Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Finishing Touches - The Art of Gracious Holiday Entertaining: How to Create a Seasonal Tablescape with Motifs inspired by the Garden - plus Learn How to Mix up a Festive “Garden to Glass” Hospitality Cocktail Workshop

Thanksgiving Harvest Tablescape features Silver & Crystal - & silver-painted wishbones!

Finishing Touches Workshop at Atlantic Highlands Arts Council, Sunday, December 10, featuring Hospitality and Garden Design Specialist, Leeann Lavin -- (me!) 

Just in time for the season of entertaining, eating, and drinking, the Atlantic Highlands Arts Council announced its Holiday Workshop, scheduled for Sunday, December 10, 3-5 pm; with a cornucopia of elements:
  • Tablescape Design
  • Create a Craft Cocktail 
  • How to Set a Table 
This is a fun, creative, Hands-On, DIY workshop, designed to inspire a memorable Tablescape design that will delight your family and friends.

What’s a Tablescape, you ask?
Although tablescapes often adorn the center of the table, they are more than centerpieces. 

A tablescape is an overall look that addresses the entire table or serving area and complements its surroundings. The art of tablescaping makes your guests feel welcome and relaxed. 

This is my entrance Welcome Hostess composition featuring seasonal chile peppers in black urns, dried hydrangea fro the garden, grapes, crystal, silver, the scent of fresh apples in a glamorous Murano glass bowl, & the holiday hostess cocktail: Applejack, lapsang souchong simple syrup, sparkling apple cider.

Tablescapes bring your event together with color, style, whimsy, and dimension. 

It tells a story of the season; making an impact and creating a strong story – whether its modern or traditional – it’s all about the ingredients.

It’s eye-candy for your table!

"Our tablescape presentation offers attendees a primer on how to choose color, texture, and visual stimulation, which in turn leads to fun and interesting tableside conversations,” said Mary D’Agostino, the Atlantic Highlands Arts Council. “The combination of a photo-rich presentation and the hands-on element is a double header – a great opportunity to learn first-hand how to create a sense of balance, harmony, and personal style to suit your celebration.”  Mary offers that this is a perfect meet-up workshop to be enjoyed with your family and/or friends.
I always recommend greeting your home guests with a special, mixed cocktail -- in a punch bowl or beverage dispenser so that your guests can readily get into the festive spirit without wondering what's appropriate to ask for, or checking to see what everyone else is drinking (is it wine, beer, or martini's??) or whether you're pouring their drink -- so the ready-to-go drink is fun and easy -- and elegant.  
So too the Workshop kicks off with a segment about creating a delicious and elegant “Garden-to-Glass” holiday cocktail, "Heart of Gold" and food pairing,

using craft ingredients -- especially selected from my soon-to-be-released book, Finishing Touches, The Art of Garnishing the Cocktail 

New York's Leyenda Brooklyn Cocteleria Craft Cocktail Mixologist Jessica Wohlers, and me, will demonstrate how to take your cocktails to the next level with a tasting! 
And I'll show a collection of garnishes from herbs, jewelry and candy, as well as other fun, decorative embellishments

along with a primer on how to make a Simple Syrup.

The next segment of the Workshop is a presentation I've prepared with lots of images and suggestions on how to build a tablescape of your dreams.  Everyone loves looking at inspiring, Pinterest-worthy creations, yes? 

Next, we'll explore the hands-on workshop element where you'll get to use ingredients you bring -- attendees are encouraged to bring their tablescape ingredients to design a memorable look. 

So, stir your imagination and design with intention; here's where you can let your decor ideas come to life.

I encourage attendees and at-home designers to explore your late autumn garden and yard - it’s beautiful!  The added benefit is you get to enjoy your garden and maybe even discover plants you didn't think about at this time of year.  There are flowers, twigs, seed pods, ornamental grass, and more.  
Or, you can use grocery store bouquets, or favorite blooms from the florist. 
Use whatever strikes your fancy or captures your eye. 

