A Savory Afternoon Tea by the Fireside

Brrrrr, it’s been a cold day on Prince Edward Island.  Our first cold snap of the season.  Temperatures were around -13C but, with the wind chill, it certainly felt a lot colder than that.  A good day to curl up by the fireside with some tasty food and a good cup of tea.

Was overseas to New Brunswick yesterday and, of course, that meant a stop at Tony’s Bistro and Pâtisserie in Moncton.  I introduced you to this great French Pâtisserie back in November (click here for the link to the story).

We had lunch at Tony’s yesterday and, naturally, I had to bring home some goodies that we could have for afternoon tea today.  Ready to have a peek?

Let’s start with these tasty little quiches.  Nice flaky pastry, these were delicious!

Then, there was the White Chocolate Rocher cake. This was seriously rich and decadent!  Layers of decadence!

Did you check out the little white meringue trees?  Light as air.

My choice of tea today was the Lady Slipper Blend from Lady Baker’s Tea Trolley.  You can read the story I previously published on this tea company by clicking here.

The China cups and saucers are Royal Vale but I could find no pattern name on them.

This will be my last afternoon tea of 2014 so thank you to those who have visited my tea table over the past year. I will also be joining Sandi’s last Tea Time party of the year over at Rose Chintz Cottage.

And, if you find yourself in Moncton, New Brunswick, I recommend a visit to Tony’s Bistro and Pâtisserie at 137 McLaughlin Drive.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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Poinsettia Trio Tablesetting

Throughout the holiday season, I am known to change tablesettings several times depending on number of guests and type of dining (e.g., brunch, lunch, dinner, etc.).  That, however, doesn’t mean that I don’t rejig and re-use some of the same elements in more than one tablesetting.

I recently shared my tablesetting for an intimate dinner for four where I clustered three poinsettias in the center of the small round table and set a miniature poinsettia at each place setting.  To view this tablesetting, click here.

Today, I have turned my table back into its oval shape, bought more miniature poinsettias for guest favours but have used the same three small poinsettias for the table centerpiece.  This is a very economical way to achieve a centerpiece for more than one dinner party (and less work!).  Instead of clustering the 3 poinsettias into a centerpiece, I have placed them at equal distance apart down the center line of the table.

I have decided that, this year, I want my tablesettings to show the maple wood in my table as opposed to covering it up with a full tablecloth.  I bought the placemats and matching napkins on a trip to San Juan and it’s a wonderful memory of a great vacation each time I dress my table with them.

Letting the wood of the table show lends a slightly more casual look to the table than does a tablecloth.

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I purchased several of the miniature poinsettias at the beginning of the season and have used them on bed trays, tea tables and, of course, at placesettings on the dinner table.

The miniature poinsettias came in little plastic terracotta pots so I simply wrapped them in gold sparkly netting and tied them with gold cord for a festive look.  They make great take-away guest favours.

For those who regularly follow my tablescape segment on my food blog, you will recall that I have previously said that, if you aren’t knacky with, or don’t have time to do, fancy napkin folds, then a simple and effective way is to simply use a napkin ring and roll or fluff the napkin through the ring.

However, if you don’t have napkin rings, all you really need is a spool of pretty ribbon to tie around the napkin as I have done here with a sheer organza wire-edged ribbon that bears the words “Merry Christmas” in gold glittery print, again tying in the gold color and the red of the poinsettias.

The photo below shows the individual placesetting.  You don’t need expensive formal China to set a pretty table.  This one is set with basic everyday ironstone dinnerware. Again, I am using my basic gold chargers to tie in with the poinsettia gold pots.

The photo below shows an overhead view of my colorful Christmas table.

To view other Christmas and New Year’s Tablesettings, click on the links below:

Glitz ‘n Glamour New Year’s Eve Tablesetting
Twas the Night Before Christmas
The Warmth of the Christmas Light Tablesetting
A Tartan Holiday Tablesetting
Pretty Poinsettia Tablesetting
Christmas Eve Tablesetting and Dinner
The Holiday Table
The Pink and Green Holiday Table
Christmas at My Island Bistro Kitchen
Purple Tablesetting for the Holidays
Evergreens and Reindeer Christmas Tablesetting
Cupcake Tablescape

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Pretty Poinsettia Tablescape

Poinsettias are one of the most commonly seen plants over the Christmas season.  They come in a variety of colors and shades and in various sizes.  Each season I have several placed around my home — in front of fireplaces, in the entryway, and anywhere else that I think needs a pop of color and a festive touch.

