Archive for November, 2013

The sideboard was also my grandmother's, and also in exactly the same spot where she had it.

Thanksgiving is a day dominated by an iconic meal. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years for making it easy and tasty:

1.  Have drinks and appetizers ready for when guests arrive (or, if you’re not having additional guests, about an hour before you plan to eat).  NOT fancy ones – you don’t want to overwork yourself on this stage of the game.  But if you haven’t planned for this important step, the crowd gets restless if the main event is not right on time.  (I’ve learned these lessons the hard way . . .)

My current favorite drink recipe:


Chartreuse cocktail

2 parts Gin

1 part Chartreuse liquor

1 part Rose’s Lime Juice

Sprig of fresh rosemary

fresh lime juice

Fill shaker with ice.  Add spring of rosemary first, then the wet ingredients.  Shake thoroughly.  Pour into a chilled martini glass or over ice in an old-fashioned glass.  CAUTION:  it’s a strong drink, which is easy to dilute as much as you like with chilled Sprite.

2.  Make your home as fresh, beautiful, and inviting as you possibly can.

Have music softly playing throughout the house – never underestimate the power of music to set the mood.

Burn softly fragrant candles throughout the house.

Create a simple, easy centerpiece (for table or buffet):

  • Go outside and clip some greens and branches.
  • Gather fruits from the grocery store.
  • Stack cake plates into a tier, place the fruits on each level, and trail the greens through them, and down to the table/buffet.
  • Underlay it all with a burlap runner.
  • Top it with a mismatched collection of candlesticks filled with autumn-colored candles, and your dining area is decorated.

3.  Accommodate the need for football.

It’s too big a deal to ignore.  Have a tub of beer and soda on ice, plus basic chips and salsa/dip in the main TV-viewing area.  The serious fans care about nothing else.  Let them have their day.   But, make sure this activity is away from the main dining/conversation area.  The not-so-serious fans need their day, too.

4.  Provide a great menu.  Don’t try getting fancy.  This is a meal at which everyone has basic favorites.  Be sure you’ve got ’em covered:  turkey. mashed potatoes, gravy (homemade), assorted vegetables (this is where you can experiment some), sauerkraut, cranberry sauce (I prefer the jellied variety), stuffing, apple pie, pumpkin pie garnished with fresh whipped cream or ice cream, really good coffee (illy brand is best)

5.  Roast the perfect turkey.


Forget the brining, deep frying, and voodoo.  Here’s what makes a tender, juicy, roasted turkey:

  • Remove giblets, etc., rinse turkey inside and out.  Pat dry.
  • Place in large roasting pan and brush on a thin coat of olive oil (I use extra virgin).
  • Generously season with freshly grated sea salt, black pepper, herbs (I use italian – oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, margoram).  I put enough herbs over it that it’s practically coated.  (It’s a big, fat bird.  It can handle it.)
  • Place pats of butter on the bird.  I place 3-4 over the highest part of the breast, plus a couple of the legs, and any prominent points.
  • Cover with a loose dome of tin foil (my grandmother’s secret to a juicy turkey).
  • Roast at 325 degrees according to times listed on the label.  (Butterball.com has a great chart on their website.)
  • 30 minutes before the turkey is fully cooked, remove the tin foil, allowing the bird to brown nicely.
  • When finished cooking, let the turkey cool, recovered by the tin foil, for about 15 minutes.
  • Enjoy.

Follow these 5 steps, and when you finish them, as you sit around the table, enjoying conversation and the last bits of pie, you’ll be relaxed enough to enjoy it all.

Happy Thanksgiving,





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Let’s start with the most basic of mantle decorating designs:  candlesticks flanking a clock or mirror.  There is nothing wrong with this design.  Yet, take a look at it.  Does it really draw you in?  Does it turn your head or engage your interest?  Not really.


Step 1:  Add greens.  A base of natural greens – found in your own yard or clipped from the Christmas tree – is best.


Step 2:  Create asymmetry.  Change the height of one of your candlesticks to add flow to the display.  Here I use books – my favorite decorating go-to for giving an element the height it needs.


Go further with the asymmetrical design by moving the candlesticks together, and pulling the clock to an off-center position.

It’s getting better, isn’t it?


Step 3:  Employ vertical elements.  I’m removing the round clock so that I can add some additional height.


I’ve found just the thing in this vertically hung, vintage mirror.  Mirrors have the added benefit of their reflective nature and room-opening power.


Step 4:  Intertwine layers of garland.  Intertwining the wired, glittered garland with the natural greens gives shape and interest.  When using store-bought greens, always work with them to give them the lively shape that you want them to have.  Never leave them flat as they come from the store.

Here, interweaving them with the natural greens gives liveliness to the display.


Note how this base of greenery has tied the major, vertical elements together.


Step 5:  Add texture.  These paper garlands add whimsy and texture.


Step 6:  Include a theme.  They mantle already looks great, but we can take it to the next level with a theme – in this case I’m doing Woodland.


Step 7:  (Woodland theme)  I’ve added both a natural and a tinsel tree, combining the glittery with the earthy, as we’ve done with the garland base.


Step 8:  Add figures.  These felted deer provide a sculptural element, and serve the design function of linking the white, carved frame to the trees and garland below.


Step 9:  Maintain visual balance.  The ‘weight’ of the deer needs to be balanced on the opposite side.  In this case 2 large pine cones – one natural and one dusted with German glass glitter – work perfectly.


Step 10:  Tuck ornaments and tiny items amongst the greenery.  Small owl and squirrel ornaments complete the Woodland theme, as they add that extra level of interest – that little something you see as you come nearer to the mantle.

Compare this photo to the first one.  Quite a difference.  And we had so much fun doing it!


Step 6:  (Vintage Toyland theme) Let’s remove the formal candlesticks (which provided that shot of red for the Woodland theme) in favor of a vintage toy store sign.


While the elements are completely different (silver candlesticks vs. graphic sign), design-wise they serve the same purpose, which is to balance the trees and mirror.


Step 7:  Add whimsy.   Love the playfulness added with this candy cane.  It also draws together the base to the full height of the mirror.


Step 8:  Embrace scale.  If I had room on the mantle, I’d love to use this vintage toy horse in the display.  Alas, it just won’t fit.


Step 9:  Add little details.  Tuck vintage ornaments among the greenery.


Step 10:  Use graphics.  Add to the graphics of the toy store sign.  I’ve used the blocks to spell out N I P, as well as a little red and white bike license plate.


And here’s the final product.  I love the richness and detail of this display.


Note the little toy truck poking out from under the ‘toy ‘n joy’ sign.




Step 11:  Don’t forget the fireplace itself.  If you’re not burning a fire, use this space to display beautiful items that integrate with your mantle.  In this case the blue child’s skis, candy cane, and oversized letters do the trick.




Hope you found this inspiring and useful.  Let me know if you have any questions!

Thanks for reading!


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