“Moonlight Dinner Amongst the Ferns” Tablescape

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” Only spread a fern-frond over a man’s head and wordly cares are cast out and freedom and beauty and peace come in.”  John Muir

Our beloved cherry tree is slowly dying.  Every year a few more limbs need to be cut off.  Recently my youngest son, earning a trip abroad by doing odd jobs, was sawing off some diseased limbs.  Inside one he found an intriguing hollow and excitedly brought it to my attention, exclaiming I should use it as a sculptural vessel for plants.  He is, after all, his mother’s son!  The creative wheels began turning and  I envisioned a mini woodland garden nestled inside nature’s vessel.  So was born the inspiration piece for this table setting.

In summer, our back yard is an oasis of ferns in a multitude shades of greens, purples, and silvers that sway in the breeze and cast a beguiling invitation into the garden.image image  It is in this setting that I chose to set our outdoor dining table and create a woodland table with a fern theme.  In the cherry tree vessel I set a fern, surrounded it with moss and nestled in 3 concrete mushrooms. image I potted a second fern in a 1920s terra cotta pot with a lovely patina and set it under a vintage cloche, recently found in a new local boutique, Eastcote Lane.

imageI set these 2 naturalistic arrangements on a scalloped-edge fern motif quilt.  image

A long ago cherished fern candlelabra from the now defunct Smith Hawkins imagewas hung by my son from a bough of a massive Sweet gum tree with a broad lush green canopy, under which we had set the table.   This was the view, looking above, at dusk was this superb tree canopy!  image

I hung additional glass pendants from the candelabra for extra candlelight.  Place settings were kept simple and casual.  Rattan chargers were layered with a cream stoneware dinner plates.  The silverware was our everyday stainless steel flatware.  The green theme was highlighted by gorgeous handblown glass bowls from Turkey with an unfurling fern motif, scored at Home Goods. image image imageGreen and white napkins with a botanical graphic print were simply rolled in a DIY birch bark napkin rings.    The napkin rings were made by cutting stips of birch bark with kitchen shears, shaping them into a ring, then glueing each with a dot of hot glue.  A pebble was glued on the top for a rustic finishing touch.

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Tall glass tumblers with fun green and white polka dots were set out for water.  A Fiesta Ware ceramic pitcher in pale green, dispensed water.  imageA birchbark vessel meant for floral arrangements served as bread basket. image Additional pebbles were strewn all over the table top and a dozen white candles in clear glass votives dispersed more romantic candlelight to the table.image image image image

Black wicker seating with comfortable cushions was chosen as black disappears in nature and becomes a neutral.  This way the table setting could really shine and beckon guests into a woodland moonlit settting for a magical evening under the stars.

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I hope to have inspired an outdoor table settings of your own creation!  This post is dedicated to my son Tristan who inspired the post and did all the heavy lifting for me!

 

Summer Cheese Appetizer Platter

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Summertime and the entertaining is easy.  No one wants to be stuck in the kitchen when guests arrive, especially on a nice summer day.  Having a platter of simple finger foods ready for guests to help themselves to, gives the host a chance to mingle with all the guests.  When choosing what to serve before a meal, balance your selection with the meal:  lighter fare, heavier pre-meal platter and vice versa.  Offer savory and sweet options.

Elevate the oh-so-predictable cheese and cracker platter with a few easy twists.   With hosta in all their glory, line a wicker tray with a large hosta leaf, such as ‘Sum and Substance’.   Think of setting out more seasonal, local and  exciting fruit, such as fresh figs and cherries rather  than the usual grapes.  Find unusual crackers such as these rosemary and raisin ones to accompany a creamy St André.  Caprese-salad-on-a-stick is a summer favorite.   To make these, marinate mini mozzarella balls in olive oil, hot pepper flakes, and some oregano for a few hours.  Alternatively you could purchase already marinated cheese.   On a short skewer, thread a tomato,  a basil leaf, a cheese ball and a Kalamata olive.  (I made some without olives)  Popping one of these in your mouth is a burst of summer flavor.

Simple, seasonal and  easy to put together ahead of time. Enjoy the party!image

Tour de Fleurs

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With the Tour de France in full force, I thought I would pay hommage to the sport with a bicycle built for flowers!  At  a Philadelphia Flower Show years ago, I had been taken by a display that featured this same bicycle planter.   Prince Charming did some sleuthing  to find where one of  these bike planters could be purchased and surprised me with it on Mother’s Day that year.  I love riding my bike, gardening and the Tour de France.  This was a perfect project to celebrate all three!  Happy cycling this summer!

