A Step-by-Step Guide For Holiday Hosts
For many, planning the Thanksgiving menu usually involves a healthy dose of family tradition, a long checklist, multiple trips to the grocery store and farmers market in search of the ‘perfect’ turkey and ingredients for must-have side dishes, and for dessert, pumpkin and pecan pies with mounds of whipped cream. We may plan every last detail of the meal – often many days in advance – but give little thought or time to the table where family and friends will gather to enjoy our carefully orchestrated feast.
Do you wish – just once – that your holiday dining table looked like the ones you see in magazines? Well, I’m here to help! I’ve deconstructed a gorgeous Thanksgiving table setting I created in our 1890’s Colorado cabin and divided it into four easy steps any host can follow.
Any room can be welcoming and beautiful. Our cabin presented a completely blank slate – unadorned, rustic log walls, a plywood floor painted a neutral tone with a band of dark green near the edges, and a brushed metal chandelier with no electrical power currently available. But, the room is cozy, the substantial wood table and chairs beg to be surrounded by family and friends, and the casual bookcase along the back wall provides added interest. With the help of decorative accessories I’ve had for years, casual ironstone dinnerware in seasonal colors, and luscious, but inexpensive fabrics and linens, I transformed this very rustic setting into a beautiful dining room to celebrate Thanksgiving. So, let’s do the same with your table!
Start With The Centerpiece
When I complete a table setting with a simple floral centerpiece, the flower arrangement is the last item I place on the table, but when I create a lush table setting featuring a variety of textures, levels and accessories, I’ve found it’s much easier to start with the centerpiece. That way, I can build layer upon layer in the center of the table without worrying about knocking over glassware or dropping bits and pieces of decorative material onto the place settings, particularly when working with natural items or those that shed glitter. The centerpiece pictured here begins with three squares of dark brown felt to protect the wood and anchor the decorative materials so they don’t slide on the table. Two 9-foot silk leaf garlands rest on top of the felt, providing a foundation and color scheme for everything that follows.
Add Decorative Layers
Once the autumn garlands are in place, add depth, color, and texture by incorporating pumpkins of various sizes, fruit, pinecones, additional leaves, large pillar candles in tall glass hurricanes, and seasonal placemats. Tiny pumpkins, readily found in supermarkets, rest on small glass coasters to prevent damage to the table’s wood surface.
Mix and Match Dinnerware
Tablescapes that most often elicit an appreciative gasp of surprise rarely feature matched china and crystal. Instead, blend dinner and glassware based on complementary colors, patterns, themes, shapes, sizes, and seasonality. For this Thanksgiving table, copper-colored chargers provide a rich background for heavy, rustic yellow ironstone dinner plates, paired with white porcelain soup bowls featuring a brown floral border and turkey pattern in the center. The copper chargers complement the placemats’ copper and yellow twist border and reflect the centerpiece’s coppery leaves. Ironstone plates ensure the table isn’t too formal or fussy, and the turkey bowls leave no mistake it’s Thanksgiving. Leaf-patterned napkins, secured with bronzy, metal oakleaf napkin rings, and heavy cut-crystal water glasses paired with delicate etched wine glasses edged in gold, add finishing touches to delight the eye.
Extend The Theme Throughout The Room
A buffet, china cabinet, or bookcase provide exciting opportunities to extend the decorative theme beyond the dining table, so take advantage of these surfaces if you have them. In the cabin, the large, square mirror above the glass buffet reflects light from the tall candlesticks – an important asset when there’s no electrical power! Several garlands of silk leaves are layered across the back edge of the buffet next to the wall, setting the stage for a luxurious sense of bounty. A wooden tray echoes the rustic cabin theme and provides an attractive gathering spot for turkey, pumpkin, and spicy candle decorative accents. Dessert plates with a woodsy theme await decadent slices of pumpkin pie, pumpkin swirl cheesecake, and pecan pie – the perfect ending to a memorable Thanksgiving celebration in the cabin.
This morning, my world changed forever. I became a Grandmother. Our family welcomed a precious baby boy, and I marvel at the love that fills my heart for this new little one I’ll meet in just a few days. The days to come will be filled with countless soft kisses, that sweet "baby smell" all new mothers come to know, quiet lullabyes, rocking back and forth as I hold him in my arms, diapers to change, and watching the new Grandfather read books to the baby as they cuddle – even before he understands the words.
I also look forward to preparing meals for our son and daughter-in-law, and helping with everyday household chores to ensure they can be with their new son. And, if time and the baby’s needs permit, I’d like to prepare a candlelight dinner for these wonderful new parents.
