Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas Eve Birthday Table

A Forest in Winter Theme

My husband's birthday is Christmas Eve.  His whole childhood he got a combo gift and only had one party.  So, we've had a birthday party every year for the 37 years we've been married.  I don't want it to seem "combo" at all so I never use a Christmas theme or colors.  This year we were shopping in Boerne, Texas, the weekend after Thanksgiving and I spotted a wide ribbon that was made to look moss covered.  That got me started on a winter forest tablescape.

The first layer is snow white linen, hem-stitched cloths on our 24' dining table and then simple white china with a narrow silver rim.

 Napkins were large vintage white damask with a twisted silver metal napkin ring

I used the Waterford Lismore cut glass that we collect, a balloon shape for red wine, and two different shapes for water since I don't have 16 of either one.  I think they are probably both actually iced tea glasses.  The ones on the left are a more recently produced shape and a little heavier so I used those for the men and the one on the right for the ladies.

I like for each guest to have their own salt and pepper set; otherwise, one or two sets would get lost on our very long table.  These are all vintage, probably 1930's and 40's.

Two sets of place card holders were used because I needed 16 and had 8 of each.  I alternated them at the place settings using a plain white card and silver ink.

 I wanted the table to be elegant so I used sterling flatware, my mother's "King Edward" by Gorham and my "Grande Baroque" by Wallace.  It is interesting to note that the three main place setting pieces of Grande Baroque each have a different flower.  The spoons have a five petaled one, the forks have narcissus, and the knives have a rose.  This pattern was first produced in 1941.  I started collecting it in 1969.

I collect "youth" size silverplate flatware in various patterns to mix and match.  I want to keep dinner party tables pretty and plastic Spiderman flatware just doesn't seem to fit in.  I do have vintage Bakelite child-size pieces and do use those if the color happens to fit in, which it wouldn't for this white winter table. This knife and fork was used in my five year old Grandson's place setting.  I get most of my youth flatware from a couple who sell silverplate at "The Depot" venue during the Round Top show twice a year.  They are very knowledgeable and their prices are quite reasonable.  

A complete setting.

This mossy ribbon was what spurred my imagination to do a foresty themed tablescape.  I was in Boerne to do Christmas shopping but kept my eyes open at each shop for things that would work with my winter table theme.  My husband is a wonderful, thoughtful shopper so I explained my idea to him and he helped find items to include in the tablescape.

I bought two rolls of the ribbon, each about 15' long, and laid them out, started in the middle and working my way to each end of the table leaving in curves and loops.  It is wire-edged which made placement easy.  My husband made me a rough cedar riser for the middle so there would be some height change in the tablescape.  In addition to the ribbon, I also used two faux pine garlands and two with  green leaves and white berries.  I save things like this, year to year, in big plastic tubs in the attic and use them in different ways year after year.

 One catagory we collected for the table was birds and nests.  We found glittery silver ones and white ones.
This piece is an antique reproduction ornament meant to look like mercury glass with a bird on its nest.
White birds with clear glitter looked like they were hunkered down in a snow drift at night.
 A white bird with white glitter on a silver pedestal tucked in close by a silver tree.
 One of the bird nests had glittered twigs.  (I realize winter is not bird egg season, I'm not a big city girl, but it looked pretty anyway!)
Another nest had twigs, moss, and leaves and fit in well with the mossy ribbon.
 I also used candle holders made out of branches with a hole cut in them just deep enough for a tea light that my husband had made for me years ago.  Some have one candle and others have more.

The largest  Mesquite candle almost looks like a stump.  He left stubs sticking out on all of them so they wouldn't look too finished or perfect. I like rustic. 

I also included a collection of faux mercury glass candle holders picked up at various Boerne shops.  Different shapes in mostly small sizes.  Some a little plainer and some blingy.  Plus mercury glass and silver glitter candle sticks with white tapers.

A couple of squirrels were added, six silver trees in two sizes, and several pine cones painted silver.  There were also life size clip-on glass mushroom ornaments and hanging acorn ornaments.

For  the buffet I used all silver serving pieces, to match the color theme of the tablescape, for our menu of pork roast, twice baked potatoes, artichoke quarters, sauteed corn with bacon, crusty French bread rolls, and for dessert, German chocolate cake, pumpkin tres leches cake, plus there were birthday candles on a chocolate meringue pie, my husband's favorite.

The cloth I used on the buffet is an antique Battenburg lace.

For dessert, I used three vintage servers.  One with a celluloid handle and two with two-tone Bakelite.  Whenever I see ones like the one on the left, I buy them.  You can find the same style with mother-of-pearl handles and those make pretty wedding gifts.

Happy Birthday to the younger man I married!  (We were born the same year but my birthday is in July.)

