Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lenox and Magnolias!

What makes a dinner party memorable? The menu of course; that goes without saying. A carefully crafted guest list can provide sparkling dialogue. Do you want the sweet, soothing sounds of companionable, sympatico spirits or the lively banter of good-natured, but wildly opposing, viewpoints?

If you've visited Affordable Accoutrements before, you won't be surprised to learn that setting a visually appealing table is one of my top priorities. The table below is rather like a stage, carefully set and ready for the cast of characters to appear.

It began a few hours ago. I gathered Southern Magnolia leaves from two different trees, sorted them according to size, made sure they looked presentable (some needed bathing in soapy water), plugged in my trusty glue gun, and went to work. My goal was to create leafy chargers similar to the ones I've seen in Southern Living (from a decade or so ago), on the Pottery Barn website (4 for $64), and in a picture from a Paula Deen table Susan of Between Naps on the Porch recently shared with her readers.

I worked quickly, attaching the leaves to heavy duty paper dinner plates. I ran a line of glue along the rim of the plates and began pressing the leaves into place. The ones that didn't lie relatively flat were forced into submission with additional applications of glue.

I was primarily concerned that the overall diameter be 16 inches. Since some of the leaves were larger than others, I glued a second, smaller plate on top to add stability. I used red ones I had on hand, since I knew that only the outer tips of the leaves would show.

I took them outside to apply a light dusting of gold spray paint.

I wanted the glossy dark green of the leaves to show through, with just enough gold to add a luminous quality.

Single leaves in thrifted silver place card holders provide blank canvases for writing guests' names with a gold paint pen.

What could be more fascinating than bringing together guests from different backgrounds and cultures? Today I'm thinking of friends who visit Affordable Accoutrements often and leave kind, thoughtful comments.

People like the delightful Johanna from Germany. Her blog is Silber+Rosen.

Charo from Lima, Peru, would be a welcome guest. Her blog is Atelier de Charo.

The elegant Fabby from Ecuador. Her blog is Fabby's Living.

Zondra from Croatia always shares gorgeous images on her blog, Zondra Art.

Jackie from Surrey, UK, takes us along on fascinating tours of the historic places, castles, manor houses, and beautiful gardens she visits. Be sure to visit Jackie's Life in Surrey.

And, finally, a place is set for Farah of Craft a World. Her post about the hidden beauties of her homeland, Pakistan, is an amazing visual treat. You can see it HERE.

If this international guest list could result in blogging friends from far-flung places sitting down to dinner, I could never forget to invite my dear friend Coty, of Styling by Coty Farquhar. She and I have decided we WILL meet in person one day. Since Coty seems to have a sixth sense about such matters, I choose to believe.

Have you had the feeling that via blogging we connect with people we've known in past lives? I'm not sure I believe that fully, but I definitely can't rule it out!

I'd love to meet fascinating people like two of my favorite Canadians, Lori E. of Family Trees May Contain Nuts and Terri of Wind Lost. Lori jokes (I think) that it's really not too far for her to drive down for dinner. I think Terri will visit Tennessee soon, because her David is a US Civil War buff (and she thinks the antique shops here sound inviting!).

Now I must stop naming names. Otherwise it will begin to sound as if this list is exhaustive. There are so many of you I'd like to meet someday! I really must buy my first lottery ticket and thereby increase my chances of winning, retiring, and beginning a life of traveling the globe ... meeting kindred spirits from faraway places with strange, wonderful sounding names ...

Perhaps you want to know about the china and stemware. I had an e-mail recently from an area antiques dealer who, as it turns out, is a reader of Affordable Accoutrements. He wrote to notify me that he'd be directing an estate sale I might find interesting. I sensed that he somehow got the impression I have a dish addiction. While nothing could be further from the truth (OK, I heard that!) ... I did find myself at the sale looking at a pristine set of Lenox Hayworth china and crystal. In the e-mail, he mentioned that he'd make me a "sweetheart of a deal" on it if I took it all.

By the time I arrived, he and his staff were packing unsold merchandise from the sale. As I protested that I didn't NEED any more dishes, he mentioned a price for the lot that was less than a single place setting of department store china. If you're reading this, Ken, thank you. I couldn't be more pleased with my purchase!

The china was made from 1982 - 2010, and the crystal from 1982 - 1994.

Here's how Lenox described the recently-discontinued pattern:

"Hayworth brings a fresh spirit to traditional design, combining Lenox hand craftsmanship, enduring quality, and value. The virtue of this gold-banded pattern is its simplicity... and simple elegance. The ivory fine china glows with the beautiful translucency that is the hallmark of Lenox."

The description also says, "dishwasher safe," but I think I'll err on the side of caution and wash these pretty plates by hand.

The Lenox candlesticks were an eBay find. A Lenox bowl ($6.99 at Goodwill) holds the centerpiece, recycled garden greenery from last week's tablescape, along with dried roses and zebra grass plumes (lightly sprayed with gold paint and previously used for December decorating).

