It's pretty simple really. Any more than six people and this will be a terrible table to sit at. Seating along either side of the long table may look "neat" in a life-style magazine but that's just it. It's style over life.
I assert that the ends need to be stoppered. How? With some-one sitting at the ends. Simple. Although it's a long table, the guests need to make a circle, with people at each end, giving everyone someone to talk to on either side. If not, the goodwill will flow right out of the table, at both ends, like wine from a bottomless carafe. Sounds "new-age" and it's possibly the only "new-age" thing I'll ever say.
Restaurants do it. If you book, ask for it not to happen. If it's at someone's house, hope you're not at the ends, be pleased at least that you've been invited, grin and bear it and send them this blog.
Check out the table below...
Buckingham Palace State Banquet - Photo courtesy The Telegraph
You can expect Buckingham Palace to know how to set a table. An oval table is very convivial but even at a long table, simply put someone at the end. Happiness all round.
Comment or add below...
I've been notified by a friend (painter Don Rankin) that an interesting auction is coming up at Christie's in New York in May. Among other things, it offers 67 dinner services, collected over the years by Peggy and David Rockefeller (Standard Oil) who died recently, aged 105.
Life-style commentators claim that the dinner service is back! We're ditching the "catering look", ditching the white for a mix and match approach. Apparently the Rockefellers used different services over the course of a meal - and they had much to choose from - and David offered that if conversation lagged, one could always talk about the plates! (So get to it and trawl the bric à brac sales, St. Vincent de Paul's and the Salvos!)
Not sure of the maker of the yellow one above and I might sell on the urns. The red service below left, was made for Napoleon I by Sèvres. He took it with him in exile to Elba so it stood up to the travel well enough (and helped make him feel at home, no doubt). The botanical service is by Worcester.
This is expected to be the biggest single sale in history, expected to reach over $650 million (Aust.) with sales all going to charity. It is expected to surpass the previous auction of the Yves St Laurent and Pierre Bergé collection ($600 million), part of which went towards AIDS research.
Hope this inspires you to dig out that service in the back of the cupboard. But damn it - I'm busy on 7th May.
Comments or suggestions below...
I’m in a bind over Phantom Thread. Because I like a nice frock, better still a beautiful shoe, and I’ve been known to ply the needle, I‘ve been showered with “Have you seen…? YOU are going to love it!” My feelings are a bit mixed.
One does have to spend about two hours with a very difficult, not to say unpleasant person, Reynolds Woodcock. It would be shallow however, to dislike a film because the main character has Asperger’s syndrome, is bi-polar or just plain rude. As a superb actor, Daniel Day-Lewis plays it to the hilt. On the plus side, it is visually gorgeous. His suits are a dream; he even polishes his shoes. (Sorry, today that is a big plus. You’re lucky if the trainers get a run in the washing machine occasionally.)
The couture is dowdy - but then again it is English. What were Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy doing at this time? But as a friend pointed out, he was at the end of his career. For a sewer, it is riveting to see the interior construction of these pieces (e.g tiny pads sitting at waist level to lift the skirt away from the body). And Woodcock does thank his seamstresses every time for their beautiful work.
There are some instances where behavior and dialogue don’t fit this otherwise perfect period piece. Since when does a young girl go for an evening ride with a man on whom she has only waited at breakfast, even if it is a Bristol 405. Anger and arguments are heavily accentuated with the “F” word (never thought I’d have an opportunity to write that) which is as out of place in the late ‘50s as are the Champagne flutes at a posh party they attend.
His sister Cyril should have got the Oscar. I’m practising her manner in dealing with life's difficulties – pause, put down pen, remove glasses, look up, smooth hair behind the ears, then and only then, speak.
Critics have noted that the two main women in his life give as good as they get. I disagree. They speak the truth but he has no intention of changing. Breakfast toast will continue to annoy him.
Food is part of the power struggle (breakfasts are important) and used as an expression of both love and tyranny but I’m not sure we can hail “Phantom Thread” as one of the great food films, even if he has a large appetite. Deborah Ross, film reviewer, describes Woodcock at the country inn.
“He orders Welsh rarebit with a poached egg (not too runny), bacon, scones, cream, jam (not strawberry), tea (Lapsang Souchong). There is a pause: ‘…and sausages’. He had me at ‘scones’, to be honest, but who other than Day-Lewis could make a breakfast order so powerfully seductive?”
But look for the following…
The restaurant treats its guests as adults, not flapping napkins onto laps.
Pudding or dessert is eaten with both a fork and spoon.
