Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Entertaining Tips from the Pros




Entertaining and food seem to be areas of great interest to many interior and fashion designers. Perhaps it's only natural as most of these individuals have a keen sense of aesthetics. If a designer's home is his calling card, why would he or she sully the image with sloppy entertaining?

Ideas, tips, and recipes from designers abound- most of them have very definite opinions. So let's see what a few design legends have had to say on the subject. Some of the advice might seem outdated or rigid, while others might induce an "A ha!" moment.



* Elsie de Wolfe had a lot to say about entertaining. So much so that she wrote Elsie de Wolfe's Recipes for Successful Dining. de Wolfe believed that "the perfect meal is the short meal". Remember, de Wolfe wrote the book at a time when dining was a bit more elaborate than today. A few other tidbits: Never have high flower vases on your table. Keep your table decorations "low, low, low". And "Curried Veal Kidneys" is a recipe for successful dining.



* Dorothy Draper, the merriest of decorators, once wrote that a "delighted hostess is a delightful hostess" (this from Entertaining is Fun!). Dorothy had a point- who wants to be around a harried hostess? She also wrote that she never held up a dinner party for more than half an hour waiting for a tardy guest. And canned turtle soup with sherry is something that one should always have in his pantry. (Do they still make canned turtle soup?)



* Dorothy Rodgers thought (and wrote) a great deal about entertaining. The woman certainly was attuned to the details and planning of dinner parties, weekend house parties, and casual affairs. Rodgers' advice included using cloths on small tables as opposed to place mats, using matching crystal stemware, and passing crackers with the first course. Oh, "The Game", "Improbable Conversations", and "Botticelli" are all FUN parlor games, at least according to Rodgers.



* Genevieve Antoine Dariaux, the late directrice of Nina Ricci couture house, wrote all about Entertaining with Elegance. Did you know that yellow asters and orange chrysanthemums in a copper container make a chic floral arrangement? Or that Asparagus tips with a bit of mayonnaise rolled up in thinly sliced white bread makes a tasty tea sandwich? And that wine glasses should be filled one half to two-thirds full? You do now, thanks to Ms. Dariaux.




*Mark Hampton was not a fan of table linens made of polyester. He also thought one should avoid using colored candles (unless it was a Christmas celebration) as well as narcissus and lilies- too odoriferous for the dinner table.



*Bunny Williams likes to have a drinks tray set up on a table so that guests can help themselves to libations. She also uses Pepperidge Farm thin sliced bread for tea sandwiches and Duncan Hines brownies for dessert.

15 comments:

  1. Would love to know your own entertaining tips - bet there are a few for the ages there as well.

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  2. Patricia- Well, I do have my own likes and dislikes! And I don't mind colored candles either ;)

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  3. Curried kidneys? no thanks! Other ideas are interesting though.

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  4. Dear Peak, I suspect this is one of your tongue-in-cheek moments. Reading through the list of dining suggestions had me imagining the perfect menu
    beginning with Dorothy's sherry-infused turtle soup, moving on to Elsie's Curried Veal Kidneys and then building to a crescendo with Bunny's Brownies. Those crackers that Dorothy Rodgers recommends~did she mean Christmas crackers that require 2 guests to pull apart? That always ensures civilised hilarity. On the other hand if she meant plain old Saltines, wouldn't they be crumbled into that Canned Turtle Soup? I just want to get this right.

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  5. Balsamfir11:33 AM

    I do like pale colored candles, but I completely agree about low flower arrangements and polyester tablecloths. A lot of people here simply say one can't sit next to the person we came with, a rule I enjoy, and then we often reseat for dessert at large parties. For me the essential ingredient is great people.

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  6. Great post! It's always entertaining to see how our social behavior and values have evolved over the ages. These days it seems that "entertaining" involves pizza in front of the tv while watching football. Ugh.

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  7. Love, love, love your digging into the archive. Even though some of the food may seem strange and unappealing, the advice all of these fun loving party animals from the past give still rings true in an updated situation. Have you ever seen The Liberace Cook Book? I would kill to have a copy! It too is filled with wonderful vintage food ideas, and decor.

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  8. I think I like Bunny's menu the best and I love that yellow Draper tablecloth :)

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  9. Thank you for your short but engaging survey of late 20th century entertaining. How meticulous and careful were those hosts & hostesses. Are you familiar with "The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book"? She famously describes her lunch for Picasso: "One day when Picasso was to lunch with us I decorated a fish in a way that I thought would amuse him. I chose a fine striped bass and cooked it according to a theory of my grandmother who had no experience in cooking and who rarely saw her kitchen but who had endless theories about cooking as well as many other things. She contended that a fish having lived in life in water, once caught, should have no further contact with the element in which it had been born and raised. She recommended that it be roasted or poached in wine or cream or butter. . . A short time before serving it I covered the fish with an ordinary mayonnaise and, using a pastry tube, decorated it with a red mayonnaise, not colored with catsup--horror of horrors--but with tomato paste. Then I made a design with sieved hard boiled eggs, the whites and the yolks apart, with truffles and with finely chopped 'fines herbes.' I was proud of my chef d'oeuvre when it was served and Picasso exclaimed at its beauty. But, said he, should it not rather have been made in honour of Matisse than of me."

    Oh for those parties that occasion wit and delight. What party decorations can do that these days?

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  10. LOVE this posting! Love to read about how people entertain! Love Bunny's ideas from her marvellous "An Affair with A house" Also check out "Entertaining with Southern Style" published a few years ago by the editors of Southern Accents. And most recently - Julia Reed's "Ham biscuits, Hostess Gowns and other Southern Specialities" Witty and charming! BTW -- I do agree about the overpowering and/or too tall arrangements on the dining table!

    Jan at Rosemary Cottage

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  11. I have made so many of de Wolfe's recipes. Alas, they are bland in the extreme. However I have had great success with Diana Vreeland's caviar pie, Bill Blass's meatloaf, and the Duchess of Windsor's oyster loaf (huge hit with all guests).

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  12. I keep a box of angelfood cake mix in the pantry. A fabulous and simple dessert is angelfood cake topped with vanilla bean ice cream and fresh berries. Serve in small, not large and gaudy glops and in elegant little dishes.

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  13. I love it when people I assume would be snobs (read, bunny williams) use duncan hines and pepperidge farms - brings it down a notch. I love this post!

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  14. What great tips and fun photos from the past!

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  15. very entertaining post... it is truly an art to entertain in style!

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