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Creating a Simple + Economical Thanksgiving Table

Our family is traveling for Thanksgiving this year, something we haven’t done in several years. Sometimes a change of habit is in order. Still, I have received several questions from readers asking some version of how we create our weekly table, and as this next week turns the corner I thought Thanksgiving might just be the right time to share. Naturally, the ideas here apply beyond the annual Thanksgiving meal, and that’s kind of the point. I find excess table accoutrement cumbersome for our small-ish and active home, and I have learned the value of a few steady table pieces with shifting organic detail. Simplicity truly is beautiful. It also keeps the set-up manageable to involve children. Wink. Here’s a few guidelines and sources for our table.

imperfect is perfect / Our linens are often wrinkled and napkins or plates mismatched. The botanicals are sometime fresh and ornate or other times clippings from a nature walk or dried after use. Some of these details I’ve slowly let go over the years, learning sometimes the imperfect is perfect.

mix + match style | We often use our daily wear dishes and glasses, mixing in a few pieces of China plates Mark found in a flea market at the beginning of our marriage. We also have a few random pieces that were passed down to us as an inheritance. Our cloth napkins have also come from various places and people. And we use a variety of ceramic, brass, and wood candlestick holders.

layered botanicals and edibles | Sometimes I find beautiful greens in the grocery store and sometimes I find them in a field. I am always a sucker for Eucalyptus. For this particular table I used some Eucalyptus I had dried the week before, adding in some fresh greens and bare branches. For last year’s table, I foraged all the greens, adding seasonal fruit and gourds. Leaves make perfect name tags.

garland | This is extension of the last bit, but a few of you have specifically asked me about garland, so I thought I’d separate these instructions. The way I make table garland is very, very simple. I grab plenty of greens, especially if I’m foraging them. If they’re fresh, I place them in water until they’re ready to go on the table. Some plants don’t dry as well as others. I begin with the broadest foliage and place them in opposite directions at each end of the table. Then, I slowly layer them, piece by piece, a little staggered, trimming them as needed. I fill in gap with smaller pieces, and make sure the center, where the branch stems meet, are properly covered. Then I add in pieces of seasonal fruit and gourds, opening pomegranates. I only added gourds this year.

quality, neutral basics | If you follow our table for long, you’ll realize we have the same pieces used again and again. We have two white, high-quality linen table cloths, our white everyday dishes with a few China pieces that rotate, glasses and carafes, wood chargers, and a mixture of candlestick holders. Seasonal details change with the foliage and the napkins, adding color and making each table unique. We add more florals in the spring and summer and more evergreens in the winter. Even though a few of our basics were more expensive, they are things we use again and again, not simply once a year or on a holiday.

I’m sure there are details that I didn’t cover here, so feel free to ask questions in the comments. Otherwise, happy Thanksgiving to you all!

An Elegant Spring Picnic


Springtime is my favorite time for outdoor meals and entertaining. The days are a bit longer, the evenings a bit warmer, and mealtime conversation tends to linger. With Mother’s Day just around the corner, I’ve been thinking on ways to celebrate this beautiful and empowering journey, not just with my family, but also with the friends––the women who surround and support me in motherhood.

I have a kindred relationship with my mother, one that has greatly shaped and encouraged me, and if she lived closer, I would celebrate her in this spot, too, along with my sisters and long-time friends. Motherhood was never intended to be a solo role, and I am forever grateful to have a local tribe of women who support me with wisdom, encouragement, laughter, and practical help. It is cliché to say they make me a better mother, but they do.

In the Long-Legged House, Wendell Berry writes, “A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.” This community doesn’t require any us to be the same, or even occupy the same roles or routines. Many of us are in different stages of life, with or without children. It doesn’t matter. They are a part of my tribe. And enjoying an elegant tapas style picnic on the lawn is one way I want to celebrate their shared place in my life.

