Holiday Hosting Tips and Tricks

Whether you’re a newlywed with all sorts of pretty new tabletop items fresh off your registry just dying to be used, or are planning on intertwining Grandma’s china collection with your own eclectic flea market finds, setting the table for a formal dinner can be an intimidating project. Especially if you’ll be hosting soon-to-be – or new – in-laws. But have no fear! Here’s a little guide to help you set a table so perfect that no one will notice you burned the sweet potatoes.

Spoiler alert: I totally cheated and mixed my own stuff with pieces from New England Country Rentals, but that just means you can cheat as well and use our friends at NECR to help you look fabulous for each of your holiday soirées!
Linens and china – my own. Rattan charger, knotted flatware, and classic glassware – New England Country Rentals.

When I was growing up, my family hosted enormous Thanksgiving dinners. On a few occasions, we had as many as 62 people for a sit-down dinner, not to mention dozens more trickling in and out for dessert. My parents made sure all were welcome, including family, friends, neighbors, boarding school classmates who couldn’t make it home for the holidays, and a 36-pound turkey. We had a long table winding through three different rooms in our house, and while not everyone had matching china, and our dining room chairs alternated with folding chairs and piano benches, everyone had a beautiful place at our table. I’m still not sure how my parents pulled it off so fabulously each year, so I asked my mom to share a few tips for hosting an amazing holiday feast, big or small!

Janice Murphy Linehan’s Holiday Hosting Tips 

  • Lists are your friend! A traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas meal is easy to make, but is time consuming and requires careful timing to make sure everything gets cooked and on the table warm and on time. Ordered lists help keep the day on track!
  • Plan ahead. Make sure your linens are laundered and silver is polished at least a week ahead of time. Set the table the night before.
  • Nix the kids’ table! Give your children the chance to look down the table and see multiple generations together.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. When someone asks what they can bring, graciously take them up on the offer. Make a game out of it – one year we had all the teenagers do the dishes, the next year it was all the men.
  • Most importantly, relax and enjoy. It helps to remember that everyone there wants to be there, and is grateful for being included in your feast!

Of course, this season is a wonderful time to reflect on all we have to be thankful for. Don’t let the holidays go by without taking time to be grateful for all the good things in life – both big and small!

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Anatomy of a Table Vignette, Part 2: The Elements

The greatest thing about a table vignette is the combination of elements and how they interact with each other to tell a story. You can tell any story you want, and it invites your guests to start a conversation! What better ice-breaker for, lets say, your fiance’s uncle, who is sitting at the table with your aunt, than discussing the vignette right in front of them? “What an interesting couple…”

There are many ways to create a vignette – and it can be minimalist or overflowing to produce a story.

"Knife and Glass", by Richard Diebenkorn

Detail can come in very minimal form, if it is well thought-out. Consider this painting: “Knife and Glass” by Richard Diebenkorn. There are only two elements represented in the painting. HOWEVER, there is more to the story – why is the knife in the glass? You are left to decide for yourself, which means there is an active third element: YOU. The painting needs YOU to finish the story. What you want is for your guests to want to do the same! Lead them in with a few clues, and then they are on their way.


Whether you aim to use a few elements or an abundant number or elements, consider carefully! A full-bodied vignette is no less complicated. You can’t throw just anything into the mix. Everything has to make sense when threaded together to tell a story. The cool thing is, you can always expand further. How about representing different elements of the story on each table, so that your guests have to look for clues? Very cool idea! We can have fun with that!

Faberge Magnifying Glass

This kind of thing is a blast for me, so if you have a jumble of thoughts, but can’t make sense of them, or how they might work together – this is where I could step in to create a story line for you! When you see the inspiration I develop from your thoughts (you will be surprised) in no time, you will be emailing ideas back and forth with me, and we will develop a one-of-a-kind theme that will be ALL YOU!

