Tuesday, November 17, 2015

My Arbitrary Buffet Rules

Do you serve your Thanksgiving dinner buffet style? I would assume we all do.  Almost any time I cook, I serve it as a buffet.  It's kind of funny because sometimes I see buffet tables and scratch my head as I think and what the hell were they thinking here?  A successful buffet needs to have a few components to be successful. 

Mapping out my buffet. The blue tape in the corners mark
the confines of my buffet table.  

The engraving on my silver dome, a treasured gift from my parents.
It means "Stronger than Thou" my mom said it captured my arrogance.

1. A clear point of entry
2. A clear point of exit
3. 1&2 are not the same point.

These are so simple and yet so often overlooked. 
For holidays, my buffet runs parallel to the dining table.  So I have my buffet start in the middle of the table and snake the food around to keep things moving.  Does a buffet look better with food three rows deep? Yes.  But it's also an invitation to have Bill drop the damn carrots into the mashed potatoes and then drop his fork into the stuffing trying to fish the carrot out with his (likely contaminated) spoon. 

4. Utensils on the table, not on the buffet. 
5. If possible, one row of food.  If not, stagger with as much room as possible. 
6. Leave room for guests to set their plates down.  Does it need to be a cafeteria line? No. 
Just a few cleverly-positioned gaps to set a plate are an insurance policy against a dropped plate. 

Several years ago, I was in a volunteer organization that was having its annual banquet. I was on the planning committee and did flowers and set up.  The venue had an in-house event planner.  An epic power struggle ensued.  First it was over the tablecloths.  We had tons of beautiful flowers  from our club members' gardens.  I think when you have beautiful flowers, you don't need to go nuts with linens.  Well she wanted to do yellow tablecloths with green napkins.  And it's not like these were exquisite textiles--they were cheap caterer grade polyester.  I love those tablecloths as long as they're white.  They're indestructible and look beautiful.  As long as they are white.  So after we had it out over that (she surrendered and we did white tablecloths with white napkins. because duh), we started setting up the buffet.  I wanted to achieve height on the buffet with tall floral arrangements.  She had other ideas.  She must have said RISER ACTION seven hundred times.  Oh my god, this woman would not stop with the fucking RISER ACTION. 
We locked horns over the RISER ACTION.  Eventually, I gave up because I had lost my will to give a shit.  She maniacally rolled in a cart with her little pine boxes and covered them with polyester to form a haphazard and misshapen snowbank.  I just do not get that look.  She glared over her shoulder at me like clearly you can now see how wrong you were.  And I smiled with winemouth and said It's the prettiest amoeba I've ever seen! We didn't go on to become great friends. 
The thing is that I do get the desire to have a buffet looked jam-packed and bursting with abundance.  I'm just not willing to do it at the expense of structural integrity.  I recently observed an event planner place a platter between two over turned glass vases.  No. 
I remember when I was little, my mom was exiting her Mario Buatta English Country phase and entering her (first) roundabout with French country.  She wanted the molding around the fireplace gone and replaced with a big ass beam that was more rustic.  My dad and my uncle installed it and made the biggest fuss about countersinking it into a stud and other such home depot phrases.  I remember them testing its strength in the scientific method of hanging from it.  I asked why would that matter? It's not like anyone is ever going to hang from this? Well, two weeks later my best friend was over and felt compelled, out of the blue, to swing from that beam like a monkey.
Perhaps it was then that I formed my feelings about having every little thing bolted into something solid.  My buffets, Christmas trees, ornaments, and hair are no exception. 
 
I would only be tempted to do this if the dinner were on April 14
7. Engineer it to withstand a hurricane or a portly uncle's fall.  You never know.
8. Fill the blank space with interesting decor, not food at all different heights that require reaching and praying to the gods of gravity.  Finger foods staggered at all levels for a cocktail party is one thing---scooping heavy food from heavy dishes onto increasingly heavy plates can quickly go awry. 
9.  Have rests or small plates for each set of utensils for each dish.  This is an opportunity for more color and interest.  And avoids the spoon inevitably falling in the dish and someone with grimy hands  reaching in to retrieve. 
 
