Thanksmas Entertaining

Ever wanted to throw a fall dinner party that isn’t a full-on Thanksgiving or host something the weekend after Thanksgiving, when, in your mind, it is still a bit too early to decorate for Christmas?  If you’re like me, who celebrates the bountiful holiday at someone else’s home, you have all of these beautiful gourds and pumpkins that haven’t yet their moment in the spotlight.  So, what’s a girl to do for decor between major holidays?  Try mixing some silvers and purples into your existing fall color scheme and see what you get.  You might be pleasantly surprised!

This table setting was inspired by some clearance napkins I found at Cost Plus World Market in the summer (again, the key to entertaining thriftily is thinking ahead and always being on the lookout for deals!).  They have a gorgeous mix of plum, deep purple, natural white, burnt orange and woodsy browns:

fall thanksgiving centerpiece ideas crafts entertaining placemats tablescape place setting

When I saw the napkins, I immediately thought of the plum table runners I’d made for my wedding a few years earlier that were still sitting in storage at my in-law’s house.  Since I prefer to use placemats as opposed to runners, I thought, how easy would it be to convert a few of these gorgeous runners (that I’ll almost never use again) into placemats?  Even if you don’t have table runners that you no longer have a need for, it is quite easy to make your own placemats, since they are basically two rectangles sewn together!

What you’ll need:

fall thanksgiving centerpiece ideas crafts tablescapes place settings entertaining

  • 1.25 yards of interesting, textural fabric (I used a weave from Ikea)
  • 1.25 yards of plain backing fabric (I used a simple broadcloth from Joann’s)
  • matching thread
  • sewing machine
  • scissors
  • long ruler or measuring tape

Here’s what you do:

  1. Iron material prior to cutting.
  2. Pin fabric together.
  3. Cut out six 13×19 rectangular pieces out of pinned fabric (if your fabric is the standard 45″ you should be able to measure 19″ from the end, then cut out three 13″ pieces with ~6″ of  leftover scrap, repeat a second time for a total of six placemats).
  4. Thread machine with matching thread and sew 3 sides of rectangle with 1/4 – 1/2 inch margin.
  5. On fourth side, start from one end and stitch until left with a 3 inch unstitched area.
  6. Turn fabric out and iron edges.
  7. Turn unstitched area in and sew closed (you could also do this by hand with an invisible stitch, if you wanted, though it takes longer).

fall thanksgiving centerpieces craft ideas entertaining tablescapes place settings

Now for the centerpieces!  I was inspired to make something fun when I saw some Styrofoam balls that I found at Tuesday Morning for much less than craft store retail prices.  What I ended up doing was using a combination of things I had (excess muslin from previous craft projects, twine, and Indian corn husks) and new materials (preserved leaves and dried pinto beans) to create natural-looking, fall-into-winter centerpieces.  All of my materials incorporated colors that are in the napkins.

Here’s what you need:

  • two sizes of Styrofoam balls (Tuesday Morning or retail craft stores)
  • hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • scissors
  • craft spray glue
  • preserved leaves (Michael’s)
  • jute twine (Big Lots or 99 Cent Store)
  • muslin (retail craft store or Walmart)
  • purple Indian corn husks (local grocery store in produce section)
  • 2 bags dried pinto beans (Big Lots $1 per bag)
  • galvanized or silver rectangular trays (I used my trusty tart pans again!)

Here’s what you do:

for leaves:

fall thanksgiving centerpieces craft ideas entertaining tablescapes place settings

  1. Remove leaves from their stems.
  2. Use hot glue gun to secure leaves to styrofoam ball in an overlapping fashion until ball is covered.  In my example, on one large and one small ball, I displayed the waxy side of the leaf and on another two, I displayed the underside.

for muslin:

fall thanksgiving centerpieces craft ideas entertaining tablescapes place settings

  1. Rip fabric into 1-inch strips
  2. Cut strips into 1×1 inch squares
  3. Use hot glue gun to secure fabric squares to ball in overlapping fashion until ball is covered.

for corn husks:

  1. Remove purple corn husks from Indian corn, being careful not to tear or rip the husks.
  2. To soften and use the inner, shiny side of the husk, heat some water to boiling in a tea kettle and lay husks over opening to relax leaves with steam.
  3. Use hot glue gun to apply corn husks to styrofoam ball in an overlapping fashion until ball is covered.

for twine:

fall thanksgiving centerpieces craft ideas entertaining tablescapes place settings

  1. Secure twine to one pole of styrofoam ball with hot glue.
  2. Apply craft spray glue in sections and wrap twine around styrofoam ball.
  3. Once ball is completely wrapped, secure end of twine to opposite pole with a spot of hot glue.

