Just a few trays...Royal Doulton "Yvonne", Wedgwood black basalt, Arabia, Waechtersbach, Limoges,
Spode, Rosenthal, Arzberg...
Finally, the new carpet is to go down. (It took a while to find the colour. It seems no-one does colour any more - it's wall to wall beige, taupe, grey, steel, cream, brown or taupe.) Had to move the furniture in the sitting room. This meant emptying one of the sideboards. A dear friend helped. Because it's not her house, she could be brutality impartial and sensible. We found, among other things, coffee cups for 73 guests. I haven't mentioned the teacups.
Am I a hoarder? No, I'm a collector. A collection is only as good as your retrieval system. And I can tell you that my retrieval system is now a lot better.
Notice I said "one of the sideboards". Soon, Rosa will come over, have a ristretto in one of the coffee cups and we'll get down to sorting the rest. I use everything and get much pleasure from it. I don't have ordinary and "for best". But I think there is definitely a garage sale coming up - a well curated garage sale of course.
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The occasion was really to celebrate the 19th century fish service; 12 plates, a long platter and a sauce boat. This has been sitting in a glass-fronted cabinet in a room of Barbie’s rambling house, set in possibly Hobart’s best garden.
We were there for a four-day break. I cooked a simple dinner, trying to put as little pressure as possible on the kitchen. Fortunately, Tasmania has a thriving food scene. We started with half capsicums stuffed with cherry tomatoes of many colours, thyme sprigs and feta, roasted with local olive oil.
Next was the pièce de résistence, a whole Blue-Eye Trevalla pre-ordered from the local fishery. This went with creamy pink-eye potatoes and sauce vierge. Apart from the fish plates themselves, the hit of the night was the sauce. (See below.)
We finished with an extravagant Pavlova and huge, perfumed strawberries. The evening was meant to be easy so I bought the Pavlova base. (There I’ve said it!) With tons of cream on top, deep red, sliced strawberries and passion-fruit pulp, no one could believe that I’d bought the base. I should have kept quiet.
There are many versions on the net (Jamie Oliver, Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Michael Guérard, even the Irish Times) but this is what I did, because the herb garden held an embarrassment of riches. The sauce will turn fish, scallops, chicken, beef fillet, cauliflower, haloumi, anything into a masterpiece.
For eight people
(Quantities of ingredients are very “flexible”. Chop, then measure.)
150 ml EV olive oil
3- 4 ripe tomatoes, in tiny dice (Keep juice & seeds)
1/3 cup finely chopped shallots or red onion
2 tbsp rinsed small capers
½ cup chopped herbs
(I used tarragon, marjoram, chives. I could have also used basil or parsley – all together or singly.)
Mix all together and check if you’d like seasoning – salt or even a splash of sweet vinegar (I won’t call it balsamic) or brown sugar (depending on the tomatoes). It will sit patiently until you need it.
The fish service is unmarked but probably French, 19thC. It is wonderfully vulgar with an acid green edge, pink orchid-like flowers and realist underwater scenes of different fish, seaweed and anemones. The sauceboat is very OTT. Very petit bourgeois. We all adored it and I’m sure the service was happy to have come out of seclusion for the evening.
The Calm Before The Fish
This is certainly not the perfect table setting.
One wouldn't put the cup, saucer and teaspoon out until the end of the meal and why would the teaspoon be placed between the knife and the soup spoon?
The preferred cutlery with the dessert spoon would be a dessert fork rather than a cake fork and I'd like to see them tidied up, more tightly together above the dinner plate. IF I were offering bread, I'd probably suggest the B & B plate lower on the left. (The napkin could even possibly be placed on this plate, leaving more room for the phone.)
The phone is nicely positioned for easy reach BUT as Tony Brooks (Heirloom Wines, father of Zar Brooks, Dandelion Wines) asks...
at home, where do you place the remote?
A new month, a new quarter allows for a new home page. Glassware of note is by Per Lutkin - "Princess" for Holmgaard, last made late 1960s. Beautiful and possibly the coolest glasses ever, still available on vintage sites, fairly readily, possibly because they defy our sense of stability and gravity. They are glasses I don't bring out with exuberant friends with wild hand gestures.
They help define the era in the film Darling (1965-John Schlesinger) with Julie Christie, Dirk Bogarde and the sexy Laurence Harvey. Holmgaard Princess are in the background when Miles (Harvey) seduces Diana (Christie) in his swinging London flat.
As a girl, I thought it was the coolest, deepest film I'd ever seen. The characters waft through an existential, amoral existence. Words like louche and roué come to mind. Diana gets her comeuppance marrying the fatuous Prince Cesare della Romito.
Ah, youth! Find it, watch it.
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.)
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
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.
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!)
The plate is by Bing & Grondhal, started in 1853 (Denmark) but merged with Royal Copenhagen in 1987 (financial crisis, cheap imports, overseas slave labour over high wage costs, general apathy to dining & the decorative arts, whatever). This design, Erantis, is its second most popular after Seagull, which is said to be found in one in ten Danish homes. (Too blue!) This plate dates from c.1955 and the design continued to the late ‘70s.
Cutlery - Christofle Vendome, fork and spoon given to me at birth, by tradition, by my French relatives.
I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. It was silver plate.
From nineteen, my parents gave me a fork, a spoon or a knife in the same design every birthday or Christmas so I have a full service. (A great present idea – think about it.)
Tablecloth – my mother's – eau de nil linen –just post WW11 so the napkins are only 48cm x 48cm square (19" x 19") - not as generous as older ones.
The most important accreditation goes to the Cherry Cheesecake I bought from Muratti Cakes & Gâteaux in Prospect.