The flatware is Gorham's La Scala. I like using relatively ornate silverware with simple china patterns. I can appreciate the appeal of bolder, more colorful dishes, but a pattern like this really allows the food to be the main attraction.

I used silverplated chargers between the leaves and the china to add contrast and interest. I could have glued the magnolia leaves to a flat circle of cardboard, but decided the paper plates would provide a visual lift, depth, and a place for the leaves to curl downward as they dry. I'm not sure how long these almost-free chargers will last -- probably at least a couple of weeks.

The "napkins" are actually placemats -- perfect for spaghetti or spareribs! No? You're right -- I'll switch to dark red restaurant napkins when it's time for local guests to arrive. The napkin rings were included with the estate sale purchase.

If you're a regular reader of Affordable Accoutrements, you've seen these dried roses before. They've served me well, and I can't bring myself to throw them away.

You may have noticed that I've de-cluttered the table. I removed the cups and saucers (which I would bring back to the table when after dinner coffee is served). I placed the bread plates on top of the stack. They could be used as underplates for an appetizer or removed and brought back as dessert plates.

Being a good host means always considering the comfort of guests. A crowded table is never conducive to relaxation and the full enjoyment of a leisurely meal.

Candles definitely help set the mood. Soft music playing in the background adds further ambience. Scented candles provide a welcoming touch, but never on the table itself (where they can negatively impact the full enjoyment of dishes being served).

The coffee pots are Haviland: Concorde (foreground) and Gotham. I think they harmonize nicely with the Lenox china on the table.

While the china can photograph as being almost white on the table, this ginger jar juxtaposed with the Hayworth china shows how warm and creamy in color these Lenox dishes actually are.

The stack of dishes in the foregroud represents extra pieces not used on today's table. With a bit of luck, eBay will provide a few more cups & saucers and a bread plate to make it a service for 9 (8 to use and one to lose).

The colors overhead harmonize with today's table, don't they?

As it turned out, the guests called with regrets, one after the other. It's now the morning after ... time to take a few more photographs.

I hope you've enjoyed your visit. Before you go, I thought I'd share one of the menu items I'll be serving. Rules of Southern hospitality surely must dictate that a Magnolia-accented meal end with homemade pecan pie!

While I can't lay claim to being an accomplished cook, I grew up surrounded by those who were. My father's sister published a cookbook filled with recipes she loved, lettered in her own hand, illustrated with drawings she'd done, and seasoned with stories of her childhood and her (my) family. I've tried a number of pie crust recipes, but hers is among the simplest and most reliable.

Plain Pastry

2 c. sifted enriched flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 c. shortening
5 to 7 T. cold water

Sift together flour and salt, cut in shortening with pastry blender or blending fork till pieces of fat are the size of small peas.

Sprinkle water a T. at a time over part of mixture. Gently toss with fork. Push to one side of bowl. Sprinkle next T. of water over dry part. Mix lightly and push to moistened part at side. Repeat until all is mositened.

Gather up with fingers; roll into ball.

For double crust pie divide dough for lower and upper crust. Form each in ball lightly and roll 1/8" thick on lightly floured surface. If edges split, pinch together. Always roll from center out to edge. Use light strokes.

Makes enough pastry for one 10" or 9" lattice top pie or one 8" or 9" double crust pie.
For the filling, I did what I often do. I read various recipes, picked and chose from each what sounded appealing, and then merged them into one. Here's what I used:

3 eggs, slightly beaten

1 c. corn syrup

1 c. sugar

1/4 c. butter

1/8 t. salt

1 t. vanilla (I used 2)

1 T. cornmeal (I used 1.5)

1/2 c. coarsely chopped pecans

Mix together all ingredients, stirring in chopped nut meats last. Pour into 9" pie crust. I added a layer of pecan halves on top for beauty and toasted nutty goodness. I didn't measure, just placed them in circular rows until the top was covered.

Bake in hot oven (450 degrees F), ten minutes. Then reduce heat to moderate oven (350 degrees F) and continue baking until a silver knive blade inserted in center of filling comes out clean.

Other recipes say to cook for 40-45 minutes at 375 or at 300 for an hour. Probably any method would work. I should have used a ring of aluminum foil to protect the rim of the crust for the last 15 minutes or so to prevent excess browning. Otherwise, it turned out well, not runny or syrupy sweet (a miracle considering the list of ingredients!).

It's best served soon after baking (or microwave on high for about 15 seconds). Top warm pie with a scoop of vanilla or caramel praline ice cream and, if true decadence is desired, add whipped cream drizzled with zig-zag lines of caramel syrup.

Try not to think about calories; focus on the health value of consuming good ol' Southern pecans!

No less an authority than the Georgia Pecan Commission states:

"Pecans are an excellent source of oleic acid, a fatty acid found in abundance in olive oil and other monounsaturated fats. These fats have a protective effect on the blood, lowering total blood cholesterol and preserving the good HDLs that help combat heart disease.

