I never thought I’d be the sort to have an active interest in “laying a table”. I was the sort of girl that was interested in smoking cigars, riding on foreign trains, difficult books, and strangers. The only hint of my love of home making was a penchant for cooking those aforementioned strangers involved, complex dinners between great glugs of wine, both in the dish and down my throat. If that can be called home making. Which it cannot. I lived an inverted life in the Aries moonlight, the domesticity innate to a girl with a Cancer sun long dormant. Southern born, I’d, without thinking about it, decided things like setting the table were for sweet little fools. Something for girls doomed to their mother’s pearls, destined to become something they, for a forgotten flash, maybe didn’t want to become. I was, as is so gloriously often the case, wrong.
The fine art of being a Southern hostess is something worth fighting for, worth preserving like a snow leopard. Preserving the open door narrative that is my heritage is an honor. Hosting gatherings around the dinner table & cooking supper are two of my primary passions (which I presume is kind of self evident), and the November Kinfolk Herbal Infusions Workshop Hannah & I hosted with the help of Sophie’s Shoppe, Niedlov’s, Camellia Fiber Co., and West Elm was an absolute joy to put together. I enjoy the laying of a simple, inviting table as much as I enjoy planning the menu. I love it because I love planning a menu; if we eat first with our eyes, it’s easy to be mindful of how the food plays out on the plate, but that mindfulness begins the moment someone walks in the door.
While I think my dismissiveness of the domestic arts was misguided, I do think the art of hosting as I knew it growing up was in dire need of renovation. I have no interest in over-wrought polish & the veneer of kindness that is the other side of the old ways coin, no interest in that bless your heart saccharine condescension. No interest in keeping up appearances. Ours is a down to earth sort of southern hospitality, one that doesn’t involve gossip or stiff gales of polite laughter. You won’t find crisp whites at this supper; rather, you’ll find vintage linen napkins from the flea market given a new lease on life, dyed the palest of flesh rose with red cabbage by my friend & fiber artist Rebekka. You’ll find gifts wrapped simply in muslin & twine and place cards with purpose; white sage smudge sticks that guests can take home with them for burning to purify their space. You’ll find one of a kind handmade ceramics, bread boards spilling with freshly baked loaves from Niedlov’s Bakery, simple glass water carafes, an old ladder, and a ramshackle collection of vintage chairs that tell a story—all lent to me by a favorite local shop of mine, Sophie’s on North Market.
We hung eucalyptus from the wrought iron chandelier and used the ladder as a drying rack for herbs and gangly purple flowers (note: those flowers are called Limonium, a.k.a. Sea Lavender or Marsh Rosemary—and don’t let the name fool you, I discovered they smell like cabbage! Thank goodness for the bundles of rosemary.) The trimmings were a visual nod to the herbaceous meal Hannah & I cooked. A scattering of old apothecary bottles I’ve collected set an alchemical mood, and in lieu of gold rimmed china, I went with the simple white of gently undulating, organic plates from West Elm that act as a backdrop to whatever direction I want to take my table in. I use them for everything, the perfect canvas. Rather than a carefully wrought centerpiece, I ended up using English ivy I’d found an old man pulling off the stone wall in front of his house in my neighborhood. I was driving down the street, and when I saw this man dutifully stuffing fistfuls of ivy into an industrial sized, black garbage bag, I whipped my car over to the side of the road, leapt out, and proceeded to walk across the street towards him wearing my best, though perhaps unconvincing, I’m harmless & reasonable smile.
Unfortunately, I was dressed in billowing black wool coat, wide brim black hat, wire-rimmed round sunglasses—in short I looked like some sort of steam punk witch leaping out of her car inquiring about his trash in an harried, gesticulation fraught way. Because my “way” is always harried & gesticulation fraught. Hesitant and confused, he acquiesced and gave me his trash bag of ivy. And that is the story of the centerpiece. One old man’s trash is another kitchen witch’s treasure. Does that count as “foraging”?
The same mind set informs my approach to gift giving this season. Rather than giving more stuff, I’m opting for things like homemade infused salts & honey. Besides being a frugal choice, more importantly it’s an item of real use and one that will last beyond the cookies and chocolate of the holidays (don’t get me wrong, I give those too!). So here’s my recipe for the Satsuma & Herbs de Provence Salt & Saffron Lavender Honey we sent our guests home with—perfect for those of you who, like me, are working away on whipping up your last minute gifts. I hope this provides you all with inspiration for your holiday table & gifts! And stay tuned for part two after the new year—the infusions portion of the workshop & a recipe for infused bourbon cider cocktails!