Each summer I set a food challenge for myself. Last summer, I went on the hunt for the best fish and chips on Prince Edward Island; there was no shortage of good ones…really good ones, in fact - but I did pick my favorite. I checked out some restaurants that I liked anyway but I also asked friends, colleagues, and acquaintances to recommend their favorites to me. I took my Mom, always a fish and chips fan, on my taste-testing mission as I covered the Island from tip-to-tip in search of the hands-down, no-question-about-it, best version of the perennial seafood favorite. By the end of the season, neither of us seriously wanted to see fish and chips again for a good long while!
This summer, my challenge is to find the best seafood chowder on PEI and it starts now as all the multitude of seasonal restaurants open on the Island for the summer tourist season. At the end of the summer, I will post a blog about my personal favorite from amongst those I sampled. So, if you have a favorite eating spot that you think serves the absolute best seafood chowder on the Island, let me know so I can try it out. I will be criss-crossing this great Island of ours over the next several months so feel free to suggest establishments from North to South, East to West, and all points in between! Let’s hope these establishments serve “cups” of chowder and not large bowls as my waistline may suffer the consequences! To recommend a favorite to me, either send me a direct email using the contact form on this website or leave a comment to this blog posting, naming your suggestion and the restaurant’s location!
We have always had this old lilac tree in the front yard of the home in which I grew up. Some years, only one side of the tree will have blooms but this year, it is pretty well covered in beautiful mauve lilacs. It was always a sign of Summer when the fragrant lilacs began to bloom and a big yellow monarch butterfly paid a visit. I love lilacs. In fact, they are one of my favorite flowers – I love their color (purple and mauve are my favorite colors) , their shape and flow, the delicate small petals, and yes, even the strong scent of them. They are not, however, generally well accepted as an indoor flower by anyone who is superstitious, probably because of the flower’s association with death or broken engagements.
But there is certainly nothing wrong with enjoying lilacs in the great outdoors. And, there is no better way than to sit amidst the color and fragrance enjoying a tranquil and relaxing afternoon tea beside the lilacs. No monarch butterfly visited on this sunny afternoon but several birds, including a hummingbird, hovered around and some of them twittered and tweeted. They probably wondered why the humans were invading their private habitat that they were not accustomed to sharing!
Today, I visited a local garden center and purchased two French lilac trees. They are very small but, hopefully, in time, they will grow and provide wonderful blooms and fragrance in the backyard of my own home. It will be a long time before they reach the size of our big old family lilac tree but maybe at some point in the future they, too, could form a backdrop for a lovely early summer afternoon tea.
Of all the centerpieces found on dining room tables, the most common will likely involve flowers. For the low-down on floral centerpieces, I sat down for a chat with Michael Jackson of Prestige Floral Studio.
Michael, let’s start by talking about the appropriate height of centerpieces. What is considered to be the optimal height of a floral centerpiece?
Height of table arrangements should be approximately 10”-12”. The flowers should not be positioned so that they are at the height of your guests’ heads as it obstructs their view of each other. An arrangement 15” high would fall into this range.
If you are using a tall, slim pedestal container or a tall, slim glass vase and starting the floral arrangement above the 15” height point, that is okay because the tall slim container will not obstruct guests’ views of each other and the flowers will be up above their viewing range.
Does the shape of the table influence the shape/style of container and floral arrangement?
It is not set in stone but try to keep the shapes of the container and the table the same because it looks better. If you have a round table, use a round container. If your table is square, use a blocky, square container. If you have a long oval table, consider using three round containers or one main centerpiece with smaller satellite arrangements along the length of the table. If you have a long rectangular table, you may wish to consider using three to six smaller containers to extend the flowers outward from the center.
What ideas and suggestions can you give for containers a host or hostess might use for flowers?
You can invest in several different containers that can be used for different dinners. You can also look through your cupboards and use something you already have. For example, soup tureens make suitable containers. Colored bottles of different sizes can be effective containers for single blooms which can then be collected into a grouping arrangement on the table to form a centerpiece.
What considerations should one address when selecting the kind of flowers to use in a tabletop arrangement?
The first is to use unscented or very lightly scented flowers. Second, try to stay with flowers of the season. For example, tulips make a lovely Spring arrangement but are less suitable on a Fall dining table. Third, if you are using flowers from your own garden, make sure they are clean and bug-free and that any pollen has been removed.
Let’s talk about color of the arrangement. What should be matched when selecting colors of flowers? Do I match my dinnerware? For example, my china is mainly white with a border of tiny pink and purple flowers and green leaves.
Yes, match the centerpiece color to your dinnerware. In your example, your arrangement should mainly consist of white flowers with pink and/or purple accent flowers.
Other than a traditional floral centerpiece in the middle of the table, what other options are there for including flowers on the dining table?
Groupings (always use odd numbers) or multiple arrangements – for example, three separate arrangements on a long table.
