Thursday, 15 November 2012

Part I of The Hostess Series: Piecing Together the Basics

When I write about parenting or marriage, I come from the vantage of one on a journey who can simply share mistakes and little insights along the way.   I am far from feeling that I have any solid wisdom to share on those topics.   One area where I have a little more confidence from experience is that of entertaining, or what we used to call "having people over," before the days of cable networks dedicated completely to food, decorating, crafts, and parties.

My confidence stems from lessons learned from my mama and experience from almost sixteen years of marriage.  One of my friends who shares my love of hospitality always expresses gratitude that she was trained by her mother to make her home and events welcoming to others.   It is a precious gift and one that I think may have skipped a generation or two in recent times.    I really do enjoy having friends and family in our home.   I like to welcome people, nurture them and make them feel at home.   I never let our circumstances deter us from that.   Our first home was  a one-bedroom apartment, with a tiny dining area tucked into one side of the living area.   Standing in the middle of the kitchen, you could almost touch any part of the space.   We still had luncheons, dinners and movie nights there.

When we moved to Texas, we upgraded to a two-bedroom apartment in a four-plex.   The still-galley-style kitchen was slightly larger and the dining space gave a little more room to move around our little dinette table ($20 garage sale find, with one table and four chairs).   Again, we hosted couples, single friends, Christmas parties, and even Thanksgiving dinner.   Later would come three houses and children.   We still used our home to welcome people.   Over the years, I learned to plan menus, manage time, clean strategically, and keep costs in check for our circumstances at that time.   This first post in a new series of hostess tips addresses pieces of tableware that serve as great basics for entertaining in your home.

I don't have one style when it comes to tableware and entertaining pieces.  I've hosted everything from formal brunch in our dining room to Godfather movie night in our living room and then hot dog lunches for adults and children.   I have gradually collected basic pieces that work well across styles and events.

My Longaberger baskets are favorites of mine.   Most of them came from Mama.   Some of them were purchased full-price, others at the Longaberger outlet store and that huge bread-style basket was a phenomenal find at a garage sale for FIFTY CENTS.   True story.   I think someone moved into a house, that was left and they had no idea what it was worth.   Longaberger baskets should last a lifetime.   You can also find similar style baskets that are less expensive.   I like the plain style and natural colors.   I use the baskets mainly for breads, crackers, and serving items like napkins or cutlery.   Even something as simple as placing hot dog or hamburger buns in my large bread basket makes my buffet a little more welcoming and homey.    I don't like buying use-specific pieces since they lack versatility and are usually harder to store.   My baskets tend to work with all casual events and blend with any style pieces.   They also store easily since they can stack inside each other.  Baskets come in a variety of styles and some can even coordinate with modern dinnerware and decor.  

Above, a simple basket with a cloth napkin as a liner holds cutlery for a casual buffet.   I always buy nice fabric napkins at garage sales.   They are excellent as bread basket liners.   Decorated handkerchiefs are great for holiday basket liners throughout the year and usually cost only $1 or less at craft stores.    I also like buying inexpensive baskets like the one below that cost a whole $1 at a dollar store.   It's always nice to have on hand for us and it makes such a nice gift when I bring a meal to a family.   I can give them fresh baked rolls or muffins in an attractive basket for less than $2.  

A more rustic bread basket purchased at a dollar store.

From Mama, I learned the beauty and versatility of glass serving pieces.   Most of mine are ones I inherited after she passed away.   She collected them at garage sales.   Some are depression glass pieces, some are modern cut glass, and some are crystal.   They vary in colors and designs, but they all work together in eclectic beauty.   The genius of glass pieces is they can work with any style or color tableware.   The styles available range from old- fashioned, like mine, to sleek and modern.   They can be casual or rise to formality when needed.   In addition to garage sales and thrift shops, look for cut glass pieces at clearance stores or discount stores, especially during the holidays.

Here are a few of my glass pieces.   Cake stands, platform plates, platters, and bowls of varying sizes make up a good basic collection.    The ice bucket in the back is similar to a cookie jar from the same line, but is distinguished by its handle.

A cut glass sugar and creamer set will work with formal china, silver service, or casual tea cups and coffee mugs.   Plus, sugar cubes and real cream just look so pretty in them!

Paper plates have their place and I do make use of them, but I try to limit their use.   I purchased twenty-four appetizer-sized plain glass plates for about $20 ten years ago.   There is less waste and they are more substantial, particularly as guests walk around a space.   They can go with any of my dinnerware sets and they fit easily into the dishwasher.   

 In the pictures directly above and below, you can see my basic glassware and stemware for our everyday fare and casual entertaining.   I bought basic iced tea--or water outside the south--glasses that came in a set with matching juice glasses.   I chose this set because the juice glasses also double as old-fashioned glasses for cocktails like, well, old fashioneds or whiskey sours.   They are useful day-long and year-round for us.   Also, it's a timeless design that I will always be able to find when I need replacements.   In addition, they are easy to hold and will not tip over easily.   You should consider both practicality and comfort of use when choosing pieces.