Recipe for Baked Artichoke Halves

1 whole fresh artichoke per 2 guests (if your menu is large you can do 1 per 4 quests)
1 whole lemon, cut in half, plus 1 lemon slice per half
2 or 3 stems of fresh thyme per half
1 clove of peeled garlic per half, cut into thin slices
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (or as Rachel Ray says, EVOO)
Heavy duty foil

Fill a bowl with cold water and a few ice cubes and squeeze in the juice, dropping in the lemon halves. 

Cut off the artichoke stems to within 1/2" of bottom.  Using scissors, trim the tip off every leaf.  Cut the top 1" off with a knife.  Hold whole artichoke on cutting board top down and cut in half with a serrated knife.  Using a "sharp" edged tea spoon, carefully carve out and discard the choke and the little purple leaves.  Immediately drop each artichoke half into the acidified ice water.  This can be done a day ahead.  Set a plate on top of the artichokes to make sure they stay submerged.

Tear off squares of foil and bend up the sides a little to hold liquid.  Take an artichoke half out of the water and hold upright.  Sprinkle liberally with kosher salt, apx 1 tsp each, making sure it falls down into leaves.  Place 2 or 3 halves on a piece of foil and sprinkle cut sides with a little more salt.  Put garlic slices on top, then a lemon slice, and lastly, 2 or 3 stems of thyme.  Spoon in 2 Tbsp of the acidified water and drizzle with a Tbsp of good EVOO per packet.  Fold up foil tightly so that no liquid escapes.  If even a small tear happens, wrap in a second layer of foil since the artichokes will not steam if the liquid escapes.  Set foil packets, folded sides up, on a cookie sheet.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.  Open one packet and test for doneness by pulling out one leaf.  If it does not come out easily, close and bake all an additional 15 minutes.

Serve as is or with lemon-butter or, better yet, homemade aioli.

Tip of the Day:  To remove wax from a candle stick, wrap it in paper towels, secure with 2 or 3 rubber bands, and set it on a foil covered cookie sheet.  Put in a warm, 200 degree, oven.  As wax melts it will be absorbed by the paper towels.  Depending on the amount of wax, paper towels may need to be changed periodically.  This can take a while but is a lot easier and safer, for you and the candlestick, than trying to chip off the wax. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

Thanksgiving Dinner for 18

Because our daughter and her family had just moved to Albuquerque, we had a mere 18 for Thanksgiving this year.  We ask guests to come early, around 11:00, because we always have an extensive agenda in addition to lunch. 
I like to keep guests busy while I'm doing last minute meal preparations so I plan a couple of games.  First, everyone got a word associated with Thanksgiving on a "Hello, my name is" kind of sticker on their back and had to figure out what it was asking only yes or no questions.  Words were things like "green bean casserole," "family," "football," and "pilgrims."  With information I found online, I made a quiz of Thanksgiving trivia.  The one with the most right answers received a prize.   
I reused, from a couple of years ago, our Gratitude Tree.  It is a branch that does more branching, cut from our yard, about 4' tall and 3' in diameter, which I put in an urn on the coffee table.  I'd cut 4" leaves out of scrapbooking papers in fall colors and had them on a tray with brown and green and orange fine tip markers.  The idea was to write what you are grateful for on a leaf and attach it to the tree with wooden cloths pins I'd painted brown.   My favorite this year was our 9 year old niece's which said she was thankful for her parents who brought her to this planet.
After lunch we went to the back of our acreage where a skeet range was set up and the ones who wanted to, shot for a while and the others cheered for the hits and ignored the misses.  Later, we went on a hay ride my husband pulled with his tractor.  At least the New Yorkers had some Texas stories to tell when they got home!
This is Texas so when guests arrive I always have pitchers of iced tea and also champagne.  Snacks included a big bowl of Chex mix with paper cones to scoop it into, mini crab cakes made with Texas blue crab meat accompanied by dill tartar sauce, and two kinds of cheese balls with crackers.
For the first time in many years, I did not use turkey plates.  I have a full set of vintage Johnson Bros.' "Wild Turkeys" pattern and a new set of Spode "Woodland," but my favorite thing has been to use my collection of mix-and-match turkey plates.  I have about 40 different vintage transferware ones.  However, this year I was struck by a pumpkin plate I spotted in Pottery Barn and used those.  The first layer on our 24' dining table was orange hem-stitched tablecloths by Williams-Sonoma and then a woven cane charger.

The pumpkin vine plates came next and then the under plates for the soup bowls.

I had 8 of the green leaf plates and about a dozen of the white, but not having 18 of either worked out fine since two of our guests were toddlers and didn't need them so I used 8 of each alternating at every other place setting.  I ordered 24 the pumpkin-shaped bowls online.  I wanted ones that only held a small quantity since everyone wants to save room for the main course!  These hold about 6 oz.  Which brings up a good point: you cannot chose based only on what looks good.  I have wonderful large pumpkin bowls with lids that probably hold 16 oz but serving only 6 ounces of soup in them would look, well, dumb.
The soup bowls will be gathered up by a helper and taken to the kitchen to be filled with our traditional butternut squash soup made in this fun pumpkin-shaped cast iron dutch oven.

