Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Etiquette Question of the Week

How many monograms are too many?

Twice recently I've been asked if it's possible to have too many monogrammed items. This is a really interesting question. I love monograms - and can you ever have too much of a good thing? This is not really a good manners vs. bad manners issue - it's not rude to have monograms on everything you own. Perhaps, though, a bit of moderation is in order. After all, one monogrammed pillow on a bed makes a much bigger impact than a roomful of monograms all competing for your attention. What are your favorite monogrammed things?

George Washington Isn't the Only One With a Connecton to the Dollar Bill!

If you're a fan of Crane stationery, be sure to check out their new Mount Vernon Collection. Of course, Crane has a long-standing connection to George Washington as they supply the paper on which US currency is printed - and that adds up to lots of Georges as $1 bills make up almost half the money printed annually. Even Martha had her own bill for short while; in the late 1800s she was featured on several $1 silver certificates.

Now her writing desk takes center stage on these hand engraved cards:

Check out the whole collection - there's nothing like new stationery to inspire you to write more often!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I'd like you to meet the Kentucky Colonel

What's great in the garden today and all summer? Mint! Specifically, Kentucky Colonel spearmint (Mentha spicata). Keep it under control in the garden by cutting lots to put in vases in the kitchen, deck, or porch - just wash the leaves before arranging and it's ready to use in all types of iced drinks or to garnish desserts - or just crush a few leaves to release the refreshing fragrance! (Bonus - ants hate it so it's great for picnics, too!)

Friday, June 26, 2009

What Makes This Friday Cheery? Brownies!

We call these Queen Street Brownies and you'll feel like a Queen when you try them! Of course a real Queen doesn't do her own baking, but you get the point! The foundation for this recipe was in a Southern Living cook-booklet called 'Chocolate Fantasies', but I have made several modifications - hope you enjoy!

Queen Street Brownies

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (can also add 1-2 T. Bourbon!)
1/2 cup chopped pecans (toasted is best)
handful of miniature chocolate chips (less than 1/4 cup)
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Over low heat (or top of double boiler) melt unsweetened & bittersweet chocolates with butter. Allow to cool a little.
  3. Combine flour, baking powder, and sugar in a mixing bowl. Whisk in chocolate / butter mixture. Add eggs, mix well. Stir in vanilla, mini chips, and nuts.
  4. Bake in greased/floured 9-inch square baking dish for 25 to 30 minutes. Do not overcook.
  5. Cool in pan slightly and glaze while still warm (if desired).
Glaze (optional)
Melt 1/4 cup butter with 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate until smooth.
Tip - You can line the baking dish with foil and then easily remove the brownies for cutting. I remove them before I glaze and leave the foil in place until the glaze cools. You can more easily cut small brownies on a cutting board rather than in the baking dish. Also, you can chill them for a few hours for a less-cake, more-fudge taste. Finally, if adding the Bourbon, the brownies will be best on the day after baking . . . the rich, Bourbon taste needs a day to develop!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

We'll Always Have Paris . . .

I couldn't resist stealing that line from one of my favorite movies - Casablanca. Actually that line runs through my head often as I'm brewing a pot of Paris - the fabulous tea from Harney & Sons. It's a blended black tea that they describe as "fruity with a hint of lemony Bergomot". Don't be fooled by the Bergomot, though, this is not at all like Earl Gray. If you don't feel like a straight-up black breakfast tea, Paris is a delicious alternative.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Etiquette Question of the Week

Is it impolite to return an empty dish?

If you grew up in the South, you may be familiar with the 'rule' that you never return a dish empty. When a friend or neighbor brings you a yummy pot of soup, casserole, or bowl of potato salad you return his/her dish with an offering in kind. This courtesy seems to be widespread - we have an Italian friend whose mother also followed this practice. You can see how this could go on forever . . . and why so many cooks turn to disposable containers!

So, what's the polite thing to do? It is not impolite to return an empty dish, but it is nice to include something when you return it to show your appreciation. Some great, quick ideas: a short thank-you note, a small box of chocolates, an inexpensive plant (like the $2.50 African Violets sold at most grocery stores), etc. The point is to let your friend know how nice it was to be remembered . . . and to return the dish promptly.

To close, here's what's blooming in the garden today:

Saturday, June 20, 2009


There's a typo in the post below . . . hope you don't spot it! ~sigh~

Something Old, Something New

What a great day in the garden - the last of the lettuce and the first cucumber! (Enjoyed tonight in a great salad, tossed with a simple champagne viniagrette.)

Polite Police on Patrol

When someone has an Encounter with a Rude Person they have to share it with friend. Don't you? How many times when you're meeting friends for lunch or coffee does one person arrive saying, "You'll never believe what just happened to me"? We love to pass on tales of the ill-mannered / inconsiderate / clueless / and downright mean. Sometimes the stories even become a permanent part of our circle. My husband and I still laugh with friends over a very rude young woman who tried to push the 5 of us off the sidewalk (into a busy street) en route to Windsor Castle over 8 years ago. Her demanding "Hel-lo! I've got coffee here!" made us (and families from two other countries) stop in our tracks at the time, but it's become a catch-phrase that continues to crack us up.

