Ladies Who Lunch

Olivia, my Mom, Elena. The best assistances ever! It goes without saying, good attracts good, and these women are pure good.

Olivia, my Mom, Elena. The best assistances ever! It goes without saying, good attracts good, and these women are pure good.

Last year I had the awesome opportunity to cater a lunch for the lovely ladies of The Women’s Club from my Mom's condo community.  They are a fantastic group of vital women who meet for various occasions. They have a book club. They go to the theatre, take field trips and just enjoy one another’s company.  They regularly host parties and luncheons, and that's where I came in.  My Mom is in charge of organizing one summer luncheon each year.  After hearing about the one she organized last year, I asked if she wanted me to help her cater the upcoming one. My Mom is an amazing woman who is always willing to help others and give of herself. So, naturally I wanted to do something special for her and for her friends.  This particular luncheon is usually a casual one serving up typical summer fare, like sandwiches and potato salad and such. My goal was to up the ante a bit, and so I embarked in creating a menu that they might enjoy.  I sat down with my Mom and her friend, Elena, who helps her with this event.  As luck would have it I was just coming back from working a catering event in the Hamptons and had some leftovers with me.  Call it fate, kismet or just plain damn good luck that I had this nibbles for them to try. It was almost like a wedding tasting. As I pulled out dish after dish for them to taste test, we took notes, jotted down what they liked, what I could slightly change and what I could add, all taking into account the likes of their group.  It was great to have both my Mom and Elena providing valuable feedback so we could tailor the luncheon to offer up some delicious dishes. And so the menu was set, and the plan hatched. 

Tomato Mozzarella Puff Pastry Tartlets

Tomato Mozzarella Puff Pastry Tartlets

Main
Tomato Mozzarella Puff Pastry Tarts
Arugula & Parmigiano Reggiano with Lemon Vinaigrette
Egg Salad
Chicken Salad with Grapes, Apples & Walnuts served with Romaine boats
Turkey Breast & Swiss Cheese Roll Ups
Asian Slaw with Peanut-Tahini Dressing
Israeli Couscous with Sautéd Zucchini & Roasted Tomato with a Roasted Garlic Dressing
Cucumber Salad
French Baguettes

Desserts
Peach Cobbler with Whipped Cream
Lime Zest/Raspberry Filled Cookies
Mini Cheesecakes
Watermelon

Normally they use throw away plastic tablecloths and paper dishes. It was a hard sell at first, but I convinced my Mom that using cloth tablecloths and real dishes would make it feel special. As you all know, I HAVE tablecloths. Enough, in fact, to cover the buffet table and all the seated tables.

The luncheon was held in the condo’s clubhouse, which meant we had to set the room up with tables and chairs for 30 guests. They showed me their usual set up, but in traditional Dana fashion I rejiggered the entire space. Thankfully, I had the help of my Mom, Elena and Olivia.  Especially since I decided that we would seriously need to move most of the furniture around. They were very willing and accommodating to my suggestions. Moving the seating area that was directly in front of the fireplace gave way for a perfect place to set up the main buffet table, front and center. It was August, so no need to have access to that. With this new placement, we were able to better utilize the entire space and the built-in counters next to the fireplace. Which is where I placed the plates, napkins and utensils for a better flow.

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I was happy that they allowed me to move around furniture so we could set up the buffet table for maximum access. I placed a menu on the table with all the offerings. You can also place cards in front of each dish as a way to identify the food.

I was happy that they allowed me to move around furniture so we could set up the buffet table for maximum access. I placed a menu on the table with all the offerings. You can also place cards in front of each dish as a way to identify the food.

When setting up a buffet table, think about the flow. Think about how people will reach for the food items and make sure you place them accordingly. Set higher items in the back, and group foods together. Bread near the items like the Egg Salad and Chicken Salad, condiments close to the cold cuts, for example.

It’s important to lay the food items out in a way that makes it easy to reach, pretty to look at and in a order that makes sense.

It’s important to lay the food items out in a way that makes it easy to reach, pretty to look at and in a order that makes sense.

