Sunday, May 12, 2013

Banquet seating versus home entertaining

I, yet again, went to a fundraiser for a local concern and yet again was one of 12 seated at a 60" banquet table. And yet again, the 24" cover rule was dispensed with. And who do we lay blame for this offense of sensibility? The White House! You see, the White House, when it gives a State Dinner or White House Gala, is more interested in cramming the maximum number of persons a table, thus ensuring the maximum number of attendees, rather than hosting a proper formal dinner. If you take a look at the two tables pictured, you will indeed see the horrific standard of 12 covers at the five foot round table.

The sad result, as pictured here, are the magnificent Clinton Chargers, used on both tables, inches from each other forcing historical vermeil and mother of pearl flatware to being crammed under the china rims. Subsequently, the chargers are replaced with plates that have portioned food upon them and guests are in the position of figuring out where their cover ends and their neighbor's begins. Or worse yet, laying out their silver more appropriately themselves. In such a cramped setting I fear for the stemware. So, if you are hosting a formal dinner, and using the standard five foot round tables, please for the love of the Graces and the Muses, seat eight to a table.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sublime Excess

There are many things I lament passing in this life: people keeping to the right, people of either sex holding a door for a person leaving a building or simply moving to the side while someone exits an elevator. A person leaving a smaller space has precedence over a person entering with the rationale being that the person entering could be confounding an emergency exit. Therefore, a woman entering a building at least steps aside for a man leaving a building. I pity the poor man who tries to do the 'gentlemanly' thing and awkwardly holds a door from within a building/room only to block the doorway by his physical presence forcing the woman to squeeze past him in the doorway. Such silliness.

Which is not to say that there is no silliness in etiquette. Once upon a time, for formal dinners, the bread roll was wrapped in the elaborately constructed napkin. The silly reason being that bread plates are not used at formal dinners [which is why a roll is placed on THE TABLE CLOTH at a formal meal and butter is NOT served]. The result of which was many a dinner roll sailing through the ether when the napkin was placed into service. Saying bread plates are not for formal dinners by etiquette dicta  is, again, silly.

In a previous post I stated that excess can be sublime. I mean it. There is a written 'hard' rule in table etiquette of the Silver Thirteen. It states that no more than  thirteen pieces of silver may be placed in one cover from the onset. BOSH! None of us has the staff of a Downton Abby. If you are fortunate enough to own enough silver for an elaborate dinner of the dozen courses then lay it out all at once.

[Please forgive me if I am a bit remiss to assume you have the requisite 24" on center for a formal cover. Do not despair; if you have ever seen one of the White House State Dinner covers you would blanch with shame and horror at how much historical vermeil and porcelain gets shoved and crammed onto a ten-top round table. Hand me a vinaigrette!]

Also, be adventurous. I love soup. I love soup spoons and their myriad of incarnations. I love soup servers. For a recent dinner I served a vichyssoise in a cream soup cup and under-plate with a cream soup spoon, and later a corn chowder in a soup plate and under-plate with a large chowder spoon and served a dessert of individual strawberry and whipped cream trifles in bouillon cups and under-plates with bouillon spoons. Three of the twelve courses were soup service and the spoons were magnificent sur la table. The bouillon cups I served the Trifles Romanov in are pictured above.Oh, they were grand!

In closing, I wish to impart a sense of adventure and a sense of abandon when you venture into the realm of sublime excess. If you own fabulous things do not think of them as merely things. They are your tools, tools you can employ however you wish as host or hostess. If you have inherited these tools, you do tribute to those who have gone before you by using things that have been lovingly handed down. Use it all!

If someone has an idea on how to use a different bread plate for each course, please comment. They do not get used enough.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Dead Relatives

I once went to a dear friends home for formal tea, never confuse formal tea with high tea, and as I was being escorted to her lovely appointed salon I mentioned how charming the photographs were that adorned the hallway walls.

She said simply, "Dead relatives." They were very old and lovely pictures of many interesting people. Later when we were again alone I asked how she was related to one very august and patrician woman whose photo caught my eye on entering. It was then she confided that she had bought all of the pictures in antique shops and the like and that they were "Dead relatives" by adoption. I am glad that those pictures taken so long ago have found someone as delightful as my friend to "adopt" them.

