Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Table Manners

This past weekend Mr L and I went for afternoon tea at Blenheim Palace of all places! It was actually a gift from my mother-in-law at Christmas, and we've only got around to doing it now.
I felt like a real lady who lunches, and I put on a dress for the occasion even if it was a bit windy.

The palace and gardens were beautiful and well worth a visit, but the cakes, well now, the cakes and sandwiches were just perfect! They were served in the beautiful Indian room, overlooking the fountains... pure bliss.

We even finished every last scrap! And I have a photo of me with my elbows on the table ...

What terrible table manners! I happen to buy a book in the gift shop afterwards called 'The Lady's Book of Manners'. It's a book about politeness and etiquette from 1890.

It's so fascinating, so I thought I'd share some table manners from the book with you, and then we'll move onto some more up-to-date table manners. Seeing as I was caught sipping tea with my elbows on the table I could do with a reminder!

The Lady's Book of Manners says:

It is looked upon as the height of vulgarity to use your knife to convey food to your mouth.

I love the use of the word vulgarity throughout the book!

And a hint that I think can still be applied today...

Avoid too slow or rapid eating; the one will appear as though you did not like your dinner, and the other as though you were afraid you would not get enough.

Do you think table manners still apply today? I think they should. Sure, family meals are allot more relaxed, but it's nice to still have some form of etiquette, even if only used at formal events or at Christmas. So here's a reminder (as much to myself as anybody else) of what is considered 'proper' (as opposed to vulgar) conduct at a table, these are just the basics, but they are also the important ones!

  • Wash your hands before sitting down, it's a good habit.
  • Sit up straight, slouching looks untidy
  • Don't speak with food in your mouth - nobody wants to see food flying accross the table.
  • Chew quietly and with your mouth closed, this is of course easier to do if you take small bites at a time.
  • Keep your elbows off the table, it generlly leads to slouching and takes up table space (that's me told then!).
  • Excuse yourself from the table or you might look as though you are storming out on a conversation, or you were displeased with something said.
  • Wipe your mouth before drinking or your glass will be full of smudges... eek!
  • Never reach across a table, as well as glasses that can be knocked over, you might be cutting someone else off from their conversation.
  • Don't wave utensils about in the air, for obvious reasons this could be dagerous.
  • And yes, don't put your knife in your mouth!
  • Don't start eating until everyone is seated.
Good 'ol table manners. I hope they never fall away completely!
Have a great week everyone!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

New uses for old things...

A busy couple of weeks again. I'm afraid I don't get a chance to post quite so often anymore because I am now officially enrolled in a yoga teacher's training course. I've been doing yoga for a bout 5 years now and thought it would be good to learn to teach it. But it means that as well as working full-time, I'm also doing 2 yoga classes a week, and some weekends away. However, I am NOT giving up on my blog, so I'll try my best to still post as often as possible.

I thought today I'd do a post about recycling some household waste into make-shift cleaning supplies. Recycling has become very fashionable in recent years, even to the extent that we now just plonk some household waste into a recycling bin. But what about recycling some of your waste yourself? I have a few ideas... so here goes. Can you think of anything else you could re-cycle to use for cleaning?

Old toothbrushes

It's advised that we replace our toothbrushes every 6 months. I never throw away a used toothbrush, because they are essential for cleaning around the house. Here's how you too can use your old toothbrushes.

* For stubborn limescale deposits, soak some paper towels, or a cloth in white vinegar. Apply to limescale area and leave to soak for 2 hours. Remove and use your toothbrush to scrub away the softened deposits, very helpful for nooks and crannies around faucets.

* The next time you clean your refrigerator, don't forget to clean the rubber seal. Pour some warm water into a bowl along with a drop of washing up liquid. Dip the toothbrush in the soapy water as you go around scrubbing the rubber. Wipe with a damp cloth.

* If your children draw with crayon on your walls, use a bit of toothpaste on the toothbrush to scrub away the crayon. Wipe away the toothpaste with a lightly damp cloth.

* Use the toothbrush and some diluted bleach to remove mildew from window frames. The bleach will also prevent the mildew coming back.

Old and odd socks

Aah, the Anthea Turner way! Use old socks (clean ones only please), over your hand to dust stair banisters, ornaments, plants etc. You're less likely to miss out on tricky corners if you use your hand to dust this way.

Old towels

It goes without saying that if you have pets, keep every bit of old towel you have... they are so handy on muddy days. But old towels are great for a couple of other things too... read on.

  • After mopping a floor. Wrap an old towel over the end of a broomstick, push around the floor to speed up drying and prevent slippages. It has the added bonus of buffing the floor.
  • Have a designated bathroom cleaning towel (perhaps even mark it with a permanent marker, or if that's too tacky for your linen cupboard, go ahead and embroider). Use that towel to wipe and clean the bathroom once you've finished in the shower. You wont need any chemical, and you'll never again have to use elbow grease to scrub your bathroom because you'll be preventing limescale and oily deposits buildup.

Use old newspaper to clean windows. Read more about getting streak free shiny windows here.

Used spray bottles

I never throw away a spray bottle. They are great to use for making up your own cleaning concoctions. Try some of these chemical free ideas. Also, I use one when I iron... simply add a couple of drops of your favourite essential oil and you'll have lovely smelling laundry.

Mismatched china

Use an old teacup, or a pretty bowl to freshen a room. Fill it with a few spoons of bicarbonate of soda and a couple of drops of an essential oil, and place it on a shelf. The bicarbonate of soda will absorb any nasty smells.

Banana skins

Use the skin of a banana to clean leather shoes before you throw the peel into the recycling. Or you can also use it to polish the leaves of a houseplant.

Flat Cola
Don't pour flat cola down the sink, instead pour it into you toilet bowl and leave for an hour before flushing. It'll get rid of any limescale deposits and stains. Best not to think what this means for your stomach :)

Well I hope that's given you some new ideas, so get cleaning!

Oh, and one more thing...
We had some friends over for dinner and I needed to make a starter that would be tasty but quick to put together. I ended up doing a Tomato and Pesto tart from the BBC Good food website. It was delicious, and SO easy! I highly recommend it. Find the recipe here.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

South African 'Melktert' recipe

This weekend I again attempted to make a tart that I've failed to make successfully before. It's a traditional South African recipe called 'Melktert' or directly translated as milktart. A melktert is usually a shortcrust pastry base with a filling not dissimilar to a custard tart, but much more milky and softer than a custard tart and topped with a sprinkling of cinnamon. This really is comfort food although South African, the recipe has some Dutch influences.

For a bit of history on this tasty dessert:

Before the Suez Canal was built, all ships travelling east to the spice islands of what is now Indonesia had to sail round the tip of South Africa. The Dutch and their East India Company were a force to be reckoned with along the spice route for a large part of the 17th century, and South Africa was a convenient stopping place on the long journey from Europe to Asia.

The first permanent Dutch settlement was established at the Cape of Good Hope around the middle of the century. The cinnamon used in this recipe would have been imported from Indonesia; and the milk would have come from the increasing number of Dutch farms that sprang up around the Cape to supply the Dutch ships and their scurvy-ridden crews with fresh vegetables, meat and dairy products.

Extract taken from an article by Cecily Layzell on

I'm happy to say that for the first time I have made a successfull melktert! This is with thanks to a new recipe I tried that I adapted from here. However, I used my own shortcrust pastry recipe which I'll share with you too. If you're not up to making your own pastry, just buy those ready made pastry cases or bake a ready-rolled shortcrust pastry from the supermarket... but give pastry making a go, it's fun! Just remember to keep all your ingredients as cold as possible, and it will help if you have a blender or mixer.

I'm also dedicating this recipe specially to my blog friend Ivy from Little Ivy cakes... she always does great recipes on her blog and loves trying new things, so this one is for you Ivy - I hope you get a chance to try this one yourself one day.

This recipe is enough to make 2 tarts.

Sweet shortcrust pastry
  • 200g unsalted butter (cold)
  • 300g plain flour (I put mine in the freezer for 20 minutes on a hot day)
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 2 small chilled eggs beaten
Cut the butter into cubes and add it to the food processor or mixer (use a flat blade in the mixer) along with the flour. Blitz the flour and butter until it resembles breadcrumbs and there are no big lumps of butter. Add the sugar and blitz again. Now add the beaten eggs only a little at a time (you don't have to add all of it, instead check the consistency, it musn't be too wet) until the mixture binds into a ball. Dust the dough with flour and form it into two discs and cover with clingfilm. Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Butter two pie/tart dishes. Now roll the two discs out to about 3- 5mm thickness or to fit the dishes. Once the dough is in, prick liberally with a fork to prevent the pastry rising. Put some parchment paper and beans inside to blind bake the crust.

For the Filling
  • 4 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons of corn flour
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons of flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter
  • cinnamon to sprinkle over the top
Mix the dry ingredients together.
Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl, and then slowly add the dry ingredients whilst whisking.
Bring the milk to boil in a large saucepan, then remove the milk from the heat and add the mixed ingredients slowly into the milk whilst stirring to avoid lumps. Turn the stove top down low, and return the saucepan on the stove and slowly boil, stirring until the mixture has thickened - do not be tempted to remove from the heat before the mixture has thickened to a thick custard consistency or the filling wont set. Remove from the stove again, and add the butter and the vanilla. Pour the mixture into the two pastry cases whilst the mixture is still hot. Note: This tart does not get baked again, the heating of the milky filling is sufficient for the tart to set.

Allow to cool, cover with clingfilm and put the tarts in the fridge for 1 to 2 hours. Once the tart filling has set, sprinkle liberally with ground cinnamon. Serve cold on it's own or with fresh berries as a dessert, or enjoy it as a teatime treat!

And now I have to show you my poppies that I have grown from seed... I am so excited that they have opened! They are Laura Ashley seeds, and I was expecting them to be more pink than dark purple, but I still think they are gorgeous! I'd send you all some seeds if I could. Well, actually, if any of you do really do want some seeds, leave me a comment before next Sunday saying you've emailed me, then email me with your address at laundrybasketcase @ rocketmail .com (remove spaces) and I will try and collect some when the pods have dried in the autumn and post them to you with instructions how to grow. I can't guarantee they'll be exactly the same, because the bees might be cross-pollinating them, but it' worth a try.

Have a great week!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Setting a table the correct way...

My work on the site is done and as you might have noticed a couple of things have changed on my blog. I've been working very hard to add a few extras, update some of my labels, and change the layout with a new template. It's fairly busier than my clean layout from before, but I hope yo enjoy it nonetheless.

I'm excited about today's post because I love learning about etiquette, you know, doing things the 'proper' way. Generally speaking I can set a table correctly for informal family meals, but when I recently served up some tea and scones to work colleagues of mine, I had to go look up how to set the table for a tea party. Whilst doing my research I went the whole hog and looked up how to lay a table for all sorts of occasions. I am no expert, I'm merely trying to learn myself, so I can't claim that these images are 100% correct nor do I have all the necessary glassware, forks and spoons... but then you might not either, so I hope you find this post useful. And if you'd like to correct me on any of these, please do so and I'll update the pictures.

Let's start with laying the table.
Tablecloths look smart, but they are not essential. Instead you might want to show off your glass or antique table and use place mats instead. This is also a good option if you don't fancy ironing a tablecloth. Because, of course, a creased tablecloth looks very untidy unless you're going for a very creased linen rustic look. But saying that, it's only for formal dinners where the tablecloth needs to be immaculate IE. showing only one crease line that runs the length of the cloth. Unlike shown in my amateur photos, a white damask cloth is used only for dinner (silly me!). Prints and coloured cloths are great for ordinary home meals where you might like to re-use the tablecloth more than once (that is a clean cloth for dinner to take you through breakfast and lunch the next day).

