Creating A Classically Elegant Tablescape Without Breaking the Bank (Or Losing Your Mind)

An Elegantly Casual Poolside Lobster Dinner as seen in Tampa Magazine

Featured in Tampa Magazine May 2019

You don’t have to do everything yourself!

If you’re not a cook, order take-in and set a beautiful table. Your guests will love you for it. 


My husband Jim and me

Begin with an Inspiration ~ As transplants from the northeast several years ago, a move to Florida came with New England traditions re-imagined. Baked stuffed lobsters have long been a family-favorite of ours, the recipe handed down from my mother-in-law with a few modifications along the way. It’s a fancy dinner most people reserve for special occasions or when entertaining family and friends. It has been our family’s signature meal on Nantucket for many years. We designate a lobster night during the week our whole family is on the island, usually outside by candlelight with torches lit. I also serve it as one of our courses during our traditional Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes. We have even taken our lobster dinner to the beach where we feasted on the sand while listening to the Boston Pops Concert, an annual August island highlight.

Create a Tablescape Within Your Budget ~ There are so many ways your table can say, “I’m happy you’re here and I’ve gone the extra mile to make you feel special”.  I designed this dinner party to inspire Tampa Magazine readers to bring back at-home entertaining without “breaking the bank”, as so poignantly written by Editor, McKenna Kelley. You’ll be surprised by resources and what the total cost was… It’s all in the presentation and about “making the ordinary extraordinary”. Read on! 

My first Floridian lobster bake re-imagined took place poolside, surrounded by Palm trees! This meal was presented in a beautiful four page feature in Tampa Magazine in May 2019.  I chose the European aesthetic of our beautiful pool area as the setting, with its tall beautiful junipers and palms, and fabulous pool bar. 


Create a color scheme for your party ~ I knew that blue & white would be the elegant, coastal color scheme, a perfect canvas for the whimsical blue and white geometric designs in the COTON COLORS dishes I chose. I’m passionate about the crisp combo of a blue and white tablescape. It’s the perfect canvas to receive a “pop”color, if you so choose. For this dinner party I chose yellow as my pop color, inspired by the bounty of lemons and the beautiful shade of drawn butter I use with lobsters. I weaved yellow through my menu selections and food presentations, as well as onto my tablescape. The evening began with cocktails and charcuterie served poolside at the wet bar highlighted with yellow peppers and cheeses, and a signature cocktail of yellow lemonade with vodka and blueberries.

The yellow was introduced onto the tablescape with yellow flowers in my centerpiece, present in the butter warmers at each place setting, and in the net-wrapped lemons accompanying each lobster. Corn-on-the cob, a popular alfresco choice for a side, was an obvious, as it carries a big punch of cheerful yellow, especially when presented on a platter. Here I served Mexican Street Corn. YUM! I infused hand-wipes with lemon water and presented them on a tray tied in raffia with one lemon slice on each. The piece de resistance was my very yellow four layer lemon cake! SUPER YUM!  It’s the summer version of my holiday four layer chocolate cake. Everything on my tablescape works to create a cohesive party, from the tablescape to the menu and right down to the wine labels in cobalt blue to coordinate with my cobalt vase and cobalt blue-stemmed water glasses. This is easy to do as wines come in thousands of labels. And lastly, my blue & white Lily Pulitzer dress, easy and flowy for entertaining!


A charcuterie is always a good idea


Create a vignette keeping your color scheme the same throughout

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A pewter champagne bucket with cobalt blue bottles of water

Set the Scene ~ Make it a beautiful vignette!  I ordered an extra-large navy table cloth that would go to the ground, from Amazon. My thinking is that we would be around a chlorine pool in addition to the drips of butter that would be splattered on it…..I never use paper, but I do use an inexpensive cloth that I don’t mind tossing if need be! It’s such a great idea….and carefree! I bought four large (26inch) over-stuffed ivory pillows trimmed in balls, to complete the look.  For the bar, I hoisted up two blue & white garden stools which looked stunning on the black hone granite. Saratoga cobalt blue water bottles stuck in ice in my silver urn was the centerpiece. The florals on bar and table brought in yellow flowers. It’s how you set a scene.

Add a Touch of Whimsy ~ For those of you who know me, you know that this is my favorite! I love to think outside of the box to create a tablescape that is beautiful, fun and a conversation piece. Instead of wine buckets I used sand pails in blue and white decorated with blue crabs. Most of my coastal themed table décor is on Nantucket, but I did find my glass starfish which I laid on the table. For this dinner, I thought blue & white, I thought lobster dinner theme and I thought of my tradition of giving each guest a gift to take home….and VOILA! It was born. Each guest had a take-home gift at their place setting, and one they could use that night! It was a blue and white paint splattered colander filled with a linen napkin, a set of lobster utensils, a bottle of Prosecco, a star fish and a place card attached with raffia (I love raffia!). Our guests loved it! At the end of the evening, everything was cleaned, wrapped in cellophane and raffia and taken home. 

An outtake...the photographer was making us laugh!