Make sure you have utensils for each dish and have any condiments close by.

Asian Slaw   gives a nice spice to all the other dishes. And you can’t go wrong with a few cold cuts.

Asian Slaw gives a nice spice to all the other dishes. And you can’t go wrong with a few cold cuts.

Make your platters look pretty. Arrange the food so your guests feel that you took time and care in preparing the meal. It makes them feel special, as they should.

Chicken Salad with Fruit & Nuts     is a perfect summer dish. Great with lettuce leaves or on rolls, or just plain by itself.

Chicken Salad with Fruit & Nuts is a perfect summer dish. Great with lettuce leaves or on rolls, or just plain by itself.

Israeli Couscous  , it’s fluffy and light but satisfyingly filling. The oven roasted garlic and tomatoes give this dish it’s depth of flavor.

Israeli Couscous, it’s fluffy and light but satisfyingly filling. The oven roasted garlic and tomatoes give this dish it’s depth of flavor.

Peppery Arugula Salad with shaved Parmigiana Reggiano. It may be a simple salad but with just a few ingredients, it is a fresh, flavor punch.

Peppery Arugula Salad with shaved Parmigiana Reggiano. It may be a simple salad but with just a few ingredients, it is a fresh, flavor punch.

Lime Zest Cookies   with Raspberry filling. Tart and sweet and delicate.

Lime Zest Cookies with Raspberry filling. Tart and sweet and delicate.

Mini   Cheese Cakes  . Use the base recipe for the pie but instead of using one pie crust, use crushed graham crackers with melted butter and press into mini cupcake tins. Then fill with batter and bake. These are perfect two bite treats. Champagne grapes give a tart pop.

Mini Cheese Cakes. Use the base recipe for the pie but instead of using one pie crust, use crushed graham crackers with melted butter and press into mini cupcake tins. Then fill with batter and bake. These are perfect two bite treats. Champagne grapes give a tart pop.

We used my Soothing Blues theme but gave the tables a vibrant color pop with small centerpieces using Ribbon flowers accented with white hydrangeas cut from my garden.  Simple but striking. The best part was showing Elena, who was reluctant in arranging the flowers, just how easy it is to create a floral arrangement with impact. Hesitant at first, her confidence grew once I showed her color blocking and explained that simpler is better. And with that she finished the rest beautifully. The key; do what looks good to your eye and it will look good to others.

I had to convince them away from paper plates. These outdoor reusable plastic plates were still casual but a tad more special.

I had to convince them away from paper plates. These outdoor reusable plastic plates were still casual but a tad more special.

Strong contrast creates a striking floral arrangement.

Strong contrast creates a striking floral arrangement.

Some featured more fuchsia with white accent. Some reversed.

Some featured more fuchsia with white accent. Some reversed.

It was so lovely to be welcomed into their group and serve them food that they enjoyed.  Everyone seemed to have a good time and loved the food offerings.   

Ladies on the buffet line
Ladies waiting for the buffet
Chatting after a little dessert.

Chatting after a little dessert.

Smiles and good conversation. And yes to regular dishes but plastic cups just made more sense.

Smiles and good conversation. And yes to regular dishes but plastic cups just made more sense.

There is a simple joy in sharing food. In creating an atmosphere where people feel loved by your efforts.  Remember, no matter what we do in life, whether it be the words we speak, or the food we make, the flowers we arrange, or the door we hold open, when done from a place of purity then the world is stirred with love. Thank you to my Mom, Elena and Olivia, and to Rhona and the entire Women's Club for welcoming me to your luncheon last year.  Here’s to all of you, hoping you enjoy these memories and share many more happy adventures and good eating together!

And for the rest of my readers, I hope this brings about inspiration on how and what to serve for Ladies’ Summer Lunch. Ok, Men are welcome, too! In fact, all are welcome. Stir it with LOVE!

If you are interested in my Private Chef services, please contact me directly: dana@2fishinc.com And please feel free to pass along my info. Thank YOU!

