Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Dinner! For Ten? Tomorrow???

'Twas the weekend before Christmas, and I hadn't done ANY holiday decorating. Unless you count last week's Tablescape Thursday post, "Fire & Ice, a Holiday Table" (HERE). That table setting had been disassembled, of course, and its various components had been put away.

On short notice, I agreed to co-host a holiday dinner party for ten people on Sunday night and provide the setting (as in venue). The co-hostess offered to bring the main course, and others provided delicious homemade rolls and wonderful appetizers. With Christmas music playing softly in the background, I put up the tree (artificial) on Saturday morning. It's one of those old-fashioned ones with color-coded branches that have to be inserted in the trunk. Unfortunately, the colors had mostly worn away, so it was a challenge to keep things looking symmetrical. But I persevered!

More on the tree later, but here's the table in the dining room. It's much simpler than what I usually do for Tablescape Thursdays. When it's an actual dinner party, I like giving the guests enough space to enjoy the meal in comfort ...

After I finished decorating the tree, I selected the china and crystal. I decided to use salad plates, bread plates, cups, and saucers in the Bellevue pattern by Lenox (1939-1975). I thought the bright maroon and shiny gold leaf pattern had a festive, holiday look. I recently found 49 pieces of Bellevue at an antique mall. It was all in mint condition. I was able to negotiate the price down to around $50. Lenox china for Dollar Tree prices! Not a bad deal, was it?

The crystal pattern is Holly (1942-1980) by Fostoria. I've been collecting it for a couple of years now. Some of it has come from local estate sales; the rest was found on eBay. I carefully hand-washed all the pieces I planned to use, and polished the silver.

I decided to do a mix-and-match look with three Lenox patterns. The soup bowls are Monroe (1983-2003), from the Presidential series. It's a more contemporary pattern than Bellevue, but still has the cream body and maroon/gold coloration. The crystal compote from last week's table was used on the kitchen island as a serving dish for an appetizer.

A closer look at the pattern of the rimmed soup bowls.

The Holly plates were ready, along with vintage forks and demitasse spoons for after-dinner dessert and coffee. I used my new (well, new to me, from an estate sale) KitchenAid mixer when I made the cake. This cream-colored one was around $60 on day two of the sale. I also have a classic white one I bought for $8 at a local charity thrift store. Both just needed a good (exterior) cleaning and work perfectly.

Here's the finished lemon curd pound cake. What a mess! If you want to see how it's supposed to look, visit Martha at Lines from Linderhof, HERE. I used a new bundt pan, sprayed/floured as usual, baked the cake, tested for doneness, and allowed it to cool (long enough, but not too long).

Then I bumped the sides of the pan, shook it slightly, and was ready to flip it onto the Holly cake plate. But ... when I shook it, nothing moved. It was STUCK. I tried carefully separating the edges of the cake from the pan, but it only helped a little. Finally I just went for it. Two-thirds of the cake landed on the plate. The rest remained in the pan. What to do? Make a trifle?

I managed to get most of it out. Hoping to avoid toothpicks during the re-construction, I just pressed it back together and hoped all the butter in the recipe would act as "glue" while it finished cooling. I drizzled the lemon curd topping here and there and less-than-artfully stuck bits of rosemary and cranberries along the "fault lines."

The cranberries were not intended to have popped open. I turned my back for a second (or maybe several seconds), and they started boiling away in their sugar/water bath. Again, go to Linderhof and see how it's supposed to be done! The good news is that the guests loved the cake, asking for the recipe and taking extra slices home (supposedly for spouses!). There was a little of it left. I put it in the refrigerator, and it was even moister the next day.

The salad is ready, and the cheddar broccoli soup is almost done. I combined elements of recipes by Martha Stewart and Emeril, reduced the sodium content, and made approximately half again the amount (to end up with enough soup to serve ten). David made the salad with baby spinach, grated parmesan cheese, and English walnuts. The dressing's extra-virgin olive oil and rice vinegar.