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BLT Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Fresh Mozzarella

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When you serve guests a casually-thrown together salad from seasonal fresh ingredients and it’s still being raved about a year later, then maybe it’s time to try and recreate the salad and share the recipe!   This salad is a cross between a Caprese salad and a BLT sandwhich.  Sooooooo delicious!   The homemade croutons are a must.   Hope I got it exactly right for you Millie!

BLT SALAD  Serves 6

6 slices of uncured maple bacon, cooked crisp, and cut into 1/4 inch pieces( regular bacon is fine)

3 large yellow heirloom tomatoes, cut in half horizontally, ends cored(substitute any tomatoes such as beefsteak varieties;  you need a flat bottomed tomato)

6 oz of fresh mozzarella cheese(bocconcini), diced in 1/2 inch pieces( you can substitute cumbled blue cheese or crumbled feta)

10 oz of butter lettuce or baby romaine lettuce, coarsely torn

1/4 c fresh basil, chiffonade cut

6 slices of 1/2″ thick French baguette

1/3 c olive oil, maybe more

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

optional:  diced avocado

LEMONY GARLIC DRESSING:   Wisk together  juice and zest of 2 lemons, 2 t Dijon mustard, 3 cloves of garlic crushed.  Gradually add in 1/2 c olive oil.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add 1/2 c sour cream, optional.

TO MAKE CROUTONS:   Heat oil in skillet on moderate heat setting, add garlic, and brown the baguette, turning once, until golden on both sides.  You don’t want the croutons too dry.  Be very careful not to burn the garlic.  Let cool on a paper towel and cut each slice into 4 croutons.  imageimage

The croutons should be golden brown on the edges with the inside still soft so they can soak up the dressing

The croutons should be golden brown on the edges with the inside still soft so they can soak up the dressing

ASSEMBLY:

On a rimmed serving platter, spread the lettuce evenly.  Place the 6 tomatoe halves, cut side up,  on the lettuce.  Season the tomatoes with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Sprinkle  bacon on top of each tomato half.  image Distribute the mozzarella evenly and sprinkle the basil over all the salad.image   Top with the croutons .  Add the avocado if using.

When ready to serve, crown with a drizzle of the creamy lemony salad dressing with more on the side.  Use a wide spatula to serve a tomato half, cut side up, to each guest.  image

A lively combination of fresh, seasonal ingredients.  Summer in every bite!

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Light-Up Flower Centerpiece

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imageWhen I saw the whimsical dragonfly string lights at Target recently($12.99), I knew I had to find a way to use them this summer.  I imagined them more in flight, hovering above some flowers than strung up.  I knew they would look best at eye level than high above. So I created a centerpiece in a rectangular crate that was only 7 inches high.  The dragonflies could be admired up close this way and light up the night at a backyard party. In a wooden wine crate I had lined in plastic, I placed 3 pots of celosia plants.  I chose these flowers because their blooms are abundant, they flower all summer and have a lot of leaves I could use to conceal the wiring. imageThey are also sturdy flowers that could support the dragonflies without having to use any stakes.  I added a few curly willow branches and some moss covered twigs(Michael’s) to pin a few of the dragonfly lights above the flowers.  To secure them I used some floral clips like you find on orchids.  While working I connected a dark green extension cord and lit up the string of lights so I could gage the effect.  This also ensures the electrical connection will be where you want it when you’re finished.  To fill in any gaps around the plants  I used florist moss and moss covered styrofoam stones.  The final centerpiece is dazzling and whimsical.  Sure to being a little magic into any summer fête. imageimageimageimage

 

 

Blueberry Lemon Pie with Lemon Balm Crust

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When it comes to fruit pies, to thicken or not to thicken, that is the question.  I’m talking about the filling, of course!  I like a fruit pie that still tastes and looks like the fruit it was made of, not too gelatinous like the filling came from a can.  I came up with the perfect compromise:  cook down about a third of the fruit, add a small amount of cornstarch to thicken and fold in the rest of the fruit.  You’ll end up with a pie that still lets the fruit shine.  With blueberries in season and lemon balm invading my garden like a weed, it seemed  like the perfect pie to bake.  With ginger, lemon zest, nutmeg and cinnamon, this pie says summer in every bite. 