But Spring and early Summer are a wonderful time for celebrations of any sort. Here, I wanted to create an elegant tapas-style picnic, relaxed a bit with playful colors and mismatched plates, candles, wildflowers, and blankets on the lawn. A thoughtfully planned evening, with a playful and casual vibe. I shared more tips and details for pulling together a similar meal last week over on Anthropologie’s blog

A Simple Easter Brunch Menu

Easter morning is one of my favorite mornings of the year. As with many people around the world, the day holds deep, spiritual significance for our family, and it always seems fitting to welcome the morning outdoors with the sunrise, singing birds, rustling trees, and of course brunch. The Springtime here naturally reflects the resurrection song, and it is the perfect backdrop for a celebratory Easter Brunch.

I am not a very formal person, but I do love good food, presented in a beautiful and casual manner, enjoyed with people I love. Today, I’m partnering with Williams Sonoma to introduce a few pieces of their Spring Garden collection and also share a simple brunch menu for Easter, one that is easy enough for the children to help prepare, but with just enough sophistication for the adults to enjoy, too. I’ve mentioned this before, but simple doesn’t equate to easy. Simple is more a reference to the spirit and process of the meal. Every homemade meal requires preparation and work, but as with many things, many hands lightens the effort. Involve those children!

I tried to piece together a brunch menu that felt approachable, yet still special. As a mother, I’ve learned preparation is key to simplifying meals, especially larger, more intentional ones. Many of these dishes that can be prepped or baked in advance, leaving only the last baking or setting of the table for the morning of the brunch. They are also simple enough for children of all ages to participate in helping prepare. For those wondering, I added a little note in each section of ways to include children in the process. The recipes, for the most part, are intuitive, and the details follow the planning section below. I hope this helps make a beautiful brunch feel more approachable in your own home.


BRUNCH MENU

French Radishes

Fresh Berries

Almond Croissants

Rosemary Potatoes

Spring Vegetable Egg Casserole

Lemon Bunny Cakelettes + Petit Fours

Rose + Orange Blossom Mimosas

Blood Orange Italian Soda


PLANNING AHEAD

TWO WEEKS BEFORE

  • Size (friends and family, small or large)?
  • Style (casual, formal)?
  • Menu. Write a list of family favorites to begin. If friends are joining, consider a potluck style meal.
  • Location. Inside or outside? At a friend’s house or yours?
  • Send invites or make phone calls to invite the people on your list.
  • Order any special accoutrements for the meal (bakeware, place settings, or specialty foods)
  • CHILDREN: Paint or hand-write invites.

ONE WEEK BEFORE

  • Write out your grocery list.
  • Double-check you have all of your materials, table details, and tools.

TWO DAYS BEFORE

  • Double-check with guests who are bringing food.
  • Grocery shop and pick up a few special blooms for the table.
  • Arrange flowers.
  • CHILDREN: Help trim and arrange flowers. Write name tags (if using). Make sure all the linens are clean and accounted for.

ONE DAY BEFORE

  • Bake cakelettes and petits fours in the morning, and set aside to cool.
  • Prepare the Spring Vegetable Egg Casserole. Do not bake. Cover and set aside in the fridge overnight.
  • Set the croissants on the baking tray to rise overnight.
  • Slice and store radishes.
  • Wash, pat dry, and mix berries.
  • If you have a single oven, bake the potatoes now, refrigerate overnight, and quickly reheat before brunch.
  • If you are eating indoors, set the table the night before.
  • If you are eating outdoors, neatly stack the place settings in baskets or tidy piles to quickly set up in the morning.
  • Set aside a few small baskets with treats for the kids, like these, the night before.
  • CHILDREN: Help make the cakelettes and chop vegetables. Wash and pat dry potatoes and berries. Wipe down the table and chairs to prepare for the morning.

EASTER MORNING

  • Turn on music or open the windows, if the weather permits.
  • Get dressed, make coffee, and watch the sunrise together.
  • Share a moment of gratitude.
  • Bake the croissants, potatoes, and egg casserole, timing the casserole to finish around the time you want to eat. It should take less than an hour with a double-oven. If you are baking all three with a single oven, allow up to 90 minutes.
  • Set the table.
  • Butter radishes.
  • Dust the cakelettes with powdered sugar.
  • Mix and pour drinks.
  • CHILDREN: Help set the table. Get dressed. Serve or pour non-alcoholic drinks. Set food on the table.