The amber water/tea glasses are new, although it is a common color for Depression glass from the 1930's also.

The new embroidered linen napkins are a set I bought on sale last fall.  When I see something I love, I get it because I know I'll find a use for it.

Though I wasn't using my turkey plates, I did use my antique turkey salt and peppers.  Each guest got their own set.

I also do not have 18 place settings of my sterling so I mixed my Grande Baroque with my mother's King Edward.  My set is heavier so I gave the men my dinner size Grande Baroque and the ladies the luncheon sized King Edward.

 The menu boards were an anniversary gift that our oldest and his wife had custom made for us out of walnut to match the table and with our B-W family monogram on the back, which is in my handwriting.  I printed the menus on card stock and brushed the edges gold, attaching them to the boards with double-sided photo squares.
 Our one year old Grand Nephew had his own place setting with a round placemat first, then a turkey one from Pottery Barn Kids, and a plastic turkey plate.
I used a simple cream card stock place card with gold edges and wrote names in gold ink.

A complete place setting.
The "basket" for the centerpiece is an antique carrier used to rescue injured skiers.  At the far end you can see where it is divided for the person's legs.  It's about 6 1/2' long.  We found it at a fall show at the Warrenton Antiques Fair.  Sometimes I can look at an object and see how I'll repurpose it, but this time the dealer had given me a head start by displaying it filled with pumpkins.  It's a fun prop, but you could do the same thing without it, just by piling everything down the center of the table.
I started with the largest pumpkins
and filled in around them with lots of gourds
and persimmons from our garden that were still attached to short branches with leaves.
I did most of it a few days ahead of time and then Wednesday morning I added grocery store orange roses and Gerbera daisies that I'd put in plastic test tubes of water that you can get from the florist. 
The completed centerpiece.

I used a coppery-taupe pintuck fabric bow on each chair.

I get Thanksgiving guests a Christmas ornament each year, trying to match the person.  Sometimes I set them at the top of the plates and prop the place cards on them but this year I tied them to the chair bows. 

This ornament was for my 9 year old 
who is on a cheerleading team

and this one for a 
15 year old 
nephew who loves to hunt.

I provide tissue for them to be wrapped in to go home in the guests' goodie bags.

This year I used craft paper bags and put a Thanksgiving themed sticker on each with their name.  Each included a homemade canned good from our garden such as a jar of fig jam or a pint of canned tomatoes, Pilgrim cookies I'd ordered on Etsy, solid chocolate in a wishbone shape made in a mold I ordered online, and "turtles," a candy I made with my son's smoked sea salt, chocolate, caramel, and pecans from one of our guest's trees.
I put an 8' folding table in the dining room's bay window to serve the buffet from.  The base layer was a dark green hemstitched linen cloth
and on top of that, a vintage net cloth with appliqu├ęd fruits and flowers made out of felt and embellished with sequins.  I collect these cloths, handmade by crafty homemakers in the 1950-60's, and have them for several seasons including Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

In addition to the dinner and dessert plates, I also got the platter to match the pumpkin dishes to use for the turkey.  The antique silverplate chaffing dish was a gift from my husband and this year held the mashed potatoes and cornbread dressing.  Speaking of my husband, I must say it makes it even more fun to do beautiful dinners when your spouse and family love and appreciate the fruits of your labors!
The mixed kale and collards was served in this white ironstone bowl in its faux antler stand.
 This beautiful antique majolica platter was used for asparagus and its sauce server for lemon-butter.
This vintage turkey was used for the gravy, an old family recipe with giblets and chopped hard-boiled egg.
In the entry, greeting the guests, was a gorgeous arrangement by Sheri at Blumen Meisters florist.  She is so talented and makes such unique, stunning show pieces.  Since it was Thanksgiving, in addition to hot pink peonies and orange roses, this one had persimmons and artichokes, leaves and willow branches.
She made a coordinating arrangement for the kitchen island in a new "majolica" pumpkin tureen.  I prefer taking containers to her.  I can find something unique and fun and then all my money can go into flowers rather than the vase.

Our dessert was my youngest' birthday cake.  Believe it or not, the roast turkey to the left is that cake!  It was made by Sue "C" Cakes.  I had taken one of my turkey platters to her to put it on and everything was edible.  The lettuce and fruits were fondant and the stuffing was crumbled cake.  Not only was it stunning to look at, it tasted great too.  It was orange pound cake with chocolate mousse filling between layers.

The prize for our Thanksgiving quiz was this Williams-Sonoma cookbook.
A sampling of the questions:
     The indians brought 5 _____ to the dinner.
     What President declared Thanksgiving a national holiday?
     What year was the first Macy's parade?
     What year was the first football game watched on TV on Thanksgiving?
     How much is spent on Black Friday in the US?

Answers: Deer, Lincoln, 1924, 1956, $50 billion

I hope you and yours had as great a day as our family did!