April 30, 2008

At the Table: Stationary?!

A great time can be had by all at a dinner party where the seating is random and loose. Games where you switch seats after each course, or draw numbers out of a hat to determine your place are spontaneous and help you to meet new people. But not every occasion calls for an informal seating plan. 

The horror story: A young girl attends a wedding for her boyfriend's cousin. She has never met his extended family before, but feels quite at home. The reception has a buffet and no seating plan. After she has served herself, she wanders outside to find seats. As she sits, she smiles warmly and introduces herself to the people at her table. They say nothing back, but look past her... where The Bride is standing. And The Bride taps her on the shoulder and says "Excuse me, but you are in my seat!" The young girl is incredibly embarrassed. She has sat down with the wedding party, and taken The Bride's seat! She replaces her napkin, picks up her plate and slinks away.  ((This is a true story from yours truly)) So there are certainly occasions for stationary on your table.

There are several different elements to consider when setting your table. They can be handmade or engraved, funky or elegant, creative or traditional; and each element serves its own purpose.

Escort cards seem to be a thing of the past, from when ladies always entered rooms on the arm of a man. A gentleman's name will be written on a small envelope and inside is a small card with the name of the lady he will escort. 

Table cards are much more common and serve to direct people to the correct table, which is crucial at banquets and wedding parties. Could you imagine people circling every table looking for their place card? Here, there is another small envelope or folded card. The person or couples' name is written on the outside of the envelope, and inside is their table number. Sometimes favorite cities or restaurants replace table numbers, but regardless each table should then be marked. 

A place card is left at each person's seat. It should have their title and last name on the card, for instance 'Ms. Wachnicki' or 'Mr. Blomberg'. All the table stationary can be printed or handwritten, or calligraphed if you can afford it. 

Finally, some hosts include menu cards for the table. These can be shared with two people, a table, or given individually. If different wines are being served with each course, then they should be listed alongside the dish.

If your host has gone through all the trouble (and it is nothing but trouble) to arrange seating, then it is seen as very bad form to ignore her efforts and choose your own seat. This act sets off a chain reaction of confused guests who are unable to find their seats! 

April 23, 2008

Wardrobe: How to Wear a Party Dress

With confidence! There is nothing sexier, or that looks better on a woman than confidence. But really, can you wear a party dress anywhere? Yes! 

A party dress is one that is special to you and that you glow in. It can come in any style or color (even black). Enjoy wearing it, and feel your best. For it to be a party dress it must elevate your beauty to the next level, not necessarily your formality. But there are formal party dresses where the occasion matters. 

At a formal dinner the dress should look rich, but not too elaborate. The purpose of a dinner party is to eat and socialize, so your dress should reflect the mood of the party. 

At The Ball wear the best dress you can get your hands on. It should be floor length and look great in motion. At The Ball you will be dancing and your dress should be made for it. 

At a cocktail party do not be afraid to wear something besides that little black dress. Shorter shifts, fun colors, mixed and matched accessories. This kind of event has a more playful side to it. 

At home, by yourself, eating chinese take-out... you have only to impress yourself so it better be great. 

April 22, 2008

At the Table: Bread and Butter

Bread and butter is a simple pleasure and compliments almost any meal. Breaking bread is a fundamental element of being social, in fact the word 'community' means to share bread. The way you prepare, eat, and use your bread and butter say a lot about your table manners. 
It is no longer necessary to provide guests with a butter knife or a bread plate, and silly to provide only one or the other. But still, when in a formal dining setting you should know how to use them. Things not to do with a bread plate and butter knife:
  1. Do not cut bread with the butter knife. 
  2. Do not butter a whole piece of bread at once. Tear off a bit sized piece of bread and butter it before you eat it, one bite at a time. 
  3. Do not place your butter knife back onto the table, instead let it balance on the bread plate.
  4. Do not move a bread plate on top of another plate. Your bread plate is located on the right side of your place setting. 
  5. If there is a communal dish of butter, use your butter knife to take a small amount of butter, and then place that butter onto your plate. Do not butter your bread directly from the butter dish.  (And never dip your bread into the butter dish!)
It is common to receive bread and butter without specific utensils for them. This can cause confusion, but it is a simple part of casual dining. Keep your bread off to the right side of your place setting and use your knife to butter your bread. Hopefully there is not a table cloth if you must place your knife back onto the table. 

