Secret Garden Chair

Happy spring planting! It’s Mothers’ Day and time to plant in my neck of the woods.

Another beautiful photo from Facebook — I’ve done this chair planter trick before, but wanted to capture the gorgeous mix of flowers used in this piece of art. I’m thinking that’s a wire “pot” filled with soil that goes all the way to the ground, which makes a lot of sense. Now all I need is an old chair — tomorrow morning is garbage day and I may just have to go a-picking.

Enjoy your weekend!

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Friday with Friends: A Textural Tablescape

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It all started when I spied these adorable little cafe chair napkin rings at Pier One. I knew I had to have them in my collection. The pink and cream loosely woven napkins seemed right for the textural tablescape, so I started with those as a color theme.

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Then, knowing the IRONY in buying a burlap-wrapped vase with French script writing on it, I decided to build a Frenchy centerpiece for my table that would look pretty while my house-sitter was living at my house, but which would not require any maintenance.

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I popped fake flowers into the vase, got out my flameless pillar candles and some woven decorative ornaments, and put it all on a wooden platter. I had a centerpiece.

When we got home from France, I replaced the fake flowers with some pink roses from the grocery store. They didn’t hold up very well, and quickly began to droop. I liked the blowsy, fading glory look of the centerpiece better that way.

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We were eager to see our neighbors across the street after our trip, so I invited them over for dinner and a little music-making. We are all working on Godspell at my church and wanted to play through some arrangements Music Man has done for the pit band. Thank goodness, my friends don’t get excited when I get out my “stuff” and the men are quite self-actualized and don’t get offended by a pink-themed table. đŸ™‚

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We began with a little champagne. I have a large collection of wine charms, some of which are store-bought and some my friend and I made by choosing very specific charms relevant to our lives. Needless to say, I usually take the saxophone charm. I like the juxtaposition of the two stages of polish on the silver against the shiny brass of the wine charm and the sparkling champagne flute.

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I started with the round woven “straw” placements I got at Tuesday Morning. I kept shopping until I found three packages of four placemats. I almost always buy twelve linens just in case.

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I have eight of these majolica-style Italian plates that I bought many years ago at a home store. I picked the strawberries, cherries, and apples for this table as the fruit has pink coloring. There are also plums, grapes, and pears in the set.

IMG_9249 BCombined with my trusty Pfalzgraff Filigree plates, the Fostoria salt and peppers, the Gorham Chantilly silver, Anchor Hocking tumblers, and Crystal d’Arques Longchamp wine glasses, I had a tablescape.

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We finished our meal with fruit, cookies, and candies brought by our friends and served on Fostoria plates and my favorite fruit compotes (really shrimp cocktail bases!). It was a wonderful way to spend an evening winding down after the stresses of the week — and recovering from jet lag.

For the recipes for this meal, check out my other blog, Got My Reservations. The Slow-Cooker Lasagna is definitely a keeper!

I’m linked up today at Between Naps on the Porch for Tablescape Thursday. Check out the creative and beautiful tablescape designs!

Bookin’ and Cookin’: The Tea House on Mulberry Street

Food and interesting stories. Each is one of life’s greatest pleasures, so when they are skillfully woven together into a book, we get twice the happiness. Today I’m reviewing The Tea House on Mulberry Street (2005), by Sharon Owens, in this episode of Bookin’ and Cookin.’

In her debut novel, Sharon Owens has woven together an ensemble cast of twisty Irish characters, set in the sometimes grim face of Belfast. Penny and Daniel Stanley own and operate Muldoon’s Tea Rooms, which Penny inherited from her parents, but they’ve both got secrets. Brenda Brown lives next door in a crumbling apartment and creates dark paintings that reflect her sad spirit — and she’s a “true fan” of Nicholas Cage. The Crawley sisters have devoted their life to helping others and basking in the reflected glory of their father’s WWII bravery. Rose is lonely and dispirited in her flower shop, and Henry is aghast at his wife Aurora’s need to impress people through her book club and enormous new conservatory. Arnold and Sadie co-exist in a loveless marriage, with Arnold’s success selling conservatories and replacement windows giving him an excuse for philandering and leaving Sadie with the care of his aging parents. Claire and Peter lost track of each other seventeen years ago and have never since been able to establish good relationships because they are still in love. In each story, which interconnect in the style of Love Actually, there are twists and turns, and some are even unexpected. I suspect you will cheer for Sadie and wonder if Penny and Daniel can ever make up for their years of hurts and secrets. Because these characters are mature people with problems that can occur in mature relationships, it’s not really chick lit for the reader looking for something light.

These stories are set on the daily plate of tempting goodies that come out of the kitchen at Muldoon’s Tea Rooms and will have you determined to find a tea room of your own to visit. Although there’s only one recipe actually at the back of the book, there’s a lot of creative inspiration here for your own tea party.

