Nothing to It!

Funny how sometimes there’s nothing to setting a table.  That is quite true of this one.  It started with a linen table runner I hadn’t used in some time.  

What drew me to it is the bird image as  I do have a thing for birds and bird houses!

It was a no brainer to add a bird house from the collection on the porch and  a little birdie that just happened to be sitting on the counter waiting to be used for something.

With so many flowers blooming in the yard, it was very easy to run out and clip a few to add a touch of color.  For me, there is no better way to arrange flowers than to stick a stem or two or three in bottles that are then grouped on the table.  

With the bird on the runner being stamped in black, there was no better choice for dishes than the black Ikea plates.  

Finishing off the table is a favorite simple napkin fold that works perfectly as a pouch for the flatware.

You know, it just doesn’t take much to make a simple dinner at home something special.  

And dinner was simple.  It was an Against the Grain pizza with pesto and mozzarella to which was added pears, bacon, pine nuts and blue cheese. 

Out of the oven, it was topped with arugula which made a salad unnecessary.  By the way, if you haven’t tried Against the Grain pizza, look for it in your frozen food section.  It is quite good, and as an extra bonus, it’s gluten free.

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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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Never Too Many!

Beth's/pumpkinsNo question about it, I’m crazy about using pumpkins and gourds this time of year, and there’s no such thing as too many.

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Wherever they are used, they add such color and texture, two of my favorite things  when it comes to setting a table.

img_7671Those elements make it very easy to put everything else together,

img_7676especially during this season when the colors are so rich and warm.

img_7668As important as anything on the table is the humble napkin.    For me, it’s always the final touch that keeps any table from being ordinary and there are lots of options.  The above fold is one you might want to try.img_7662With the napkin laid flat, fold it on the diagonal.  

img_7663Fold from left to right to make a smaller triangle.  Repeat.

img_7665Fold each side accordion style, starting at the middle.

img_7666Hold the napkin tightly about 1 1/2″ from the bottom and tie with twine or ribbon.  Adjust the folds.

Folding the napkin is not difficult.  Where it gets a little sticky is holding it with one hand and tying it with the other.  That’s when an extra pair of hands come in handy!  Next time I do this fold, I’m going to add a leaf or a herb sprig or a flower or a cinnamon stick….well, you get the picture.  Napkins are just another way to express your creative self.  Have fun!

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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

It’s My Thing

Frequently I am asked if my table is always set even when it’s just the hubby and me who are eating at home.  The answer is yes, it’s part of who I am.

tablescapeBy the time I was a young teenager it was my job to have dinner started so that it would be ready soon after my parents got home from work.  While food was simmering, I set the table, and while there was not much to work with I wanted it to look nice.  I had learned where silverware and glasses should go thanks to a lady who taught me much during those days.  Paper napkins were all we had, but even those were folded neatly.

napkinFast forward to when the hubby and I were newly wed.  We had little in the way of furniture and our dining table was a card table.  In addition to our single set of dishes, I had some cloth napkins and it was fun to fold them in different ways.  In addition to making the best of a pretty casual setting, it became important to me to prepare foods that would complement each other on the plate.  I am a fool for color and texture!

tablescapeI never thought of any of this as being creative, particularly since I didn’t view myself in that way.  The lightbulb went off when I was working temporarily for an industrial psychologist.  By leading me through a litany of questions that focused on my decisions having to do with how I lived, ate, dressed he helped me realize that much of who I am is creative.  He will never know how grateful I am for that revelation.

tablescapeSince then I have allowed myself to explore creativity, not to please anyone but to discover more about me.  It’s been a wonderful process, and I urge you to do the same by not denying your creative self.  We are all blessed with the ability to create, but sometimes it takes a long time to acknowledge the gift.  

tablescapeFor me, table settings are a way of introducing creativity to every day living.  What is yours?

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Gourmet Delight

Traveling from Maine to Texas, we aren’t seeing too many tablescapes.  Let’s face it, the emphasis at Cracker Barrel isn’t on the table!  Luckily, I am prepared to share a lovely one from a recent gathering of our Maine gourmet group.

sunflowersWalking into the room, the first thing that caught my eye were the sunflowers.  How can that warm sunny yellow not make anyone feel welcome?

tablescapeOn closer look, there is a detail on the table that shows how well the hostess knows me.  Take a look at the table runner….it’s rumpled!  She got a great big hug for that.

tablescapeUsing napkins laid on the diagonal added color and texture on the tablecloth as well as functioned as background for dishes and stemware.

tablescapeAnother detail that I appreciate is the clever napkin fold that serves as a pouch for the flatware.  It’s that kind of touch that takes any table from ordinary to extraordinary.

tablescapeWith the sunflowers and the color added by the linens, simple white dishes were a perfect choice.

tablescapeWith the sun set and candles lit, I stepped back to take it all in and could only smile appreciatively at the effort.  The table is comfortable, welcoming and beautifully laid out.  Luckily, I had my camera and could capture it all to share with you.

Linda  051 (1)The food was as good as the table. The host did a knockout job with his short ribs served over polenta that was a recipe from the wonderful Jerusalem cookbook.  It just doesn’t get any better than sharing excellent food with special friends at a lovely table.

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The Last Time…..Really!

white tablescape/pumpkinsRemember these?  They have been appearing on one table or another since October.  The hubby was about to throw them away, but they were still in such good shape I couldn’t resist using them one last time.

tablescape/pumpkinsFor their final appearance, they are simply placed against a wooden candle mold which is my new favorite thing for a centerpiece.  There are so many things you can do with it.  Here it holds simple bottles of blooms interspersed with candles.

tablescape/burlapI couldn’t resist using burlap beneath the candle mold as it provides a wonderful combination of textures.

tablescapeOften flowers influence my choice of dishes as they did here.   These are Tracy from Target’s Octavia Hill collection.  I think I was attracted to them not only because of their color but because of the braided edge.  The stemware is from Pier One, and is generally used only at Thanksgiving, but it adds a just right touch here.

napkin foldnapkin foldnapkin foldnapkin foldThe napkin is made into a little pocket for the forks, and this is the easiest napkin fold ever.  Fold the napkin in half, then in half again.  Turn the top layer up about 1/3 to 1/2 way.  Fold in half, then half again and voila you have a pocket with no wrong sides showing.

tablescapeFinished, the table is warm and cozy, perfect for a winter night.   Honest, the pumpkins won’t be used again, but you know, I might try roasting them and see if they’re still good.  

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