As we make it through the hot “Dog Days of Summer,” I am reminded of how much I like beer. And because I subscribe to the theory that everything tastes better in the perfect glass, I just must have what I consider to be the ultimate beer mug: “Joseph” from Theresienthal.
For those of you not familiar with Theresienthal, established in 1836, they are the true masters of Bavarian crystal. The six unique designs, each featuring bright cuts, were beautifully designed by Gottfried Palatin.
Prices range from $293-$376. Please call me for more details on these and other great designs from Theresienthal. But you had better order soon if you want them for Oktoberfest.
O.K. This is making me thirsty. I think it’s time for Friday Happy Hour!
I am back from a wonderful few days with family on Cape Cod where I was reminded once again what a special part the table plays in our daily lives and what good memories it can create. In this continuing series on entertaining, I wanted to take some time to talk about “The Rules.”
I am often asked many questions about the “proper” way to set the table. Like many of us who grew up in the South, I was taught etiquette at a very early age. I remember helping my mother meticulously set out the various stemmed glasses on the table like something in a Merchant Ivory film. (Although I assure you it was not nearly as grand as it seems in my memories.) These are the sorts of lessons that you never forget. Although I do still consult manuals when necessary, given my professional background, I certainly can tell a grapefruit spoon from an ice cream fork and know how to pick the right china and crystal for each course. But how important are these formalities today?
What I am about to say may be alarming to some, but when it comes to casual entertaining at home; there are no real rules for setting the table. Other than the basic placement of items, we are free to experiment creatively. Of course there are still strict standards for a state dinner at the White House or tea with the Queen, but alas, my invitations to those occasions always seem to always get lost in the mail.
Now I know that some people love rules. For them, it makes everything so easy. But for me, being able to use beautiful things on the table in a creative way is a very freeing experience. It can just be so much fun to pull things out of the cabinets and play at mixing shapes, patterns and colors.
Before I go any further, I just want to clarify that rules are different from manners. This new freedom doesn’t mean that we should forget our manners. Manners are the most important element in entertaining for both the host and the guest. They are the gentle reminders of our past and security for our future.
Are you wondering where I going with all of this? So often people will pick up a dish or a glass and ask me, “What is this?” to which I always politely reply, “It’s a dish” or “It’s a glass.” ” No, I mean what kind of glass? Is it a water glass or a red wine or a white wine glass?” they ask me in somewhat frustrated tone of voice. “Well” I say, “What kind of glass would you like it to be?”
The fact is, today manufacturers make glassware in so many conflicting shapes and sizes that it leaves a lot of room for interpretation. We have traditionally thought of the water glass as being the largest then the red wine glass then the white wine glass but, the white wine in one pattern my be bigger than the red wine in another. This becomes even more confusing when we start to mix patterns on the table (yet another wonderful benefit of this new freedom). Perplexing names like “American Red Wine/European Water Glass #1” is simply an acknowledgment that the Europeans favor smaller glasses than the Americans.
While there are tasting glasses created by oenophiles to uniquely capture flavors or certain varieties of wines, most people still choose their glassware based on aesthetics, and that is just fine. You should really pick the shapes and colors that make you happy and create a festive ambiance. I would, however, reserve colored glassware for water, white wine or champagne.
It is really a matter of personal preference as to the size glass you chose to use. I tend to like a large wine glass, but others may prefer a smaller one. Also, as the rules on pairing wines with food have become more relaxed, many people may chose to drink either white or red at a meal but not both, and it is perfectly acceptable in casual entertaining to use only one wine glass on the table.
Even the largest stemmed glasses from many of the European manufactures are not large enough to accommodate the amount of ice Americans like in their water. Lately I have fancied using highball glasses in a matching or coordinating pattern in lieu of stemmed water glasses.
I remember a few years ago, I was visiting a retailer and standing in front of the Cristal Saint Louis display. There was a well-coiffed and elegantly dressed woman looking at one of the most detailed, exquisitely crafted crystal patterns ever made: Thistle Gold. These are spendy at almost $600 a stem but absolutely gorgeous. Given the craftsmanship that goes into making them, they are worth every penny. I asked her if she was looking for wine glasses, and she said that she needed to purchase three of these to replace some that had been broken. She then said, “But I don’t drink wine.” I said, “They make great water glasses as well.” I wasn’t quite prepared for her reply when she firmly stated, “I use them when I make a fancy dessert like my Jello Surprise.”
Well, need I say more?
I have seen so many people stress over choosing what they are going to put on their table. It really can be and should be a fun process. Don’t sweat the rules. Pick what you really like and let the joy you feel in using your treasures be felt by your guests.
Hmmm, I guess that is a rule.
This is the first post of my weekly feature on entertaining. Before I go into some of my favorite ideas for entertaining, I felt that I needed to share some of my strongest beliefs about using what you have.