Still wondering what could work?  This time of year I reccomend any of the following:
  • Japanese Maple 
  • Beauty Berry 
  • Kousa Dogwood 
  • Heavenly Bamboo/Nandina 
  • Viburnum 
  • Virginia Sweetspire 
  • Redbud 
  • Magnolia Leaves
  • Carnations 
  • Roses 
  • Seeded Eucalyptus 
Gather accessories you have around the house – or head to your local craft or garden center for:
  • Vases 
  • Urns 
  • Lights 
  • Mirrors/Trays 
  • Table runners 
  • Jewelry 
  • Glitter 
  • Artificial Snow 
  • Cache pot/fruit bowl/sleigh -- a vessel for cuttings 
  • “Animals” - toys - gift boxes 
  • Accessories or Collectibles 
Or anything your heart desires….

The Arts Council will provide buckets for the fresh plant material, tables, scissors, glue – and the Finishing Touches Cocktail.

The fee for the three-hour hands-on workshop, tutorial, and cocktail tasting is $40.

Register online at the Atlantic Highlands website:, starting Monday, November 27, or in person at 54 First Avenue (Tuesday-Friday 1-7 and Saturday & Sunday 10-3). Or call!

Space is limited.

The Atlantic Highlands Arts Council is located at:

54 First Avenue, Atlantic Highlands, NJ 07716

Phone: (732) 737-7160

The mission of the Atlantic Highlands Arts Council is to strengthen community through the arts. We are a 100% volunteer 501(c)3 non-profit organization that believes in the power of the arts to transform and enrich communities. Our primary function is to develop and execute events and arts related activities for the benefit of our community.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Elegant Halloween Tablescape Composition, Home Decor Designs, & Recipe Treats Celebrate the Spooky Grown-Up Party

Photo Oct 26, 6 39 33 PM.jpg

This Halloween season I wanted to celebrate the spooky season with a bit more refined, glamorous tablescape and hallway greeting than the usual gourds and orange pumpkins.

I was looking for a refined “adult” version of happy trick or treat.

I wanted it to be more about the art of tablescaping for this most favorite holiday.  (Did you know that, in fact, Halloween is now only second to Christmas in terms of popularity?)

Given that Halloween has, at its core, dressing up in costumes, it only seems apropos to “dress up the table and noteworthy home spaces with some inspired, seasonal masquerade.

Especially when the harvest season screams out for luncheon, dinner, and cocktail parties to celebrate the abundance we enjoy and share this time of year.

So let’s delight in dressing up. Our tables, our home. It's all about entertaining in style.


I began my Halloween tablescape and home decor compositions as I always do -- by dreaming a bit.

And by answering the question: “What story do I want to tell?”

Tablescapes, of course, are more than mere centerpieces. The overall tablescape look comprises the entire table, amplifying an event or holiday or your guests -- with your personal style, color, and dimension.
It tells your story; your fantasy… While making your guests feel welcome and relaxed.

The visual stimulation of a compelling composition sparks fun and conversation.

Good tablescapes create a sense of balance, harmony and personal style.

For my tablescape design this year, I was drawn to artful skeletons - more as sculptural objects.
I went for the skulls, especially... Skulls and skeletons can be pensive (Rodin?!) or rather sweet - even humorous.

In terms of color, witchy black was the spooky shoe-in, right? Dark, mysterious - and sophisticated.

To harmonize, I thought the color gold and gold accent pieces would add that touch of elegance, along with the basic black.

I use the tiny white (battery operated) string lights for most every tablescape. The evening twinkle is frothy and romantic - and can stand up to our cityscape view that sparkles out on the horizon - seemingly within reach.

And I always create a trompe l’oeil or a kind of “vehicle” that allows me to hide the battery pack for the two light strands. After all, we’re creating illusion..

For the last tablescape display, I used the decorative blue box designed to look like a grill - that the wood fish came in which styled perfectly with the fish and beach composition - complete with live Beta fishing fish in their own four, individual glass vases with plants.

What could I use for the Halloween to hide the battery pack in?

