Senses of Living® Holidays

November 2003
© 2003 by Bret S. Beall

Dishing It Out!

Interestingly, this month’s Sensational Living® column, about real estate staging, is almost more like a Senses of Living® column (and a rather long one, at that), and this month’s Senses of Living® column is more like a lifestyle discussion that would ordinarily be found in one of my Sensational Living® columns. It just goes to show that everything is inter-related. And in December, I will finish the discussion started here over in Sensational Living® … how’s that for confusing?

With cooler temperatures, I find myself entertaining more. It’s the ideal time to reconnect with friends while simultaneously recipe-testing and experimenting with table settings. So much goes into entertaining at home, but it’s all so simple if you just do a little bit of homework and advance preparation.

This month, in this column, I’m only going to address the concepts of dishes. I have literally hundreds of dishes … maybe thousands. I have lots of “ordinary” dishes, I have specialty dishes, I have ethnic dishes, and I have dishes I don’t even what to do with (well, I do know, but I just haven’t done it yet!). I’m not suggesting that you need so many dishes (after all, I’m an entertainment professional, so I need my research tools). But, you do need some basics.

Place Setting: My idea for each place setting is: appetizer plate, salad plate, soup bowl (and underplate), dinner plate, dessert plate, bread plate, and what I call a “debris plate” (for pits, seeds, bone fragments, stray bits of fruit skin, etc.); unless you are buying a set of dishes, you can get by using the same plate shape and style for appetizers, salads, soup bowl underplate, and desserts; you could also use the same style for bread, but a smaller one is usually more convenient. You will need a variety of serving bowls and platters. How many? As a ballpark figure, maybe three serving bowls and two platters, but there are other variables to consider:

Colors: This is one place where I am adamant: I only use dishes for serving and eating that are black or white. Food just looks better in black or white dishes. I will sometimes use other colors of dishes as decorative items to create a “feel” while entertaining, but with rare exceptions, I don’t put food on them. I certainly don’t like patterns, as they interfere with the beauty of the food you’ve worked so diligently to prepare. If you limit your dish colors to black and/or white, you can mix and match endlessly when you entertain.

Shapes: Most of my dishes are circular. But, some of my more interesting presentations are on oval, square, rectangular, or biomorphic dishes. Personally, I am not fond of “lipped” plates, but there are reasons for liking lips, so you choose! Nor do I like any texture on the bottoms of my dishes … I cringe when my fork does anything except sliding smoothly across the bottom of my plate or bowl. I have some very unusual ovoid dinner plates that are best described as “winged” that draw praising comments every single time I use them for guests.

Glaze: I prefer glossy glazes on my dishes, whether I’m using black or white dishes. The reason for this is the hardness of the glazing, while matt dishes tend to show every single scratch and imperfection caused by dining utensils. Plus, most food is matt, and I like the contrast and vague reflections of the food with the high-gloss glazes.

Material: I use dishes of every material imaginable. China and porcelain are nice, but so is stoneware. I also use some Corelle, some CorningWare, some in materials I can’t even identify. I mix them without any hesitation. I also have some terra cotta dishes that work really well for certain ethnic dinners that I do.

Price: This is a major variable. Some people spend thousands of dollars on the finest china, and then only use it for special occasions. My approach is a little different. While I do have a set of fine china that is gorgeous, I inherited this from my mother, and I let it adorn any table that I set. That sets a precedent, since these hand-me-down dishes are “previously owned,” for me to add other “previously owned” dishes to my ensemble. With the exception of a few new dishes that were given to me as gifts, all of the dishes in my collection are from yard sales, thrift shops, second hand stores and other low-price sources. Yet, despite the minor expense, I would put my set tables up against anything found in those highbrow stores and magazines (of course, it doesn’t hurt that I serve Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® food on those dishes). But really, you have to wash the dishes in hot, soapy water anyway, so they are disinfected, so don’t be shy about stocking your kitchen/dining room with “previously owned” dishes. By the way, fine china should not be washed in a dishwasher, as the glazing will check, which can lead to unsanitary conditions.

