Napkins - when you're out, if you’re given one, use it. Why?
1. Once it’s been put out for you, it’s going to be washed afterwards. I’m not putting it back in the “armoire”.
2. Check your glassware halfway through the evening. I bet it’s rimmed with greasy debris. Not a good look for those sitting next to you. Dab you mouth occasionally, with aforementioned napkin.
At table, what do you do with it?
When you sit down, claim your space. Take your napkin. It might be across the centre of the place setting, it might be to the left hand side, even under your fork. A few years ago, heaven forbid, it might even have been folded into a fan and placed in your wine glass! Whatever, “take” your napkin, make it yours and place it to the left of your setting.
When you are about to start eating, place your napkin, folded in half on your lap. Unless you need to leave the table, that’s where it stays for the whole meal.
If you need to get up, place your napkin, loosely folded on the seat of your chair from where you will retrieve it when you come back to table.
When you leave, never fold your napkin. NEVER. It suggests you think it might be reused. Place it, even toss it, even with a little crumpled distain, like a used dishcloth, on the table where you were sitting.
You may be a little tidy person who doesn’t want to leave a mess. Nonetheless, never fold a napkin at the end of the meal (unless you’re going to use it again – more of that later).
These napkins are all "pre-loved", some from markets, some from junk shops, some from overseas web sites. If I need a lift between chores, I sit and trawl through one of my favourite sites. They ship and are very dependable www.lelingedejadis.net/
Here, clockwise from top LH corner...
Chinese ecru linen (47cm sq / 18" sq), heavily embroidered (and probably not intended to be ironed by the "lady of the house").
Linen from antique shop in France, monogrammed AC in red cross stitch.
Green & white linen, (52cm sq / 20" sq), Australian c.1960 Adelaide Antique Market
Linen (ecru and becoming whiter with each wash) (60cm x 75cm / 20" x 30"), monogrammed HF from an antique fair in the Parc Monceau.
Linen from antique shop in Montpellier, (60cm x 75cm / 20" x 30"), monogrammed HB entwined with a pair of dragonflies.
Size is an indication of their age, of changing economies and of their formality. (Generally, pre-WWI are around a whopping 85cm x 75cm / , 33" x 30" the larger, the older.)
Food dislikes, allergies, cultural differences and fads
It's very important to let people know what you can't or won't eat. Cooks have a pathological desire to please. If you're invited, either speak up ("By the way, I can't eat peanuts." "By the way, I don't eat pork.") or be prepared to eat what you're given.
Reasons for not eating food (real, fresh and local).
Moral - vegetarian (pescatarians eat fish) - I will probably become vegetarian eventually, on ethical not health grounds however. ( I'm cautious of vegans. I've known too many with hang ups that hint at body issues and food phobia.)
Cultural - Often against pork. Not logical but understandable. I would not eat dog.
Allergies -Seafood allergies are dire and I've seen the ravages from true gluten intolerance and it's not pretty.
Fads - Where do we start? Fake health (like fake news.) Nutritionism, denial, ritual play a large part.
Just common dislike - A true gastronome enjoys good food, simple or complex, and can feast on a potato as lusciously as on a white truffle.
Common Food Dislikes
I don’t eat endangered species or human beings and I’m not wild about mucilaginous things like okra, in case you’re asking.
Oysters, just opened, old, French, slightly pearlised oyster plate, no markings.
Orrefors champagne coupe c. 1960. Not "politically correct" but I love the way the coupe allows the bubbles to dance on your face.
Rug on table - half kilim, half pile.
A propos of nothing, really, a beautiful painting, the sitter dignified but cautious.
The Maid - George Lambert, 1915
The Art Gallery of New South Wales
When you are under my roof, I will look after you and I know you'll help me when I ask, and ask I will. But when friends move a used coffee cup to the kitchen or rummage in my kitchen drawers for a melamine serving spoon when I had every intention of using the Henning Koppel or ask to help with the dishes at midnight after a dinner, I'm dealing either with misplaced bossiness or misplaced guilt.
The Spectator is not a mag I regularly read (I’m an old leftie) but one might nearly say that the Dear Mary column comes up with enough good ideas to warrant a subscription.
She suggests saying, as you usher friends out the door,
"Oh please, leave it, it's fine. We have a lovely old couple who come by in the morning."
(And we'll get up on the morrow, when we can, have a cup of tea or two, a massive glass of water and start - loving the opportunity to relive the evening, pick at the wilted salad, and finish off the chocolates.)
In a re-run of a re-run of Doc Martin, the British comedy series, Martin, having decided he'll take the plunge with headmistress Louisa, invites her to a dinner for two in his kitchen. He's looking glum. I noticed (he must have noticed, hence the glum face) that Louisa is a HKLP. He is possibly contemplating the future ramifications of this.
There are web-sites and Facebook sites on the phenominum of the HKLP - which stands for, quite simply, Holds Knife Like Pen.