A vintage Hazel-Atlas Colonial Swirl punch bowl was just about the right size to hold the salad. Hazel-Atlas was an American glass company. During the 1930s, their factories produced huge quantities of depression glass pieces. At that time, they were the largest glassware manufacturer in the world.

You've seen the dinner plates before. They're Lenox Essex Maroon (1938-1978). The pattern incorporates design elements that are very similar to its "cousin," Bellevue. The place card holders also serve as small vases. Purchased at a recent estate sale (around fifty cents each), they remind me of Christmas ornaments.

Looking past the table toward the finished tree. Keep in mind that I haven't wrapped presents yet ... so nothing's under the tree. Are you getting the idea that I enjoy the excitement of the last minute holiday rush???

I made the centerpiece quickly using evergreens from the yard/garden. I used a container from Goodwill (99 cents) and placed the cuttings in oasis I had soaked in water. I used wired gold ribbon for bows and added a few picks with gold ornaments and flocked pinecones. An arrangement like this should easily last a week or two.

Here's a closer view of the Holly pattern. Some people use theirs only during the holidays, but I enjoy it year round. It's such a stylized pattern that I don't view it as representing holly. It's basically a laurel design. All the major glass companies seemed to produce a laurel variation during the Deco period. Fostoria's Holly includes an alternating cutting and etching, which I think adds interest and beauty.

I like the simplicity of the candleholders ...

A closer view of the place card vase, holding acuba leaves, boxwood, and holly berries.

A closer view of the china patterns.

The alternating red and green glass above the front door gives a feeling of Chrismas all year round!

The table for four in the breakfast nook. It was jokingly referred to as the "children's table" by the adults seated there. Based on the laughter emanating from there during dinner, I'd say the children played well together! The small arrangement contains just boxwood, holly, and a candle (all in floral oasis). The single candleholders are also Holly. The flatware on both tables is Jamestown (1916) a silverplated pattern by International. Notice the shape of the knife blades and the fact that they're plated rather than stainless. Most flatware (whether stainless, sterling, or plated), has featured stainless knife blades since the 1920s.

The wreath is artificial, but I attached cuttings from the Virginia pine tree. I also simplified it by removing several artificial burgundy-colored poinsettias, red berries, and little packages. I left (and reshaped) the wired gold ribbon. The black metal urns contained kimberly ferns that just finally "went South" a week or so ago. I quickly stuck pine branches (with cones) into the ferns to create a more welcoming look for guests. Looking at the photograph, I see that they're not particularly symmetrical ... still probably better than dead ferns ... don't you agree?

Come on in ...

Again quickly, I draped artificial garland across the mantel, added a string of bell-shaped clear lights, and inserted pine cuttings. I think next year, I'll use a longer garland that reaches the floor on each side.

Our sweet neighbors gave us this beautiful flocked (living) poinsettia. It's surprising how adding just one plant can give an entire room a holiday feeling, isn't it?

Here's a view of the tree in the sitting room from the entry hall.

The tree, wired ribbon, and most of the ornaments came from Hobby Lobby's after-Christmas sale several years ago. The sticks at the top came from there too. I spray painted them gold. It's starting to peel off, and I like the look better now than when they were freshly done. Wrapped presents coming soon ... very soon!

If you're interested, here's how I made the soup:
5 cups unsalted chicken broth (in a carton on the soup aisle of the supermarket)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 1/2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 pound shredded cheddar cheese
1 pound package frozen chopped broccoli (or one head fresh)
black pepper to taste
1/4 cup half-and-half (optional) stirred in just before serving

Melt butter in pan. Stir in chopped onion and cook until translucent. Stir flour into broth and heat. Add onions to broth and simmer about ten minutes. Add broccoli. Cooking time will depend on whether or not broccoli is frozen. I let it thaw first and cooked until it was crisp/tender (about ten more minutes). Add pepper to taste.