It's not like drunk people are ever clumsy. 
What could go wrong with a floating turkey?


Well before the pressure of keeping food hot and breaking up my mom and sister's argument, I like to map out the buffet.  Platter placement, flow, and visual impact can be hard to imagine.  I usually start by sitting at the table and walking toward the buffet.  That point is where it starts.  A little prepwork mapping the buffet goes a long way and makes the day all the more enjoyable.   Do you serve buffet style? What are your rules for a successful buffet?

70 comments:

  1. I do usually serve buffet style, but usually not with much "style" if you catch my drift. I honestly just have not put too much into decor and traffic flow, especially with three little kids running around (who pretty much ignored traffic rules), but guess what? The kids are grown and I can now really work on turning my buffet into something PRETTY as well as functional. Your rule of separate entry and exit traffic flows makes total sense, and I think I can make it happen. Great ideas and I will be referring to this as I plan out my holiday spread!!

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    1. Thank you! Yes, children don't trouble themselves with such things! At least they're usually cute enough to get away with it.

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  2. I love this post soooo much!!! I rarely do more than 6 for dinner but I think I will forward this post to Caribbean cruise ship's F&B department BC it was a flipping nightmare and it was so unorganised that at one point I was directing traffic - not being altruistic but BC I was hungry - worst pile up was the rolled butter that nobody could pick up and everyone would accidentally get s clump of 5 or it wouldn't stick to the tongs. The line only attracted more people who didn't even care for butter and it made me lose faith in humanity. Plus things need to be labelled BC one time sliced cucumbers did t have the tag and people stalled because they were wondering it could be zucchini. tgry zig zagged the sauces but there's wasn't a day that thousand island didn't spill into blue cheese dressing. But I think people need to know the science of the buffet table. You gotta vlog!!!

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    1. Thank you! Oh my god that is so funny! The salad dressings! Oh I may have nightmares. My grandpa is always trying to get us to go on cruises with him and he goes on and on about the food. I ask him "well, what kind of food is it?" And he says "well...just so much stuff. Everywhere!". Maybe he can't remember individual dishes because everything has been mixed together by marauding buffet-goers.

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  3. oh yes i have def rules for a buffet which are super important. you've covered most of them here. did you used to cater? i can't remember. if you have more than 10 people i would make sure the table can be served by both sides or else the wait is too long and the food can get cold. if it's a fairly small party like 25 or so then you can set the tables and people will just bring their plate to the buffet but if it's more than 25 i'd put the plates on the buffet. i've not had problems with people dropping things or spilling but it sounds like i've been lucky. i'm one who hates the risers (i think that was a thing in the 90s?) but i do love a full table, nothing looks worse than 1/2 empty bowls/platters. i learned how to set up a beautiful buffet working at the PB mansion. they were the simplest, always pink tablecloths and everything else white. and the food was the star, not the decor. we moved hundreds through those lines and they always looked good. i guess it helps to be a millionaire. x ps - just prepped the portobellos as you suggested. that was more work than the stuffing. lol

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    1. I did! I loved it but I haven't missed it yet :) so I didn't know what you meant when you said PB mansion and then I figured it out and got sooooooo excited! I can't believe you worked there! I am so jealous! Love your tips and so agree with you. Last year I ran out of time and thought my buffet looked a little sparse and it's been bugging me all year. Oh I'm sorry! Haha what took the longest? The garlic? I promise they will be so good and worth it! Are you going to give yourself a preview before the holiday? Please let me know how you like them!

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    2. Janet worked at the PB mansion?!?!?!
      You just kit a whole new level of coolness in my eyes!

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  4. Stephen, You are awesome. Can I get you to go to my daughters' homes and show them all this. LOL. They make me crazy with their set ups. :):) Blessings, xoxo,Susie

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    1. Thank you! Haha I know how daughters turn on their mothers when they try to offer advice so I'm staying way out of that position :) my sister is brutal with my mom!

