The Holiday Table:
A Festive Feast with Athena Calderone
“There’s nothing more rewarding than to be with the people that you love, serving them amazing food,” says Athena Calderone, the interior designer and self-described “visual creature” behind the blog Eye Swoon. “I like to create a beautiful plate of food, with texture and color and composition. But I also love to set a beautiful tablescape.” She demonstrated her knack for both during a recent visit to The Apartment by The Line, transforming the marble dining table into the setting for a festive holiday feast with the help of Darroch and Michael Putnam of floral design company Putnam & Putnam.
Wife to DJ-musician Victor and mother to 11-year-old Jivan, Calderone developed a love for cooking gradually. “When I first started cooking, I found that it was a real mood-lifter for me,” she says. “My husband and my son would be off doing their own thing, and I’d put music on and sing and cook.” Today she is a confident and creative cook who delights in experimentation. “I never approach a menu with absolute certitude,” she explains. “Especially for the holidays, I’ll write and rewrite and come up with a billion combinations, and then usually when I food shop I buy more than planned and see how I’m feeling as I’m going.”
For the festivities at The Apartment, Calderone focused on full flavors and playful contrasts with dishes such as squash on toast and a blood orange galette, all washed down with a ginger-infused sparkling cocktail. The drink’s frosty, fizzy quality is shared by the tablescape, for which she bypassed the rich reds typically associated with the holidays. “Looking at images of The Apartment and being in the space, I thought it would be interesting and unexpected to go more Scandinavian, with silvery greys and touches of purple hues, and being inspired by herbs like rosemary and sage.”
Everybody loves a cheese plate, and it’s so easy to assemble. I start with a few favorite cheeses, and then I like to add figs or a sweet chutney, charcuterie and olives, just something to nibble on. Athena Calderone
Winter Spice Cocktail
1.5 oz Cointreau
.75 oz fresh lime juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
3 small slices of fresh ginger
2 oz sparkling wine
In a cocktail shaker, muddle the ginger with Cointreau, lime juice, and bitters. Shake with ice and strain into a Champagne coupe or flute. Top with your favorite sparkling wine. Garnish with candied ginger.
This cocktail conjures up the idea of sparkling winter spice. The Cointreau plays off the citrus flavors in the menu, ginger has a nice spicy bite to it that feels perfect for winter, and the prosecco makes it celebratory. Who doesn’t love a little bubbly and a little spice around the holidays? Athena Calderone
“I love simple ideas executed in thoughtful ways,” says Calderone, who dispensed with traditional menu cards in favor of small brown paper bags that doubled as table favors. Each was filled with a scoop of fresh-from-the-oven candied nuts: walnuts and almonds soaked in a mix of brown sugar, honey, salt, pepper, chile powder, and cinnamon. “They’re just mini lunch bags. Using something so basic and familiar could be perceived as arts-and-craftsy or it could be a simple yet elevated touch.”
It’s always nice when you’re hosting to have a little takeaway. These bags hold candied nuts—with honey, salt, sugar, and spice, they hit a lot of spots in the palate. Athena Calderone
I love working with like-minded creative people. Being on your own isn’t any fun! And I love being inspired by others. Working with Darroch and Michael from Putnam and Putnam, I learned how to make a garland. I would probably just have placed the greens on the table, but their approach added depth and texture. Athena Calderone
I’ve never baked with citrus before, but I really wanted to! I knew citrus would be a focal point on the tabletop, so I decided to make a blood orange galette. Blood oranges are so saturated, beautiful, and seasonal. Athena Calderone
We like to work with flowers in an organic way, with beautiful color stories. We lean toward dusty, antique palettes and interesting textures. Our favorite thing to do is transform spaces with large-scale installations. Darroch Putnam
In working with Calderone to create a table worthy of a holiday feast, the Putnams began with a trip to Manhattan’s flower district, a verdant stretch of West 28th Street. “The market is where we really get inspired and creative,” says Michael, who worked in interior design before deciding to make a career of his lifelong passion for flowers. “Things just start coming to life for us.” They typically let the flowers take the lead, selecting the freshest and most beautiful blooms to set the tone for their arrangements.
