Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Dishes

The ideal casserole dish which can go from oven to table (except at a formal dinner), Chateau de Condeby Porcelaine De Paris, from Replacements.Ltd

This is one chapter which really highlights the difference between entertaining in the sixties, and entertaining today. There is an entire chapter devoted to dishes...as in plates and stuff. The main point that Genevieve makes is that "Harmony and appropriateness are always the principal criteria of elegance - in this case, harmony with the rest of your table and with your dining room decor, and appropriateness to the meal that is to be served and to the occasion."

Women, apparently, should "possess two sets of dishes: a simple, relatively inexpensive one for informal and family meals; and another more previous service for formal entertaining." This probably makes a lot more sense in the days where women spent their youth stocking their "glory box" and then bought "wedding china", but today, it doesn't really work like that. In my experience, I've found that people either stick with a basic white set (such as the Maxwell and Williams White Basics), or with a coloured/patterned set you can buy from our many department stores. I actually do have an every day set, and then a good set (which was a bridal shower gift), but I rarely use the good set...mostly because I forget I have it!!

Genevieve highlights that, even in 1960, there is a plethora of "special services" and assorted types of bowls, and that while a purpose designed oyster dish might be nice, they're really not necessary, even when Entertaining with Elegance.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Diplomacy

Ambassador Sally Adams (former Washington Hostess) receiving advice from her embassy staff. Photo from Love Letters to Old Hollywood.

Call Me Madam is one of my favourite old movies - especially for the parts with Donald O'Connor in them - but I feel that I should find a copy and watch it again after reading this chapter on Diplomacy. Genevieve points out that an official hostess is required for every diplomatic posting, whether that is a wife, sister or adult daughter (remember, there weren't many female diplomats back then...or even now), and that this hostess has the power to make or break a diplomat's career.

Going back to Call Me Madam, what made me think of that movie was the explanation in the chapter:
Needless to say, a woman who has spent her entire life in international society possesses an incalculable advantage over the person who has never stirred beyond the borders of her home town. However, if the latter is endowed wuth charm, tact, intelligence, adaptability, good taste, discretion, and above all conscientiousness, it is perfectly possible for her to make a brilliant success and even to enjoy herself immensely in the process, as has been proved by a number of ambassadors' wives who have been catapulted overnight from a quiet suburban home in the complex, sophisticated realm of foreign affairs.
Genevieve neglects to mention, however, that a husband who works in foreign affairs is also a necessary part of this puzzle. 

Rather than going into detail regarding the protocol around hosting in this environment, we are urged to follow the advice of the embassy staff which "includes professional experts who are perfectly versed in the subtle techniques of diplomatic entertaining". Every culture is different, and there are different expectations from the variety of people within the diplomatic circle, so trust your embassy staff to lead you in the right direction, and never assume that you know more than they do, simply because your "rank" is higher.

Are diplomats today expected to have someone to act as an official host? This is probably becoming more difficult as wives tend to have their own careers, apart from being their husband's hostess. There is also the question of female diplomats and the role that their partners are expected to play. Are husbands expected to play the role of hostess just as wives have been?

Friday, April 7, 2017

A letter of apology

 
My last post was in August 2015, and today is the 7th of April 2017...it has been 20 months since I last posted. I can't believe it. My second last post was just before I gave birth to my son, so I suppose that I can blame motherhood for slowing me down a bit. I didn't think it would, after all, I now only work part time. But the days that I'm not at work are now filled with playing, eating, cleaning (not as much as I should be doing) and basically spending time with my delightful little boy.
I am feeling the urge, however, to write - to write creatively. Not for work, not for the website I set up (Babies who lunch), but to just write for enjoyment. And so I'm back, hopefully a little more consistently then I have been.

Dinner Dances

Golden Jubilee Dinner Dance / Hotel St. George
November 17, 1957, from The Faith Community of St Brendan's Catholic Church
A privately hosted "Dinner Dance" is something that I have never attended, or even really heard of people hosting. There are many house parties, with some food and dancing. Or general parties at other venues with food and dancing...but there isn't a lot of formality at these parties. I have been to a number of "gala" or "conference" dinners - a dinner held during a multi-day conference for the delegates to attend - and you'll be pleased to know that they followed some of Genevieve's guidelines for Dinner Dances.

