Diane Meier

Diane Meier

Welcome to Diane’s Blog!

I’ll use this spot to chart what I enjoy and endorse, as we attempt to live a life of style in a culture of business and writing and art. And I hope you join me; share your own stories, insights and ideas about living a creatively expressive life.

Style is Having What you Want on Hand

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Here are some tips – if you want to make entertaining as comfortable as possible:

imageKeep your linens to a few colors that work together. Here at 907 we use reds, oranges and khakis with classic white -- and we mix and match them so that you can always pull together a great table without going crazy. I look for sales and stock up on napkins and placemats when I see something that works. Always buying 12 – 18, at least, of a pattern or color I know will work with what I have in-house so that a dinner for sixteen can match, but a buffet for 36 can blend. Another great linen hint – bandanas – in bright or surprising colors. I think we bought them wholesale by the dozen and they always look great together – and make a casual meal (like chili or fried chicken and biscuits or baked macaroni) look fun – especially in an elegant setting.

Collect bowls of all different sizes – you can never have too many bowls – and you can rarely have bowls too big. Look for them in yard sales and on e-bay. I am limiting my bowls here at the office to 19C transferware and thick Mediterranean pottery. And, again, all sizes and shapes. And I like the mix of grazed and old with newer classics. As long as the colors are rich, they’ll work in this space. And think of compotes and cake stands and bowls with a foot or a base that raises them up above the surface. It can make a big difference in the display. Stockpile them in colors and patterns that support one another – so you never have to worry about what goes with what.

imageJust like bowls, you can’t have too many platters --- Collect all different sizes and shapes. Even if you have to stack them in a closet with newspaper or felt between each platter, even if you keep them under the bed or in a bathtub in an unused bathroom, or stacked in the oven – collect as many as your home will hold. I like the platters that show their age, browned at the edges like cookies, or crackle glazed or with firing marks in the material. No cracks or chips– but all other marks that show how they were used and loved, like the fur on the velveteen rabbit, is okay with me. We use them all the time – and as many as we have – I promise you, I will find more and give them all a good home. Ditto serving spoons. Who cares if they match. Never pass up a good serving spoon at a garage sale or antique store. They’re mostly 19C and almost none of them match. So – here’s my rule: As long as you’ve planned them to coordinate or blend, you can never (ever) have too many bowls, platters or serving spoons!

I always sit down and plan out the process for each dinner party. From the theme, to the display of food, and the guests’ movements to the table. And then I - literally - draw the things I will need to plate or display before the time to do it. Somehow drawing the options on the platters helps me to organize my thoughts – but I realize it might not work that way for everyone. Sometimes, especially when there are a lot of choices and a big crowd, we actually experiment with the layout of the dishes, working days or hours ahead – using post-it notes as stand-ins for the food on the platters and bowls.


Here’s our hint about setting a buffet: Think through how people might ‘build’ their plates – and look at colors and textures of food. Really think about it. At DogWood and 907, we’ve collected cake plates, footed bowls and display stands and we sometimes use stacks of books to suggest different levels for eye-appeal. And we intersperse bowls of fruit and pitchers of flowers in with the food to keep it looking fresh and interesting.

If I am serving with wait staff, I like to ‘compose’ the plates. I do a run through – usually the day before – trying the recipe and making sure there are no hitches. And then – when I get the dish to look the way I want it to – I draw it, with labels and direction - and post it for the staff to follow. I know it’s a little obsessive – but my cartoons are so goofy no one seems to mind, and I think the staff actually prefer to know exactly what we want, rather than try to flail about when guests are waiting for their food. The plates are served, just as planned, to each guest.


Vegetarians and Other Eaters

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

I always call or e-mail guests before an event to ask about special food issues. At one dinner for twelve, we had three vegetarians, one guest who ate no flesh-fish and one who ate no shellfish, two who ate no carbs and one who could not tolerate dairy products. It was a challenging meal. For the most part, if you know that a non-meat-eater is attending, it’s good to have a substantial ‘stand in’ that can serve two purposes – like a hearty rice pilaf, studded with nuts and fruit, or a classic mac and cheese. And we usually offer a number of vegetables, to account for the tastes of our guests and to give vegetarians some greater options. I am definitely not a baker. I wouldn’t dream of tackling puff pastry or anything delicate. And I don’t care much for fancy desserts. But we do especially like to serve farm-house desserts: gingerbread, trifle, chocolate pudding – nursery puddings. For one of the library dinners I made bread pudding with Irish soda bread and put pitchers of cream right on the table. I wondered, given the tony guest list, how many folks would exercise discipline, only nibble at the bread pudding and eschew the cream. At the end of the meal, barely a crumb was left and not a drop of cream.


