Fall Themed Centerpiece

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Yup, it’s that time of year. Nature is doing her thing. Leaves are turning those awesome vibrant hues. Acorns and pinecones are dropping like bombs. Squirrels are busy squirreling away treats. And us mere mortals are coming to terms with the summer really being over. But there’s always a silver lining.

Autumn brings a crisp freshness to our world. A cleansing of nature as leaves fall and regenerate new buds. And the opportunity to wear those chunky sweaters breathes new life into our fashion repertoire. The change of season also ushers in the occasion to freshen up your decor. In my house, beauty is brought inside.
Cue the Fall Themed Centerpiece.

Sure, you can create a floral arrangement, upright and traditional. Or, you can climb outside the box (or that large vase) and go horizontal. I don’t mean wrestling around with your significant other in the fallen leaves. Although, that doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all. I mean, take your florals and fashion them into a landscape that meanders through a forest-like scene. One that creates several visual points of interest.

The best part of this type of centerpiece is that you can design it with whatever you have, and do it inexpensively. I grabbed yellow and crimson mums (from my favorite floral spot Dahlia NYC) to mimic the colors of the leaves, plus some eucalyptus leaves. All the other items I grabbed from our garden (rosed hued hydrangea, pine cones) or around the house. The entire arrangement cost me $20.

Burst of yellow pom pom mums, crimson mums, eucalyptus leaves and hydrangea are the stars.

Burst of yellow pom pom mums, crimson mums, eucalyptus leaves and hydrangea are the stars.

Long wooden trays or boards are perfect. But you can use a ceramic platter or whatever else suits your fancy.

Long wooden trays or boards are perfect. But you can use a ceramic platter or whatever else suits your fancy.

Going horizontal meant finding a main ‘vessel’ that would serve as the base since I was ditching the usual tall, large vase. I searched for something a tad out of the ordinary. A few choices popped up, including a long ceramic platter, but I settled on a wooden tray for a few reasons. One, it was the largest and I felt I needed the space. Two, it’s easy to carry since it is a tray. Three, I like the feeling of the earthiness of the wood. But use whatever you have. Oval, or round, rectangle or square. It doesn’t make a difference. The only important aspect of this kind of arrangement is to go low and long. Landscape, not portrait. I then gathered up some small vases, cups, shallow bowls, pumpkins and water phials (tubes with rubber caps to hold water for single stems).

The helpers to this arrangement. It’s key to gather up your tools.

The helpers to this arrangement. It’s key to gather up your tools.

Next, I lined the tray with parchment paper to protect the wood. And moved onto laying the groundwork… literally. Instead of using the eucalyptus leaves in a large spray like I usually love doing (Eucalyptus Burst), I spread them down to create a bed, as if it were a forest and the leaves fell to the ground.

I love this wooden tray, so it was important to me that I make sure it was protected.

I love this wooden tray, so it was important to me that I make sure it was protected.

Since these stems will be lying down, do not fill the water phials to the top, as then the water will slip out.

Since these stems will be lying down, do not fill the water phials to the top, as then the water will slip out.

Fill the tray, leaving spaces, or making spaces for the vases.

Fill the tray, leaving spaces, or making spaces for the vases.

From there, I nestled vessels of differing heights to hold the flowers. All the while, visualizing how to spread out the color.

I loved how the color of this sake cup blended right in.

I loved how the color of this sake cup blended right in.

Slightly taller, heart-shaped glass vase seemed appropriate and perfect to give some height to this horizontal piece.

Slightly taller, heart-shaped glass vase seemed appropriate and perfect to give some height to this horizontal piece.

Then I added the pumpkins and squash to the scene.

Yellowy, green pumpkin added a nice pop of color amongst the green leaves.

Yellowy, green pumpkin added a nice pop of color amongst the green leaves.

Filling the space with a butternut squash adds to the bounty.

Filling the space with a butternut squash adds to the bounty.

It was then time to fill the vases with flowers. I started by cutting the stems of the crimson mums short so they could fill up the shallow bowl.