Today, I am using both small and miniature poinsettias in a seasonal tablescape.

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I have clustered three small poinsettias in the center of the small round dining table.

These plants are just supermarket stock so I removed the commercial plastic wrappers from them and transplanted them into small glittery gold pots that I found at my local dollar store.  I added some fresh pine and green fir along with a few twigs, scattered some Christmas balls around the trio and, voilà, I have the look of a custom-made centerpiece at a fraction of the price.  By keeping each plant in its own pot, it allows me to use them as a grouping or elsewhere individually.  I chose two variegated plants in red shades and one in the soft green for contrast.

I also found these little tiny miniature poinsettias at the supermarket and thought they would be ideal decorations for each place setting and would be nice take-away favours for guests to take home with them as a remembrance of the dinner.

I simply covered the little terracotta pots with some gold netting and tied it with gold elastic cord.

I used a floor-length round gold tablecloth for the table and opted to use my gold charger plates as the backdrop for white dinnerware which, of course, makes the red poinsettias pop in color. By keeping the gold theme going in the charger plates, it keeps the tablesetting in the same color scheme without introducing another color.  This is particularly important when the table is small as is the case with this tablesetting. Keeping the same color of charger plates as the tablecloth gives the illusion that this table is bigger than it actually is.  Had I used other colored charger plates (e.g., red or green), the difference would have been very noticeable.

The small table creates a setting for very intimate dining.  However, it does not leave a lot of room for extras on the table, such as napkins.  For this reason, I opted to place the matching gold napkins in the wineglasses in a simple cascade napkin fold for economy of space.

The photo below shows the top down view of the tablesetting.

I always put a tree in my dining room. It is decorated in shades of green, gold, and ivory and I have carried these shades into my mantle decorations this season.  The gold tablecloth blends in with the  color scheme and, of course, the red poinsettias give a pop of color.

I hope you have enjoyed a glimpse into my seasonal poinsettia tablesetting.

To see another tablesetting where I have used the same elements as in this one for a totally different look, click here.


To view other Christmas and New Year’s Tablesettings, click on the links below:

Glitz ‘n Glamour New Year’s Eve Tablesetting
Twas the Night Before Christmas
The Warmth of the Christmas Light Tablesetting
A Tartan Holiday Tablesetting
Christmas Eve Tablesetting and Dinner
Poinsettia Trio Tablesetting
The Holiday Table
The Pink and Green Holiday Table
Christmas at My Island Bistro Kitchen
Purple Tablesetting for the Holidays
Evergreens and Reindeer Christmas Tablesetting
Cupcake Tablescape

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today. There are lots of ways to connect with “the Bistro” through social media:

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Follow the Bistro’s tweets on twitter @PEIBistro
Find the Bistro on Pinterest at “Island Bistro Kitchen
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Cookbook Review: Best of Bridge Holiday Classics (2014)

Title: Best of Bridge Holiday Classics
Author: Various
Publication Date: 2014
Publisher: Robert Rose Inc.
Cover: Hardcover
Price: $29.95
Pages: 303

Robert Rose Inc. has offered me the opportunity to conduct a review of Best of Bridge Holiday Classics. This is the latest in the “Best of Bridge” series of cookbooks.

While this cookbook is aimed at holiday entertaining, I would suggest there are recipes that would be suitable year-round for both everyday and special event use. The book has an attractive, sturdy hardcover and the pages are spiral bound making it easy for the book and pages to stay open for the recipe being made.

The book features a collection of 225 recipes spread throughout eight chapters: Holiday Brunches, Cocktail Parties Plus, Buffets and Potlucks, Sit-down Dinners, Leftovers, Holiday Cookies and Squares, Desserts and Other Sweet Treats, and Food Gifts. At the beginning of each chapter, there is a separate table of contents outlining the recipes (and their page numbers) found in that section of the book. There is also a handy alphabetical index at the back of the book.