The birth of this child has caused me to reflect and reaffirm WHY I do the work that I do. Creating family-friendly recipes, writing cooking and lifestyle books, making countless television appearances, teaching others how to entertain and how to create a warm, welcoming home, and always….always stressing the importance of family and friends.
This child and my newfound Grandmother status confirm for me that there is no greater gift than the birth of a child and the celebration of "Family". You’ll find this message in The Family Table, Where’s My Spatula?, and my latest book Celebrating Home (Bright Sky Press). I invite each of you to pick up a copy of any of these books as a gift for yourself and a friend – then share the joy of family with others. It’s truly God’s work.
Can it be true? Is autumn just around the corner? For the millions suffering through record-breaking triple digit heat around the nation, autumn must seem like a far-off dream, but at our home in Breckenridge, Colorado, I see the signs everywhere.
Although it's a beautiful August day with temperatures in the mid-70's, we've experienced a multitude of frosty mornings intermittently since mid-July. That's early even for those of us residing at 9,300 ft elevation. One of our mature aspen trees has lost its upper tier of leaves and its tiny, west-facing green leaves are beginning to fade – a sure sign they'll turn to gold before long.
While shopping at the Dillon, Colorado farmers market yesterday, surrounded by majestic mountains and boxes of juicy, ripe Palisade peaches and an abundance of tomatoes whose garden-fresh aroma made my mouth water, I discovered a box of early-Jonathan apples. I use early-Jonathans when I make apple butter in the fall, so spying them when we're barely into mid-August was a wake-up call that autumn is indeed nearly here.
Early last week, I decorated Swan’s Nest's front entry for a Vail HOME Magazine photo shoot, destined for their September/October issue. As I unpacked boxes of autumn garland, Indian corn, pinecones, and pumpkins in every color, shape, and size, I couldn't help but notice that the colors were reflective of what was beginning to happen in nature all around me – tall, purple lupines going to seed; meadow grasses lighter in color than the week prior; and willows in our wetlands showing the first hints of gold.
But, before it completely disappears, we'll enjoy summer's final weeks as we cook thick steaks, juicy bison burgers, sweet Olathe corn, and garden-fresh vegetables on the grill, sip glasses of rosé with friends in the sunshine, savor leisurely dinners on the front veranda while gazing at the Tenmile Range, and I'll bake luscious fruit tarts and cobblers with the berries and stone fruits I find in my markets. With that in mind, here's my recipe for the Palisade Peach and Pluot Tart I baked last week after a trip to the farmers market. You'll love that there’s no need to skin the fruit before baking!
Palisade Peach and Pluot Tart
|3/4||cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes|
|4-5||tablespoons ice water|
|1||pound pluots, about 6 medium, rinsed and sliced|
|1 1/4||pounds peaches, about 4 large, rinsed and sliced|
|1 1/2||tablespoons flour|
|1||egg, for egg wash|
|1||tablespoon clear sparkling sugar or 2 teaspoons granulated sugar|
|1||8-inch-by-11-inch tart pan with removable bottom|
Place flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to mix. Add the butter and pulse until it is pea-size.
Add 4 tablespoons ice water and process at low speed until the pastry is crumbly. If the mixture feels dry, add the remaining ice water and process just until the pastry comes together and forms a ball. Remove the pastry, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill at least 30 minutes or until it is cold.
In a large bowl, gently stir together the pluots, peaches, sugar, and flour; set it aside. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. On a floured pastry cloth or counter, roll the pastry into a large rectangle. Fold the pastry in half and transfer it to the tart pan. Unfold the pastry, fit it into the pan, and trim the excess pastry by running a rolling pin over the top of the pan. Gather the trimmings together into a ball, roll it out, and cut the pastry into ¾-inch strips using a fluted pastry wheel or knife. Place 6 strips at a diagonal across the top of the tart; then turn the tart one-quarter turn and place the remaining pastry strips across in a diagonal to form a basket-weave pattern.
In a small bowl, whip the egg and water together with a fork. Brush some of the egg wash over the pastry strips and along the edges of the tart and sprinkle them with sparkling sugar. Place the tart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is bubbly. Remove the tart from the oven and transfer it to a wire rack to cool.
