Friday, April 26, 2013

Cocktails for Two

Classic Cocktails

Generally my husband and I have a first course of soup or salad with dinner, but occasionally I switch it up and we have a cocktail.  (This occurs only when I'm preparing something that can be cooking on its own like a stew or roast so that I can sit down and not worry that dinner will burn or overcook.) Right off our dining room we have a round wine room and this is where we like to have our cocktails.  This one was the classic raw oysters on the half shell with champagne cocktails.  Although expensive, I use my Majolica.  I don't buy anything made for the table that I can't actually use even when it means extra care and hand-washing.
I used the "Majolica"fish (Japanese?) for cocktail sauce with an ivory-handled sugar shell.  All flatware with ivory, mother-of-pearl, or bone handles needs to be washed carefully and never, ever put in a dishwasher.  Do not even submerge the handles in water, just wash as gently as possible with warm water and a touch of gentle dish liquid on a cloth or sponge.

I used the grape cluster tray, a wine-related motif we collect, for saltines.  The champagne glasses have a silver base with an etched glass insert that comes out for washing.  I would guess they are from the 1930's or so.

For linens I used a vintage white-on-white organdy place mat and a new cocktail napkin with an embroidered lime slice & leaf.  The oyster forks are in the lovely "Carnation" pattern, first produced in 1908 by the W.R. Keystone comp.  They were probably meant to be pickle forks.

1950's Cocktails

The color coral and martinis, a 50's match made in Heaven.  Anyone remember, like I do, "Poo-Poo" platters that one could order in tropical-themed restaurants like Trader Vic's?  I still like doing poo-poos with cocktails.  Have even been known to make a whole meal of poo-poos.  If you don't know, poo-poos are mixed hors d'oeuvres, like a sampler platter.  With our vodka martinis I did blue cheese stuffed celery, pate, and a small camembert cheese ball, all recipes from The Cordon Bleu Cook Book , published in 1947.  (I also collect cookbooks.)
I started with vintage linen place mats in black & coral with a fish motif & matching napkins. I added English tea knives & forks, also in coral (you can find them in lots of colors!), square plates I got at Central Market, the Texas version of Whole Foods, & my Waterford "Lismore" cut crystal martini pitcher & glasses.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Dinners for Two

An Elegant Dinner for Two in the Family Room

I love to set a beautiful table and I don't save this activity for big family holiday meals or fancy dinner parties.  I set a pretty table every night.  I don't think my husband, or my kids when they were at home, ever ate with the table set the same way, ever.  I reuse everything but there will never be the exact combination of linens, flatware, dishes, glasses, salt & peppers...   What makes it all the more fun is that my husband enjoys and appreciates the trouble I go to to set a lovely table.

I also like to vary where we eat!  Even if you have a small home, you can change it around - eat on the porch or patio, in the family room or den, in the yard with a table set up on the grass, even in the bedroom.  This somewhat elegant table setting is in our family room.  It starts with layered linens.  A base cloth that is actually a throw, with a runner I bought in Egypt when I was 16 that's a hand-woven silk shawl, and on top, ivory-colored crocheted place mats.  Napkins are new gold-brown damask and flatware is a simple 60's gold electroplate pattern.

The plates are Mason's "Leeds Luster," one of my favorite sets.  You can tell how popular a pattern was when it was new by how many different pieces it has.  Once the company knew a pattern was favored, they would add more pieces to keep it selling.  In this set I have egg cups, demitasse cups and saucers, several sizes of oval, round, and rectangular platters, rimmed soups, etc.

 The white and red wine glasses are antique pressed glass.  I like to use a tumbler for red even for an elegant dinner.  That's the beauty of it.  You can mix fancy and plain, vintage and new, expensive and bargain. The water glasses are part of a Victoria pitcher, tray, and 8 glasses set that I found years ago at Austin's "Citywide Garage Sale."

At the tip of the dinner fork is a gold-trimmed glass butter pat that I used in this setting for salts.  The white is a plain sea salt and the black is a wonderful smoked sea salt from Hawaiian Volcano Sea Salt company.  I set a little ebony and mother-of-pearl spoon above the salt dish, which was probably made to be used with caviar. Be creative - use a pie server for sliced tomatoes, balloon wine glasses for juice, put mashed potatoes & gravy in a divided vegetable dish.

For the dessert course, I switched to square plates.  This shape was probably meant for serving cookies or tea sandwiches.  I love to use small serving pieces such as these squares ones and small oval platters as dinner plates, for salads, or for dessert and always keep my eye out for them whenever I'm out antiquing.  Gold-rimmed oval bowls are on each plate for ice cream and demitasse cups and saucers are added for that double shot of decaf espresso.

