Friday, October 12, 2012

Dinner Party Series: Early Autumn

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness …” Written nearly 200 years ago, John Keats exquisite ode, To Autumn, addresses the fullness of early Fall. As the days shorten and cool, and the leaves turn to yellow, red, and bronze, the harvest starts in earnest. Now is the time to introduce Fall’s warm colors to the dinner table, sharing some of the Autumn bounty with family and friends. No recipe, today - though plenty in the days to come! 

Today, I’d like to talk about the beauty of color in setting a table, setting a mood, and setting out to have a great dinner party! Everyone has different ideas about table-settings: Dont be afraid to try something creative and different! 

I recently gave a Fall-themed party in which I did the unthinkable: When the main course proved difficult to navigate with a knife and fork, I suggested my guests pick up the food with their fingers. Why not? After some initial discomfort, everyone ate exactly as they would have (given the same awkward-to-handle main course) in the privacy of their homes

I’ll talk about menus, mains, and mistakes tomorrow, but color’s the focus, today! What better way to “talk” about color than to “show” you? If youre clueless about color or feel you just don’t “get it,” collect a handful of paint chips to determine what pleases you. Thats a strong starting point.

I’m fortunate to have lived in both urban and rural settings as well as in the desert, near the ocean, and in the middle of a forest. Whatever your setting - whether geographic or cultural - make the most of it by transporting that environment into your home and onto the table, bringing the “outside” inside. Thats what I always try to do when I work with color and design at home.

I believe the heart of any home is the kitchen. Whether you live alone, live with a partner, share your space with friends, or have a houseful of kids, good food generates good feelings. When youre setting a Fall table, the loveliest color palate comes directly from nature itself. It is a misconception that you need a lot of money to do this! The following are some Guidelines and Tips for what I often do: 

If you feel that collecting and spreading a few Fall leaves on the table and sideboard will beautify your surroundings, do it! Arrange bare twigs in a tall vase. Buy table glitter - it’s less than $2 - and spread it with flair! Light candles - whether natural ones with a wick, the new battery-operated (flameless) type, or tea lights. But let me caution you on the latter!
A tea light that fails to light a second time? Disgusting! 
The shot on the right shows what not to buy - a tea light less than half the depth of the former standard size, filled with so little wax that it burns barely an hour. The wicks are so poor that once extinguished - even with plenty of wax remaining - they cannot be relit!    

(IKEA once sold quality tea lights, but this is what IKEA and other merchants sell today. Boycott these tea lights. They are dreck, Dollinks. Keep your money in your pocket. Don’t fall for this made-in-China scam.) 

Color can make any party memorable. Although bright, bold colors may not be to everyones liking, this palate sets a striking Autumn table. Clicking on each photo will enlarge it:

Bring the outside inside with the jewel tones of Fall
My palate employs rich reds, yellows, and gold highlights 
Bright, warm colors offer casual flair
Place cards at each setting: I had the extra time to be creative

A candle is a focal point: Ensure the flame touches nothing

A cornucopia on the sideboard extends the Autumn theme

I love the warmth of whimsey: This rooster fills the bill!

A celebration deserves  a splash of bubbly
This water jug has had many years' use, indoors and out

Any items can further your color theme, from teacups ...

To tea bags
Where did I find these lovely things? In the most unexpected places! The red plates came from World Market in Oregon, on sale for $1 apiece three year ago. I’ve had the yellow napkins for at least 25 years, paying $2 for them in a department store. The red glasses came from the giftware department of a drugstore, where I paid $6.50 for each, 10 or 12 years ago. 

The gold-lacquered charger plates were $1 apiece in the same drugstore store; all these years later, theyre still just $2 today. I’ve had the placemats for years and years, and use them all the time. I bought the little baskets (beside the place cards) at Michaels, a nationwide craft store, more than 10 years ago for no more than $1 each, gluing on the ribbons and tiny cones. The orange candle and Fall decorations around it came from the same place; I bought them for $15 a few weeks ago. I bought the filled cornucopia and the rooster at a dollar store, years ago. I’ve had the yellow cups more than 25 years. The silver tray under the tea bags normally lies under a small gravy boat my parents gave me in 1967: I’ve used the tray for after-dinner mints or tea bags ever since.

Most of these things, I save and store from one year to the next, bringing them out to celebrate the change of seasons and rarely adding anything new to this admittedly large collection. I use the cups, glasses and dishes throughout the year, intermingling them with other color schemes to get the most use from them. 

The message? If you see it and love it and can afford it and it works with what you already own, treat yourself and buy it! Setting a beautiful table is well worth the effort - whether just for you or for a crowd. The more important message? When you buy it, use it! To be fully enjoyed, beautiful things should be shared. Break bread with someone, Dollinks - and use your favorite plates.

Note: I’ve done several other blogs on Dinner Party Guidelines and Tips. You'll find them in the Index under that heading.

Tomorrow: Quail in Balsamic Glaze as well as more Guidelines and Tips.

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