Storage: Most dishes are sturdy enough to just stack and store. Sometimes it is recommended to put felt (or paper towels) between fine china to keep them from being scratched; it works, so you can be the judge as to whether you want to invest this effort (I don’t do it, because again, it gives the impression that china is only for special occasions, and if you have to manipulate the felt/paper towels, you may be less inclined to use them). Keeping dishes dust free is a major effort, so try to keep them in enclosed cabinets (and use them often). I have several nice hutches and buffets in my dining room for the purpose of storing my dishware away from dust, but I am not completely successful. Unless you have hermetically-sealed cabinets, you are going to “acquire” dust, so wipe your dishes with a moist towel before setting the table if certain dishes haven’t been used in a while. Finally, consider incorporating your dishes into your décor. My hutches have glass panels, so I have worked to arrange the dishes inside in an artful way that can be seen through the “windows.”

Now, go entertain! Or just dine with style! Bringing mindfulness to your dining experience is a win-win endeavor. Consider each dining experience to be a celebration of the bounty you are enjoying, as well as a celebration of any of the following November “holidays.”

Adoption Month: I have several friends going through this process right now, and I do not envy them one bit. I shall just pray and hope that every child who needs a home finds one ASAP.

Alzheimer's Disease Month: This disease has touched my family significantly. Though there are a number of suggested ways to reduce the progress of the disease (both with lifestyle and with medication), there are still no cures for what is actually a syndrome, or complex of diseases. I urge everyone to remain physically active, mentally alert, and to eat a highly diverse diet, minimizing fried foods.

Child Safety and Protection Month: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: our children are our planet’s greatest resource, and they deserve all of the protection and safety that we can provide. That is our job, as adults, even if we are not parents.

Diabetes Month: At least two friends are afflicted by diabetes. Diet can help (see Good Nutrition Month below), as long as you are under a doctor’s care. Don’t let your diet negatively impact your quality of life.

Good Nutrition Month: America is one of the world’s most obese countries with an extremely low level of nutrition. Of course, when you have the media reporting on every new fad or speculation, even when there is no evidence or science to document it, I can’t blame the public. Diversity is the key to good nutrition: eat a little bit of EVERYTHING (and call me if you are having problems!).

Hospice Month: Hospices need higher visibility. Ideally, they are staffed with trained, caring individuals. Occasionally, you find an exception exposed on the news, but we need to do more to support this civilized form of caring for those with terminal or otherwise debilitating diseases and conditions.

Native American Heritage Month (American Indian Heritage Month): As someone of partial Native American heritage, I certainly like to celebrate that aspect of me. I will probably do that primarily by preparing some of this month’s Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® recipes that feature squash and pumpkins, both utilized fully by Native Americans.

Peanut Butter Lover's Month: I must confess that I am NOT a peanut butter lover … though I will celebrate this month by making peanut butter cookies and some spicy peanut sauce for meat, fishes and veggies (as in the Indonesian vegetable salad gado-gado).

First Week of November

Election Day (US): Observed the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, this year it is November 4. Voting is one of our greatest privileges, and I have made a point of voting in every election since I turned eighteen. In fact, on my eighteenth birthday, I marched down to the courthouse to register to vote. Don’t let apathy or defeatism control your life.

Communication Week (November 1-7): I have argued in past lectures that while Respect will prevent all problems, Communication will solve the ones that arise. Please make a vow to increase and enhance your communication with everyone, whether it is helping to solve a problem, or chatting with friends, or just giving a sincere and pleasant greeting to a store clerk.

Second Week of November

American Education Week: Our public schools are seriously underfunded, and this has a ripple effect in terms of the education that can be provided to our children. Teachers are underpaid, and that can winnow out talented individuals who may have a desire for a higher income.

Pursuit of Happiness Week: Every week should involve the pursuit of happiness! Too many people forget we truly deserve happiness. So pursue it. Start with pursuing it intentionally the second week of November, and then continue every week after that.

Random Acts of Kindness Week: I LOVE this concept. As with Pursuit of Happiness Week, I would prefer to see this occur every week. For more information, please visit http://www.actsofkindness.org/ .

Third Week of November

American Education Week: (observed the full week prior to Thanksgiving): please see my comments above regarding American Education Month.