Romantic Dinner for Two in the Bedroom

If you have a table in your bedroom large enough for two dinner settings, use it once in a while!  For this "just the two of us" dinner I used a romantic antique lace cloth, white hand-embroidered organdy napkins, and instead of a napkin ring a real orchid blossom just sitting on the napkin.  

The china is Spode's Billingsly Rose.  I used the dinner plates, cream soup bowls, and their under plates.

Flatware is the Gorham King Edward sterling that I inherited from my mother.  I used the luncheon size dinner knives and forks since that's the size she collected, the pastry forks (for dessert), and the cream soup spoons.  

At the top of the plates are antique Mother-of-Pearl knife and fork sets, originally used at tea time, that I used for our butter fried goat cheese medallion appetizers.

Between the dinner plates and soup under plates are antique round doilies that I got at the Alexandra Palace show, fondly referred to as "Ally Pally," in London.  I got two dozen, all different and from different dealers.  They add femininity, which a "romantic" table setting needs.

Quiet Dinner for Two in the Entry

I love the really old transferware patterns that are only one color: brown, red which is sometimes called pink, the ever popular blue, and in this setting, black.  Whenever I spot 10" dinner plates at a reasonable price, I buy them to mix and match.  The most I generally buy, if available, are three of a kind.  I use these mini-sets sometimes for my dinners for two.  I use the third one as a platter.  For this dinner I'm using an oval covered bowl for our bouillabaisse with dinner plates and soup plates.  Also in this setting are mother-of-pearl knives and forks, with silverplate soup spoons; etched crystal water glasses and sherbert bowls that I used for shrimp cocktails, that have square black glass bases; over-sized vintage white hem-stitched damask napkins and antique silverplate napkin rings

For dessert, I switched to 9" oval "platters," demitasse cups and saucers, mother-of-pearl knives and forks, and little sherry glasses for after-dinner liqueurs.

The liqueur options are in antique pressed glass decanters from Portobello Road that are all a small size.  The tallest is about 9".  I had in mind collecting enough to use as individual wine decanters at a fancy dinner party, but never quite found enough.  I'm still looking tho!

Casual Dinner for Two in the "Library"

For this dinner in the hallway that we call the library, I used a vintage multicolor transferware called Rural Scenes, designed by Clarice Cliff for Royal Staffordshire.  It's one I like to use in the fall but looks equally nice in the spring by just changing the rest of the setting.

Glassware is new - wine glasses with a gold bowl, and lightly tinted sage green waters.   We each had our own set of marbled green Bakelite salt and peppers.

I switched to 9" rectangular plates, added cups and saucers for after dinner coffee, and a chartreuse glass for a touch of sweet wine with dessert.  I'm not sure what this shape of plates were meant for originally.  We continued with our mix and match shades of green Bakelite flatware and rings.  New napkins are a brown, orange, and burgundy plaid used with new Pottery Barn tan hem-stitched place mats.  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Past Christmas Tablescapes

The Christmas 2012 dining table was done with no cloths, for a change, to show off the beautiful walnut table.  Lenox Holiday china was used with my sterling Grande Baroque flatware that I've been adding to since 1969.  (Haven't added any lately due to the price of silver!)  I used vintage Rose Point wine and water goblets that I bought at an antiques mall in Gruene, Texas, and white linen napkins monogrammed in gold thread were on each plate.  The center tablescape was my ever growing set of Snow Village houses with small live Christmas trees with bitty lights at each end.  Our table was custom built and I was able to have openings put in the center of each 8' section for an electrical outlet so lamps or centerpieces with tiny lights could be plugged in.
          The buffet table for an early December Christmas open house was covered with a red cloth and edged by a wide band of gold beaded ivory ribbon.  I bought the ribbon on line and it was gorgeous but expensive so I safety-pined it on from the back side and after the party I disassembled the table and saved the ribbon for future use.  I'm such a collector, saver, and recycler.  It helps when one wants to have lots of options.  It also helps to be very organized - I have shelves in our attic where I store labeled boxes, one of which is "Christmas Ribbons."  I wrapped boxes in Christmas papers to use as risers for several of the buffet food items. Flatware was tucked into green or white napkins and tied with vintage French silk ribbon that had been hand-dyed red by a seller in Warrenton at the biannual antiques fair.

 For Christmas 2010 I used new, red hem-stitched cloths with cream Pottery Barn china that has a simple silver rim, my sterling flatware, and etched crystal champagne glasses from Anthropology.  I left the lamps on the tables but also tucked candles into the tablescape.  Each tablecloth has a button hole in the center so the lamps' cords can go through to the outlet in the table.  Each place had their own clear glass salt and pepper shakers with either red or green caps and placecards were made with my scrapbooking supplies.