With a devastating review on amazon.com from Publishers’ Weekly and mixed reviews from both Amazon and goodreads viewers, you might find this book to be Maeve Binchy “lite.” I listened to it on audio, and found Caroline Winterson’s interpretation to be sprightly and compelling. Still, it gets four stars from both sets of reviewers, so I don’t think I’m alone in suggesting that The Tea House on Mulberry Street is worth reading.

While Nigella Lawson is apparently now sold on no-bake Cherry Cheesecake, this recipe for baked New York Cheesecake from smitten kitten is more like what Daniel and Penny served at Muldoon’s. As for me, I’m still savoring the special treat that Sandy made me several years ago and I’m generally able to satisfy my cheesecake cravings locally by shopping at Eli’s Cheesecake — and I go to the outlet whenever I need cheesecake for a large group!

What Makes You Think That Is French?

I’m going to Provence and Paris soon.

We’re scheduled to go to this flower market. Beautiful.

One of the things that I’m going to be looking for is whether or not or not our Americanized vision of shabby chic French is actually something French people do in their decorating.

I’m not so sure.

I’ve only been to France once, and I’ve only been to Paris and Normandy. I’ve seen beautiful cotton lace, I’ve seen lovely textiles, and I’ve seen well-worn finishes on furniture. I’ve also seen classically elegant rooms like this one.

What I’m not sure about is all of the things I see on American blogs using layered laces and trims, chippy paint, and white, white, white. I’m pretty sure that there is more to French decorating than that.

I feel as though I’m going out on a very thin limb here, and maybe I’ll fall off with a big thud. Or maybe not.

I’m eager to find out what people are buying in Provence and Paris and I hope to post photos for you to see.

Or do we care?

My mother-in-law did, and as a result, my house is full of beautiful Provencal furniture and dishes from France. And none of them is painted white or is chippy.

I can’t wait to find out. That is one of the reasons for travel — to find out what one does not know.

Are you with me on this?

Happy Easter!

I’m thinking of my parents this morning — they created many special Easters for my brothers and me.

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I’m pretty sure that my mom made that beautiful dress for me, too.

But it wasn’t Easter without going to church and singing Christ the Lord is Risen Today. In our family, Jesus was the reason for the season, even if we did love the pagan trappings of the Easter Bunny.

Here’s a blast from my past that has been part of my Easter celebrations for almost all of my life. It’s also not Easter if Peter Cottontail’s song isn’t cranked out of my treasured Easter music box.

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IMG_7479Sometimes an oldie is still a goodie — when it comes to our religious celebrations as well as our secular ones. Enjoy your day — whatever you are celebrating.

Bookin’ and Cookin’: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

It’s been a long time since I started reading a book that I just could not put down.

If you love food and love restaurants, you will really enjoy Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. From glimpses of her start in the Berkeley food scene of the 1970s to leaving The New York Times to move to her position as Gourmet magazine’s Editor in Chief, Reichl spins a tale of great food, great friendships, and great fun.

I was hooked on page one as Reichl tells about meeting a waitress on an airplane bound for New York in the summer of 1993. She had just accepted the position as the restaurant critic for the New York Times and was making a scouting trip to look for schools for her son. The waitress sitting next to her told her that every major kitchen in NYC already had her photo pinned to the wall so that staff members would recognize her when she came into their restaurant. That was when she realized that she would need to develop disguises to go incognito when scoping out restaurants for potential reviews.

The book tells tales of visits to very famous restaurants that were on bullets lists for foodies and tourists during the 1990s — Tavern on the Green, Windows on the World, Daniel. She also tells of visiting not-so-famous restaurants in hopes of exposing the Times readers to great food and broadening their palate. She would visit a restaurant in disguise multiple times and with different groups of people, checking on service as well as food quality. Then she would go back for a final visit as “herself” to see if Ruth Reichl, the NYT restaurant critic, got bigger raspberries, a better table, more attentive service, and better cuts of meat than did her alter egos.

I loved the insider’s look at places I’ve dreamed of, read about, and in several cases, never got to see, such as Windows on the World, which perished along with America’s innocence and the World Trade Center in 2001. Ruth Reichl wrote about the restaurant, in this article from 2011.

There’s talk of a movie being made of the book, which I think could have some promise, but apparently they are having a hard time getting it made. Too bad — I’d watch the movie of this book if the movie is actually true to the book.

I encourage you to try some of the recipes that appear in the book — she was a working mother who cooked dinner for her family when she wasn’t going out to dinner at some fabulous restaurant — and she started her career in California as a chef. She has a number of recipes linked up on her website, as well.  I’m going to try the mussels, myself. I’ve never made it at home and Ruth’s recipe makes me think I can be successful.

I’ll let you know.