In addition, there are a couple of pages at the front of the book giving sample menus for holiday brunch, a buffet party, a traditional holiday meal, a snowy Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve Banquet, and a Vegetarian Celebration. Recipes suitable for each event are listed along with their page numbers for ease of retrieval. This is useful, particularly for those who have no idea which recipe pairs well with another or what to serve with what.

When I am conducting a cookbook review, I try to approach it from the stance of how user-friendly it would be for someone with little culinary experience unless, of course, the book is highly specialized and advanced and is targeted for experienced cooks. So, I review recipes from the point of whether someone with little cooking and/or baking experience could take the recipes and easily follow and understand the instructions sufficiently to achieve success.

To begin, I found the font in the book a bit large and folksy. Everything (ingredients and method of preparation) is printed in capital letters which I find makes the pages cluttery and difficult to read. Generally, the instructions for making the recipes are all lumped together in one long paragraph. This makes it difficult to follow the method. I find cookbooks that lay out the instructions in separate, step-by-step, paragraphs are easier to follow, particularly for less experienced cooks. Breaking down the steps of a recipe into separate short paragraphs makes them less formidable and daunting and it is easier and quicker to find your place and progress in the instructions as you go about making the recipe.

I found the ingredients are used in the instructions in the order in which they are listed. The recipes in the book call for, what I would consider to be, ordinary ingredients which makes it easy to prepare the dishes. Most, if not all, ingredients would be found in standard grocery stores. The exact quantity of ingredients called for, though, is sometimes vague or lacking in the recipe. For example, on page 71, the recipe for Guacamole Cherry Tomato Halves calls for “1 small basket cherry tomatoes”. Cherry tomatoes come in various sizes of baskets and home gardeners would obviously harvest their own so it would have been clearer to have specified a certain quantity of tomatoes, in pound or kilogram measure, for example.

I also found that the instructions for several recipes were somewhat vague as well. For example, on p. 169, the recipe for Rhubarb Relish was very vague with the method starting out by “Simmer, uncovered, approximately 4 hours” but it didn’t say what to simmer or what kind or size of pot to use– i.e., in my view, it should have started out by saying “Combine all ingredients in the order listed in a certain size of pot (i.e., small, medium, or large pot). Simmer, uncovered, approximately 4 hours.” I also found several recipes would neglect to state early on in the instructions to preheat the oven and the oven temperature would only be given as the last instruction, at the stage when the dish was going into the oven. Now, experienced cooks would automatically know to preheat the oven whether it was stated as the first step in the recipe or not. However, a novice cook would be unlikely to know of this requirement, hence the importance of stating this step at the beginning of the method/instructions. It’s very important to pre-read each recipe carefully all the way through before starting to make it to ensure that the amount of ingredients required and the method of preparation are clearly understood.

In addition, I also found that, while most recipes did give a yield indication, some do not indicate a clear yield to be expected. For example, on page 231, the recipe for Nanny’s Real Scottish Shortbread gives the yield as “makes a tinful” which is not helpful as there is no indication what size of tin or how many shortbread the recipe makes and, as we all know, tins come in all sizes and some would hold four cookies and others 44, depending on the size of tin and cookies. This recipe does not indicate what size each shortbread cookie should be cut into. Regardless if that is how someone shared their recipe, the recipe should have, in my opinion, been tested to determine its exact yield before publishing it in the book. If someone is making a recipe and has a need for a specific number of shortbread, or servings, they need to know how many the recipe is expected to generate.

There are a few color photos in the book and they are of good quality but there is certainly not a photo for every recipe. Including photos is so important in a cookbook as, not only do photos of mouth-watering food inspire people to try the recipes but the color photos also give a frame of reference of what the finished dish should look like.

Test-driving Recipes

I tested two recipes out of the cookbook, choosing two in categories that I have significant personal experience. Robert Rose Inc has given me permission to share the recipes and their photos for Cranberry Scones and Crazy Crunch to accompany my review of this cookbook. The recipes follow at the end of this review.
Cranberry Scones

These combine a tasty combination of cranberries and orange; however, I found they did not have the light and airy texture I associate with scones and find I get from other recipes. I also did not find that they rose as scones usually do for me and they had a prevalent flour taste.

