes to prepare.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMix blue cheese, roquefort or gorgonzola with fig preserves or one like this roasted garlic/onion jam from Stonewall Kitchen.  I generally use more cheese than preserves, but there’s no fixed rule so make it to satisfy your own taste.

  Serve with rosemary raisin crackers from Trader Joe’s.

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

Fun In The Kitchen

We do enjoy entertaining at home, and sometimes it’s fun to have everyone get involved in the fixing.  Nothing works better for that than pizza.

pizza/foodYou never know what toppings folks will like, so it’s best to have an assortment ready.

piza/foodTalk about an opportunity to be creative!

pizza/foodChoosing one or two toppings can be a real challenge, so loading up with a variety has real appeal!  Guys especially get into combining ingredients, and it’s always interesting to see how their creations turn out.

pizza/foodSome folks do like to keep their pizza a tad simpler so as not to totally confuse the taste buds!

appetizer/foodOnce the pizzas are in the oven we snack on appetizers.  What could be more perfect than cantaloupe wrapped with prosciutto 

crostini/appetierand tomato mozzarella  crostini?  Yum, it just doesn’t get better!

pizzaWhen the pizzas are ready, we mound slices on a platter so everyone can share.  I’m betting you won’t find any  of these combinations on a menu!

tablescapeWith platter and a caesar salad in hand, off we go to the dining room for some lip smacking fun at a very simple and colorful table.  The plates actually came from Italy so they are a good choice for pizza.

tablescapeLet me tell you, those straw wrapped wine bottles are not as easy to find as they were when we thought them dripping with candle wax was the epitome of table decor!

There you have it, a very fun way to spend an evening with friends!

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

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Tablescape Thursday

Foodie Friday