From the moment, I was tall enough to reach and momentarily teeter to thread a shiny bauble through the prickly needles of our pine Christmas tree, I was smitten. Enchanted by jingles and melodies of Boney M blasting from our scratchy old vinyl player, enamoured by the twinkly lights that flickered in an effort to bring Father Christmas sooner, enticed by the spicy aroma of mince pies, and sweet sticky smell of honeyed ham and marmalade chipolatas. It was all there, once a year, a perfect, happy holiday of love, family and of course festivities.
The smells of Christmas are the smells of childhood.
– Richard Paul Evans
Christmas has long been one of my favourite holidays, steeped in family tradition and rich and warm in the comfort of memories and nostalgia, I simply love everything Christmas has to offer. As a caterer and stylist, it’s possibly my best time of year when I get to kick off my shoes and let my hair down. It’s a time when I get lazily busy in my kitchen to the swing and beat of Boney M’s ‘Little Drummer Boy’. Every December I shut down shop, pack up the car with both my old dogs in tow and drive down to our Plett house – my December downtime gives me time to think, recharge my batteries, experiment with new recipes and create my Christmas table décor – I pull, pluck, borrow and choose my table décor from a selection of inspirations, making use of the local fauna, the local craftsmen (skilled in bead, wire or basket work) and the local butcher, baker and candle stick maker.
Christmas is a time of sharing, of giving, so in order to celebrate, I’m giving you a selection of my best Christmas table décor settings tips and ideas – some fresh, unique and bedecked tables to get you into the Christmas spirit.
I’m going heavy on the Christmas lookbook this newsletter, while most of the Christmas meal preparation goes into the meal – we all (most of us) know how to make a ham and turkey (or at least buy one readymade) – I believe it should be a 50/50 split – décor/food, and the great thing about your Christmas table is that you can set it up at least 2-3 days earlier so it’s out of your way and you can focus on the food. Our family tradition is to celebrate on the eve of Christmas with all the bells and whistles and spill over onto Christmas day with a much more relaxed and lazy lunch.
This Christmas, my intention was to set an elegant tone with a of sparkle gold and shimmer of silver, interlaced with silvery evergreen foliage and soft bunches of iceberg roses that add a touch fallen snowflakes.
With my ‘snow’white table cloth as a starting point, I’ve created a dreamy white Christmas mood on which to build.
My place settings are intentionally stark, keeping the emphasis and attention on the table centrepiece. Each place setting sits simply with a large (bigger than normal) white plate, adorned with a large linen napkin, each setting a different shade of purple, from; mauve, taupe, to heavy tones of plum and aubergine. Plain silver cutlery lies informally astride the plate, a cracker at its side – glittery, patterned, golden or silver. Crackers are always my Christmas table splurge, I don’t support plastic and instead opt for the more expensive handmade crackers that contain actual gifts. These extravagantly coloured crackers definitely glam up the uncluttered plate settings, seamlessly knitting them together with elaborate centrepiece.
My Christmas centrepiece is where I have laid on the lavish. Drawing directly from the washed-up shells on the beach, the collected fynbos and foliage from my garden, the borrowed golden tea candle holders and local beautifully handmade woven angel. I have a passion for shells and spend a considerable amount of time hunting for my favourite family tradition Pansy Shell. And as such, I’ve incorporated a generous sprinkling of shells, some which I have spray painted gold and thickly lacquered with a high gloss, while others I have left raw (The pumpkin shells) which offset the gold and work well with the soft pickings of variegated foliage. While I have kept most of the greenery green, I have subtly sprayed the edges of some of the leaves a shimmery gold, which works beautifully in the flickering candlelight – accentuating a soft golden glow from the table.
Opting for raw centrepiece candelabra instead of gold, I’ve kept the tone earthier and more natural. Candles, candles, candles of all shapes and sizes dot centre table isle – different heights and widths are essential when trying to create a dramatic table setting.
The flowers are delicate, fusing subtly into the tablescape of white, silver, green and gold. Dainty cuttings of iceberg roses brim over in little vases that are placed amongst the centrepiece. The colour choice of white is deliberate once again hinting at a white and wonderful Christmas
My Christmas theme that I opted for here is beach safari – tortoise shell lazy days infused with perfect pastel pool party! I particularly enjoyed this setting as it was so different to the traditional take on Christmas tables, rather wintery given we celebrate our Christmas in full mid-summer, but just as festive and fun.