Mint Tea Be Cocktail

Just recently I had a full day adventure in NYC with old friends. These were unexpected, last minute plans and were perfect moments for both reminiscing and making new memories. Outings that make life full and rewarding.

First, I met up with college pals. Dianne, who I’ve known since Junior High, and Dominique, since right after college, all of us graduating from University of Binghamton. We walked around eating and drinking, and window shopping our way through Soho. After attempting to eat at a French American Bistro, we ended up in a Sicilian Enoteca. The bistro didn’t open until 12n and it was 11:30a, and apparently we were all so hungry we couldn’t wait the half hour. Not even sexy drinks would tempt us into waiting. I had spotted the Enoteca as we were walking, as did Dom, so suggested it. I figured the Italians would be ready to serve food at any hour. If the sun had risen and people were awake, the Italians were ready with food. I’m glad we didn’t wait for the bistro to open their kitchen. Our Italian lunch was a symphony of delicious simplicity. We shared 3 plates; an Arugula Salad, a Fennel and Orange Salad and then Gluten Free Ziti with Shrimp in a creamy burrata, tomato sauce. I literally lapped up the last morsels of the pasta using a spoon to scoop up all it’s luscious goodness. I enjoyed the dish so much that I asked where they buy their pasta. Fortunately, it comes from Di Paolo’s Italian Market right near by in Little Italy. But before heading over to snag some gluten free goodness, we shopped a bit and I bought these flouncy white pants. Apparently, the ‘one size fits all’ JUST fits, and didn’t deter me one bit from racing to buy that pasta. Once home, I made my own version of it a few days later.

Feeling brave sharing this Rubenesque modeling moment.   Photo credit: Dianne Guarino

Feeling brave sharing this Rubenesque modeling moment.
Photo credit: Dianne Guarino

Really love this brand of gluten free pasta

Really love this brand of gluten free pasta

Paolo’s Gluten Free Ziti with fresh tomatoes and herb goat cheese. Clearly not the same but just as good.

Paolo’s Gluten Free Ziti with fresh tomatoes and herb goat cheese. Clearly not the same but just as good.

After more walking, shopping, talking and catching up we said our goodbyes to our friend Dom, then Dianne and I met up with friends from our elementary/junior high/high school days for drinks and light dinner. My original idea of meeting up at The Ten Bells was quickly shut down when we realized they didn’t open until 5 and we were all meeting at 4pm with a hard out time. Yet another timing dilemma. But I always find that these situations are for the better, as witnessed with the lunch happening. We ended up at Dudley’s, a cute little place with outdoor seating, with good food and drink in the Lower East Side. And that is where this post is really going. To share with you a recreation of the drink I so enjoyed. Sure, I meandered around to get here, but that was what the day was all about. Spending time with old friends with no real agenda but to share old and new memories. This day was not just good for me, but a great way to encourage you to do so too. I know, I’ve spouted a lot of words about a lot of other things just to get to the cocktail. But that is the beauty of life and the road we journey to arrive somewhere. It’s the mishaps and redirects that get you to the exact place you are supposed to be. In this case, Lunch Italian Style plus 4pm consumption of a refreshing cocktail with dear friends.

Friends for life: Dominique, Me and Dianne. AKA 3D. Smiles of well fed women looking for bargains.                       Photo credit: Dianne Guarino

Friends for life: Dominique, Me and Dianne. AKA 3D. Smiles of well fed women looking for bargains. Photo credit: Dianne Guarino

Nancy, Kathy, me and Dianne.                                                                                                                                             Photo credit: Kathy Lashlee

Nancy, Kathy, me and Dianne. Photo credit: Kathy Lashlee

I’m not a big drinker these days. Can’t seem to hold my liquor. But the drink that caught my eye was the cleverly called Mint to Be. An auspicious name for a cocktail that clearly defined the day and all our happenstances. It was so dang refreshing. I suppose I could have used my handy dandy phone to take a photo of the ingredients, but didn’t. Thank goodness, I only had one drink so from memory, it had Vodka, St. Germaine, tea and mint. I had no idea in what proportions so when recreating, I just guessed. And on my first try, I guessed right.
Here’s what I did.

