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dress it up! simple ways to spruce up a meal Dress it Up! 
simple ways to spruce up a meal
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Whether itís a romantic dinner for you and your sweetie or a dinner party for eight, a memorable meal requires more than gourmet food -- presentation and atmosphere count too. But what to do if your dining table is a chipped-up, "lovingly-used" piece you bought at Salvation Army? Or, like me, you donít even have a real dining table, and meals, by necessity, take place at the coffee table? Never fear; even without the resources to buy matching table linens, fancy serving dishes, or a proper dining table set, the possibilities abound for dressing up your thrift shop finds and recycled goods to create a smashingly successful meal for friends.

set the table
If your dining table is an eyesore, or if you just want to protect your tabletop, you need a tablecloth. Rather than buy one, go to the fabric store, where youíll find more color, texture and pattern options than you could ever have imagined. Stick with materials that can withstand repeated washings, and that will hang reasonably well. Buy a length that will cover your table (leave room for overhang, of course); hem the edges with a straight stitch (if youíve got a sewing machine) or with tape if you canít sew or are feeling lazy. (Hint: Look for a very nifty product called "Stitch Witchery" at fabric stores Ö it looks like very loosely- fibered non-sticky tape; you stick the tape under your hem fold and apply heat with an iron. The result is a bond that is reasonably strong, but also washable and dry-cleanable.). Alternatively, and particularly if youíve got a large tabletop, use flat sheets.

Now that youíve got the table covered, youíll want to attend to some of those little details that make the difference between everyday meal and special feast. Ever noticed how one of the distinguishing features of a nice restaurant is the presence of individually folded cloth napkins, and the absence of a dispenser of disposable paper napkins? Cloth napkins are infinitely classier than paper napkins (and donít even think about making do with paper towels). Besides being washable, re-usable and therefore eco-friendly, theyíre also very cheap and easy to make. The fastest method is with a sewing machine, but you can also hand-stitch, or use the tape described above. Just cut some cloth (if youíve got leftover material from your tablecloth, youíll even have matching linens!) into napkin-size squares and hem the edges. White napkins are surprisingly practical Ė you can just bleach the inevitable food stains out. For an even fancier touch, use napkin rings. You donít have to buy pre-made napkin rings; try tying napkins with pretty ribbons, or make paper rings out of beautiful handmade/decorative papers.

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