Let’s use the example of the vignette I created earlier for the Larz Anderson Auto Museum Wedding & Bar Mitzvah Expo (see “Anatomy of A Table Vignette”). Larz is a gorgeous, rough-hewn gentlemen’s horse barn, so it lends itself to rustic yet elegant styling. My inspiration: a greenhouse, which is a natural fit as there used to be an enormous greenhouse on site. My color palette: as much green as possible, with some flourishes of color. In a greenhouse, I imagine seeing mismatched rusty urns and old clay pots, wood, vintage glass, bits of nature, and everything looking overgrown and wild and lush. What else? Remnants of human presence: an attempt at some point to keep things in order. These ideas are what decide my physical elements.

Completed Vignette Concept For Expo Detail of Completed Concept

We have a completed concept, which was shown at the Expo. Now, what if you have a smaller budget – or just want less “stuff?” This can be accommodated very easily. If it’s a smaller budget you’re working with, we can simply start eliminating or changing out objects until we fit your budget needs.

If it’s less stuff that you want, I would consider carefully what appeals to you and what doesn’t. In reality, the world is my oyster and I can create anything your budget and taste allows, but – for the sake of simplicity – let’s just say we only have the items in the fullest photo to choose from.

With just the wire urn, small orchids and lighting Detail of wire urn, smaller orchids and lighting

If drama and light turn out to be the most important components on your list, for example, I might consider editing down to the large orchids and ferns in the wire urn, the two smaller orchids in rustic clay pots, and the mix-and-match mercury votives and vintage oil lamps.

Intimate proportion - everything tall removed

If you prefer everything to be detailed and at a more intimate proportion, I might suggest taking out the large wire urn and tall vases. Keep the smaller mix-and-match vintage apothecary bottles with different floral arrangements, the small orchids in rustic clay pots, and the lighting choices.

Detail of Intimate Proportion

As we eliminate, you might decide you want more detail that suggests a different atmosphere. Perhaps I would recommend that some of the objects be placed on vintage books, or some on vintage dishes or a rustic wooden riser. Or maybe a small grouping of elements would go on a silver tray under a bell cloche. There are always ways to add detail or change the storyline while simplifying and changing proportion. Even with the few elements we are working with in this example, you can see how the “feel” of the table changes as we add and subtract different objects. However, the “story” of the greenhouse still remains!

Let’s try it with YOUR ideas, shall we? I’m game!

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Hopsters: Brew Your Own Beer in Newton UPDATED

EDITOR’S NOTE: After our lovely visit to Hopsters, where they seem to be nice to anyone giving them free press, a few friends of Boston Betrothed booked brewing sessions there on our advice. And unfortunately their sessions were unceremoniously cancelled with no warning – one session for a birthday party with out-of-town guests was cancelled (via email!) the day before because, as they were told: It was slow that night so we decided to book a corporate event; those are more lucrative and sometimes small businesses need to make decisions like that. We wanted to let our readers know of all experiences so they can decide for themselves to brew or not to brew here. Boston Betrothed members and friends, however, definitely won’t be back.

Hopsters is a brew-your-own-beer spot located just off the Massachusetts Turnpike in Newton Corner. But the neighborhood regulars also know it as a great bar pouring Hopsters’ own brews and some from killer local purveyors as well as serving awesome snacks and charcuterie. Since we were on the hunt for new bachelor(ette) party ideas, the connection was made and sampling commenced.

Hopsters in Newton MA

Touring Hopsters

Our tour by Matt, Hopsters’ bar manager, started with a recipe book binder from which brewers select the type(s) of beer they want to create. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice either; if you love a Blue Moon, for instance, the brewmasters here will lead you in the right recipe direction. They will be as hands-on/-off as you like throughout, providing education on brewing to those new to the experience.

Next, head to the ingredient room to pick your locally-sourced grains, which will be combined into a large tea bag essentially to steep. Add in your hops and malt extract to the giant kettles to steam heat for just over an hour while you chill, eat and drink with your party. Come back 1–2 weeks later to bottle and label your beer (yield: 3 cases)!