Which brings me today's topic: Engraved collectable and antique silver. Hand Engraving is not a lost art and if you want it you have to pay dearly for it. However, if you purchase silver which has been prior engraved it is usually discounted. I have friends that blanch at the thought of owning silver with someone ELSE'S initial on it. How perfectly silly. The photo above is the engraving of the original owner's monogram on a magnificent sucrier (sue-kree-ay) I purchased. I use it to anoint pain perdu with a dusting of sugar. It joins a collection of beautifully marked pieces with sumptuous engravings. Now, when people ask the unfortunate question, I simply respond,"Dead relatives".

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Judas is the ONLY man in the New Testament who could not possibly have been GAY!

Because we all know that NO Gay man would have betrayed our Lord for only four place settings and a hostess set! Which brings us to today's topic: vermeil.

We know that the old saw "all that glitters is not gold" is supposed to be a caveat to the simple. However there are exceptions to the rule where gilding the lily is not folly but fabulous.

When gold is plated over the common tchotchke one gets gold plated tchotchkes. Gold so thinly applied that it is precious only in sight. When gold is veneered over bronze l'objet becomes bronze dore. It is also known as ormolu. You will usually hear these words spoken by people who have purchased bronze dore this and ormolu that. Those of us cognoscenti know that this statement assures us only that the piece was cast, probably lost wax cast, and that it is substantially copper. No more, no less.

However, when gold is applied to silver, be it coin silver (80%) or sterling (92.5%) or the magnificent French 1st Minerva (95%), it is accorded the status of vermeil. Now vermeil is a German word pronounced , in German, VER-mul . Few things sound nice in German so the French adopted the German cognate but gave it the glorious French pronunciation ver-MAY. If you have some old family silver, you may notice that some of the work end of the piece is gold washed. This is a preventive measure to protect against pitting when in the presence of those silver adverse twins salt and acid. To call gold washed anything vermeil is a faux pas. To round out this lesson, mes amis, I bring to your attention the phrase parcel gilt. If you have silver where part of the decoration is gilded, it is considered parcel gilt. Because I am a fan of vermeil, parcel guilt seems rather unnecessary but it can be done well. Gorham made a stab at parcel gilding with a lovely pattern named Crown Baroque Gold. The handles are magnificent but the bowls and tines are tragic. One lives, one learns.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sterling Silver Patination.

I have inherited a rather healthy stock of family silver in a lovely old Rococo, accent on the first syllable please, pattern. Now that I am fortunate enough to entertain as I choose, I am now finding the family silver is lacking in hollow ware. What is more frightening is that the newer silver I have purchased on eBay lacks the mellow French finish and patina of the older family silver and sticks out like a read headed stepchild . Everyone knows that sterling is 92.5% [unless you are 1st mark Minerva French sterling at 95%] pure silver and the rest is copper. The copper on the surface is eventually worn off leaving a surface of pure silver. Also, it is sulfur in the vicinity that blackens the surface of silver. So, I washed and hand polished with baking soda five times to remove the surface copper, and then I placed two hard boiled egg yolks in a large plastic bag with the large round test serving bowl and VOILA! Like making Kim-chi, I almost buried it in the back yard but that was unnecessary. After a week and another finger polish it matches the rest of the collection perfectly. Time for a cocktail.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Types of services.

There are times when traditional service plates/chargers are required for the formal table. They are the grandest of plates in the category of display/under-plates.

However, those that understand the rules, may break the rules. One, if one so chooses to, may break free from the constraints of the rigors of English Service, French Service and that most pragmatic service of all, Russian Service and create a service all their own.

As I collect china, I tend to place EVERYTHING on an under-plate. This includes plates that already HAVE an under-plate,.

Bouillon cups and their under-plate look rather solitary, however, placed on another, grander, hopefully gold encrusted charger, they come into their own. When one is giving a twelve course dinner, on must never skimp on the presentation. As for me, hand washing another sixty slightly used plates is of no bother considering the effort in providing both bread AND circus. I also do a napkin exchange after salad and before desert. While a large damask napkin, 22" square+, is lovely for the main courses, the joy in taking out the delicate Point de Venise, or you favorite luncheon napery, for the latter courses cannot be overstated.

Excess done well is sublime.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Epergnes AREN'T For Beginners

If one reads a plethora of books dealing with the minutia of Victorian Era bric-à-brac, vinaigrettes, chatelaines and the like, one usually, eventually, runs the gamut to the other end of the spectrum, and careers into that supreme objet a jest, the epergne. Epergnes are operas where operettas suffice.