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I continued to fill in and see what looked good and worked in each vase, thinking about spreading the color around the arrangement, as well as adding contrasting colors next to each other.

See how both the yellow pumpkin and the crimson mums are accentuated by being placed next to one another?

See how both the yellow pumpkin and the crimson mums are accentuated by being placed next to one another?

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I noticed that there was a corner that seemed empty, so I added another shallow bowl for an additional burst of color. You see, you don’t have to have it all planned out exactly. You can add, subtract, modify as you go.

The idea is to create something that feels right to you. Move things around until it pleases your eye and your heart.

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I stepped back to inspect landscape and its little scenes within itself. I decided to tuck in the last two hydrangea flowers and have them cozy themselves into the eucalyptus base, as if they might had fallen down. Plus, it created more depth and visual interest.

Use the water phial to hydrate the hydrangea. Then tuck it in wherever feels right.

Use the water phial to hydrate the hydrangea. Then tuck it in wherever feels right.

The final touch was to slip a few pinecones right up front.

I think it turned out pretty cool. Loads of color. Little pockets of visual charm in every corner. Highs and lows, Pops of bright yellow contrasted by deep crimson hues. Abundance and bounty.

What I really enjoyed about this arrangement was that it had tiny vignettes within the main piece. Different points of interest within one big floral display.

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Lots of love everywhere.

Lots of love everywhere.

A bounty of autumn.

A bounty of autumn.

Use what you have. But most importantly, use your imagination and heart.

Let the leaves fall where they may. And may they fall beautifully, spreading the love across your autumn table.

 
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Weekend Guests -Life's Colorful Stroll

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You can't hide behind the wine... or the fork.

You can't hide behind the wine... or the fork.

Our world is made up of a bunch small moments.  Each strung together to make up a life.  And when those small moments are fulfilling and memorable, then that string makes up a beautiful life.  Mine is a long string of glistening pearls. Moments upon moments that bring me joy and memories that squarely plant a smile on both my face and heart. 

Last fall I added to that string when we hosted our friends from Miami who have a passion for photography. (Well, Marta has more than passion.  It's her profession. Check out her work here .)

They wanted to enjoy the cool fall weather and snap shots of the changing of the seasons. Which, of course,  is a big deal to them being from a one season city. It ended up being a spectacular weekend as the weather was cool but pleasant, the leaves were all starting to turn and gave way to a rainbow explosion.  The bursts of colors were emblematic of our feelings of spending time together.  Bright and cheerful with the crisp air breathing life into our souls.  

Lake view
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On weekends like these, entertaining takes a more relaxed vibe. We keep the food simple so we can spend quality time together. Plus with all the other activities going on who wants to spend oodles of time in the kitchen.  Simple entertaining doesn’t have to mean boring. It just means easy preparation, few ingredients with big flavors.  

Day One - An evening at home with cocktails, snacks & poached salmon

Since I was working in the city, the first night’s meal was prepared by my hubby who made an easy poached salmon with vegetables.  While we waited for the meal to be ready we downed the 'way to easy to drink' Citrus Martinis while snacking on some cheese, olives, marinated garlic cloves and the famous crowd pleasing nut, Marcona almonds (all of which I brought home with me from Despaña.)

Citrus cilantro jalapeño Martinis.  Refreshing and the perfect drink to get the evening started.

Citrus cilantro jalapeño Martinis.  Refreshing and the perfect drink to get the evening started.

I also roasted up some tomatoes ahead of time.  These are the easiest 'must have' staple in your fridge.  Since they are made with enough oil to keep them cured for awhile, they are a savior to pull out in a pinch.  Which is what I did, and then served it on crusty bread.  Our friend, Illy's, reaction to the simplicity but deliciousness of this bite... Priceless.