Fourth Week of November

Adoption Week: (observed Thanksgiving Week): please see my comments above regarding Adoption Month.

Cookie Week: I am the original cookie monster. Contact me for some killer cookie recipes, or wait until I upload them. Remember: enjoy cookies in moderation (and avoid store-bought cookies with all of their preservatives).

Family Week: I have always felt that families are more about support and love, and less about biological connections. Ideally, I would like to think of the entire Earth’s population as my family, and in many ways, it is. Think about it.

Family Caregivers Week: (observed Thanksgiving Week): please see my comments regarding Alzheimer’s Disease Month. If we are to consider ourselves civilized in any sense of the word, we must care for those of our family (in the broadest sense, meaning not necessarily biologically connected) when they need assistance.

Last month, my Sensational Living® column dealt with the 7Rs. #7 was Respect. Each month, I cite the national patriotic holidays around the world as a statement of respect for each country: November 1 (Day of Revolution, Algeria; State Day, Antigua and Barbuda; National Anthem Day, Panama), November 3 (Independence Day, Dominica; Independence of Cuenca, Ecuador; Culture Day, Japan; Independence Day, Micronesia; Independence Day, Panama), November 4 (National Unity Day, Italy; Constitution Day, Tonga), November 5 (Independence Day, El Salvador), November 6 (Flag Day, Chad; Flag Day, Dominican Republic; Swedish Day, Finland; Green March Anniversary, Morocco), November 7 (Revolution Day, Bulgaria; Queen's Birthday, Nepal; October Revolution, Russia; Ben Ali Takeover Anniversary, Tunisia), November 9 (Thanksgiving Day, Liberia [date varies]; Independence Day, Cambodia; Flag Day, Dominica), November 10 (Flag Day, Guinea), November 11 (Independence Day, Angola; Armistice Day, Belgium; King's Birthday, Bhutan; Remembrance/Armistice Day: British Commonwealth, UK, Canada, and France; Independence of Cartagena, Colombia; Republic Day, Maldives; Independence Day, Poland; Veterans Day, USA), November 12 (Sun Yat Sen's Birthday, China and Taiwan), November 15 (Dynasty Day, Belgium; Republic Proclamation Day, Brazil), November 16 (Flag Day, Benin; Rebirth Day, Estonia), November 17 (Memorial Day, Germany; Constitution Day, Macedonia; Flag Day, Morocco; Armed Forces Day, Zaire), November 18 (Army Day, Haiti; Republic Day, Latvia; Independence Day, Morocco; Sultan's Birthday, Oman; Flag Day, Solomon Islands), November 19 (Garifuna Day, Belize; Flag Day, Brazil; Coup d'Etat Day, Mali; Discovery Day, Puerto Rico), November 20 (Revolution Day, Mexico), November 21 (Flag Day, Zaire), November 22 (Independence Day, Lebanon), November 23 (Labor Thanksgiving Day, Japan; Flag Day, Niger), November 24 (Anniversary of New Regime, Zaire), November 25 (Independence Day, Surinam), November 26 (Republic Day, Chad; Flag Day, Colombia), November 27 (Flag Day, Paraguay), November 28 (Independence Day, Mauritania; Independence Day, Panama), November 29 (Liberation Day, Albania; Unity Day, Vanuatu; Republic Day, Yugoslavia), November 30 (Independence Day, Barbados; Name Change Day, Benin; Flag Day, Bolivia; National Heroes' Day, Philippines; St. Andrew's Day, Scotland; Flag Day, Vietnam; Independence Day, Yemen).

November 1: Plan Your Epitaph Day: Since this is also Dia de Los Muertos, it is appropriate to think of the role of death in our lives, and to put the most positive spin on it. By preparing your epitaph, you are forced to think intentionally about your life. Maybe you won’t waste the rest of it?

November 2: National Deviled Egg Day: I love deviled eggs so much that I devoted one of my Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® columns to deviled eggs and other hard-cooked egg delicacies: http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesApril03.html .