The tablescape was fruits, veggies, and flowers in reds and purples.  I started with craft store garlands as a base that were pine greenery with red berries and pine cones.  I added kale, red cabbage, grapes, purple Iris, burgundy Aistroemeria, purple asparagus, and eggplants.

Robert's 2008 birthday dinner was held in our new house even tho we had not yet moved in.  My table is in three 8' sections and at this dinner for 16, I used two sections and put the third in the bay window to use as the buffet.  Pale green and white was the color theme and this is the only time I can think of when nothing on the table was antique except the silver compote that the flowers were arranged in.  I started with a damask cloth and matching napkins that I got in Italy when our youngest married there in 2002.  I used silver chargers, white china, and new crystal water and wine glasses.  Each place had a small clear vase with one white rose.

      Christmas season 2008 was celebrated at our previous home where we did not have a large dining room.  Because of our mild Central Texas climate, we set up a permanant large tent by the backyard pool and had our big family dinners there.  This tablescape was for my husband's birthday dinner, which is Christmas Eve.  I keep his dinners non-Christmasy so it will be a birthday celebration for him.
      This time I used a winter theme all in whites and silvers.  Branches, sprayed silver, were from the yard and were displayed in simple cylinder vases with white roses and clear glass marbles to add sparkle.  Silver bead garland was strung down the middle, draping around the mercery glass candle holders and the vases.  The glass dome objects are snow globes that I used as place cards because they had the person's photo inside them, a craft project bought on line.  Each person got to take their globe with them.  China, cloths, and napkins were all solid white to  keep with the winter theme.

This Christmas table was done about 15 years ago.  I started with a red base cloth and layered on green holly placemats with damask napkins held by red Bakelite napkin rings beside Lenox Holiday china.  (I've collected Bakelite all over, starting in Nashville 25 years ago, continuing at the Brimfield show, all over Texas, and in England.)   If you don't have enough of a set of anything, either mix and match several different patterns or alternate, using two sets as I did for this table's glassware.  Red water goblets were paired with green wines at one place and the opposite at the next.  An all-white centerpiece completes the table and makes it more formal.

Another Dec. 24th Birthday dinner combines crystal, dark green, and a pretty, soft pink.  White china sits atop a dark green charger on a white linen cloth with green moire napkins.  The center of the table flows with roses in short antique pressed glass goblets, mix and match glass candlesticks, and 6 identical silver pots with an artificial, unadorned Christmas tree in each.

At a time when it was just my husband, mother, 3 teenagers, and me, tables were already important at holidays.  For this one I used a vintage 40's Christmas cloth under my first set of Christmas dishes - Fitz and Floyd's "Holly Wreath," which I recently added to, finding cups and saucers on eBay.  I made the napkins using pre-made solid red ones and blanket stitching onto them various shaped Christmas trees cut out of holiday-themed fat quarters from the quilt store, and adding buttons as ornaments.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Thanksgiving 2012

Let's go back in time for a bit now to see some of my previous tablescapes.  This one, in oranges, purples, and browns is Thanksgiving 2012.  To the right in the picture is a Fitz & Floyd pheasant covered butter that I got in the '80s.  Forgive my lack of detail photos - I didn't know I'd be blogging at the time.

The centerpiece was fresh vegetables from our garden and flowers from the grocery store.  (Sometimes you want a gorgeous florist-made centerpiece and sometimes you just need $4-a-bunch flowers from the super market.)  It included several varieties of gourds, eggplants, curly kale, mums, aiestroemeria, and hydrangeas.  In order to keep the flowers fresh, each stem is in a little plastic stem vase that you can get at a florist or craft store.

The dishes are Spode Woodland.  I used dinner plates and rimmed soup bowls for the adults and octagonal dessert plates for the kids.  Included in each place setting were pretty embroidered Williams-Sonoma napkins in autumnal colors, my Grande Baroque sterling flatware, gold speckled goblets, and vintage Bakelike salt and pepper sets at the top of each plate.

Each chair back was decorated with a natural color muslin cover that expressed the day's motto, "Give Thanks."  I got them from my friends Troy and Rod at Junk Exchange in Waco.

The buffet table was covered with an orange Williams-Sonoma cloth and a square antique gold tapestry cloth placed on the bias.  (Visit Williams-Sonoma stores after holidays to find good sales on items to use for next year.)  The pumpkin pie is on a cake stand that was a wedding gift to my parents, who married in 1945.  The chocolate cake is on a vintage pressed glass cake stand, purchased on one of our many antiquing trips to England.  The other serving pieces are all part of the Spode Woodland set.

Dishes and Glasses and Silverware, Oh My!