Yield: 1 11-inch tart
It’s snowing outside – again. But, after all, it IS mid-February and the calendar assures me it’s still officially winter. Much of the nation is weary from wave after wave of mega snow and ice storms. In the Colorado mountains, we expect and embrace this kind of weather and are generally less-than-happy when the snow machine takes a hiatus, as it did during the past several weeks. While I enjoyed being outdoors without freezing my you-know-what off, each snowfall is vital for the moisture it brings to our forests, streams, and rivers, and the overall economic health of our mountain community. Plus, the sight of every surface outside my window, covered in new-fallen fluffy snow, is exceedingly beautiful.
Nevertheless, I feel a yearning for spring starting to develop. My eye is drawn to springtime colors, whether browsing in my favorite clothing shops or selecting flowers and blooming plants in the floral department of my grocery store. So, when I had the opportunity to create a table setting this week in conjunction with a newspaper interview, I decided to set the table for a springtime gathering.
Bright yellow placemats and a mint green table runner, fashioned from a 3-yard length of fabric, anchor the table and set the theme for my spring décor. Decorative gold chargers, gold-rimmed white china plates given to me recently by my mother, my favorite green and white, scalloped-edge bunny salad plates, and inexpensive stem-less wine glasses filled with simple arrangements of yellow and pink cut flowers, add another layer of seasonal color and visual interest.
Cut-work linen napkins are gathered into painted, wooden napkin rings that resemble flower pots – each sporting a single tulip in a variety of springtime colors. When I purchased them over 25 years ago in a decorators warehouse, I certainly never dreamed I’d still be using them years later, but it just goes to show that a bit of unexpected whimsy in an otherwise somewhat formal setting, can lend the ideal finishing touch to carry out the theme and prevent a table from appearing stuffy.
Springtime colors can be just the remedy for late-winter blues, so lift your spirits, surprise your family or guests, and create a little magic with a fast-forward to another season for your next gathering around the table.
It’s almost national Election Day, and I’ve just returned from early voting at my Dallas, Texas precinct. It’s a gorgeous, cool, sunny morning, and the voter turnout was steady as folks took advantage of beautiful weather and shorter waiting lines in order to cast ballots. Now comes the wait until the ballots are counted and results begin to stream in Tuesday evening November 4.
Today’s voting got me thinking about the concept of favorites – favorite books and music, favorite color, and favorite recipes. At this time of year when the days and nights are cooler, my favorite recipes are hot and fragrant from the oven. Roasted chicken, 4-layer lasagna, roasted glazed root vegetables, pumpkin ‘n’ spice bread, butternut squash pie….
So, I thought in honor of Election Day 2014, I would share two of my favorite autumn recipes and let YOU vote for your favorite on my Facebook Fan page. Or share one of your own favorites! https://www.facebook.com/pages/Christy-Rost/194284390585965
From Celebrating Home: A Handbook For Gracious Living by Christy Rost (Bright Sky Press, 2012)
|1||tablespoon olive oil|
|1/3||cup sweet onion, finely chopped|
|3||large cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped|
|1||28-ounce can organic diced tomatoes|
|1||tablespoon tomato paste|
|1/2||teaspoon dried sweet basil|
|Freshly ground black pepper|
|2||tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped|
|2||tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano|
|2||ounces cream Havarti cheese, shredded|
|6||ounces fresh Mozzarella|
|3/4||cup part-skim Ricotta|
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the manicotti shells according to package directions just until they are al dente. Drain and cool slightly. Fill each shell with Havarti, mozzarella, and ricotta. Spoon a small amount of sauce into the bottom of a casserole dish, arrange the filled manicotti on top of the sauce, and pour the remaining sauce over the shells. Cover and bake 45 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the filling is hot. Sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano just before serving.
Yield: 4 servings
SWEET POTATO and APPLE GRATIN
From Celebrating Home: A Handbook For Gracious Living by Christy Rost (Bright Sky Press, 2012)
|4||large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch thickness|
|2||Granny Smith or other firm apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced|
|1||cup heavy cream|
|1/2||cup chicken broth|
|1/2||teaspoon coarse salt|
|1/2||teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg|
|1/4||teaspoon white pepper|
|1/2||cup grated Parmesan cheese|
|3/4||cup Panko crumbs|
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place a single layer of sweet potatoes in a large baking dish, overlapping the slices. Add a layer of sliced apple and top with the remaining sweet potatoes.
In a small bowl, stir together the heavy cream, chicken broth, salt, nutmeg, and white pepper. Pour the mixture over the potatoes and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Cover the casserole tightly with foil and bake 45 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with Panko crumbs, and bake 15 minutes more, or until the sweet potatoes and apples are tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Serve immediately.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings