One day in the not too distant past, I was watching as my 10-year old daughter shoveled food in her mouth and asked to be excused from the table within 10 seconds of sitting down to dinner. She probably asked me this, come to think of it, with her mouth full of food. It dawned on me that no matter how many times I correct her behavior or try to teach her good manners, she is going to do what she wants to do anyway. Is it because she doesn’t listen to me? Or is it because she is young and needs time to mature? Hopefully she truly acts on her best behavior except when she is home and in front of me.
Either way, I decided it was time for an intervention and I called a nearby Charm School. Instead of sending her to school, because it was too far away, I had the instructor come to my house one day. I invited 6 other girls to attend a 3 hour session on Basic Manners and Dining. I suggested I prepare a lunch so the teacher could have an actual meal with the girls while teaching them everything from how to set a table properly to how to eat a bowl of soup to where to put your silverware when you are done eating.
I eavesdropped the whole time from the kitchen where I prepared cold Vichyssoise (it was too hot for warm soup), breaded chicken cutlets, green beans and cucumber-cream cheese tea sandwiches, with chocolate pudding for dessert. I wanted to prepare a variety of foods so the girls could learn how to use the various utensils.
I overheard them discuss topics such as: how to be a good friend, how to carry on a conversation, how to introduce people and so on. The things the teacher was saying to the girls sounded so obvious, yet reminded me how easy it is to forget the basic principles of being a good person. It made me think about how many times a day I witness grown adults being catty and gossipy, saying mean-spirited things behind peoples’ backs, complaining and acting generally selfishly. I thought to myself, dear Lord, we could ALL use a little etiquette reminder! Some things that really stood out to me:
- Be a good friend and stand by your friends no matter what. If they say the wrong thing, tell them, but don’t walk away-these are your peeps.
- Listen when someone is speaking to you and look them in the eye. Don’t look away, distracted, as you think about something else or what you’re going to say next.
- Don’t try to one up other people all the time. If someone is telling you something, ask more questions about them, making them feel important and showing them you are interested in what they are saying.
- If you are at a friend’s house for dinner and you are served something you don’t like, just take it anyway, have a bite and then eat no more. There is no need to make a big announcement about how you don’t like this or that.
- On the bus or subway, or in any public place, get up and give an elderly or pregnant person your seat. Note-you’d be surprised how many people do not do this simple act of kindness. When I was pregnant and commuting to NYC via the subway, no one ever stood up to give me their seat!
The list goes on and the exercises she did with the kids was fantastic. If you live anywhere near NYC, I highly recommend the New York School of Etiquette and am planning on bringing them in to be part of our school’s curriculum next year. In the meantime, boys, hold the door for girls, keep your napkin on your lap and chew with your mouth closed!
This soup is classically French, but is just as popular in the US. It can be eaten cold, and traditionally is, but there is no reason not to heat it up if you prefer.
- 10 small white creamer potatoes
- 2 large leeks
- 1 medium onion
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons cream or whole milk
- 1 tablespoon sour cream
- a pinch of fresh nutmeg
- salt and pepper to taste
Cut potatoes in half unless they are really small. Slice the leeks up to the point where it starts to get dark green. Discard the dark green part. Rinse the chopped leeks by putting them in a bowl of water and lifting them out with a slotted spoon so the dirt remains behind. Chop the onion.
Heat a medium-large, heavy bottomed pot on the stove and add the butter. When it starts to melt, add the potatoes, leeks and onions and saute over medium heat for about 7 minutes. Add the stock and simmer until the potatoes are soft and thoroughly cooked, about 25 minutes. Add the cream or milk, the sour cream and the seasonings and remove from heat. In a blender or food processor, puree the soup for a good 4-5 minutes to allow air into the soup. This will make a really creamy and airy, yet rich soup, full of flavor and succulent texture.
Serve soup with chopped chives or dill sprinkled on top if desired.
Rosemary Maggiore is our Last Minute Lady. A single mom of two kids plus a full time job (she runs this website!) keep her busy and usually pushing things to the last minute. Somehow she manages to keep her cool and her sanity while she enjoys good food, wine, friends and most importantly, family.
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