"...a successful dinner dance requires a large number of guests and a sufficient number of small round tables each seating six, eight or ten persons, arranged around the edges of the dance floor..." and this is exactly how gala dinner are still laid out today. Genevieve invites us into the world of the wife of the French Consul in Philadelphia, Madame Pierre Gabard, and a dinner dance which she hosted following a performance of the Comédie Française.

Thankfully Madame Gabard was in possession of suitable serving staff who were able to "supervise the extra help during her absence" as she would be arriving with her guests, and not before them. Naturally the women were invited, upon arrival, to refresh in Madame Gabard's bedroom before being served cocktails in the library. The home of the French Consulate in Philadelphia unfortunately didn't lend itself to arranging small round tables around a dance floor, however an experience entertainer such as Madame Gabard simply went with the other option and utilised the entrance hall as the dance floor and band area, with tables set up in the living room to one side of the hall, and the dining room to the other. 

Naturally guests were provided with "[a] tiny white and gold envelopes, each bearing the name of a guest, with a card inside indicating the number of the table where each would find his place in either the living room or dining room.
It is customary to place husbands and wives at separate tables, except during the first year of marriage and throughout the engagement period. It is, needless to say, considered very bad manners indeed to leave one's place at a table before the end of the meal in order to join another one that may appear to be more amusing.

Nowadays, however, most dinner dances are events where people have bought tickets, and they expect to sit with their friends and partners. The purpose of these evenings is no longer to meet people and make social connections, but to have fun and, more often than not, to raise money for charity. So while some of these guidelines for Dinner Dances are still appropriate today, some are completely unnecessary. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Dinners - Buffet Dinners

A beautifully presented buffet table - from Flickr, Ryan Khatam
According to Genevieve, "The buffet dinner-party has become more and more fashionable, and it is also the formula I prefer." I completely disagree. I may have been popular in the sixties and, admittedly, it is still popular, but I can think of nothing worse than a buffet dinner. With this anti-buffet mindset, let us see if Genevieve can change my mind.

A buffet dinner is "always much gayer and more relaxed" because it:
  • permits a greater number of guests;
  • allows extra guests to be invited at the last minute;
  • requires less professional help; and
  • allows people to sit with whomever they want - not according to a seating arrangement.
A buffet dinner is no more than a cocktail party with more substantial refreshments.

Buffet dinners are ideal for large numbers, however it is important to ensure that the majority of them are already acquainted, so that you don't have to 'look after' them as hostess. "The buffet table itself will be the centre of attraction", which limits the need for extensive decoration. "The entire meal should be spread out from the very beginning", saving those dishes that need to be refrigerated until served, and therefore it is the meal itself that becomes the decoration for the evening.

Lay out the plates and cutlery at one end of the table, and ensure there are napkins available as well. Preferably you would have drinks served somewhere else, because naturally "you will also be serving cocktails before dinner", however you must remember to serve some canapes with your drinks so that people aren't drinking on an empty stomach.

And now for the explicit instructions on hosting a buffet dinner from Entertaining with Elegance, starting with a fashion tip: A buffet dinner "is the ideal occasion for the hostess to wear what is aptly described by the fashion press as 'a hostess ensemble': a long simple sheath dress of tweed in the winter and of linen in the summer, with one or two pieces of jewellery at the most.

"When the desired mood has been achieved", and hopefully before people get too drunk and hungry, it is time to produce some small tables for people to sit at and then "ask your guests to serve themselves at the buffet, where you station yourself in order to help them". Most of the food served should be cold so that it can be prepared in advance, however one big hot dish is lovely if you are organised enough to do it. Genevieve suggests something hearty, such as "a Spanish paella, barbecued lamb with couscous, baked whole ham [or] beef stroganoff with rice". Hopefully you have an electric hotplate to keep it warm while people are serving themselves.