Nice Touch at the End ~ is to soak fresh white bar mop dish towels in lemon water and keep in a warmer. Before passing out to guests on a platter, I tied each rolled up towel with raffia and a slice of lemon. Refreshing! And gets everyone ready to go on to dessert and after-dinner drinks poolside!


Four layer lemon cake tied up with raffia

The Menu

Cocktail Hour
White Sangria
Blueberry Vodka lemonade

Baked Stuffed Lobsters stuffed with crabmeat and shrimp
Mexican Street Corn

Four layer lemon cake
After-dinner drinks

The Recipes

Penny’s Mexican Street Corn
I had my first Mexican Street Corn in NYC at Tacombi on Bleeker Street a few years back. I melted in my chair along with the mayo and sour cream! I like a heavily loaded ear of corn!  


  • 6 Ears of Sweet Summer Corn

  • ½ Cup Mayonnaise

  • ½ Cup Sour Cream

  • ½ Cup Finely Chopped Cilantro

  • 1 Small Bunch Cilantro to Garnish Platter

  • ¼ Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese

  • 1  Cup Cotija Cheese (or crumbled Feta if desired)

  • 1 Tbsp Chili Powder (or to taste)

  • Lime for sprinkling

  • Butter for Griddle

  • Cooking Spray for Grill

  • Baking Dish 

Prepare Corn
You can either boil or grill corn. Either way, coat corn with mixture while HOT.

TO BOIL: Bring a large pot of water to boil. Gently place shucked ears of corn with silks removed in water and boil for 3 minutes. Turn off water. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes until tender. Drain. Pat dry. Doneness depends on size of ears….Check..

TO GRILL: You can grill stovetop on a griddle coated with butter or on an outdoor grill sprayed with cooking spray. If grilling, I prefer husks on and tied back like a ponytail.  This makes for a more dramatic presentation. Grill, turning corn for 7-10 minutes.  Temps depend on your grill. Medium heat on a griddle and medium to high heat on the grill.  Keep an eye on corn to prevent burning, working to get a nice char.

Assemble Dish
Mix the mayonnaise, sour cream, parmesan cheese and cilantro in a bowl.  Spread mayonnaise mixture in baking dish and roll each ear, generously coating.  Place on decorative platter. Sprinkle ears of corn with Cotija cheese, Chili Powder to taste and chopped Cilantro. Sprinkle with the juice of 1 squeezed lime. Garnish your platter with a bouquet of cilantro tied with raffia and serve immediately.

My Mother-Law Elena’s Baked Stuffed Lobster (for two)

  • 2  1 ½ lb Maine Cold Water Lobsters, split and cleaned

  • ¼ lb (I stick) Unsalted Butter melted

  • 2 Cups Italian Style Breadcrumbs

  • 3 Lemons

  • 4 oz Lump Crabmeat

  • 4 oz Cooked Shrimp (optional)

  • ¼ Cup Dry Sherry (or to taste)

  • ¼ Cup Chopped Parsley

  • ¼ Cup Melted Butter

  • ¼ Cup Melted Butter

  • ½ Cup Melted Butter on the side

  • 2 Skewers

  • 1 Tbsp Olive Oil

  • Salt & Pepper (to taste)

Mix the following together in a bowl
Melted 1 stick butter, breadcrumbs, crabmeat, shrimp (optional), sherry, juice from one squeezed lemon
Salt and Pepper to taste

Prepare Lobsters
Have your local fish market split lobsters down the belly (being careful not to go through to the back), and clean them for you.  ***Speak to your monger about cooking them right away
Skewer each lobster from head to toe to prevent curling during baking
Place each lobster on its back on a cookie sheet
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Stuff each lobster loosely with seafood stuffing
Drizzle with ¼ Cup melted butter

To Cook
Bake in middle of the oven for 20-30 minutes
Turn on broiler for a few minutes if you prefer toasted stuffing.

To Serve

  • Remove from oven

  • Remove skewers

  • Drizzle with remaining ¼ Cup of butter over two lobsters

  • Squeeze juice of half a lemon on lobsters

  • Sprinkle with parsley

  • Shine claws and exposed shells with olive oil and paper towel

  • Serve with a warm side of melted butter for dipping lobster meat

  • Serve with a half lemon on the dish (optional) YUM!


  • Dishes:  Coton Colors,Tampa on loan

  • Garden Stools: Coton Colors, Tampa on loan

  • Pewter champage cooler: Personal collection

  • Colanders: HomeGoods $4.99 each

  • Lobster Utensils and Cracker: Bed Bath & Beyond

  • Butter Warmers: Bed Bath & Beyond $9.99 (set of two)

  • Raffia: Michaels $3.99

  • Navy Table Linen: Amazon $19 (needed extra large and was willing to toss if needed!)

  • Stemware: Ballard Design $12.99 each

  • Outdoor Pillows: Home Goods Tampa $24 each

  • Sand Pails as Wine Buckets: HomeGoods $6.99

  • Lobsters: Cox’s Tampa $12.99/lb

  • Bar Mop Dish Towels: William Sonoma $10 set of 4

  • Blue and White Caspari Cocktail Napkins: $5.00