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  5. I am laughing at your description of riser action - when I worked for a dot.com startup we had a little launch party and the caterer insisted on elevating the table ... it worked so well the grapes kept rolling off the platter and splatting on the floor under people's shoes.

    The one thing I do is set out two sets of serving utensils per dish. Somebody always seems to forget to put down a serving spoon (how? why?) and then the next person is 'do you have a utensil for this?'. This way I don't have to scramble for a replacement.

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    1. Oh the grapes! I can just see that. How terrible! Love your idea about two sets of serving utensils per dish!

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  6. I can't really tell you why, but this post has made me love you more than ever. If I had a time machine, I would use it specifically to go back to that volunteer organization's banquet, grab a bottle of wine and sit in a corner and watch you and that "riser action" woman butt heads with a smile on my face. And I would take a big swig every time someone said "riser action." You, sir, have made my day.

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    1. Haha why thank you! Yeah it was a tense day. It was just so funny because we were each so sure the other was totally full of shit. It would have been a dangerous drinking game with the frequency it was said!

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    2. I would pay to watch the riser action thing unfold with the nylon tablecloths.

      Can you imagine?

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    3. Haha everyone felt the tension! And took sides.
      It was so funny.

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  7. Stephen Andrew I'm not sure you understand how much you are helping me with this series, I'm doing a dinner for 20+ on Christmas Eve and it is a buffet, if I hadn't read this I would have done it all wrong- wrong. Don't worry I would never have brought in the RISER ACTION haha! But I had no logical thoughts about it whatsoever until I read this.
    I'll be moving furniture in my dining room and planning out platters, serving spoons etc etc in an attempt to cure my slapdash ways. No wonder I always end up crying in the kitchen. Crying on the floor with bottles of wine is not far behind, and could be in my future if I didn't have you in my life! XOX

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    1. Oh Dani I'm so glad to hear that! Thank you! Your dinners and holidays always look so beautiful. I don't think you really need that much help! My Christmas Eve dinner is about 20ish as well. The Farmers Almanac says we could have a snowstorm over Christmas so I'll be prepping like mad for Christmas! I am going to post my favorite Thanksgiving cocktail that I drink while I'm cooking and you will love it. It's the perfect thing to drink on the floor between tears!

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  8. I love your serving ware! Just lovely and you mapped it out just right! xo K

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    1. Thanks! I know you love b&w as much as I do :) will you be cooking Thanksgiving this year?

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  9. I am very methodical about laying out my buffet line, too. It is hard to have a successful serving if things are willy-nilly. We would make a great team...I know we would because we think alike. I have a large center island and the circle starts at one end and ends at the other where it exits to the dining room. Fun fun fun! The big day is coming....xo Diana

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    1. I'm absolutely sure that holidays at your house are fabulous! And so fun to have so many kids! A well-planned buffet line is a wonderful thing!

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  10. I love serving buffet style, but COMPLETELY agree with you about risers etc. To me they are just for a hotel buffet. I suppose some people love the look for that reason alone, but I am all about practicality, and hate dropped food, plates balanced precariously that will be moved when someone can't lever up their food and then tip onto something else etc etc. I have an extra wide cherry wood french side board and I just put the platters/ bowls one deep with plenty of space for plates to be put down so that people can easily serve off it. I did a post with the buffet last year http://adelaidevilla.blogspot.com.au/2014/08/bits-and-pieces-dinner-party-afternoon.html
    One thing with a buffet is the amount of food people will eat!! I had no left overs as all the guys kept going back for seconds or thirds. I would have plated up much smaller portions if I'd been serving plates to table.

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    1. That is so true! You burn through a lot more food when people have free and unsupervised access to it! I'm always glad when I don't have leftovers! I think I read that post but I'm going to double check and read it again!