Ingredients

2 oz. Green Tea, brewed with mint leaves & cooled
1 oz. Vodka
1/2 oz. St. Germain
Fresh Mint leaves & Cucumber for garnish

Enjoyed this drink so much,I actually almost finished it!   Photo credit: Kathy Lashlee

Enjoyed this drink so much,I actually almost finished it!
Photo credit: Kathy Lashlee

Cocktail set up. Mint, Freshly brewed Green Tea, St Germain, Vodka and cucumber

Cocktail set up. Mint, Freshly brewed Green Tea, St Germain, Vodka and cucumber

I brewed green tea and let it steep with fresh mint leaves and let it cool. In a shaker, I put ice, vodka, St. Germaine and more mint leaves then added the tea once it was fully cooled.

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Shake shake shake, then poured it into a cocktail glass over ice. I added a cucumber slice and more mint leaves.

Refreshing? Almost too refreshing. These babies will go down fast. So be careful. Of course, if you like your drinks stronger, you can certainly add more vodka, although it will change the flavor profile a bit. I like these ratios because it’s very smooth. JuanCarlos, who usually is the one making cocktails around these parts was pretty impressed. So we invited our neighbor friends over to enjoy. I don’t need to tell you that they did, indeed.

It truly was Mint Tea Be.

Served with crisp cucumber slices and crunchy, salty marcona almonds… A perfect cooling cocktail that suits to a T.

Served with crisp cucumber slices and crunchy, salty marcona almonds… A perfect cooling cocktail that suits to a T.

This cocktail paired with pretty much anything. Including langostinos with sautéd tomatoes & peas.

This cocktail paired with pretty much anything. Including langostinos with sautéd tomatoes & peas.

5 Key Steps to Hosting a Garden Party

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Summertime is meant for chilling.  You know; the relaxing, easy breezy hanging with friends and family. Most parts of the country wait all year long for the warm weather so we can comfortably sit outdoors, entertain, sip on cocktails, nibble on good bites and laugh the warm days and nights away.

I'm here to encourage all of that. And so, in keeping with my love of entertaining and my passion for making lists, here are my tips for hosting a garden party, or anything al fresco.

1. Make the space inviting and comfortable

Our dear friends Bruce and MaryAnne hanging on our upper terrace for appetizers.

Our dear friends Bruce and MaryAnne hanging on our upper terrace for appetizers.

  • Have enough, and comfortable seating placed in various locations around your space. You want to encourage groupings to gather and mingle. This also allows your guests to wander around and take in the property, patio, whatever the space from different points of view.

People can sit, stand and mingle as they enjoy cocktails.

People can sit, stand and mingle as they enjoy cocktails.

Placing small tables allows for food, drinks to be stationed around the property.

Placing small tables allows for food, drinks to be stationed around the property.

  • If during the day, have sunscreen and bug spray available in pretty baskets

  • If at night, make sure there is proper lighting, candles etc. Not only does it help keep your guests from falling off the patio but it creates a warm and welcoming glow.

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  • If you are throwing a really big event, then you might need to place some signs pointing to the bathrooms, so you don't spend your entire time answering that question 60 times. For a small party, no big deal. They have probably been to your home and know how to relieve themselves.

  • For chilly nights, have a basket of light weight throws, shawls. I have never had this placed out, but do now because I am always running upstairs to my closet pulling out shawls for my guests. Better to have this out and available. It also makes it easier for your guests, as sometimes they don't want to bother you or burden you by asking. Instead they suffer in silence. That doesn't make for good hosting. Of course, a fire pit is also a great idea to have prepped and ready to go.

Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad

George and Alyssa

George and Alyssa

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2. Table setting & Flowers

Color combinations can range from earthy to floral to plain white with pops of color. Just use your imagination and what feels good. Here I used some floral leaves as a landing spot for utensils and drinks.

Color combinations can range from earthy to floral to plain white with pops of color. Just use your imagination and what feels good. Here I used some floral leaves as a landing spot for utensils and drinks.