BLUEBERRY LEMON PIE WITH LEMON BALM CRUST

6 c of blueberries  (3 pints)

3/4 c sugar

3 T of cornstarch

3 T water

zest of 1 lemon

1/2 tsp ginger

1/2 t cinnamon

1/4 t nutmeg

2 T butter

1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

1 pinch salt

sugar for pastry top

3 T lemon flavored  herb such as lemon balm, lemon basil or lemon thyme leaves, finely chopped

2  pie crusts

INSTRUCTIONS:

1- In a casserole, combine 2 cups of blueberries with sugar.  Simmer over low heat until the sugar is dissolved and the berries start to cook down into jam consistency. image

2-  Dissolve cornstarch into water then add to saucepan.  Bring to a boil, while stirring, then reduce heat and cook until mixture is thickened and clear.image image

3-  Add butter, lemon zest, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Mix until combined. Transfer to mixing bowl.  Cool slightly and add rest of berries and mix until combined.image

4-  Prepare your crust in your pie plate.  Sprinkle herbs on bottom crust and gently press into surface of crust.  I used lemon balm.image

5-  Pour fruit mixture on top. image  

6-  Create lattice strips or other shapes of pastry cut outs to top pie.  I made pastry stars since I was taking this pie to a dinner under the stars.  Brush top crust lightly with the egg wash and salt mixture.   Sprinkle with sugar. image  

7-  Preheat oven at 400 F.  Place pie on a cookie sheet to catch overflow juices.  Reduce heat to 375F once pie is in oven.  Bake for 45 minutes.  This method will produce a perfect mix of fruit filling with a unaltered texture of the fruit with just the right amount of binding for thickening.  My final pie was a bit runny but I like it this way.  If you want a more gelled pie filling, cook down half of your fruit  and add one more tablespoon of cornstarch and water each.image Enjoy!   And help yourself to lemon balm from our garden…..image

 

Pretty in Pink Alfresco Lunch

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“In summer, the song sings itself.”  William Carlos Williams

The inspiration for this luncheon table was this stunning oriental lily, ‘Corvara’, which had just opened in my garden. image I anticipated its arrival for weeks and  postponed a vacation just so I could be home to enjoy it while it bloomed.  That is how magnificent this flower really is!  This hot pink lily with a mesmerizing fragrance is often called the Royal Lily.  It is religiously symbolic with godliness.  And it’s no wonder, it is perfect creation!  Did I mention its heavenly fragrance?

To set this table I chose to set up a round table under the pergola and near the cool wall fountain for the pleasant sound of the water on a sweltering hot day.  I floated clematis, echinacea and black eyed susans in the fountain.image I double draped the table with white on white embroidered tablecloths to create an illusion of coolness.imageBlack wicker chairs with bold black and white striped cushions complimented the china.imageAt each place setting I used a fuchsia napkin on an angle as a placemat for a punch of color to play up the hot pink of the lily.  The lily was placed inside a towering black wire bird topiary cage, borrowed from my kitchen window sill. imageimage I wanted the majestic lily to stand alone and shine in all its glory.  Two bird shaped green candle holders flanked the lily and brought a note of green to the table.   A pink paperweight and an art glass  bowl of cherries continued the pink theme and introduced reflective surfaces to make the dappled light dance around the table.image Double napkins, a fuchsia one layered with a lace edged white one tucked inside, were tied with a clematis vine. imageimage A round black plate served as charger.   Next I stacked a  square white plate, on an angle.  The pièce de résistance was the fun black spotted accent plate with a hot pink clematis on top.image In lieu of place cards as this was an intimate table set for 2, I wrote garden quotes in pink marker on white cardstock and placed one at each place in silver teapot card holders.  image A trio of mismatched glassware completed the table setting.  Don’t be afraid of bringing crystal glassware and good china outside~ it will make your guests feel really special. The tall champagne flutes  were filled with, you guessed it, pink bubbly!image With a sizzling hot day I went with a no heat menu.  The starter was a chilled summer berry borscht, served in an antique coupe etched with a botanical motif.   A perfect start to a girlfriend lunch in the garden.   Then an assortment of store made sushi was served to go with the oriental lily theme.

CHILLED SUMMER BERRY BORSCHT

Makes 4 1-cup servings or 2 larger servings

8 oz of cooked red beets, peeled and roughly chopped

8 oz plain or lemon yogurt

6 oz frozen strawberries

2 T of diced red onion

juice of 1 lemon salt and pepper to taste

In a blender place all ingredients, except salt and pepper, purée until smooth.  Season to your liking with salt and pepper.  Chill until ready to serve.image

“To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the perfect refreshment.”  Jane Austen

This summer borscht is dedicated to The Great Zambini blogger, http://thegreatzambini.com/about/ , as promised all the way back in February! image