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But this is how we always eat!

three of us Mar 23, 2011 07:37 PM

I had a friend over for lunch. We sat at a the kitchen table and chatted for a bit. I then asked what she'd like to have for lunch. Holding the fridge open, I offered ratatouille over cornbread or a pork stir fry. Silence. I turned to look at my friend and she looked very uncomfortable. I thought she didn't like the choices so offered to make sandwiches. She looked relieved and said that would be great.

I put out various condiments and several sorts of lunch meat, sliced some tomato and cucumber, and also set out several cheeses. I picked up some cloth napkins when she told me to stop making everything so fancy, that I was making her uncomfortable. What do you mean, I asked. Well, the tablecloth and the fancy food, and the cloth napkins! she said.

I put the napkins down and tore off a couple paper towels. I sat down and made a ham and cheese roll-up. We chatted along and it seemed she had a nice time, as did I.

The thing is, we always have a tablecloth on the table. It's nothing fancy but I like keeping the wood protected. We use cloth napkins because it's economical. We always have good, home-made food in the fridge. Stir-fries are a staple around here because it's a great way to eat your veggies. I love to cook and have a teenager so there is always good food about.

I have no problem just having a sandwich but I wanted to make things nice for my friend. I laughed at the image of June Cleaver in her dress and pearls making lunch. Good thing I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt.

Do people think you overdo it on food and food-props like dishes, napkins, etc.?

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  1. goodhealthgourmet Mar 23, 2011 08:11 PM

    Do people think you overdo it on food and food-props like dishes, napkins, etc.?
    well, i don't do tablecloths - ever - because i like to see the finish of my table and the way it looks against my dishes...so i just use placemats, plus the occasional trivet for hot serveware when necessary. but yes, my food and accoutrements always tend to be more ambitious than what my friends & family are accustomed to, even if it's just a casual dinner for a friend. however, i no longer bring out the cloth napkins unless it's a more formal or elegant occasion because my friends always complain that it makes them feel guilty that they're adding to my laundry pile! it's a silly concern - it makes absolutely no difference to me to toss a few extra items into the wash, but my guests' comfort/enjoyment is priority #1, so i respect their wishes.

    1. a
      Augie6 Mar 24, 2011 06:43 AM

      Personally, some table clothes and cloth napkins do change my mind set.... When i am eating on a table cloth using cloth napkins I feel as if I better be extra carefull about eating neatly.
      However, I run into the same situation with the food I eat and make. I had a friend over the other day , and started to make something as simple as a monte cristo sandwhich and they kept saying maybe we should just go out,, this is alot of work...

      1. t
        tzurriz Mar 24, 2011 07:04 AM

        We always use cloth napkins because they are cheaper and greener, but I make sure that I keep the paper napkins that come with take-out because when my folks are over for a weeknight meal the cloth napkins make them uncomfortable. I don't get it.

        3 Replies
        1. re: tzurriz
          goodhealthgourmet Mar 24, 2011 10:24 AM

          yes, as i said above, cloth napkins make my friends uncomfortable too...and i don't get it either :)

          1. re: tzurriz
            KaimukiMan Mar 25, 2011 04:13 PM

            it depends on what you are serving. If it is spaghetti and garlic bread, then I am going to be so worried about staining your napkins with either tomato or grease that I'm not going to be comfortable using them. I was raised in a paper napkin house. Mom talked about the old days where everyone had a napkin ring, and you used the same napkin meal after meal until wash day came. She hated it. Especially as a child, because children are not as neat when they eat, so she was constantly using a napkin that was stained, greasy and dirty. Not to mention the sanitary issues. And if you are using soap and water to wash the napkins after every meal, then the 'green-ness' of cloth vs. paper becomes highly debatable, especially if you are in a naturally arid area like the southwest.

            1. re: KaimukiMan
              KaimukiMan Mar 27, 2011 04:37 PM

              and when the day is done you should be doing things the way you feel comfortable as much as possible without your guests feeling put out. My guess is the OP's guest never once thought that the OP "always eats this way."