You'll be trying Lapsang Souchong again from an iron teapot , sipping from a raku bowl.
You’ll want to move your daily breakfast up a notch in decorum and setting. The Wedgwood service is “Edme”, 1902 – 2014 (although it might be revived in 2018).
But the film is worth another viewing for one scene. I gasped and tears stung my eyes - the plate of simple asparagus. Sublime.
Comment, Question, Enlighten below...
More excess this time with our native finger limes. The small tree, planted in a pot, has finally come into its own with around 40 fruit. That's a lot for finger limes. They are rare and expensive so we feel very lucky. They are becoming easier to find at the market, often in stalls selling native ingredients and meat. Like oranges and lemons, they keep well so if you see some, grab a couple.
They are good on oysters or grilled fish, they give a surprise pop to a creamy aïoli sauce, they lift any composed salad (e.g Vietnamese-style chicken, mint and green mango). Endless possibilities.
Left - The fruit (approximately 12cm long) hangs finger-like from spiky branches. This small Australian rainforest tree can adapt to most gardens where the wider citrus family grows.
Right - Inside the segments are filled with juice "vesicles", think lemon caviar or lime crystals. Cut in half, the crystals can be squeezed out, the final ones helped with a small knife. They crunch in the mouth releasing their tart and aromatic juice. Here, they wait to be squeezed onto a herring, apple, pickled beetroot and sour cream salad. (Sorry about the colour.) There were triangles of buttered rye toast, all on a 1910 Wedgwood plate.
Centre - Freshly shucked oysters waiting to be topped with finger lime. Oyster plates (1950s - Villeroy & Boch) show a daring modernity. It took eight years of regular searching on line to gather, one by one, a set of 12. (Indispensable!) Just behind can be seen the twisted stem of an Aquavit glass, to appeal to my inner Scandinavian, the Aquavit syrupy, icy cold served from the freezer.
Plant a tree and if you find yourself with an excess, you can give your guests one each, rather than a half!
Eggplant Salad with Pinenuts and Sultanas
(The dish was crowded - a rustic arrangement - but tasted fantastic)
I have a strange relationship with eggplant (or aubergines). I can't stand them.
That said, everything I eat made with them, I adore. Friend Rosa makes me melanzane alla parmigiana (called casually just parm - a - jarn in America) and I adore it. I recently had a dish of eggplant cooked in soy and ginger which was rich, meaty and wonderful. I could live on bread and baba ganoush (once had to explain to someone that it wasn't burnt, but intentionally smoky). We'll order eggplant cooked with miso for a Japanese meal. And the Algerian / Moroccan / Sicilian salad (above) is a big favourite and always called upon to deal with an eggplant excess.
It's a weird, slightly sinister looking plant. It looks poisonous, it looks evil and at the same time, it's incredibly handsome, both the fruit and leaves. I tried once to move a plant indoors for its dark beauty but it wasn't happy. It belongs in the garden.
I'm not the only person to think the eggplant is strange. It's name in Italian suggests it will touch your brain and turn you mad. (I don't know where the word aubergine comes from so I'd better look it up).
The salad above consists of fried eggplant dressed with lemon, topped with pine-nuts, sultanas and chopped herbs. The day the eggplant excess was dumped on me in return for my excess of pears, I had no pine-nuts so, for crunch, I added small cubes of crisp-fried bread. Furthermore, my parsley has not come back yet and my coriander is always running off, so I used Greek basil (an adorable little bush that lasts all year). So you see, you're allowed to adapt.
Hope that your eggplants have not been left to grow enormous and fill with huge seeds.
The Salad - serves 4 if part of a selection of dishes.
Good olive oil for frying (to about 3cm or 1" deep)*
2 medium-sized eggplant 1 tsp salt
I lemon for juice 1 - 2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp pin-nuts 1 tbsp sultanas
1 tbsp chopped parsley 1 tbsp chopped coriander
**I've read you salt eggplant to get rid of the "bitter juices". Rubbish. It's salted to take out some of its liquid, making it easier to fry.
***Food cooked in hot oil will not be greasy. Oil that isn't hot enough will make food limp and oily. If you have doubts when checking oil temperature, throw in a small cube of bread. If it sizzles, you're good to go.
Now enough of recipes - there are too many already.
Add some suggestions or questions below (in comments). What have you done with an excess?
The Palais on the Torrens - Five Long Lunches - the Legend Continues
I am so looking forward to experiencing lunch at the Palais sitting down! All lunches are headed by a chef of renown in Australia who has some serious connection to Adelaide, born here, working here and knowing the produce. I can only imagine what is happening in that prep kitchen at the moment. Who and what's happening - 2018 Long-lunch ?