Note: As you move from a smaller diameter to a bigger one, this wrapping is easy.  However, as you hit the equator and start to move from a larger diameter to a smaller one, this craft can become frustrating as the twine will want to roll toward the smaller diameter pole.  Have patience, or if you don’t, you can always snip, glue end and start wrapping from the opposite pole and have your twine meet in the middle.  I prefer the uninterrupted look, myself.

Finally, pour pinto beans into trays and arrange your covered ball decorations to your liking!

all thanksgiving centerpeice ideas decorating entertaining tablescapes place settings

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

Bake Your Heart Out

Necco Conversation Heart candies cookie valentine's day craft recipeNecco’s tiny pastel hearts with sayings of love on them serve as the perfect inspiration for a  holiday baking craft.  Last year, Martha’s team created these cute, techy cookie versions and more recently, I saw these in the winter Williams-Sonoma catalog, in a chocolate form.   What a festive, thoughtful and creative way to express your thanks and love to those around you this Valentine’s Day!  For the cookies below, I prefer to use a super easy lemon shortbread cookie with a basic, yet modified, royal icing recipe.  Letters are then piped on with store-bought red fondant icing to keep things simple.  These are definitely a labor of love, especially if you are mixing different colors of icing, but well worth the effort!

Shopping list:

  • flour
  • butter
  • sugar
  • salt
  • 2-3 lemons
  • powdered sugar
  • parchment paper
  • meringue powder
  • red fondant icing pen
  • food coloring (gel paste is best, but the liquid version works, too, and is cheaper)
  • heart-shaped cookie cutter

* The last 4 items on your list can be purchased from Michael’s, or other craft stores, with a baking section.

conversation heart cookie valentines day baking craft recipe

For the shortbread cookie (adapted from Sunset Magazine):

Makes ~ 2 dozen 3″ cookies


  • 2  cups  flour
  • 1  cup  cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1/2  cup  granulated sugar
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • zest from one lemon

1. Preheat oven to 325°. Put flour, butter, granulated sugar, salt and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low speed until blended, then increase to medium and mix until dough is no longer crumbly and just comes together.

2. Form dough into a disk; chill 30 minutes.

3. On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough 1/4 in. thick. Cut dough into hearts with a heart-shaped cookie cutter. Arrange cookies on baking sheets and chill 15 minutes.

4. Bake until light golden brown, 15 minutes.  Allow to cool completely before icing.

conversation heart cookie valentines day baking craft recipe

For the icing (adapted from Martha Stewart):

Makes 2 1/3 cups

  • 1 box confectioners’ sugar (1 pound)
  • 5 tablespoons meringue powder
  • scant 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine sugar and meringue powder.

2. Mixing on low speed, mix in lemon juice until desired thickness is achieved. For a thinner consistency, usually used for flooding, add some water. A thicker consistency is generally used for outlining and adding details. Mix until icing holds a ribbonlike trail on the surface of the mixture for 5 seconds when you raise the paddle.

3. First outline, then flood your cookies.  Allow to dry completely prior to using your fondant pen for writing.

conversation heart cookie valentines day baking craft recipe

Bring them to your office on a tray for all to enjoy or wrap them in pairs in cellophane bags and tie off with red ribbon for a more personal touch.

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

O (tabletop) Christmas Tree

This time of year holiday catalogs fill our mailboxes.  Unfortunately for a lot of us, decking the house for the holidays with gorgeous items from Pottery Barn, West Elm, Crate & Barrel and Williams- Sonoma just isn’t feasible.  What I try to do every year is browse through the catalogs and get inspired to create my own decorations and replicate the store’s classic style for much less than retail!

west elm david stark twine wrapped tree craft

Twine Wrapped Tree

If you browse through my other posts, you’ll see that I love to decorate with twine by wrapping it around things.  I love the texture it creates and the organic look of it.  Recently, I was flipping through a West Elm catalog and saw these modern trees (above) and thought, what a great thrifty craft!  And can be made for SO much less than the sticker price!

What you need:

  • craft spray glue
  • newspaper
  • styrofoam tree form
  • jute twine
  • hot glue gun

west elm twine wrapped tree christmas craft

Here’s what you do:

  1. Create a workspace with newspaper.
  2. Secure twine to the top of tree with a spot of hot glue.
  3. Apply spray glue in 2-3 inch sections and wrap twine around form of tree, making sure twine is taut and avoiding gaps between wraps.
  4. Finish by securing twine to bottom edge with hot glue.