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  11. I wish I had more room so that I could do a buffet and have people sit at the dining room table but we live in a cozy bungalow so we do Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at the table. I have done buffets for a crowd but then everyone has to find a chair or sofa to sit on while they eat...NOT my ideal of Ideal!
    Riser action is something my husband talked a lot about when we had our Classic Chris Craft Constellation...it was something to do with the motor. As you may well imagine I dod not pay too much attention...the galley was my focus.
    I love your blue and white serving pieces and your engraved dome...sounds like you are in fine form for the feast.
    BTW Janet must have seen a LOT at the PB mansion!

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    1. Oh I would tune all the boat talk right out! It makes no sense to me! I'd stay in the galley too! I'll bet your boat was beautiful though! I love CCs! How did I never know she worked there?!!

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  12. Oh, I can't stand having to work with someone when you share separate visions and they are emphatic about having their way. Especially if the vision involves RISER ACTION! You should have been dubbed Saint Stephen after that debacle.

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    1. Haha well to be fair, I was just as emphatic about having my own way! Haha it's just that I thought I had better taste! Believe it or not, I've never been called Saint Stephen. Just Hurricane Andrew.

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  13. My neighbor always used risers and maroon tablecloths-YUCK. I like to have my own way always!

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  14. Flowers, silver, lovely porcelain, white tablecloths and napkins..beautiful!!

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    1. Thank you! I'm doing flowers with tons of color! Oh I know that color of maroon tablecloth I think. A lot of caterers used it!

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  15. I just found your blog and about fell out of my chair reading your description of the "RISER ACTION" adventure! You are so gifted in writing. Also, I think you have a lot of common sense and understanding that drunk people are unstable is rule #1. I am subscribing to your blog because you are a sparkler in a sea of charcoal.
    -Susan

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    1. What a sweet compliment! Thank you so much and welcome. Thank you for subscribing!
      PB mansion is playboy mansion in 99% sure!

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  16. For us newbies, what is PB mansion?
    Thanks!
    -Susan

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    1. Why would you need "Riser Blocks" at PB Mansion, I thought they all already had boob jobs before getting employment there!

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    2. I meant "Riser Action" ha ha!

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  17. I wish I could have read your posts 21 years ago when we had Christmas at our very small home (on a large block of land) for 70 members of predominantly my extended family (okay my husband's family and his mum's sister's family totalled 7 people). But then ignorance is bliss and we thought we could make it work. We should have just worn crowns marked No F...Idea!!!!
    My maternal grandma (and the only one of our grandparents who survived WWII) was coming to visit us all in Sydney. Grandma's 5 sons (including my dad )and their families all live here. It was chaos, it was wet (it poured and you would never have guessed in Sydney it is summer).
    Some highlights include
    1. the relative with the best beehive bouffant hair standing at the front door with towels making sure every one wiped their feet on entering our home. she positioned her husband with a towel at the back door of our home & can I just say it was the best use of the apricot monogrammed wedding towel set ever.
    2. I rationed my aunts and cousins to bringing one plate only of their favourite Christmas food. It had to be a dinner sized plate not platter, as we excel in over catering. I had to warn them all in telephone calls that our trestle tables (yes we had 5) were limited and as it was Christmas lunch only that I would take any extra food they bought over back to their cars. To this day, my sisters and I cook for a minimum of 10 people despite each having a family of 4.
    3. My mum cooked the best ginormous Turkey ever, we had a lamb on the spit and we had 2 other bbqs going - one for the seafood ie marinated octopus and another for all the home made sausages. Our then neighbour jumped over the fence and at 6am and helped set up the spit. My husband and neighbour may have consumed a bottle of home made grappa during this process.
    4. aunts and cousins divided themselves into dessert or main accompaniment teams. My dad and my late father in law offered their home grown produce for the numerous salads we needed for the buffet lunch.
    5. everyone came early (of course they did) because they thought we needed help and we did. So we had roughly 60 people there trying to be helpful from about 11am. they were in the small kitchen, they were in the backyard putting up tarps and setting up seating and tables for 70 in the rain. Of course, I was not dressed for the lunch but in my getting ready mode although when you are in your mid 20's you still look good unlike 21 years later. My mum and 2 sisters had to tell me to be polite to our guests! My brother just ate and drank and smiled like he always does.
    We have survived and it is part of our family legacy. Thanks again for all your posts. Truly wonderful reading. Den xxx
    ps After your fabulous Thanksgiving I would appreciate any tips you have for hosting a Christmas street party. it is our turn this year to host the Christmas street party - at last count 32 adults & about 16 kids.

