Posts Tagged ‘English’

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?

Pudding vs Dessert: John Robertson’s Verdict

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Pudding v Dessert

The old “two countries divided by a common language” conundrum.

I grew up in North America where dessert was the sweet course that followed the main, from the simplest home meal to the grandest restaurant.  A simple meal was usually just two courses, main course and dessert; for special occasions a starter course was added (often shrimp cocktail served in a small glass dish that sat within a larger bowl of crushed ice, or just a green salad). This was the 60’s and things were much simpler then. Of course, dessert might have actually been a pudding, such as bread and butter pudding or something we called Lemon Snow, but more often “pudding” referred to a soft custardy mixture that came as a powder in Shirriff  or Jell-O boxes and was cooked with milk, until the instant variety came along that needed no cooking, just mix it up and refrigerate. This was a standard and simple dessert that mothers across the continent could rely on along with its counterpart, jelly, which was synonymous with the brand name Jell-O. Sadly, kids today think Jell-O has something to do with bar shots. So, your North American audience believes that dessert follows the main course and may include any variety of sweets. These are their long-held beliefs and as we all know, best not to try to mess with people’s beliefs.

Then I moved to England where I learned that the fork is only ever held in the left hand with the tines down and that pudding and dessert are two separate courses. Of course, I would eventually learn there are times when it is alright to hold the fork in the right hand, tines up, but the rules of engagement are not for the faint-hearted. And sometimes there is only a pudding course, and sometimes we just skip to dessert. But “pudding” refers to a prepared sweet dish (boiled, steamed or baked) while “dessert” refers to the fruit course. The main course is not always followed by a sweet course, sometimes we continue with a savoury such as mushrooms on toast before we reach pudding and eventually dessert. This really confuses North Americans.

I am old and beyond insisting to my audience that there is only, ever, a single right answer to any question.  Customs differ, we all travel so much. I defer to perhaps the greatest personification of the word “gentleman” known in our time, the late John Morgan, who without ceding an inch would answer Mr. Remer’s argument with the kindest of words, “How interesting.”

John G. Robertson
Protocol and Etiquette Consultant since before it was a gimmick

Etiquette Postbag: 1st June 2011

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

More questions have come in over the last few days and below are some of the more interesting ones together with my answers.

1) Please let me know, does etiquette teach arrogance? I am asking this because, if it does, then I will decide to book you. Is it worth learning it, as  I want to be able to respond with the same attitude to those people calling themselves “Royals” who display it on a daily basis toward others outside their circle.

Etiquette does not teach arrogance, and nor do I condone it. Sadly in today’s world, those who people think have good manners often are quite rude and, as you say, are arrogant and supercilious (especially to those ‘outside their circle’). This is one of the reasons that manners and etiquette have gained a bad image in the last decade or so. Being polite and courteous should be universal and everyone should be treated equally and with respect.

2) What should you call Kate Middleton now e.g. Your Majesty or Your Royal Highness?

The latter. Now that Catherine is part of the Royal Family then she is given the title of ‘Your Royal Highness’ (or ‘Ma’am’) when speaking to her in conversation. Only the Monarch is called ‘Your Majesty’, all others are ‘Your Royal Highness’, followed by Sir/Ma’am.

Her Royal Highness, Duchess of Cambridge

Her Royal Highness, Duchess of Cambridge

3) When seating guests at a formal dinner table, I typically seat the lady of highest honor (based on age or station) to my right. Is this proper?

This is proper. The most senior guests go to the right of the host/hostess. Thus, if President Obama hosted a state dinner for Her Majesty The Queen at the White House, Her Majesty would sit to the right of the President, and on the First Lady’s right would be Prince Philip.

4) In light of recent events, I have a hypothetical etiquette question for you. If for example in Ireland it was considered social protocol to clink glasses when greeting someone, would it have been a faux pas on Her Majesty’s behalf had she refused? Similarly, if in America the formal way of greeting someone was to hug them and Michelle Obama hugged The Queen, would this be inappropriate? Who’s right in a clash of cultural etiquette?

Good questions! Taking your first, it would be impolite of Her Majesty to refuse to clink glasses, should it have been social protocol to clink glasses. Thankfully, nowhere in the Western world is it correct to do so (correct me if I am wrong). If Her Majesty was in America and the First Last hugged Her (and it was that country’s custom to do so) then Her Majesty would graciously go along with it. (But it’s not!) The phrase ‘when in Rome’ is key here.

5) What are the social rules of getting onto an already packed-solid tube [the underground]. Squeeze in? Ask politely?

Well, if it’s packed-solid you won’t physically be able to board! You’d have to wait for the next train or try a different carriage. If there is clearly enough room for your personage then you can ask politely, although really the people already onboard should move for you (although on the London Underground nobody thinks properly).

Do keep your questions on etiquette, manners, taste and protocol coming in via my contact page. You can now hear me answering a daily question on Bolton FM at 3.30pm every Monday to Thursday.