After being inspired by these completely cool table coverings atNellie Mae, in Tuscumbia, Ala., I am immediately ditching all the matching and carefully pressed contents of my linen closetshelf drawer and going for joyously eclectic creativity. I mean, how sweet are these? I love the ethereal layering of the neutral-toned tablecloths on the left and then the cheerful fabric garlands, rosettes, bows and flowers decorating the one on the right with the netting underskirt. I think these would be perfect for a bridal shower or even an informal outdoors wedding — you know, those oh-so-fun weddings that are really just parties in disguise, where the bride wears cowboy boots and everybody’s kids are running around and there’s beer and barbecue for all (except the kids, of course). On the other hand, I’ll always love the simple elegance of crisp white napkins paired with Grandmother’s linen tablecloth. And the retro fun of colorful vintage table squares that demand place settings of Fiesta ware. Of course, the way Husband JP and I usually eat is out. Or on the couch watching basketball. But I just like to know that I COULD set a nice table if I were inclined to.
One of the hottest after-Christmas-sale items is Pottery Barn’s Reindeer Dinnerware, which already is pretty much sold out on Pottery Barn’s website — and everywhere else. And you can see why with this gorgeously festive table at our friends’ house in Murfreesboro, Tenn. It’s a family project, with everybody in the house snapping up pieces when they find sales. And, come to think of it, frugal shopping is a valuable family holiday activity. As is sharing laughs and stories with good friends over deliciously yummy food. And adorable reindeer-decorated tableware. Which you kind of hate to pack away at the beginning of January. Do reindeer and Valentine’s Day mix?
Think a beautifully set table is beyond your creative reach this Christmas? Cringing at spending $4 for that festively decorated cupcake? Don’t worry — your holiday can be magazine-worthy AND frugal at the same time. First, some background. The Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, in Florence, Ala., excels at connecting with the community. The folks there have turned the FLPL into a local gathering spot. You don’t go there simply to check out a book or check on the Internet — you go there to meet, eat, drink, sip, learn, watch, view, play, shop, talk, research and more. Example: A series of free monthly programs focusing on do-it-yourself topics that might especially interest young adults. Created by two young women staffers, the series brings in local experts on such subjects as grilling, sewing pillows and pulling together your first Thanksgiving dinner. December’s program was “Christmas Cupcakes and Tablescapes” and it was so much fun. Decorating this season is bold & graphic and casual & eclectic — I was especially pleased to learn that since down-home imperfection is hot and glossily meticulousness is out, I now am apparently completely on trend — so creating decor using what’s within reach is both stylish and smart. Take the tablescapes. I’ve never considered using flat king sheets as table linens, but what a super idea that is. Add brown craft paper for a kid-friendly table runner, place cards for a thoughtful touch and a centerpiece featuring old glass jars with unpopped popcorn anchoring backyard-branches and you’ve got a simple yet eye-catching design. And, here’s breaking news from the cupcake front: The latest thing is to leave a border of unfrosted cake to enhance that imperfect undecorated feel. I think I’ll need to do more research on this and report back. In the meantime, make your own edible snowflakes by drawing patterns on parchment paper, melting candy-making wafers in a plastic squeeze bottle and then piping along your pattern. Adorable! Allmost tempts me to wander into the kitchen and pull out bowls and beaters and get to work. Almost …
I’m rebelling. I’m staging a protest. I’m calling it “Occupy Autumn” and I’m refusing to budge until Dec. 1. Or at least until Thanksgiving’s over. Who’s with me??? I mean, Christmas ads are all over TV, Wal-Mart’s been stocking eggnog for a couple of weeks and my town already has Christmas lights strung up and downtown windows decorated — and all before we barely got out of our Halloween costumes and had time to separate the good candy (anything chocolate, caramel or peanut butter) from the bad (anything that looks as if it came from a basket of restaurant mints). Forget Turkey Day — Christmas*** already has obliterated that quaint tradition and now has set its sights on blasting Oct. 31 out of the holiday rotation. Before you know it, Labor Day will simply be a precursor to the pre–pre-Christmas sales. So, let’s make a stand. Keep your pumpkins and your earth-tone tableware out for a few more weeks. Use those orange dishes and autumn-themed linens right up until December. Let your fall flag fly!
***And by “Christmas,” I mean that whole outspend/out-buy/out-holiday mentality that causes us to go broke and crazy every year about this time. The birth of a baby to a young couple staying in a barn in Bethlehem about 2,000 years ago? That’s a whole different story.