RECIPES

FRENCH RADISHES

Have you tried these before? So delicious. My sister first introduced me a few months ago, and they’re the quickest little appetizer. She takes it up a notch with fresh bread. Mmm. Wash and slice fresh radishes. Swipe a bit of softened unsalted butter on the top. Add sea salt.

 

ROSEMARY POTATOES

I have a family of potato-lovers, so they are always a welcome edition to any special meal. Wash 2 pounds of butter potatoes. Toss them in extra virgin olive oil. Generously sprinkle with sea salt and freshly chopped rosemary. Bake in the oven at 425F until done, approximately 35-40 minutes.

 

FRESH BERRIES

Rinse and pat dry your choice of berries. I used raspberries, blackberries, and sliced strawberries.

 

LEMON BUNNY CAKELETTES + PETITS FOURS

These mini-bunny cakelettes were my favorite part of the meal. Aren’t they cute? I used this mix to help save a bit of time and it was wonderful! Think: moist lemon pound cake. One box filled both the mini-bunny cakelet pan and the petits fours pan, and they carry the mix gluten free, too. Wink.

 

ALMOND CROISSANTS

Croissants are my pastry weakness, and these are my absolute favorite pre-made croissants––the next best thing to having a French baker in your kitchen. The chocolate are spectacular, too.  

 

SPRING VEGETABLE EGG CASSEROLE adapted from Gimme Some Oven

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 yellow onion, peeled and diced

8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced

1 lb asparagus, cut in 1” pieces

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

1 bunch of broccolini florets

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

4 oz goat cheese, crumbled

12 eggs, whisked

½ c. milk

Sea Salt

Black Pepper

Lightly rub butter over the surface of your casserole dish. Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté a few minutes until translucent. Add a bit more oil (if necessary), and stir in the garlic, carrots, asparagus, broccolini. Sauté for about 10 minutes, then add the tomatoes and mushrooms. Sauté for another few minutes. Pour half the veggie mixture into the casserole dish, layering half the goat cheese on top. Repeat. Whisk the eggs and milk together in a bowl, adding salt and pepper to taste. Pour the egg mixture over the top of the vegetables. Cover and put in the fridge overnight or bake straight away. Bake at 350F for 35-40 minutes. It is done when the knife (or toothpick) is clean. Serve immediately.


This post is sponsored by Williams Sonoma, a company our family has loved for years. All thoughts and images are my own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space afloat. 

A Springtime Flower Party

It feels a tad weird to be writing about Springtime and flowers while currently traveling through winter weather, but Spring has already sprouted in our southern home: trees budding, wildflowers sprinkling the highways, songbirds chirping at sunrise. As Rilke wrote, “It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.” And so we celebrated our youngest songbird’s eighth birthday with flowers and friends, two of her very favorite things.

To keep birthday experiences simple for our home, our children only have the option for a birthday party on certain years, a year when they can opt for a party experience with friends as their gift from me and Mark. So when they choose a party, I tend to make the details special, something they will enjoy and something to remember. Olive and I had several conversations about what type of party she wanted, which left me feeling she should consider event planning one day, as they were all such large-scale, fun ideas. In the end we opted to recreate a flower market experience and allow each friend space to make their own arrangement. Blythe thoughtfully painted a sign for Olive to hang in her shop.

Since our backyard is currently a mesh of backyard projects and renovations, I asked a dear friend if I could host the party on her beautiful property in the country. We don’t have a flower market at our farmer’s market, but they are one of my favorite things to enjoy when we travel.

When the girls arrived, they each had a spot at the table, marked with a paper doily, mason jar vase, drinking glass, and paper-lined basket for little nibbles. They each perused and gathered from the flower market (set up with a lemonade stand) and returned to their spots where they had access to scissors for trimming stems and various colors of string for decorating their vases (and for marking their personal arrangement). We talked about the importance of flowers and pollinators in the world, a repeat conversation from our homeschool group’s flower study the week before.

Once the girls finished making flowers, they sipped Italian soda and filled their baskets with berries and popcorn. We sang happy birthday to Olive with mini lemon-filled cupcakes, and she opened gifts and read thoughtful notes from friends, many of which included bubble gum. The girls each filled and stamped small envelopes with wildflower seeds to take home and grow their own cutting gardens.

