Monday, May 4, 2015

The Orient Express...A Special Birthday Dinner

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When we were growing up, Mama let us pick what we wanted for our birthday supper. Now that we're all married with kids of our own, she still has everyone over when someone has a birthday and the birthday boy or girl gets to choose the menu. Well, I think it's only fair that she get a special meal for her birthday, too, so I decided to have my parents over for dinner in honor of Mama's birthday.

I had planned to make a chicken dish she used to make when we were young and we had company. In fact, I think it's called "company chicken"! But when I got to the grocery store, I saw that they had beautiful asparagus on sale as well as a pretty pork loin. My dad loves my fried rice and it goes so well with pork. My menu had changed on the spot! Then I saw a gorgeous orchid in the flower shop (yes, at Winn Dixie!) and I immediately knew how I wanted to decorate. I decided to call the theme "The Orient Express" birthday dinner. But "express" really referred to how little time I had to pull it all together! 

Fried rice and orchids made me think about China,
so I decided to go for a touch of the Orient!

As usual, I began with my white linen tablecloth. I know y'all probably get tired of hearing me say that, but it's true! I use it all the time. I received one for each of my two tables from Mama for Christmas one year. They are one of my favorite presents ever. If you don't have a nice, elegant, white linen (or even polyester) tablecloth, invest in one. You'll be glad you did.

On top of that, I layered a pretty blue Jacobian print topper that I made for a book club brunch I hosted last year. You can read more about it here. These are so simple to make. I found this pretty blue and white print in the discount remnant section at Hancock Fabrics. It is a decorator print, so it is probably 60" wide. I bought a 60" length of it and then finished the edges with a narrow hem. Now it's basically a square and would work perfectly on a small card table or as a topper like this.

I also bought the pretty yellow and cream striped fabric on sale. To have some different sized pieces for layering, I cut it into two long rectangles and finished the edges. For the book club, I used the two pieces lying parallel across the table. For this dinner, I placed them end to end to form a runner. 

For the place settings, I used my everyday dishes ("White Satin" by Nikko) and everyday flatware ("Austen" by Yamazaki). The stemware is "Virginia" by Fostoria. All of these you've seen before. The dessert plate in the middle I found at Big Lots and I think they were .99 cents each! I had bought the placemats online years ago and they reminded me of the little mats they use to roll sushi, so I thought they'd be perfect. Finally, I pulled out the simple blue napkin with navy stitched border. As Mama put hers in her lap that night, she said, "Aren't these mine?" I admitted they "might" be! I washed them and returned them last week when Gerald took back some of her stuff I had borrowed. He came back home with them and said she said I could keep them! For the record - she's welcome to borrow them whenever she'd like! 

The coffee cup and saucer is "Blue Willow". (A little china history - Blue Willow is reportedly the most popular china pattern of all times, dating back as late at 1780. It has been produced by great companies such as Spode and Wedgewood and by more affordable groups like Johnson Brothers. (It was even mass produced and given away with purchase at grocery stores in the 1930's and 40's.) What I have is just stamped USA on the bottom and I got them for basically nothing but shipping on ebay several years ago. Chances are mine belonged to somebody's granny who got them over the course of several years from the A&P. That suits me just fine!

I think the three china patterns mix well with my pretty blue stemware, don't you? When I got married, and chose all my various patterns, I registered and got everything from full place settings to serving pieces. As I get older, I realize that I really like to mix and match my pieces. It gives the table setting so much more interest and character. And, it makes everything seem different each time I use it!

The little rock gardens came from Dollar General. How I love my discount stores! It always pays to dig around and see what they have. I thought they offered a little "zen" to the table. The little white fish bowl is meant to hold wasabi and soy sauce for dipping. They're hard to see, but next to the fish bowls are some little blue porcelain fish. I can't remember where I got them exactly!

Our meal consisted of a teriyaki-marinated pork tenderloin, fried rice and roasted asparagus with cherry tomatoes. I mastered fried rice several years ago when Gerald and I had first started dating. Daddy was obsessed with the fried rice at Shogun Japanese Restaurant and a whole bunch of us would go after church on Sunday nights. We went a lot, and I just kept watching them make it. Finally, I decided to try it myself. I have changed it a little over the years, but everybody loves it.

Mama's birthday was on Sunday this year. It just happened to fall the day after the Miss Manners marathon parties, and I had some of the Oreo Dirt Pie left over. Now I know that Oreos aren't Asian, but they're good, and I knew everyone would like it. Since I had made the Oreo pies in individual pots the day before, I decided to make our's in pretty mini trifle cups for the birthday dinner. As I was explaining to my father what a dirt pie was, Jewell told him their's had gummy worms in it the day before. Well, he insisted that our's have gummy worms, too! I still think they turned out very elegant.

I hope that by telling you where I get so many of my "pretties" and how little I pay for them, that you'll be inspired! I won't lie. I was exhausted that Sunday after having had TWO Miss Manners parties the day before. But I was able to pick everything up on the way home from church Sunday morning, and in just a couple of hours that afternoon, I was able to pull it all together. I'm so glad that I did. I hope you'll take a little time soon and plan a special meal for someone you love.

Later this week, I'll share the recipe for my fried rice, roasted asparagus with tomatoes and the yummy Oreo dirt pies. Yum, yum.


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