          2. f
            fourunder Mar 24, 2011 08:15 AM

            Entertaining and serving come more easily for some than others. Some grow up and learn this formally by choice or by family traditions and experience. Whenever asked what I would like, I always reply with *anything is fine*, as I don't want anyone to fuss over me. I have friends who like to enjoy life and others who just pass through. Some give thought and others do not. You can't change them and I do not try to. When I entertain, I probably wouldn't put out a tablecloth, but dishes, glasses and tableware yes.....paper napkins, yes......paper plates, plastic or styrofoam cups, no.

            1. c
              cleobeach Mar 24, 2011 12:49 PM

              Do people think you overdo it on food and food-props like dishes, napkins, etc.?



              My father is European born and breed and there was definately a higher level of formality in our house compared to other families I knew.

              Not to say we were fancy or fussy, we certainly weren't but there was always a table cloth on the kitchen table, never in a million years would we have used plastic at home, that sort of thing.

              When guest came over, the good glassware came out and a very good natured "fuss" was made, always a celebration.

              I took that with me when I got married and had a house of my own. I enjoy hosting and take pleasure in going a couple extra steps to make guests feel special.

              We use cloth napkins because 1.) I have oddles of them, many hand-me-downs and 2.) it is more economical. I have had guests ask me for paper napkins because they didn't want to get a cloth napkin dirty. I provided them with a paper towel and didn't comment. I don't regularly use table cloths at home because I visually prefer our table bare. At our vacation house, I always use table cloths.

              Unintentionally, I made my ILs very uncomfortable because they thought me to be very "above them" with my fancy napkins and table cloths but it is their issue, not mine so I don't worry about it. I thought I was making them feel special, they thought I was showing off. Oh well....

              Sadly, I think some people don't think they deserve to nicer things (food, experiences) and they don't let themselves relax and enjoy.

              1. jmcarthur8 Mar 24, 2011 12:54 PM

                We use linen napkins every day because I got tired of buying paper napkins, while a good dozen or so linen ones from my mother were taking up space in the closet.
                I love having a tablecloth on, but don't often because one of our cats sneaks up onto the dining table when we're not around (it's next to a big window). It's easier and cleaner to wipe down the wood table when I see she's been up there.
                We don't entertain much anymore, but in all my decades of cooking and feeding people, I don't recall anyone ever saying it was too fancy - well, maybe my late father-in-law, who I loved dearly, but he liked all his food plain and unadulterated. You could feed him beef, mushrooms and noodles, but if you turned it into beef stroganoff, that was going too far.

                6 Replies
                1. re: jmcarthur8
                  mrsfury Mar 24, 2011 04:43 PM

                  My cat always looks stunned when I catch her on the table. It's as if she says, "Oh no, I'm not supposed to be here when the people are home." Then she takes off running. I feel your pain.

                  1. re: mrsfury
                    Isolda Mar 27, 2011 05:22 PM

                    LOL! We thought we had really well-behaved cats because we never caught them on the counters or table.. Then two summers ago, we spent a couple of weeks in France, and instead of boarding the cats like we usually do, we had a cat sitter. When we came home, we saw little cat prints all over the granite, wood, etc.

                    Their secret life is revealed. One of them is kind of a CH cat, anyway. When I bring the groceries home, he goes pawing thru the bags looking for arugula or watercress. I just didn't know he expected to eat it at the table with us!

                    1. re: Isolda
                      buttertart Mar 28, 2011 12:04 PM

                      We had a dear arugula fancier too, my husband will be tickled to hear Milan wasn't the only one. Liam is sort of interested as well.

                      1. re: buttertart
                        lagatta Mar 28, 2011 05:23 PM

                        My tiny half-Siamese black cat Nadja loved broccoli - as much as meat or fish. She would steal it, wolf it down, growl over it as with prey. I'd never even thought to guard broccoli from a cat!

                        1. re: lagatta
                          buttertart Mar 29, 2011 06:02 AM

                          To quote our wonderful vet in Brooklyn: Cats are weird. ;-)

                  2. re: jmcarthur8
                    Nocturnalbill Mar 25, 2011 12:51 PM

                    I'm right there with you. Have all these linen napkins, dammit we're using them.

