I love to entertain. Fancy dinners, lovely china, my mom's crystal. It's all so delightful. But, in fact, elegant home dining has rather gone out of fashion these days. So when guests come to my house for dinner, they are often surprised by the candle centerpiece, and the silver utensils. In fact, you can buy whole sets of lovely fine china on Ebay for pennies these days!
I've tried to pass on this love of table setting to my daughters, but I'm not sure how successful I've been. Even today when I ask them to help me set the table for guests, I can never be sure where the forks will end up! And I guess, it doesn't really matter. The days of formality, and high brow dining have gone the way of the dinosaur. Casual dining is the order of the day, and I can see all the practical reasons why that is a good idea. But I still love my butter pats. (And forks ALWAYS go on the left side of the dinner plate -- even if they are plastic!)
All to say, that quarantine dining has brought this notion of "practicality" home to me in a very real way. First, it's very rare that guests visit for a meal, and when they do - it's been limited to immediate family. That's ok. I feel lucky that we have been able to see our daughters during quarantine, and that we have an outdoor space that allows us to do so.
Second, because all dining has been al fresco, the table setting has necessarily been less formal. I have yet to break out the fine china for one of our outdoor barbecues, but I might! I can still use my cloth napkins and fancy wine glasses for a hint of elegance in the backyard. Place mats and table cloths also elevate the feel of the dining experience. Because, you know, dining is more than just nourishing your body. Eating a meal with other humans is a shared experience where people enjoy each other's company, where our spirits commune, and we come to appreciate others' experiences across the table.
Lastly, quarantine dining has required creativity not usually employed in my previous dinner parties. My daughters insist that we continue to social distance when we are around each other, because they want to keep us safe. God bless them. So, when they visit, we stay 6 feet apart, wear masks, AND make sure that when we dine our chairs are 6 feet distant from one another. You can see in the picture below a very informal al fresco dinner on the patio over the 4th of July.
It rather feels like we are at a Downtown Abbey breakfast, where, when there are only two diners, they sit at opposite ends of a very long table! Who knew when we bought this outdoor dining table that we would use the extensions not for more guests -- but for fewer!
Sigh. It's one of the things that I miss the most during this quarantine, entertaining friends and family in high style. My beautiful china is languishing inside the glass cabinets, waiting for its time to be useful again. But I can tell just by writing this, that I'm pretty set in my ways. I won't be switching to paper plates any time soon, though no judgment on those who do! I just like using the fine things that I've collected over the years, and I enjoy spoiling my guests with a special dining experience when we gather together. When I hear someone advocating for paper plates because, "it's just easier this way," I can't disagree. But I don't think that everything has to be practical, or easy. I believe it's worthwhile to make the choice to be extravagant, even though it may require doing a few more dishes. In fact, I never mind doing the dishes when it means that I get to hold the crystal up to the light, or hand wash the Wedgewood vegetable dish Robert and I received as a wedding present.
So, I'll probably be breaking out the fine china for our Wedding Anniversary this August, if not before. Even if it's only the two of us enjoying the splendor, there's no one else I would rather spoil, and no one who deserves it more, than my Robert.