Table Settings

Halloween Dinner Party

It’s true.  I’ve been known to get just a little carried away during the holidays.  I’m not biased.  I treat all holidays the same when I consider the opportunities.  While I’m really not the person that goes overboard with decorating, I do get a little “enthusiastic” when it comes to the parties and entertaining.  And, since I love to throw a dinner party, when I get to throw a party during a holiday, I’m one happy hostess.

Thanks to a little shopping last month on eBay, I was able to find some fun, vintage Halloween decorations.  I also had several things on hand, like silver candlesticks (some that belonged to my mom, others we got as wedding presents) and old, peanut butter glasses that my mother-in-law gave me.  The collection of newly purchased (even if vintage) and already-owned came together for this dinner party table.

I wanted a splash of color in the table setting but didn’t want to buy salad plates just for this party.  So, I layered paper plates between the dinner plates and soup bowls.  The spider web place mats were an inexpensive splurge to add just a hint of “spooky” to the whole affair.

Here’s the simple menu that we served:


Tangerine Martinis

Minestrone Soup

Romaine, Pear and Pecan Salad

Toasted Baguettes

Orange Creamsicle Cupcakes

When considering which cocktail we should serve, I had two objectives.  First, I wanted it to look like it should be served at a Halloween dinner party.  In other words, it had to be the right color.  (Sorry all you red cocktails.  Your turn will come.)  Second, I wanted to serve it out of our antique beaker.  The beaker is one of our most treasured possessions.  It originally belonged to Jon’s grandfather, who owned a pharmacy in Seattle.  I was very committed (a delicate way of saying I was slightly obsessed) with giving the beaker a new purpose as a cocktail server.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I also really wanted to use dry ice in the cocktail to give it an appearance of a potion.

The whole thing was a smashing success.  Our amazingly talented bartender was able to make the cocktails ahead of time by mixing two batches in a shaker as he normally would, and then straining them into a plastic container and putting them in the refrigerator.  When it was time to serve the cocktails, he simply poured them into the beaker and added 3-4 small chunks of dry ice*.  And the unexpected icing on the cake cocktail was that the carbonation from the dry ice provided some effervescence to the drink.

Happy Entertaining!

Halloween Table Decorations

Tangerine Martinis in Beaker

Halloween Table Setting

Halloween Soup Bowl on Plate

Halloween Napkin  Halloween Placesetting

Minestrone Soup

Halloween Cupcakes

*Bartender’s Note:  Here are a few key things you should know about using dry ice.  If possible, buy it the day you’ll be using it as it doesn’t keep long.  If you need to buy it the day before your event, get 4-5 pounds or more as at least half will evaporate overnight. Store it tightly wrapped in a thick towel, packed into a well-sealed ice chest; the less airspace the better.  Don’t store dry ice in your freezer (it can damage your thermostat).  When it’s time to serve your drinks, chip off a few small pieces from the block of dry ice with a hammer and chisel (or big screwdriver). Don’t touch the dry ice with bare hands (it’s so cold it will burn your skin).  Carefully drop the pieces into your pitcher; they’ll sink to the bottom where they’ll bubble for 10 minutes or so.  You can serve the cocktail while the dry ice is still bubbling; pour carefully so that a piece doesn’t end up in someone’s glass.

Summer’s Last Hurrah

I know.  Seasons change.  Four seasons and all of that.  And, I’m actually okay with living in a four-seasons world.  I’m a fan of each season and all that comes with it.  In the Pacific Northwest, summer doesn’t really get started until the first part of July.  So, I’m just fighting the wind-down of summer this year because we’ve only been at this business of sunny, warm days now for a little over a month.

I’m not being defiant.  I promise to let go when it’s time and not wear white shoes after Labor Day.  But, for now, just one last summer hurrah before we start focusing on football and pumpkins.  By my calculations, I have just a few more weeks of this summer, so I’m going to do my best to squeeze every last drop of enjoyment out of it before it slips away for another year.

As this season starts to wane, I think one last summer dinner party is in order.  Who’s with me on this?  Nature is still providing wonderful, seasonal food that we can serve.  I personally think blackberry cobbler is reason enough to have a party.  We’ll eat on the patio, and take advantage of a sunny afternoon.  Then we’ll light a fire in the fire pit to ward off the inevitable chill that sets in just about sunset.

