Simply put, I love entertaining during the holidays. I love everything about it. The prep and planning. The cooking and the chopping. I love making shopping lists, finessing the menu, and imagining the decor down to every granular detail–– from the palette of linens to the seasonal elements I’ll use to adorn the tablescape. I love carrying on the traditions from childhood that remain rooted in my heart, and I also love creating clever new ones with my family. I even love the frenzy and flurry in the days leading up to a holiday–– somehow that frenetic energy just adds to the excitement. But most of all, I love that entertaining has somehow become this beautiful synergistic trifecta of the things I thrive on creatively –– cooking, design, and curating an experience by engaging all the senses.
An Intimate Thanksgiving with Crate & Barrel
Photography by Tara Sgroi | In partnership with Crate & Barrel.
As a young adult, hosting offered me an opportunity to create a 360°, all encompassing, experience that I was able to take ownership of. It was this creative expression of crafting flavors, challenging myself with new dishes and new cooking techniques, setting a distinct vibe through lighting and music, and finessing a decorative scene that takes on a shape of its own. Eventually, this love would lead me on a path I could have never imagined in my wildest dreams. At the time, however, I just wanted to find passion and purpose for myself and create memories with the people I loved most.
If I really think about it, I likely love the holidays because hosting Thanksgiving in my childhood home is what catapulted my love of entertaining. What I’ve realized is I’ve been doing precisely the same thing for almost 35 years. And it all began with my mama. Together, she and I ceremoniously set the holiday table –– steaming the linens, and pulling out her black and white china, which I always thought was so chic. Everything was always so beautiful, so thoughtful, so cherished. Those beloved childhood memories were where I first discovered the beauty of cooking, design, and tradition.
Now, as I set my own intimate table using the new Crate and Barrel, Leanne Ford Tabletop collection–– also so elegantly detailed in black and white–– I revel in continuing that ritual. But, I also love to put my own spin on things, like making a whole roasted chicken in lieu of a classic turkey because you know what, I don’t love Turkey and neither does Jivan! A perfectly golden bird surrounded by beautifully caramelized autumnal veggies will still take center stage on our holiday table with the help of Crate and Barrel’s large, non-stick roaster.
Our holiday this year might look a little more intimate but it certainly does not mean it will be any less beautiful or celebratory. I love connection–– connection to food, connection to beauty, connection to gratitude, connection to one another in an intimate setting. Here’s to the traditions we carry on, and the new ones we create!
Generally speaking, how do you approach preparing and serving a Thanksgiving meal?
I also looooove to make a rustic crostata with seasonal fruit. For this holiday, I chose apples. I can make the dough up to two days before and keep it refrigerated until the morning of. Then, all I have to do is roll it out with my CB rolling pin and put it in the oven. The crostata can be served room temperature and looks especially lovely on the CB cake stand, which elevates the dish, and adds to the vignette at the serving station.
This brings me to another tip for easy entertaining! Set up a surface in your home for self service. This can be a place for your wine glasses, appetizer plates, flatware and allows for your guests to serve themselves (which means less work for you). This is also a great place to showcase some decor with a vase and some seasonal branches. Now more than ever, intimate gatherings are the heart of the holidays. There is certainly no need for formality, or for sitting at the table for the entire day. Encourage your family to nosh on their appetizers of cheeses, fruits, breads and charcuterie as they huddle around the kitchen (always the heart of the home).
What are some new and old traditions you’re celebrating this Thanksgiving or over the holiday season?
Every year, my Thanksgiving menu celebrates my Nonna. It’s a tradition to make her famously decadent, whipped sweet potatoes with butter, cream, and creme cheese! They are silky and divine. I remember looking forward to them as a child. What’s sweet (pun intended) is that Jivan and I make them together each year. It’s an ode to Nonna that makes my own mother very happy!
A new tradition for me is that I will place a quote on gratitude on each family member’s dinner plate for them to read aloud, and to serve as a spark for conversations on thankfulness. We will also have a phone bowl, where everyone will place their phones before we sit for dinner! This is mostly for ME, to ensure I remain present with my family. Memories are born in our hearts, not in our phones, hehe!
Knowing things look a bit different this year, what’s your advice for making at-home entertaining special this holiday season?
We deserve to celebrate, just for the sheer pleasure of gathering joyfully. I genuinely believe in the power of beauty. My motto for a holiday big or small is this: simple ideas, thoughtfully executed. When it comes to decorating my table, I have a holistic approach. I turn to the meal for inspiration, and will take elements that I’m actually cooking with to adorn my table. In my opinion, there is no reason to spend extra money on pricey florals. As I shop for ingredients, I also look for items to use in the decor; I’ll grab some petit pears with leaves still clinging to their stems, some persimmon branches, or richly-colored concord grapes, so that everything on the table is both beautiful and edible, and nothing is wasteful. Using seasonal elements in the food and finishing makes the dinner a celebration of the abundance that autumn brings.
When it comes to culinary and design, what are some unexpected sources of creativity for you?
I am always seeking and searching. I truly believe in the power of soaking up inspiration through osmosis. I am so smitten by the thought that if we remain curious–– if we consistently read recipes, eat the food of chefs we admire, take in art, architecture, color and texture, scroll the Instagram’s of designers that intrigue us–– then we cultivate this state of perpetual inspiration that is just so ripe for creativity. Everything I see and everything I taste somehow gets stored away in these little subconscious drawers inside my mind. There is so much beauty to be found around us–– in the changing seasons, in the profile of a piece of furniture, in the opposing flavors of a dish. Who knows when one of those invisible drawers in our minds will fly open to reveal an amalgamation of multiple ideas into one that is totally unique, totally your own. To me curiosity is the golden ticket to remaining fresh in all your creative endeavors.