Use the flowers you have in your garden.

Use the flowers you have in your garden.

Create different heights for drama.

Create different heights for drama.

  • You all know how I feel about table settings and flowers. It seems silly to restate, but here goes. Taking just a few extra minutes to put a tablecloth down makes the world of difference.

  • Keep to your theme of the party. Whether it's casual and easy, BBQ help yourself style, or a more formal outdoor sit down, set the table to suit the event.

White plates with cotton napkins keeps this simple while the florals takes a early evening dinner to a   dreamy blue elegant table  .

White plates with cotton napkins keeps this simple while the florals takes a early evening dinner to a dreamy blue elegant table.

  • The topic of plates and utensils is a personal one. I like real plates and utensils. That's just me. I'm not a fan of paper or plastic but certainly understand it's convenience. In this area, you choose whatever is best for you. Because a happy, relaxed host is a good host.

  • If a buffet, make sure you have an designated area where your guests can pick up plate, utensils, napkin in one easy grab. Also, have a cloth napkin with the serving utensil in front of the dish so it is clear what they should use to serve themselves.

    • Utensil holders can vary from glass vases to wicker baskets or mason jars. Be creative and use what you have around the house to fit your theme.

    • You can also preroll all the utensils in the napkin and place them in a bucket or basket.

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Use a   floral vase   as a utensil holder.

Use a floral vase as a utensil holder.

Roll up napkins   and place in decorative bucket.

Roll up napkins and place in decorative bucket.

  • Place your flowers in various locations to complement your table setting ensuring that guests can see one another, or if on a buffet table, they can reach the food without any obstruction. Who wants flower water all over their ribs?

    • Florals can be bought flowers or cut from your garden to mimic what is already in your guest view

    • You can get small potted plants or create an arrangement using small vases of varying heights

    • You can place flowers or large leaves directly on the table. You get the idea, anything goes. Be creative.

Blues and yellows   keep it bright while the burlap keeps organic.

Blues and yellows keep it bright while the burlap keeps organic.

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3. Menu - Food & Beverage

  • You always hear me talking about serving what is seasonal. So no surprises here that if you are hosting a garden party, you don't want to be cooking hot and heavy dishes in your kitchen.

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  • Grilling fish and meat, fresh salads of all varieties using vegetables, fruits and grains.

Grilled Scallops

Grilled Scallops

Grilled flank steak

Grilled flank steak

Salmon with yogurt dill sauce

Salmon with yogurt dill sauce

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Good, simple food = happy guests.

Good, simple food = happy guests.

Bruschetta Bar. Fill a board with crusty bread and toppings and let your guests make their own.

Bruschetta Bar. Fill a board with crusty bread and toppings and let your guests make their own.

Have a spot where guests can grab their own glasses.

Have a spot where guests can grab their own glasses.

Always have a bar out and available for easy access.

Always have a bar out and available for easy access.

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  • Ask your guests ahead of time if they have any food allergies. It's a big deal now. Everyone is allergic to something. (Thanks Monsanto and the FDA for helping to poison our food supply. Ok, that's another blog post, Dana. Stick to the theme.) Make sure you have a variety so there is something for everyone.

4. Know your Guests

Have music… will dance!

Have music… will dance!

  • Each party, each guest list is different. So gear your party towards who you invite and vice versus. Don't throw a dance party with a bunch of senior citizens. Unless of course those seniors know Salsa! Don't throw a sit down dinner with 20 kids. Match your guest list to your event.

  • If your guest list has kids, make sure you have a couple of fun things for them to do. I used to have some garden games that I put out. Most of the kids in our circle are older now, so we don't need to entertain them in the same way. But I usually like to have balloons for water balloon tosses and marshmallows for roasting available.

Unless the seniors love to get their boogie on.

Unless the seniors love to get their boogie on.

Water balloons by the dozen. Easy to fill and no need for knots.

Water balloons by the dozen. Easy to fill and no need for knots.