Next, pour soup into blender or food processer. I did it in two batches in a blender. I blended it very briefly. Most recipes suggest blending it thoroughly and putting it through a sieve to remove all solids. You can do that if you like, but I prefer the soup to maintain its body and texture.

Return blended soup to pan and simmer while stirring in cheese. You can whisk in a splash or two of cream (or half-and-half) at the end if you like. Some recipes call for garlic and/or nutmeg, but I decided not to include either.

If you try the recipe, let me know what you think.

It's almost time for Tablescape Thursday with our charming hostess, Susan of Between Naps on the Porch. I'll be traveling, but I'll try to link to this always-fun weekly event. Thank you, Susan, for your friendship and your warm Southern hospitality!

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and a very Happy New Year!


  1. It's all lovely as usual, Bill!

    I love the cake and the story! Wonderful!

    Happy Holidays!

    All the best in 2010!

  2. Way to go Bill. I too work best under pressure...which is why I am on here instead of vacuuming my house and wrapping gifts.
    You make it all look so easy, the tree, the center piece, the gorgeous table.
    By the way I don't being seated at the kids table as long as you serve wine there.

    Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones. I look forward to the New Year and many more visits to and from your site.

  3. I think this is one of my favorites out of all that I've seen! Probably because I love the holidays (your house looks great!) and because I do like tablescapes that look as if someone could actually eat at them.

    Merry Christmas!

  4. Everything looks absolutely beautiful! I don't know how you pulled it all together quickly but you did a superb job. I love the cake story too!

    Wishing you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and the happiest of new year's.

  5. Bill, as usual everything is lovely. I love, love, love your taste and everything about the table, your house, the tree, the furnishings...I could go on and on. But of course you know I always do. :)
    Merry Christmas!

  6. Lovely, as I have come to expect from you, Bill...Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  7. Not everybody performs well under pressure...
    You seemed to manage perfectly...
    Lovely tree, beautiful table, garlands, wreaths and menu all under control.
    Splendid job!

  8. Your tree and all your decor is beautiful, and of course you pulled off another beautiful table setting. The cake looks and sounds yummy (love lemon cake), regardless of
    its "fractures". :-)
    Mery Christmas to you and your family!
    Have a safe trip.

  9. That is suppose to be Merry not Mery. :)

  10. Bill, I have really enjoyed the fire and ice tablescape and this Christmas one too! You bring me so much joy and inspiration and I have learned so much! Thank you for the great ideas...don't be surprised if you get your own TV show one day! Merry Christmas! Robin Meade
    Hickory North Carolina...(we still have snow!)

  11. Again a beautiful post. Your house and table with all the beautiful pieces are just wonderful. Everything comes together so beautifully.
    Merry Christmas
    Riet, The Netherlands

  12. How far are you from Nashville? I'm putting on my shoes & should be there soon. You have made me so hungry, especially for the cake & soup.
    Love anything lemon. I squeeze lemon over my broccoli often. My mother always said that whoever found a toothpick in the cake, got an extra piece! Best cakes are the ones that fall apart!
    Beckie in Brentwood, TN

  13. Everything is stunning as usual! I don't care what the cake was supposed to look like- it looks wonderful the way it is. Your home is so lovely.

  14. Your cake looks delicious to me.....reminds me of most of my baked creations that have either slid in the frosting process or come out of the oven crooked. (Oh gosh...once I made a pineapple upside-down cake that I tried to make an initial on and made it backward!) And your Christmas tree is beautiful, and then the tabletop...well...your co-hostess was certainly in luck. Would you share the recipe for the cake?

    Happy happy holidays!


  15. Oh my, Bill. That Essex Maroon with the Bellevue. Just stunning and the flatware. Once again you have outdone yourself.

    Have a wonderful holiday.