In an era of conspicuous consumption, having a grand epergne as the centerpiece of your dining table was the equivalent of placing a fully loaded fin tailed Cadillac between the rose bowls. They seem to be just a bit much. However, I think not.

In a world where craftsmanship and artistry have been sidelined by Japanese and Chinese efficiency, the epergne stands tall as an ultimate fulfillment of utilitarian beauty and excess. The assemblage of bowls and candelabra made from silver and crystal are now less a Victorian indulgence and more a cenotaph to a way of life that was both an ideal and idealized.  With this reverence for past exuberant excess, I most heartily exhort those who are able to purchase one to do so. Keeping it on the sideboard and using it as candy bowls is a lovely way to pay tribute to its illustrious past and utilitarian present.  The picture I have chosen is of a lovely epergne. It is a pity it does not have a mirror plateau. Sometimes the lily demands to be gilded.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Etiquette Rules Are For People Who Don't Understand Etiquette.

The world is populated with people who simply do not care about anything "proper" until they get to a dinner table. Most people do not understand that etiquette is based on denying yourself at the deference and comfort of assembled company. However, by the time they arrive at any concern for etiquette, these people have long since forgotten about consideration for anyone but themselves.

The worst offenders are like any zealous convert to religion in their new found knowledge of The Etiquette. They are simultaneously offensive and tedious in their odious grappling with such concrete constructs as never correcting another in public unless you are a paid teacher in the discipline.

Which brings me to the napkin. Napkins have evolved from common mouth wipe towels and table cloth impressment to refined cloths for blotting lips before taking sips of beverage. If nothing, the use of the napkin is most illustrative of the evolutionalry nature of etiquette. As an aside, my personal revulsion against napkin rings stems from the historical notion that such rings were issued to differentiate a person's napkin so that the same napkin could be used by the same person, without laundering, for an entire day. How off-putting, but illustrative.

Now another bit of napkin etiquette concerns the location of the napkin when someone must temporarily beg leave from the table. In doing so, historically, one must also not signal to the staff or waiter that you are done by placing the napkin on the table or offend your neighbor by the sight of a soiled cloth and place the cloth on the seat of your chair. I find placing something that I will return to use again where my posterior has been perspiring for a while just beyond the pale. I also find that staff or waiters who do not recognize flatware in the "resting" position are in short supply. Having been admonished on return , a tough call when your hostess is one of the offending etiquette zealots, for placing my clean and spotless napkin temporarily on the table to remove myself to return an important call (vibrate, went to v-mail), it took everything not to mention that pointing out in public any perceived missteps in etiquette was the greater faux pas.

However, being that I am better educated in the finer things, and wish to cause no distress by my personal behaviour, I have now set upon a compromise; I now take my napkin with me. Gad!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Dreadful People With More Money Than Taste

I have friends who seem to confuse expense and advertising with taste, class and status. The finer things in life such as the family silver, the family china and the family crystal have ceased to be lovingly used and handed down from generation to generation. Today they are acquired at a wedding and returned for cash. Even inherited family treasures and heirlooms drift to eBay during times of hardship. This causes great sadness for me as a way of life drifts further and further away.

The horrid flip side of this are people with more money than taste who delude themselves into thinking that such refinement can simply be purchased on consultation with a commissioned sales clerk who is poised to sell people what is best selling and moderately expensive. My personal nightmare is being invited to dinner where the china is Lenox Westchester, the silver is Wallace Grand Baroque and the crystal is Baccarat Massena.

I think I would lose my appetite.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

As rare as this three pronged pie fork!

In the past twenty years of collecting Reed & Barton Francis I, this is the only picture of the ultra-rare three tined pie fork I have found.

What generally separates a pie fork from a large serving pickle fork is that the curve on the pie fork cutting tine is on the inside. So much to pick up every lardacious flake of crust! The pickle forks, on the other hand, have the cutting tine end with the cutting edge nipped on the outside.

This only pertains to those three prong forks with cutting blades, be they pickle or pie forks. There are many three tined forks more tridentine in shape that are definitely not pie forks and there are four bladed forks with cutting blades that are more appropriately called cake or pastry forks. This is what rarity and scarcety are all about: incredibly minute differences.

If you see a Francis First fork as pictured above, please let me know.