Helping my Saratoga friend set the table for her dinner party, I was folding the napkins into swans when she commented, "You've got to meet my colleague Susanne; she is a real dining-room diva."
Not sure it was a good thing to be a DRD, I asked my friend what was her interpretation of a dining-room diva. "Oh, you know, someone who thinks a lot about everything."
"Fussy?" I queried.
"Not really," she answered. "She is just more interested in things most of us don't care about."
I gently changed the napkins into rectangular folds.
Oh busboy. How to define a dining-room diva? Having some fun, we came up with a few characteristics.
In the dining room, a dining-room diva:
Uses cloth napkins.
Has several how-to books on napkin folding.
Coordinates the table cloth to the napkins.
Coordinates the table cloth to the wallpaper.
Irons the tablecloth.
Irons the napkins.
Matches the napkins to the centerpiece.
Has a centerpiece.
Matches the flowers in the centerpiece to the flowers on the plate design.
Measures that each plate is two inches from the edge.
Straightens each plate so that the grapes are in the lower right hand corner of each set plate.
Straightens each chair to be centered to the plate.
Knows how to use finger bowls.
Owns finger bowls.
Sometimes uses finger bowls.
Serves individual salt and pepper shakers.
Owns sorbet glasses.
Uses sorbet glasses.
Makes her own sorbet.
Serves everyone ice water.
Serves ice water in stemmed glasses.
Places lemon in the ice water.
Serves butter pats.
Serves butter pats in the shape of roses.
Puts butter pats on the bread and butter plate.
Uses bread and butter plates.
Uses bread and butter knives.
Knows to place bread and butter knives at right diagonals on the bread and butter plate.
Knows what knife rests are.
Uses knife rests.
Decides the appropriate place for each guest to sit.
Seats guests boy/girl/boy/girl.
Uses place cards for each guest.
Uses silver silverware that needs to be polished.
Polishes the silver silverware before each use.
Polishes the silver with gloves on to keep from scratching it.
Sets an appropriate utensil for each course.
Uses a dinner fork, salad fork, coffee spoon, soup spoon, dessert fork and spoon.
Knows to put dessert fork and spoon over the plate.
Owns a fish knife and a fish fork.
Uses a fish knife and fork.
Uses plate chargers.
Uses plate chargers that aren't plastic.
Uses underliners under soup bowls and stemmed desserts.
Puts doilies on the underliners.
Pairs the wine with each course.
Uses a different wine glass for each course.
Angles the wine glasses on the right.
Has subscriptions to Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple and Food and Wine.
Phew, where do we stop? Knowing full well that I was falling in the category of "caring too much," she told me she thought it was better to be a dining-room diva than a dining-room ditz. Whats a ditz? She answered, "Someone who puts a paper milk carton on the table." I'll serve more of that another time.
I found this little explanation of perfection in Victorian dining that would certainly crown anyone a diva extraodinaire if they would pull this off. Enjoy.
"A dinner, no matter how recherche, how sumptuous, will never go off well if the wine is bad, the guests not suited to each other, the faces dull, and the dinner eaten hastily.
"But some impatient reader will exclaim, How can we manage to unite all these conditions, which enhance, in a supreme degree, the pleasures of the dinner-table?
"Listen attentively, gentle reader.
"Let them be so collected that their occupations are different, their tastes similar.
"Let the number of your guests never exceed twelve, so that the conversation may constantly remain general.
"Let your dining-room be brilliantly lighted, your cloth perfectly clean, and the temperature of the room compatable.
"Let the men be clever without presumption, the women amiable without conceit.
"Let your dishes be limited in number, but each excellent, and your wines first-rate. Let the former vary from the most substantial to the most light.
"Let everything be served quietly, without hurry or bustle; let your guests look upon themselves as travelers who have arrived at the end of their journey.
"Let the coffee be very hot, and the liqueurs of first quality.
"Let your drawing-room be spacious enough to allow a game to be played, if desired, without interfering with those addicted to chatting.
"Let the guests be retained by the pleasant company, and cheered with the hope that, before the evening is over, there is something good still in store for them.
"Let no one leave before eleven, but let everyone be in bed by midnight."
- From "The Handbook of Dining, or Corpulence and Leanness Scientifically Considered," by Brillat-Savarin, 1865.
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