Keeping with the gold color and elements theme, I repurposed two small gold urns and topped the batteries with store-bought mini green and gold gourds that caught my eye at a store.

It’s always best to lay out the designs and look on the table; then determine what you have in your own decor inventory or household items that could work in the design. You’ll be surprised how many items can be repurposed.

Next up is to make a list. This keeps you focused when you get to the store and become overwhelmed or distracted by displays there.

My initial ‘search and shop’ was in a local store where I could get those spiky succulents.
There, I also found perfect small black lacquer pedestal urns - (they looked as if the front porch big urns had incubated teeny offspring!)

The shiny, black urns were perfect: size and price wise so I got four - two for the table and two for the entranceway.
I also found spiky air plants to use.

I got small chile plants -- one with yellow pepper plants and the other with purple pepper plants.


I was building the composition.
I bought a black, felt “spiderweb” table runner.
I got packs of “eyes” to place inside the web. This is a whimsical element that is so much fun when dining. All those “peepers” looking back at you!

I also got eyeball rings -- where the eyeballs actually roll a bit - and placed them on the runner, too. Fun as a kind of kooky cocktail ring!

Skull banks worked - just like the fish banks for the previous composition. The point here is not to limit your design to items that are expressly made as decor - but to think of elements that can add charm and style - whatever their original utility might have been.

I placed the plants in two of the black urns. In turn, I placed them on the round mirrors. The mirrors amplify the main element’s value in the composition.
I wanted gauze to add that spidery look and to help cover the lights’ “wires” but when the party store didn’t have the gauze - I just went to the pharmacy and bought a roll of gauze (for a lot less money) and wrapped that around the urn and over the lights.
Then I placed teeny, tiny skulls around the mirror, on top of the gauze.
You don’t see the wires and at night when it’s lighted -- the illusion is dramatic and elegant.
I also spray-painted four artificial pumpkins gold (no real pumpkins that would go bad and get mushy on the table)
And I purchased the most adorable (to me, anyway) gold insects for the four corners of the spider runner. I figured they could work for a multitude of future tablescape designs.

Creepy, elegant, fun. 

When all was in place, it just needed something more. As if a hand was directing me, I was compelled to turn to the fireplace and shazaam, targeted the four wrought iron candle holders. Perfect! They and their gold, battery operated candles were soon transported to the tablescape. That finishing touch completed the look.

                                                               Halloween Tablescape Luncheon

For a “Ladies Who Lunch,” affair, I found mini pumpkins in the garden and used them for the name placeholders.

Black napkins and gold napkin rings accented the table look, as did the ceramic gourd soup bowls (Williams-Sonoma).

Even the seasonal biscuits from the “Spice Whisperer” Lior Lev Sercarz’s La Boite was wrapped in the pumpkin hue. (See the wrapped box on the table).

We enjoyed Lior’s biscuit treats as part of our dessert.

The seasonal menu included most everything from our garden: onions for the French Onion Soup: (Photo courtesy of Angie Lambert)

Fresh-grated Consider Bardwell Farms Rupert cheese - An aged, raw Jersey cow milk cheese inspired by great European Alpine cheeses like Gruyère and Comté.

We enjoyed Mother’s homemade bread, and garden-fresh eggplants for the Eggplant and Pasta with truffle buffalo mozzarella entree.
(photo courtesy of Angie Lambert)

 (Photo courtesy of Angie Lambert)

 (Photo courtesy of Angie Lambert)

I couldn’t resist making my trademark punch with garden ice floating ring for the Ladies Lunch.

(Photo courtesy of Angie Lambert)

I used Mint as the frozen in time greens. This you must start a few days ahead of time, freezing distilled water halfway in a bundt pan. When frozen, place your greens or flowers or whatever you want that will amplify a party theme - on top of the half frozen mold.

Then, fill the bundt pan with more distilled water to help cover the greens or flowers. Some will stick up from the mold -- which makes it all the prettier.

As the ice melts, the greens stay in the circular shape -- so that it comes to rest in the bottom as the punch is consumed. Lovely…

Ladies Who Lunch guests: Angie (L) and Maria enjoying the smoky punch.