Here’s one of our favorite summer dinner party menus:


Beer and wine

Barbecued Salmon

Wild Rice

Corn, Tomato, and Avocado Salad

Blackberry Cobbler

None of these dishes are complicated, and most of the prep can be done ahead of time so you can actually leave the kitchen and be a part of your party.  Recipes for each dish are provided, with the exception of the wild rice.  Although I’ve made wild rice from scratch, frankly, I now just use Rice-a-Roni.  I normally try to avoid packaged foods, but in this case I find it’s good and simple and not overly artificial like some food from boxes can be.  Just right for a summer dinner.

Start with a toast to the change of seasons, and thank nature for yet another reason to celebrate.

Happy Entertaining!

Mason Jar Candleholders  Flowers for the Table

Placesetting  Setting a Summer Table

Summer Tabletop  Beer on Ice

Summer Dinner Party  Pouring the Wine

Happy Birthday America!

Everyone loves a birthday party, it seems.  And when it’s the good ol’ US of A that’s having the birthday, we just can’t help but put on our party hats.


Think about how different our annual celebration would be if the forefathers had signed the Declaration of Independence in, say, January.  Besides the fact that we wouldn’t know it as the Fourth of July (instead we would be painting banners that read something like “Happy Sixteenth of January!”, which clearly does not roll off the tongue quite like the Fourth of July does), we wouldn’t associate it with barbecues, lemonade, or strawberry desserts.  It’s hard to even fathom.  The only saving grace would be that, since the days are short in January, we’d be able to watch fireworks while we eat dinner.

So, as we near the Fourth of July and all the celebration that comes with it, I’m grateful for our forefathers’ forethought and consideration for getting down to the business of independence in the summer rather than the winter.

Here’s what’s on our Fourth of July menu this year:


Watermelon Martinis

Barbecued Pork Baby Back Ribs

Red Potato Salad

Baked Beans

Corn on the Cob

Strawberry/Blueberry Napolean

Watermelon Martini

Pork Baby Back Ribs  Red Potato Salad

Baked Beans  Corn on the Cob

Strawberry Napolean with Blueberries  Fourth of July Placesetting

I’ve tried cooking corn on the cob many different ways.  But this is the method that I like the best.

When it comes to preparing baked beans, I start with a good brand of canned beans (I like Bush’s, even if their commercials with the talking dog are kind of sophomoric).  I just dump the can into an oven-proof dish, cover with foil, and bake for about an hour.  I remove the foil and cook for about another 15 minutes.  I remove them from the oven and let them sit and cool slightly before serving.  Someday I’m going to make them from scratch, but right now I’m glad to have a side dish that I can serve that doesn’t take a lot of time or energy.

Need more inspiration for all things red, white and blue?  Check out our 4th of July board on Pinterest.

Happy Entertaining!

Brunch – A Good Reason to Rise and Shine

I’m not what you’d call a morning person.  And by that I mean that not by any stretch of the imagination, nor by what anyone who knows me well would say, would I be considered anything remotely close to a morning person.  I find very few things as luxurious and decadent as a slow-paced morning.  Which may be the reason I don’t often host a brunch at the house.

But I gladly got out of bed and did just that last weekend.  My oldest sister and brother-in-law came up for the day, and to allow for their drive home (a few hours), a midday meal was the most accommodating.  And I may not be a morning person but I can be rather accommodating when I try.  My youngest brother and sister-in-law came, too, and it was simply a splendid reason to get up early.

Doing a little prep the day before allowed me to sleep in an extra few minutes.  (Yea!)  I made the crust for the quiche (and refrigerated it overnight) and set the table.  Jon cut the flowers and I got them arranged in a vase.

Brunch Table Setting  Lilacs and Iris

By the time I rolled out of bed Sunday morning, my to-do list was pretty manageable.  Besides making the quiche (which is my old, stand-by recipe), and washing/cutting the romaine (which we served with a lemon dressing), my morning priority was making the scones.  And I should note that, prior to Sunday morning, I had never actually made scones from scratch before.  I was a little nervous about the whole thing, especially since I didn’t have a “Plan B” if the scones were a flop.  I did my best to carefully follow the recipe and am so happy to report that the scones turned out perfectly.

Scones on Tray

When any of the siblings are together, inevitably the conversation comes around to Mom.  She passed away many years ago, but we all still miss her every day.  So it was nice to be together, using her good silver and the antique butter pats that she gave me one year for my birthday, and remembering our mom.