Although the party created quite the mess, it was a simply, beautiful way to celebrate the season. For those of you interested in hosting your own (even for adults!), here are a list of materials I used. for younger girls, it’s best to have a few extra set of adult hands available for helping tie knots and cut difficult stems. For older girls and adults, create a bit more time for the art of arrangement with helpful tips, such as how to choose colors or arrange by height and spill. Consider the audience ages and their attention span/interest levels. Most of this group preferred to simply jump right in! Either way can be fun. Enjoy!

MATERIALS TO CREATE YOUR OWN SPRINGTIME FLOWER PARTY

Thirteen | A Welcome into Manhood

turning_thirteen

Mark and I always knew thirteen would be a monumental year for our children. We want it to be. The teen years are such a unique and sweet window of time, chocked full with beautiful and large changes––puberty! driving! hormones! oh my. There are umpteen reasons for parents to panic about these transitional years, and for the most part, it seems those panicked concerns receive the bulk of attention in the parenting world. Why not instead welcome the teen years, celebrate the closing of one period of life and the opening of another? We took notes from the Jewish Bar Mitzvah tradition, adapting the ceremonial part to our own faith and style.

We invited close friends and family to the evening, asking our parents to prepare a blessing and inviting friends in our community to do the same. Our home projects lurched into overdrive over the summer to finish painting the house and clearing the debris from the trees that came down this summer. Mark built tables for the driveway, and my parents came to help hang lights and fill the garden beds and window boxes my father made. My brother smoked brisket and several friends from our community brought sides and helped cut the cake. I completely forgot to pull out my camera, meaning I didn’t take a single photo, so I feel particularly thankful for these two images above that my sister took before everyone arrived, for the phone images friends and family have shared, and for the video my brother-in-law put together below.

I’ve often remarked that the longer I parent the less confident I feel as a parent. Perhaps it is age and wisdom, or simply the accumulation of small failures over thirteen years. What life has taught me so far is that grace and gentleness is necessary for everyone to give and receive, and also that perfection, whether in aesthetics or behavior, is an empty goal. Life is valuable because of the connection we have to others, both inside and outside of our family, both in giving and receiving. Although Liam directly received so many beautiful and encouraging words that night, Mark and I feel we quite possibly received the most. Our hearts feel weighted with gratitude by the ways those we are connected to loved on our son and welcomed him into his young adult years. Here’s a snippet of the evening below, including bits of the letters each member of our family wrote to Liam. We hope you enjoy.

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our family Sabbath meal revisited

our_family_sabbath_mealbackyard_sabbath_dinner

Last autumn, our family began practicing a weekly Sabbath meal together, which I wrote about in more detail over here. Six months into this new family tradition, I have a little more to say about both the difficulties and surprises of this new practice, so I thought I’d list them out to share:

Rest is a gift. ||  This point sounds redundant but it is worth repeating. I simply cannot stress enough how valuable this weekly 24-hour period has become to our family and to myself. Naturally, it better guards our family time but the sweet spot for me is shutting down the obligation of output, whether in social media or school work or even events within the community. For an entire day, I literally shake my hands of typical responsibilities pertaining to the home and work. If I wake early, I’ll often wander back to our bed at some point for a nap or to more leisurely read a book. In a season of life filled with millions of things to do, it has been empowering and peaceful to tell myself (and the nagging TO DO list in my head): not today.

Rest is a discipline. || Oddly, by practicing rest more often, I’ve realized how often I actually fight it. Because Mark works outside of the home and our children are with me during the week, the weekend can feel like my time to get things done. So it’s been surprising to learn that while I love this period of intentional slow, it still requires discipline to practice.  In the same vein, I have noticed that practicing the Sabbath has helped me gauge the my levels of stress more acutely, as it takes me longer to settle into a restful state when I am feeling anxious. On those weeks I tend to think “this is wasted time; I have so much to do.” I know it’s ridiculous, but in those more stressful weeks, rest is a discipline, one that always rewards me with what I really need: time to wrestle with the origins of the stress, time to ask the even the deeper questions of why I feel undeserving of it, and of course, time to bring all of this to God. The gift is time. Although it feels anti-productive, the discipline of rest has been a spiritual and mental refreshment from the tyranny of all work, even work I love, even when I don’t think I need it.

