Pumpkins, etc.

With October just around the corner, it is time to get my pumpkin on.   Truthfully, nothing makes me happier than the prospect of fall.   I think I’ve become even more obsessed with it since I moved to California because our seasons really aren’t so pronounced and therefore you have to work that much harder to actually feel the transition.  80 degrees?  Don’t care-  I am unapologetically putting that football game on, making a pot of chili, and squeezing into my skinny jeans and Frye booties.  Ideally I’d throw on my new Anthropologie wool poncho to complete the autumn vibe, but I’m starting to sweat just thinking about it (and remember, I do not have AC).

Another fall ritual in my house is “pumpkin” branches.  I first discovered these artistic gems at Trader Joe’s when I moved to San Francisco in October 2005.  They have carried them every year since and like clockwork, they show up in the flower section about mid-September and on my table shortly thereafter.  For $6.99 I think they make a stunning fall statement and there is virtually nothing to do to arrange them.  Just stick them in your favorite vase and voila, fall has arrived.

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Or, to keep it even more simple, just pull the branches apart and put them in individual vases and scatter them around the house (on a mantel or a bedside table, for example).

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This is actually an old wine jug from a winery in Santa Barbara and I just washed it out and peeled off the label (yup, that’s how we roll in this house…jugs o’ wine).  It’s perfect for branches and single blooms.

Now I love, love, love orange, but sometimes I also feel like less is more.  So with a pop of color in my kitchen, I was confident doing a more subtle fall spread in our dining room.  I picked up these grey and white pumpkins at Roger’s Garden in Newport Beach.  I realize grey pumpkins are tougher to come by, but white ones are easy to find and I think they too are unique, especially when clustered together in various sizes.

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Don’t make it complicated.  You can’t throw a stone without hitting a pile of pumpkins at the supermarket.  These little guys are $0.99 each and look adorable in a bowl or basket or scattered down a table.

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Besides, while there are many little things you can do to enhance the change of seasons, even in Southern California where we are in the height of an Indian Summer, there is still unarguably something about the late afternoon light and the quality of the evenings that unequivocally says “fall” regardless of whether you have pumpkins on your table or chili simmering on the stove.  Enjoy it.  Don’t make it a big deal or you’ll miss the moment while it’s here.

The First Sip is Like Jumping Into the Pacific Ocean

With a weather report like this at the beaches in Southern California, there really aren’t that many options.

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Especially, if like me, you do not have air conditioning.  Oh, and for the record, there is not a cloud in the sky so don’t believe that “partly cloudy” nonsense.

You can close the blinds, turn up the fans, and eat popsicles, but nothing will really take care of that thin layer of perspiration on your upper lip like a cold glass of ice tea spiked with a generous pour of vodka, garnished with lemon wedges and fresh garden mint.

This is my go-to summer cocktail.  Some days just beg for an earlier happy hour and I am not one to judge.  The fact that it’s Monday makes the argument all the more convincing as far as I’m concerned.  Besides, there are many time zones one may adhere to and that’s the beauty of having choices.

Don’t make it a big deal, just make the damn drink already!  The first sip truly is like jumping into the Pacific Ocean.

Pacific Ocean Tea:

Get your favorite glasses (the bigger the better) and fill them to the brim with ice. Do a very healthy pour of citrus vodka (Kettle One Citron is my fave, but on a budget Smirnoff Lemon will absolutely do it). Squeeze in a couple of fresh lemon wedges. Fill the rest of the glass with Snapple Ice Tea (Diet or Regular, again, no judgment). Garnish with mint leaves. Repeat every hour on a hot summer afternoon.

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Bougainvillea

I first fell in love with bougainvillea when my now-husband and I were in Cartagena, Colombia in April 2011 for our dearest friends’ wedding.  In fact, it was one of the first things I noticed when I stepped out of the taxi, second only to the weight of the humidity and heat that was so foreign to our coastal California selves at the time.  It was literally everywhere, cascading down verandas and climbing up walls.

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I couldn’t turn a corner without its vibrant, playful colors catching my eye.

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It crept even out of the most unassuming windows and cracks.

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Of course I had seen bougainvillea in California, but not like this.  Not winding its way up sherbert colored walls with women carrying full, lush fruit baskets on their heads while walking down the street like it was really no big deal.

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Sadly, the week before our trip, we had just cut back an entire bougainvillea bush in our front yard because it was unruly, thorny and seemed to lack structure in comparison to our succulents and neat, simple landscaping. We had succumbed to the all too pervasive mindset that bougainvillea is like a weed that can’t be controlled.  After all, in California, it grows in dark alleys and along freeways.  I guess you could say it’s kind of no big deal (making it the perfect topic for this post, of course).

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So where am I going with this?  Bla, bla, bla…we went to Colombia and I became obsessed with bougainvillea.  I realized it is not a weed and  accordingly, mourned the loss of our bush for a few weeks after our trip.

But with my newly trained eye, I quickly noticed that bougainvillea was absolutely everywhere in our neighborhood and was in fact, often being trimmed back by the gardeners.  In other words, would anyone really care if I snipped a few sprigs of it and popped them in bud vases for my dinner parties?  Um, absolutely not.

 

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So at our own wedding in Cabo, Mexico two and a half years later, I didn’t even bother dealing with a florist who likely wouldn’t get or appreciate my non-wedding vision.  Instead, I enlisted the help of all my boozy friends and family and began collecting tequila bottles of all sizes and shapes.  I soaked them in water and scrubbed the labels off.  It was a little awkward explaining to the customs agent why I had 40 empty tequila bottles entering Mexico, but I’m pretty sure I was the least of their worries.  The morning of my wedding day, I took two pairs of scissors, a large Frieda tote, and one of my very best girlfriends and we raided some massively overgrown bougainvillea bushes that lined the outskirts of the resort where I was staying.

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In less than an hour, we had my flower arrangements completed and it literally did not cost me a dime, though I remain forever indebted to this bestie for helping me pull it all off.

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I realize not everyone lives in a tropical environment with access to bougainvillea, but for those of you who do, I encourage you to take advantage next time you’re entertaining and don’t want to make a big fuss over flowers.  They look so bright and cheerful scattered across the table in bud vases. And even if you don’t have bougainvillea, I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that you at least have access to tequila.  Those empty, clean bottles make great vases for outdoor dining (especially if you’re serving margaritas and Mexican food).  Any bright flower will do:  Gerber daisies, roses, azaleas.  Have fun with it and whatever you do, don’t make it a big deal.