Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Sentimental Setting

It's time for Tablescape Thursday with our hostess, Susan at Between Naps on the Porch! Please visit her beautiful blog to see her gorgeous tablescapes!

I'm nervous and excited to be participating for the very first time. Susan has been my muse, my guiding light, and an absolute angel on my shoulder as I've muddled through my first week of blogging. She's been extremely kind and generous. The tabletop/decor community is fortunate indeed to have such a wonderful and talented lady doing so much for so many.

My first effort starts with a casual arrangement of flowers from the garden. I took a brief stroll with basket and shears in hand, snipping a few of whatever I noticed blooming. There was no master plan, just 3 of lots of different things and, sometimes, one of a color that caught my eye.

The greenery included hosta leaves, various fern fronds, and a handful of zebra grass. Definitely an affordable centerpiece!

"Sentimental" in the title refers to the fact that these were my late mother's dishes. I never knew what kind they were until recently. They are unmarked except for some numbers on the underside of the vegetable bowl. The number corresponded to "Jean," a Homer Laughlin pattern introduced in 1944. My father gave them to her in the 1960's. They were a bank premium for opening a new account. He worked there, and one of the perks was that he could buy additional place settings and serving pieces.

The candelabra are silverplated (and could use polishing -- sorry). Sterling would be nice, but I hope the guests won't turn them upside down to determine if they're "real" or not -- especially not with the candles burning!!! This pair was on sale for $35 at a local antique mall.

The flatware was my mother's as well. She normally didn't care to indulge herself with things she considered luxuries. She was into recycling when recycling wasn't cool! She'd always wanted a set of 1847 Rogers Brothers flatware. She saved a few dollars here and there in the cookie jar. I remember going to the jewelry store with her (as a child) and "helping" her pick it out. The pattern is "Remembrance." I now know that it was Rogers Bros. 100th anniversary pattern, released in 1948. It became very popular and is considered collectible today.

The water glasses are "Marquis" by Towle. I've used them as wine glasses before (nice and big), and I suppose they could serve as iced tea glasses as well.

I'm not a huge fan of floral patterns for dishes, but I think this one is pretty and subtle. When my father offered me the china, it brought back many wonderful memories of beautifully-prepared, delicious family holiday dinners. It had been stored unused for years in a cabinet above the refrigerator.

Below: My first silver -- a fork and spoon in Rogers Brothers Daffodil pattern. My great uncle and aunt owned a jewelry store. They "shopped" for my gift there and shipped it to Texas where my dad was in the Army (and where I was born while he was out on maneuvers). The berry spoon was another bank premium.

Looking out into the entry hall.

Looking up at the dome above the chandelier.

Another view of the center of the table.
View through the goblet. The cotton lace placemats and napkins were purchased at a recent estate sale. It was the second day (when prices are reduced) so the "smalls" and linens were half price. I think this set (for 8) was $4.

I know it's a faux pas to burn candles in the daytime (or to burn scented candles during dinner), but this is make believe, right? All about ambience?

The rug under the table was definitely affordable. It was only $99 at a local charity thrift shop. The label said "perfect condition." I unrolled it, looked at the back and front, sniffed it -- you name it -- it WAS perfect. It's 100% wool, handmade in India. Perhaps not the colors I would have gone looking for, but it softens and warms the room. I like it -- what do you think?

A glimpse of the window treatments (came with the house). One of the semi-abstract landscapes I painted in watercolor is on the wall.

Ready for guests -- what should I serve?

Recycled roses: The lovely neighbor on the corner provided dinner. I took roses. She returned them the next day, because she was going out of town and wanted them to be enjoyed. They dried in the vase, and I decided I like the effect. They look rather like aged crepe paper, don't they?

Dusk arrives, and the candles glow more brightly.

Darkness descends.

Looking into the sitting room.

One last look; hope you enjoyed stopping by to see a Sentimental Setting.
I hope you'll visit again soon!


Good night.....

Teatime Trivia

We all know the part tea has played in US history – the Boston Tea Party being the most famous and dramatic example of how important the stuff was to American colonists. After that, there was a gradual transition to coffee being the hot beverage of choice. In the last hundred years or so, tea made a huge comeback, especially in the South, in the form of an iced, sweetened beverage served in tall glasses, often with a lemon wedge perched on the rim.
The afternoon tea ceremony never really went away of course. It became a social ritual (primarily for cultured ladies). The development of electroplated silver serving pieces made it possible for families of relatively modest means to afford to own impressive silver teapots and serving trays.
One element of a typical tea service that’s often omitted today is the “waste bowl.” Wikipedia online dictionary tells us that:
“A waste bowl, or slop bowl, is one of the components of the traditional tea set. In modern times, the slop bowl is used to hold the discarded hot water that was used to warm the teapot. Earlier uses may have included emptying un-drunk cold tea into the slop bowl before refilling the cup with fresh, hot tea. “
I wanted to show you one of my more interesting recent Goodwill finds. I was drawn to the shape and picked up the blackened object. I turned it over and could make out the words “Reed & Barton” and “Winthrop.” I gladly paid the price of $2.99, rushed home to give it a quick polish, and then went to the Replacements, LTD website to see what I’d found. Winthrop was produced from 1850-1985. The Replacements price is $129.99. I almost felt guilty! But not too guilty.

