The "accessories" on a dining table can enhance the eating experience. If you're on a diet, as most of us perpetually are, a nice setting might supply a little extra visual pleasure to substitute for the oral pleasure of which you are being deprived. Even if not on a diet, an artistically dressed table is always nice to behold.
Start by choosing the kind of china that best suite the type of food your family enjoys. Simple foods look and taste best on simple country pottery. Buying a pattern that is easy to match is the best bet. That way mix-n-match pieces can be added as the family grows or as dishes get broken and need to be replaced.
Buy extra soup bowls as they have great versatility. Besides holding soup, they can be used as salad bowls, liquid condiment holders, small serving dishes, chip bowls and the list goes on.
Large glass mugs and large wine glasses are the best bet for informal dining. Anything can be served in them from water to wine, soda pop to cranberry juice with a gracious and generous feeling.
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The table covering can be anything that inspires the palate. Try sheets, bed coverings, or any material on which a hem can be sewed. Go ahead, get creative, be dramatic. This "table cloth" can set the mood.
Bring color to the table with cloth napkins. Give each person two napkins slipped into one napkin ring. Use two different colors, two coordinating patterns or one patterned and one solid colored napkin. A colorful setting can be achieved with little effort this way.
Fresh flowers are always nice to have on the table. Remember to keep them reasonable in size. If they're too bushy it is tough to see and talk to each other through them. That sounds obvious, but we've all been to restaurants where the centerpiece inhibits communication. Of course, that could be an asset if the person you're dining with isn't pleasant.
Dessert dishes can be different in style and weight from the rest of the china. Lighter and more delicate plates make the dessert seem lighter in calories. A little self deception? Yes, but why not. We only live once.
Going back to the versatile soup bowl, it can be used as a dessert dish if the dessert is ice cream or other such "runny" after dinner delight.
Here are a few more ideas to inspire ingenuity ...
-- White china makes any food look good as it will not conflict with the color of the food.
--When serving coffee, set the mood by using either fancy French china or down to earth cozy mugs.
--Lacy table cloths bring a romantic approach to the dining experience.
Rosemary Sadez Friedmann, an interior designer in Naples, Fla., is author of "Mystery of Color," available at Barnes & Noble Booksellers and Amazon.com.