For Halloween, I had to try the dry ice to produce a holiday, smokey drama.

I ordered the dry ice from our local Party Store. They told me I had 15 or 20 minutes to experience once I broke up (be sure to wear winter gloves) and ignited the dry ice with water.
It lasted longer than that but be advised.

The result was even better than I hoped for. It was giggling-good!

I encourage you to try this hostess treat for your next party.

Garnish the punch cocktail with fresh, local green apples.

Entry Hall
For the hallway table, I already had two “hands” that look like Thing from the the long-ago TV show, “The Addams Family.” (They’re creepy and they’re spooky…)

For the entry hallway, I was inspired by those “menacing-looking” spiky, small succulents.
Heading to our garden, I cut the spent hydrangea macrophylla -- the ‘Lady in Red’ cultivar offers gorgeous petioles and a red-veined style that I interpreted as a bit of blood-red color that paired well with “eyeball” picks decor for the vases.

I purchased glow-in-the-dark rubber-like “insects” that rest on the prickly succulents and red-swirled Murano glass bowl that is perched atop the antique Asian table there.
The “Thing” hands are sparkly, with an insert for a candle; I put little light globes in them.

And behind the bowl I placed white globe battery lights that I had previously purchased for holiday decorations.
The hallway table has black wrought iron sconces topped by battery operated candles - so with a few masks and tiny tin buckets filled with candy treats -- along with the shadow art the sun etches across the walls there - it’s a welcome Halloween tableau.

The little spiders are available in black - for the tablescape - and orange - which complemented the saffron/orange in our garden room so I strategically placed them on the spiral staircase.  Whimsical!

Front Door Entry
For the front door entrance’s black urns -- one on each side of the front door - the ferns are still looking good in this warmer than usual weather (I read today of ‘Hotumn’) and I already had two happy witches from years past. So I nestled our girls in among the ferns.
To add to the look, I got two of those Mexican, Dia de los Muertos skull heads to place in the big urns along with the witches. I love their colorful look and the significance that they represent prayer and remembrance of family and friends who have died.

The PS / funny part is that the squirrels knocked out one of the skulls - but the glue job made it only all the more realistic!

Boo to you! What will your table be wearing for Halloween?

The arbor twinkles with a view of the harbor

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

"What's New, What's Next" Apex and Epilogue from NY Design Center's InHouse Finishing Touches Cocktail Party

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We are Co-Presenters at What’s New, What’s Next! InHouse showroom at NY Design Center: Interior Designer Toni Sabatino (L) & me, Finishing Touches author, Leeann Lavin 

Thank you for attending this year’s ninth annual What’s New, What’s Next!

And for spending your cocktail time with me, Toni, the InHouse Kitchen, Bath, Home team: Dave Burcher, Mary Erker, and Leah Gold; and Wood-Mode’s Jim - and John.

Our InHouse Finishing Touches presentation celebrated the pre-release of my book which presents classic and new cocktails with heart-stopping garnishes, especially “garden-to-glass” and other creative finishing touches, including candy, jewelry, and fire -- along with the drinks’ delicious food pairings that complement the provenance and natural ingredients of the craft cocktails and the tablescape or cocktail composition presentations -- a kind of genius loci or "spirit of the place."
It’s all about honoring quality ingredients and the presentation to add that special, finishing touch.

While my Finishing Touches book (FT) is chock full of history - kneeling at the bar of classic drinks and their garnishes, it also presents a new lifestyle approach that aims to bring cocktails to the next level.  It was a perfect coupling -- that Dave has an eye for strategic and creative alliances.
The book's theme played footsie or “romanced” the InHouse and sponsor Wood-Mode’s brand attributes of quality ingredients, bespoke craftsmanship, and stunning, glamorous beauty.

Leading up to the WNWN event and the InHouse cocktail party the InHouse team along with Toni and me, highlighted those shared value attributes in the talking points and presentation.
And so too with the food pairings made with artisanal ingredients.

