I was at the beach with my family this past weekend. After the two previous weeks of moss-inducing rains and humidity, two days of sun late last week lured us to the shoreâ€¦only to get there to one of the wettest, greyest and most depressing Saturdays in recent memory. I had intentionally left my laptop at home and donâ€™t have an internet connection at the beach so after an hour of staring at raindrops and happy plants, I decided to go through the kitchen cabinets. If you are offended by brainless discussions over china, cutlery and linens, skip this post. I grew up in a home where my parents entertained often, at least in their younger to middle years. Our kitchen had rather deep cabinets and now I realize it was because my mom used to store her china or ceramic plates by pattern and the service would then go deep into the cabinet. If a particular set of plates was in use then you had to go to the depths of the closet to extract all the pieces, however, this set up made it easy to keep track of several different patterns and colors of plates in stock.
At the beach, we have three sets of plates. The first is a standard set of white round plates that I purchased in bulk (I even have the same set in the city so that when plates break and I lose pieces, I can consolidate the pieces and still have enough) for a very reasonable price. They are classic, and always correct, whatever the meal. A second set we have is a small set of khaki and dark blue Balinese ceramics that we purchased while living in Indonesia a decade or more ago, and at USD3 or so a plate, they are likewise reasonably priced and have lasted a dozen years so far. Finally, at the beach we have a white square set of china that I inherited from my parents. It is at least 30 years old and only have a service for 6 or 7 remaining. In addition to all of that, we have many side dishes, bowls, platters, etc. all of a fairly plain and clean aesthetic and none too precious to use by the sea shore. We have two sets of cutlery, incomplete at that, and some placemats and napkins.
So the challenge I formulated for myself out of boredom was to determine if I could make at least 5 place settings that looked different using these few options. Gosh that was easy. I photographed 7 settings that I did in less than 15 minutes and stopped at that. I could have done another dozen or so. I was actually amazed what could be done with a little bit of imagination. I have never even thought to do half of these settings when real guests were aroundâ€¦ So let this be an eye-opener in terms of fooling with whatâ€™s in your kitchen cabinets. Who wants to eat off of the same old place setting every single day of the year??? If you get a few more abaca placemats, different colored napkins, etc. you could go a whole month and not use the same set-up twice! I realize this sounds a bit frivolous but you do exactly that same effort when you dress up each day unless you work with a uniform or only have 10 identical barongs in your closetâ€¦
Up top was the last setting that I did. It was getting a bit esoteric so I decided to quit after that. But I thought it was the most interesting setting of all. I used a white limoges porcelain serving platter in a rectangular shape (used to serve everything from meats, cheeses, etc.) and placed it on a placemat with stainless steel cutlery. I placed a glass bowl on the plate, presumably for crab or shellfish detritus or shellsâ€¦ I have a rectangular sauce dish at the upper left along with a white shell to remind you where you are. I added my favorite bizarrely crumpled white ceramic cappuccino â€œcups,â€ a champagne glass and a regular water glass. On the white linen napkin is actually a sleek Philippe Starck nutcracker (purchased at 80% off at a closeout sale) but you can use it for cracking crabs if you like. Overall, I liked this setting the best. Bizarre, but cool. Something I would definitely use at the beach with a seafood meal.
The second photo above is where I actually started off on the place setting adventureâ€¦ The first five photos use a plastic placemat that is made to look like a basket weave. It is my favorite at the moment. So organic looking, so neutrally colored and so practical to keep clean. My sister in NY sent them as a present. The second photo uses a light brown or khaki ceramic dinner plate and a simple acacia salad bowl resting on a white salad plate. Stainless steel cutlery. Plain water glass. The next setting alters things just a bit by using a white dinner plate, white underplate beneath a light green ceramic bowl for a savory souffle or small portion of soup. I changed the water glass to these cool 1950’s green glasses from my parents and the set-up is noticeable different from the previous one. The fourth photo features the same plate as the third photo, but I have used a blue ceramic salad plate underneath a large glass bowl that would be perfect for a hearty soup. I changed the green glass and instead included a Japanese tea cup so thin you can see light through the porcelain…
The next setting features all white round plates and it is punctuated with a 1940’s or 50’s blue glass bowl/dessert dish. I changed the cutlery to a blue set that we got as a present. In the sixth photo, I used a dark blue cloth placemat and on a square white dinner plate, I placed an oversize large ceramic dark blue soup bowl. The proportions seem out of whack, but depending on what you are serving, this can work well. I use these bowls when serving nice substantial Indonesian soups, a cioppino, etc. Finally, the seventh photo here uses a different cloth placemat with a khaki stripe, on which I have placed a square plate, a round salad plate and the same acacia salad bowl used up top. Was this a waste of 15-20 minutes during a rain soaked day? Absolutely not. It’s always good to mix things up and if you are feeling a little staid, try some new combinations of things you already have and you may be surprised with the results… In the next few posts, some of the stuff we ended up cooking on the rainy weekend…