I am staging a protest here. Care to join me? In the spirit of the recent Fourth of July celebration, let’s refuse to be bullied into thinking it’s fall. (And if you still have a few fireworks, please move them away from the gas grill — do not ask why I’m confident this is good advice.) Let’s stand up for our rights to enjoy the remaining two months of summer without feeling pressured. Know what I mean??? I’m talking to you, Fashion Industry! It’s early July and I haven’t even worn all my leftover faded sundresses and stained ratty tank tops stylish new summer clothes you convinced me to buy this past January when there was 6 inches of snow on the ground. It’s 99 degrees today, yet here you come with your seductive ads, glossy catalogues and insistent pop-ups: “New Fall Styles Are In!” “Get Ready for Football Weekends” and the always alarming “It’s Time for Back-to-School Shopping!” Excuse me, but no. It is not. Besides, when I actually am looking for corduroy jeans and black wool turtlenecks, you’ve gone on to shorts, sandals and beach cover-ups. So enough already. Let’s throw off the shackles of fashion tyranny and demand the right to shop for clothes when they’re actually in season! Who’s with me? We’ll organize a march at the mall. Hey, if foodies can fight for season choices, then so can we. But … you know … now that I’m thinking about it … while we’re at the mall, would you mind if we waited a couple of minutes before marching because I saw this really cute transitional sweater there the other day and the sales clerk said she was getting in the first batch of knitted scarves and …
And to prove that it’s still summer, here’s a photo of the table my mom set for our Fourth of July family get-together. She’s the queen of holidays and has an incredible storehouse of linens, plates, glasses and serving pieces in almost any color you need. Sadly, she did not pass this creative design-ability on to me, although I do honor Christmas by bringing out coffee mugs with snowpeople on them. So there. What I really like about this photo, however, are all the little clues it has about my family. For instance, the spearmint sprigs on the applesauce came from Older Daughter’s garden that she optimistically replanted after the April 27 tornadoes carried her carefully nurtured seedlings away. My mom loves mint-flavored applesauce because her mom made it when my mom was little. Then there’s the potted centerpiece that my brother brought — the blossoms can be added to the flower bed and the plastic container recycled. And, finally, notice the newspaper in the back corner? I grew up thinking that it’s the most natural thing in the world to eat breakfast and read the newspaper and know what’s going on in the world before you headed out in it. And I still do.
I have to admit that I don’t know anything about Sweden beyond that Swedish muppet guy and the wonderful breakfast I order at the Original House of Pancakes in Birmingham’s Five Points that comes with powdered sugar, whipped cream and strawberries. (Now, that’s a breakfast.) Or I didn’t know anything before I got addicted to those internationally bestselling Stieg Larsson’s “Girl With …” books. If you haven’t picked these up, you’ve got to. And keep the coffee pot handy because that’s basically all they do in these books: Hack into computers, track down killers and drink endless cups of coffee. I can’t get enough. And luckily my food-loving book club read the first book in this trilogy — and extra-luckily our hostess for this meeting is our friend who specializes in creating marvelicious meals for the rest of us to enjoy. She went all out for our “Girl with the Dagon Tattoo” night and created a Swedish smorgasbord that I believe Larsson himself would have felt right at home with. We had smoked salmon, pickled herring, beets, potatoes, ligonberry preserves, pickles, cheese, sandwiches and of course coffee and cake for dessert. Oh my cookies. It was delicious, and she made us feel so special. We always nominate her for Best Hostess Ever and we threaten not to leave whenever she has us over. You’d think she’d learn, but we’re glad she hasn’t.
Spring is peeking out here in Alabama — especially at my friend Cheryl’s apartment. She hosted our four-woman book club and, as always anytime we’re at her place, it’s a treat. We the other three book-club members cheerfully agree that Cheryl is the best hostess among us. No contest. She’s so creative and gracious and makes us feel special without that uncomfortable I-spent-three-days-getting-ready-for-y’all-so-you’d-better-appreciate-it sort of attitude. She makes it seem so easy! And joyful, like she’s so happy we came over. Her spring decor started at the front door, with planters of cheerful flowers and a welcoming doormat that set her springtime theme of birds’ nests with soft and pretty blue eggs. She continued her theme with her place settings, which I loved. The earth-toned dishes and linens featured birds’-nest details and the centerpiece was a pedestal of delicately colored eggs. Such a serene and grownup change from the usual pink and green Easter pastels that always are around this time of year. Cheryl bought most of her pieces at Pottery Barn — she knows that store like I know a Starbucks and keeps up with what’s new and cool. The birds’-nest napkins are sold out at http://www.potterybarn.com but some individual stores might still have them. And isn’t the hunt part of the fun?
What could be better than friends and food? My cooking club, the GINGERS (Girls In Need of Gourmet Experience Really Soon) got together recently for a Chinese meal, Southern-style. We were all impressed with the tableware our hostess used: A set of dishes her ex-father-in-law had bought in Southeast Asia decades ago. And even better was the food everybody brought to put on these dishes: Seaweed salad, barbecue chicken wings with peppers, a mushroom medley, jasmine rice, spicy cookies and other yummy dishes. I’m always amazed at how culinarily creative and innovative my fellow GINGERS are — I’m definitely the weak link and I think they keep me around only because I’m the one with the most e-mail patience when it comes to setting our meeting dates (“If Polly can’t do Saturday the 15th and Sarah can’t come on Tuesday the 23rd and Cheryl’s out of town on Monday, can everybody do next Friday, instead?”) My contributions to the evening were quick run-into-the-store additions to the menu: Chinese wine and beer, vegetable and brown rice sushi, almond cookies and some chocolate-covered Piroutte-like cookies. But I have an excuse: I was babysitting my 23-month-old grandson, Capt. Adorable. Plus, believe me when I say anything I could buy would serioulsy taste tons better than anything I could make. One of the best things one of us brought, however, wasn’t food at all. One GINGER has a granddaughter adopted from China. She brought one of the traditional gift bags her granddaughter had given her classmates to celebrate the recent Chinese New Year and told us all about what the various items represented — fascinating! So we learned as well as ate and talked and laughed. Our evening was a balanced blend of exploring authentic Chinese food and celebrating the Americanized versions we’ve all come to know and love. Now we’re trying to decide if we want to tackle Irish or not. The only thing I know about Irish cooking is that I love the fried mashed potatoes at McGuire’s Irish Pub in Pensacola, Florida — but I’m willing to learn.