I even found glass coffee mugs at a dollar store.   I only buy glassware that is made in the USA at such stores so I can feel confident about their safety for food consumption.   These are favorite glasses for friends when we meet for a cup of coffee!
I grew up in a "dry" home, so bar ware is a developing collection for me.   We have a basic wine glass that we use for reds and whites, even though I know I eventually need to have different sizes/styles for each.   The martini glasses are primarily used for frozen margaritas in Texas.   You'd use an old-fashioned for a margarita on the rocks.   The champagne flute is especially for brunch mimosas.  

I have a variety of pitchers and beverage dispensers.   Pictured below are Fiestaware pitchers that match my casual china.   The little creamer always gets at least one exclamation by a guest who appreciates its cuteness!

It's helpful to have at least two glass pitchers: one for water and one for iced tea (in the south, y'all).   I got the carafe on the right at a dollar store.   It is also available at discount chains.   The dispenser in the middle is what we keep in our fridge.   We put it on the counter for parties and gatherings.   I waited for years to buy one that I really liked!

I found my tea caddy on sale for less than $10.   It's just a nice way to present teas to guests.   It's also very attractive on my counter.   I think of the frilly, girly tea parties I have with friends every time I look at it and that makes me smile.

These are both serving pieces I found on the clearance aisle of my local Hallmark gift shop.  The one on the left is a Thanksgiving cracker tray, but it works year-round.   The piece on the right is a ceramic cheese board which came with a matching cheese knife.   I only buy pieces this themed or decorated when I find them at a great price.

When my husband I were married, we did not register for formal china.   We were both school teachers, living in a small apartment and we didn't have an immediate use for it, nor did we have storage space.   Instead, we registered for Fiestaware, made by china company, Homer Laughlin.   I fell in love with Fiestaware when I was in elementary school.   We went to the local nuclear plant for a tour.   In their education building, they had a red Fiesta plate under protective glass as an example of a common item that had small bits of radiation.   Seriously, the original line of Fiesta from the 1930s had red pieces that were a little dangerous.   In the early 1990s, the company re-introduced the line with completely safe colors!   Later, I saw a collection at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.   No other casual dinner set could do for me after that!

We chose a variety of colors so we could mix pieces on our table.   It's intentional at our house that your dinner plate is a different color from your salad plate, which is a different color from your soup bowl...   It makes for a happy, cheery table setting!   These pieces are nice enough that they still give a nice feel to casual dining.   Each year, we add a few more pieces as they go on sale at department stores.   At our wedding, we had so many people who told us how nice it was to be able to buy multiple pieces for a couple without feeling that they had to take out a small loan!

Another wonderful choice for casual dinnerware is classic white.   If you choose a design, make it white-on-white, so it will blend easily with other pieces and it will also be timeless.   If I did not have such a passion for Fiestaware, I would have chosen classic white casual china.

I also have a formal Christmas set of dishes from Pier One (clearance) and a casual one from a discount store for family dining.   Mama always had multiple sets of dishes.   We had a breakfast/lunch set, a supper set, holiday set, and a brown 1970sware set that was only used when we served steak to company.   Really.

A few years after we were married, we finally selected a formal china pattern: India by Wedgwood.   We also selected Waterford crystal.   We wanted all of the pieces to come from the Home Isles, so English china and Irish crystal.   We also wanted a pattern of china that looked at home on a southern table or an Edwardian English table.   Plus, it had to coordinate with the red dining room walls we hoped to have one day.  I think we made a better choice even with a few more years for our tastes to mature.   I've heard several people lament their china choice and wish they had made a different selection as their tastes or needs changed.

Our wedding anniversary is in December, so each year we buy a place setting/and or a piece of crystal as our present for each other.   Right now, we have a full set to serve six and we will keep gradually adding pieces until we have a service for twelve.   We did not select cheap patterns, but we are paying for it and not expecting others to purchase it for us.   Plus, the way it has accumulated will make a nice story for future generations as it is handed down.

Below is a place setting of our china.   It truly is delicate, lovely and worth the wait of yearly purchases.  "Good things come ..." and all that!

With an eye for bargains and versatility, you can assemble a great collection of entertaining basics.   I don't have to go out and buy pieces for events.   I don't have to worry about themes.   I just start with my basic pieces and build from there, with the way I display them and the foods I put upon them.   It's one less thing to worry about and that makes me more likely to extend hospitality to friends and families.   In the end, that's what it's really about.   Having these basics covered allows me to focus on my guests and their comfort.


  1. I am treasuring this post, thank you for this!

  2. and very much looking forward to subsequent posts!


Your comments are welcome!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...