The China Files

Claudia Reeves

Ben Dunne once said, “The only way to make a small fortune in horse racing is to start with a big one”. A few months into COVID imposed quarantine I found out the hard way that applies to starting your own china collection too! A cup here, a “trio” there and before you know it your house is chock-a-block with pretty china! And your “savings”, well… let’s not go there!  That is when I realised that I was suffering from COPD (Compulsive Online Purchase Disorder) and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). It has taken time, but at last I have now acknowledged my situation and am taking baby steps towards weaning myself from my addiction. One purchase at a time... 😉

What got me here in the first place? My long-held wish to add a vintage section to my tableware hire business. Old bone china is just so pretty - the colours, the styles, the whole romantic vibe, even just wondering about who might have held a particular piece last, or when…

I suppose I could have amassed my treasures in a thriftier way, over a longer period, but I’m afraid once I got started there was just no going back! I became obsessed! The china online shopping game has a fast-learning curve, especially for those uneducated in the subject – like me! Lesson one, not all that glitters is gold. Lesson two, photographs never look the same as the real thing. Lesson three, if they accept €20, they might have accepted €15, and so on! I obviously will not pretend to be an authority in the matter, I just know what I “like”. But I have quickly learned what to look out for and to spot a good bargain. The truth is, there are many deals to be had, you just have to find the one that is right for you. Patience is the key and learning to walk away of course. After all, you cannot bring it all home!

So, if at some stage you decide to buy a few lovely pieces of china to enjoy – go for it! I am sure you will have as much fun in the process as I did. If, however you are thinking large scale, as in supplies for your wedding, or a similarly large celebration – STOP! Think first - do you have a large enough cabinet, or better still a room, for all those plates, cups, and saucers you might need for the event AFTER it is over? Will you ever use them again? Will your heart be broken if something gets broken?

If your answers are No – No – Yes, then hire is your best bet. Enjoy the experience of a nice cup of tea, coffee, or champagne (we don’t judge!) from a delicate bone china cup. Feel like a Princess (or a Duke 😉), admire the delicate features of the object in your hands, relish in the colourful decoration, exercise your pinkie without shame and keep the moment forever in a photograph. And when you have done all that, simply return them to the help (that’s us!) for safekeeping until the next time! The memories will always be yours to keep, even if the china is not!


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Jumping on the Bandwagon

Claudia Reeves

Lately I have been very much on “wedding planning mode” because of my niece’s wedding next July, as you may recall from my previous blog - click here to read it if you have not already done so. I recommend it! As I write, I find myself just about waist deep in all the preparations – alas, the depth of my predicament is not quite as dramatic as one might expect with only 4 months to the date simply because the final “Go ahead” is still COVID pending (sigh).

It became apparent to me, after flicking through countless wedding photos in magazines and online that all weddings ended up blending into one. The structure is after all, always pretty much the same. White dress, rings, food, speeches, dancing. It is a tried and tested format that is much loved but let’s face it, repetitive. That is why I think it is so important for couples not to let themselves be swept by whatever the latest fashion wave may be. Individuality has t be the key!

Over the past 17 years I have seen plenty of tableware trends come and go when it comes to weddings. At one stage, you would not dare let your guests sit on any chair without a proper cover and bow. Then there were the candelabra, the chargers, black plates, kiln jars for deserts, the chocolate fountains, slates instead of plates (God save us!), tablecloths, no tablecloths, sweet trolleys, gold cutlery, coloured glasses, vintage delph, you name it, the list goes on and on. It is almost as if you weren’t properly married if your celebration didn’t have at least one of these…

There is no denying that the animal side of us loves being part of a herd. There’s safety in numbers (suspend your COVID comments for now), a certain comfort in blending in, a sense of belonging. And yet, despite all that, or maybe because of it, we also yearn to stand out in some way. We want to be noticed and appreciated, to make our mark, to be recognised. We want to be the same, but different!

Lauren Hutton once said, “Fashion is what you're offered four times a year by designers. And style is what you choose." Whether you are talking clothes or wedding receptions that same principle still applies. There is nothing particularly wrong with replicating a fashion or trend you like per se. By all means, jump on the bandwagon if you like, but do not just sit there – take the reins and steer the cart! Don’t just blindly follow what’s given, but rather adapt it to make it your own! That is the only way you can be sure your wedding will become the beautiful memory you want it to be, for you and everyone else.