Crazy Crunch

I have a lot of experience making similar recipes and know that the caramel syrup has to reach the hard crack stage (300°F) before it is done. This recipe, however, gave a wide time span of “10-15 minutes” and a vague description of the mixture having a “light caramel color” for instructions to determine when the syrup is done. As any experienced candy maker knows, a five-minute span differential is a lifetime in candy-making and is the difference between success and failure. Also, there is no definition of “light caramel color” – what is a light color to some may be dark to another and, with no photo as a frame of reference, I did not find this particularly helpful.

The recipe also does not indicate at what temperature the mixture should be boiled – i.e., over high, medium, or low heat, a rolling or gentle boil, and whether or not the syrup should be stirred as it cooks. In my view, it would have been more useful had the recipe given directions for the use of a candy thermometer and a certain temperature which is a more accurate determination of doneness.

I used a thermometer and cooked the mixture over medium heat and found it took more than 15 minutes to reach the hard crack state of doneness. The recipe turned out for me and is tasty but I am not sure I would have had success had I removed it from the heat at any point between 10 and 15 minutes as the recipe suggested. Someone, inexperienced in candy-making, would not likely know how to adjust the recipe for success.

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, I found the book contains a good selection and number of appealing recipes that call for tasty ingredients and I will certainly make more recipes from it. However, in my opinion and given the foregoing, some quality control and assurance over ingredient listing, instruction writing (and ensuring the instructions for each recipe are consistently written across the book) and, in some cases, precise recipe yields are missing. For a cookbook priced at $29.95, I want to know the recipes have been tested for success and have exact amounts of ingredients listed and clear, fulsome, accurate instructions along with the expected yield from each recipe. For this reason, I would suggest the book would be best suited for individuals who have experience cooking and baking as some recipes in the book could prove challenging for novice cooks.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Best of Bridge Holiday Classics from Robert Rose Inc., for the purposes of conducting a review of the cookbook. I received no compensation for this review and was under no obligation to provide a positive review. All opinions expressed are purely my own.

 

The following recipes are courtesy of Best of Bridge Holiday Classics by The Best of Bridge 2014 © www.robertrose.ca.  Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold.

Cranberry Scones from "The Best of Bridge Holiday Classics". Photo courtesy Robert Rose Inc., publisher
Cranberry Scones from “The Best of Bridge Holiday Classics”. Photo courtesy Robert Rose Inc., publisher.

Cranberry Scones, page 46

3⁄4 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt (175 mL)
1 large egg (1)
2 3⁄4 cups all-purpose flour (675 mL)
4 tsp baking powder (20 mL)
1⁄2 tsp baking soda (2 mL)
1⁄2 tsp salt (2 mL)
1⁄2 cup margarine (125 mL)
1 cup coarsely chopped cranberries (250 mL)
(fresh or frozen)
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar (125 mL)
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 tbsp butter, melted (15 mL)
1⁄4 cup confectioners’ (icing) sugar (60 mL)
Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Beat buttermilk and egg in small bowl and set aside. In large bowl, Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in margarine until mixture resembles small peas. Mix in cranberries, sugar and orange zest. Add buttermilk mixture and stir until soft dough forms. Using your hands, form dough into a large ball and place on floured surface. Pat out to 1-inch (2.5 cm) thickness. Cut in 4-inch (20 cm) rounds. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake scones for 15 to 20 minutes. While still warm, brush with butter and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.
Makes 8 large scones.

Crazy Crunch, page 280

Crazy Crunch from "Best of Bridge Holiday Classics". Photo courtesy Robert Rose Inc., publisher
Crazy Crunch from “Best of Bridge Holiday Classics”. Photo courtesy Robert Rose Inc., publisher.

Put this in fancy jars and give it as a little extra at Christmas time.
2 quarts popped popcorn (2 L)
1 1⁄3 cups pecans (325 mL)
2⁄3 cup almonds 150 mL
1 1⁄3 cups granulated sugar (325 mL)
1 tsp vanilla (5 mL)
1 cup margarine (250 mL)
1⁄2 cup corn syrup (125 mL)
Mix popcorn, pecans and almonds on a cookie sheet. Combine sugar, vanilla, margarine and syrup in a pan. Boil 10 to 15 minutes or to a light caramel color. Pour over corn, pecans and almonds. Mix well. Spread to dry.
Makes about 10 cups (2.5 L).