                  3. rockandroller1 Mar 24, 2011 01:04 PM

                    We really don't entertain very much, but I have had much the same. I *enjoy* making things a little nicer when there's someone over. I've found that my Mom doesn't complain about things being "fancy" now with the cloth napkins because I don't iron them unless it's for a holiday. So it kind of looks less formal because they are rumpled. But my MIL complained I was "spending too much money" when she came to stay with us a few years ago when my FIL was in the hospital because I would put out a variety of cereals and teas for her to choose from for breakfast in the morning - just the stuff we had, I didn't go out and buy anything special. But you know, it's not like I expect her to root around in the cupboard to find out what kind of tea we have, you know?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: rockandroller1
                      alliegator Mar 24, 2011 01:47 PM

                      Mr. gator's family is the same way. They root freely and will find some specialty foods or good beers and talk about how all of this could be saved for retirement. Nice table setting make them uncomfartable, as does the amount of time I take to prepare a meal.
                      But mostly anyone that knows me knows what they're getting when they come to my place. It's not about holier-than-thou attitude, I just think that food is one of life's great pleasures and should be enjoyed as such.
                      And there's a good chance that any of the cloth napkins I'm using came from a Bed Bath and Beyond sale ;)

                    2. im_nomad Mar 24, 2011 03:40 PM

                      I am not a tablecloth fan but I too like to go a little extra when I have someone over, unless they randomly pop in and I have nothing ready. Most people like those little gestures, I mean, who doesn't like being a little spoiled, even if they never do stuff like this at home.

                      I find the reaction a little odd tbh, but glad you still had a nice lunch.

                      1. dave_c Mar 24, 2011 03:58 PM

                        Do people wash linen napkins washed after each use?
                        We use linen napkins 3x a year (Easter, T-day and x-max) so washing isn't really an issue.

                        Never thought about daily use, I'd go crazy washing them so often.
                        I rationalize paper napkins as a renewable resource and compostable.

                        16 Replies
                        1. re: dave_c
                          escondido123 Mar 24, 2011 04:30 PM

                          My husband and I use cloth napkins only, we don't even have paper ones in the house. I buy them at Goodwill when I see decent ones at a good price. We will use the same napkin for a few days, but once there's a "messy" meal they go into the laundry and then all get washed about once every few weeks with bleach. The good ones we keep separate and pull those out for company and those get washed after that single use. We've been doing it for so long I don't even think about it. (I don't see that anyone has mentioned that in France it used to be that restaurant patrons that came every day supposedly had a cubby for their napkin and the bottle of wine they didn't finish. Next day, they came to the table.)

                          1. re: dave_c
                            Will Owen Mar 24, 2011 04:42 PM

                            We use nothing but cloth napkins; we have several different kinds, ranging from fine white linen ones that have to be ironed to nice heavy cotton ones for everyday use or dinner parties (depending on how indelibly stained they might be!). Since we launder every week, washing them is never an issue, and if they're folded right out of the dryer they can go right back in the drawer. Only time we use paper napkins is for potlucks and theme parties, in conjunction with paper or plastic plates and utensils. As for tablecloths, we spread one for family holiday dinners, but as our table is a relatively new one and has some kind of everything-proof finish we don't worry about covering it for everyday use, and we'll use placemats for informal dinner parties.

                            1. re: dave_c
                              alliegator Mar 24, 2011 04:44 PM

                              I wash mine after every use unless I barely touched it. I have so many because friends and family know that things like that make a good gift for me :) I just throw them in my little basket of kitchen laundry like hand towels and such and wait until there is a decent sized small load. Some are kind of faded at this point, so I do have a few separate sets I use to entertain. If I'm serving ribs or something terribly messy, I try to make the setting more casual by using brightly colored small handtowels or oversized washcloths.

                              1. re: dave_c
                                masha Mar 24, 2011 04:55 PM

                                The whole provenance of napkin rings was, not to decorate the napkin with a "bracelet," but to enable each family member to mark his/her napkin with a monogrammed or distinctive identifier for use at multiple meals. So, yes, traditionally cloth napkins were reused.