Tips on Entertaining

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Whether it’s feeding a group of board members or entertaining a crew of sponsors, we are rarely managing fewer than ten people. Entertaining a large group has it's own challenges and I think we have identified a number of things that could help anyone facing a large dinner party – but most interesting to me – is that learning these short-cuts makes all entertaining easier – regardless of the size of your guest list:

Extravagant Tip #1 -- If your kitchen can possibly accommodate it, always have two dishwashers.. I know you think you don’t have room. But listen, after experiencing the ease of maintenance and clean-up, I wonder how I ever did without the second work-horse. This is not a large kitchen but we do feed a crew every day at lunch and we entertain here in the evening, with crowds from 8 – 30. We’ve taken advantage of the height in the office and looked up for more storage. If you haven’t made better use of your own vertical space, it’s a great challenge - the area above your kitchen cabinets is so rarely well utilized, and if keeping things you use less frequently (huge roasting pans, blenders, extra cookie sheets or massive casserole dishes) up and out of the way, can allow you to include another dishwasher – I urge you to do it. You will never again have to wait until the serving dishes are clean before you can load the dinner plates. It makes all the difference. Turns out to not be so extravagant.

Smart Tip #2 -- When you serve a large crowd with little or no help (servers/wait-staff), try to choose food that can maintain its quality sitting on a buffet table. Think of the wonderful antipasta buffets in Italy, that sit on tables, looking so appetizing through the afternoon or as we approach dinner. Roasted or olive-oil slicked vegetables, bean stews, undressed or lightly-dressed salads, recipes that retain their warmth and texture in deep, heat-holding casseroles. And remember, collect bowls and dishes of different heights with feet and stands. Look for display stands or plinths in craft stores or use a few books to get a different height going. It makes a real difference in the display. We place the food on the marble counter as a buffet, and serve our guests from there. And they carry their plates back to their ‘assigned’ seats at the table.

buffet with cupcakes and sandwiches

I often paint place-cards, which speak either to the event or the season. They don’t take long to do. I keep a stock of single deckled cards – (they come in boxes of 100, sized 2 ½ X 3 ¾”) on hand and we have twenty little silver rabbit card holders ready to perch at every place. But you don’t need special place card holders, there are many ways to make place cards work. Easiest is simply setting them on each plate. But you can also punch a hole in the card, thread a ribbon through and tie the card to the napkin with a bow or a creative slip knot. Or you can slip the card into the cuff of a wide ribbon as a napkin ring. And, contrary to my mother’s belief, one doesn’t have to be particularly talented to make them – in fact, the more naïve they are, the better they might go down. But I urge you to give it a try. From watercolors to collages of torn tissue paper, it really is worth the effort. They add a touch of special attention to the evening and most of all, they avoid the jockeying about the table as each guest wonders where to sit – so your attention is not diverted from serving or stirring or plating or all of the things you’ll need to be doing.

As a note, I do not try to separate husbands and wives in our seating plan. In fact, we find that couples more often support one another in remembering interesting stories, prompting an anecdote or urging participation and adding to the fun of an evening. We urge you to break that old dumb rule. In fact, we urge you to break most old dumb rules.

Maybe it’s because we are smack in the middle of the most cosmopolitan city in the world and never far from a four star meal, but I find that indulgent, comfort foods are the things guests seem to appreciate the most. Creamy baked macaroni and cheese, bread pudding, chicken pot-pie with cornbread crust, a very special four bean chili we make with smoked brisket of beef, rich and spicy moussaka, hearty soups – like squash, apple and onion, a flavorful stew of white beans with Italian sausage, rosemary and fennel -- all have become signature dishes here – the things friends ask me to make for their birthdays or special dinners. We still experiment, of course –I butterflied a leg of lamb recently, stuffed it with spinach and feta and roasted it with garlic, rosemary and potatoes. Great. And I’m about to tackle a classic bouillabaisse – right from the Larousse. Stay turned!



Thursday, October 01, 2009

Here are a couple of menus we’ve used when entertaining. You might note that they both end with bread pudding – made with a combination of brioch and Irish soda bread. I love bread pudding.

Irish Stew Library Dinner Menu

imageCocktail: A DogWood Cocktail --
Applesnap (Pomeau de Normandy with apple cider and spicy Blenheim’s ginger ale)

First Course: Hot puff pastry parmesan straws
Butternut Squash, Apple and Onion Soup, served in tin mugs as guests arrive

Entrée: Irish Stew

Salad: Bitter green salad with orange dressing

Dessert: Irish Soda Bread Pudding

Wines: Chateau Phelan 1998, Chablis Droin 2003

Ham and Cabbage Library Dinner Menu

Cocktail: A DogWood Mule
DogWood infusedVodka and spicy Blenheim’s ginger ale

First Course: Irish smoked fish, Irish Cheddar, Cashel Blue; brown bread, soda bread, Irish butter and mustards

Entrée: Bacon and Cabbage (smoked pork chops, smoked ham, smoked pork butt, cabbage and three kinds of baby potatoes all cooked in ham bone-broth) home-made horseradish sauce with fresh chopped parsley.

Dessert: Irish Soda Bread Pudding with pitchers of fresh cream

Wines: Chateau Phelan 1998, Chablis Droin 2003

The Fresh Orange Dinner

Cocktail:Orange Sangria

First Course: Gorgonzola with home-baked Walnut and Orange Bread

Salad: Salad of Bitter Greens (radiccio, endive, watercress) with suprémed orange segments, pine nuts and orange-mayo dressing

Entrée: Pasta with ground turkey and hot turkey sausage, sweet onion, fennel, fresh mint, shredded parmesan and orange olive oil

Dessert: Fresh Orange Trifle

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