My tablecloth of thick weighted hessian sets a natural feel on which I have built a collage of ‘down-to-earth opulence’ Starting with my beautiful smoky green stained handmade plates, trimmed with a thick coloured band of anthracite. The cutlery is a stunning duo of gold and black, placed simply, standing proud. I love this contrast of black bone handles with polished
gold tips, they are simply gorgeous and pick up the flecks of the animal print crackers. The crackers are my fabulous splurge and simply roar with style, tied with a deep Renaissance blue velvet ribbon, they sit royally atop large white napkins and hold the setting perfectly together.
The centrepiece is blend of contrasting colours that fight and surrender to create this take on a traditional Christmas table. Bowls of burnt red cherries and Barbeton Daisy’s dot the table in between large heads of soft-hued pink and blue hydrangeas – while arms of Penny gum ‘branches’ weave and snake around candelabra and ornaments to create a sense of jungle indulgence. Golden reindeers hide beneath petals and pine cones, while others dance between the soft purple glassware. I’ve incorporated a number of special ornaments, my Nico Masemola mermaid, gifted Grecian white water jugs and my speckled owl all add a touch of sentimental Christmas spirit. I’ve kept the candles white, which perfectly pick up the napkins – merging the highest object with the lowest one is a great way to create balance and synergy.
I’m mad for Hydrangeas, and purposely included them in this set up as they liken themselves to huge pastel snowflakes, that have landed with their fine snowflake shaped petals.
My urban jungle of Christmas fynbos and African flavour is a combo of nature and contemporary pattern. I have done away with the gaudy customary colour of Christmas greens, supplementing them instead with the soft hues and tones of contoured, textured fynbos. Creating a mosaic of indoor indigenous wonderland.
I have opted for a simple predominantly white tablecloth, branded with two blue thick blue stripes that run parallel on either side of the centrepiece. I have placed large round handwoven placemats directly on top, keeping them free from plates (so as not to divert from their gorgeous patterned colour) They are accompanied by simple alternate pink and navy-blue linen napkins, and finished off with white crackers, decorated with a simple African motif. I’ve added a ‘ribbon’ of hessian cord, an accent of nature, and earthy tones.
The Western Cape is particularly rich and diverse in its offering of fynbos and as such I wanted to showcase our natural and bountiful landscape with an equally lush and abundant tablescape of our local flora.
To create this different take on Christmas tables, remember to vary your both the shape size, and material of your vases or containers – bring in wood (to add texture and keep the nature theme) here I opted for a long rectangular shaped box, which works well as an anchor to work around. From recycled glass bottles, to puta brushed old cake stand, cement planters, I’ve created a mix of textures, which instantly exudes a warmth to your guests.
I’ve gone big on plants, and have used a variety of different textures and colours – while some hang over vases, others sit neatly inside. Don’t be afraid to bunch together odd shapes and opposing greens this helps to build on the table ‘landscape’
After all you want to achieve a Christmas table of natural beauty that will get your guests to stop and smell the fynbos
May you never be too grown up to search the skies on Christmas Eve. – Unknown
The preparation for Christmas is a family affair – with everybody mucking in. Sometimes I stop and catch myself amongst the whizz and blur of blenders, mixers, chopping, chatter and lots of laughter and think how truly lucky I am to be able to celebrate the luxury of Christmas, with the people that I love and care most about in the world.
Green beans are a perfect side for a Christmas feast, especially combined with the tangy flavours of oranges and the Christmas crunch of hazelnuts – offering a wonderful balance of freshness and earthiness. The great thing about this recipe is that you can cook the beans the day before and leave them to chill overnight.
Sugarsnaps, green peas and broad beans can substitute any of the other two beans or be added to the salad.
Ingredients for the dressing:
This North African inspired dish makes the perfect Christmas side with its sweet, sour and spicy taste and texture it spices up any Christmas meal.
The perfect Christmas dessert, not only is a show-stopper and absolutely delicious, but you can also prepare it in advance and add the toppings just before you’re ready to serve. One less thing to stress about!
For the meringue:
For the berry coulis:
I had to include my mum’s Christmas cake recipe – every year for Christmas. her three sisters, myself and my two sisters would get a beautifully wrapped (always in fabric) unbelievably delicious Christmas cake – it was moist and sticky with the perfect mix of brandied nuts and fruit, it was sweet and crunchy, crumbly and the most delicious Christmas cake I have still to this day ever tasted…Our cakes usually didn’t last long, quickly nibbled and sliced at, every tea until only crumbs were left sticking to our fingers. Although mum no longer makes our annual Christmas cakes, I’m passing on her special legacy for you to enjoy and indulge in this festive season.