Monday, November 14, 2011

Falling for Fall: A Harvest Tableau Part 2

continued from this post

In  regions where fallen apples are abundant in October, a fresh cider would  complement this collection of simple yet succulent dishes exquisitely.  In lieu of apples or sans local orchards, one may serve the South’s  house wine, sweetened iced tea, tweaked with the season’s spice. Mixing  rosemary into the simple syrup for an iced-tea recipe adds a complexity  to the tea, layering flavors as leaves layer on the forest floor. The  bouquet of black and green teas is paired with the pine-like flavor  said herb lends and is then enhanced with sugar and accented with  citrus and floral notes from a lemony garnish.

For  floral arrangements and table décor, I relish in creating a still-life  of objects found in nature, shed from animal and fowl, tree and vine  – the likes of acorns, fruits, pods and plumes as well as textures  found on the farm, such as burlap and twine. I favor a more muted, non-traditional  color palette for an autumnal tablescape; for, I’ve found inspiration  in the internal soft fleshy orange of cut gourds, the coppery salmon  of sliced persimmons, and of the external colors and textures of citrus  rinds, garnet pomegranates, sea green artichokes, and eggplants  – a depth of purple aubergine only begins to describe.

Shed  deer antlers can serve as a beautifully natural centerpiece to a tablescape  inspired by the earth. The sun bleached bone is aesthetically striking  and equally evocative of the season’s cyclical passing into winter.  Clusters of gathered goose and pheasant feathers, the fallen traces  of a flight southward, are a gentle reminder of September past. Oyster  shells, acorns, and gourds can be easily and artfully scattered down  the table’s center, adding variations in texture, cadence, and charm.

Each  of these objects is found in nature – in the garden, the marsh, or  the woods. A tablescape of natural artifacts of seasons past serves  as a tangible memory, or trophy, a memento mori of the growing seasons, which, with the entrance of autumn, are on the  cusp of turning to winter, that ultimate season of rest. Even if your  home is not within a shell’s throw of a pecan grove or a low country  marshland, the bounties of fall – pecans, sweet potatoes, and garden  greens – are all thankfully found at market. These simple luxuries  are elegant reminders of our connection to the inevitable and cyclical  process of the transforming seasons, of our relation with the ever-changing  natural world around us. From the forfeit of leaves, through this time  of thanksgiving and to the bracing for another year’s end, fall ushers  us into cornucopias of delight, natural grace and elegance – a culmination  of the seasons’ pace and rhythm – into a tableau of all things truly  bright and beautiful.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Falling for Fall: A Harvest Tableau Part 1

October into November, the end of that liminal turn between summer and autumn, conjures an abundance of sensory memory: turning leaves, roasted pumpkin seeds, and browning marsh along the Georgia coastline. When entertaining this time of the year, I cherish the utility of fall’s natural, burnt aesthetics: burlap, twine, and butternut squash, all warmed and toasted by the summer sun, and lingering memories of a season gone. A veritable reward to a dusty, dry, and long summer, fall is the swan song of the seasons; it is the precursor to a time of dormancy, of rest, of winter, when the bones of the garden are revealed. 

Autumn entertaining “falls” at the beginning of the celebratory crescendo that culminates into various large, welcoming meals rallying towards the conclusion of the year: Thanksgiving – the advent of the holiday season – and, in turn, the new year. Fall entertaining should thus reflect the casual “falling” nature of the trees, of the season’s brevity and tendency to again turn to the ground for sustenance. Simple dishes seem all too apropos for honoring the autumn garden’s findings and are easily complemented by a tablescape that combines the lush harvest of the season with the fragmentary and shed elements of flora and fauna who have grazed or grown through the backyard, garden, woods, or marsh: shed deer antlers, fallen pheasant, goose, and turkey feathers, and dried oyster shells. 

Pecans descend from trees; produce, such as sweet potatoes offering us richness in both flavor and texture, derive from the ground, uniting two realms – earth and sky. I pair these ingredients for a fall fete accompli full of flavor and tinged with the evergreen brightness of rosemary and the nostalgia of cinnamon. Roasted rosemary pecans are the perfect hors d'oeuvre for an informal autumnal gathering, as are they the delightful pairing of an orchard’s autumnal yield and garden’s herbal doyenne. For a stunning visual effect, I pour the pecans into glittering silver serving bowls, as the naturally gnarled, candied texture of the roasted pecans contrasts beautifully with the slick silver vessels.

Furthermore, a sweet-potato soufflé is a wonderfully warm way of welcoming both nature’s bountiful harvest and close friends into the home. A simply Southern staple, this soufflé combines sweetness with spice, packing a heartiness that complements the season’s cool nights. With the soufflé, a salad of autumn’s newest greens – spinach, lettuces and mustard – wilt under the warmth of a bacon and herb vinaigrette. A peppercorn and sage studded pork loin with pear chutney serves as piece de resistance and ginger apple cake rounds out the menu. The briskness these nights now bring draws upon field and flower to surrender to harvest time and garner us to table, hearth and home.   

to be continued....

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Today Show Tableau

Well, this Farmer and his sisters traversed and trooped up to the Big Apple for the Today Show. Fun times had by all, but before the event could ensue, I had to have my dress rehearsal right here in Kathleen, Georgia!

I set the table, donning the board with fall’s finest fruits, flowers and foliage, all in prep for the live show the following week. I wasn’t nervous about the camera but more so whether or not the materials would all arrive (broken plates, check!!!) and the sort. Thankfully, enough materials were worthy for their debut after a cross country shipment, and I set the whole tablescape up again – this time in NYC and in Studio 1A at Rockefeller Center! Here’s an homage to autumn a la table top décor and my preliminary round for national TV!

Fruits, flowers and foliage –  the three “F’s” every tablescape needs. Croton leaves, dried hydrangeas, old fashioned asters, pomegranates, persimmons, and oranges and a myriad of  sundry garden accoutrements. Chargers of the seasons loveliest leaves, sweet potato soufflé topped with candied pecans and cranberries and served a l’orange, and apple votives nod to the season with flair. Julep cups filled with Apple Ginger Sparklers and garnished with candied ginger and cinnamon sticks further fill the scape with festive fun. With these drinks, Mr. Roker and I would toast to a happy fall!

Fall is my favorite season –  a Southerner’s reward for surviving the summer! With a tapestry the season’s elements woven for this tableau, it is truly a joy to celebrate this time of year. From this Farmer’s garden, kitchen, table, and the TODAY Show, Happy Fall, ya’ll!!!
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