Why wasn't there someone on the set who could have guided Caroline Catz (Louisa)? But then people of a certain age do hold pens and pencils in a funny way, a claw-like grasp.
Now you might be a rugged individualist who holds that you can do what you want with your knife and fork. Fine, I agree with you, but it will say something about you (that you might not like).
On another level, indications are that Prince Harry will marry Meghan. (I’ve been a bit hooked on “Suits” - Netflix - wherein I’ve noted the very complex tailoring of the frocks and Meghan’s incredible skinny shins). The New York Post (October, 2017) asked around for comments from various professional “royal” writers and observers.
They report that Prince Harry has been Meghan’s main mentor in all things royal and she is “studying hard” to fit into the lifestyle. "American manners are different than (sic) British manners. One can’t walk down the street eating or chewing gum. Markle will even have to correct her table manners. We hold our cutlery differently. It’s a whole different culture.”
Manners and etiquette? Manners are nothing more than decency and consideration. (Punctuality - you consider someone-else's time as important as yours. Chewing with your mouth closed hides a nauseating mash.) Etiquette is more complex and variable, adhering to certain rituals which none the less are based, most often, on making interaction more pleasant.
Do we guide children to put their best face forward or just abandon them to their boxed pineapple pizzas and their pot noodles?
My mother died two years ago. She was 96. The mind went a bit fuzzy but until very near the end, the body was strong. My brother reminisced that when she set out to cook dinner, the first thing she did was peel an onion and a few cloves of garlic. (Who ever does just one clove of garlic?) It's hard to imagine any of the dishes we ate without garlic and onion.
She was a particular whizz with vegetables. We liked potatoes of course but they were not automatically part of every meal. There were other ways to have a starch or something to soak up the sauces.
For a long time Australia killed vegetables by boiling (and more boiling). When the backlash came in the '80s, keen cooks served hot raw vegetables with crunch (which some people pretended to like). No, that's for salad.
Look to Turkey for great vegetable dishes. Rick Stein noted on his food tour of the Mediterranean that he hadn't set out to do a set of vegetarian T.V. programmes but that was what had been most delicious.
So as a family, we got used to lots of delicious vegetables. My mother's peas are a standout and I'll share with you that there's no 5 minute boiling here. They simmer for 3/4 hour with spring onions, lettuce and optional bacon pieces. Heavenly.
Tomatoes stuffed with parsley, garlic & breadcrumbs
(And I think they are classically called Tomates Provençales).
4 ripe tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped parsley
3-6 garlic cloves depending on taste and size
1/3 cup coarse breadcrumbs (home-made or Panko)
The plate is a small oval platter, part of a 48 piece service for 12, - Sarguemines Royat, Faïence c.1910
In two weeks, the parsley has gone to seed. It had been so robust that the clumps were like hedges. Now it's nearly unusable. We have to let it go to seed (there's nothing else to be done) and wait for the next risings of little clumps all over the garden, some even coming up through cracks in the drive. We use it profligately (super word) and then nothing.
Flat leaf parsley eclipsed curly in some sort of fashion takeover but I think we need both (and curly is easier to chop IMO).
In case your's is still around, here's what I do with parsley. Can you add some other ideas?
What did we have for dinner?
When friends come, we hope for left-overs the following night. (This time we had pie, tomatoes and salad.)
Last dinner, we served...
Pappadams as pre-prandial nibbles with Cloudy Bay Pelorus sparkling (fried off 30 minutes beforehand and arranged in a teak bowl - the pappadams, that is, not the sparkling.)
Eggs mayonnaise (from our girls out the back), my mayonnaise, topped with anchovy and capers.
Pork & veal pie (but one guest suggested it be called Hot Pâté en Croûte), red wine gravy, tomatoes baked with parsley, garlic & breadcrumbs, ragout of assorted mushrooms in sour ceam.
Cheese - Irish blue cheese (Cashel), a washed rind & a goats’ cheese (or to be posh, Chèvre) the latter two made by me, large golden sultanas and a salad of baby cos and “frizzé” dressed with vinaigrette.
Coffee and tisane of lemon verbena (from our garden bush) and various bonbons & sweeties brought by Rosa.
Standout wines (amongst others) Pierre Brévin Puilly Fumé 2014, Bleasdale “Generations” Malbec 2014 (Langhorn Creek), a Spring Vale Pinot Noir 2014 (Freycinet Coast Tasmania).
Pie Recipe (there are no secrets) - for 8 guests
1 ½ kilos Italian-style pork and veal hamburgers
1 packet Carême sour cream pastry
quatre épices (optional)
Mix together the hamburger mix with one egg and ½ tsp quatre épices. (Blend some up yourself.)
Make the pie with the just de-frosted pastry, brushed with a beaten egg. Hold in the refrigerator until needed.
Bake until golden. (Put into the oven when the last guest arrives). I loathe anaemic pastry.
