The holidays are upon us, and so begins the celebratory season of dinner parties with friends and family. Rather than look at it from a stress-inducing place, why not consider it, instead, an opportunity to be creative and not constricted by the boundaries of what you think a “holiday” table must look like?
Laying out a delicious spread in a beautiful manner can be a lot of fun—and inexpensive—if you let it. In Handmade Gatherings by Ashley English, we love the idea of starting your guests off with a warming cup of mulled apple cider. You can make sachets in advance that are filled with cinnamon sticks, orange peel, and other holiday spices, then add them to apple cider and boil.
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Not only does it make for a yummy drink, but the spicy aroma scents your house and immediately signals your guests that a special night is underway, elevating their senses in advance of a good meal. A meal that might include English’s simple, but tasty Chocolate, Orange and Beet Flourless Cake for dessert.
No autumn or winter dinner is complete, of course, without a centerpiece for the table—but put aside the impulse to buy the usual poinsettia or blow your budget on expensive, out-of-season flower arrangements. In fact, you need not even use any flowers at all.
Melissa Feveyear, the owner of Terra Bella Flowers in Seattle, which emphasizes seasonal, organically-shaped arrangements, suggests working with natural elements. Her favorite-type of fall arrangement begins with a “bouquet” of freshly-cut willow branches, tied at the base with twine. Into the armature you’ve created, you can weave evergreens, dried pomegranates cut in half to expose the red berries, clementines, cinnamon sticks, pinecones, fall leaves, berries, bits of moss—then submerge your creation inside a vase. “Be creative and think beyond the flower for interest and form,” she says. You may even be able to find some of the components in your backyard, in nearby woods, or at the grocery store.
However, if you love a floral element, she suggests simple tulips or hot-house roses mixed with evergreens, or even just a few poinsettia flowers mixed with greens (just remember to submerge the poinsettia stems in hot water to bleed out the sap first). If you go this route, she recommends sticking to one color, as it’s a more forgiving look and will have a more organic, blended feel. Hot-house roses are larger and deeply-fragrant, so if you spend a little more on those, you can save on the greens by foraging them yourself. Another monochromatic option: white poinsettia flowers with creamy-colored hydrangeas, and soft yellow and white roses and tulips. To any of these, you can play around with adding berries, branches, evergreens, or other foraged items.
For the Thanksgiving table, in particular, Feveryear likes to use a mix of dried elements such as dried poppy heads, dried rosehips, and dried hydrangeas mixed with fresh greens, fresh roses, or tulips.
Another way to go is with living plants, which last longer than flowers: think succulents, African violets, and azaleas. After Thanksgiving, paperwhites come in and look elegant and holiday-worthy planted in a tall glass.
Just remember, you don’t want your centerpiece to block your view of your dinner guests while seated, so make sure it sits below eye-level, roughly the height from your elbow to the top of your wrist.
From Handmade Gatherings by Ashley English © 2014 by Ashley English. Photographs © 2014 by Jen Altman. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. www.roostbooks.com.
Photo Credits: Shutterstock. Jen Altman, and Sonja Lyon