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    1. Your Christmases sound absolutely wonderful! I thought my Christmases of 25 were a carnival! 70+! Oh my. And love that your husband's family of seven folded right in! So funny to imagine 60 people showing up early to help! That is so nice but I can't imagine how 55 of them weren't just in the way! I just love the way it all sounds. I take after you and your sisters as I cannot help myself from making so much food. I've just added four more guests to Thanksgiving and one said to me "do you think you'll have enough food? We don't have to eat!" So funny considering I could probably squeeze in 20 more people and still have leftovers. Your achristmas street party will be huge! I've never done anything like that. My friend's parents always used to have a huge street party and it was such a production. At one point it would always end with them screaming at each other in the kitchen! But with your experience of hosting the carnival every year, I think you'll be just fine!! Is it potluck? Will you be responsible for one thing? If I can pick, I always choose dessert because it can be done all ahead and leave me to focus on fluffing and greeting. And I would probably have 2-3 grills going if possible and assign grill shifts so no one feels stranded at the grill and tempted to just walk away! So at one of these in the States, we would have potato salad...which is wonderful because it can also be made ahead. Then you (or a helpful neighbor!) could make a big batch of sangria. When I make sangria ahead, I prep the fruit and the liquor and let that sit together, then just pour the wine a few hours before the party. A lot of people think sangria tastes best after it has say over night, but I don't. I don't like the way it over-mellows the wine.

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    2. Ok, this is 3rd time lucky as iPad's swallowed previous 2 attempts. Thanks for the tips as we're using them all! Am making dessert ( or starting the dessert trolley) the sangria and have 2 bbqs arranged. We have the best neighbours ever and I know at least 4 of them will be fighting for BBQ duties, so we'll keep drinks flowing whilst they BBQ. If you're in Sydney come on over... & please let's keep our fingers crossed for no rain ( although it is 41 degrees Celsius today, it was raining cats & dogs last week & only 19 degrees).
      Finally, although we may have different view points, hubby & I don't have screaming matches now & never have. I know there's always a first time for everything but if a rainy Christmas for 70 isn't going to set us off, hopefully nothing will. Den xxxx

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  18. Thank you for crystalising in my mind that I too need things adequately secured-

    1. ornaments to the tree

    2. my bouffant updos to my head

    3. food to a table

    4. fale eyelashes to my lids

    I could go on but I won't except to say how could you not know that Janet worked for Mr Hefner at the Mansion??? It's amazing yes?

    There is nothing more upsetting or fraught than lack of structural integrity.

    Now go iron those napkins xxxx

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    1. FF, you may be relieved to know that the napkin fabric sat untouched. I am behind schedule but will make up for lost time. Couldn't agree more. So often pretty things like wreaths and Christmas trees are held together like a house of cards but I can't handle that. Whenever I finish an updo, I ask the client to shake and roll her head to assure the hair will last. I often hear from them the next morning when they are struggling to undo the updo after dancing, heat, humidity, sleeping and whatever else. There is no security in this world like a base tease.

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  19. So many hilarious comments! Who knew that Janet worked at the PB mansion! Must be so many stories there!? Wish we'd heard some of them in London, J!