I like the feet and the overall shape. I won’t be using it for a waste/slop bowl, but I think it will be beautiful used as a candy dish, a small serving piece, or as a container for a small bouquet of roses from the garden.
The boxed set of 1847 Rogers Brothers silverplated flatware includes 8 iced tea spoons, a lemon fork, and a sugar spoon. I purchased it on eBay to supplement some flatware I already had. I haven’t used it yet, but I like to take it down from the shelf and admire it from time to time.
Do you have things like that, things you just own because you love them, to use someday … or not?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dixie Carter!

Did the title get your attention? Ms. Dixie and I smiled for the cameras at the 2007 Tennessee Arts Commission’s Governor’s Award in the Arts reception held in Nashville at the beautiful Schermerhorn Symphony Center. The West Tennessee town of Huntingdon was receiving an award for creating the Dixie Carter Performing Arts and Academic Enrichment Center (“The Dixie,” home of the Hal Holbrook Theater).

Did you know that the first season of Designing Women has just (finally!) been released on DVD? Season 2 is coming soon. Could anyone who watched the show ever forget Dixie Carter as Julia Sugarbaker delivering her signature line, ending with “… the night the lights went out in Geor-JUH!”? Anyway, she’s absolutely lovely, charming, and gracious in person.

My friend Judy and I posed next to one of the over-the-top, and undoubtedly NOT inexpensive, floral displays used that evening. Judy and Ms. Dixie were school chums at Huntingdon High School and have remained friends through the years.

There is a point to all this – an affordable way to create colorful, festive, and dramatic flower arrangements for a reception, an entry hall table, or a dining room sideboard. I’ve done this several times using clear glass vases I purchased when they were 50% off at Hobby Lobby. The 30” vases in various shapes were on sale in the $15 to $20 range. They’re also great for tall arrangements of gladiolus, forsythia, etc.
This look starts with partially filling the vases with water tinted with food coloring (in whatever shade suits your fancy). I used round black take-out containers to hold two blocks of floral foam (oasis) that I’d cut into rounded shapes and soaked in water. You could use whatever kind of plate or shallow bowl you think will be least visually obtrusive.
Next, cut the stems really short and cover the oasis with blooms. I used daffodils from the garden (the price was right, and they’re so cheerful and fresh-looking). The picture was taken on Day 2, when the arrangements were to have been used for a second event. I learned quickly that daffodils don’t hold up as well as some other types of flowers. I made an emergency trip to the supermarket for a mixed bouquet of yellow and white flowers to fill in where many of the daffodils had drooped.
I’ve done this technique since then using mums, carnations, and gerber daisies. They hold up MUCH better and are still relatively inexpensive.
The “sticks” at the top add height and drama. You could also use corkscrew willow or branches of Spring trees when they’re in bloom. I recycled some of the ones in the photo by spray painting them gold to use atop my Christmas tree.
I hope you’ll comment and tell me about famous friends, flower arranging triumphs … or near-disasters, or even which episode of Designing Women is your all-time favorite!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Cooling Mojito

After checking out mojito recipes online and viewing numerous youtube videos by bartenders claiming THEIR way is the ONLY way, I know how confusing it can get!

Some say to use lime juice (rather than lime wedges), to use confectioner’s sugar, that simple syrup is best, to crush the mint leaves to smithereens (yuck, they come right up the straw and taste bitter). I've tried most of the options, and I think I've found a nice balance -- one likely to please and impress your guests.

I like to use pilsner/ale glasses like the one in the photograph. I hate beer, but I love the shape of these glasses!

Here’s how I make a mojito:

Bill's Mojito

· Cut half a lime into wedges
· Place lime wedges in the bottom of a double rocks or highball glass (or perhaps a pilsner glass)
· Add two teaspoons of granulated sugar (more or less to taste)
· Crush the above-listed ingredients with a wooden muddler (or use the non-business end of a large wooden spoon as I do)
· Add fresh mint leaves. Pinch them off near the stem and add as many as ten small ones – fewer if the leaves are large.
· Crushed ice comes next. If you have an ice maker with a “crush” feature, you’re in luck. If not, wrap ice cubes in a dish towel and pound away with a hammer, rolling pin, etc.
· Now pour in light rum … lots of it!
· Stir with a long-handled bar spoon. Naturally, being a good Southern boy, I always have an iced tea spoon nearby. Iced tea is the "house wine of the South" … for goodness sake!
· Stir gently, to bruise and distribute the mint leaves and to bring all that sugary, sherbet-y, limey taste upward.
· Now top off with club soda to give it a little fizz and sparkle.
· Garnish with the sexy end of the mint sprig. Some people just shove mint into the top of the glass, but I like to anchor it with a lime wedge on the rim. It’s pretty, and it puts the wonderful aromas right under the nose as you enjoy sipping this cooling beverage!
· Add two straws – not that you’re going to share it … it just allows you to cool off faster … and enjoy life more!!!

Now you have my recipe, try it and let me know what you think, OK?