                                1. re: dave_c
                                  cleobeach Mar 24, 2011 06:24 PM

                                  I wash them after every use. We have a large supply of white/off white ones that go into my white load. We do laundry every day so it no big deal for me. If I don't have a white load, we have enough that we can go a several days. My German relatives had napkin rings and would reuse the family napkins more than once.

                                  1. re: dave_c
                                    tzurriz Mar 25, 2011 07:24 AM

                                    It depends on what we are eating. When the napkins get icky, whether it is after one meal or several, they get tossed in with the next load of laundry. I have two little kids though, so I'm always doing at least one load a day. A couple of cloth napkins tossed in with the mix make no difference.

                                    1. re: dave_c
                                      rockandroller1 Mar 25, 2011 12:24 PM

                                      We wash ours after every use but we cloth diaper so we already do laundry 3x a week, throwing the napkins in is no big deal. You're throwing your $ away with the paper products, that's a big one right there, and unless you're doing the composting yourself, it's moot, as nothing really biodegrades in a landfill, there's too much other stuff in there.

                                      1. re: rockandroller1
                                        dave_c Mar 25, 2011 12:34 PM

                                        Here in Seattle, the city picks up food and yard waste for composting.
                                        Whether the city actually does what they say or just tosses that stuff to the landfil, I don't know... lol.

                                        1. re: rockandroller1
                                          Steve Green Mar 26, 2011 09:35 AM

                                          "We wash ours after every use but we cloth diaper so we already do laundry 3x a week, throwing the napkins in is no big deal."

                                          Am I the only person who finds this troublesome?

                                          1. re: Steve Green
                                            jmcarthur8 Mar 26, 2011 10:45 AM

                                            SG, you're not the only one, but let's assume that bleach is included in the load of laundry as well. ;-)

                                            1. re: Steve Green
                                              KaimukiMan Mar 26, 2011 10:48 AM

                                              another opportunity for a "like" button on chowhound

                                              1. re: Steve Green
                                                alliegator Mar 26, 2011 01:59 PM

                                                I'm struggling with that one quite a bit. But everyone has their own comfort level.

                                                1. re: Steve Green
                                                  JudiAU Mar 26, 2011 02:59 PM

                                                  Are you troubled because OP does a lot of laundry or because you think she is washing her dirty napkins with dirty diapers. Cloth diapers require special laundry practices and soap so OP is probably not mixing. Most people generate exactly enough to make a load and then wash.

                                                  But even if she was, they would clean at the end of the wash, just like her diapers. It isn't like she is washing a bag of poop like with trashies. Poop gets dumped into the toilet and diaper is sprayed clean, it is then rinsed to get rid of pee, and then soap is added, and then wash and rinse.

                                                  Yes, we coth diaper and use cloth napkins and cloth cleanup exclusively. I buy particularly ineffective green paper towels and that helped break me of the paper addiction.

                                                  1. re: JudiAU
                                                    rockandroller1 Mar 27, 2011 08:44 AM

                                                    thank you for explaining to everyone, judi. And yes, we do run the dipes as their own load, but we always have enough other stuff that needs washed that it's no issue to throw the napkins in with the other stuff, but as judi pointed out, it's not like we're dumping big loads of poop into the washer, geez.

                                                    1. re: rockandroller1
                                                      ospreycove Mar 27, 2011 09:00 AM


                                              2. re: dave_c
                                                alanbarnes Mar 26, 2011 12:15 PM

                                                Linen napkins are reserved for special occasions at our house. They wrinkle like crazy, so you not only have to wash them, but iron them as well.

                                                Our everyday napkins are cotton. Washing 'em when they're dirty along with side towels and other kitchen stuff requires approximately zero extra effort.

                                              3. s
                                                sueatmo Mar 24, 2011 05:23 PM

                                                Your friend probably eats hot dogs and frozen pizza for lunch. Or maybe a can of soup. When you started talking about mixed dishes, she thought she wouldn't like it because perhaps she is used to eating simply.