But, how great would it be if we passed on stories of polite encounters? That's what I'd like to do in this spot. Nothing would be nicer than to hear how some considerate person made your day a little better. The first story is about a friend-of-a-friend who saw a wallet-type thing blow off the top of a car as it accelerated onto the highway a few days ago. He pulled over, retrieved the item - which turned out to be one of those folders carried by restaurant wait staff. Finding that it contained cash, photos, and other personal items, he tracked down the owner and returned it. It's easy to think we would have done the same, but in the everyday hustle and bustle we may not have bothered to stop. The polite 'Samaritan' in question has a very busy schedule himself (including two small children), but made the time to make a difference. So one could surmise that being considerate leads to happy endings while being rude leads to . . . well, you decide.

Stay tuned for more reports from The Polite Police . . .

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Table Settings - The Basics

A well-laid table is a thing of beauty. While its joy may not last forever as Keats thought, it will enhance even the simplest of meals. If you're a fan of television cooking shows, you'll know that preparing the food is just the beginning - careful attention is also given to plating the food. Presentation is an integral part of the process. Carrying this a step further brings us to the table setting itself.

During dining etiquette events, the table setting questions I'm asked are almost always about flatware. So, that's where we'll start today. What are the basics? Fork, knife, spoon - in that order, with the plate between the fork and knife. Expand this with the pieces shown below for a more elaborate meal. The place-setting below is sterling silver which most of us do not consider for everyday meals. However, if you are lucky enough to own sterling try to use it often. It acquires a beautiful patina with use and it only takes a few extra moments to hand wash. If you would like to start a collection of sterling, check out eBay. You'll find twenty or thirty thousand items for sale each week and the number of patterns is staggering - from sleek modern to ornate Victorian to classics like the Kings pattern which is made by many different silver companies. Somewhere out there is the perfect silver pattern for you . . . find it and enjoy!

5-piece placesetting in Reed & Barton's Marlborough pattern.
Top to bottom: Butter Spreader, Salad / Pastry Fork, Teaspoon,
Dinner Fork, Dinner Knife.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks

Shakespeare said it best, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't say it as well. I'm talking about the most basic of etiquette elements: The Thank-You Note.

If Death is the great Equalizer, the Thank-You Note can be the great Differentiator. On the social front you may not need to stand out from the crowd. Is it worth the extra effort to be the bride who sent notes within a week of each shower? Or to have great-aunt Sally tell your grandmother that you write the nicest thank-you notes? (The assumption is that you will undoubtedly send a thank-you; the extra effort refers to the promptness and quality of the note!) On the business front, however, standing out from the crowd is what it's all about.

A well-written note after an interview might well be what takes you to the top of the candidate list. It brings you to the mind of the interviewer(s) again and demonstrates that you are the type of professional who will be an asset to their organization. There are many other business situations when a brief thank-you is required, in the interest of time I will not attempt to list them here. The point is to send them and to do it promptly.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for tips on writing the perfect thank-you note . . .

Monday, June 15, 2009

What Makes This Monday Cheery?

Sweet-smelling blooms in the garden! Our magnolia (Little Gem), gardenias, and Knock Out roses (Radicon) are all in full bloom and their fragrance can be enjoyed from almost any spot in the yard or porches. All three are inspirational plants (for us, anyway) - three years ago the magnolia was severely stunted by the neighborhood deer who really 'rubbed it the wrong way', two winters ago ice storms almost killed the gardenias, and this year the deer turned their attention to the Knock Out roses soon after they were planted. Thorns apparently are no deterrent . . . but, with regular applications of various deer repellents, including the fabulous 'I Must Garden' which is produced locally, they are now putting on quite a show. When bad things happen to good plants the plants can often make a comeback - especially with a little help from a friendly gardener.

If your garden does not include at least one fragrant summer plant, you're missing out on a great joy. Another plant to consider for late summer blooms is the tea olive (Osmanthus Fragrans). It can be grown as a shrub or tree and often blooms several times during the year. So take a few minutes out of your week to enjoy the blooms of summer - in your own garden or local park or farmer's market (where summer flowers are inexpensive and very cheery!).

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Blog? Yes, Please!

For several years now, friends have been suggesting that I start a blog, but I hesitated because it seemed like such a commitment (of both time and transparency) - not to mention the obvious objection - I'm not a writer and who cares what I'm doing/thinking/eating, etc. But, recently I started to seriously consider blogging and find myself thinking about it often. When the thoughts shifted from "that would make a good blog topic" to "I'll include that in my blog" it seemed like the time to begin. So, here goes . . .

In my professional capacity as an etiquette trainer and consultant, I am asked similar questions repeatedly so this will be a good forum to address those pesky decorum issues that continue to bother the civility-minded. Also, what blog is complete without food, tea, books, or gardening? Finally, because this blog originates from the South, I suspect the locale may play a part as well.

To end my first post, I'm including a sneak peak at our summer tomatoes. I'm so proud! The first three baby tomatoes appeared over the past few days and I'll keep you posted on their progress as the summer goes on.

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