Note: It is important to start wrapping from the top of the tree, as wrapping from a larger to smaller diameter direction can be frustrating – the twine will want to roll toward the smaller diameter area.  So, start from the top!

west elm twine wrapped tree christmas craft

Cost: $5! Twine was purchased from the 99 cent store and the styrofoam tree was purchased at Michael’s with a 40% off coupon for $4.  That’s a savings of $45 from the West Elm retail!

Red Berry Tree Topiaries

red berry tree tabletop tree topiary craft

Decorating with red berries during the holidays is one of my favorite looks.  Unfortunately, good quality topiaries can be hard to find, especially if you like to shop the after Christmas sales for your holiday decorations – oftentimes, berries are missing, chipped or scratched. Here’s a way to have a beautiful topiary, on the cheap, with little effort! Comparable topiaries (like the one on the left) can be found at Target for up to $29 per tree!

What you need:

  • wire cutters
  • tree topiaries
  • red berry picks
  • silver (or gold) spray paint
  • bright green reindeer moss
  • terra cotta pots
  • hot glue gun and glue sticks

red berry christmas tree topiary craftred berry christmas tree topiary craft

Here’s what you do:

  1. Use wire cutters to remove berries from their stems. Make sure to save one berry with a 3/4 inch of stem for the top of the tree.
  2. Place sole berry with stem in top of tree, leaving 1/3-1/2 of an inch visible.
  3. Secure first layer of berries below top berry with hot glue, making sure to place them as close together as possible, eliminating as much of the background as you can.
  4. In sections, starting at the edge of your most recently placed berries and working outward, cover rest of the tree with berries.
  5. Spread newspaper to create a large workspace.
  6. Use spray paint to coat terra cotta pots, using short strokes and spraying another layer (after first coat dries) until pot has a uniform coating.  Make sure to flip the pots after waiting for them to dry and spray the upper rim.
  7. Place berried topiary in newly painted, dry pot.
  8. Attach reindeer moss with hot glue in sections to exposed areas of base.
  9. Display and enjoy!

Cost: less than $10 per tree,  not bad! AND you have leftover silver spray paint for other holiday projects!

red berry christmas tree topiary craft

Tip: Michaels has wonderful sales throughout the month of December – most things holiday are often 40 -60% off!  I purchased my red berries at a 50% off sale, so each pick was only $0.49 (I used 17 picks total for two trees).  Spray paint and pots were cheapest at Home Depot – only $5 for everything.  An even less expensive, and less time consuming, way to do it would be to find silver pots that you like at discount stores like the Dollar Tree or 99 cent store.  And don’t forget your 40% off mailer coupons at Michaels for things that aren’t on sale!  My reindeer moss (which is the same color and look of the stuff they’re selling at Pottery Barn for $14 per bag!) was only $3 with my coupon.  Thrift and discount stores (like Tuesday Morning) are also wonderful places to find craft materials for pennies on the dollar – I actually found my topiaries at a thrift store for $1.99 each!

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

the littlest pumpkins

Tired of using flowers for dinner party table decor? Capture the essence of the fall season and All Hallows Eve with this creatively simple alternative.

pumpkin table decoration craft

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • low, metal trays
  • dried black beans
  • mini pumpkins, preferably in different colors

The trays I used are actually repurposed, rectangular tart pans from Williams-Sonoma which were the perfect dimension for my rectangular table.  Galvanized metal trays would also work well for a more rustic look.  Simply spread the dried beans into the bottom of the tray and place the pumpkins on top.  Using two different colors of pumpkins gives nice contrast and brings in more colors of the season.  If you want, you can glitter the pumpkins for a magical effect.

I found the dried black beans at Big Lots for a whopping $1.00 per bag.  The small pumpkins are sold at grocery stores.

Cost: less than $4 per tray (after using tart pans I already had in my cupboard)

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

Paella on the cheap

Polished Steel Paella Pan, Myson Products

I craft and eat thriftily so I can afford to shop at places like Williams-Sonoma for my cooking vessels. During one of their holiday sales, I picked up an authentic Spanish paella pan for $29.95 and have been pining to use it.

The other night, my husband and I threw on some Spainsh guitar acoustics, sipped on a Spanish Verdejo and whipped up some tasty paella from a Food & Wine recipe. This recipe has a very light flavor with the lemon, wine and parsley and is perfect for a warm evening.

