Presentation

Abundance Plus Height Equals Appeal

           Creating a tabletop with visual impact is so easy to do, and doesn’t require a huge budget. While an aesthetic eye does help, frankly it’s not really necessary, either. Almost anyone can put together a visually pleasing tabletop as long as it incorporates abundance and height.  Those are the two key components. Everything else is just fluff.

          Think about it for just a moment. Where have you seen food lavishly presented in a breathtaking display? At a wedding reception, perhaps? Maybe at a fantastic resort during an incredible vacation? No matter where you saw the memorable presentation, and no matter the specific food offered, its “wow” factor was most likely directly related to its abundance and its height.

           In the display you remember, was everything horizontal, laid out on a series of flat trays simply resting directly on the table? Probably not.  Trays may have been presented at various levels, or the food may actually have been presented in such a manner as to create an uphill visual slant.  Hotels and resorts often use this upward and inward presentation.

         Now think about the amount of food you saw.  Were you impressed by the sheer volume? Did it seem like an enormous amount of food was being offered?

          By probing your memory just a bit, you’re beginning to see that the incredible presentation you remember actually used height and abundance to impress you.  And it worked quite well, didn’t it?

A Few Words About Height

         Think of your table as a roller coaster — one on the toddler side of the amusement park!  You need a series of gentle lifts and swells at different levels to create an inviting presentation.

         There are many simple ways to acheive height on your tabletop, but one of the easiest ways, and my personal favorite, is to use a serving tier. I prefer the kind which spread out, holding plates at three different levels. A single-stacked serving tier, with three levels one on top of each other, does not work as well. Many of these tiers do not hold a great deal of food, and accessibility of the food can be tricky.

         Cake platters make wonderful lifts on a table. Make sure your serving tray is slightly larger than the cake platter.  

  All About Abundance

          Creating resort-style presentation on a smaller scale at home can seem daunting to many people — particularly when it comes to abundance.  The thought of purchasing enough food to fill an entire table seems wildly cost prohibitive, doesn’t it?

           The truth is, abundance is in the eye of the beholder. A few simple tricks can really stretch your food supply and substantially hold down your costs. 

            Here are some of my favorite “abundance” tricks — accompanied, of course, by some of my favorite stories!

1. TRICK No. 1 — SILK IVY

          Many years ago, I helped a friend set up her table for a summertime cookout on her deck. We thought it would be great fun to have the food set up in the same way that a tropical resort might — with a  background of colorful, lush fruits surrounding the main dishes. “Pick up lots of fruit,” I suggested.

       When I arrived at her home to help her set up, however, I was shocked to discover that “lots of fruit” meant something totally different to my friend. She had picked up a cluster of grapes, a handful of oranges, a few apples, one coconut and one pineapple.  This tiny assortment of fruit barely covered one placemat, much less her entire patio table. I didn’t know what to say; I could see no way to stretch this small fruit supply into a lush arrangement.

       What I happened to have in the car with me, left over from another project,  was a ton of silk ivy.  It didn’t seem exactly tropical, but desperate moments call for innovation. I covered her table with the ivy I had, strategically placed the fruit here and there, and actually liked the look so much that I have used silk ivy as a foundation for almost all my tabletops from that day forward!  It works beautifully for princess or fairy parties with some colorful blooms tucked in, and it really does create a tropical feel for a luau or cookout with colorful fruit scattered throughout.

           You can pick up strands of ivy on sale at craft stores a couple of times each year, and it’s one of those entertaining staples that everyone should have in her closet. You’ll be able to use it in the summer to create lush, tropical tables for cookouts, but you’ll also be able to use it in the fall to create a fun autumn tabletop, and in the spring to create a blooming garden tabletop. I’ve tucked tiny gourds and colorful fall leaves among my ivy for Halloween parties and colorful blooms for springtime celebrations. Please note that you will need quite a few strands to adequately cover your table. If you pick up two or three strands, you simply won’t have enough ivy. This is why it’s a good idea to buy when it’s on sale, and really stock up.

 2. TRICK No. 2 — GREEN LEAF LETTUCE

         Another way to contain costs and still create a look of abundance is to make use of inexpensive green leaf lettuce. Line every serving tray with it and use it like a ruffled border around your serving bowls. If you’re serving potato salad, for example, make sure to serve it in a shallow bowl. Set the bowl onto a tray that is only slightly larger than the serving bowl, and line the tray with green leaf lettuce, ruffle-style.  Use a few cherry tomatoes or lemon slices to break up the green.  This trick will visually increase the size of your simple bowl of potato salad, filling more space on the table and lending great impact to a very simple side dish.

         Here’s one of my very favorite stories about what a little green leaf lettuce can do for you in a pinch.

         Several years ago, my daughter’s soccer team was talented enough to make it all the way to a season-ending tournament — at the beach! The whole team stayed in a beachfront hotel and it was a great experience. On our first evening there, team members and their families gathered for a poolside potluck dinner. Everyone brought something to share — except for us. I had somehow missed the instructions that we were supposed to do this.  I watched people show up with everything from boiled shrimp to pizza, and felt like a heel.  

        With a kitchen in our room, we had stocked up on some simple foods. I raced back to our room and opened the refrigerator, trying to figure out what I could do — instantly! Our kitchenette had tons of kid-friendly items like packages of cheese crackers. We also had sandwich fixings in the refrigerator — including green leaf lettuce. Then my eye fell on a package of chicken nuggets in the freezer. I had those nuggets in the oven in the blink of an eye, and while they were cooking, I used the green lettuce to line a few hotel plates. I was in my element now, having fun. On one plate, I was daring enough to mound peanut butter crackers and grapes. On another, I tried an arrangement of strawberries and some cheese crackers. When the nuggets came out of the oven, a tomato cut in wedges added a bit of red to the plate, and the finished dish looked incredibly appetizing. In fact, it all looked fairly amazing! So much so, in fact, that everyone I encountered in the hall and the elevator on the way to the pool stopped me to ask what I had ordered from room service because they wanted the very same thing! Being me, I happily chatted to every single guest about how it was all due to the magic of green leaf lettuce and packages of cheese crackers.  I made tons of new friends, and took forabsolutely ever to get down to the pool.

      By the time I did make it to the pool, the potluck had ended. Everyone was headed back to the rooms to get dressed for an evening of exploring the shops along the strip.

       “Did you order that from room service?” a nice woman with a couple of hungry little children in tow asked.  I made more new friends when I gave it all to her family and a couple of other folks enjoying the pool at that moment. 

       Green leaf lettuce really is magical!

3.  TRICK No. 3 — Supplement with inexpensive foods.

        Another great trick is to stretch your food budget and expand your offerings to your guests by supplementing with an abundance of inexpensive foods or items such as nuts, which can be returned to the pantry at the close of your party. 

         I really like to fill an assortment of small bowls in similar (but not quite the same) sizes  with sunflower seeds, honey-roasted peanuts, cinnamon-coated pecans, pistachios, flavored almonds, etc. Place all the bowls on a serving tray and fill in around and beneath them with (you guessed it!) inexpensive green leaf lettuce.  You’ll have a great new tray of appetizers for your table with a lot of visual appeal, and the nuts can easily return to your pantry at the end of the party.

       If you don’t have an assortment of small serving bowls, get creative. Pull out your ramekins, or fill your margarita glasses.  You can even show off your prized collection of mismatched teacups on a pretty table by filling them with assorted nuts, chocolate covered raisins, and sunflower seeds. Drape a serving tray with a vintage doily or some lace fabric, and set the filled teacups on it.

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