The OMG moment of food ectasty 

The OMG moment of food ectasty 

After the snacks and the drinks came the easy 'meal in bowl' dish; Poached Salmon   

Ingredients

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(serves 4)
1.5 lb Salmon
1/2 yellow onion, cut in quarters
2-3 carrots, cut in 1" pieces
2-3 ribs of celery, cut in 1" pieces
4-5 new potatoes, cut into small chunks
Oil, salt, pepper

Directions: 

Sauté for 2-3 minutes only all the vegetables in a large, deep pan using oil and seasoning with salt and pepper.  Then place the seasoned salmon on top of all the vegetables and fill the pan with water to cover the fish.  Place a cover on the pan and cook over a low heat to a simmer until the fish has turned a pale pink.  Should take about 12-18 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.  You can leave the vegetables whole or blend them up to create a puree.

 


Day Two - Fahnestock State Park followed by cauliflower soup, snap peas, salad, scallops
The following day we drove up to Clarence Fahnestock State Park wandering around, climbing up rocks and snapping off photographs as if film were free. Oh, that's right, we had digital cameras.  Snap a 1000 and deal with it later! 

Things are looking up for me.  Photo credit: Marta Neira

Things are looking up for me.  Photo credit: Marta Neira

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Quite honestly, as eye catching as some of the photos are, they never seem to capture the true beauty of nature in its most vibrant state.

JC taking a test digital photo before using his film camera.

JC taking a test digital photo before using his film camera.

The stillness of water reveals stark reflections 

The stillness of water reveals stark reflections 

Reflections of a vibrant kind

Reflections of a vibrant kind

After being out in the chill of the day, we needed a little warmth.  What better answers that call than soup.  That night's no fuss easy line up:

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Day Three - Stone Barns followed by pizza, shrimp & salad
We drove Marta and Illy to one of our favorite local treasures; Stone Barns at Rockefeller State Perserve   I think you can tell by those smiles that we had a good time.  We hiked around for a leisurely 5 mile trek capturing even more photos of fall’s abundance. Crayola crayons, eat your heart out.

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Illy's gentle essence

Illy's gentle essence

Marta's soulful smile

Marta's soulful smile

JC with one of his vintage cameras. Photo credit: Marta Neira

JC with one of his vintage cameras. Photo credit: Marta Neira

Marta & Illy admiring the cows at Stone Barns

Marta & Illy admiring the cows at Stone Barns

On our familiar path at Rockefeller Park

On our familiar path at Rockefeller Park

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Oodles of color and lushness.

Oodles of color and lushness.

Upon returning for our final evening together, we felt like keeping it cozy with comfort food. I made an array of pizzas as appetizers followed by a quick sauté of shrimp and a salad.  Since we had been out on photography adventures all weekend, there was no time to make homemade dough. Store bought version does the trick and works like a charm.  

Keeping it warm by the stove

Keeping it warm by the stove

Spreading roasted garlic mash on the dough

Spreading roasted garlic mash on the dough

I add oil to a bowl, plop the dough inside, cover with a towel and don't let the dough rise too much.  Then I stretch it out with my hands into whatever shape it feels like making and add various toppings.  Here's a few we served that night.

Hot off the stone

Hot off the stone

Roasted tomato, roasted garlic, basil & Parmesan cheese pizza

Roasted tomato, roasted garlic, basil & Parmesan cheese pizza

Fresh tomato slices, goat & Parmesan cheese pizza

Fresh tomato slices, goat & Parmesan cheese pizza

Roasted red pepper & goat cheese pizza

Roasted red pepper & goat cheese pizza

After that yummy goodness, some greens and a protein were all that was needed. 

  • Sautéed jumbo shrimp (with garlic, scallions)
  • Boston salad with celery, fennel, scallion
     
Similar to my  Graped up Bibb Salad

Similar to my Graped up Bibb Salad

Jumbo shrimp with garlic & scallions

Jumbo shrimp with garlic & scallions

There was nothing extraordinary about any of these dishes other than good ingredients made with absolute love.  There was, however, moments of extraordinary all weekend long.  Hosting weekend guests doesn't have to turn your life upside down.  And even if it does, you will always land right side up.

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Take a colorful stroll, breathe in the crisp Fall season, spend time with people you love, then return home to a warm meal. Fill your life with special moments and string together your own pearl necklace. 
 