Sour Cream Pastry – We first made it in 1986 at Petaluma Restaurant, recipe brought to the kitchen by Libby Tinsely who thinks her mother got it years ago from the Women’s Weekly. (Back then, fabulous recipes, all tested twice in the “Test Kitchen”.) It’s now become well-known enough to be part of this frozen pastry range. It’s a great, no compromise product. If I’m tired I use it. It has a strange quality, probably from the sour cream (and butter). It doesn’t need resting and it flakes deliciously.
My pie filling came from Marino Meat & Food Store, a high quality butcher in the Adelaide Market. If I’m tired I use this.
Any good Italian-style butcher will be able to offer you sausages (squeeze out the filling) or meatballs or hamburger. Doctor them at will with more herbs, orange zest or spice. Play.
Notes on the tomato recipe to follow with “Parsley”.
Warning - some images may offend.
Jicky tries to help but can't get the hang of the napkins.
(Jicky - named after the Guerlain scent worn by Jean Cocteau and Colette, both of whom loved cats.)
"More people are hurt by starvation, hunger, verbal abuse and domestic violence than cats and the love they allow us to lavish on them." quote from yours truly - CK
I'm not good at casual but this is set modestly for a Friday meal with friends - only one wine glass and simple cutlery.
Plate - A whole blog could be given over to this beautiful service. Czech pre-1938. (Eichwalder Prozellan). The Jewish owners were "sent away" and the business placed under German administration. I would love to know more (& replace a plate).
Usual Christofle silver-plate.
Glass, modest, (believed Belgium) from Izzi &Popo, fabulous Melbourne shop, sadly no more.
Mini soup tureens for S&P (Pillivuyt)
Salt spoons, silver Birmingham 1910 (Hobart Salamanca market stall)
Red Hawaiin volcanic salt (tastes like salt!) & freshly ground pepper.
Red bottomed glass (pair) - present from Meryl, from china. I like to intersperse them with others.
Linen napkin (12) from, antique shop, Place des Vosges, Paris.
Portes-couteaux (knife rests) from a vast "brocantes", held in a farmer's field, outside Bordeaux. Cheap, cheap, cheap and one is chipped on a corner (so I smoothed it over with several layers of clear nail varnish).
The next morning, in the cold, harsh light of day - not pretty but I've seen worse. The caption to this could be...
"Between the dream and the reality falls the shadow" - T.S. Elliott (The Hollow Men)
"Après moi, le déluge" attributed to Louis XV
-Tired so I didn't co-ordinate the post-prandial cups well - black & gold over the-top-cups for tisane (c. 1955 Foley Bone China) and Susie Cooper (c.1970 Wedgwood Corn Poppy) for coffee. The teapot by Heinrich Löffelhard, follows the Wagenfeld Bauhaus design. Central filter removed, it's filled with lemon verbena leaves from the garden. The plates are Sarguemines majolica (c. 1935). My mother loathed them and as a child, I adored the realistic leaves, apples and pears.
I have lunch in town with a friend just returned from taking a tour to Southern Italy. A sad sight - five men at lunch (business meeting?) awkward, staring ahead, as they have their napkins placed on their laps. They look uncomfortable and probably are. They don’t want this fiddling about their person but are embarrassed to say so or cause a fuss. It’s too late to stop this fairly recent custom, (unless you grab the napkin as you sit down and handle it yourself). But it’s interesting to consider where it came from.
European households use napkins in daily life. People grow up using them, indeed becoming reliant on them, needing them.
European restaurants do not “lap” their guests. I ask Rosa whether the insidious “lapping” has crept into Italy. “No way! They’d get slapped!” The poshest restaurant I ever went to (L’Ambroisie, place des Vosges, Paris) does not “lap”.
Unfortunately, it will start to happen as restaurants and cafés need to accommodate the American and Anglo-Saxon tourists who do not have daily napkin experience. (And here, with families having finger-friendly dinners in front of the TV, casualness calls for no napkins even as the need for them grows.)
So waiters, faced with nowhere to place your food because the napkin is still in place, decide they have to do it for you.
Let’s rise up and stamp this out. Start a movement. Grow up, I say. Claim your space. Take your napkin (unless of course you like your lap fiddled with).
A wine writer came to dinner one evening and certainly brought a generous selection of wine. (He'd just finished a wine-tasting.) He scoffed at my wine glasses. I held myself in check and did not mention that when we visited him, he was still chopping when we arrived, spent most of the evening in the kitchen (stir-fry is difficult for 10) and gave me a paper napkin.
Getting together is first about being with friends (a stranger is a friend you don't yet know - 1970's hippie adage), then about the fun of the accoutrements and the food. It's not a wine-tasting.
At left, a small (very small) selection from C. who doesn't think he could chose just one glass.
I love the coloured stems, the custard cups (middle RHS) and (Wow!) the Germanic roemer riesling glasses with amber stems (Riedal, just calm down!)