On this particular day at the market, the couple was seduced by lavender anemones. “They were gorgeous, so we kind of wrapped the color palette around that,” says Darroch, who came to floral design from the world of photography. The violet tones take on an ethereal quality when surrounded by shades of green made frosty by silver accents. They reached for lacy-leafed ranunculus, olive branches, evergreens, and eucalyptus, including the bell-shaped pods that evoke the chance meeting of an acorn and a starfish. “It’s important to mix textures when you’re making an arrangement or a garland,” adds Michael. “You want a full variety—pods, berries, greens, and then some wispier pieces, like a dried grass.”
Making a Modern Wreath
We used all olive to give our wreath a simple, chic look and finished it with a green satin ribbon, allowing the tails of the bow to hang off. Darroch Putnam
The Putnams look to season, scale, and space as key inspirations. “Arranging in The Apartment, it’s almost too easy to place things,” says Darroch. “When I first walked into the space, I was struck by how every corner is very well thought-out, yet it looks effortless.”
In addition to the table garland, the Putnams created a modern wreath: a swoop of olive branches that is understated yet bold in its asymmetry. And for a hostess gift? They suggest “a small arrangement in a pretty footed bowl” or “a loose bouquet, in brown paper and tied with twine.”
Blood Orange Galette
Adapted from a recipe by Zoe Nathan
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus 1 tablespoon for dusting
2 tablespoons sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for dusting
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1⁄2 sticks butter cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces (very cold)
4 to 5 tablespoons ice water
8 to 10 blood oranges
1 large egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon of heavy cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon raw brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter, melted
Deep, Dark Salted Butter Caramel Sauce (recipe below), for serving
In a food processor, pulse the flour with 2 tablespoons of the sugar and salt. Add half of the butter and pulse several times, then add the rest. Pulse just until it is the size of peas. Add the ice water and pulse a few more times, just until mixture holds a non-crumbly clump. Turn the crumbs out onto a work surface and pat the pastry into a disk. Wrap the pastry in plastic and chill overnight (or at least 6 hours) in refrigerator, or freeze for 1 month.
Meanwhile, peel the blood oranges, removing all of the bitter white pith. Thinly slice 2 of the oranges crosswise; remove the pits. Transfer the orange slices to a plate. Working over a sieve set over a bowl, cut in between the membranes of the remaining oranges, releasing the sections into the sieve. Remove the pits and gently shake out as much juice as possible without mashing the sections; you will need 1 cup of sections. Reserve the orange juice.
Allow dough to come to room temperature. On a floured work surface, roll out the pastry to an 11-inch round with a pin. Dust the center circle with a mixture of 1 tablespoon flour and tablespoon sugar: this will prevent the galette from having a soggy bottom.
Arrange the orange sections on the pastry, leaving a 2-inch border all around. Sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar over the oranges and drizzle 1 tablespoon melted butter. Fold up the pastry over the oranges, leaving most of the oranges uncovered. Brush the pastry with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with 1 tablespoon of the raw sugar. Arrange the orange slices on top, leaving a 1-inch border of pastry all around. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar on top and drizzle the remaining egg wash on top. Freeze the tart until solid, at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375° and position a rack in the center. Place a baking sheet on the rack below to catch any drips. Bake the tart directly from the freezer for 75 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling and the pastry is deeply browned. Transfer the cookie sheet to a rack and let the tart cool for 30 minutes. Carefully slide the parchment paper onto the rack and let the tart cool completely.
Serve with Deep, Dark Salted Butter Caramel Sauce and vanilla ice cream.
Deep, Dark Salted Butter Caramel Sauce
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons salted butter
1/2 cup plus two tablespoons heavy cream, at room temperature
Melt the sugar over medium to high heat in a larger pot, whisking or stirring the sugar as it melts to ensure it heats evenly. Cook the liquefied sugar to a dark copper color. Add the butter all at once and stir it in, before turning off the stove and pouring in the heavy cream (the sauce will foam up). Whisk until smooth.
Use the sauce immediately or pour into a jar and store in the fridge for up to two weeks (microwave for 30 seconds to restore the sauce to pouring consistency).