Archive for the ‘Domestic bliss’ Category

Being a good houseguest

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

Here’s the next column I wrote for the Middle East’s leading lifestyle magazine ‘Fatafeat’ – this time on good manners for houseguests. 

1) Allergies Upon accepting the invitation to stay, you must alert your hosts to any allergies or intolerances you may have – this can range from being gluten-free, to being deathly allergic to feather. If you do have known medical bedding-related conditions then it may be a polite thing to suggest you bring your own pillows or bedding, should your hosts not have any synthetic fibre equivalents. Failing that, invest in some allergy-proof encasements (special pillow protectors).

TIP FOR HOSTS: If you have the space and budget, keeping some hypoallergenic or fully allergy-proof bedding for sensitive guests is always a good idea. Washing bedding with non-biological washing detergent is also good practice as biological detergents can make people’s skin break out in rashes.

2) Hostess gift Never turn up empty handed if you are staying at someone’s house. If you are staying for longer than one night then your gift should reflect this.

3) Don’t be late for breakfast! I get sent many questions from hosts who are always a little annoyed when guests fail to show for breakfast. If your host says ‘would you like breakfast at 8am tomorrow?’ then it probably is not a proper question, more of a rhetorical one. This means you show up just before the stated time, pressed, dressed and ready to eat.

William making a bed4) Help! No one is ever too grand to offer help to the hosts, and hopefully no host will ever be too grand to continually refuse it. Ask to help set the table, or help wash or dry up after dinner. If you are staying for more than four days, you should not expect your hosts to foot the bill for all meals. Instead, offer to cook (and buy the ingredients) or, better still, invite them out to a local restaurant as your guests.

5) Damage If you break it, you pay for it. Simple! Although some hosts will graciously decline your offer to remunerate them for the cracked vase, or irrecoverably stained towel, your gesture should be noted and appreciated.

6) Offering to strip the bed When you leave, thoughtful guests will ask whether they should strip the bed before leaving – regardless of who the guest is, or how many staff the house has. Good hosts will never dream of asking guests to do this, but should appreciate the offer of help. And it goes without saying that you should leave the room tidy.

7) Guest expectations Don’t expect your hosts to entertain you all day, all night. You should have your own itinerary planned and ideally spend at least one day totally out of the house to give your hosts time to breathe and get on with any jobs or chores that have been left untouched since your arrival. It is the rare houseguest that realises how much effort good hosts put in to looking after them.

TIP FOR HOSTS: Have a selection of flyers of local tourist attractions, a list of good restaurants, nearby shops, and a map of the area easily to hand – even pop it discreetly in your guests’ room.

8) Tipping staff If you are staying in a house with staff, especially staff that have been looking after you and your room, then in many houses it is the done thing to leave a tip for them when you leave. Ask your hostess whether this is all right and if so, what amount she suggests.

9) Two-sided thank you letter Once you are back in your own house, the writing paper and fountain pen should come out for you to write your thank you letter. For overnight stays, two sides is the key. One-sided letters are for thanking for presents and dinners.

10) Reciprocal hospitality I always say, never stay with people who you would not want to come and stay at your own house. Guests need to be prepared to play hosts whenever the time comes. Upon departure, make it clear to your hosts that you are more than happy to have them come to stay whenever they like.

Breakfast for guests

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

IMG_3175As I am sure regular readers will be aware, I love entertaining.  Houseguests are always fun and breakfast in the morning is often overlooked.  I can speak from my own experience that when I have been on the receiving end of hospitality sometimes breakfast is barely offered, or in one recent instance, forgotten all together.  I don’t wish to sound ungrateful, but by inviting/accepting houseguests you are agreeing to everything that this entails.

Although you needn’t offer a full, cooked breakfast every morning for guests (their waistlines may not thank you) having a selection of cereals, breads & bakery items, and perhaps some fresh eggs ready to be poached, scrambled, fried or boiled is a must.