  16. Another stunning table! I so enjoy peaking in on your creations! Merry Christmas.

  17. wow! You work quickly!! Your home looks wonderful and the entrance is so inviting-love the red door. (I have the red paint for mine for next summer). Thank you for sharing about your china and all the "trimmings" in each post that you write. Have a safe trip and Peace to you and your family this Christmas.

  18. Thanks for letting us peek around your home. You must know how nosey I am, LOL! Everything is just beautiful. I only wish I could be there in person for one of your dinner parties. Thanks for sharing the recipe for the soup...it's one of my favorites. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and Dave!

  19. Bill,
    Your home is breathtaking. Your elegance style is always inviting, never untouchable. I could sit for hours just moving from room to room taking it all in. Absolutely lovely.
    Merry Christmas New Friend.
    I look forward to what creations you present us with in the coming year.
    My Best, Bonnie

  20. WOW!!!

    Who needs Christmas china when you have that great Lenox! It's elegant and can be used all year long but is really festive at Christmas!

    Thanks for the compliments on the cake . . . I think yours turned out very well and the rosemary hides the "oops" fine and once you cut into it . . . it doesn't matter anyway!

    Your house is beautiful as well -- so elegant!

    I just can't say enough about your table (and the centerpiece -- I'm with you you have to see OVER the centerpiece when you have guests -- once ours is in place, we always sit down opposite each other to make sure it's not too tall) and all of your Christmas decorating -- wow -- the tree, the outside, the mantle.

    I am overwhelmed!

  21. Everything is just stunning...as always.
    Your tables are beautiful...your tree is amazing and I am totally in love forever with that cake. I am making it tomorrow...!!Now, I have to go back and see where I go to get the recipe...Martha Stewart? OH NO...everything she does scares me silly....:)
    xo bj

  22. Bill-I certainly understand why you were asked to "be the venue"! I hope your guests appreciated your attention to detail and exquisite taste! I have a tree just like the one you described. It will be curbside on Dec 26th :) and I will be at Hobby Lobby for a new one! Your cake looks delicious and that is just called character :) Have a safe trip and a wonderful Christmas!

  23. Bill, love the way you paired the various china. Each is perfect for a holiday touch, and the crystal is like star light on your table. I can see that silver sparkles as well. You did a good job polishing! I think you did an amazing job decorating. To think you did all this in such a short time. I think you must be a very creative Super Man! Travel safely and enjoy the holidays where ever your travels take you. Thanks for sharing your creative genius with us each week. You've been a good friend to me. I always appreciate your visits and look forward to my visits to Affordable Accoutrements each week.
    Merry, Merry! ~ Sarah

  24. I like to work under pressure...but I like to allow time to sit down before the guests arrive! Everything looks gorgeous and not at all as if you pulled it together quickly.

    Did you know that if you spray your pan and use sugar (not flour) when you bake a cake, it will come out easily and the sugar bakes into the cake leaving no residue?

  25. What a beautiful tablescape! And your home looks amazing for the holidays! I love the way you "saved" the cake! Thank you for all the tablescapes you have shared with us this year!Have a very Merry and Blessed Christmas! Patti

  26. My invitation to the dinner party must have gotten delayed in the Christmas mail! I would have worn my black velvet dress and the pearl necklace with the beautiful diamond clasp and my lovely earrings that sparkle in candlelight with the sweet drop pearl... sigh... what an incredible dinner party it must have been. I would have taken a piece of cake home too... it sounds so scrumptious!

    Merry Christmas and many blessings for the New Year! hugs, Sherry

  27. Bill, Your talents have once again shone through and given us another lovely table to look at! So what if the cake had a little mishap? Even Martha has days like that, I'm sure! LOL I work very well under pressure- must be the deadline thing we journalists work with. Guess that is why my house decorating turned out so well for me this year- major deadline to meet after losing 4 weeks to this darn concussion. Now if only the spinning head would come to a stop! I hope you enjoy your Christmas! Looking forward to many more exquisite table settings in the new year.
    Merry, Merry! Sue

  28. Bill, dropping by this morning to wish you a very Merry Christmas! And of course, I am in awe of your tablescape. Everything looks perfect as does your lovely home. Thanks for being a blessing in my life this year.