                                                You wanted to produce a nice lunch for your friend, but she doesn't eat like you do. You threw her for a loop when you started to talk about ratatouille over cornbread and stir fry! I'd eat your ratatouille over cornbread! It sounds wonderful.

                                                I am impressed that you could change course so easily.

                                                Except for family, no one I know cooks as well as I do, and frankly, I am not a fabulously accomplished cook myself. Almost everyone I know uses convenience products, or doesn't cook much, or orders out, or just doesn't know much about good cooking. But I've never had anyone refuse my food!

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: sueatmo
                                                  Nocturnalbill Mar 26, 2011 02:48 PM

                                                  I'm in the same boat, but I have found that people get freaked out easily when you feed them out of their comfort zone. This can even be the case if they like pizza (they're thinking frozen), and you made the dough and sourced interesting toppings. I have seen people get freaked out enough to say no (rarely).

                                                2. j
                                                  JudiAU Mar 26, 2011 03:02 PM

                                                  And kudos for being such a gracious and sensitive host.

                                                  1. Kajikit Mar 26, 2011 04:44 PM

                                                    Am I the only person who doesn't use napkins at all except for special occasions or if I'm serving something that I KNOW will be very messy to eat? I have some lovely cloth napkins that we use for guests, and a stack of paper ones for messy eating - but the jumbo pack of paper napkins lasts about a year so I hardly feel guilty about buying them!

                                                    Some people think anything that's not out of a can is 'making a fuss'... it's all a question of what you're used to.

                                                    6 Replies
                                                    1. re: Kajikit
                                                      ospreycove Mar 27, 2011 09:08 AM

                                                      We always use linen/cotton napkins, the more you use them the softer they get. Having said that, when we eat really messy food, ribs, wings crabs, frito misto, etc. then the roll of paper towels is on the table.
                                                      Reminds me of a time when I was living in the lorraine border area of France and Germany, and I had an elderly Great Aunt who had her own "Napkin carrier/bag" always with her when we went to a restaurant. She would whip out her embroidered napkin after she sat down. When asked about this habit her younger sister said it was a common thing to do around the turn of the century, (1890-1915). Maybe people thought it prevented the spread of Flu etc. You no longer see this practice anywhere in Europe.

                                                      1. re: ospreycove
                                                        alanbarnes Mar 27, 2011 09:21 AM

                                                        For really messy food we have a stack of dish / tea towels that have been demoted from the "first string" due to age, wear, and/or stains. They're like over-sized worry-free napkins.

                                                        1. re: alanbarnes
                                                          mamachef Mar 27, 2011 05:42 PM

                                                          Family and friends-only lobster bibs. I like.

                                                          1. re: alanbarnes
                                                            LauraGrace May 13, 2011 02:55 PM

                                                            My folks do the same. They have four grandkids under age ten, who are over all the time. They're perfect! :)

                                                          2. re: ospreycove
                                                            Nicolette S Mar 27, 2011 09:22 AM

                                                            That's so interesting, ospreycove!

                                                          3. re: Kajikit
                                                            odkaty Mar 28, 2011 10:11 AM

                                                            @ Kajikit -- We're still using a supply of napkins from an ikea trip over 4 yrs ago. Last fall I picked up another package, just in case ... it's still unopened. By the time I need a napkin, I probably need a clean shirt too ... like the glass of red wine I managed to spill all over myself and the couch. A napkin wouldn't have done much in that instance! I went for a dishtowel instead.

                                                            As for having guests over, we normally use cloth napkins. My mother-in-law is horrified that not only do we use cloth napkins, but I put out "real" silverware, plates and glasses when the 12 inlaws show up for dinner. I don't see it as being anything special, it's just practical. Running an efficient (dish)washer has less impact on the environment than using disposables. And, frankly, it's easier for my husband and I to turn the dishwasher on than deal with the trash.

                                                          4. l
                                                            lagatta Mar 27, 2011 09:24 AM

                                                            I almost always have a tablecloth on my table - such as one of those colourful Provençal cloths. I do have cloth napkins but don't always use them - sometimes fall back on paper towels. Bright teatowels or dishcloths (the latter not used to wash dishes) could also be an option.