We hear it said often enough, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  Start your guests’ morning off on the right foot.  Or don’t bother having guests in the first place.

Here is what I consider essential for breakfasts with guests.

  • Tea & coffee – English breakfast tea is a safe bet if you need to pick just one tea to stock for the morning, and proper coffee for the cafetiere is far superior to instant muck!
  • Fruit juice – fresh orange juice is both healthy and adds a touch of colour to the table.  M&S Food do a very good organic one.
  • Milk – in a nice jug on the table for use in the drinks and poured onto the cereal.  My jug is from The White Company and blends nicely with my china & silver.
  • Cereals – depending on what else you are offering, a choice of cereals is a must.  It is the most consumed breakfast food in the UK and for most of the world, too.  On the occasion these pictures were taken, I was producing a cooked breakfast shortly afterwards, so I opted to just put out the two most popular (Weetabix and granola).  If you have young children staying, a more child-friendly cereal may be a good idea, but check with parents first as some don’t like their offspring having sugar in the mornings.
  • Eggs – if you don’t know how to poach, boil, fry and scramble an egg then I suggest you learn before your guests show up at your door!  Some delicious honey-glazed bacon makes for a nice accompaniment when grilled (or fried for the less health conscious).
  • Bread – white and brown bread for toast is essential.
  • Bakery items – if you can rustle up a pain au chocolat (or buy them in!) then they always go down well with guests who like sweeter things in the early part of the day (like me!)
  • Jams – I adore Sainsbury’s rhubarb conserve, and marmalade of whatever variety is a good English must-have!
  • Sauces – if you are serving hot food, tomato ketchup or maybe HP/brown sauce is often requested by guests.  Bottles are fine now in informal settings (although glass ones, please).  For unattractive squeezy ones, decant them into a ramekin to serve.  TIP: Take the ketchup etc out of the fridge a few hours before breakfast (the night before, if needs be) so it’s not difficult to get out of the bottle.
  • Sugar – two varieties needed, one for tea & coffee (cubes), and sugar in a pourer for those who may wish to sweeten their Weetabix!
  • Fruit – there are some odd, health conscious people around who may just want to tuck into a Satsuma or a kiwi fruit in the morning.  A bowl of appealing, seasonal fruit to hand will look pretty on the side, even if not touched!
  • Yoghurt – guests from America & Canada are especially fond of a probiotic or something similar.

What do you like to put out for guests for breakfast?

The perfect tea tray

Monday, May 6th, 2013

Tea trayHaving a friend over for tea is a lovely way to spend time catching up on gossip and each other’s lives, but without the strain or effort of preparing food. It is intimate and informal, although that does not mean to say that the principles of good hospitality can be merrily abandoned. Whilst your guest may not be expecting a beautifully set dinner table, chipped china and slapdash service may put them on edge. Taking time to have the tea tray set before they arrive will ensure you can spend as little time as possible faffing with making the tea whilst forgetting to entertain and chat with your guest.

1. Fill and boil the kettle prior to guest’s arrival
2. Warm your teapot before they arrive too (No need to brew the tea until they arrive)
3. Have your selection of loose leaf teas already out so you can offer a choice
4. Set out the tea tray and make sure it has everything they may want

a. Teapot
b. Milk jug
c. Sugar (white cubes, preferably) and sugar tongs
d. Slices of lemon (pips removed)
e. Cups, saucers and teaspoons
f. Tea strainer

5. Check everything is ready and presentable in the sitting room
6. A plate of biscuits or some tasty morsels ready to go (perhaps covered in clingfilm if you decide to get ready hours in advance) is also a good idea. I always have some homemade pistachio fudge in the freezer which I can whip out at a moment’s notice and within 10 minutes out of the cold, it’s ready to eat!

When setting up your tea tray in the kitchen, place the heavier items in the middle rather than on to one side as this will make it much easier to carry it through once your friend has arrived.