    Merry, Merry Christmas!


    Sheila :-)

  29. ALways so gorgeous!! I can't believe you waited until Sat. to decorate your tree!! Such a beauty too!! I love it when you do a REAL tablescape--these are the kinds I love best!!(Well, that is not a true statement--I love all of yours --pretend and real) Love the greens on the table for centerpiece and name-tags. What I like about your posts is that they are always inspirational! So thanks for taking the time you do!! PS> I received the dishes and they were in fine condition!! Nothing was broken!! yea!! I will have to do a tablescape in the New Year with them. Thanks again -so much!!!

  30. Your home and all the decorations are gorgeous and you always present the most beautiful tables. I hope you and all your family and friends have a very Blessed Christmas. Hugs, Marty

  31. Great! LOVE that burgundy Lenox -- I've never seen that pattern before. It's fabulous, and perfect for the season.

    Have a blessed Christmas, and a happy, healthy New Year.

    All best wishes, from Cass and family at That Old House!

  32. Beautiful Christmas table, Bill! So elegant and so festive looking!

    And I think your cake 'mess' looks divine! In fact, it made me hungry and I'll be heading out to the kitchen right now!

    Merry Christmas!
    Blessings for the New Year!
    All the best to you,

  33. Well, if you whipped that up last minute, I'd love to see what you could do in a week or two! Everything looks beautiful. I love the red on the table and the natural elegance of it all.

  34. As usual everything is beautiful but that tree is stunning.
    Enjoy your Christmas,

  35. As always, I want to pull up a chair and wait for the first course. The red and gold plates are beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I hope your Christmas is as lovely as your table. Merry Christmas

  36. Everything looks lovely...Merry Christmas!

  37. One of the first posts I look for each week. Thank you for always taking the time to share your many talents. Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2010.

  38. LOL, Bill..loved your story!
    I had a tree like that..I used to repaint the stems every year so I wouldn't go crazy..now reward yourself and go get yourself an new pre lit..they are so much easier, 1 - 2 - 3- and it's up..
    (although those old ones like you have really looked good!)
    Yours is beautiful..
    And your table..wonderful..as usual...I love the colors you chose...and I am sure you were a wonderful host..
    Always keep toppings handy..they cover a multitude of sins on cakes, :) ...and if you didn't point it out we would be none the wiser..it looks delicious..
    Merry Christmas, Bill..good health and happiness in the new year!

  39. Just beautiful as usual, I especially love this post, full of life and full of color and vibrance, love the mixing up of the china and stemware, love the flare you have added to the table with the red and green, you are so talented, I enjoyed my visit,.

  40. Bill, everything is beautiful. I love the way you mixed things up instead of matchey matchey. Puts a new spin on things. Your tree is gorgeous. Love the reflection in the mirror.. stellar shot there my friend. You have such a lovely home, as always I enjoyed my visit.. From our home to yours a Very Merry Christmas..
    hugs ~lynne~

  41. It looks just amazing! Love the tree as well. And that cake, well, it sure looks fantastic and I have no doubt it tastes just as good! Love all of the beautiful china and crystal. Really stunning!

    Ironically, I have Lenox Monroe crystal goblets as my stemware and burgundy and gold dishes in my gilded Christmas tablescape this week. I think we are on the same page!

  42. Hi Bill, I know that all your guests will have a wonderful time... I do hope you and yours have a Very Merry Christmas

  43. Bill, everything looks absolutely exquisite. Gorgeous!!! Your table takes my breath away. I love it.

    And, the whole house is just stunning.

    Happy holidays to you and your family.

  44. Wow, so glad I found you! I love your house, love your china and crystal. Your lemon cake looks delicious. Have a Merry Christmas! --Delores

  45. Hi Bill,

    I have been trying to get to you before Christmas and thank goodness I made it, well my Christmas Day has come and gone, which means yours (by Australian time) is about to start.