A buffet dinner is a great opportunity to incorporate a theme, especially a national theme such as "Italy, Spain, or Mexico, Scandinavia, Russia, China, Japan - the opportunities are endless". If you choose to do this, you can also theme your decorating, which is a nice and festive touch.

This is also the perfect time to buy an entire cheese wheel to "be served after the meat course has been cleared". Apparently the appearance of the cheese wheel "is certain to create a stir" in the sixties at least.

After reading this chapter, I can admit that a buffet dinner definitely has it's place in our entertaining repertoire, but only if it is done well. I have stated previously on this blog that food can make or break an event, and mass produced food, sitting out on a table, can very easily lead to the breaking of an event. So make sure the food at your buffet is plentiful, fresh (meaning that it is cold if it's meant to be, and hot if you're meant to eat it hot), and well made and you may be able to become the ideal buffet hostess.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dinners - Formal Dinners

A very formal dinner party - from Apartment Therpay
Somewhat more pretentious is the large dinner-party consisting of ten to twelve people (this number being the maximum possible for the average-sized dining room table and for the usual supply of dishes, table settings and glasses a hostess possesses); but you may invite even more if there is sufficient room and equipment.

This is how the section on Formal Dinners opens in Entertaining with Elegance and straight away there are problems for the modern hostess - namely the implication that an 'average-sized' dining room table can seat 10 to 12 people. The biggest dining room tables that I see are usually for 8. Also most crockery sets come with places for 8, and most boxed glass sets actually only come with 6 glasses. This implies that the 'average size' for entertaining has definitely shrunk since the 1960s.

Genevieve goes on to tell us that the make up of the guest list is not really as important as for smaller dinners, but what is important is the "etiquette in placing ... guests at the table, and in this regard there are a thousand amusing anecdotes, dating mostly from the turn of the century when society apparently was more preoccupied with the question of protocol".
Tradition required the host and hostess to be seated opposite each other at the middle of the table, with the most honoured guests at their right and left and then in descending order of importance towards each end. ... In actual practice, the most successful system and the most usual nowadays is to place the host and hostess at either end of the table, with the least honoured guests this being seated at the middle.

I'm forced to consider how we discern just how 'honoured' our guests are. This is probably quite easy if you're having a dinner party that consists of military personnel (place them by rank), or business people (from CEO down I would assume). But I rarely host these formal dinners, and so I'm happy that my square dining table keeps everyone equal - I'm basically King Arthur with my Round Table (or square in this case), where no one is more important than any other.

Now this is a formal dinner party, so "you should take special pains with the decoration of the dining table.... Even if you have to spend two full hours of hard work in setting a lovely table - and one hour is generally the minimum time required to set a table for ten - you will be largely rewarded by the admiring exclamations your efforts are certain to elicit from your guests." 

It is also "indispensable" to have professional staff assisting you for a formal dinner, including waiters and a cook if possible "because on this occasion it is out of the question for you to leave your place at the table." Thankfully Genevieve remembers that we can't all afford to have cooks and so offers the suggestion of ordering some professional prepared dishes, however "you should make a point of requesting not too fancy a presentation, because everything should give the illusion of having been prepared in your own kitchen." And of course, my dears, "nothing is less chic than an over-elaborate dish".

We are not provided with suggested menus, however we are given a few guidelines and ideas:
  • Don't start your menu with caviar and lobster, for this easily gives an impression of noveau riche;
  • A suggested first course is creamed seafood in a huge pastry shell, or foie gras if you simply insist on spending a lot of money;
  • If your dinner is during the 'hunting season' (I honestly don't know when this is!), roast game is most appropriate;
  • During other seasons more traditional mains of roast chicken or baked ham in a pastry case, are ideal;
  • Following the main a cheese course is very elegant. The standard minimum of four cheeses includes one mild, solid type (Swiss Gruyère), one aged (Roquefort), one soft fermented type (Camembert) and one fresh creamy cheese;
  • Dessert should be superb but not too heavy. A moulded ice-cream served with chocolate or hot caramel sauce - a sort of sundae in other words - would be ideal; and
  • Don't forget the wine - a must have for your formal dinner, whether it is white, red or rose, it simply must not be forgotten!
The chapter on Formal Dinners continues with advice on the order of serving guests (ladies first), the fact that if you're serving a hot meal guests should be encouraged to start eating as soon as they're served (rather than waiting until all guests are served, and having their meal go cold), the serving of coffee in the lounge room following dinner (you should prepare one pot of normal coffee and another of a decaffeinated brew), and the idea of engaging people in a game of bridge or even some dancing after dinner.

