Recently I had the experience of listening to holiday decorator Carolyn Roehm speak and show slides of her work at a fundraiser. In between the oohs and aahs, faintly in the background, you could just make out a distinct gagging noise. My regurgitation was not caused by Ms. Roehm’s creativity or her surprisingly down-to-earth delivery; it came from her wasteful ease, her wanton notions of buy, buy, buy and then toss, toss, toss.
However, one thing that Ms. Roehm did emphasize was the importance of supporting the artisans, the one-man shows, the moms and pops. Hear-hear Ms. R, but because of my earthy inclinations I found a design challenge. Most anyone can drum up a fab holiday banquet with unlimited funds, but what if you live on meager means and still have to entertain your crabby in-laws during the holidays? Not to worry my downtrodden reader; there is no need to write heaters all over town because there is always a solution.
I asked local dandy Chuck Ramirez to spill some of his holiday decorating secrets, because not only can he decorate baby, he can create a party like no other and do it all with hardly a budget.
One of Chuck’s favorite and inexpensive perennial centerpiece ideas is to take clear, gallon-size pickle jars and fill them with varying shades of tinted water (use professional food coloring or dried paint pigment for more color options). Arrange the jars in the center of your table in lieu of a passé flower arrangement and complete the look by adding lots of white votives to make the jars sparkle with holiday cheer. Collections of similarly hued colors look the best but you can create your own look by using jars of various sizes with water in different colors. Above all have fun with it and remember, it’s just your stinkin’ in-laws.
Hill Country Ho-down
Set the table with elegant white linen and top with simple brown butcher paper folded lengthwise to act as a runner. For the centerpieces, use narrow rectangle tin containers found at any hardware store, and plant them full with fresh spineless napalitos pads and long wisps of whatever is seasonally green from your yard (or in my case the neighbor’s yard). Sprinkle pebbles and stones over the dirt in each tin to finish. Place the containers on the brown paper runners and, voila, you have created a holiday tribute to the Texas Hill Country while lending a casual and simple elegance to the affair. At the end of the dinner, give the tin planters to the guests and what’s left over of the cactus can be replanted in the ground (and killed off if I have anything to do with it).
Garage-sale ornaments are as cheap and abundant as green-bean-and-onion casserole. Chuck looks for colorful ornaments of odd shapes and pattern designs — the more faded and discolored the better. Introduce a fresh component to the mix of ornaments and votives by adding cranberries, crab apples, pears, pomegranates, and citrus leaves. Lightly scatter the ornaments, produce, and candles across your table in the middle and around the glasses and plates like marbles for a random and less-arranged look. Try intermixing different patterns of plates, flatware, and glasses for more spontaneity.
I’d like to dedicate this article in loving memory of Mister Danny Geisler, who was always full of artistic contradictions — and he was oh so hilarious in his own Mister Danny Geisler way. Thanks for making San Antonio so interesting. You are missed.