                                                            Three, indeed you were gracious. I haven't ever had a guest who reacted like that.

                                                            1. Nicolette S Mar 27, 2011 09:34 AM

                                                              three, I have one relative who reacts to such things poorly. In her case, it's about snootiness. She's rather shallow and competitive, which leads to her being a jealous person. When I cook for this group she always says things like. "Oh! It's all so fancy!" (emphasis on fancy makes it clear she's saying I'm pretentious) and "I'm afraid to touch anything!" Lots of backhanded compliments round it all out. At first I was troubled by it but as I've gotten to know her better I've learned that she is just a pill about things. By the way, I'm not talking about full silver service etc, just things like beverages in pitchers rather than their containers, foods in towel-lined baskets, pretty serving dishes, cloth napkins. Ordinary "nice".

                                                              If my friends happen to think things are especially nice they'll say sincere, nice things and we all tuck in with delight.

                                                              As for your friend, is there any chance she's embarrassed by her own efforts/abilities? Sometimes it's simply that and she just doesn't understand that it's rude to put that on you.

                                                              Anyway, it sounds like you are a nice and gracious friend and did what you could to make your guest comfortable.

                                                              1. 512window Mar 27, 2011 11:14 AM

                                                                I always have a table cloth on my dining room table.

                                                                Did you invite her for lunch, or did she just stop by? She may have thought that she was putting you to trouble to accommodate her, if the latter. I'd think a heavy sigh as you opened the frig, and statement that you were trying to get rid of leftovers might have made those go over better.
                                                                Then, again, maybe she doesn't know what goes into ratatouille and thought she would't like it.

                                                                1. f
                                                                  Floridagirl Mar 27, 2011 11:49 AM

                                                                  I have a nice collection of tablecloths, placemats, napkins, plus dishes and various serving items and I like to use them. I have lots of friends who prefer paper plates and put the pots of food on the table or even leave the pots on the stove and everyone fends for themselves. Sometimes you have to look for utensils. I'm not ok with that but when I go to someone's house, what can I do. I have had people complain many times about my use of china, napkins, tablecloths, non plastic utensils, etc. To solve the problem, I always set my table the way I want it before anyone shows up. If things are unplanned, people seem ok if I use paper napkins and anything else is acceptable to them. When guests say I should be using paper plates, I don't have any so it's not an option. Same with plastic forks and knives. I just find it odd that people feel comfortable complaining about a nicely set table but nobody complains about trying to find a plate and utensils and then looking for the food. BTW, I'm not stuffy or anything, I just think it's better to eat in a nice way.

                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Floridagirl
                                                                    lagatta Mar 27, 2011 04:30 PM

                                                                    Paper plates except on a picnic or a HUGE gathering where one does not have enough dishes or would be spending two days washing them (by hand or dishwasher)???? Unthinkable, and no, I'm not from a wealthy or bourgeois background, far from it. A thrifty European one, perhaps.

                                                                    1. re: Floridagirl
                                                                      LauraGrace May 13, 2011 03:05 PM

                                                                      I frequently host get-togethers of friends, and I had to ask them to please stop bringing disposable plates/cups/bowls as a way to "help me out with the cleanup." I have a dishwasher, for crying out loud; it's not like I'm slaving over a steaming sink for days after a casual dinner for ten people! Is it really easier to dump everything and then take the trash out than to just load the dishwasher?

                                                                      1. re: LauraGrace
                                                                        KaimukiMan May 13, 2011 08:35 PM

                                                                        yes, it is. but that doesn't mean that using 'real' plates and utensils isn't nicer. and you would be surprised how many people don't have plates and utensils for 10 - even non matching odds and ends.

                                                                        1. re: KaimukiMan
                                                                          LauraGrace May 13, 2011 10:03 PM

                                                                          I don't know, KaimukiMan, I still think it's a pretty even amount of work, but you do have a fair point about not having plates and utensils for 10.

