Saturday, September 8, 2012

Foodie Faves: Candles

I love candles. I can’t think of anything that makes a meal more special than candlelight. If you are having a PB&J by yourself for dinner, and you set a couple of candles out on the table where you’ll be eating – even if it’s only the kitchen island – the meal will be more pleasant and you will feel better about yourself. So before the entertaining season rolls in, I thought I would, er, wax eloquent on the subject.

When my sons were living at home, I almost always lit candles at the dinner table. I believed that they helped to create a mood that was friendly and warm – that they made the meal feel like a special time. The glow of candlelight brings on a mood that is quieter and more intimate; and in a house with as much testosterone as we had, lowering the volume of discourse is no mean feat.

Everyone looks better in candlelight. It’s prettier and more flattering than electric light. And candles are a symbol of hospitality and hope. So whenever I set the table for a dinner party, candles are a major factor in the decor.

I keep on hand a good supply of votives and tealights. Tealights are the ones encased in thin metal or plastic, so that the wax can liquefy completely while it burns. You can often find them in packages of 50 for $5.00 – maybe the best bargain around.

Among my favorite candles for a dinner party are wine cork candles. These clever candles look great atop a wine bottle – and at my house, we’re never at a loss for an empty wine bottle. I’ve seen the candles at any number of places on the web, but none as cheap as at the catalogue company, Uncommon Goods, where they’re $22.00 for a dozen. (11/22/2015 update: they're now $28 for a dozen, but that's still the best price I find.)

A few key points about candles:

1. Maybe the most important – at least in the view of the Kitchen Goddess, is this: NO SCENTED CANDLES AT THE DINNER TABLE. You go to all that trouble with the food – making it look good and smell good. Scented candles will mask those wonderful smells, and in doing so can even alter the tastes of the food on your table.

2. Decorate the whole room, not just the table. Putting candles all around the room improves the intimacy of the gathering, and makes the room appear well lit and inviting.(My husband always claims I’m trying to burn the house down, but it’s not true. I just love candles.)

3. Store candles in a cool, dark, dry place – but not in the freezer. Store tapers or dinner candles flat to keep them from warping.

4.  When using tapers or pillars, trim the wicks to between ¼ inch and ⅜ inch before you light them, and remove any bits of wick from the wax pool.

5. With tapers, turn the candles 90 degrees each time you use them, to get an even burn. There’s no such thing as a dripless candle, but whatever you can do to minimize drafts will reduce dripping. Ceiling fans, open doors, or even your guests moving around the room can create a draft. Rotating the candles allows drafts to affect all sides equally.

6. You can remove dust and fingerprints from a candle by gently rubbing the surface with a damp piece of nylon (finally – a use for old pantyhose!) or a soft cloth.

When the party’s over:

1. Don’t blow out your candles – you might splash wax onto your tablecloth or dinner table, or even on yourself. Instead, use a snuffer or the bowl side of a spoon.

2. Removing wax from your holders is easiest if you put them in your freezer. The wax shrinks as it cools and will usually lift away immediately once you remove the container from the freezer. I’ve also had good results from commercial wax removers, like Weiman’s Wax Away. Little bits of wax will come off if you simply run hot water over the holder; but be careful, as you don’t want a lot of melted wax clogging your drain.

3. If you spill wax on carpet or clothing, take care of it as quickly as possible. Once the wax has hardened, lay a single layer of paper from a brown paper grocery bag on top of the wax, and with an iron set at a dry, cotton setting, move the iron over the spill. As the wax is absorbed into the paper, shift the paper to a clean part and press the iron over it again. Repeat until you see no more evidence of the wax.

4. Votive holders are easier to clean if you add a few drops of water to the holder before you insert the candle. Don’t do this too far in advance – if the wick begins to absorb the water, it won’t burn well.


  1. Lee, based on my New Year's Eve experience at your house, lighting a multitude of tea candles with restaurant matches is a challenge. I would suggest your blog followers get a BIC Multipurpose Lighter and light away.


    1. Probably eliminates the sulfur smell from the matches also!