When produce is at its peak, it's hard to resist the call of farmers' market stalls -- we just can't whoosh by without stuffing our bags! When test kitchen director Diana Sturgis scored some multicolored cauliflower, she found a way to get more mileage out of her purchase: Use the heads to make vegetable "bouquets" before cooking them. "It's a great way to get my grandkids to love their veggies, too!" she says.
When we needed a designer to give the ol’ fruit-bowl centerpiece a remix, we knew exactly who to call. Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, founder of Apartment Therapy and author of Apartment Therapy's Big Book of Small, Cool Spaces, constantly dreams up inspiring new twists on simple decor. He taught us how to top our tables with this fresh arrangement. To make it, top a few cake stands or footed bowls with heirloom tomatoes of various shapes and colors. Place a few smaller plates or bowls around, filling each with another tomato or two. Finish the farm-to-table look by scattering singles or bundles (still on the vines) around the glassware.
Try this fresh idea from interior designer Michelle Adams, founder of eco-friendly textile line Rubie Green (rubiegreen.com). She found all the raw materials she needed at her local farmer's market. To make it, scan the produce aisles for root vegetables like onions, carrots and radishes with their stalks and leaves attached (flowering bulbs work great, too). Grab a couple of clear wine decanters or vases and rest one veggie (or a bundle of them) root side up in the opening, letting the greens dangle down inside the glass.
Greens to Envy
No need to rummage around the house for table decorations -- you can make a striking centerpiece just by reaching into your veggie crisper! Inspired by the produce stands at their local farmers' market, lifestyle experts Michele Adams and Gia Russo, known as the MiGi Girls, casually tuck kale, rosemary and oregano between heads of leafy cabbage, lettuce and radicchio. Try your own combinations to match your mood or menu. And when your guests are done feasting their eyes, disassemble it into a big tossed salad for next night's dinner.
If you have yet to make a dent in that economy-size cinnamon container you bought last year, think outside the (plastic) box, says pop packaging designer Karim Rashid. Put old spices and salts to use as the eye candy at your next dinner party. Karim’s idea: Make sand-art-style decorations using spices that are past their prime (most start losing flavor after a year on your shelf). Spoon or funnel spices and salts one at a time, alternating colors and textures, into glasses. Vary the height of the layers depending on the amount of each spice you have.
All Bottled Up
Dina Cheney makes a living showing you how to throw cheese tastings, honey tastings and other food-sampling parties. When we asked her to design a centerpiece, she came up with another tasty idea: Fill Glass bottles with assorted extra-virgin olive oils and add supermarket ingredients like rosemary sprigs, fresh chiles and citrus peel. You can give away the decorative oils as parting gifts.
Jonathan Adler -- interior designer and consummate tastemaker-- has three words for anyone who's facing a bare dining-room table: Arrange with attitude! His idea for this centerpiece involves nothing more than bowls and vases (use what you have), a piece of foliage, green apples and walnuts. Organize as you wish -- try symmetry (two vases, one bowl), or a random cluster. His arrangement comes with an added bonus: Your guests can snack on it after dinner.
All Choked Up
For us, food is the best part of any party! That's why we love this centerpiece by Jackie Shapiro, designer of the French Bull line of colorful melamine plates. Jackie's idea: Elevate the artichoke! Start by clipping the stems off several of them. Then fill vases with water and add a few drops of food coloring to each. For the finishing touch, plunk the artichokes on top. Change the look seasonally by topping the vases with other colorful produce, like pomegranates, grapefruits or mini gourds.
We've seen it jiggle for decades -- finally, Jell-O gets to play a bigger role at the dinner table. Evette Rios, one of Rach's go-to design gurus, elevates the translucent dessert to art with this nifty trick: Combine six boxes of Jell-O powder with half the amount of water specified, chill the mix in a glass vase for half an hour, then just push flowers into the semi-firm gelatin. Design your own -- in any color!
Michael Moloney decorates an entire home in one week on ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, so we figured the seasoned designer would be able to dress up a dinner table in about three seconds. We were right. His idea: Drop some lemons and limes into clear glasses and vases -- whatever you have around the house -- and top with water.
True, the best thing to do with fresh spring asparagus is eat it, but when there's enough to go around, home-design guru Christopher Lowell serves up these topiaries. Just wrap the stems with aluminum foil and anchor them in a flowerpot with mixed unshelled nuts.