Our rehearsal on the Tuesday prior to Thursday’s WNWN event was missing Toni because she was detained with family in Florida by that wench, Irma. While we did a bit of Facetime, covering key points together with the help of Dave, Mary, and Leah, who was managing changes to our Powerpoint presentation, it was nevertheless a test of our resilience.

We triumphed!

I think our brief, animated Finishing Touches talk (here for full presentation) captured the essence of the tie in and crossover elements including the art of composition, handcrafted ingredients, and creating a display that evokes personality and elegance.

Here, me, Toni, and Dave are running through our paces one last time before our guests arrive and Dave kicked off the event with a finishing touch welcome and a timely joke…

With the help of Mary:

The images in my part of the talk highlighted how I created the cocktails and and came up with the food pairings and entertaining compositions to draw your eye - and your guests -- to a very happy hour!
I also included some tasty anecdotes and tall tales about classic garnishes and drinks.

To mark our Finishing Touches cocktail party, I chose two drinks from the book for their appropriateness to the event and to the season - and the ease of use to make.
Heart of Gold is a very glamorous cocktail with its gold-flaked, cinnamon-flavored liqueur (I was channelling autumn), artisanal ginger beer, cherry bitters

and a garnish of candied ginger affixed to the glass with a jewelry pin!

Sweater Weather is a Jessica Wohlers drink creation --- perfect for the season and so fitting for the sponsor and their cabinets! For the event, I created a custom garnish of knitting needles and colorful stitch holders!

The food pairings were plated on recyclable gold plates; cocktail napkins were monographed in gold lettering.
Food companions for Heart of Gold was inspired by my travels to Germany while attending school in Switzerland and informed by the cocktail’s Alpine liquor.

So pretzels and comfort-food Pigs-in-a-Blanket very much work. For the event, InHouse went top shelf, of course, and secured Martins Pretzels. These handmade pretzels fit perfectly into the quality ingredients we were showcasing at the Finishing Touches event. Plus the pretzels are my husband’s favorite for the same reasons…

The pigs in a blanket were Brooklyn’s Piggies --

artisanal pork or chicken ingredients wrapped in a flaky puff pastry!   Here, Jason is mixing up Heart of Gold for our guests.

The food pairing from the FT book for Sweater Weather is Figs garnished with goat cheese, walnuts, sea salt, basil, and balsamic vinegar, and honey.

All this attention to ingredients and details allowed Toni to expertly segue to Wood-Mode and Brookhaven:

“As you sip your Heart of Gold cocktail think of the kitchen as the heart of your home and illumination as the heart of your Wood-Mode cabinetry. Both the Wood-Mode and Brookhaven lines are now available with factory preparation for LED light strips in cabinet interiors. Think of the possibilities for lighting display cabinets, wardrobes and baths as well as your kitchen. We all want to create spaces with personality and the lighting options shown here are examples of how you can highlight some of those favored pieces, whether silver, china and glassware, art objects or cigars! Wood-Mode has also elevated under cabinet lighting to a new level with independent bottom panels to create a seamless look spanning multiple cabinets. This adjustable kelvin LED lighting option can create bright targeted illumination or simply give your cabinetry a golden glow. The option for factory lighting preparation adds a new layer of luxury to the wood mode line. As designers, we know that that the right lighting is everything! Even the pots, pans and coffee pods look fantastic with the right lighting.
Sweater Weather lent its charm to Wood-Mode and Toni’s talk this way:

“Sweater Weather” seems like a great time to talk about Wood-Mode's wardrobe cabinetry. As designers, we all that know that custom home design requires special attention to the closet. Deep drawers with full extension undermount slides can hold sweaters galore and custom jewelry compartments or tie racks are sure to keep all those accessories that make the outfit organized. Shown on this slide is Wood-Mode's new illuminated pole offering to illuminate those favorite sweaters. I invite you to look around the corner at In House’s custom closet display featuring side mounted LED light strips, some luscious fabrics and great organizational features sure to please in any weather. An inventory of your wardrobe and your personal garnishes, scarves, jewelry, accessories, along with a meeting with your InHouse design consultant is all you need to create that dream closet.
Finishing Touches celebrates the art of garnishing the cocktail and the art of hosting a cocktail party -- for one or 50 -- by seducing all the senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste… And as I reminded the guests -- nearly 200 of them -- “There’s no doggie-bag for a cocktail!” You have to be in the moment -- enjoying the look and ingredients -- and fun -- of the party!