    We almost never have more than 8 to a meal in our own home. Although when posted overseas we hosted many more.
    At one time as part of my job I used to attend international conferences (over 1000 people). Almost every evening there were receptions and/or giant buffets. At one conference (the country shall remain nameless) there never seemed to be enough food. The delegates were always ravenous and descended on the tables like unfed lions. The conference organisers provided buses to transport people from their hotels to dinner locations - but our hotel always seemed to get the last buses. By the time we arrived, every time, the banquet tables were almost empty with just a few pieces of wilted lettuce, bones picked clean and dollops of sauce smeared over the cloths and floors. And yes there were risers. But I'd never heard of that term then.
    All that was left were the less popular cakes and desserts. People had obviously gorged so much they couldn't manage all the cakes. One evening the leader of the Japanese delegation said to me, "So terrible! All I eat every night is cake." He must have been staying in our hotel.
    Another time in one of the great world capitals there were masses of fabulous food and lavish quantities of French champagne set out. But our particular host, a famous politician was a contender for the next Presidential elections in that country and so he made a very long speech in his native tongue - for the benefit of the television cameras, not the conference delegates. The waiters behind the tables had been ordered not to serve or allow people to help themselves until the speech was over. It went on for at least half an hour as we eyeballed the food and drinks. I was in front of a giant tower of luscious prawns (Conference regulars knew to position themselves in front of what they wanted most - to avoid missing out or being knocked over in the ensuing scrum). It turned out the British delegation had the same idea. For this conference they were all peers and peeresses. After 15 minutes they were fed up. One of the baronesses asked their adviser to get a prawn for her. So he collected a handful from the tower. The glowering waiters would dearly love to have slapped his hands but they could see the conference name tags with Lord X and Baroness Y and didn't dare. I knew one or two of the Brits slightly so the Baroness then instructed the staff member to collect some for me. So we munched away to the envy of everyone - including my delegation who had noticed what was going on. Almost half the tower was gone before he'd finished speaking!
    Wish I was going to be a guest at one of your fabulous dinners Stephen Andrew! Best wishes, Pammie

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    1. Pammie, I absolutely love hearing your stories! I can't wait to hear how your seafood Christmas in Sydney goes. It sounds so wonderful! It's almost impossible to get good seafood here! How funny about the cake dinners and the stolen prawns! An understocked buffet is a nightmare! I would imagine when a baroness wants a prawn, she gets one. As FF would say, a scandal of prawnography.

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  20. Just another story. About a Sydney Christmas - but WITHOUT seafood. When our son was younger and not long married he was proudly hosting his first family Christmas dinner in Sydney. He'd heard the best place to go for wonderful fresh seafood was the fish market at Pyrmont. He knew you had to go v early in the morning, like around 4.30/5.00am. I said I'd go with. Just as well.
    We arrived and all was darkness. NO activity. Too early? Finally a few more cars.Turned out they were looking for the market too. We'd all come a day too late, should have been Christmas Eve. Market firmly closed. Poor son desperate. Drove all over Sydney looking for fish shops. All closed. The only places open were shops with Live Bait signs out front.
    Son said if I hadn't been with him he'd have driven right out of Sydney to fishing villages on the coast in search. Even might have tried to catch his own. Finally convinced him to turn for home - one day you'll laugh about this. He wasn't convinced. There were a few pieces of ham and a salad back in the fridge.
    Later that afternoon one of the phone calls was from an old friend in Sydney. We told him about our repast. He responded by inviting us all around for Boxing Day lunch. He'd gone to the fish markets too, but at the right time. However, had bought heaps too much!
    So we had our fabulous seafood Christmas Dinner after all. Just a day later. A has never quite lived it down. But he does laugh about it now. Pammie

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    1. Oh no! That is so funny! Especially since it was his first time hosting! Poor guy. How wonderful that it worked out that a friend had seafood to spare! What is usually available around the holidays? Prawns? What kind of fish? Id love to shop there!

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    2. At Christmas there is so much available. The fish we usually get is an Oz called barramundi - it's good grilled over the barbecue, wrapped in foil with butter, lemon or lime squeezed and whatever herbs take your fancy). Also fabulous Aussie prawns, crab, oysters - and sometimes lobster. DIL has become expert in a great range of salads and seafood sauces - using natural fresh ingredients, including chilli and coriander. We usually take up a big bag of cherry tomatoes from our veggie garden - so sweet and full of flavour. Also at Christmas lots of fabulous fruits - mango, watermelon, rockmelon, passionfruit, cherries, peaches, papaya etc, etc.
      Quite a few years have passed since that Christmas and he's now a dab hand at a fish/seafood barbecue. They entertain very casually, around the pool and don't take it as seriously as I used to. Good thing too. Pammie

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    3. Thank you so much for answering! I've never heard of barramundi. I'd love to explore those markets!