In addition to improving cardiovascular health, pecans contain hytochemicals and are believed to be helpful in fighting some cancers, including colon and stomach cancers, according to Frank Sacks, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The nuts have also been proven to be effective for diabetics, especially those placed on low-fat diets. The fiber in pecans is mostly insoluble, which has been linked to reduced cholesterol levels and shown to be helpful in warding off colon cancer. The pecans also contain an abundance of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber (see nutrient values chart).

Comparing fat and calories with other nuts, pecans fall right in the middle with 189 calories per ounce. However, only 1.5 grams of the pecan's fat is saturated.

Time to say goodnight ...

Please join Susan of Between Naps on the Porch for Tablescape Thursday! I've also linked to Designs by Gollum for Foodie Friday. It's the second anniversary of Foodie Friday, and she's giving away a KitchenAid mixer! Check it out HERE.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Rumpled Chic! For Valentine's??

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! This week, I’m sharing a romantic table for eight. Yes, I know it’s traditional to set a table à deux for this particular holiday. I’m speaking here in terms of romance that evokes a mood that’s fanciful and extravagant, one that offers pleasures for all the senses.

The “table linens” I used were inspired by Joni of Cote de Texas. She did a post
HERE that began with images of Lit a la Polonaise (a whimsical style of canopy bed that has a fabric dome on curved stretchers and elaborate upholstery details). She went on to talk about the less expensive, but equally appealing, Italian Campaign beds. She shared several examples of the metal-framed canopy beds draped in various types of fabrics.

It reminded me that I once draped my canopy bed with yards and yards of gauzy crinkled cotton (which I had dipped in strong tea to give it an aged look). By some miracle, I remembered where I had stored the box of fabric.

Is rumpled chic a term we could apply to table setting? If so, that’s what I set out to accomplish today. There was also an old cotton duvet cover in the box (folded inside a plastic zipper bag). I decided to use it on the table as well (the duvet, not the plastic bag). I definitely didn’t want to spend hours ironing everything, so what came out of the box is what you’ll see today.

It's 65 degrees and sunny on this Valentine's Day in West Tennessee. Yesterday, however, there was still snow on the ground. Folk wisdom used to say it was "hanging around, waiting for the next one." I hope there is no "next one" anytime in the near future -- I'd be OK with waiting until Christmas.

It's been COLD here. Even the neighbor's little garden angel seemed to be suffering from the low temps and freezing precipitation. At least the sun was warming her face ...

I keep telling Susan of
Between Naps on the Porch that the house below is going on the market. Wouldn't it be fun to have Susan as a neighbor? Imagine how great if would be if several members of the tablescaping community lived in close proximity -- think of the potential for creative collaboration, the neighborhood theme parties, the progressive dinners ... sharing dishes and serving pieces! We'd be so busy decorating, we might have to order take-out or call in the caterers. But wouldn't everything LOOK great???

The Italianate home below, Edgewood in Natchez, Mississippi, was the inspiration for the house above. See the similarities?

The Valentine's Day table is set below in the den. I used mis-matched side chairs.

And mismatched wine glasses.

And mis-matched tall sherbet/champagne glasses as tealight holders. First I filled the glasses with ice cream salt -- to protect the glasses and add to the icy, transluscent effect.

The Lenox dishes are two different patterns: Monroe dinner plates and Bellevue salad and bread plates.

I recycled last week's flowers by cutting the stems short and adding aucuba (yellow/green variegated leaves) and a variety of holly.

The brass hurricane lamps are thrifted. The candles were too tall, but I didn't take time to shorten them (burning them will take care of that problem!).

I do like the effect of a mix-and-match table. Mixing (with a modicum of discretion) adds interest and variety.

The vintage flatware is King Cedric by Oneida. I also have King Cedric butter spreaders, but decided to use a different pattern at each bread plate.

A few of the roses were well past their peak, but their scattered petals added color.

A "silent butler" for brushing away crumbs between courses is a practical idea. You know, of course, that I just thought it looked pretty on the table!

I'm always on the lookout for discontinued/clearanced crystal stemware at department stores and gift shops. Estate sales and thrift stores can also be great sources for beautiful glasses at surprisingly low prices.

I alternated between two styles of silverplated napkin rings. The napkins are thrifted restaurant linens.

The light is fading. Time (naturally!) to light the candles .....

A glimpse of the L'Heure Bleu (or blue hour), the period of twilight each morning and evening where there is neither full daylight nor complete darkness....

The image above was going to be the last one for this post, but I wasn't happy with the daytime photos. I left the table set overnight, and tried again. The candles are no longer towering over the hurricane lamps. Unfortunately, the rose petals are gone. I didn't want them to stain my expensive tablecloth! ;)

Happy Valentine's Day! Thank you so much for your visit.

Please join Susan of Between Naps on the Porch each week for Tablescape Thursdays.