November 3: Sandwich Day: Too often, people think of sandwiches as a cheap alternative to eating, and therefore do not demand quality. I am shocked by the crap that passes as “sandwiches.” As I write this, I’ve just enjoyed a delicious grilled bacon-heirloom tomato-farmstead cheddar on whole grain bread sandwich with Ipswich ale mustard … that THAT is a sandwich.

November 3: Housewife's Day: There is no reason for this day to be gender-specific. Call it “Domestic Home Engineer” day. Feminism has allowed us to make this a choice rather than a requirement.

November 5: Doughnut/Donut Day: YUM! Homemade doughnuts are just the best! So much better than most mass-produced products.

November 7: National Bittersweet Chocolate Day/National Bittersweet Chocolate With Almonds Day: Why does one need to differentiate between bittersweet chocolate with almonds, and chocolate without almonds? And where is National Bittersweet Chocolate with Walnuts Day? And it could go on, ad nauseum. I’m a uniter, not a divider. I choose to unite all of us who love bittersweet chocolate in any of its forms.

November 9: Chaos Never Dies Day: Did you know that what we call “chaos” actually demonstrates pattern when analyzed at lower levels of resolution? Yep, and that helped generate an entire field of investigation called “Chaos Theory.” Which then leads me to think that perhaps, chaos DOES die. Oh well.

November 10: Forget-Me-Not Day: As I wrote above, I am a uniter, and I have been known to reach out to people across the spans of time to reconnect. Try it; you’ll like it!

November 11: Air Day: Don’t take our air for granted. The breaks that corporations are receiving to bypass the Clean Air Act hurt all of us. No one has the right to pollute our air for short-term profits.

November 12: National Pizza With The Works Except Anchovies Day: I almost deleted this holiday, as I do other holidays with which I disagree, but I thought I would use it as an example of where we can add more anchovies to our diet. Despite the high sodium content, they offer exceptional omega-3 fatty acids, and other trace elements. I once did a multi-course dinner with five different anchovy dishes. Yes!

November 13: National Indian Pudding Day: cornmeal with milk and sorghum and other goodies … count on my providing a recipe sometime over the winter, ‘cause I love it.

November 13: World Kindness Day: please see my comments and the link above for Random Acts of Kindness week, the second week of November.

November 14: Operation Room Nurse Day: I am grateful that, for the most part, I have only known nurses in a social context. I’d like to keep it that way. But, I do want to emphasize that nurses (along with teachers) are some of our must neglected and abused professionals. In many cases, they have better interpersonal skills than doctors, and often as much “practical” knowledge, yet they are paid a fraction of what an MD receives … I’ll stop … don’t get me started. Respect nurses!

November 15: National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day: Oh dear! This scares me soooo much! We all have had some type of science experiment going on in our refrigerators (for example, are you aware that one orange in a bag can turn completely green with mold without harming the other oranges in the same bag?). Keep your fridge clean, and while you are doing it, play some ABBA music or some of the solo music from Anni-Frid (Frida) Lyngstad (the “dark haired singer” of ABBA), as today is her birthday … FYI, she’s still in exceptional voice and as beautiful as ever.

November 16: Birth of the Blues Day: the blues may be the only music form truly indigenous to the USA. I am more interested in the profound sadness that led to the development of the blues.

November 17: Take A Hike Day: while this could be a suggestion to someone to just go away, I’d rather interpret it as an opportunity to get out, get some fresh air, and enjoy life. You don’t have to limit hiking to a wilderness; I often hike through downtown Chicago.

November 17: World Peace Day: In these days of “hurt them before they hurt us,” motivated solely by fear, and indicating a total abandonment of the spirituality they claim to believe in, I hope every single day for world peace.

November 18: Occult Day: from the Latin occulere (“to cover up or hide”), occult now refers to those things that are hidden from the eye or the understanding, that are secret, concealed or unknown (per dictionary.com). I consider this a good time to meditate on the philosophical relationship between “science” and “spirituality,” and how the boundary between the two can shift and move based on new discoveries and technologies. Just because something is hidden today doesn’t mean it will always be hidden.