April 17, 2008

At the Table: How to Eat Flowers

Edible flowers are gorgeous sprinkled onto a salad, satisfying in a tea, and also make incredible candy. Not all flowers are edible! Only eat flowers who you know to be edible. It is also important to know the source of your flowers. Only eat organically grown flowers, and never from a florist, nursery, or garden center. Flowers picked by the side of a road are contaminated by car emissions, so keep driving! If you have asthma or allergies do not risk eating flowers. 

When gathering your flowers remember to search in the early morning and to pick only flowers in their prime. Flowers, as we know, are perishable and will wilt in warm conditions. Place long stemmed flowers into water and short stemmed blossoms between sheets of damp paper towel or in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. It is best to gather them within 3 or 4 hours of dining. 

Immediately before using, gently wash and check carefully for bugs. Some flowers are fragile, so test your cleaning method on one blossom first. Such flowers need extra careful insect inspection. Eat only the petals of flowers, discarding the pistils and stamens. For your enjoyment, this is how you candy flowers:

1 egg white
100-proof vodka
superfine granulated sugar
thin artist's paintbrush
violets (or other flower to be candied -- pansy, rose petals, lilac, borage, pea, pinks, scented geranium)
wire cake rack
baking parchment

In a small bowl, beat egg whites to a light froth. Add 1 or 2 drops of vodka, which helps the flowers to dry faster. Place sugar in a shallow bowl. Cover cake rack with parchment. 

Hold the top of the stem between your thumb and forefinger. Dip the paintbrush into the egg wash and gently paint all the surfaces. Make sure to get between all petals. Next, sprinkle sugar on the flower, making sure to cover all the surface and between the petals. Place face up on the parchment. Now repeat!

When you have finished as many flowers as you can, place them in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area so they can dry completely. They will be stiff and brittle when dry, and should be stored in an air tight container. 
*adapted from Cathy Wilkinson Barash's book Edible Flowers - Desserts & Drinks.

April 08, 2008

Behave Yourself: Don't Point It Out

If you are in rude company, or someone acts towards you in an uncivil way, it might feel best to retaliate. Or even try to elevate your own manners by putting down theirs. You might want to say something like, "you are behaving like an ass," or "your behavior is very rude." But pointing out someone else's rude behavior is not polite and lowers you to their level. 

When faced with rude behavior you must maintain your poise. You no longer have to be amiable and warm. It is fine to be curt and remove yourself from the situation. Try to do so with as much grace as possible, and without causing a scene which might embarrass the people you are with. If you have clearly been slighted or recieved negative attention it will be evident to your companions and they will admire the way you handle the circumstances. 

Your best revenge will be to bounce back and enjoy yourself!

April 03, 2008

There Is Something In the Way You Smile

Or, There Is Something In the Way OF Your Smile. 

When faced with particles in your companion's teeth, let them quietly know without interrupting conversation or drawing attention to the situation. You can say whatever you like as long it is direct, and it is best to avoid wildly gesturing or miming. "There is something in your smile," or "You have something in your teeth," work very well. 

If the tables are turned, first take a sip of water. Hold your napkin up to your face while you try sucking the bugger out, and depending on your relationship to your companion you can ask them if its gone. Otherwise go to the restroom and take care of the situation with the help of a mirror. 

It is always best to let a person know and save them the embarrassment. But then again, it happens to everyone. 

April 02, 2008

On Correspondence: Addressing the World

It is often said that Americans are slightly ignorant when it comes to international protocol. Whether or not we travel, we should all know how to address a letter going abroad. 

It is such a pleasure to receive an interesting envelope in the midst of bills and junk, and a personal note is a gesture any culture appreciates. But there are rules we must adhere to in order to get that letter there. The most basic is to write your information legibly. Never use pencil to address an envelope, or place the postage and address on opposite sides. 

If the destination does not speak English, you still must write the country's name in English. The US Postal Service can then sort your letter appropriately, after which point its the receiving country's issue. If you feel comfortable writing the town and postal code in English as well, write them below the line written in the other language. This is not a huge issue because most countries (China, Russia, and Arab speaking) can process mail written in Roman letters, so do the best you can.

The address should not be more than five lines; the top line should contain the most specific information - the addressee. Your address should work itself down line by line to the most general information - the country. The destination country is written out fully on a line all by itself, preferably in capital letters. Town, Province, and postal code go together on the line above country. 

Miss Phoebe Phlower
Arts and Humors
38 HaveANiceDay St.
BrokenHearted 339 A47

And just in case, always include your return address! The USPS has some more suggestions for addressing mail