                                                                          1. re: KaimukiMan
                                                                            KarenDW May 15, 2011 12:03 AM

                                                                            At the dissolution of one relationship, I ended up with 12 dinner plates, and a case of wine. Small compensation for a broken heart. But I've recovered nicely, thank you.
                                                                            My immediate family (parents, siblings & our children) numbers 18. I can usually manage to cobble together enough plates, cutlery and glasses. Once, for a party, I went to the second hand store, and bought enough stuff for the party; kept what I really like afterwards, and donated the rest. Cheaper than disposables, and less trash!

                                                                      2. n
                                                                        NicoleFriedman Mar 27, 2011 04:08 PM

                                                                        There may be deeper issues going on. She reminds me of a close friend who has nevervfelt comfortable with what he perceives to be "luxuries". He'll even make his own bed when he goes to a hotel. Why? He grew up in foster care and was even homeless for a short time as a child. He realizes he needs therapy but is too stubborn to go. I've learned not to make a fuss when dining out with him(he'll never pay more than a certain amountvfor a meal) but I refuse to make my own bed when we've traveled together in the past. I have my limits:)

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: NicoleFriedman
                                                                          lagatta Mar 27, 2011 04:33 PM

                                                                          Nicole, we also have a friend who was raised in care and who would eat the tinned vegetables and legumes we took to him when he was out of a job directly out of the tin. Chick peas not so bad, but strange for green beans. I mean literally out of the tin - he did not empty them on to a plate, though we had provided him a full, if somewhat mismatched, set of dishes and kitchen implements. Those are rather tragic cases.

                                                                        2. i
                                                                          Isolda Mar 27, 2011 05:26 PM

                                                                          I think it is way easier to use cloth and then just throw them in the washer than to use paper, but I can see how people might think them more formal, especially if they grew up in a house where cloth meant formal or ironing or itchy dress clothes or shoes that pinch.

                                                                          And my kids hate sandwiches, so when I have bread in the house, it's often homemade and goes with the soup or stew or whatever I've made for dinner. I don't entertain a lot because I'm shy and like my privacy, but I don't know what I would have done in your position. That would have been very awkward.

                                                                          1. g
                                                                            givemecarbs Mar 28, 2011 12:24 AM

                                                                            Awesome thread three of us! I have quite a collection of cloth tablecloths and I enjoy throwing a different one on the table every few days. Or daily if things really get hectic. I've always liked playing with different colors and I like seeing how the mood of the room seems to change if I put on a bright printed cloth or something more sedate.
                                                                            I find it easier to shake the tablecloth out in the front yard for the birds to get the crumbs and then toss the cloth in the wash then to vigorously wipe down a bare table. If I had to use a laundromat I would feel differently.
                                                                            Once I almost regretted using a tablecloth though. It was a yellow one with long fringe. I had the table all set with china and glasses and most of the food. My cat abruptly raced through the room, tried to jump up on the table but was disconcerted by all the food and dishes and somehow got her claws entangled in the fringe. I happened to be standing right there and firmly planted my hands far apart on either end of the cloth. My kitty fell, disentangled herself from the fringe and rushed to the windowsill. She was fine and so was our dinner, but boy did I get lucky!
                                                                            I like how you handled the situation. I don't use cloth napkins often and I do compost the paper ones we use, but maybe I should use cloth more. It is good to take pride in something in life. One of the things that I feel proud about is generally having yummy fresh leftovers waiting in my fridge. Just watch out for crazy kitties!

                                                                            1. sunshine842 Mar 28, 2011 01:09 AM

                                                                              I use a tablecloth, silverware,and plates *most* of the time...I keep paper on hand because there are times that there are just too many people to serve with non-disposable plates at the drop of a hat (while it's great to be the hub of a great circle of friends, and I wouldn't trade it for the world, my reality is that there are people dropping by almost any time, and I'm a congenital feeder).

                                                                              I tried cloth napkins when we moved to Europe -- and it was an abject failure. The ones that are easy to wash aren't absorbent in the least and feel really unpleasant, and the ones that are absorbent stain and wrinkle like mad. I buy heavy paper napkins and refuse to feel any guilt whatsoever.

