How to Set a Table

How to Set the Perfect Table
Cutlery, Arne Jacobsen for Georg Jensen. The perfect zero-waste table setting includes bone china square plates and linen napkins from Merci, Paris

When I hosted my first dinner party, I didn't know table setting was a thing. I set out a stack of plates, napkins, and silverware, expecting guests to serve themselves. They looked at me helplessly. Only later did I realize that French hostesses plate food and set the table accordingly.

Formal settings dictate a charger underneath the serving plate; informal settings include a bread plate and knife above the forks. For the sake of minimalism, I've pared these down to the very basics (click each photo to enlarge). To get really fancy, you can use up to five glasses- for sherry, champagne, etc.- plus separate utensils for fish and shellfish.

If our tableware looks a little Nietzschean, that's because it is. We use Arne Jacobsen for Georg Jensen flatware, as popularized in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I found my set on eBay, but my aunt gifted us matching serving pieces. They're a dream to eat with, and because it's a timeless style, finding replacements or duplicates is easy. Square white stoneware is my personal preference. The plates present food beautifully, while recycled glassware allow liquids to pop visually.

Setting the Table: Etiquette

Basic table setting 

Place utensils one inch from the table's edge, outside in by order of use. Knife blades face the plate, and the water glass sits above the knife. Spoons go to the right of the knives, while forks sit at the left of the plate.

Informal table setting 

Add a wineglass, teacup/saucer, salad fork, salad bowl, and dessert spoon. Suitable for brunch and three-course meals.

Formal place setting

For three courses or more. No more than three of any utensil should ever be placed on the table at one time. Place cards sit above the dessert spoon and cake fork.

Paris to Go

Zero Waste Medicine

zero waste sickness tea homemade lavender hibiscus rose hips

Since going zero waste, I never get sick unless I'm 1) exposed to gluten, then 2) around sick children, in that order. If I don't accidentally get glutened, sick people can sneeze on me all day long, and I won't catch it. A trash-free sick day mostly just requires handkerchiefs and homemade tea. I used to think handkerchiefs were disgusting, but research confirms washing handkerchiefs removes viruses, especially if you regularly clean the machine. Throw a used Kleenex into the garbage, and the virus remains viable- in fact, rhinoviruses stay infectious in landfills. Compare an embroidered cloth handkerchief to this. Which is grosser?

We have a dozen handkerchiefs in linen and cotton, but you can make them from old t-shirts. Ever since Mama Eats Plants said she takes oregano oil to stay healthy, I've been dropping it in soups, sauces, and water to fight infections. I also like fire cider to get me through harsh Ohio winters, and elderberry syrup for coughs.



Add 2 cups fresh honeysuckle blossoms and leaves to four cups water with one cup raw honey. Take a spoonful every two hours to soothe inflammation and spasms, or use as expectorant. Strongly antiviral, the blossoms themselves can be steeped in a tea to flush toxins, or crushed and applied to wounds and bruises. Substitute lavender for the same indications.


Steep 10g each black dates, mint, ginger slices, onion peel, and orange peel in boiling water; drink every hour to prevent and treat colds and infection. Slice and use as pain killer. Combine with honey to ease cold and flu symptoms, nausea, gastritis, and menstrual cramps.


Make a paste of baking soda and water; apply as salve to insect bites or directly on canker sores to speed healing. Mix with apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and water and drink to treat urinary tract infections. Add 1 teaspoon baking soda to 1 tablespoon molasses to prevent fungal infections. Use as bath soak to relax muscle spasms and relieve soreness; also treats yeast infections and GERD symptoms. Suitable as antacid.


A natural antiseptic, use to clean cuts, treat eczema, rheumatism and muscle spasms. Can be used to treat poison ivy rashes and insect stings.


Sprinkle on wounds to stop bleeding. Apply directly to gum area to treat toothaches. Take 1/2 teaspoon in a cup of warm water to treat headaches. Boil one teaspoon with 1/4 cup each of water and apple cider vinegar. Mix with honey and lemon and take to treat sinus infections.


One to two teaspoons apple cider vinegar alleviates acid reflux and GI distress. Mix with hot water and honey to soothe sore throats. Take two tablespoons to regulate glucose. Apply on skin to ease itching, or use as bath soak to soothe tired muscles. Pour over fresh thyme sprigs and steep for four months, then apply directly to bites or stings.


Mix 80 drops clove bud essential oil with 70 drops lemon essential oil, 40 drops cinnamon essential oil, 30 drops eucalyptus essential oil, 20 drops rosemary essential oil, and 10 drops tea tree or lavender essential oil in a dark glass bottle and shake. One drop cleans cuts; soothes poison ivy rashes, insect bites and stings; relieves headaches; and sanitizes toothbrushes. Add a few drops to boiling water to sanitize the air; inhale to clear congestion. Use fifteen drops to treat bronchitis. Hand sanitizer, bug repellent, & Vaporub alternative. Note: I haven't found zero-waste essential oil in Paris- click here for at-home instructions. 
Other essentials:
  1. Lambs ear. You can grow this yourself and use it to stop bleeding or as bandages. I like gauze better than Band Aids but there are some instances where waste is necessary, and first aid is one of them. I just don't like ripping off Band-Aids. Dab cuts with honey first- it's an excellent antibacterial agent. You can also stop bleeding with sugar.
  2. White willow bark. Safe alternative to aspirin and salicylic acid acne treatments.
  3. Fresh aloe. Click here for instructions on harvesting aloe vera from the plant. A powerful burn treatment, this can be taken internally- avoid if you have liver issues.
  4. Neem oil. Mix 2 mL neem oil in 100 mL carrier oil (I like sweet almond) with a few drops of essential oils (try lavender or citronelle) for natural, DEET-free bug repellent.
  5. Neti pot.
  6. Raw honey. Naturally antiseptic and the best cure- along with a teaspoon of salt in a cup of water- for pinkeye.
  7. Vodka. Buy in bulk and use it as hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, disinfectant, a toothache remedy, or to treat swimmer's ear and cold sores

