Friday, October 30, 2015

Southern Exposure: A Late Autumn Visit

When my friend Jan and I decided not to go to Germany in December, we felt like we could treat ourselves to something special. So we added an additional Southern Exposure workshop to our already full schedule and decided to make a second autumn arrangement.

I'm quite sure we both wanted to do this partly for the arrangement -- and partly because we couldn't resist driving through the tunnel of trees en route, all dressed up in their autumn finery!

But as you know from reading other posts on Southern Exposure (search Southern Exposure in the search bar on the left rail of this blog), just being there is an experience. And autumn may be the best of all!

Our workshop was in the morning so after a delicious breakfast of quiche, sausage, fruit, yogurt, croissant and mimosa, we went off to the tent to make our arrangement -- a wall sconce filled with fresh hydrangea that would later dry, autumn leaves, yarrow and seedum.

Of course, the table decorations were perfect...

...and even the lights had their own garlands!

It was one of the prettiest we'd done and we were thrilled after with the results!

Then we walked the gardens and they were quite spectacular.


Pumpkins and seasonal vignettes abound.

In the greenhouse we noticed small, carefully pruned rosemary bushes in the shape of small trees. Will we see these in December with little lights as table decorations?


All the colors of fall -- bright orange, rich purples, deep greens -- were on full display.

Everywhere you looked, a pumpkin would pop out to say hello!

Even the chicken coop was was lively!


I loved these ideas for pumpkins, especially the idea of turning one into a photo album of sorts!

Here's a better look. Cover in lace, pin in the photos.

The pears remind me that the holidays will soon be coming our way. We didn't see any partridges in the pear trees, but the pears themselves looked wonderful and I couldn't help but wonder what Chef Elsie would be preparing for us at a future date!

Of course, the statuary there is so beautifully placed, so calming, it offers a gentle, spiritual presence. A place for joy, a place to grieve. A place to walk. A place to rest.

So, it was back home after a wonderful day, passing by barns in muted shades of red and trees in burnished shades of gold.

How I'll hate saying goodbye to fall. Especially when I think of lovely Southern Exposure.

But we'll be back for two December workshops, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Looking Ahead: The November Edition

Thanks, all, for your kind words on the October look ahead! I want to make sure you all know that I try to get my act together. I try very hard. But don't think of me as an over-organized Martha! (Do you ever notice her little calendar in the front of the magazine? It's packed with good ideas but anyone who pulls that off is way out of my league.)

So, this month a look at November's activities. And basically, it's a pretty easy month with only one major holiday on my calendar, Thanksgiving.

I love Thanksgiving. It's a food, friends and family holiday. No worries about presents (unless perhaps you are bringing a hostess gift to someone who kindly invited you to dinner). Of course, it's what happens after that can make some of us insane!

I don't have a boatload of tips for this month, but here's the best I can offer to make your Thanksgiving time a little easier.

The Dinner

Ah, yes. That's what it's all about, isn't it? And for most of us, it will be the traditional turkey. You probably all know that a turkey does not thaw overnight. I learned that one the hard way. So, start it out early! Or fresh is best!

Thanksgiving is one time when you can shop for most of the food far ahead of time and get better buys on most of it, too. Canned pumpkin for those pies, pumpkin rolls and soups (did you have leftovers from October?), certain produce items and cranberries. My suggestion? Buy extra cranberries to have for the holidays. You can not only eat them but decorate with them in a variety of ways. (For example, place a pillar candle in a tall, clear vase and surround it with cranberries to anchor the candle. This is pretty with nuts, too.) Or, put them in your water glasses for a festive look.

If you are lucky and having a crowd, someone will offer to bring something. This doesn't seem to have happened much in our family and Rick and I have done the heavy lifting on dinner. Maybe it'll change now that Kevin and Molly are married. (Maybe we'll even get an invitation!) But suggesting is always nice -- as in, "So glad you are coming to dinner! What would you like to bring?") I'll let you know if that works!

Try something new! Last year we made a savory sliced roasted sweet potato dish for the first time. It was so good we could hardly bear it! It's on the menu this year if we're cooking! (And if I can find the recipe!)

People usually pitch a fit when you change the Thanksgiving menu. But if you're dying to feature a new dessert or different veggie, go for it. Or better yet, have both. No one's offended and the leftovers will get you through the holiday weekend!


Best tip (after making sure the turkey is thawed): Do your chopping the day or night before. Chopping as in, "chopped celery and onions for the stuffing." It'll save time on TG morning and you'll have more time with guests. Prep pies or some desserts in advance as well and if nothing else, get produce washed and cleaned. If you don't already do this, you'll be surprised at much mess this can save on the day of the Big Cook.