A centre piece is not essential, but makes an occasion out of any meal. Using a simple centrepiece of picked garden flowers is elegant, and will make even the simplest family meals feel special.

Now, onto the specifics...
These are of course basic guidelines only. Place settings should be adapted depending on what is served in what order. Cutlery should always be laid with forks to the left, knives to the right with two exceptions: the fork goes on the right when there is no knife, and an oyster fork goes to the right or on the plate. All utensils should face upwards, with the sharp edges of knives turned towards the plate. Spoons go to the right of knives. The utensils that are to be used first are laid at the outer positions. Water glasses are set above the tips of the knives, wine glasses are to the right of water glasses. And if two wines will be served, three glasses should be set in a triangle. Dessert utensils are placed above the main plate, and teaspoons are placed on the saucers. Never lay out any utensils at a setting that do not have a purpouse during a meal.

I've only set out a bowl here, but actually, it should be a plate for hot food, a bowl for cereal on top, toast plate with butter knife on the top left. A glass for water, a glass for juice and a cup and saucer to serve tea or coffee to have with the breakfast.

This setting is for a lunch serving that includes a small plate at the top left for salad, and a large plate for the main course. Two glasses above the knife and spoon are provided for juice and water. The napkin can of course be placed to the left of the forks as with other settings.

Morning or Afternoon Tea
I've shown a setting that would be used with serving cake and scones. The knife is for the butter, and the fork for cake. It is preferable to use a small cake fork of course, but I don't have any. Generally a smaller 6" luncheon napkin should be used, and looks ever so sweet in a neat triangle.

Informal Dinner
This setting has a small plate and knife for bread and butter, a soup bowl and soup spoon, a main plate with knife and fork and two glasses, one for water, the other for wine.

Formal Dinner
Once again, I'm afraid I don't quite have all the necessary utensils. But this setting has a bread and butter plate with knife, soup bowl and spoon. There's also a salad fork, main plate and a the teaspoon for use with tea or coffee that is served after the meal. The teaspoon can also be placed on the saucer (I have found evidence of both uses, but perhaps one is wrong?). The glasses are set so that either white or red wine could be had, and a water glass.

With formal meals, or meals where guests are attending, try and avoid commercial packaging on a table (jars, cartons, butter tubs etc). Three things I think are essential to add to your dinner services are a milk jug (my mother-in-law is particularly oppose to having a milk bottle at a table), a butter dish or small pots to put butter into and a pretty oil and vinegar set. For serving tea, there should be an extra pot with hot water and for the sugar, sugar cubes are ideal or a pretty sugar bowl and spoon set. Remember that when serving tea, if milk is taken, it is the 'proper' thing to add the milk before pouring the tea. Also remember that water glasses are filled three-quarters full, and wine glasses half full (I'm sure that rule goes out the window as the evening progresses).

So there you have it - a quick basic course on setting the table. Have I left anything out? Do let me know. Oh, and is there anything else you as a reader would like to see added to my blog?

Speaking of which, I'll soon be starting a new weekly post alongside my normal ones about doing one odd-job around the house a week. You know, little things that might not get done normally, so kind of a reminder of one cleaning odd-job to do every week.

I've also found a new home-keeping blog called This Home Sweet Home. Pop over and say hi, there are some great informative posts there about all things home related.

Have a lovely week!

Many of my tips are adapted from Cheryl Mendleson's "Home Comforts" - an excellent all rounder weighty book for home-keeping. A favourite of mine.

A note on perfection

Many of the posts featured on this blog are about doing household chores the correct, or so to say perfect way. My intention is not to make readers feel that the way they are running their households are wrong. So if making the bed, or ironing shirts in a certain way doesn't fit your lifestyle, do not feel guilty about it. But by learning the correct way of doing things it might just come in handy for those times when special guests are staying, or when you need to iron that shirt perfectly for a job interview. So enjoy the learning, but skip the guilt and LOVE your homes. x

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