A colorful stoll

A colorful stoll

The girls.  Photo Credit: JuanCarlos Casas

The girls.  Photo Credit: JuanCarlos Casas

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Burst of Burnt Orange - A Fall Tablescape

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Tick Tock. It's that time of year when everyone's talking turkey. Thanksgiving is breathing down the proverbial bird's neck with thoughts of food prep, guest list and table decor.  Some of us are hosts, some guests. No matter how you carve it; pressure, planning and panic can set it. 

Which is why last year we opted for a different kind of celebrating.  Because I worked, we didn't host Thanksgiving dinner as we have done for a decade.  Instead, we decided to do the next best thing; a Post Thanksgiving cocktail/tapas party.   Which meant we had a wider range of food options to play with; ditching some of the usual carb heavy holiday food.  Food aside, I still needed to create an inviting tablescape.  The theme was buffet style eats with a variety of options for the meat lovers, fish lovers, vegetarians.  I really wanted to have a wide selection that worked well together.  And I wanted to present all these plates on a table that would pay homage to the Fall colors outside our windows.  

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It started with a tablecloth I purchased in Italy the previous year and grew from there.  As I have mentioned in the past, I collect tablecloths, linens and material pieces, then mix and match them with others. I am a big fan of swags of sheer material or muslin to add texture and volume to a table.  In this episode of how to dress a table, I chose burnt oranges and yellow, as a perfection complement to nature.

So let's say your tablecloth is ever so slightly too short for your table, as was mine.  Some may see this as a problem. I prefer to use the word challenge.  And this challenge was easily remedied by embracing the layered look.  I used the yellow sheer material as the base, placed the tablecloth atop and then draped the orange sheer down the middle.  This approach made it look like an intentional layer when it fact it was resolving a length dilemma. Solution provided. Challenge solved.

Warm yellow chiffon sheer for the base

Warm yellow chiffon sheer for the base

Tablecloth stretching full length of the table with an orange organza swath.

Tablecloth stretching full length of the table with an orange organza swath.

Then come napkins and plates. Since this wasn't going to be a sit down dinner, I chose a variety of small plates and bowls that suited the menu.  Flatware was held in a florist vase and a vintage wooden bucket housed rolled up coordinating napkins.  Guests can pick and go.

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I would like to pause to reiterate a purchasing and collecting style of mine. Very rarely do I buy ensemble sets or like items. My style is to pick up pieces that I love along my travels. All the items used in this tablescape were purchased years apart, at a variety of different shops, and in some cases different countries. The key is finding color schemes and palates that you like and that mix and match.  With this method, anything goes.   

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For the centerpiece, two goals were set. Create a piece with a nod to Thanksgiving, and one that wouldn't take up too much room.  The fortunate fact about hosting after a holiday is that prices on certain items go down.  For instance, I purchased all those colorful, interesting gourds for $3. Yes, you read that correctly; $3 for all of them.  I then bought some simple mums, my favorite 'go to' inexpensive flower.  I cut them down to the buds, and placed them in shallow sake bowls. Everything in our home can serve multiple purposes.

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I nestled a few of the flower bowls within the main centerpiece, adding fresh pears to fill it out. The rest were placed around the table.  The gorgeous, large wooden leaf tray is an heirloom of sorts.  My parents purchased it in Mexico while on their honeymoon, many a moon ago, and gave it to me.  I ADORE that bowl tray. A true statement piece bought at the bud of their love.  

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Add some candles, the food platters and the table is ready for guests. 

The menu was all about small bites that guests could sample and go back for more.  All prepped a day a head of time.  

The Menu
Meaty Ragu with crusty bread & fried spaghetti wedges
Charcuterie & Cheese Platter
Escarole Rolls
Balsamic Bathed Carrots Wrapped in Zucchini
Warm Octopus & Potato over frissee salad
Salmon Bites with Yogurt Relish
Asparagus with Goat and Shallot  Sherry viniagrette
Smoked Salmon with Picked Fennel

Maybe this year you'll give up hosting the actual holiday and burst out with foods you love served on a burnt orange tablescape.

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Whatever type of party you decide to throw, make a plan that suits the time you have.  The idea is a stress free holiday season.  

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