Then relax with a game of Dominos

Then relax with a game of Dominos

5. Plan B

  • Always be prepared for the unexpected. Weather is uncontrollable. I am all too aware of this. So have a plan B. Ours is always to just move the party inside. For two reasons: one JuanCarlos isn't a big fan of putting up a tent or believing that it is going to rain. Two, we have the space inside to accommodate. When it briefly rained on my sister's wedding with more than 50 guests, they all ran into our living room. Happily, it was brief. But it doesn't have to be rain. It could be a heat wave or humidity. So think umbrellas or fans, etc. Plan B or even C, folks. The key to a good party is everyone is happy and comfortable.

Perfect example of having to move the dessert table indoors after the outdoor party got rained on.

Perfect example of having to move the dessert table indoors after the outdoor party got rained on.

The most important ingredient… you know it. LOVE. Have fun with the people you care about.

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It’s Party Al Fresco Time. Happy Summer Folks!

 

An African Flare Table Setting

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After a few months of hosting some less formal events, our most recent dinner party duties gave me the urge to set a more purposeful table. You know I love whimsy, as witnessed in the Brunch Table Setting, but I wanted more structure and a tad more elegance this go around. As I rummaged through my tablecloths and napkins to see what I could find I unearthed just the right ones. A few years ago while traveling in Italy, I purchased a tablecloth from one of the street vendors who brings textiles from Africa. I fell in love immediately with the bold yet earthy tones against the striking graphic print. Perfect choice to grace my table.

To continue on the African theme, I pulled out large hand carved wooden napkins rings that I purchased decades before. Back then, my tablecloth collection didn’t support such a purchase but I knew these would serve me well in the future. (If I only invested my money as well as I invest in “stuff futures”.) These unique napkin rings are among the most prized items I have collected over the years. I love using them because they make an undeniable statement. Who knew that this eclectic acquisition I procured so long ago at a Saks Fifth Avenue sale would be the star of so many table settings.

The face feels so peaceful to me.

The face feels so peaceful to me.

Pulling out the elements to this African Flare table setting. I opted not to use the orange napkins. I wanted to tablecloth to stand out and go with a more neutral napkin.

Pulling out the elements to this African Flare table setting. I opted not to use the orange napkins. I wanted to tablecloth to stand out and go with a more neutral napkin.

It’s evident that the tablecloth has a lot going on, so the flowers needed to be bright, a single color, and single variety. In this case, the simpler the better for the florals. I still wanted them to make a statement but decided not to create a single centerpiece. Another way to create impact is with multiples of the same. I chose all glasses vases to keep it as clean and understated as possible. I didn’t want the vases to be the attraction. I chose varying heights and sizes for visual interest and then just filled them up with white roses.

The purity of white roses is undeniable. Their elegance imparts immediate sophistication.

The purity of white roses is undeniable. Their elegance imparts immediate sophistication.

A statement, indeed.

A statement, indeed.

As I mentioned, the tablecloth print had plenty going on. Now, you also know I’m a big fan of using some sort of runner to focus the eye. So no shocker that I found a large linen remnant in my stock and fold it down the center of the table. I felt it broke up some the pattern and gave the eye a place to pause as well as provided an ideal location for all the flowers and candles. My deeper plot was convincing JuanCarlos that those items would remain at the center of the table during dinner and that we would plate the food instead of family style. For once I wanted my table design to remain in tact while dining. The hostess has to have it her way, at least once in a while.

The runner has golden tones to it that will work well with the gold notes on the plates and chargers.

The runner has golden tones to it that will work well with the gold notes on the plates and chargers.

Without even realizing it, I noticed that the candle sticks also fall in step with an Africa vibe.

Without even realizing it, I noticed that the candle sticks also fall in step with an Africa vibe.

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I love using chargers when I set a formal table. It adds a touch of special while grounding the place setting, especially if you are not using a placemat. Sometimes, I use both but there was already plenty going on on this table. The warm tones of the cloth begged for a few gold accents which the plates offered, plus added the sparkle I was looking for.