Where Oh Where To Put It All

When you love all things table as much as I do, you end up with lots of things that need storage space.  In planning our new home, we took all of our collections into consideration for built-in spaces as well as for deciding on antique furnishings.  Today's blog will be about the built-in areas I use for dish storage.

On the "cover" of my blog you see this cabinet.  It was from a convent in Dallas but we bought it in an antiques shop in Athens, Texas.  It's claim to fame was that it was in the opening sequence of the movie, Spy Kids II.  We had it in storage for many years until we built our current home.  Our daughter-in-law was the architect so she worked with us on building in several of our antique pieces.  This is off the kitchen, in what we call the "Butler's Pantry."  Ten sections are exclusively devoted to my collection of LuRay dishes from the the 1940's.  The top of the cabinet has sets of things like soup bowls, platters, and glasses that I use for large group dinners.  The bottom shelf has small appliances that I don't use on a daily basis.  Outlets were built into the floor of the shelf so the appliances can be used right there.  At the far end are three rods for my vintage 1930's - 1950's tablecloths which I change seasonally.  The drawers hold all kinds of things from all our appliance warranty books to one devoted to the daily making of iced tea.  The cabinets below the drawers have glassware, baby dishes, casserole dishes, etc.  I'm not generally in favor of altering an antique but in this case I knew it was here forever so I had our cabinetmaker redo the drawers so they would slide in and out smoothly and put roll-out shelves inside the lower cabinets.  

The major dish area is on the second floor and looks down into the kitchen.  Each of the two sides has 25 cubbies.  Some sets take up two cubbies and some cubbies have more than one small set.  Originally, this area was to be accessed from the kitchen by a rolling library ladder but when the framing was complete and I saw how high above the kitchen floor it was, I knew it would not be safe to climb up and down the ladder carrying dishes.  So, I asked her to rethink how to access it and she came up with the "mezzanine" idea.  Now, you ask, isn't it a pain in the petuty to get the dishes from the second floor to the kitchen and dining room, which is also on the first floor?  Well, yes, but not too bad because we have an elevator.  I have a tea cart parked at the end of the convent cabinet that I use to go up to the mezzanine and bring down dishes.
 It took me three weeks of solid work to transport and put away my dishes when we moved in.  (Thank goodness the two houses are only 7 miles apart!)  I tried to arrange the cubbies attractively, not just stack things by size.  In some cases I added glassware and/or salt & peppers, or mix and match soup bowls and salad plates, or English tea knife sets to compliment certain sets.  I asked the architect to make the inside of each cubby dark wood, rather than white paint, because I thought the wood would show off dishes, that are mostly light in color, better.
Another built in is the back of the banquette where my husband and I eat our meals.  I refer to it as a dish "credenza."  It holds six sets, which I change out fairly often, that I'm using on a daily basis at that time.   I generally do not move the whole set from its cubby, but rather the pieces I know I use all the time; for example, 2 dinner plates plus an extra to use as a small platter, 2 soup/cereal bowls, 2 salad/dessert plates, veggie bowls, and a gravy boat.
The first drawer in the credenza holds various salt & pepper sets, the second silverware, and the third, napkins.
The upper kitchen cabinets all have glass doors.  I knew with a separate pantry for storage, I could use the kitchen cabinets for pretty dish display space.  This one, to the left of the sink, has an antique set of white Johnson Bros with  gold rims, a new set from Pottery Barn, the beginnings of a set of mix and match Mexican motif, mostly Homer Laughlin, and the lower right is for wine glasses I'm using with the credenza dishes.
My 1930's - 40's Jadite takes up two cabinets.  I use the smallish oval platters often as a dinner plates.  I also have Jadite refrigerator storage containers that I actually use, like a water dispenser and a large, shallow, ribbed box that I use for citrus fruits.  My fridge also has glass so the Jadite tray full of citrus colors looks pretty through the door.
This cabinet, to the right of the sink, has my collection of glassware with colored rings and my Taylor, Smith, and Taylor "Vistosa."  It was made for only 4 years, 1939-1942, as a competitor for Homer Laughlin's Fiestaware.  Although they look quite a bit alike and are basically the same colors, Vistosa is easily recognized by its piecrust edges.  I also have several sets in this cabinet of English tea knife sets in their holders.  My favorite is the parrot in the upper left photo below.

      The cabinet to the left of my stove holds various serving pieces from extra glass veggie bowls, to artichoke plates, to toast racks and extra Jadite mugs as well as a new set of green & white transferware called "Timberlake Camp."
      These are all the built in dish storage areas in our home.  Another time I'll show you my furniture dish storage pieces and also where I store glassware, silverware, and linens.  Hope you're having fun with your dishes and making attractive tables for your family.  I still have as much fun playing house as I did when I was 9 and my Grandparents made an old chicken coop into my area.