Art de la Table > The Christmas Table > Ideas, tips and suggestions

Posted On October 25, 2006

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Flowers on the table

There’s nothing like flowers to brighten a table. The flowers can be natural or dried, depending on the season or your budget. Choose seasonal flowers if you can, because they will give a note of authenticity to your table.

Allow yourself to be guided by the colors in your tablecloth or dishes. You can compose a graduated palette based on the dominant tone or take a risk with colours that contrast with the principal color. If your table is already very colourful, opt for a bouquet in a single tone that will add a sophisticated touch to your decor. Don’t forget to add greenery to enhance the flowers. Avoid flowers with a very strong perfume. You may also want to add some fresh herbs that complement your menu (thyme, rosemary, bay or tarragon).

Usually the bouquet is placed in the middle of the table, where it can be seen from every angle. You can use any kind of vase, but it should not be so high that it will block your guests’ view. The maximum height of the bouquet should be 30 cm. The vase should not upstage the floral arrangement, but rather should complement it.

Candles

Candles on the table should be placed where they are not in the way and do not block guests’ view of one another.

Is the base of your candle too wide for the candlestick? Soak the base in very hot water before pushing it into the candlestick.

Do your candles look dull? Rub them with an old sock or nylon stocking to shine them up.

Do you have a problem with dripping candles? Try this old trick: pour salt in the hollow around the wick. The wax will mix with the salt and form a compact mass. You can also use a candlestick flange (a glass ring that holds in the wax).

Don’t store candles in the refrigerator. In fact, the cold may make them crack. Instead, store them flat in a box in a cool, dry place away from any light that could discolour them.

The indispensable table pad

Before setting your table, whether it is round, oval, square or rectangular, you should cover it with a table pad. This is a thick fabric cloth that you can make yourself or purchase. The padding helps keep your tablecloth on the table and protects your table against damage (hot plates, spilled wine, burns, etc.), adds body to your tablecloth and keeps down the clatter of dishes.

When you purchase a table pad, choose the appropriate length and width. There should be a 3 cm drop on each side. Buy a larger one if you plan to add leaves to your table.

How to choose a tablecloth

You don’t have to use a round tablecloth on a round table, or an oval tablecloth on an oval table. Instead, try a square tablecloth on a round table and a rectangular tablecloth on an oval table. They will fall and maintain their shape better. If this is what you decide to do, always check to make sure that the corners of the tablecloth are properly aligned with the table legs.

If you decide to layer two tablecloths, the bottom one should hang as low as possible, while the top one should cover mainly the tabletop with a 30-centimeter drop, approximately.

On a round table, you can use a second round or square tablecloth; on a square table you can place a square cloth diagonally over the first.

A tablecloth can never be too long or too wide. In general, plan to have a drop of between 25 and 35 cm (10 to 15 inches) on each side of the table. A natural fibre tablecloth will shrink from 8 to 10% the first time it is washed.

Setting the table

Place the knife to the right of the plate, with its blade pointing to the plate.

The fork is placed on the left, with the tip of the tines resting on the tablecloth (French style) or pointing up (English style). Place a knife-rest in front of the knife, but do not put the knife on it since it is clean.

If you are serving fish, place the fish utensils on either side of the other cutlery. If you are serving soup, the soup spoon goes to the right of the knife. Dessert and cheese cutlery is brought to the table when serving the dessert or cheese. You may also set it out in advance, between the glasses and the plate.

How to care for tablecloths

100% cotton and 100% linen tablecloths are easier to care for than synthetics which eventually yellow (if white) or grey.

Tablecloths are machine washable. When washing, remember to consider the fabric content and colour. Natural fibre tablecloths can tolerate a little bleach and hotter water than the others. Coloured tablecloths should be washed in cold water with detergent.
Hard-to-remove stains can be rubbed with a bit of detergent before washing.

It is easier to iron your tablecloth if it is still damp, or if it is dry, spray while you iron.

Store your ironed and folded tablecloths (right side folded in) on shelves, in a drawe or on hangers.

Cake servers

There are two types of cake servers. One has rounded sides and is used to serve already-cut pieces of cake. The other has a serrated side and is used to cut slices of cake or pie. Usually, this type of dessert is brought to the table uncut.

Foie gras knife

This type of knife, used for cutting foie gras, was recently invented in France by a major manufacturer. It is useful for serving foie gras because it has a long narrow blade. After dipping the very fine blade into hot water, it is immediately used to cut a perfect slice of foie gras. Pour the hot water into a carafe or tall pitcher.
 
Salad preparation

Salad greens should be torn into small pieces with your fingers and placed in a salad bowl that already contains the vinaigrette. Toss the salad just before serving. For an informal family meal, the salad can be tossed at the table. When eating salad, never cut it with your knife. Just use your fork, which is why the salad greens should be small and easy to eat.

Preparing a bed tray

Taking your time the day after a big party, stretching out luxuriously under the blankets, getting up late: that’s pure indulgence. To add to the enjoyment, why not eat breakfast in bed?

The ideal way to serve breakfast in bed is on bed trays with legs (foldable or fixed) for greater stability. If bed trays are not available, an ordinary tray will do. For two people, two separate trays are preferable.

Start by placing a lovely cloth napkin on the tray. Next, pour some cereal into a bowl or prepare a breakfast plate for toast or croissants that you will cover with a towel to keep warm. Next prepare a cup and saucer (for tea or coffee), a small spoon, an individual butter dish, a knife for spreading, a creamer and sugar bowl, and tiny cups for jam. An insulated teapot or coffeepot will keep your tea or coffee piping hot. To complete your tray: some fruit, a seasonal flower and the daily newspaper!