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Sometimes you run out of gusto. And that’s okay. || Some weeks simply steamroll us, making it more difficult to find the physical or emotional gusto required for the elaborate meal. On those sort of weeks we’ve adapted our meal, at times eating pizza or take-out food by candlelight. Those are the weeks I need rest the most and relieving the burden of the fancy food (while less enticing) is helpful.

Sometimes we say no to good things. || Tons of events happen on the weekends, especially with children: birthday parties, sleepovers, sports activities, traveling, etc. When possible, we stack our weekend plans for Saturday evening or Sunday. Although we occasionally make exceptions for travel or holidays or special events, we weigh those things heavily and are learning a simple lesson that sometimes it is good to say no to good things. Sometimes we need the undivided rest more. Since a few of you have asked, our children do not currently participate in any activities that require regular weekend commitments. In certain seasons, it’s better for the harmony of the home to say no.

Share the meal (and the meal preparation).  || Since my sister and brother-in-law live practically down the street from us, we share this meal together most weeks. While it requires more coordination and larger amounts of food, it’s fantastic sharing the responsibilities and expense. It always helps with accountability too, much the way having a gym partner will. You’re more likely to follow through if you know someone else is counting on it. If you’re far from family or don’t yet have a family of your own, consider hosting a meaningful weekly or monthly meal with close friends who have similar values. A communal table is beautiful.

Children love helping. || The children are perhaps more enthusiastic about this meal than the adults, and although in our home they are required to help, it’s beautiful seeing how they love participating in the process. They are eager for this time together with good food, family movie night, and a following slower day together. Each week, they mostly set the table themselves, spreading the table cloth, arranging the florals and tableware, and writing the name cards. They also help filling the glass water bottles and making the food. They’re always eager to help with the weekend cake. Wink.

Eat outdoors, when possible. ||There’s something tremendous and spiritually connecting about a beautiful meal and nature together. I’ve found the weeks we set a formal table outdoors are often my favorite. Since the weather has been sporadically warm this January, we enjoyed our Sabbath meal in the backyard last week, just beside a warmly life backyard fire-pit. Honestly, leaving the physical house for a bit can be the best way for me to draw that initial line to end work. Walking through the back threshold of our home, I figuratively announce: I’ve worked enough. Perhaps that’s the greatest lesson for me thus far, learning the power and humility in the word enough.

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a cozy friendsgiving

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Few things make my heart swell more with gratitude than when people I love gather around our table, especially when it is glowing with beeswax candles rolled by our children and smothered with fresh greenery and a collective of friends’ savory and sweet dishes. I do often wonder what our children will remember about our holidays, about our table. Although I have no way of knowing right now, I hope they will remember this: simple, thoughtful preparation; heaps of accumulated story and laughter; and of course, that a warm, cozy meal with others always contrasts beautifully against the cold, wet night.

Images by Tim Douglass.

last-minute thanksgiving

last_minute_thanksgivingSome of you already know fall is my favorite season for the crisp air, crunchy leaves, and warm scents, but I also love the Thanksgiving holiday. We are not farmers, and in spite of my dreamy idealism and previous gardens, we don’t live off of our land. I realize the holiday loses some of the weightiness and significance without the harvest time, without having worked so hard to cultivate all that sits at the table. Maybe this is the point of working so hard over a meal that we eat within 20 minutes, not necessarily that we prepare the most gourmet meal, but that we understand work and rest, together.

This fall season has been busier than I prefer, but I am looking forward to this week of rest, of creating and tasting and enjoying together with my family. For me, the pretty details always matter, even if we don’t have time to do all of them. In case any of you are needing a few last minute ideas or inspiration for your Thanksgiving meal, here are a few I’m tucking away this season:

// a cozy sweater to wear with comfy jeans, ankle boots, and a scarf

// tall taper candles to add a little drama to a simple buffet table

// gathered florals to use in small vases or even as a place setting, like this

// several delicious side-dish ideas to add something fresh and delectable