                                                                              (surely you're not going to knock my choices, right? Because this is how we always eat.)

                                                                              1. m
                                                                                mamueller Mar 28, 2011 10:50 AM

                                                                                I've got a supply of white cotton napkins that I always use when we have guests along with placements- I just like them. During the week, it's usually dinner in the living room with a dish towel draped over me - really classy :)

                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                1. re: mamueller
                                                                                  MandalayVA Mar 28, 2011 12:19 PM

                                                                                  I use an old bath towel myself. Class all the way.

                                                                                  1. re: MandalayVA
                                                                                    sunshine842 Mar 28, 2011 01:55 PM

                                                                                    Y'all should just eat IN the bathtub...then you don't even need the towels! :D :D :D

                                                                                2. r
                                                                                  Raids Mar 29, 2011 09:29 AM

                                                                                  I've never seen people uncomfortable in that situation, nor has anyone ever seemed weirded out by cloth napkins. We use them and reuse them until we eat something messy. They're cotton and casual and have prints. Stains are hard to see, and there is always Oxyclean.

                                                                                  But I do think that people don't actually like to *see* the effort you might put into something, because they are basically watching you like you're a servant. So it's a good idea to have it all done ahead of time so it's just like it magically appeared.

                                                                                  I would not want to watch someone slice vegetables, set out meats, etc. while I just sat there without helping or anything either. I'd feel like, look, just set out some PB&J so we can talk already!!!

                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: Raids
                                                                                    three of us Mar 29, 2011 01:57 PM

                                                                                    Ratatouille and cornbread were alread made, just needed warming up. Veggies already cut up for stir-fry. I wouldn't have spent hardly any time cooking. I talk while I cook. Everyone drinks wine or whatever. I'm low-key, not a big-time kitchen tornado type.

                                                                                    I think the discomfort had to do with food I considered no big deal but that my friend thought was beyond what lunch called for. We must have different lifestyles as things that are everyday to me are special for her. That an everyday tablecloth and cloth napkins would be thought fancy threw me a little. BTW, I get my tablecloths and napkins for pennies at garage and church thrift sales. No one wants them! It's sad, in a way, because some of the tablecloths are beautiful. There is usually a stain here and there but depending on where, I still can have a lovely linen on the table for little money.

                                                                                    1. re: three of us
                                                                                      Raids Mar 29, 2011 05:25 PM

                                                                                      Yeah, sounds like you were totally prepared. In that case, I don't get it. Those things are not fancy for me either unless they're, you know, fancy. :-) In my experience, people really like the extra effort of good hospitality anyway. A friend of mine broke out her good linen and china for brunch when my husband and I were in town because, you know, when do you ever use it? And I thought it was nice.

                                                                                      1. re: three of us
                                                                                        lagatta Mar 30, 2011 03:28 AM

                                                                                        I find tablecloths, nice placemats (not plastic; fabric or bamboo) and serviettes at garage sales and church/charity bazaars as well. One of the cheapest ways of prettying up a kitchen or dining room.

                                                                                    2. iluvcookies May 14, 2011 06:38 AM

                                                                                      Three of us... you and I have similar entertaining styles Except for the napkins. I buy a large pack of plain dinner napkins from Costco for everyday use and for company/family I keep some pretty printed paper napkins from Christmas Tree Shop on hand (they have cute ones for $1-$2 a pack). My 7 year old niece loves that I use "party napkins", and that she and her little sister have their own pink cups and plates when they visit me.

                                                                                      I always keep at least one or two prepared dishes in the fridge in case I have to work late or for unexpected family visits. My mom thinks I have "pricey" china, but it really is just Williams Sonoma white Brasserie plates and bowls I picked up at the outlet for $1.50 each. She is the one who says I fuss too much, but deep down I think she likes it.

                                                                                      It sounds like you have a welcoming approach to your entertaining. I'm sorry your friend was uncomfortable, but It doesn't seem like you were doing anything out of the ordinary. You ended up having a good time, so I think you did a great job of being a host.

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