Thursday, November 27, 2014

Dont Fret: How To Set a Proper Table for Thanksgiving - or any meal - Plus Homegrown Goodreads Book Giveaway pop



Happy Thanksgiving to all! 
As Americans, we are so blessed with an abundance of riches.  It is fitting then, that no less than a national holiday was created to elevate, worship, and fete the very notion eating, dining, and drinking. 
It is both a happy and solemn occasion today, Thanksgiving.  We honor Nature and the harvest.  And celebrate with loved ones – over the course of an entire day devoted to nothing more than Food and Drink!

However, amidst all the joy of cooking, baking, sipping, and stirring, I was surprised and saddened to read this morning that so many people don’t know how to entertain or specifically, to set a table.  Wow. 

The French have a saying, “The eyes eat first.” 
The presentation of the food on the plate has us literally salivating and “tasting” the food before we take even a bite.
And a burgeoning genre has emerged about how to decorate a dining table. 
The art of Tablescapes has given Pinterest and home magazines a shot of joi de vivre that anticipates the seasons and forges an exuberant creative style that makes us hungry to see and enjoy the table composition – even without the food.  
However, unlike some news reports I’ve read, Tablescaping is, in my opinion, very different from table setting.  Tablescaping is much more about the creative and most often, elaborate, table d├ęcor that was once the province of professional stylists.

But what about the place setting?  A perfectly placed, properly set table is the canvas for a beautiful meal. It’s about more than just grabbing a tool.  There is an entire, fascinating history and art of how tableware evolved to reflect a culture, culinary tradition, and manners.
This is the heart of the dining experience.  Especially home dining and entertainment.  Too many rely on a buffet set up.  Yes, buffet is easy to do, and easily allows for that second or third helping and let’s face it: all-day grazing. Plus it speaks to that American notion of self-help.
But it seems that when a formal sit-down at the dining room table occasion presents itself there is an increasing reluctance to do so simply because the hosts don’t know how to organize the china, silver and crystal. 
It drives me and other dedicated hosts, hostesses, and dining enthusiasts crazy to hear someone say, “Don’t go all fancy.” 
That is really a euphemism for “I have no clue how to dine properly -- so let’s do it cafeteria style.” 
Please -- Don't’ succumb! 
If one spends days shopping, cooking, and preparing a stellar meal, the least we can do to honor the ingredients, the menu, the cooks, and the guests, is to sit together and embrace the dining experience properly.  Setting the table need not be intimidating.  Think of setting the table as a way to organize a table and make dining easier for guests. 

So if you’re wondering where the water goblet goes in relation to the wine glass or whether the bread and butter plate goes on the right side of the dinner plate, following is a primer on how to organize a table setting.   It’s a cheat sheet to help stage a memorable meal.  This is a very simple, basic place setting.  

Use a tablecloth or place mat topped by a charger if you own them.  I love these glass beaded place mat/chargers – they shimmer like jewelry – and pick up the candle light while accenting our Royal Doulton china’s sleek, silver lines.  

But one doesn’t need formal china.  If the wedding gift registry didn’t provide the service for 12, there are very good-looking tableware dishes available. Plus there’s antiques, or flea market finds, or even good-looking recyclable plates.  The table setting doesn’t have to be all matchy/matchy. The important think is to get the tools to the table.

Place Setting:
Think of the dinner plate as the center or the sun – with the cutlery and glassware orbiting it.
The salad plate can go on top of the center plate.  Most often I put the napkin on top of the salad plate, for a polished look.



Place setting names are an extra-lovely way to show your guests you care – that you anticipated them and the act of dining.  To encourage conversation as sparkling as the wine, don’t seat couples together – attempt to spread out the personalities so that there is a newfound story to one’s right and left. 
Place setting names cards are available in all manner of styles, colors  -- and holders.  The holders are dimunitive works of sculpture art.
One can even use nature in the name setting: a leaf or a leaf spray-painted and tied up in the napkin is fun, foraging option.  The sky is the limit.
Put the names either in with the napkin or at the head of the center plate for easy identification.
The napkin can also be placed to the left of the setting.

The salad fork goes on the left side of the plate, next to the dinner fork.
At the top of the plate is the dessert fork with the tines facing right and the coffee spoon, on top of the fork, bowl side is left, handle side right.
To the right of the plate is the knife, with the blade pointing toward the plate.
To the right of the knife is the teaspoon (Continuing out, place two teaspoons followed by a soup spoon and a cocktail fork there if the menu includes these courses).

The bread and butter plate, topped by a spreader is off the dinner plate’s 11 o’clock – to the left of the dessert fork and coffee spoon.
The far right side is where the coffee cup and saucer is located.

The crystal or glassware is placed to the right of the center plate, to the right of the dessert fork and coffee spoon at a descending (or ascending) angle, with the water glass at the top, followed by the red wine glass, and then the white wine glass at the bottom, nearest the right hand side of the center plate’s cutlery.
I add a champagne glass placed on the left side of the center plate.


It’s easy to set a table.  In my family, it was a tradition passed down from the adults to the children and helps engages the kids in the dining process. Gives them a job to do, too. And conversation about past meals, where the china came from – as in heritage pieces passed down or brought back from a trip  -- are sure to start the dinner table conversation.

The centerpiece or tablescape should not be so large or consuming as to block guests and thereby prevent conversation and dinner table talk and toasts.


For a low but nuanced look that also always guests to see the incredible view of the Manhattan and Brooklyn skyline and the South Shore of Long Island that sparkles just beyond, I’ve recycled old grains and popcorn after I cleaned out the cupboard, layering them for an intense autumn harvest look, topped with a battery operated candle that sits in the grains.  The three glass vases sit on a brown-mirror that was a backsplash sample.  I used the adorable teeny milk pitchers given me by my cousin: author Garden Glamour book review for Alive & Cooking - and Academy Award winner!  I fill the little glass holders with sage from the garden and tops of some of our ornamental grasses that are gloriously wispy and creamy this time of year. Goes so well with our antique brown table and gold walls and stone fireplace..


Enjoy Thanksgiving dinner.  And use the Table-Setting How-To for everyday dining.
Cheers.

Oh and there’s still time to enter my Goodreads Thanksgiving book give away for a chance to win a copy of my book: The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook

Oh and there’s still time to enter my Goodreads Thanksgiving book give away for a chance to win a copy of my book: The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook
As written, “With Thanksgiving here, what better way to celebrate “The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook," with its abundance of good food stories about the Island's best locavore chefs and the growers and makers who inspire them, along with the incredible, fresh, local food and drink ingredients.  These are the real stars.
Thank you. Homegrown Hugs.


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