    I just wanted to wish you a Wonderful Christmas Day & may 2010 be a year filled with Happiness and Love.

    xx Coty

  46. ♫ Merry Christmas to you! ♫

    What a wonderfully festive atmosphere you created, Bill. I'm so glad you used this china, as I had not seen it before. It is lovely & carries the holiday feeling perfectly along with your Holly glassware. Great choices & outstanding photographs, as always.

    My world is a brighter place for you having shared yours.

    I hope you have a Blessed Christmas, surrounded by loving family & friends.


  47. Merry Christmas Bill!! This table is beautiful!!! Thank you for the story too. I have to giggle when I read your stories! Do you know I get so excited to see you have a new post?!!
    I am like you in the sense that I work better under pressure. I was in charge of decorating the tables this year for our churches Christmas Banquet. Since the move most of my things are packed away and they wanted me to use old decorations from Christmas past (only they didnt know where most of the ornmaments were LOL)
    I focused on the Pastor's Table and delegated the other tables. Anyhow, I used snow men for the decor and candles, mirrors, and silver confetti...it was not elegant, it was whimsical but turned out so pretty. The Pastor and his wife just had a new baby after a long gap in between having children, so I thought it would be fun. I forgot to take a picture of it LOL. However, I was asked to decorate and provide the food for an event at the church that is scheduled in February 2010!! I am excited and have time to plan!
    I wish you would publish your cake recipe too. Don't be upset about the cake sticking. I usually cut that slice and place it on a dessert plate right near the cake plate when that happens to me. You did a good job with damage control though :) I absolutely love all of your wonderful finds...
    Thank you so much for sharing your creativity with us. You are amazing brother!
    God Bless you and Merry Christmas to you and yours!!
    Love Lilly

  48. Happy Holidays Bill!

    Wow, what a fabulous house and trees. Just stopping by all my favorite blogs to wish you a very Merry Christmas.

    Julio & Family

  49. Your tables are always so perfect and I knew they had a touch of familiarity! And then I remembered Carolyne Roehm -- have her books, love her style and your tables so remind me of hers! She has a certain elegance about her and you do too!

  50. Just beautiful. Iyour tablescape brought back so many memories. A close friend of my Mom's had that lenox pattern and we enjoyed many special dinners around it. It is lovely, grand and celbratory. Enjoy!
    - The Tablescaper

  51. Oh Bill, your home is so lovely dressed for the holidays. As usual, the table setting is wonderful. Your Christmas tree is stunning!...Christine

  52. Loved how you saved the cake in such a creative way. Your tables are always stunning. You certainly have the knack for it and the photos are wonderful, like being there in person.

  53. Bill, my stars I need to visit much more often, I am in awe of you...seriously, what a gorgeous table you have set yet again...I personally would have been honored to sit at the "childrens" table..Everything that you chose for the table was amazing and to do this so quickly...again..I am in awe. it is after 9 am here in Sunny So Cal and reading your menu...I am now starving :) I plan on trying your broccoli cheedar cheese soup recipe, it is one of my families favorite soups, think it will go with ham & turkey cressants? That is my idea of a quick meal lol But seriously, you have the most elegant taste, I think being to any of your gatherings is an honor and a wonderful experience...now would you please share your cake recipe too? I thought I lost your blog, I didn't know that all it took was pressing a lil button and all your blogs that you are following miraculously appear :) Learn something new everyday is my motto..Besos, Rose

  54. Bill amor, one more thing...You have a beautiful home both inside and out..it is very you...elegant yet unassuming :) I think I have used my ooh and ahh quotas for the week. Besos, Rose

  55. Absolutely gorgeous. I think I'm moving in. { winks. } Impeccable taste. I'm so inspired.....so in awe.

    Thank you so much for sharing.