Recent finds (bargains!)

I'd intended to focus on beautiful vintage items I've purchased at affordable prices, but I got sidetracked "confessing" my tendency to fall victim to dishaholism (is that a word?).

In the first photo, you'll see a lovely feather boa-y wreath. I saw it at a local Goodwill store priced at $5.99. I remember thinking it was just about the goofiest thing I'd ever seen ... and that I had to have it! It's in an odd little nook. The area can only be viewed from the stairway, and is accessed by passing through a closet and bending over to go through a low, angled door. The table was $50 at a local antique mall, and the decanters were purchased for $10 or less each at various estate sales. I think they're pretty displayed as a collection in the early morning light. I also like using them to serve wine at a dinner party (guests are unlikely to suspect that the wine was decanted from a bottle with a screw-on cap!). They're also nice for serving juice at an elegant brunch.

The mirrored tray on the bar was also a $5.99 Goodwill purchase. The decanter was $15.00 on the second day of an estate sales (that's when you usually get the best deals). The ice bucket was on sale for under $10 at an antique mall. Who cares if it has an "S" engraved on the side? I think monograms add interest and character to vintage glass, silver, and linens. We all have someone on the ol' family tree with an "S" name, right? "Dear Auntie So-and-So loved her beautiful things" (and she probably did!).


The creamer and open sugar below were also a "day 2" estate sale purchase. They're sterling and in very good condition. I negotiated the price down to $15! They were quite tarnished, but a quick polish using Wright's Silver Cream (widely available and inexpensive) had them shining again -- not quite like new, because I carefully avoided removing the dark patina in recessed areas that shows off the decorative design elements.

They'll be great filled with cream and sugar cubes (I'll get to use the sterling sugar tongs I purchased at a downsizing sale last year). It will be even more fun to use them for small arrangements of flowers from the garden, wrapped candy on a guest room bedside table, or for q-tips/cotton balls in a guest bath.

I hope you'll comment and tell me about your own favorite "finds!"
Mojitos coming up later today. See you then!

Friday, June 26, 2009

You MIGHT be a Dishaholic ... if ....

Yes, you might just BE a dishaholic, IF you have cabinets in your kitchen that are beginning to look like the ones above!
And that's just the white/cream china with gold rims (OK, I see a few platinum bands here and there. I'm not a purist, NOR a particularly organized individual).
AND there's also an actual china cabinet (that's filled to overflowing).
And bulging padded zippered storage cases sitting on closet shelves.
And cardboard boxes filled with china wrapped in paper.
Is there a twelve step program for people who can't resist buying just one more set of beautiful dishes? Or for those who can't part with the dishes their mothers and grandmothers used only for very, very special occasions?

Thank you to the wonderful Susan at Between Naps on the Porch. Her beautiful blog inspired me to click on the "create blog" button in the upper right corner. Not because I know how to do this, but because it seemed to be an intriguing creative outlet and a way to encounter friendly kindred spirits.
I was very pleasantly surprised to find that people were commenting on my first post. Thank you again to Susan for sending her friends to stop by and say hello. I appreciate all the kind words and good wishes.
Do I dare participate in an upcoming "Tablescape Thursday?" I don't know ... maybe ... I think I just might!
You know, I think tomorrow I'll share my favorite recipe for mojitos -- not guaranteed to keep you cool, but I promise that after a couple of those icy, minty Cuban concoctions, you somehow just don't seem to MIND the sweltering temperatures quite as much!
I hope you all have an enjoyable weekend!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

First Post

It was only a couple of short years ago that I discovered the addictive joys of shopping for vintage tabletop / decor items on ebay and in thrift stores, flea markets, antique shops/malls, and (especially!) estate sales. I immediately became enthralled with the beauty and quality of items created in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s to be used with pride for formal entertaining.
Adding to the excitement is the fact that today, when most people are horrified at the idea of owning anything that has to be polished or can't be casually tossed into a dishwasher, these elegant heirlooms can often be picked up for a fraction of their true value.
In the near future, I'll be posting more pictures and descriptions of some of my favorite finds.
For today, here's a cup and saucer by Theodore Haviland in the "Gotham" pattern, manufactured from 1945-1958. I started my Gotham collection with a great coffee pot I found on ebay from a charity thrift shop in South Florida. I purchased it for around $20 plus shipping. I had bid more than that before I left home the morning the auction closed, but there was only one other bidder (and as you ebayers know, ebay automatically places bids for you in increments up to the maximum bid you've set).
I've since picked up 8 cups and saucers and a couple of dinner plates in the same pattern. I purchased the additional pieces from a delightful young mother-to-be in Texas. She had listed pieces from two sets of gold-rimmed cream-colored china. The mother of an ex-boyfriend had given them to her, probably assuming there was to be a marriage in the near future. Since the accepted proposal came from a different young man, the seller decided she could part with the dishes (even though she found them to be very pretty and "so Gotham-y").
Until I find more pieces, I can use clear glass plates (vintage and elegant of course!) with the Haviland coffee pot & cups when I serve guests a sinfully rich dessert with after-dinner coffee in the sitting room. Stay tuned!