And then our brunch became a tribute to all moms and the upcoming day that honors them.  Biological moms, adoptive moms, mother-in-laws, step-mothers, grandmothers, women who nurture and are motherly by nature, and those who are moms of our furry friends.  We know our world is better because of you.  To all of these moms, we wish you a Happy Mother’s Day.

Brunch Menu


Orange Scones

Romaine With Lemon Dressing

Quiche  Orange Scones

Happy Entertaining!

Dinner Party 101

As far as parties go, I’m a dinner party kind of gal.  I mean, as opposed to a cocktail party kind of gal.  Whether it’s hosting or attending, I always prefer a small intimate dinner party over a large, loud, walk-around cocktail party.  Although I seem to have this illusion of attending some swank soiree, wearing the perfect LBD and 4″ heels, and not caring that I have nothing to say to the other guests because I look oh-so-fabulous.  Right.  Like I would ever be caught dead wearing 4″ heels.  And let’s be honest.  When I throw a dinner party, I’m usually wearing slippers.

I think I have issues with cocktail parties because I’m not a very accomplished mingler.  Small talk tires me.  I much prefer sitting around a table, with a group of close friends or people I want to be close to, and talking.  Really talking.  And telling stories.  Even the same story told over and over, which seems to happen with our circle of friends, is preferable to me over idle chit chat.

So, when we entertain, we throw a dinner party.  Sometimes they are big and fancy affairs (in which case I wear shoes rather than slippers).  But most of the time they are low-key, with the focus on the guests and the food rather than the brouhaha of a larger crowd.

If you want to throw a dinner party, here are some of our lessons learned over the years.

A Good Plan is Half Your Success.  Even if the plan is to order pizza, it’s good to have a plan.  Have a plan and then work the plan.  Figure out the menu and then figure out how and when you’ll get everything done.  Then, come dinner time, you’ll have your wits, and your sense of humor, still with you.  And this will make you the perfect host/hostess.

Size Matters.  In my opinion, 6 – 8 guests is perfect for a dinner party.  10 – 12 can work, too.  More than that, and it quickly loses the intimacy and you might as well go back to a walk-around and mingle kind of party.

Plates and CandlesServe Within Your Comfort Zone.  If a less than perfect dish is your idea of a complete disaster, then don’t attempt to make something you’ve never made before.  Stick to what you know.  Or at least practice beforehand.

Don’t Stress the Small Stuff. Something doesn’t have to be elaborate to be lovely.  Sometimes I use a tablecloth (which may or may not be ironed depending on my mood) and sometimes we just use place mats.  Sometimes there is a nice, floral centerpiece and sometimes there is just a candle or 2.  We attended a nice dinner party one time where the hostess used a sheet to cover the table.  And one of the best desserts I ever served came from a local bakery.  If you’re thinking you can’t host a dinner party because you don’t have time or budget for fancy, then rethink it.

Leave Procrastination for Another Day.  Do what you can ahead of time.  Like setting the table.  Or cleaning the bathroom.  And definitely do the shopping ahead of time.  Leaving everything to the last minute will just make you stressed and cranky.  Or at least that’s what it does to me.

Start the Party at the Door.  From the moment guests walk through the door, let your home say “welcome.”  Get that music playlist started and candles lit before guests arrive.  (I always like to have a candle or small light in the bathroom so when guests need to use the loo they aren’t fumbling around in the dark trying to find the light switch.)  Drinks should be ready to serve and, if you’re serving an appetizer, it should be ready to go as well.

You’re the Cruise Director.  You don’t need a whistle and clipboard, but just remember that people expect to follow your lead.  You need to get them to the table when it’s time to eat.  Pour the wine, or direct someone else to do so, when it’s time for wine.  Clear the plates when people are done eating and bring in the dessert when you want them to eat it.  And, if you want the party to end, stand-up, stretch and start doing the dishes.  Your guests will get the hint.  We’ve entertained some very successful and high-ranking business people that, at the office, are always the ones taking charge.  Yet, at a dinner party, these people will sit, as if unsure of their next move, until someone says, “It’s time for dessert!”  It’s your party.  You get to be the one that calls the shots for once.

Happy Entertaining!

Centerpiece  Candleholders


Hosting a Ski Weekend

Oh, sure.  Our friends tell us that we’re the reason they come to visit.  But we have a sneaking suspicion that  the ski resort is really the main attraction and that our presence is sort of inconsequential to the skiing.