Ina Garten (and Rick's aunt Carol) also seem to make mashed potatoes a few hours in advance of dinner and have them taste wonderful and hot when served. (Well, Carol's are; I've never tasted Ina's personal potatoes!). Reheat in a double boiler on the stove or possibly the microwave. (And while I wouldn't dare pull this off on TG -- Rick does the potatoes -- I'm very big on Bob Evans pre-prepped mashed potatoes. I can't tell the difference.) And if you have a crock pot or warmer, you are in great shape!

My other tip is what is known in our family as Plan B and it refers to gravy. If no one in your gang is a good gravy maker, it is extremely important! Even if someone is, there's never enough gravy for the leftovers and a good Plan B will make dining after far more delectable! I like Trader Joe's turkey gravy but there are lots of options. (In our gang, Rick is the gravy maker and it's delicious. In my own private Idaho, it's Plan B!)

This photo is actually the raspberry version of the pumpkin trifle. The main difference is that the pumpkin trifle uses pumpkin or ginger bread and a pureed pumpkin/brown sugar layer as the "custard" (along with the whipped cream. And I crumble ginger snaps and candied ginger on top.
Try something new if you like! Not everyone is a pie fan -- a pumpkin trifle or apple cake might be a great seasonal alternative!


Depending on your living situation there are few reasons why you can't get the table ready to go the day before. (Personally, I would advocate eating pizza in front of the telly the night before versus eating at the table so you can get it set in advance). If there are only a couple of you and it's a pretty standard setting, no big deal about doing it that day. But if you are expecting a crowd, it's much easier to have that done ahead of time. (And if you are sort of anal about the table like I am, you won't have to figure out how to politely turn down help or sneak in and jiggle things around so they're how you want them!)

As for a centerpiece, think small and low unless you have a big table. There's a lot of extra food at the table on Thanksgiving, not to mention extra glassware if you are having both water and wine. Even if you serve the larger things from a buffet, you may still be passing cranberries, gravy, butter and rolls. Consider what you had left from your October decorating. A low basket with gourds and some candles might do the trick.

Use what you have. A basket of gourds left from October? Repurpose them. A collection of chickens or turkeys? Go for it!

One of my favorites is the simple wheat I cherish from my blog friend, Diana. When her daughter, Nora, was married, they used wheat as part of the wedding flowers and decorations. After, there was an abundance of leftovers which she generously shared. Diana is no longer with us in body but her spirit lives on every day in my home through this simple arrangement of wheat that moves from space to space, never more prominent than in December.

And this probably goes without saying but "use the good stuff." If you have a kids' table, you may want to cut a bit of slack, but remember, it does no good just sitting in the china cabinet. Use it or lose it.


Everyone has their own Thanksgiving traditions, whether it is watching football before and after the pig out, saying a special grace or having a once-a-year favorite dish. For me, the tradition is using my mom's turkey dishes. When the kids are here and we have Thanksgiving dinner at Rick's house so I cart the dishes down the street, along with centerpiece fixings.


But sometimes we don't have the kids on "the day." My most memorable Thanksgiving was a totally impromptu event the fall of Rick's serious bicycle accident. A pulled-together group of friends gathered at my house to express our gratitude for many blessings.

The centerpiece was thrown together from things in the craft bin and I used Mom's crystal. Everyone brought something to the table but mostly they brought love.

What Do You Do?

If you have a favorite Thanksgiving or holiday hint, a special tradition you share each year or a favorite dish, please share it here!

And as our long ago pilgrims did, remember the gratitude. Really, that's what it's all about.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Leaf Porn

Leaf porn.

Really, what else is there to say?

I join with all the other bloggers who have been posting the most glorious color in sharing some of the splendor from Otsego Lake and northern Michigan.

This was our last trip up north as we closed the cottage for the winter. And it couldn't have been more lovely, with temps hitting 70!

We did a little meandering while construction people were working on the house, heading north on Old US 27 with a stop in Mackinaw City. We enjoyed looking across Lake Huron toward Mackinac Island.

And toward the Mighty Mack!


Rick tried to hold the Mackinac bridge in his hand but the photographer didn't get it right!

There were a few lovely "drive-by shootings."

Sometimes the sky looked a little threatening, yet it added a completely different dimension to the color.

One of my favorite spots was shooting at Michawe, a golf course a few miles away. I loved their bridge -- and the stark contrast of the white birches against the water and the color.

The lake was impossibly blue making the color all the more vibrant.

And everywhere you looked it was orange and gold.


Our tree life has been odd this year. Usually by the latter part of October the color has peaked and the leaves are as much on the ground as the trees.

This year is different. There is still plenty of green -- not to mention the brilliant colors.

It almost looks like a bargello pattern!

As for me, I'm clinging to every bright moment, holding it in my heart through what will probably be a long, white winter.

They always are...

Grab that sunny day! If you live in our part of the world, they are dwindling down to a precious few!

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