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  21. I am always in awe of your skills, Stephen. I live in a hut here, very tiny, and dislike entertaining people very, very much. (Did I say 'very' enough?) But there's a reason for my timidity:

    We've been married 37 years and in that time, I've only 'entertained' my in-laws a dozen times. My MIL is a tiny little 85 yr old woman; about the same size as my tiny 95 yr old mom, but is impossible to please. I remember one epic family Christmas dinner (the Dinner of 1979, lol) at my sister-in-law's house where my MIL criticized everything her own daughter did on the way home, and I mean Everything. This was wrong, and that was inedible, on and on. We had ridden to the meal with the in-laws, so being a young bride I absorbed the litany of abuse MIL was doling out about her own daughter and thought, 'Nope, never, ever feeding this bat, no way, no how.'

    Of course, to her daughter's face, MIL was gushy courteous in a smarmy way, think of Marie on 'Everybody Loves Raymond', "I think dried-out turkey is a Good Thing, it builds up one's jaw muscles. And did you make these dinner rolls? Oh, never mind, I saw the can in the wastebasket. Well, Great Job on putting them in the oven, they're Just Perfection." Purr, purr..........but the ol' claws came out on the ride home. And it's not like MIL is a good cook, either, oh far from it. She has since turned 'I Protest Too Much-Vegan-ish' (not sure how that works, as I see her stuffing her face with meat at buffets) and wants everything to be non-GMO, sugar-free, and Organically Correct. "And please, no ice water in my glass, I prefer it lukewarm from the tap." Yep, you sure do, just like your 'compliments'.

    I only invite the in-laws at the last possible minute, literally give them only about an hour head's up, can you imagine? but it's the only way I can deal with the thought of them showing up for a meal. They live one mile away and ironically, even with my sorely lacking skills, they have never yet not made an appearance at the table despite my dreadful lack of invitational etiquette.

    That's why I love to see your posts, there are people out there who Entertain and do it with glorious style!

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    1. Thank you so much, Karen! I don't blame you! Oh my! She sounds like a piece of work! Tepid water?! I love your strategy of not calling her until last minute! Sounds like it needs to be even more last minute though!

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  22. Riser Action! I'm not sure I would have been able to keep a straight face, or stop myself from asking her if hydraulics would be involved.

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    1. Oh it was so absurd! And she just kept saying it like eventually id be so bewitched by the RISER ACTION that id stop questioning the questionable taste.

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  23. A blog post devoted to Riser Action at the Playboy Mansion.....hmmmmm. ;) Forgot we were talking buffets there for a minute! Love it!

    If your cuff can get "dragged through" something while reaching, your dishes are too many too deep. I like a long snaky or slightly staggered line with double serving utensils (one on each side). I also accidentally ran into a nice little "helper" YEARS ago. I picked up those little teenytiny salt/pepper shakers at Crate and Barrel. I got quite a few sets of them as they were so cute and so cheap, clear glass with little silver tops. I bought them for the big table but scattered a few sets between serving dishes on the buffet one year, and I find that as one person is serving/deciding/changing their mind 8000 times in line, the waiting people will grab the little shakers and season their food as they wait. I now put them at every rest plate or every other and then a few sets on the table (unless you have FAB sets for the table). It works out so well, and I find way less "passing" at the table once everyone is seated. TOTALLY figured that out by accident though (and it's prob 100% bad manners too - shrugs).

    I hope you post a pick of your buffet/table when it is all set. Good luck!

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    1. Great idea about the salt and pepper! And like your rule about a cuff not being able to have contact with the food!

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  24. Every gathering has to have at least a basic set of rules. Your buffet = your rules ... and they are obviously well thought out and quite sensible.

    For us, Thanksgiving is at my parents' house. We buffet around the kitchen island, then head for the ENORMOUS dining table. I love sitting with all of us at the same table. Lots of laughter, I assure you. My dad loves it most. He sits there, not saying much, watching his family. I know how he feels.

