dinner party

One hundred and twelve red apples

Red apple seasonal tablescape

It was my birthday last weekend and we had a handful of close friends for dinner; one of those cosy, informal dinners that feels just right as the seasons turn and the nights close in.  I went to the garden centre after work looking for flowers I could use on the table and instead stumbled across a stall filled with windfall red apples; a few minutes later I had purchased 4 huge bags of apples for around £4.50/$7, and had developed biceps of steel carrying them to the car.  Very satisfying.

I filled a basket with some of the apples and rested it on a stool to the side of the table, then literally rolled the apples along the centre, adding a few other bits and bobs to add height and interest..

Apple styling

Apple centrepiece decor Apple centrepiece

Simple and inexpensive, it took about 10 minutes to set up, but as a low-effort way of adding a touch of seasonal colour it worked a treat.  For dinner we ate a kind of deconstructed chicken and mushroom pie which I prepared in a large casserole before adding personalised piecrust tops to serve with each;

Personalised piecrust!

I cut large circles of ready-made puff pastry and used cookie cutters to create cameo silhouettes and tiny letter cutters for the initials of our friends (you can make them the night before of course and just chill overnight).  Brush with a little egg glaze, bake for 10 minutes and serve on top of the pie filling; a little bit of fun…

Personalise piecrust toppers!

And finally; a pan full of fudgy, raspberry-stuffed brownies, still warm and with a scattering of icing sugar and a scoop of salted caramel ice cream.  I’ve gradually tweaked and adjusted various recipes over the years and come up with one I love; the quantities are huge so do adjust depending on your needs (but then who doesn’t need 24 brownies?  No point doing things by half). Recipe below..

Fudgy raspberry brownies

Raspberry fudge brownies

Finally, thank you SO much for the lovely comments last time about my quilt post and the blog in general; they really made me smile.

Have a great weekend, when it eventually comes; we have bonfires and fireworks planned, and a couple of days of nesting after an unusually hectic period of travel and juggling.  I can’t wait…

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Autumn Tablescapes

The weekend is drawing to a close – a blustery, windswept close here in our small corner of England – but it’s been a rather magical one.  We’ve had a brief but promising flurry of snow prompting Harry to announce, rather prematurely, the imminent arrival of Father Christmas, and we’ve had walks through the autumn leaves and evenings snuggled in front of the fire.  Like all the best weekends though, it began with a lovely event; dinner here with some of our closest friends on Friday night.

Usually when we’re hosting dinner, it’s something of a mad rush; whilst in my head I imagine myself uncorking a bottle of wine and pottering around the kitchen in a form-fitting silky number as delicious smells waft from the stove, I am more usually arm-deep in bath time suds whilst my husband does emergency runs to buy forgotten ingredients, and the first guests to arrive have to tactfully remind me that I have only made-up one eye before getting distracted, and thus look like a freeze-frame from a You Tube video on how to apply eyeliner.  In the early days of dating my husband, I even managed to accidentally lock myself in the bathroom during the early stages of a dinner party (don’t ask how; it’s surprisingly easy I promise you..), and had to eventually ring him from my mobile phone to come rescue me.  This, after 20 minutes of waiting for him to notice my absence, I should add.

So, my history as a hostess is a somewhat chequered one, and evenings with us are nothing if not excitingly unpredictable – or so I tell myself.  On this occasion however, I managed to pull it off; the table was decorated with nature’s finest autumn finds, the menu was delivered without culinary disaster, and I even remembered all of my clothes and make-up.  I think I shall retire at this new-found high; it’s surely downhill all the way from here…

In a nod to Halloween, I added shimmering grey bat wings to small gourds and nestled them in martini glasses at each place-setting; I drew these freehand onto a piece of card stock then made small incisions into the sides of the gourds to slide them into place.  The name cards were glued to small pins which I pushed into the stalks.  I added tiny seed pearls to the tips of the wings.. and then decided I had better stop faffing around and concentrate on the actual cooking and cleaning *sigh*.

First though, I printed out menus onto end-pages from an old book and pegged these to each napkin; I’d bought a handful of yellowing paperbacks in our local charity shop with a view to using them in some crafty fashion, and they ran through the printer very simply; on one side guests could see what they were eating, and on the other were excerpts of letters by Evelyn Waugh – I carefully didn’t ask which side was more gripping..

Over the course of a day or so, I added odd bits and pieces to the centre of the table; blush roses and vibrant chrysanthemums, a selection of pumpkins and gourds which Harry and I dragged back from our excursion to the pumpkin patch (Harry picked up a small gourd and announced ‘my hands are all full Mummy; come along, you bring the rest!’, and marched jauntily to the car.  I see he has mastered the art of delegation at the tender age of almost-3).

Quail eggs, walnuts, corks and pine cones gave our guests something to examine and play with between courses and whilst chatting (though playing with fresh quail eggs after a couple of glasses of wine is a hazardous old business, as we found out)

As for the food itself, I tested out a recipe from my new favourite read; a magazine called The Simple Things, which is a sort of pared down Martha-like celebration of slow food, nature and living in the moment; their chicken and leek pie won the popular vote and will appear again on our table, just as soon as our arteries recover.

But possibly the best part of evenings like these is having managed to choose a husband who invariably says those magic words at the end of the night; ‘you head on up to bed; I’ll clear up down here…’