November 20: World Children’s Day: it is interesting that this year, World Children’s Day coincides with the Great American Smoke Out (Third Thursday in November). I’ll say it again, that our children are our greatest resource, and must be protected. If you smoke, that is your choice, but do not smoke around children (and it doesn’t matter what your parents or grandparents did; just don’t do it!).

November 21: World Hello Day: Starting today, just say “Hello” to 5 people to whom you have never said “hello.” Do it again the next day. And the next. And the next! Soon, it will be so habituated you won’t even realize that you are doing it (and someone may call you too cheerful, as they did me … but that’s THEIR problem, not ours).

November 22: Start Your Own Country Day: this is an isolationist or a segregationist concept (theoretically, that is), and I shall counter it by humming John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

November 23: National Cashew Day: my favorite nuts, they will go really well with the squash, pumpkin and sweet potato recipes in this month’s Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® recipe column. I also love to toss them on my green salads, along with other goodies as described at http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesJune03.html .

November 23: Jukebox Day: since I’ve already expressed my love of ABBA on November 15, I’ll confess that it was a jukebox in the cafeteria of Lebanon Junior High School that turned me onto the Swedish super group in 1974 when I first heard Waterloo, and this is what I always think of when someone mentions “jukeboxes.”

November 24: Use Even If Seal Is Broken Day: as a scientist aware of how products can become contaminated either accidentally by microorganisms, or intentionally by vandals, I cannot encourage using a product if the seal is broken. As someone who lives as thriftily as possible, I admit to having done this, though I have also returned products to the stores when I discovered the seal was broken (yes, it’s inconvenient, and the store will probably only give you a replacement rather than a refund, but it’s better than becoming sick or poisoned or even dead!

November 27: Thanksgiving (US): (Observed the fourth Thursday of November): I find myself saddened that so many think of Thanksgiving as a time to overindulge in everything. On the other hand, I am grateful for the memory of my favorite Thanksgiving ever, when a dear friend who was terminally ill was able to spend his final favorite holiday at Casa Beall, celebrating with his non-biological family. I will cherish that memory always. If you visit this month’s Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® recipe column, you’ll be able to get recipes for starters, soups, entrees, side dishes, and even dessert, so that you can create your own memories to cherish.

November 28: Make Your Own Head Day: Though I’m not sure what this date was established to promote, I shall co-opt it to mean “Think Independently.” At a recent lecture, I provided attendees with the tools to liberate themselves with regard to home décor, but it was clear that a few of them wanted to be told EXACTLY what to do. They needed to “make their own head.”

November 28: Buy Nothing Day: We are told that this, the day after Thanksgiving, is the single biggest shopping day of the year in the USA. In the days when other people set my schedule, I could understand that. Those were also the days when I bought WAY more “stuff” than I buy now. Although I support a free economy, and know that the livelihoods of many people are based on materialism, I also support free speech, and so I embrace this day to try to steer more of us away from excessive materialism. I intentionally deleted “November 26: Shopping Reminder Day” because of this philosophy. So, shop if you need to, or if you want to, or buy nothing today, but do it with intention and purpose. No impulse buying, and no hopping on a bandwagon just because others are doing it. For more background, search the web (where you’ll find that some other countries celebrate Buy Nothing Day on November 29 this year).

November 29: Square Dance Day: When I was growing up in Missouri (after being yanked away from California), I discovered that square dancing was taught as a module in PE classes. Not having much athletic ability, but possessing rhythm and “some” coordination (though I did inherit the klutz gene), I embraced this module, and can still do-si-do … at least, I think I can still do-si-do.

November 30: Stay At Home Because You're Well Day: this is what we call a “mental health day” in the corporate world (and probably elsewhere). It’s a beautiful day (by whatever standard you measure beauty). Your work is fairly well caught up. You have accumulated tons of vacation and/or sick days. TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF. I incorporate this practice into my life on a daily basis, but it had to start with selecting the occasional Mental Health Day (note, November 30 is a Sunday, so I authorize you to take December 1 as a mental health day. Have fun!).

While you are out having fun, I hope that you will think about how much more fun you could have by adopting some of the ideas presented here at Global Organic Designs. I truly wish everyone could have the joy I experience daily … and of course, you can!