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    1. That's so sweet! I love keeping it at one table too! Will any of your daughters be able to join for Thanksgiving this year?

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  25. I have just read several of your posts. You are wonderful. The queen sailing transatlantic on a pool noodle!! Hahaha haha (I'm English).

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    1. Well thank you so much, Louise! I see in your profile that you live in the States now! Have you adopted Thanksgiving? I'll bet your place cards are beautiful!

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  26. Your buffet table is outstanding. Love all the serving dishes, table cloth and placement of everything. Lovely. A buffet would be outside of my capability. I can't imagine how to even begin getting food to the buffet table, keep it hot and replenish when necessary. I don't think I could handle the logistics. But I'd love to help you and learn your system!

    My Thanksgiving breaks with tradition. I have prime rib roast with all the side dishes. I have a sit down dinner. With years of practice, generally everything goes well. My favorite part of the holiday meals is setting the table and bringing out the family chine...

    Now I'm thinking about Christmas, can't wait to get my tree and wreaths! Susan

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    1. Thank you, Susan! Oh I'm not good about keeping everything hot either. My only expensive suggestion is to serve as many things in cast iron as possible! It keeps things very warm. I hate chafing pans so much. I think they are just the ugliest thing! But obviously they keep things warm much longer :) one of my good friends' families does a prime rib roast too and they all rave about it all year. Setting the table is such a wonderful feeling, isn't it? I'm so excited to put my tree up! I'm doing all colored lights this year!

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  27. Hi Stephen. Can I just say you are a gay, American, male version of me but with a wittier observation and brilliant writing style. I love anyone who is super organised without a smug glow, and I love that you think of every minute detail, flow, placement etc. There is nothing wrong with being bossy and bulldozing those who don't know what they are doing. They will thank you in the end!

    Susan x

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    1. Haha, that is so kind of you! Thank you! I would have a smug glow, no doubt, if I always pulled things off as I *wish* to. I can't say they've all thanked me, but some have--and that's very nice :)

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  28. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I'm actually having a buffet this year. We have a tiny place, downsized. The entire family is coming here! Which means setting up sleeping arrangements too! I'm flipping the living room with the dining area so we'll all be together. I can't handle people being in separate rooms or balancing a plate on my knees. Your reminder to have a point of entrance and exit seems obvious but I didn't think of that! That will eliminate a lot of confusion. Cheers!

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    1. I am on the same page! I'd rather serve in the garage and have everyone in the same room at a table or tables than have a table here, a table there. Thank you! Let me know how your buffet goes! Happy Thanksgiving!

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  29. Stephen you put me to shame in the prep department. Here's what I do. I cook a bunch of stuff. I pull out all the serving dishes and utensils and hope I have enough for everyone.. it's all set out on our huge kitchen Island and I yell - dinner is served!.. and hope for the best :-) Truth.

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    1. Haha well I have had mannnnny dinners just like that, too! I'm sure you always have a way of working it out!

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  30. New here -- and just LOVE your blog!

    Buffets are the best way to handle a crowd -- and having a logical flow of dishes, cutlery .... then platters and bowls with TWO serving pieces (to help scrape the heavier or sticker items off the larger spoon/fork and onto the guest's plate!). Plus add an empty cutting board (anchor with some shelf liner to keep it from slipping) for a guest to be able to cut and/or butter their buns or leave space to set down a plate. Most important tip? Make sure to offer guidance to your guests and keep the line MOVING!

    Please could you comment on the enormous tall centerpieces on some dining tables -- I almost volunteered to get the chainsaw during one dinner party ... people were visibly peering around it to speak to other guests! Another centerpiece (with accompanying cute decorative items) did not leave enough space for the glass! :) Guests were quietly removing decorative items so they could grab their glasses etc.

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    1. Haha! Thank you!! Couldn't agree more about tall center pieces and excessive decor! There is a fine line between abundance and chaos! Love your tips!

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