Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kids say the darndest things!

In speaking with families with whom I've worked, I can say that I've almost heard it all. One very prominent sports figure's son came right out and said that every night, each member of the family eats something different for dinner and after what they are having is served, he, his sister, and each of the parents collect their plates and trail off into their individual rooms to eat dinner while watching their own programs on their own televisions. His mother was mortified and countered that he wasn't "supposed to tell people that!" Kids. What are you going to do?

I think everyone is guilty of wanting a little "down time" after busy days, and eating a meal while watching the television might have replaced baseball as the great American pastime. But apparently, this isn't uniquely American. A survey funded in Europe by Birds Eye came up with some very startling similarities: in the UK, the survey also found that only one in five British youngsters eat at a table, compared to 7 per cent in France, 42 per cent in Germany, 61 per cent in Italy and 40 per cent in Spain. For 78 per cent of the British youngsters polled, a TV dinner is the norm, with meals taken in front of their favorite shows - this is compared to 61 per cent in France, 62 per cent in Germany and 68 per cent in Italy.

As quoted on the website parentdish.co.uk, childcare and parenting expert Professor Tanya Byron said the breakdown of family mealtimes could be damaging to families. "By eating together, focusing on each other and learning to enjoy each other's company, families gain a variety of benefits, including improved communication and trust - and of course, the ability to have some fun over a delicious meal. We need to lose the dash-and-eat mentality and get better at table talk."

Break the trend. Teach your kids how to set the table, help prepare the meal, and yes, do the dishes. These are life skills that can help your family in the short run, and be of real benefit to your kids later on in their lives! Who knows, maybe the dining table can make a comeback. Crossing my fingers...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Dinner

So, I said I would help, and help I will. Or I will, with a little assistance from Ina. I have been a fan of Ina Garten's from the moment I saw her on the old Martha Stewart show (which, by the way, I really miss- it was one of the most beautifully produced shows on television...). Ina is now famous in her own right and has taken on the mantel of domestic fairy godmother. She has tips for all occasions, but the one I lean on time and again is her no-fail chicken breast recipe. It's an easy pick for a mid-week gathering and satisfying enough for a Sunday dinner. Any recipe that can be dressed up or down is a keeper!

To feel a bit of confidence in the kitchen will help even the most reluctant host get over the hurdle of planning a meal, and this is just the ticket. I know that food isn't the thrust of this blog and that there are a million cooking websites and blogs out there, but it is an essential aspect of gathering at the table and anything that can ease anxiety about calling friends and family to the table is worth mentioning.

Ina recommends breasts with the bone in and skin (gasp!) on, and her reasoning is all about flavor. Anything on the bone, when roasted, will have more flavor, and the skin will keep the chicken moist, even if you decide to take it off, but I'm telling you that would be a mistake! The recipe is quite simple, just place the breasts on a sheet pan and drizzle them with olive oil and then season with salt and pepper. Then, put the breasts into a preheated 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes and you're done. Now, having said that, I am here to tell you that everyone's oven is a bit different. Mine I need to have at a bit higher temperature and for a bit longer, so the first time or so, depending on your oven,  you'll need to experiment. I always roast a few more breasts than the number of people at the table, just in case some one wants seconds. If not, then you have lunch for the next day.

Having a main dish that you can keep in your back pocket that's perfect for a family dinner, or elegant enough for a company one is, as Martha would say, a "good thing". And to quote Ina, "How easy is that?"!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Just do it...

Looking back over the last few entries of mine, I realize that I need to periodically adjust my compass. Yes, I love great decorating, rooms with a view, sparking tableware, beautiful flowers, and fine food, but I also realize that the important aspect here isn't what's on the table, but who's around it. No matter the setting, a meal is better when it is shared.

I often hear people say they are intimidated inviting guests to dinner because they don't have 'x' or 'y', or when they finally have 'z', then will they have people over. My advice is to just do it. Pick a date and make a phone call or send an email and plan an evening. Because, at the end of the day, it really doesn't matter about plates or glassware, or paper or cloth napkins. What matters is that you cared enough to be hospitable to those important to you.

I share a lot about this concept of Tabletop and how gathering around the table and sharing a meal is one of the last links we have to civility in our society, to a time when people cared. Cared about the food they ate, about how to have polite conversation, and through this conversation connect with one another. Cared about manners and etiquette, which really is about respect for others rather than what fork to use and when to use it. (By the way, a great tip from the 1940 Vogue Book of Etiquette is that if a guest happens to pick up their finger bowl and drink from it, then the host/hostess should immediately do the same, least their guest feel like they made a social blunder- how great is that?!)

I fear that, as time slips by and more and more of us eat in our car or literally while walking, trying to jam the food in as fast as possible because there is a deadline, or a meeting to get to, or we're just too tired to care, we won't know how to do this. How to listen to each other rather than talk over others with whom we may disagree (I would hate to think our role models for conversation are the shows on television that pass for news...), how to be gracious to one another, and how to be just plain, unselfishly hospitable. For it is being hospitable that the great religions of the world tell us is the most crucial aspect of how we treat each other.

So, it'll be fine. We'll walk through this together, you're not alone. Get your calendar out, pick a date, and just do it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

It's not just for dining rooms...