Toni added:

Like the garnish makes the cocktail, Wood-Mode adds “Finishing Touches” to every main ingredient of their manufacturing recipe. Over 1000 touches, actually, from the hand selection of the boards to artisanal glazing to readying the product for delivery to your site. These hands on finishing touches happen in the factory in Kreamer, Pennsylvania, where folks like Mike and Roger handcraft each piece. Each dovetail is actually hand sanded! The rich layered glazes are also hand produced with limited variation to give you a “Finishing Touch” sure to please even the pickiest of clients. Hand buffed High Gloss is an exceptional look for those looking for the next generation of modern shapes and clean lines and then there is the rustic beauty of natural wood that works so well to create an elevated industrial look. Wood-Mode has a vast capability. Any paint color, custom finish, size or shape can be built for you, giving you the ability to be creative and the assurance of exceptional quality control.

I learned from the New York Design Center (NYDC) recent email that this year’s event was a “Record-breaking event -- with more than 7,500 guests who attended the best in design” celebration. The NYDC noted there “more than 52 designer celebrations, presentations, and panels - including ours -- 22 Meet and Greets, with the industry’s top names, editors, manufacturers (who) helped to make the 2017 WNWN the most exciting ever.”

Indeed, the day was truly exciting. And our event was a classy, swanky, fun, and delicious Finishing Touches cocktail party.

I was so happy my husband Bill was able to be there… And I was also overjoyed to see friends - some came all the way from the Garden State. Tom Sebazco - a contributing mixologist and artist took the time to attend - and walk all 15 flights up to the InHouse showroom because the elevators were all jam-packed!

Me and botanical artist, Jean Galle

                  Me and interior designer, Felicia Grant.

And new friends:

Briauna Gardner, Junior Designer at Lux Pad Interiors.

Thank you, Jason - extraordinary mixologist and photographer.

Then, there was the incomparable artist, Bek Millhouse - who creates graphic art -- she did the icons for the book in production now, Eat with Your Eyes First, Artful Entertaining with Verrine Recipes, (You can Like us on Faceback-  and help provide feedback, please).  Bek also paints - she does watercolors - (I own a Bek watercolor of an Ecuadorian scene ) -- she does pencil art - check out her pet portraits -  and she is a photographer - to name a few of her talents. Besides being so much fun to be with.

Bek took the photos of me and Toni at The New York Botanical Garden for the WNWN poster -- and came to the Finishing Touches cocktail party and took these wonderful photos. Enjoy the photo album she shared with us. Abrazos, Bek.

This could be my favorite photo - I love how Bek set up this shot in the InHouse kitchen with Finishing Touches and food pairings.

Bek photographing Toni the kitchen designer in her element. Me and my gal, Bek, the artist.

Me and Jennifer Calais Smith, one of the photographers from my first book, The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook. And I can see Bill and Toni in the InHouse kitchen beyond us!

Hello, Jennifer! (Plus I love my finishing touches hair piece from Avigail Adam )

Me and Jessica

Leah and me.

Jessica expertly working her Sweater Weather look - and cocktail!

                        Toni and me

Me and Toni       -- Love this woman and her talent!

We have so much fun working, designing, and traveling and eating and drinking together!

And some of my action shots taken at the post party. No one wanted to leave!
James Franco doppelganger, Lucas and girlfriend/fiance, Mary. What a dynamic couple! (I remarked that they are so perfect - they look like the couple images that come with a store-bought frame!)


Toni, Dave and guest

Thank you, InHouse and Wood-Mode. Cheers to more Finishing Touches!