So, where to begin? Well, there is a place where you can rent the ever-popular hessian garlands, colourful bunting, pretty china, and other interesting artefacts to adorn your chosen wedding venue and that’s right here on our website! But before you start raiding our stash we recommend you begin by picking your brains instead. Identify those traits that are unique to yourselves as a couple, and devise ways to project those onto your celebration. Choosing complimentary décor will be easy-peasy after that!

So, there’s your starting point – yourselves, the Bride & Groom (or the Brides, or the Grooms, we are all inclusive here, naturally). What kind of people are you? What are your interests and hobbies? Do you want fuss, flamboyance, or minimal styling? Rainbows or monochrome? Large or micro? Being true to yourselves is what it is all about. No point in doing anything just because others have, to keep up with the Joneses or because your Aunt suggested (although some Aunts do have the best ideas!). Put your personal stamp on every aspect of your big day. These are examples where couples did exactly that, by way of inspiration:

John and Maria designed and handwrote the invitations to their wedding. He drew the picture, and she wrote the inside – it was one of the few invitations I have ever kept because it was so unique.

Having initially decided not to buy a traditional white dress for her “BBQ in the park” wedding, Faith eventually chose to wear her Mother’s wedding dress instead. With a few minor and inexpensive alterations, she donned a beautiful (vintage!) gown on her big day. But she still went barefoot!

James and I chose hymns for our wedding mass that everyone was able to sing along to. It made for a more joyous and intimate celebration, where all those present felt included and not just spectators. There were no Pavarottis, but it still worked perfectly!

Sharon and David got married at home, under a beautiful tippee they made of tree bows, flowers, and ribbons. After the ceremony, instead of confetti they were showered by colourful soap bubbles made by their kids.

Irene and Tony named their tables after famous horses because they are both avid horse racing fans. Their guests’ place names were written on ivy leaves collected in Irene’s home backyard.

Chris and Kim’s wedding cake was made and decorated by her Parents, who also made the cakes for all her three sisters’ weddings – it became a family tradition.

Another different cake story is Paul and Fiona’s – theirs was made of rounds of cheese instead of batter, because neither of them was particularly fond of desserts.

Laurence, an accomplished tennis player, wrote his whole wedding speech in verse, using tennis jargon throughout. It was an absolute hit! He also decided to have the speeches before the meal so that he could fully enjoy himself the rest of the evening, having done the “hard part”!

Aidan and Sheila loved to go to nightclubs, so they skipped the band and invested instead in a longer DJ session, complete with disco ball and lights. They even compiled a list of their favourite songs to be played – it was their night after all, and they only wanted to hear and dance to what they liked!

(I will share some photos of these weddings on Instagram so keep an eye out for that!)

If you think back to all the weddings you have ever attended, what exactly would you say was particularly special about any of them? I venture to say some small detail along those lines, but I would sincerely love to read about what might have stood out for you – and I would love to share them in my future blogs. Just email them to

So, there you have it – there are no right or wrong decisions in the end. It’s your day and you call the shots. Simple as that. You can stick to the traditional or be as inventive as you like. You’re steering the wagon, remember?








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Saying "I Do!"

Claudia Reeves

Last July my niece got engaged, the first of the next generation in our family… Am I excited? Yes! The date chosen is the 24th of July of this year! Looking back, it is incredible how fast these last seven months have gone by, and how slow the whole COVID situation has improved… Truth be told, no one really knows yet whether the wedding will indeed go ahead as planned, but for now the Bride and Groom-to-be are happy to stick to the original plan with abounding optimism, and so am I!

I crave the excitement that comes when a new project presents itself. Better still, a party project. But a wedding? Just let me at it! How fun is this going to be, right? Alas, my own kids feel the need to remind me that this is not my wedding, nor one of theirs for that matter. My excuse? As if I needed one… But I do have one: together with my husband, we are to be the official witnesses to the ceremony. If this sounds alien to you, it is because weddings are a bit different in Portugal, where the wedding is to take place. I suppose you can think of me as the Matron of Honour. This alone, I am sure, allows me to throw in my tuppence worth in all matters planning. Plus, the Bride asked me of course!