Many of us have memories of our grandmother’s china cabinets neatly arranged with beautiful pieces of china and crystal that was only used on very special occasions. And special could mean once every five years. It wasn’t used everyday. Heaven forbid that it should get a scratch or a blemish or any other sign of being used. It wasn’t even taken out when company came to visit lest a piece get broken. As a child, I often peered into this “look but don’t touch zone” wondering why this stuff was so damned special. I mean they just looked like dishes to me. And, didn’t we eat off of dishes? In the south, we always referred to the things in this cabinet as the “Good” china. Today it is more often called “Formal” china. (By the way, I hate both of those expressions.) The idea being, that it would be passed on from generation to generation as a piece of living history.
In my first blog post, I talked about how the things that we use on our table become part of our own cultural and social history by creating memories. Well, how can memories be made if we never use the beautiful things that we have? Aren’t those little scratches and blemishes from being used part or the memories?
Before I proceed here, I just need to get this off my chest: “Good” china implies to me that it has never hurt anyone, loved the crystal as itself and volunteered at a local soup kitchen. If this was “Good” china then was everything else we had in the house “Bad?” And “Formal” china makes me think that I need to be wearing a morning suit to use it at breakfast. (Although those of you that know me can probably picture me wearing a smoking jacket and ascot by the fire while sipping cognac from a Baccarat snifter) But when you get down to it, what we call these treasures in our cabinet is totally irrelevant. THE IMPORTANT THING IS THAT WE USE THEM…..Yes I was screaming that.
Some of you have heard me speak or seen me on television. The mantra that I always chant in full voice is that if we are lucky and blessed to have beautiful things in our lives we need to enjoy them everyday!
This is the point where I get bombarded with the same questions. So I have the answers. (At least until you send me more, please.)
“What if something gets broken?
It is true that things do break. I am of the opinion that “It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” (OK I admit that is trite, but so true in this instance.) If it breaks, you will always remember the good times you had using it and aren’t those memories with friends more important than the item itself?
“But I want to pass it on to my children”
The harsh reality here is that your children will grow up to have their own taste which could be very different from yours. They will start their own collections. Unless you are having weekly Greek weddings and throwing plates on the floor, I doubt seriously that everything will be destroyed before it makes it to your children. And again they will have the fond memories of using these iconic family pieces with you.
“I have just that: partial sets of things that I have inherited. What do I do now?”
Not to fret. Working those pieces in with new fresh things is easy. I even have some uses for aunt Lulu’s hideously garish china that she must have bought after one too many glasses of sherry. But this will be an entire post to itself. So, stay tuned.
“But it has to be washed by hand so I just never use it”
The dishwasher will also be a topic for another post, but let me just say that I put everything in the dishwasher. I am not telling you to do this. You should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
So far, I have been talking about the things that we may already have; the collections that belonged to our parents or grandparents or the wedding china you registered for 20 years ago and never use. But what about creating new memories? Memories that begin in 2012.
I think everyone has discovered a find in a store, a magazine or online that they just loved. Then, in the back of your mind you think, “But I would just never use that enough to justify the purchase.” I want to challenge you to open up your cabinets, dust off the tabletop gems that you haven’t used in years and think about how you can make them an active part of your table everyday and share them with your friends and family. Once you start doing this, you will not only be able to justify that purchase, but continue to contribute to your own virtual scrapbook of memories around the table.
As I start this weekly feature on things i just can’t live without, these just had to be at the top of the list! I know that we are supposed to be talking about the table here, but the kitchen and the table flirt with each other every day. So, we might as well let them kiss.
Le Jacquard Francais; known for their fun and festive table, kitchen and bath linens, never seems to run out of imaginative new designs. While this whole collection is as practical as it is beautiful, their tea towels are an absolute kitchen necessity.
OK, I admit, the words ‘Tea Towels” sounds a bit pissy. They are really just great kitchen towels. The 100% cotton jacquard fabric (made in France) is super absorbent, dries quickly and comes out of the washer and dryer with no need for ironing. These large towels come is so many whimsical patterns, both traditional and contemporary, and look just great hanging anywhere (they even look great framed.)
The best part is the $24.00 retail price makes them perfect as a host/hostess gifts, shower gifts and stocking stuffers. I often wrap a bottle of wine in them as a gift! Among their other uses: lobster napkins/bibs, picnic napkins and guest towels
Every kitchen needs at least a dozen of these! Contact us for me info on all of the great designs currently available.
Welcome to my new blog. For those of you that know me well, you also know that I am a passionate advocate for this slightly esoteric, always exciting and constantly changing enigma that we call “Tabletop.” But while that is true, I am even more passionate about the table itself; or more importantly, what it represents. I love gathering around the table to share the days events, joys, successes, heartaches and of course, dreams, with friends and family. The china, crystal, silver and linens that we use at our table and the memories that they invoke become am indelible part of our personal, social and cultural history.
In these pages, I will share some of those experiences, introduce you to some new “Memory Makers” and hopefully stimulate your senses to embrace the table as never before.
Starting next week, look for these weekly posts:
Mondays: Dean’s Favorite Things
Here you will see some of the material things (some old and some new) that i just can’t live without.
Wednesdays: Y’all Come See us Sometime
I will share some of my best memories and ideas on entertaining. “Southern Dean” and “New York Dean” go head to head on this one.
Fridays: I Just Gotta Have It
My current wish list for new product that should be in everyone’s letter to Santa and some great gift ideas too.