After all of this, Genevieve finishes this chapter with a very insightful statement, which I think tells us why these kinds of large formal dinners have all but disappeared from a regular entertaining schedule:
To tell the truth, I have practically eliminated this kind of dinner party from my entertaining programme, simply because I have so often found the two hours that follow the meal interminable long when they are spent attempting to digest more or less successfully a rather heavy meal, and to dispel one's sneaking suspicion that everybody is secretly longing to go home to bed.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Dinners - Dinners for Six or Eight

Bridget Jones's Diary, 2001 - image from Let's Go To The Movies Tumblr
Your planning and execution of a dinner for six or eight only requires more effort than a dinner for four "if your guests are merely acquaintances", although ideally you will have used "infinite care and tact [to select] the two or three couples whom you wish to introduce to each other" and therefore the dinner conversation should still flow quite easily. However it appears that in the 60s a housewife didn't always have a say in who was invited for dinner. There were some general rules to follow, "never invite together two lawyers, two doctors, two architects...[and] never invite at the same time an important executive and a subordinate employee of the same company".

Assuming that you have safely curated your guest list, you can now greet your guests and Genevieve recommends that "when you first introduce each guest, [you should] try to describe in a few words what each ones does," just like in Bridget Jones's Diary!
Ah, introduce people with thoughtful details. Perpetua, this is Mark Darcy. Mark is a prematurely middle-aged prick with a cruel raced ex wife. Perpetua is a fat-ass old bag who spends her time bossing me around. - Bridget Jones's Diary, 2001
Maybe not! This is a very good suggestion for a hostess to take, however, because it is much easier to remember someones name if you can link it to something about them. So hopefully you can make your guests lives a little bit easier, by assisting them in the task of remembering new people.

Thankfully Genevieve continues to offer us alternatives for when hiring help simply isn't an option for larger dinner parties. We're advised to "begin with a hot entree and to continue with cold dishes that can be prepared in advance and laid out on the sideboard". This means that you don't have to leave the table to prepare food in the kitchen, and you'll be usefully on hand should the conversation become stilted. Even Genevieve experiences times when she is without help, for example:
In our house in the South of France, where I have nobody to help me serve meals, I often pass round with the before-dinner cocktails (which today very often consist simply of whisky or vodka), well-laden trays of rather hearty hors-dóeurves, which replace the entree and at the same time leave me free to put the last minute finishing touches on the main dish.

Don't forget that your housewife skills will still be under the microscope, even though your guests may barely know you, and that "you should never forget to reserve in your busy programme at least one full hour for yourself, in order to take a luxuroius bath, to get dressed and made up and to do your hair". Entertaining with Elegance closes the subject of dinner for six or eight with the beautiful statement that "one of the secrets of successful entertaining is always to give the impression to your guests that you have spent a most leisurely and agreeable day and are just as relaxed as they are. Entertaining is a marvelous pleasure for everyone concerned, and should never appear to be a chore."

It is quite difficult for me to compare this topic with what we do today, because it would be quite rare that anyone is called upon to host a dinner for people that they don't really know. Dinners like that are more likely to be held at restaurants nowadays, and no one really takes on the role of 'hostess'. I think the lack of this 'hostess' role can sometimes be quite missed. I'm sure there are many shy and reserved people who don't enjoy eating out with groups of people because they are often left out of the conversation. The job of the hostess is most definitely to ensure that everyone is happy and included. While you may not be 'hosting' a dinner for six or eight at your home, if you go to a restaurant and there are new people present, an effort should definitely be made to include them and ensure that they enjoy the night as much as you.