Seafood and Chicken Paella with Chorizo

Ingredients (seves 6)

  • 4 ounces fresh chorizo, casings removed
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup canned diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • Pinch of saffron threads dissolved in 2 tablespoons of water
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 1/2 pound cockles, scrubbed and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked chicken (8 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a 10-inch paella pan or ovenproof skillet, cook the chorizo over moderate heat, breaking it up with a spoon, until some of the fat is rendered and the chorizo is browned, 4 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and cook over low heat, stirring, until softened and just beginning to brown, 8 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, rice, saffron with its liquid and the 1 1/2 cups of water. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat, without stirring, until the rice is al dente and the liquid is absorbed, 15 minutes.
  2. In a large skillet, heat the 1/4 cup of olive oil until shimmering. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper, add them to the skillet and cook over high heat, turning once, until pink and cooked through, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to the rice. Discard the oil.
  3. Wipe out the skillet. Pour in the wine and lemon juice. Add the mussels and cockles, cover and cook, shaking the skillet, until the mussels open, about 3 minutes. Pour the mussels and cockles and their cooking liquid over the rice.
  4. Stir the cooked chicken into the rice. Cover and cook in the oven for about 5 minutes, until the paella is just heated through. Garnish with the parsley and scallion, drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and serve.

Seafood and Chicken Paella with Chorizo

Cooking Tips: We omitted the cockles and mussels (for shame!) due to the fact that neither of us like them as much as other seafood AND they weren’t on sale. We ended up putting the white wine and lemon juice in with the shrimp instead. The taste was great, but we like to cook our shrimp in their shells for appearance and the casings weren’t as crisp as we like them. Next time, I think we’ll add the wine and lemon juice at the same time as the rice mixture.

We also left the casings on the chorizo, only because they weren’t coming off very easily, and just sliced them into coins.

Shopping Tips: Again, buy your proteins when on sale! The shrimp and chorizo were on sale and the chicken was purchased previously for $1.99/lb. Buy your spices (like saffron) at stores like Trader Joe’s, Cost Plus or local ethnic food stores for the best prices.

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

Chocolate Chip Cookies, two ways

Kitchen Aid stand mixer

When I registered for my Kitchen Aid stand mixer, I never thought I would get so much joy out of a single kitchen appliance. Not only is my lemongrass Kitchen Aid a pretty addition to the countertop, it is an amazing piece of machinery. I’ll bake simply to use my mixer, much to my husband’s delight.

It’s been raining lately and what better excuse for warming the house with baking smells than a drizzly day?

I found and slightly modified a recipe from Tyler Florence for Chocolate Chip Cookies. One version is a seductively sinful dark chocolate and tart cherry version, another is a delicious milk chocolate, coconut and walnut version. Try dividing the batter in half like I did to make two different kinds! I dare you to eat just one at a time!


  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • version 1: 1/2 bag bittersweet chocolate chips, 5 oz. dried tart cherries, 1/3 c walnut pieces
  • version 2: 1/2 bag semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips, 1/4 c shredded coconut, 1/3 c walnut pieces

milk chocolate, coconut and walnut CCCs
milk chocolate, coconut and walnut CCCs
dark chocolate & tart cherry CCCs
dark chocolate & tart cherry CCCs


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.

Place the butter, sugar, and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer; cream together on medium speed until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat in the vanilla and eggs. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and continue to mix until a smooth batter forms. Turn off the mixer and fold in your choice of goodies.

To form the cookies, scoop cookie dough into your hands and roll it around into an 1 1/2 inch diameter ball; place them about 3-inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets; you should get about 9 cookies on each pan. Press down the tops of the dough slightly and bake until the cookies are light brown, 12 minutes for chewy cookies, or about 15 minutes for crispy cookies.

Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough/cookie sheets.

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

Spice up your Kitchen

glass spice jars

If you love being in the kitchen, you probably have a drawer or shelf full of herbs and spices that you have to sift through every time you want to cook or bake something. I’d been looking for a spice rack, but 1.) didn’t want anything that would sit on a counter, and 2.) wanted something simple and clean looking – no big black plastic lids or cheesy labels.

My husband found the perfect rack for us in the clearance section of Home Depot that would hang from our wire kitchen rack.

Williams-Sonoma has really nice cylindrical, glass spice jars for $18 for 12. The price was not terrible for what I wanted (and I’m a sucker for anything from WS), but I hate paying shipping and this set was not available in stores.

Then I went to Cost Plus – another one of my favorite home everything stores – and found similar glass jars with silver lids for 99 cents each. Deal!

DYMO LetraTag LT-100H

I do like the look of labeled spices and, honestly, I’m not sure I’m good enough of a cook to remember every spice simply by looking at it or smelling it . So I went to Target and purchased a label maker (on sale, of course!) and clear label tape and made my own labels! As an aside, label makers are amazing for identifying boxes in the garage – invest in one to make your life more organized!

Shopping Tip: I have found the best prices on everyday, household spices at 99 cent Stores, Big Lots, Target, and Walmart. For harder to find spices, try Cost Plus, Trader Joes or local ethnic grocery stores.


Print pagePDF pageEmail page