Besides the African Flare motif, it dawned on me that there was a secondary, underlying theme in the works. That of culling together disparate items collected over decades from various locations. So into the basement I went to dust off the mustard yellow water goblets I snagged at a vintage shop years ago. The tones worked perfectly with the color scheme and nestled up nicely against the white and red wine glasses.

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And there you have it. A more formal table setting with Africa Flare with finds from all over the place that didn’t feel too precious but still gave a sense of elegance. And although this may not be a traditional Easter table, I don’t see why this idea couldn’t grace your table for the upcoming holiday.

Since I pulled together pieces not only from different stores, but from different countries and different decades, I realize that you might not have these pieces in your arsenal. How many of you collect tablecloths, material swags, napkin rings and vintage glasses for decades? (Or maybe you do and were looking for a way to bring them altogether! Someone after my own heart.) But if not, I wanted to provide some help. I did a little bit of research in case you wanted to achieve a similar look. Below are a few links to help you achieve the same look.

African Theme Textiles/Accessories

Swahili African Modern

Tablecloths

Swahili African Modern

Etsy

Amazon

Urban Outfitters

Urban Outfitters

Table Runners

Etsy

Etsy

World Market

World Market

Napkins Rings

Etsy

Etsy

Overstock

World Market

Williams Sonoma

Williams Sonoma

Napkins

World Market

Urban Outfitters

Placemats

World Market

Williams Sonoma

I hope you found some of these links helpful in sparking ideas how on to mix and match, use blankets for tablecloths or just plain combine an interesting layering of cloths to create an African Flare table setting.

 

How To Set a Brunch Buffet Table & Napkin Pockets

Organization is my thing. I love being prepared, having everything ready to go, having lists and knowing what needs to get done. There’s is nothing more satisfying than checking items off the list and a sense of reaching the finish line. It’s actually a big joke ‘round these parts - “Dana, what’s next on the list?” Laugh all you want, I can take it, but rest assured I will never leave something undone or left at the back of the refrigerator… unless I choose. So, no shocker that pre-thinking the table and platters is part of my to do list. Having a plan of attack makes any job easier. And it’s no different when entertaining. All the same rules apply.

Of course, you’ve read previous posts spouting the importance of pre-pro (that’s short in the TV world for pre-production) in the food prep area, or in culinary terms mise en place. Certainly having all your food prepped is vital but it’s equally important for setting up the final table, all the platters and serving utensils. Decades ago when I entertained, I had one set of dishes and very few serving items. So it was a tad simpler. Now that I have more of everything, I have more options which can be overwhelming. But even if you only have a few items from which to choose, you still need to make those work for you in the best ways possible. That’s why envisioning the entire event can actually shave time and energy in the long run. Ask yourself, what should the table look like and what platters or bowls should be used to make the day of party flow easier? Putting some thought to this prior to is one less task that needs to get done right before guests arrive.

I thought I would share with you a carefree table setting, the platter choices and arrangement that I did for a recent brunch. As a matter of fact, that gathering was originally slated for a Saturday evening but we needed to reschedule. Our new date landed us on a Sunday midday; perfect for brunch.

The Table
No formal table setting for this brunch. Nor a fully covered table. It’s well documented that I love putting a table cloth down, but for this sunny, brunch buffet that felt too stuffy. Whimsy was my main goal. So, I used a small square light blue tablecloth and placed it with the end points on the center of the table, leaving the ends of the table exposed.

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Then for movement and visual interest, I tossed a swath of white sheer material down the length of the table. Thus creating the exact vibe I intended. Both haphazard yet purposeful, it softened the whole table. It actually drew the eye to center of the table. Now I had a landing strip for the food platters.

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Florals
With the variety of food I had planned, I knew there would be a lot of platters occupying space, so I opted for a very simple and small floral arrangement. Using only filler florals that I found at Trader Joe’s, I arranged the three different florals in a color blocking, circular manner to create a bright, burst of life. Total of $9. I placed in the center, and knew that the colors would be the inspiration for for the platter choices.

Bold, bright, contrasting and complimentary colors.