Hard to imagine that it's a year since I was in this kitchen working on the first Long Lunch at the Palais, on the Torrens, during the 2017 Adelaide Festival.
This was such an adventure, such a luxury to be allowed to recreate some of the exciting times of the '80s, such a luxury to reconnect with old friends (Philip Searle, Gabriel Gaté, The Aristologists, my Maman et al) and their dishes, such a luxury to work with an amazing bunch of chefs, all of whom had taken temporary leave from their restaurants to work on this Festival event - a series of six lunches.
I had around me head chef of The Pot, Lost in a Forest, Kenji, chefs from Garagiste, Africola and the former chef to the Australian High Commission in London, among others. To the visitors presenting these lunches, who will they find for you? You could not be in better hands! I look forward to being there.
At this time of year, I have to stand firm against the tyranny of the garden produce. There's a phone call. I stiffen. We're going past your way this afternoon. Do you want some plums? NOOOOOO!
We barter. I'll take some eggplant and swap you some pears. What about tomatoes? Sorry, but I can do zucchini. Well - some hesitation, I'll take some zucchini but you'll have to have some avocados.
Sadly, there's a friend-wide issue with garden tomatoes this year. I hand over a load of fruit, get some other stuff back and receive one tomato. I'ts a beauty, a one-off treasure.
Yes, yes, there is excess and we hand it around to friends, we take it to the alternative restaurant at the corner, we give it to rescue centres but there's a limit... Chutney? Jam? I have vintage chutneys that would make the age on a prized bottle of Grange blush. And anyway, that's just all more sugar.
Here's what I've been trying to do. Any further suggestions will be welcome.
The best invention has been the Pear & Potato Gratin. See below - left to right.
For 4 generous serves
2 medium potaoes -cut into cubes 1cm x 1cm approx
2 firm pears - ditto
Generous cup grated cheese, cheddar style (**I use "cat cheese" - I give up my secret below)
Big slurp of cream
Lightly salt and heavily pepper.
Mix all together, place in a gratin dish and lightly coat with breadcrumbs (optional).
Bake in the oven for about 40mins - 180˚c/350˚F - until bubbling and potato is cooked.
P.G. with a lamb croquette, sauce from our tomatoes and our beans.
P.G. with the ubiquitous stuffed figs. (Note the Arne Jacobsen fork as seen in the film 2001-a Space Odyssey. Plate "Landscape" by Rosenthal c. 2005)
P.G. with braised lamb and chickpeas à la Jamie Oliver (easy, easy, look it up). Plate - Royal Copenhagen "Brown Iris" 1962. My favourite glass "Isadora" by Holmegaard c1990)
**Cat cheese - we always have on stand-by, a sealed bag of grated "all-purpose" cheese bought at the supermarket dairy shelf for our cats. They need the calcium and milk is bad for cats. One day, stuck for melting cheese, I raided the "cat cheese". It was perfect. OK, OK, not as good as Gruyère, Cantal, Comté or Emmantal but fine. Now, when I need it, we share with the cats.
Then there's the figs. Stuffed with blue cheese, wrapped in prosciutto and baked, they make a great entrée or main course.
Serve 2 figs for an entrée, 3 or more for a main course. Allow guests to serve themselves.
Because they are baked, this works equally well for very ripe and under-ripe figs, in the same batch.
Use a really standard blue that packs a punch. Tried some left-over Roquefort and it wasn't as good.
For each fig...
Left - a nice platter of warm figs, running with juice, served here with a fattoush salad. Yes, I did go overboard on the fattoush arrangement. This Lebanese or Jordanian salad is very forgiving. Use what you have but there must be sumac.
For the fattoush salad, cut into small bite-sized pieces...
Ripe tomatoes, green capsicum
A few radishes, finely sliced
Lebanese cucumber, cubed
Red onion finely sliced (or some spring onions, because they were clamouring in the garden)
Flat lebanese bread, toasted and broken up, or use, as above, sliced ciabatta
Season with lemon, olive oil, salt and the essential ingredient sumac.
Arrange on lettuce leaves. Serve pretty soon after final assembly.
(Mine has some sesame seeds - I just had some toasted, left over.)
SUMAC - a type of berry, dried and ground which gives a lovely sour/acid taste. Easily found at Lebanese markets.
Enough - already! There's more to come next week with eggplant and native finger limes.
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