Tuesday, January 20, 2015


         With only five days to go until Burns Night is here, it seems time to get started on making some crafts and decorations that will get your guests into the spirit of things. Let me start by saying I find much of the craft and decorating projects that fill Pippa Middleton’s Celebrate to be a little over the top. If I’m planning a holiday meal or throwing a birthday party I’m usually much more inclined to consider food, drinks, and presents than things like floral arrangements or place cards. That’s where Middleton and I really part ways. Not plan a lavish and coordinated table? She just won’t have it.

For something like Burns Night, though, I think I get it. There’s nothing about our condo that screams SCOTTISH, you know? You’re not just going to walk in and get that vibe here. To commit to a holiday that is already such a stretch for us maybe does require a little bit of extra effort. Below, what Middleton says about setting “A Scottish Table”:

For a Burns Night supper, choose a warm and romantic place for your table: a fireside spot is welcoming and the amber glow will complement the earthy components of the feast.

Our dining room table is four feet from the radiator. It’s very warm!

If you’re having a more informal gathering in your kitchen, you’ll still need plenty of flickering candlelight on this cold January night to make everyone feel as if you were all tucked up inside a croft in the depths of the Scottish hills.

Yes, but what is a croft?

Thistles are emblematic of Scotland and ideal for a centerpiece, mixed with purple and white poppy anemones and green foliage. Arranged in a small vase, they will add a lovely feminine touch to this rather masculine affair.

Thistles? Really? Where might one buy thistles in Chicago in the winter? Hell, in the summer?

Use…old bone-handled knives in keeping with the Highland theme.

“Honey? Where did we put the bone-handled knives? No—not those! The old ones!”

Middleton seems to sense at one point that not everyone is willing to drop $500 and a week’s vacation time from work just to get this holiday off the ground. For people like me she points out that “a tartan blanket laid over a table will add snugness and be fitting for a hearty spread for all ages.”
                Of course: tartan. We need tartan. I can tell you with confidence that one of the best places in the world, outside of Scotland, to buy fabric is at the Highland Store in London. There are two convenient locations and a website for easy international shopping. Should you not have the time or income to travel to Scotland or London, brace yourself. You’re going to have to go to Joann Fabrics like I did on Sunday. I emerged, frustrated, an hour later with a terrible green and white plaid I can't really defend now. While I was there I really built up this idea that I was selecting our family tartan, and it felt like an incredible weight on my shoulders. I could not get it wrong! Maybe it was just too much pressure because what I came home with looks like a cross between the placemats Adam used to have in his apartment senior year of college and a Yasser Arafat headscarf. I spent Sunday night cutting our family tartan into four small napkins and a kind of table runner-like thing. When I laid it on our dining room table and fully saw just how awful it looked, I felt both exhausted and dejected. There wasn’t supposed to be so much pressure with this holiday!
                Tonight I’m having a hard time flipping through Middleton’s Burns Night how-to because she’s managed to snag a lovely purple and green blanket to lay over her table. There are even plaid plates to match. She's located thistles for her centerpiece as well as teacups with thistles on the side. She’s nailed it. This girl will just have to keep trying.

                Next up: what to feed your American guests on Burns Night. Hint: not haggis.

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