Bold, bright, contrasting and complimentary colors.

Napkins/Utensils/Dishes
There are so many ways to go when arranging napkins and utensils. For more ideas, check out my post Napkin Folding - 5 Basic Folds - Countless Options. Originally I was going to use a simple roll up technique but after letting my mind float about what would make sense for the event I came up with something very different. Since this was going to be a small gathering, just 6 in total, I still wanted the silverware/napkin set up to be an easy grab. Here’s the thinking…

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I grabbed simple rustic, cotton cloth for napkins for an relaxed Sunday vibe. In my drawer of tricks I found 6 lengths of ties, 3 different colors that all coordinated and played nicely with the overall color theme. Can you identify what these ‘strings’ are from?

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If you guessed the handles from clothing shopping bags you would have been correct. 3 different bags, 2 ties each of harmonious colors. For all those who say, don’t save stuff, I say BooHoo to that. These were perfect in every way. There is an art to seeing the usefulness of an item that you would normally toss away.

I decided to create napkin pockets by stacking a knife, fork and spoon together. The equivalent to a 3 way spooning situation. Then I placed them in the center of the folded napkin and gathered up the material around it like a flower petal.

Using the string, I tied them together about 3/4 ways up to create a flower like pocket.

Next… how to corral them. I remembered I still had a basket with leftover pinecones in it. Perfect for an organic feel.

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I kept the pinecones stacked on one side and lined the napkin ‘florals’ in the basket placing it next to a stack of white dinner plates for a grab and go station.

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Serving Platters
This is really where the menu plan meets the serving plan. Think about your menu. Think of the amounts of each item you plan to serve, then pull some platters and see what works and looks good together. Once I have a good sense, I then place them in the position on the table to review the flow.

Wanting to bring color and pizzaz to the table, I pulled out my most colorful, playful platters. The round fish plate would be for salmon burgers, the blue fish bowl for the relish, the long rectangular for the mini buns and purple cake stand for the traditional Spanish tortilla.

Wanting to bring color and pizzaz to the table, I pulled out my most colorful, playful platters. The round fish plate would be for salmon burgers, the blue fish bowl for the relish, the long rectangular for the mini buns and purple cake stand for the traditional Spanish tortilla.

Create Stations
I like culling food items that go together in a ‘station’. This is accomplished simply by huddling them on a board, tray or platter and use smaller bowls within. Given that I had a few offerings for the guests to create their own yogurt parfait, a yogurt ‘station’ was a must. I chose a small wooden board for a rustic feel, then to invite color and whimsy, I chose two different bowls in the similar color scheme. One for yogurt and one for granola. Instead of cereal bowls, I stacked glass, stemless martini glasses for yogurt parfaits. Toss some fruit around and you now have a Yogurt/Granola Station.

Whole Table
Place all the platters, boards around the table to make sure there is good flow and visual interest. Move them around until it feels right to you. I kept most of the platters toward the center leaving room if our guests wanted to sit at the table to eat. We all opted to pile our plates and eat by the fireplace in the living room.

Sure it’s lots of color, and different styles but the blues and hues unite them.

Sure it’s lots of color, and different styles but the blues and hues unite them.

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The end result should be an inviting burst of tantalizing offerings that entice your guests to continue wandering around the table to pick and nibble away.

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Bruce and Maryann eyeing the offerings and creating a sumptuous plate of good bites.

Bruce and Maryann eyeing the offerings and creating a sumptuous plate of good bites.

Our guests did just that. Hopefully, this inspired you to create your own buffet table scape. I guarantee that having all the platters and the table pre-set will be a blessing not a chore.

Side note: I didn’t mention beverage station, but we always have one. If you look over MaryAnne’s right shoulder in the photo above you get a glimpse of the sparkle of glassware. We have a credenza that we use to house all the glassware and beverages as a self serve station. If you don’t have a credenza, add a small folding table, or carve out some space on your main buffet table. The idea is to have all the beverage items together to make it easy for your guests to serve themselves.

It’s springtime folks, Brunch is served!

 
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