Saturday, May 23, 2015

On the Homefront: Spring Blossoms Graduation Table

Dalmatian Einstein stands at the head of the table, ready to give
his graduation speech!  Pink "pillars of learning" candles on
either side shed some light on the momentous event.

Even though autumn is my favorite season, here in Georgia I believe that spring is the most beautiful.  The weather is mostly mild and pleasant, the vegetation returns lush and lovely in delicate shades of green, and a progression of colorful spring blossoms make their appearance.  I am especially fond of wisteria, with its heavy drooping racemes of fragrant pale purple blooms.  Even though it is considered an invasive species, it is so gorgeously abundant that I can't help but admire it.  Unfortunately, we had such unusual weather this year that the wisteria on our street failed to flower, presumably due to a late frost.

Since I did not get to enjoy real wisteria flowers this spring, I decided to set a table based on a set of dishes I bought a few years ago which features a wisteria design.  This dinnerware is making its debut on my table, as I haven't had a chance to retrieve it from its rather inconvenient location until now.  White, grey, and black provide the accent colors, and I also decided to include my cherry blossoms dishes and flowered napkins to add to the floral theme.  My husband bought me a small stuffed toy Dalmatian wearing a mortar board which he found on his travels, and it inspired me to add a graduation theme to this table as well (our local high school had its graduation ceremony yesterday):

Black fabric place mat; wisteria design dinner plate and soup bowl (by Gibson Everyday); Cherry Blossoms Bread Plate from Smithsonian Store; stainless steel flatware; floral chintz napkin from a local flea market; black stem wine glass; clear water glass; white bird salt and pepper shakers (from Pier 1); grey linen table runner.

Pretty purple and white mums in a simple glass vase add to the
blossom theme.

The dessert station is set up with plates and forks for the crostata
and tea pot, cream pitcher, sugar bowl, mugs, and spoons for tea.

Einstein's rather large mortar board (actually my husband's) almost
fills the foreground, and one member of the family rather rudely
sleeps with her back to the speaker in the background!

The menu for this table features the flavors of spring and includes simple dishes that almost need no recipes.  I include the recipes because they are meals that any new graduate heading off to college or to a life away from home can prepare with ease, should they wish to do their own cooking!  The crostata can be made even easier by using a store-bought crust, and if time is really of the essence a roast chicken from the supermarket will do in a pinch.

Spring Blossoms Graduation Menu:

Simple Asparagus Soup*
Dinner Rolls/Butter
Stupid Simple Roast Chicken**
Boiled New Potatoes with Butter and Dill†
Simple Peas and Onions††

*Simple Asparagus Soup

2 T. olive oil
1/2 of a large onion, diced
1 lb. asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 russet potato, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 C. vegetable or chicken stock (I used unsalted)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook 2-3 minutes until just softened.  Stir in the asparagus, potato, and garlic.  Cook 3-4 minutes until the asparagus begins to turn bright green.  Season to taste (I used 1/4 tsp. salt and a couple of grinds of pepper).  Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer about 20 minutes until the potato is fork tender.  Remove from the heat and cool slightly.  Purée the soup with an immersion blender (or in batches in a blender).  Serve warm or at room temperature.  Serves 4.

Note:  If you want to be really fancy, reserve the asparagus tops and cook them separately to use as a garnish when serving the soup.  I find this to be a rather fussy step and don't bother.

**Stupid Simple Roast Chicken (the name says it all!)

1 whole chicken (about 4 lbs.), rinsed and patted dry
1 whole lemon, halved
kosher salt

Place the chicken, breast side up, on a rack in a roasting pan.  Place the lemon halves in the body cavity and rub the outside of the chicken with the kosher salt.  Roast at 450 degrees for about one hour, until the skin is browned and crisp, the juices run clear, and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, not touching the bone, reads 160 degrees.  Let the chicken rest for 15 minutes before carving.  Serves 4-6.

Note: You could rub some butter or oil on the outside of the chicken before salting and add other aromatics to the cavity (quartered onion, halved head of garlic, herb sprigs, etc.) for added flavor if you like.  Also, if your chicken is not 4 pounds, be sure to adjust the roasting time accordingly (about 15 minutes per pound).  Roasting times may vary depending upon your oven, so be sure to check all of the indicators mentioned above to verify that the bird is cooked!

Boiled New Potatoes with Butter and Dill

2 lbs. new potatoes, halved or quartered if large
2-4 T. butter
1 T. dried dill (or 3 T. minced fresh dill)
salt and pepper to taste (I used 1/2 tsp. salt and no pepper)

Place the potatoes in a large pot. Add enough water to cover the potatoes.  Cover the pot and bring to a boil.   Stir in about 1 tsp. salt per quart of water.  Reduce the heat and and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender.  Stir in the butter, dill, and seasonings (taste before adding salt to avoid over-salting).  Serves 4-6.

††Simple Peas and Onions

3 T. butter
1/2 of a large onion, diced
16 oz. fresh or frozen peas
1/2 C. vegetable or chicken stock (I used unsalted)
salt and pepper to taste

Melt 2 T. butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and sauté for a few minutes until softened and slightly golden.  Stir in the peas and chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Add salt if needed (I added 1/4 tsp.).  Cook and stir until the stock is reduced by half (do not overcook the peas).  Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining butter.  Add pepper to taste.  Serves 4.

I have recycled the wild huckleberry jelly beans from my previous table because the color works so well with this color scheme (you didn't really think we immediately finish off all of the candy I feature at each table, did you?):

Congratulations to all graduates!  You have your whole life ahead of you, and hopefully you will achieve all of the goals and dreams you have set for yourselves, or at least enjoy yourselves in the attempt (sometimes it's not the goal itself but the journey to your goal that brings the most satisfaction).

Little Albert Dalmatian proudly watches his big brother Einstein's
graduation from the sidelines, and dreams of the day when he too
will be a graduate!

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