Special Nonexistent Furniture

by Matthew Mead

Matthew is a stylist, writer, author, photographer, lifestyle editor, and noted style expert. Matthew is the official food photographer for the Associated Press and is a regular contributor to Better Homes and Gardens, Real Simple, and Oprah.com. He has also written several books and produced countless magazine spreads and ad campaigns for companies such as Pottery Barn, Dove Chocolate, Target, and Stonewall Kitchen.

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  • Photo Credit: Matthew Mead
  • Create an all-star celebration with my fun and easy style ideas that make the 4th of July extra special.

    "Its all in the details" is my entertaining mantra but I also like everything to remain simple and easy to accomplish in a time crunch. My wife Jenny and I have a few "tricks of the trade" that make it seem like we've spent lots of time preparing for summer dinner guests when in fact, all of our projects just take a few minutes.

    I love red, white, and blue color notes spread throughout my 4th gathering, but in a subtle, less commercial way. I also like seasonal gestures that leave my guests marveling at how fresh and easy simple style can be.
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    Photo Credit: Matthew Mead
    Seasonal fruits in a giant bowl are a great and welcoming snack and centerpiece. I like to fill a Ziploc bag with ice to line the bottom of the bowl and then fill it with strawberries, raspberries or cherries. The ice keeps the fruit fresh cool while the bag keeps the bottom fruit from getting saturated with water. I like to place these bowls all over the back yard so guest can mingle and snack.

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    Photo Credit: Matthew Mead
    Update classic flavors like a beef burger by skipping the bun and giving it a decidedly Greek flavor. Season ground beef with salt and pepper and grill over a hot flame. Once cooked, top a Greek salad complete with olives, feta cheese, and Greek dressing with the fresh burger. The salty kick of feta cheese and briny tang of kalamata olives add a lot of savory flavor to a burger that goes from simple to gourmet sensational.

    Try other combinations as well, experimenting with fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil or a Mexican burger topping refried beans and topped with pepper jack cheese, shredded lettuce, and tomatoes.

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    Photo Credit: Matthew Mead

    Add instant embellishment to a cookie that you can bake or purchase. We use pre-cut start stencils from the crafts store and a bit of confectionery sugar to sprinkle details on a dark, rich chocolate cookie. Simply place the stencil on top of the cookie and sprinkle with sugar from a shaker or small sifter. Display on large platters on the buffet or dessert table.

    Place star cookies on trays and platters to decorate the center of the table at dessert time. Add personal panache todrinking glasses with recycled bottle caps embellished with gingham scrapbook paper and names created with self-adhesive stickers. Attach to vessels with sticky dots from the crafts store.

    A simple go-to dessert is always ice cream. Try refreshing fruit flavors like pineapple or mango tucked inside candy coated edible shells. Simply melt candy coating discs from the baking section of the crafts store. Paint the melted coating inside paper muffin cups. Let harden and remove paper to create these tasty little shells. Top ice cream with fresh raspberries and tiny star cookies.

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    Photo Credit: Matthew Mead
    Cover chilled cans of seltzer or soda with colorful scrapbook paper attached to the can with double stick tape. Make a sign out of coordinating paper to denote flavors. Use the prettily packaged cans to decorate each table setting or dress up a "help-yourself" bar.

    Plain favor candy boxes are a real treat covered in colorful scrapbook papers. Cut desired shapes and apply to the box with double-stick tape. Use letter and number decals to personalize. Fill with fresh fruits like berries and cherries.

    Paper star luminaries can be hung in trees and from decks to add instant summer style.  I like plain white ones that I can embellish with colorful trim from the fabric store. Simply attach to the luminary using hot glue.

  • Photo Credit: Matthew Mead
  • In a world of pre-made iced tea, it is still more refreshing to make your own. Steep tea in boiling water and then "shock chill" over the best quality ice. Make your own ice using boiled water poured into ice cube trays (the boiling purifies the water and makes a condensed ice cube that will take longer to melt), or purchase fresh, organic ice from a reputable purveyor. Have plenty of fresh herbs like mint, lemon, thyme, and lavender on hand to fragrantly and flavorfully garnish your tea.
  • Photo Credit: Matthew Mead
  • Fresh fruit sangria is delicious and colorful and so easy to make. Find a favorite recipe on line or mix 3 cups of fresh fruit with 6 cups of crisp white wine and 1 cup of triple sec in a clear glass pitcher. Chill thoroughly for several hours and serve straight up in a pretty wine glass.
  • Photo Credit: Matthew Mead
  • Fresh berries are the colorful embodiment of the 4th. Make an edible arrangement by filling a compote with fresh blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Dot with hydrangea blossoms to create a pretty centerpiece.

    Or make this easy chocolate cream cake where whipping cream is sandwiched between chocolate cake layers (buy the cake pre-made from the bakery section at the grocery store). Fill layers with cream and top with a mix of fresh berries. Present on a cake stand and await the fireworks of "oh's and ah's".

    Use some or all of these ideas to infuse your "all-American" celebration with a little bit of style and set your summer off to a stellar start.

    - Matthew
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