Put a California twist on your holiday and give thanks.
Start by giving your table a West Coast makeover. Mixed media of metallic and blue accents with elements of nature refresh the typical orange, black and brown tones used for fall decor.
SET THE THEME:
Sparkly ornamental birds, leaves, acorns, squirrels and gold embellishments add the right amount of sophistication to a contemporary woodsy theme. Velvet chartreuse mini-pumpkins are interesting table decor accents and also serve as possible guest gifts.
With metallic gold spray paint, color your leaves, acorns, burlap table runner and accents several days before the event. These blue beaded bird ornaments were found at a local craft shop and provided to the floral artist for a whimsical touch.
Survey local home goods stores for current trends, but browse discount shops for your materials. Larger, inexpensive plates can be spray-painted for chargers as long as they do not display edible items directly on the painted surface.
Jenny Barker of Magical Blooms used Cafe au Lait dahlias, hops, clematis pods, Astrantia, oregano, rosemary, Garden Spray rose in blush, tinted Solidago, yellow plumosus, spider amaranthus, turtle rose, garden hydrangea, Dusty Miller, alpine thistle and Kermit Fuji mums to support the West Coast fall theme. The delicate and dainty quality of seasonal wildflowers mixed with a dominant main flower creates a less structured, loose style arrangement that represents a shift to the fall season. Incorporating trendy blue and rose tones with the natural feel of the arrangement fits perfectly with the relaxed southern California lifestyle.
Meet the Gourds
Did you know there are more than several hundred recognized members of the family cucurbitceae, the flowering plants also known a gourds and squash? Like most families, working out the details and differences can be quite complicated. Botanically speaking they are a fruit, even though they are often used as a “culinary vegetable” and welcomed as part of a fall feast.
The most basic and simple breakdown of the gourd family is winter or summer and edible or inedible. Most well-known members of the family are squash and gourds (sometimes referred to interchangeably), muskmelons, watermelons, cucumbers and, yes, pumpkins.
Summer squash tend to be tender with a thin, edible skin and a shorter growing period and shelf life than their winter cousins. Popular varieties include zucchini, globe, pattypan, yellow crookneck and straightneck squash.
Winter squash mostly have a thick and often inedible rind (unless pickled) and a longer growing period and shelf life. Familiar types are butternut, delicata, acorn, spaghetti squash, and a range of edible and decorative pumpkin.
Some squash—what we typically think of as gourds—are entirely ornamental, and some are only edible when young and immature. Bottle gourds, or calabash, when fully mature have extremely hard exteriors. They have served in ancient times as utensils, bottles, scoops, musical instruments and decorative accents.
Pumpkins tend to be both ornamental and edible, although most pumpkin pie mix is not of the typical jack-o’-lantern variety but a mix of one to three different winter squash.
What we find truly exciting is all the wonderful options available for fall from farmers markets and even your own urban garden. From easy-to-find treasured heirlooms to exotic options, fall is a wonderful time to explore.
When it comes to cooking and preparing squash, don’t forget the tender tips of the vines; usually 5 to 6 inches are edible, as well as the flower and seeds that can be roasted.
Larger squash are perfect for stuffing and make great containers to display hot or cold food.
Keep in mind that cucumbers can be cooked in the same way you cook squash. They taste great in curries if added toward the end of the cooking process and, of course, are delicious pickled. They are also easy vegetarian and vegan options at the holiday table.
Melons are also wonderful in salads, pureed and mixed with flavored water for granita, as a palate cleanser in between courses, and as part of a meat and cheese display.
GREAT SEED SOURCES:
Farmer Andy Vaughn and Richard Untal of califarmer.com provided a few chef tips and our pictured fall feature harvest.
Easy as Pie
A beautiful pie can be intimidating and time-consuming. Here, stylist and chef Kara Mickelson shares one of her all-time favorite recipes as well as some tips for creating a dazzling, camera-ready pie.
She also offers a shortcut: Save time by buying premade pie crust dough by Pillsbury. Typically in the refrigerated section, the dough comes in two log-shaped rolls. One roll can be used for the bottom and the other for showstopping cutouts.
Tipsy Calvados Apple Pie
- 4 pounds assorted apples—peeled, cored and diced
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 tablespoons granulated or coarse brown sugar (turbinado)
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- ¼ teaspoon ginger
- 1⁄8 teaspoon cardamom
- 1⁄8 teaspoon clove
- 1⁄8 teaspoon white pepper
- ¼ cup Calvados apple brandy, or any brandy
- 1 package premade refrigerated pie crust (softened per instructions)
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 egg yolk with 1 teaspoon water or cream for “egg wash” to secure decorative embellishments
Sauté apples in butter. Add sugar and spices and cook until apples begin to caramelize on the exterior yet retain a semi-firm texture. Add brandy and sauté until most of the liquid is absorbed. Reserve and cool.
Unroll one dough roll into pie pan. Trim just over the pan edge (1⁄8 inch) to allow for shrinkage during baking.
Add a dusting of flour and then cooled, cooked apples. Put in refrigerator or freezer to chill.
Take second log of dough, roll it out flat to 1⁄8-inch thickness. Make cutouts with a fall theme—leaves, apples, acorns, forest animals, etc. With leftover dough from cutouts, roll out flat and cut into strips (thin for braids or decorative twists, medium or large for lattice; also include strips of dough to anchor cutouts).
Remove cooled pie from refrigerator or freezer. Sprinkle top of apples with flour so the moisture from the fruit does not soften the cutouts. Assemble the dough embellishments on top. Secure decorative pieces with egg wash. Chill pie in freezer for 30 minutes or overnight.
Remove and brush with egg wash over the entire top of pie and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake on a cookie sheet in a preheated 400º oven for 30 minutes. Reduce temp to 325º and continue to cook another 20 to 35 minutes or until crust is golden brown and filling is hot.
Kara’s Expert Tips
- Place dough back in refrigerator if needed while working. Chilled dough is easier to work with.
- Bake pies from frozen if time allows. It takes a little longer (to freeze and bake), but the crust will hold its shape better.
- Add a coarse sugar like turbinado to hide imperfections and create sparkle.
- Let a hot pie rest before cutting.
- Add crème fraîche, buttermilk, vanilla seeds or a dash of whiskey to whipped cream.