We love ski weekends.  Friends arrive in their big ol’ SUV’s, laden down with enough gear to make us wonder if they are staying for a month.  They move in, get settled, and we get down to the serious business of slumber partying.  These weekends give us extended time with our friends with a nice balance of go-time and down-time. 

Ski Signs

Over the years, we’ve learned a couple of things about coming home after a day on the slopes.  One, everyone is usually in need of a snack.  And a beverage.  Pronto.  So, have those things at the ready to keep everyone from gnawing at the woodwork while the real food is prepared.  Nuts, veggies and dip, or cheese and crackers are great, easy snacks.  And, two, we’ve learned that everyone appreciates a good, home-cooked meal.  Hearty meals and comfort food are always popular, even with those that are pretty rigid about their diets on most days.  I guess what my dad used to say is true.  After a day of fresh air and playing outdoors, kids aren’t nearly as picky about what they eat. 

Here’s a first night menu from a recent weekend.  Because the pot pies and biscuits take a little prep time, I served them on the first night since I had time to prepare them during the day.  For the salad, one of my favorites is to chop up romaine, add a pear or two (that you’ve cut into chunks), dried cranberries, and pecan pieces (Fresh Gourmet has some Honey Roasted Pecan Pieces that are great in this salad).  My favorite dressing for this salad is the Lighthouse Pear Gorgonzola. Simple and a great side to this meal.

Since I had a bag of Meyer lemons in the refrigerator, and I knew one of our guests was a fan of all things lemon, I tweaked the tangerine mousse recipe slightly and made lemon mousse.  We served with a piece (or two) of dark chocolate, and everyone loved it.

We always have beer in the fridge, since many of our friends prefer beer.  And, we have plenty of both red and white wine on hand, to serve with dinner.


And here’s what our party planner looked like: 

Two Days Before:

  • Finalized the menus for the weekend and made the grocery list.
  • Cleaned the bathrooms.

Day Before:

  • Grilled the pork shoulder all day (for Sunday’s dinner.)  Put it in the oven overnight.
  • Got all the grocery shopping done.
  • Made a trip to the liquor store to buy more beer.

Day Of/ Morning:

  • Shredded the pork and refrigerated it.
  • Set the table.
  • Made the dough for the pot pies and put it in the refrigerator to chill.
  • Made the macaroni and cheese for Saturday night’s dinner.  Didn’t bake it but just refrigerated it.
  • Made the lemon mousse.

Day of/ Afternoon:

  • Made the chicken pot pies.
  • Made the biscuits and started them rising.
  • Tracked our guests’ arrival time and made sure I was out of the shower by the time they got here.
  • Set out everything we needed to make the Cosmopolitans.
  • Washed the romaine.
  • Set out butter to soften for the biscuits.

Just Before Serving:

  • Preheated the oven for the pot pies and biscuits.
  • 30 minutes before dinner, started the pot pies baking.  (If you don’t have a double oven, bake biscuits and then the pot pies, and keep the biscuits covered to keep them warm.  Just back up your start time by about 15 minutes.)
  • Put the salad together.
  • Opened bottles of wine, lit the candles and poured water.
  • Plated the pot pies, put the biscuits into a bread basket, everyone seated at the table, and dinner was served!

Snow sled   Pistachios

Chicken Potpie

Table Setting

Buttermilk Biscuit

Snowy Aspens

Girls Weekend

What do you get when you have a group of longtime friends, together for an entire weekend, away from jobs and kids and housework and every day life?  A pretty darn good time.  When you add snow, cocktails, a rousing round of Cards Against Humanity AND the knowledge that no one has any place to go for 3 days, you get one heck of a fun adult slumber party.

There were 8 of us.  Well, 9 if you include the Bartender who bravely “volunteered” to stick around for the weekend and do one of the things he does best:  Tend the bar.