So, where to begin? I was immediately thrown back in time to when I began preparations for my own wedding. I was already living in Ireland then, but the wedding was always going to be “back home” (which is Portugal, as you may have guessed!). I was organising it all from Ireland and our chosen date was less than six months away! That was not my initial intention to be fair, but why not? We did not fancy waiting too long, and it all felt perfectly doable at the same time!

Not intending to blow my own trumpet, but this was not without its own challenges: starting from absolute zero (which was almost the same as our budget!), all by myself, in a short time frame and long distance to boot.  A little history lesson here for those of you who may need some context, back then we did not have mobiles, smartphones, laptops, or the internet. Ok, I suppose you could say it was so “last century,” but all the same we are only talking 25 years ago! You were probably in primary school already…

Things have indeed evolved a lot since then, but nonetheless we still had some resources. Enter here the big F! No, not the casually used expletives commencing with the same letter of course (and which the Irish – I have found – are quite happy to use with abandon). I mean the FAX machine (yes, you can go Google that one); my closest friend during those frantic times of long-distance planning, allowing multiple exchanges in a matter of minutes. I suppose like a text nowadays, but in paper form back then. Yes, there were phones, but international phone calls cost money, doh! A few Hello! magazines were all I had by way of inspiration, and of course the experiences of my two older sisters’ weddings; that is to say, I knew what I did NOT want to do at MY wedding (we all want ours to be different, don’t we?) Oh, the memories…

“OMG,” says you now. It is hard to believe that anyone was ever able to get married that way, right? Where was Pinterest? And Instagram? And websites to guide you through every hour of every day of each long month leading up to the Big Day? An important note here: the average duration of Irish engagements is close to three years. That is 36 months. 156 weeks. 1,090 days… You get the picture. And of course, who says wedding DAY anymore? Surely you mean at least 3 days – day before, day of, and day after?

OMG is right! It is an absolute nightmare in this day and age to get the whole thing organised. And that is after all the hassle of finding a Bride or Groom in the first place! In retrospect, I was absolutely blessed to have had only six months of preparation. It helped me focus on the essentials and that meant “Keep it simple!”. I can see how so many young couples end up under serious pressure and over budget when it comes to getting married nowadays, but does it really have to be that way?

If you ask me, COVID has been an absolute blessing in disguise on this front. If ever you wanted the perfect excuse not to host a big wedding (without eloping abroad), now is the time! There are loads of beautifully illustrated micro weddings to prove that you can still have the most magnificent day, albeit without a crowd. But that, I must say, is a decision that only the two of you can make. Together.

Irish culture makes this a most arduous task, what with large family sizes and even larger circles of lifelong friends, not to mention the kindly neighbours and amazing colleagues… well, what can I say? You are all just too nice! Would I have been happy with a micro wedding? Honestly, I do not think so. There were 75 guests at mine, which, although small, is nowhere close to what you would call “micro” nowadays. And it meant a lot that all those people were there, a few parental additions notwithstanding… Shhhh! ;)

Which brings me back to my niece and her fiancé and the all-important questions that they will have to answer by this April. Will their wedding go ahead with all 160 planned guests, or will they wait another year in the hope that the dreaded c-word will have become a thing of the past? “Micro” is not something they really wish to consider right now. I guess all will be revealed in due course!

But I digress. Big or small, the one nugget of wisdom I do wish to impart on the wedding planning front is indeed to keep it simple, while still letting your personalities shine through! Who cares ultimately if the wedding party arrives in a matching fleet of Rolls-Royces, or if there are only nine tiers in the wedding cake? Fancy favours, flipflops for the dance floor, oversized chess games for the lawn? All OTT if you ask me.

Think of it as if you were shopping for clothes – don’t buy the whole catalogue! Start with a few basic understated pieces and then accessorize to your taste. Dependable, elegant, and affordable is what you should be looking for. And that’s just what The Plate Lady is all about too! After ticking all your essential (tableware) needs, adding details that are especially important to you will be a piece of cake! Do not feel obliged to do something just because it is the current fad; reflect on what makes you unique, seek inspiration, and only invest in those things that are truly worthy of the memories you want of your dream wedding day.

And finally, stick to the budget, whatever that may be for you. Believe me, it is a lot easier to spend it than it is to earn it, and despite all the fun you may have on your big day, you will not be smiling as much when you are still paying for it many years from now. Unless you have won the Lotto of course, in which case, knock yourself out!