Whenever I get sick I sanitize the light switches, doorknobs, phone, anything I touched with vinegar and hot soapy water. For cold and flu I also like to boil a pot of onion skin, ginger, orange peel, and lemon juice with Korean dates. I'm positive it helps me recover faster. Another good Korean remedy is Chinese plum boiled in sugar and water, then fermented in a big glass jar for three months. It settles the stomach immediately and helps ease symptoms of celiac disease, although Koreans mostly just put the resulting syrup in whiskey and cocktails. My doctor says that dark chocolate works better than cough drops, and he's right. It makes a huge difference (he graduated with honors from Oxford and Cambridge so it's not like he's a quack or anything). One last tip- when my sister was stung by a cactus, my grandma put the cut edge of a raw onion on the affected area. It drew out the stingers and eased the pain. The next day, it looked like nothing happened! Note: Never risk your health for the sake of zero waste. Sometimes you need medication or something in plastic packaging. That's ok! The idea is to seek the best medical treatment so you stay as healthy as possible.

Paris to Go

Zero-Waste Food Storage

Click here to see more plastic-free, zero-waste food and recipes.

When we first moved here, the language barrier intimidated me into accepting food with whatever trappings were offered. But the growing rage I felt towards Paris prices soon accompanied a passable level of French and a significantly higher level of entitlement. If my weekly grocery bill was going to equal a monthly car payment (for a Honda, no less), I better not have any trash to take out afterward.

We opted to forgo the freezer in this apartment, and I'm hoping our next home will skip the refrigerator. Until then, everything is organized according to Cornell's guidelines for storing organic food. Fatty or sweet things, like crème anglaise, homemade coconut milk, butter, and crème fraîche belong on the top shelf (pictured). Wine and juice go on the rack, with leftovers below and eggs in the drawer. Finally, separate dairy and meats on the middle and lowest shelves, respectively- larger cuts, like côte de boeuf, can be wrapped safely in a flour sack towel with a wooden board underneath. I also make jam and condiments (mainly harissa and mayo) at home, all of which go in glass jars in the door. My friends say it's a true American refrigerator, on account of its size :) You can freeze in glass jars or stainless steel containers. Don't fill above the shoulder and allow room for expansion in flat edge jars. When I’m in Cleveland, I freeze homemade tortillas wrapped with cloth stored flat in a stainlsss steel container, rolled in cloth in a large Ball jar, or simply in a cloth drawstring bag or bento bag. You can do the same with cookies, muffins, breads, croissants etc. Kathryn from Going Zero Waste has a detailed guide on freezing plastic free and uses a pillowcase to preserve baked goods.

Zero Waste Food Storage (Plastic Free, Paperless)


Keep unwashed, loose in the refrigerator. Can store with potatoes


Keeps well at room temperature.


Only put ripe apricots in fridge, in low-humidity drawer.

Leafy greens

Wash, dry, and store wrapped in a cloth towel.


Wash, dry thoroughly between two towels, then store wrapped in a towel in a drawer.


Keep in an open jar with a little water for stems.


Trim ends, then store upright in a glass with a little bit of water.


Room temperature until ripe, then refrigerator.


Room temperature. Store loose with an apple to speed ripening.


Room temperature until ripe, then loose in refrigerator.


Keep at room temperature away from ethylene-sensitive produce.


Unstacked, in a cool, dry place away from the sun.


Trim stems, then keep upright in a glass jar with water at room temperature.


Loose in crisper.


Trim, wash and dry greens, then keep wrapped in a towel or glass container with moisture. Scrub roots and keep in high humidity drawer or damp towel.


Store with apples to ripen. Good in refrigerator or at room temperature.

Bell pepper

Wash, dry, store loose in crisper drawer.


Store unwashed in crisper.


Soak in water with a splash of vinegar. Rinse, then dry flat between two towels.


Room temperature.


Leave uncovered in drawer. To prevent crumbs, drape a towel over unwashed florets first, leaving the stem exposed.


Keep whole pineapple out of the fridge. If you're not eating within three days, core, cut, and place in airtight glass jar.

Brussel sprouts

Store loose in a humid drawer.


Bowl at room temperature.


Scrub, store upright in a jar with water.


Store vitelotte in darkest part of the fridge. Otherwise, in a cool, dark, dry place away from onions, in wood, wire, metal or cloth.


Same as broccoli.


See beets. Save the radish greens- they're delicious.


Rinse, keep in a humid drawer or damp towel. Store celery root the same way.


See broccoli, cauliflower.


Store unwashed in the fridge in a netted bag, small wooden basket, or loosely closed glass jar.


Store loose in the refrigerator or wrapped in a cloth towel.


Best at room temperature. I stack them in a glass vase or fridge drawer.

Spring Onions

Loose in the crisper.


Do not wash. Store in crisper.


Room temperature or crisper, washed.


Store loose, unwashed, in crisper.


Soak in vinegar with water, dry, then keep in an open bowl in fridge.


Arrange in a single layer on a plate. Place in fridge.

Sweet potatoes

Never refrigerate.


I buy fresh purple garlic, which needs to be kept in a cloth bag at room temperature or refrigerator drawer.


Never refrigerate, they get mushy. Keep in a wooden basket or open glass jar. Store with apples to speed ripening.


Store unwashed in refrigerator, loose or in a bowl.


Same as radishes and beets.

Green beans

Store loose in a humid part of the refrigerator or in a damp towel.


Keep at room temperature. Wrap in cloth and place in fridge for longer storage.
Paris to Go