Decorating Wine Bottles for Gift Giving

As I write this on Christmas Eve afternoon, I suspect some of you last-minute shoppers may be giving bottles of wine, balsamic vinegars, or olive oils as gifts, or host/hostess gifts, over the holidays.  So, I thought I would share some of my favorite ways to decorate long-necked bottles for gift giving.

To start, here’s how NOT to present a gift:

The easiest and most traditional way is to use a decorated gift bag.  These are quite economical and can be found just about anywhere, including dollar stores.  Be sure to fluff some tissue paper on top for a polished look.

I like the boxes below which are made especially for wine. Most come with lovely ribbon attached that can simply be tied around the box.  Some even have a sheet of tissue paper in them so they are a quick and elegant option. These are readily available in different stores; these came from Winners.

The wonderful hard-sided box below is almost a gift in itself and no further decoration is required.  Simply slip the bottle inside and off you go. The box in the photo was a purchase from my local Winners store.

If you are into wrapping gifts, any box that the bottle will fit into will do.  Choose elegant wrapping paper and pretty ribbon and/or cord to decorate the box.

Wine bottles don’t always have to be fully wrapped and concealed.  In the photo below, I used a Santa hat hairclip from the local dollar store to adorn the top of the bottle and added a tiny wreath of red berries and a pretty stripped ribbon to make this bottle a conversation piece.

For the bottle below, I used the Santa hat hair clip and cut a piece of boxwood from the tree beside my walkway and used it to make a tiny fresh wreath for the neck of the bottle.

I found the Santa hat and matching scarf below at my local Dollarama store.  It’s a fun and funky way to present a gift of wine.

If you are feeling particularly generous and are giving two bottles of wine, the option below is a hard-sided box that accommodates two bottles.  It’s another Winners find.

For the bottle below, I used distressed brown paper.

Simply take a 30″ square of brown wrapping paper and crumple it up and massage it until it is soft and supple.  This is a good thing to do to relieve stress (or to keep the kids busy)!  Place the bottle in the centre of the distressed paper and draw all sides up and secure around the bottle top with an elastic band, then decorate with pretty rustic ribbon and a sprig of holly.

I hope these suggestions will inspire you to decorate your bottles of wine, olive oils, and vinegars for gift-giving presentation.

Have a wonderful holiday!

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The Christmas Poinsettia Afternoon Tea

One of my absolute favorite ways to celebrate the holidays is with a festive afternoon tea.  It’s a relaxed way to entertain whether it’s one guest or several.  The best part of entertaining with afternoon tea is that much of the preparation can be done in advance before guests arrive.

Today, my afternoon tea setting is for two in front of the warm and cozy fireplace and beside the Christmas tree.  It’s a reason to stop, pause, and relax during the busy Christmas preparations.

I have been fortunate in finding some pieces of Christmas China over the years that just beg for an afternoon tea experience. The teapot and teacups are made by Sadler.

The tea is being served on a tea trolley.  I like the versatility of trolleys as they can be used solely as a serving unit beside a larger table or even, depending on their size, as a miniature self-serve buffet.  Or, either one or both of the trolley extensions can be lifted, turning the unit into a tea table as I have done today.  This tea trolley is the larger of the two I own.

A few years ago, I found the delightful Christmas table square in the photo above. With its poinsettias and candles, it became the canvas and theme for today’s tea.

I like the miniature poinsettias like the one in the photo above.  I use them on tea tables, in placesettings, and on bed trays because they are just the perfect size and add a touch of Christmas wherever they are used.

I have been searching for some time now for a small set of sugar tongs.  I found the antique tongs in a local second-hand shop recently. The  tea plates in the photo below are Royal Adderly “Poinsettia” pattern.

I love tiered servers and, while there are many pretty floral ones available, my preference is for the plain white because the food really stands out against the white background.  I can mix and match my teapots and cups and saucers much easier with a white server than with a floral.

I have followed the traditional order of placement on a three-tier server:  sandwiches on the bottom plate, scones on the middle, and sweets on the top tier.