Including small matching individual arrangements at each place setting is another way to disperse flowers around the table. The host/hostess can then present each guest with one of the miniature arrangements to take home at the end of the dinner.
Terrariums and low glass planters are becoming a trend in table centerpieces. They have an earthy look to them and can have thematic arrangements inside that include stones or shells, plants, driftwood, and mosses.
So, this would be suitable on a table set with earthenware dishes but perhaps not so appealing if it was set with my fine bone china with pink and purple flowers?
Correct. Be sure to match the surroundings and dinnerware.
So, what are some other trends in table centerpieces?
In the Summer, consider citrus colors – orange, lime, and lemon. You can add citrus fruits to the floral arrangement or place some on the table around the arrangement.
In the Fall, sunflowers, vases of chestnuts, acorns, grasses, and candles can be used singly or combined to make wonderful seasonal decorations for the dining table.
What suggestions or recommendations do you have for the host or hostess who wants to create his or her own centerpiece?
Go simple and use a single variety of flowers only – for example, use all roses instead of a mixed bouquet of flowers. Don’t try to do stylized arrangements and worry about getting the flowers arranged just so but don’t just stick them in a vase either. I suggest clustering the flowers together in your hand to form an appealing looking bouquet and then fitting them into an appropriate container.
Thank you, Michael, for these great tips on using flowers for dining table centerpieces. And, thank you for the stunning Summer table setting you prepared for this interview!
Michael Jackson is the florist at Prestige Floral Studio located at 595 Read Drive, in Summerside, PEI. Michael studied floral design at Humber College and worked on Toronto’s Bay Street for over 20 years designing high-end corporate and wedding floral arrangements. The lure of family and the opportunity for a floral design business drew Michael back to his native Prince Edward Island in early 2011 when he opened Prestige Floral Studio. You can check out some of Michael’s extraordinary floral designs by visiting his website at www.prestigefloral.ca.
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In my view, there are three elements to a wonderful meal: Great food, a properly well-set table, and good conversation. In this post, my focus will be on the well-set table. For pointers on how to properly set a table, I went to the experts at The Culinary Institute of Canada, part of Prince Edward Island’s Holland College, in Charlottetown. There I was met by Tina Lesyk, Banquet and Catering Coordinator, in the Lucy Maud Dining Room, the Institute’s teaching restaurant. What follows is the substance of our conversation as we covered the gamut of topics that need to be considered in setting the proper table suitable to any occasion the home host/hostess is likely to encounter.
Types of Table Place Settings
Tina tells me there are three principal types of place settings: Formal, Informal, and Buffet. Let’s look at each one individually.
There are so many ways to celebrate Mom on Mother’s Day. Some years we have been travelling, other years we have gone to brunches at a favorite hotel restaurant, and other years we have stayed home and had our first lobster “feed” of the season (which is part of what we did this year, too). However, I decided to host a Mother’s Day Tea this year, also.
I love afternoon teas – they harken back to the genteel days where life moved at a slower pace and times seemed gentler. Hosting a tea is a wonderful, relaxing way to savour a light meal. Afternoon teas need not be extravagant (although they are wonderful when they are!). They can be very simple but, for Mother’s Day, the special day to celebrate mothers, it is nice to dress up the event. Do set a lovely table complete with pristine linens and your finest china (we all know that tea, for some reason, always tastes best when served in a china cup, right?)
Of course, Mother’s Day in Canada, falling on the second Sunday in May, always coincides closely with the opening of the Spring lobster fishing season in Prince Edward Island. The first traps were set on May 1st this year with the first catches being landed on the following day. Many families celebrate Mother’s Day along with their first official “feed” of lobster of the season. Many a lobster are cracked open and savoured on Mother’s Day weekend in PEI!
For my tea, I opted to make lobster the star attraction. I made lobster sandwiches and also tried a new recipe for lobster salad in puff pastry from the Spring 2012 issue of Victoria Classic “Teatime Bliss“. I was not disappointed. The delicate, flaky pastries filled with lobster salad were a tasty savory addition to my tea. For those not liking lobster, I included the quintessential cucumber sandwiches as well.
On the beverage front, I served Yellow Tail “Bubbles Rosé” followed, of course, with tea. My tea offering was “Traditional Afternoon” from Williamson Tea.
For the Mother’s Day cake, I chose a traditional teatime cake – the Battenburg cake. This is a sponge cake of two colors, assembled in checkerboard fashion, then covered in marzipan and iced with fondant icing. This made a colorful finale to a wonderful afternoon tea.
Sweets included an assortment of tiny cookies, French Macaroons, coconut macaroons, squares, Scotch cakes, and lemon Madeleines.
I highly encourage afternoon tea any time of the year as a relaxing way to spend some quality time and have some great conversation with those who mean the most to you. What a grand afternoon!
(Mostly) PEI and Maritime Food – Good Food for a Good Life!