setting the table

It’s a rare meal when I don’t set the table, and everyone sits together, at once.

Sometimes we’ll have a pizza picnic in the family room, along with a movie, or a buffet without all the chairs around the table, but generally there is a minimum of table setting: a dish at each place, a glass, a napkin.

I like to enjoy the pieces I have, so I make a point to reach for the platters and hand-wash-only salad servers.  I put out a heavy bread board that’s reserved for slicing bread, not a basket or dish. We have our favourite cups for coffee. 

I often choose an old teacup for coffee; I’m usually having an espresso with some milk, so I don’t need a big clunky mug. As I pour my coffee, it’s a little moment of pleasure, rather than just splashing the brew into any clean cup. When there’s oatmeal for breakfast, my little ones like to have a small pitcher of milk on the table so they can pour their own milk to cool their cereal. Somehow it’s better than if I pour their milk from the glass pitcher in the fridge.


If there are olives, or little marinated things from the antipasto bar for dinner, we put them out in small dishes, saucers, and flower-shaped bowls. Sometimes I put sour cream on the table in it’s tub, on taco night. But that’s an exception, not the rule. 

Recently, at Christmas, I was trying to reconcile what I feel is my style, with what dishes, napkins, tablecloths I have. What was ‘fancy’, yet still felt like me to use it?

Many items have been passed down to me over the years, and even though I like them, they’re not necessarily what I’d choose if I went to the store. And what to use the next night, when we were hosting a still-celebrating-the-holiday family dinner?

So: the first night, for Christmas dinner,  I used a heavy white table cloth, and put a long stretch of raw, pale yellow silk with rough-hewn ends down the middle of the table. It’s actually a finely woven scarf, but isn’t used and it suited the table. Then a few candles: some tealights in a silver holder, plus some tall beeswax tapers that were a gift, in colourful ceramic holders I bought years ago in Italy.

Years ago, my mother-in-law offered us a set of ‘good’ dishes when she was clearing out some belongings, and we often use those for occasions or crowds, because we have plenty of pieces in the set. They have a forest green edge, and are trimmed with gold.  For our Christmas dinner, with the heavy white cloth and pale-yellow silk cloth, the green-edged plates sat around the table at each person’s place.

flower bowls

The second night, I laid out a printed, cotton table cloth with matching napkins that a friend brought me from France as a wedding gift. I added candles, again, and some chocolates at each place.

I’m still not sure if it was entirely my style, but there were small dishes of marinated things – and no plastic tubs on the table.

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