Dish & Design experts: Put new spin on holiday decorating, gift-giving this year

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Holiday decorating doesn't need to be the same year after year: Try looking at your decor in a new way, whether it's hanging ornaments on a doorknob or putting a bottle of wine in a stocking rather than a gift bag, suggests Homestyle columnist Jeanine Matlow.

Twin brothers Shimar Mitchell, left, and chef Omar Mitchell prepare two designs for a buffet table at the holiday installment of The Detroit News Dish & Design event at The Show in Clawson on Wednesday.

Matlow was one of several speakers at Wednesday's Dish & Design, where the focus was on the holidays, from unique gift ideas to whipping up the perfect holiday dessert cocktail. Held at Leon & Lulu in downtown Clawson, the event drew more than 100 readers to the popular lifestyle store.

Matlow offered a range of holiday hacks, from putting silverware in new pairs of socks that could double as party favors to using vegetables or fruit in hues of green and red to create a festive holiday buffet. And who says a stocking can't be filled with something and sit on a dresser? It can, said the longtime columnist.

"Think outside the box," suggested Matlow. "You don't have to hang your sock from the mantel."

Mary Liz Curtin, the owner of Leon & Lulu and its sister store, The Show, located in the former Clawson movie theater on 14 Mile, said, as she shot a Banana Squeeze Popper into the audience, consider gifts that bring out the inner child. Or indulge and buy a fancy food you'd never buy yourself but would for a loved one. She said Michigan-made products are always hit for those who've moved away.

When it comes to wrapping gifts in a unique way, even if it's a gift card, have fun with that too, said Curtin. Tuck a gift card in a book or wrap a present in a fun dish towel. Leon & Lulu carries a wide range of humorous dish towels.

"Dish towels are the hottest things these days," she said.

And if you aren't sure what to get someone, Curtin said her go-to gift is soap or food.

"I like things people can use," she said.

As far as holiday food and entertaining, Chef Omar Mitchell of Craft Creative Catering said make sure to bring the wow factor. He demonstrated how to create a herb infused shrimp satay with a sticky holiday rice. To plate the dish, he put each sauteed shrimp on an individual skewer and then created a teepee of sorts with a cucumber, which he put over the rice. 

"When guests see your food, you want it to have a wow-factor approach," he said. "I love drama."

Tamara Perrin, left, and Shirley Perrin Waller, both of Detroit, prepare to taste a hot buttered rum holiday cocktail prepared by staff from The Exchange at the Detroit News Dish & Design event.

Justice Akuezue and Davante Burnley of the Exchange Catering & Craft Cocktails, meanwhile, created their own wow factor with a Hot Buttered Rum holiday cocktail, a lovely end to any holiday meal. To make the dessert drink, Akuezue  first made a batter using butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and melted ice cream. He then added whiskey and portion of warm milk. 

"If you want a crowd-pleaser, this is definitely the way to go," said Akuezue, who with Burnley hosts pop-up dinners across Detroit that pair elaborate four-to-five-course meals across the city with cocktails.

Jeffrey Jucewicz of Jeffrey Floral Architecture shows how simple and elegant a centerpiece can be made, this one with carnations and holly, at the holiday installment of the Detroit News Dish & Design event at Leon & Lulu in Clawson, Mich. on Dec. 5, 2018.

As for the tablescape that you create for your holiday meal, who says you have to use one large floral arrangement, said Jeffrey Jucewicz of Jeffrey Floral Architecture in Troy. Using approximately 12 bud vases, he filled four with red roses, four with Sweet William and four with another flower. In between the vases, he scattered bud vases.

"Suddenly you're creating a really interesting table," he said. "And you don't have to do five to seven flowers. I stick to two or three. And be aware of your textures."

The key is to keep things simple, Jucewicz said. Guests will respond to that. He created another arrangement with a large round vase in which he'd put floral foam in the center. He then covered the foam with white spider mums. He later put a rose in the center and a few holly brunches to create a stunning arrangement.

"It's something that appeals to everyone," he said.