Tabletops aren't just for rooms traditionally associated with eating. Any place where one would want to linger, either alone or with friends and have a place to set a drink or a plate or bowl of something to indulge in, constitutes a "tabletop" as evidenced by the beautiful editorial in this month's  Traditional Home. In the photograph is a getaway within the magnificent Chicago area home of designer Denise Macey, which was designed by Bobby McAlpine and Greg Tankersley, the Alabama based architects.

A simple upholstered chaise set in a beautiful window with no doubt an amazing view, an interesting gueridon, which is the perfect tabletop spot to place a book, as in the picture, or a glass or two of wine. Sublime.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Take-away messages

Invariably, your monthly allotment of shelter magazines comes all at once- it can leave you scrambling to the previous month's issues ripping out those inspirational images that you'll want to hang on to or deciding to save the entire issue because it's "all good!" While there is always something in these editorials that is beautiful, sometimes it can be tricky to see how these images can speak to us, what we can "take-away" from them.

I'm all for seeing hand-blocked wallpaper in dining rooms and tables set with museum quality tableware that seat 12, but I don't live like that. What I try to take-away from these spreads is the structure of the table setting or the mood of the dining room.

Case in point: Veranda has Carolyne Roehm as a contributor who writes a regular piece on entertaining. This month, she shares how she transitions from summer to fall in her dining room much like she transitions her wardrobe. Her tables (yes, plural) get the equivalent of cashmere sweaters. There is a changing of the guard in terms of linens, dishes, glassware, even centerpiece ideas. Flowers transition into bowls of fruit (apples, pears, grapes, etc) as her garden gives its last deep, satisfying breath of dahlias and chrysanthemums. Take-away: fill a bowl with fruit and set it on your table.

Now I know this isn't earth shattering or won't put the economy back on track, but having a bowl you can fill with fruit that you can then eat or juice seems like a great way to set a table.

Further into the issue, there is a editorial of a Manhattan townhouse with interiors designed by Timothy Whealon. There is a pair of pictures of the dining room, one "at rest" and the other "set", and sure enough, the "at rest" table has a great bowl filled with oranges. Impactful, colorful, and practical!

I, too, have a great alabaster bowl that is sitting on my table that happens to be filled with green apples. Even without fruit, this bowl is a beauty, but with that splash of color and realization that in a few days, the apples will be a great glass of juice, it really puts a smile on my face. Carolyne would be so proud!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Well, that was quick!

The John Derian plates arrived from Target! 8 Small appetizer plates in 4 patterns: CHECK!; 8 salad/desserts in 4 variations of "candy cane carnation": CHECK!; 8 dinner plates in 4 variations of foliage: CHECK!; 8 cups in the same patterns as the appetizer plates: NOT-SO-MUCH...
I am very happy with the quality/beauty of the plates. In truth, if you relate to Derian's work, these are for you. The cups, however, seem like a complete afterthought and will be returned. I still am waiting for the beehive tray, which is on back order. Crossing my fingers... Looking forward to patio and poolside entertaining with these!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"The Cecil B. DeMille of table settings"

Okay, this one is purely aspirational. You may want to file this away under "More is More!!" and pull it out anytime you may be having a Louis XIV or Marie Antoinette moment. This month's Veranda has a spread on Alberto Pinto (think: a restrained Tony Duquette- with boundaries) and his new book Alberto Pinto: Table Settings and to quote the author, "Certain men collect cars or watches. Certain women, jewels or shoes. Myself, I am an incorrigible lover of tableware." And quite the collection he has: the book is replete with his collections of antique and contemporary porcelain, crystal, silverware, and linens, and illustrates how he uses them.

While there may be little for us mere mortals to relate to, his takeaway message is interesting: "If you have it, use it." If "it" breaks, at least you've used and enjoyed what you've had rather than leaving "it" in the back of a cupboard where it never saw the light of day.

I first saw his amazing porcelain dishes and linens a few years back at Maison et Objet, the home show held every year in Paris. That year, he introduced his Les Champignons dishes with each piece hand-painted with different beautifully rendered wild, woodland mushrooms. Quite the statement for a pasta course! We're going back to the show in January... stayed tuned!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Politics aside, this ain't your mother's melamine!

I feel like I'm treading a fine line here, but here it goes... Target has joined forces with John Derian, a New York creative force who made his name as a decoupage artist. His glass tableware is made with color reproductions of 18th and 19th century illustrations, and all his pieces, from paper weights to serving trays, reflect his unique combination of whimsy and serious design.

He has an amazing shop where he sells his wares in the East Village as well as at select retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue, and Barneys New York (read: not inexpensive!).  The news is that his new Target collection is a more affordable take on the same approach using melamine pieces instead of glass, yet retaining all his quirky charm!  

Dreamlike images of butterflies, dahlias, leaves and feathers decorate the nearly 100 items, each under $25. The appetizer plates above are $1.99 each, the dinner plates to the right are $2.99, and the large tray at the bottom is $16.99. The collection includes service ware, dinnerware, ceramic mugs, coasters, stationery sets, notebooks and fabric-covered storage bins.  The good news is that these pieces feel substantial and carry the same spirit (if not exactly the same look) as the original, more expensive glass pieces.

The downside is that these pieces are available for a limited time only at www.target.com and select Target stores beginning September 5. But if you can't wait, some items will go on sale Friday at the online sale site Gilt Groupe. The sale begins at 9 a.m., but you must register to be a member before you can shop. This is something not to miss, as once these are gone, they are gone!