My grandmother traveled the world, to many places no other western woman had ever been before. She was wealthy and adventurous, which helped. On her travels, she tasted many exotic delicacies, and experienced how others in far away lands entertained. At home, she had an excellent French chef who once created an unusual dessert for a large lunch party of visiting friends, a bright orange Jell-O surrounding a glass bowl in which gold fish were swimming. The same French chef was quietly huffy at a suggestion from my grandmother that perhaps they need not have a new dessert every day, there seemed to be quiet a lot of waste in the household. So, the next day when lunch was served, and my grandmother read the hand-calligraphed menu on the dining table (What? You don’t have hand calligraphed menus on your lunch table?) It read ‘Gateaux d’ Hier’ which translated means ‘Yesterday’s Cake’.
My grandparents were always entertaining, as were my parents, as am I. It must be in the blood. I always enjoy our parties. I have fun setting the table in various ways, moving location, and thinking up new decorations. A simple supper or lively lunch, or revolutionized black tie celebration should always feel like a family affair. I recruit as many of my children as I can to help in whatever way he or she can, both in the setting up and, I am afraid, the taking down. For example, at the dinner pictured here, I wanted something a little more extraordinary than a straight long table, so I decided we should dine on our long curving driveway, under the stars. With our numbers swelling to more than 70, it was all hands on deck with teenagers on ladders stringing up the lights as the smaller kids on the grass screwed in the lightbulbs. David directed: pointing, guiding, arranging. The result was very uniquely ours.
One trick I’ve picked up over the years, is to incorporate something specific from my surroundings to give the occasion a native flair. At home in The Bahamas, for example, it’s a table sprinkled with lucky nuts we have collected from the beach, or Eiffel Tower-sized vases with palm fronds, or a simple assortment of shells mixed with votive candles. When I’m in England, it’s small posies of English roses, or setting the dinnerware I inherited from my mother, given to her on her wedding day. Of course, there are tears when over the years a side plate or saucer has met an untimely end, and what was once a handsome complete collection is then reduced to a few orphans. So, investing in a collection of unbreakable melamine would be a wise move, and I do know where you might find some!