The green spinach tortillas with the dots of dried cranberries add color to the sandwich plate and the fresh raspberries add a splash of red against the white bread.

The cranberry scones in the photo above are from a recipe in the “Best of Bridge Holiday Classics” cookbook that was just released in 2014.

An easy way to get a taste of cherry cheesecake when you only want a couple of servings is to make them individually in tiny glasses.

Of course, a traditional tea tray would include fruitcake.  This is my own recipe which I developed and shared earlier and you can find it by clicking here.

Here is the menu for the tea.

~ Eggnog with a sprinkle of Nutmeg ~

~ Selection of Tea Sandwiches ~

Egg Salad

Sliced Turkey with Cranberry Mayonnaise

Cucumber with Herbed Cream Cheese

Pinwheel Spinach Wraps with Cream Cheese, Fig Goat Cheese, Sliced Turkey, Green Onions and Dried Cranberries

~ Scones ~

– Cranberry Scones served with Butter and Homemade Strawberry Jam ~

~ Sweets ~

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Dark Fruitcake

Melting Moments

Miniature Cherry Cheesecake

Brown Sugar Fudge

~ Tea Selection ~

Kenyan Tinderet (David’s Tea)

I hope you have enjoyed a glimpse into my 2014 Christmas afternoon tea.

My best wishes to you and yours for a wonderful Christmas season.

I am joining Sandi at Rose Chintz Cottage for her Christmas Afternoon Tea this week.

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The Holiday Table

I love Christmas China but I don’t own it.  When a friend discovered my fondness for Christmas China, she graciously offered her wonderful setting for 12 of Lenox’s “Holiday” pattern for a photoshoot for my Tablescapes section here on my food blog.  Needless to say, I was thrilled to set her dining room table with six placesettings of this lovely China pattern.

I started with a solid red tablecloth to make the dinnerware pop.  It adds a cheerful, vibrant, yet warm look to the table, perfect for a traditional Christmas dinner.

The China pattern is mostly soft white with a pattern of green holly leaves and red  berries. Here’s a close-up of the pattern which is trimmed in 24-karat gold:

Lenox "Holiday" Pattern
Lenox “Holiday” Pattern

And, for those who would like a closer view of the pattern, here it is:

And here is the insigna on the bottom of the china.

The owner has the completer set to complement the dishes and has many other pieces as well, too many to use in one photoshoot!

When I discovered she had the lovely vase and matching candlesticks in the “Holiday” pattern, I knew they had to be the centerpiece for the table.

Take a look at the beautiful cutwork in the design of the vase.

I chose red and white carnations with some fresh pine and red tapers to match the colors in the China pattern.  To draw the eye to either end of the table, I simply trailed some fresh pine down the center of the table and added some pine cones and red, green, and gold balls to tie the look together.

I used the owner’s green and red plaid napkins. Plaid always gives such a nice warm feeling.  Matching green napkin rings complete the look.

Plaid Christmas crackers add a fun and festive flair to the setting.

The little salt and pepper shakers also bear the “Holiday” pattern and add a touch of whimsy to the tablescape.

A simplistic yet elegant shape for the cup and saucer.

I hope you have enjoyed viewing the tablesetting featuring the beautiful Lenox “Holiday” pattern.  My thanks to the owner for giving me the privilege of setting a holiday table with this beautiful China.

If you live on Prince Edward Island, where I live, and have beautiful China – Christmas or otherwise, vintage or formal – and would like to share and have it featured in a tablesetting here on my food blog, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me to see what we could arrange.  Unfortunately, I can’t commit to off-Island photoshoots of tablesettings due to travel logistics.

To view other Christmas and New Year’s Tablesettings, click on the links below:

Glitz ‘n Glamour New Year’s Eve Tablesetting
Twas the Night Before Christmas
The Warmth of the Christmas Light Tablesetting
A Tartan Holiday Tablesetting
Pretty Poinsettia Tablesetting
Poinsettia Trio Tablesetting
Christmas Eve Tablesetting and Dinner
The Pink and Green Holiday Table
Christmas at My Island Bistro Kitchen
Purple Tablesetting for the Holidays
Evergreens and Reindeer Christmas Tablesetting
Cupcake Tablescape

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