Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.



Reading through “Arabella Boxer’s Book of English Food” (thank you Aesthete; you really should be recompensed by one industry or another), I was struck by how many things have changed since the halcyon days between the wars. Not just the diet, but the manner of entertaining, the way people lived and how they decorated. A case in point:

One of the guests, Lady Mildmay, commented: ‘The dinner table was one solid mass of gold plate, and the flowers were too lovely, yellow daffodils, blue iris and very golden mimosa. Everyone said the dinner was the best they had ever eaten, but I do not really agree. There were six things in succession, all hot, and the peas were quite uneatable.
(‘A Dinner at Buckingham Palace, March 1927′ from the Introduction to “Arabella Boxer’s Book of English Food: a Rediscovery of British Food from Before the War.” Hodder and Staughton, 1991, p. 26)

Admittedly, the dinner was at Buckingham Palace. But it does sort of prove a theory of mine. For the most part, even if you are serving very simple foods, serving them in as grand a manner as possible leaves your guests with a very favourable impression of the dinner as a whole. (A corollary is my father’s edict “starve ’em, soak ’em and anything will be a masterpiece” is also a good thing to remember.)

So, in honour of a friend’s birthday, I decided that we would be guilty of serving very simple fare: steak au poivre, creamed spinach, horseradish mashed potatoes, and tiramisu. AIl on cream and gold Lenox with gold plated cutlery.

You don’t see much gold plate these days. Old silver, repeatedly polished to a fine patina, is much “richer” looking. But, with the lights low, candles lit and against the cream of the china, the effect can be quite striking. It would have been even more so had I used the white damask tablecloth, too.

Whatever you choose to lay the table with, do so with as much ceremony as you can muster. Even the simplest fare takes on a special flavour when elegantly presented. Even if the table is simply set with freshly cut and arranged flowers, starched and pressed napkins (check your antique store for good deals — no one wants to have to clean and press them and you can find good deals) and wine glasses, like mine above, from Target.

7 thoughts on “Gilt-y

  1. I agree, sometimes simple but fresh and well prepared food is best. Too often people take on menus or dishes that are too elaborate, difficult or pretentious. Who doesn’t like something as simple as a serving of fresh, crunchy vegetables with a bit of salt and butter?

    Wonderful, very festive table settings can be conjured up with various china pieces that are decorated in gold. There are many variations, by different manufacturers, such as those from Limoges, that have a simple gold band, and all work together. Sets of 6, 8, or 12 crystal wineglasses can be bought at estate or antique sales often for less than $5.00 a stem. I recently got a set of 12 lovely old crystal wine goblets, hand engraved with clusters of grapes and leaves, all for less than at a discount store. They look splendid and I feel like I’m in Europe whenever I sip cool white wine out of them. Because many people go casual these days, some of the more elegant things are discarded for those of us who love them to pick them up for a song…”I Found a Million Dollar Baby, at the Five & Ten Cent Store!”

    Square with Flair

  2. Creating beautiful tabletops is one of my favorite subjects! Enjoyed this post! My sister is a real pro–fortunately she has been taking snapshots of her various tabletops over many years. “Patty’s Table” is one of the best invitations I can get–whether her table is set at her home or at her club. She always incorporates something wonderful from her vast (and mostly estate sale) collection of china, glass, silver, and linen. Even the handwritten invitations are part of the story. At a recent party, the small (darling 6″) birthday cake was decorated with fresh zinnias to repeat the invitation which had classic zinnias and striped envelope lining (Caspari, from years ago). She brings her own votives to a club table (the club ones are plain and unremarkable). On the subject of ‘gilt’ or gold-painted edges on plates, my paternal grandmother’s sister attended a college for girls and one of her classes was to paint china. And paint she did! I am the proud owner of 20 pieces each of various sizes of plates and bowls of perfectly white china with a wonderful gilded edge–all hand painted. Very Old World (literally), charming, elegant, goes with everything. Opening the cupboard in my butler’s pantry and seeing all of the stacks of china with their gold edges is a thrill–I love the simplicity and order of it all! 🙂

  3. Look forward to more posts on Arabella Boxer delights…immediately ordered the book after Aesthete’s post…enjoying reading, have yet to sample. Cheers to you for digging in! Also ordered Food in Vogue after his post—much in there that you would devour (metaphorically and actually)…a great number of easy, elegant offerings.

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more. Even the lowliest toasted English muffin seems somewhat elevated if you serve it on a lovely porcelain plate with a crisp linen napkin. Ditto coffee in a proper cup—even if you buy it in a paper cup and have to decant it into something more elegant at the office.

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