During the Holidays, most of us end up in a sort of decorating/cooking/baking/eating/drinking/entertaining hyperdrive. It can be great fun, but it can also be too much, and it comes too fast. This year, with a wide-eyed toddler to entertain, I’ve been looking for ways to streamline and simplify our Holiday preparations and carve out a little more time for relaxed enjoyment.
We’re spending most of our Holidays in Southampton this year, but I was recently at our place in San Francisco for a week or so. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time or money decorating the house, but spending a week in a home completely bare of holiday trim seemed a little grim. So, my left and right brains struck a deal: all the supplies had to come from one convenient place (plus the supermarket); they had to be procured in a single outing; fabrication had to be quick (e.g. no hot glue gun adventures), and my budget was $50.
This is what I came home with.
All of this came from the supermarket or the little flower stand near our house: pine, bay and eucalyptus branches; ilex berries and hazelnuts. Cost: $52. (Ok, I went just a bit over, but still . . . .) The available greens will probably vary according to where you live (for example, in New York one is more likely to find, say, pine, cedar, boxwood and holly), but bunches of cut greens should be plentiful and inexpensive nearly everywhere this time of year. Christmas tree lots, nurseries florists and your own back yard are good sources, and ilex berries seem to be everywhere, even supermarkets.
For the dining room, I wanted something festive and a little dramatic, but also something that didn’t impede conversation like a hedge planted down the middle of the table. The ilex branches are colorful and tall (violating the general rule that a dining table arrangement should not be higher than the distance from your elbow to your fingertips), but, used alone, sparse enough to see through. In subsequent posts, I’ll show you what else I made.
Step 1: Secure the branches in place. I used a white serving bowl from the kitchen for the vessel and a slice of florists’ foam to hold the branches in place. Florists’ foam, or “Oasis” as it’s sometimes called because, I suppose, it holds water, is available at garden centers, craft shops, and, of course, florists for two or three dollars a block. It’s nice to keep some on hand to make arrangements in low, wide-mouthed containers. If you don’t have it, though, you could also hold these branches in place with sand, fine gravel or clay.
Step 2: Add nuts. After that, I just covered the foam with a layer of hazelnuts, which, I think added warmth and contrast to the centerpiece. If, as mine did, your nuts look a bit dull and dusty, put a few drops of food safe mineral oil (used for treating cutting boards) or light vegetable oil on a paper towel and rub the nuts in it to give them a warm glow. If you’re not planning on eating the nuts, furniture polish works well too.