All that said, as much as I am proud of my amazingly simple and straightforward wedding preparations, I must confess that I still daydream about getting married again (to the same guy of course!), and about the many fanciful details I would now add to my special day, courtesy of the internet and social media… So, guess who is going to benefit from all these unused little gems? Yes indeed, my lucky niece!

As for me, I will keep cherishing the memories of our wonderful no-frills wedding and relishing the fact that we are still together after 25 years! And that should, in fact, be the number one item on every couple’s list!


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"Come Dine with Me"

Claudia Reeves

One of the things I have missed most throughout this year was eating out. I enjoy cooking, but I love going out to restaurants or friends’ houses for a meal. For me, not knowing what you will have is half the fun! And I do enjoy discovering new tastes or ways to present dishes, enjoying the ambience, the friendly banter, relaxing with a drink… While the summer was here, we managed to meet a few times outdoors, but I missed the whole sitting at a table, ordering from a menu and of course not worrying about doing the dishes.  Then, I remembered that “Come dine with me” show… best idea I had had in a long time! I promptly presented my family the challenge to do it among ourselves. The lockdown boredom (and a small monetary prize!) ensured a general “yes” and very quickly the competitive streak started shining through! I organised three teams of two and a task of preparing a full dining experience with starter, main course, and dessert, with points allocated for accomplishment, taste, and presentation. I allocated myself the judge’s badge and prepared myself for three days of culinary enjoyment… without the cooking!

I should point out that my youngest son is 12 and I paired him with my Husband for a more level playing field. The rest of the brood are in their late teens and early twenties and well capable of navigating the pots and pans without motherly assistance. Hailing from a family of foodies myself, I introduced all my children to baking and cooking skills from an early age, and I must say that’s something I’ve patted myself on the back repeatedly over the years. Result!

So, back to my narrative. Day 1 turned out to be a “Greek night”. My daughter went on holidays to Zakynthos last year and that inspired her menu (remember when you could simply get on an airplane to some fair weather destination? Well, don’t even get me started on that one… maybe on my next blog!) I can’t say I wasn’t a bit alarmed when she announced it – you see, as “The Plate Lady” Greek weddings is the only thing I don’t do! But I needn’t worry, the result was amazing and not one broken plate throughout the whole night! We had Vegetable fritters with tzatziki for starters, marinated chicken with a Greek salad and flatbreads for the man course and Frigania for dessert. A great start indeed to the whole competition!

On Day 2 our two male participants prepared an “Italian feast”. The simple but delicious menu included Garlic Bread balls with tomato sauce, slow cooked Spaghetti Bolognese with three cheeses and a Chocolate Panacotta to finish with. I must say at this point I started wishing I had spaced out the meals a bit more as I could literally feel the pounds gathering around my hips… Still, not one to complain but rather embrace the challenge, I persevered.

By Day 3, just when we thought the meals couldn’t get any better my younger daughters presented the most delicious and elegant Sunday lunch with Vegetable Soup and freshly baked rolls, Pork Fillet with asparagus and rice and Oreo Cheesecake for dessert. It was a real achievement and again loved by everyone!

From having simply wished for a few cook free days, all of a sudden I started feeling the pressure of having to pick one winning team when in fairness they had all risen so brilliantly to the challenge. Luckily, I had requested that – as in the tv show – each participant would provide their own scores to each dish and overall performances of the other teams as the competition went on, and so that made for a fairer and undisputable result!

Who won in the end? Well, does it matter? To me, they really were all winners, and they certainly exceeded all my expectations! I could tell you, but maybe you can pick your own winners - look at the pictures in my  Instagram feed and let me know which dishes you might have preferred to try!

If you think you like this “Come Dine with Me” idea, pick your own theme and go for it! I had hoped we would have a rematch at some stage with the brief being “Chic and cheerful – three course meal for under €10”. Post me your own suggestions or let me know if you ever organised a similar event and how it went!

Just to wrap up, play to your strengths! If your kids are younger than mine pick something easy like baking buns or making bread – kids love sticky fingers! And sweet treats! Teach them also how to lay a table for afternoon tea or prepare a Teddy Bear’s picnic (indoors is fine too!). Have fun and enjoy your time together!

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