I wanted a menu that provided good, warm “comfort food” for the main course and meals that easily fed a large group.  And, because this was a group of friends that hadn’t all been together for a while, I wanted food for the weekend that allowed me to do a lot of the work ahead of time so that I could spend the time with my friends rather than just in the kitchen.  This menu fit the bill for Friday night:

And here’s what our party planner looked like:

Day Before:

  • Got all the grocery shopping done
  • Started setting the table

Day Of / Morning:

  • Finished setting the table, including the friendship quotes place cards
  • Made the cake layers for Saturday night’s dessert
  • Made the broccoli cheese sauce for Saturday night’s dinner
  • Started the meat marinading for the beef stroganoff
  • Made the Tangerine Mousse

Day of / Afternoon:

  • Started the stroganoff cooking
  • Started the rolls in the bread maker
  • Took a break to help shovel the driveway so we could get the cars the last 10 yards to the house
  • Shaped the bread dough into rolls and let them rise for about 45 minutes

Just Before Serving:

  • Got a little distracted (perhaps it was the blueberry martinis) and started the noodles (for the stroganoff) a little later than I should have.  It takes a few minutes to get a big pot of water to boil.  We just used the time to open bottles of wine, light the candles and have another martini.
  • Baked the rolls for 18 minutes
  • Started the water boiling for the peas
  • Got everything into serving dishes, everyone seated at the table, and dinner was served!

Table Setting 3

Blueberry Martinis

Deborah, Alex, and Suzette

Blueberry Martini

Marg and Debbie

Table Setting 1

Snowshoers   Table Setting 4

Old Fashioned

Table Setting 2   Tangerine Mousse 2

Group Shot

Happy Entertaining!

Putting the Couth into Casual

There is something appealing about a formally set table.  Just looking at the pictures on Pinterest or in catalogs makes me want to have 20 people over for a formal, sit down dinner.  But let’s face it.  Most in-home dining experiences call for a more casual table.  However, casual doesn’t have to mean boring or, worse, uncivilized.  Just because dinner with our closest friends doesn’t call for a stiff, formal setting, shouldn’t we still practice a little decorum?  I think a little etiquette is still appropriate even when dining with our shoes off.  So, let’s leave barbarian ways to the Huns and get that fork on the correct side of the plate, shall we?

Table Setting Diagram - Casual

Diagram of a casual table setting

Thanks to Grandma and Grandpa G. for their wonderfully worn, now vintage Pendleton blanket that provides the perfect backdrop for our Christmas morning table.

Christmas Plates

Waechtersbach plates and vintage Anchor Hocking water glasses make for a casual yet festive table

Christmas Plates with Centerpiece

We used three Mason jars as vases for this centerpiece

Napkin, Fork, and Plate

Holiday Placesetting


Our three wise men (from Gurley) make an appearance every Christmas

Rustic Bell Napkin Ring

Sleigh bells make an easy napkin ring

Holiday Table Setting

Happy Entertaining!

Ready, Set (the table), Go!

Call me old fashioned, but it just seems like everyone should know which side of the plate to put the knife on when you’re setting a table.  Now I know there are those who don’t really care and perhaps have more important things in their lives to worry about.  BUT, if you do care AND you find yourself needing to set a table soon, say for a Thanksgiving dinner, then here is a quick tutorial on setting a formal table.

This simple diagram shows how dishes and utensils are placed

  • Chargers (or service plates) are oversized plates and, with the exception of dinner at Downton Abbey, are really more for decoration than service.  They should be used for the first course (salads and soups) and then removed for the main course.
  • Utensils are placed in order of use, from the outside in.
  • Knife blades are placed so that the cutting edge is towards the plate.
  • The napkin can either be placed in the center of the plate or to the left of the forks.  The fold of the napkin should face the plate (or face to the right if placed on top of the plate).  If space is limited, I usually put the forks on top of the napkin although etiquette books would probably disapprove of this and say that the napkin should be easily accessible without having to bother with the utensils.
  • Dessert spoons or forks can be placed above the plates or brought to the table when the dessert is served.
  • Only set the coffee cup and saucer if you’re serving coffee with the meal.  Otherwise, bring them to the table with dessert.
  • Place cards are a nice touch for a table of six or more.  They allow you to decide ahead of time where people should sit and avoid any of that awkward last minute confusion among guests when it’s time to sit down.

Table Setting

Place CardSpeaking of place cards, I have a thing for old post cards, especially the ones that feature a holiday.  And, while I’m not really a DIY-type of person, here’s one of my favorite things to use the post cards for.  I copy the post cards onto watercolor paper and use them for things like place cards.

I love the internet.  There is something for everyone on the internet.  Like butlers.  Who knew that if you are some guy that is hired as a butler by the royal family and find yourself in need of basic butler advice, you can find it on Butler’s  It’s where I found this little ditty:  “NEVER FORGET: You’re not setting the table, you’re setting the mood.”  Ah, words to live by.

And just because.  Inspired by my favorite find on Pinterest this week.

Happy Entertaining!

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