15 Oct Project Thanksgiving: Decorating and Serving Ideas
At Thanksgiving, you should be thankful for good food and good company without having to stress out about your turkey or how to decorate your centerpiece. eHow spoke to four experts in their respective fields to harvest the best advice on crafts, decor, special treats and food all designed to make your guests grateful to be at your table.
Keith Watson, CEO of Keith Watson Productions, an event design and production company in Gainesville, Florida, has produced holiday parties for clients including New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to entire towns in Florida.
When it comes to decorating, Watson is all about multi-purposing.
“I use a lot of realistic-looking ceramic pumpkins that you can get at craft shops. You can put them outside your front door with a bale of hay and pots of mums that you wrap in burlap and tie with orange ribbons,” he said. “Then closer to Thanksgiving, you can use the pumpkins as the centerpiece of your table. I like to put one in the center of a vine wreath and surround it with seasonal fruits and vegetables that represent the harvest.” The challenge with using real pumpkins is that they begin to rot. You can use the ceramic pumpkins throughout the holiday season. Paint it gold for Christmas and then tie a black bow around it for New Year’s.
Of course, at Thanksgiving a bounty of decorations is all around you. Just take a look outside.
“On your front door, hang vine wreaths, and if you live in an area with spectacular fall foliage, gather leaves and use them in the wreaths,” Watson said. “Cut branches with beautiful foliage and put them in simple vases on either side of the pumpkin centerpiece. Just keep them away from candles, because they are highly flammable. Another good look is using tall cylinders filled with cranberries on your buffet. When it’s over, you can cook them for a salad or string them together to decorate your Christmas tree.”
Paying special attention to the table settings also will help create a memorable holiday, Watson says.
“At Thanksgiving, I like to use my wife’s family china and my china that I inherited from my family,” he said. “Mixing and matching can also be fun. Go to a local thrift store that supports a nonprofit and buy different odds and ends, so that each place setting is different.”
Shane Meder of Black Sheep Interiors in Atlanta says that for the centerpiece, you don’t have to stick with the tried-but-tired cornucopia.
“I find soup tureens clumsy, but I use a big soup tureen as a centerpiece,” Meder said. “Fill it with potting soil and then put a mum surrounded by ivy in it. Then I spike different vegetables on wooden spears and arrange them in the tureen.”
You don’t want the centerpiece to be the center of attention, either, he says.
“Instead of doing a big flower arrangement in the middle of the table that all your guests are straining to see over, I break that apart and put four or five flowers in highball or juice glasses at each guest’s place and then put the garden spike in the mini-flower arrangement. It looks more casual and is so much better for conversation.”
You can even enlist the help of youngsters for decorating.
“If you have kids, ask for paper at your grocery store,” Watson said. “Trace their hands on the brown paper bag and use those as a place card. On the back, have the children write a note about how thankful they are for that guest being there.”
For the Guests
Annette Joseph, a photostylist for 20 years and regular contributor to “Better Homes & Gardens,” “Southern Living” and “The Today Show,” is working on her first book on parties tentatively titled “You’re Invited” (Rizzoli, Fall 2013). Her biggest piece of advice for ensuring a fantastic holiday: Be thankful for your guests.
“I love for my guests to have things to take away,” she said. “Make a batch of giant oatmeal pumpkin or molasses cookies and put two cookies per guest in a small sandwich bag. You can include the cookie recipe, get labels from the container store and put a simple message on each, or have your kids decorate the bags.” Put them all in a basket lined with a napkin in orange, green or gold and set it by the front door.
“I also like to make homemade apple butter. You can buy small jars at the grocery store, and use your computer to make a gift label, and put a label on the back instructing to refrigerate and use within one week. Use twine or yarn to tie a bow around it. You can put the jars or cookies at everyone’s plates and use them as place cards.”
You can even turn leftovers into a special gift for your guests, Joseph says.
“Get a big stack of to-go containers from the grocery store and a stack of gift bags. World Market carries beautiful ones that are inexpensive,” she said. “After the meal, line up all the leftovers and let everyone take home their favorites from the meal. Put it in the gift bag and tie it with a cute little ribbon. It is the little extra touches that make it special for not a lot of money.”
And be sure to thank everyone for coming, Watson says.
“If you are hosting the dinner, have a plan to talk about how thankful you are for the guests and how grateful you are for being together with friends and family.”
For Food, Think Outside the Box
Michael O’Dowd, the executive chef at Kai — the world’s only Native American-influenced five-star/five-diamond restaurant — at Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa, in Chandler, Arizona, says to think outside the traditional Thanksgiving fare box when planning your meal.
“As you think about your menu, consider adding some twists to the traditional Thanksgiving spread,” he said. “Roast hazelnuts and make your own hazelnut butter to drizzle over the traditional French green beans.”
You don’t have to cook a turkey, he says, or if you do, there are other ways to prepare it.
“I like to serve smoked pheasant and throw in some wild game like smoked venison served charcuterie-style,” he says. “If I do a turkey, I cold smoke it over mesquite and then finish it off in the oven. I’ll use the turkey as a centerpiece and surround it with lingonberries and cholla buds.”
Don’t skimp on the sides, either, O’Dowd says.
“Part of what makes Thanksgiving so special is offering your guests a ton of different sides,” he said. “I serve a tepary bean salad (a bean that’s a staple in the Pima diet) with local pine nuts and local goat cheese.”
In the end, though, O’Dowd says, good food and good company go hand-in-hand.
“The lazy Susan is making a comeback, and it’s great to use it as a centerpiece. If you’ve got a large, round table, put the food on the lazy Susan,” he said. “Everything is all centered around good eating. I love to serve the Thanksgiving meal family style, because this holiday is all about sharing and talking.”