Hopsters in Newton MA


Bottling Options

Keg (have your own beer at your own wedding – genius!), 12 oz. or 23 oz bottles. And if you send them a JPG or PDF of your design a few days before you come to bottle, they can print them for you to label yourselves.

The staff at Hopsters has definitely seen their share of bachelor(ette) parties come through the doors and love that they have so much fun brewing. They also recommend reserving space for a rehearsal dinner – or even just the engaged couple to brew the beer to be served at their wedding. Tres romantic.

Hopsters in Newton MA Hopsters in Newton MA Hopsters in Newton MA

More Hopsters Details

  • Pricing is based per kettle brewed.
  • Want to entice your party with a little eco-friendliness? All of Hopsters leftover grains from brewing are sent to local farms to feed livestock. Currently, that’s 16,000 pounds each week!
  • Beat the crowd: avoid Saturday afternoon/early evening for your party.
  • Love the idea for your wedding? Love it more for your office? Hopsters loves to host corporate events. Some of their groups even rent a bus to bring everyone over for a fun brewing afternoon.


News from Hopsters

1. Their three-man production crew? All ordained ministers! Can you see a Blessed & Brew event partnership with Boston Betrothed happening there in the future?

2. This month marks their one year anniversary! Check in to see if they’ve secured casks from Bully Boy Distillery or Ryan & Wood for an epic earthy brew session.

3. Rumor has it Hopsters is in talks to open a second location closer to downtown Boston – a pretty large space perhaps in the Seaport. If the success of their Newton location is any indication, we predict BIG things for this expansion! UPDATE: THE DEAL FELL THROUGH SO NO EXPANSION IN THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE.


292 Centre Street
Newton, MA 02458
Tuesday–Friday: 11:30am–3:00pm, 5:00pm–Midnight
Saturday–Sunday: 10:00am–Midnight


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How To Pin a Boutonniere with Darcy Hammer

One of the questions I consistently get from groomsmen during the prep portion of the wedding day is: “You’ve probably seen this done a million times, how do you pin on a boutonniere?” I honestly have no idea, so I asked Darcy Hammer to give us a quick tutorial. After watching this video you’ll realize it’s WAY easier than you thought!

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Choosing the perfect hair and makeup stylists

Last fall, I was honored to officiate for the beautiful Caily and Nate. Caily’s look was spectacular, so I decided to ask her how she felt about it, before and after!

Caily, you and Nate tied the knot last Oct. 19 in Woodstock, NH. You were a vision of perfection: gorgeous, peaceful beauty, elegant chic. How did you choose your hair stylist and makeup artist?

I am very blessed to have a wonderful hair stylist: Nichole from Scizzors by Troy in Concord. She has been cutting my hair for years and was the only one I would want to style my hair for any occasion. She rocks!

I chose Kriss of Kriss Cosmetics as my makeup artist because she is the absolute best at what she does. I have known her for many years, she did my makeup in both of my sisters’ weddings. Not only does she make you look magnificent, but she makes you feel that way too. Her positive, glowing energy is radiating. I wanted everyone who was near me that day to not only look their best, but feel amazing, too. Kriss is truly a blessing.

What advice would you give to a bride-to-be as she chooses her artists and her look?

I would tell the bride to follow her heart. If you meet your hair stylist or makeup artist and have an instant connection or just know they are the one, go with your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, or they aren’t excited to be with you on your special day, keep searching. You deserve to be surrounded by wonderful, happy people.

How did you feel when you first saw your photographs? Were you thrilled with your look? Is there anything you would have changed in hindsight?

I was absolutely amazed by the photographs. We were able to work with our photographer before the wedding, so we were very comfortable being ourselves. Everything about our look was magical. The mountains, the Fall, the bright colors of my bouquet against my lace dress and Nate’s grey tux. My hair and makeup completed the look and tied it all together. I wouldn’t change a thing!

Did you find that your look stayed the way you wanted it to throughout the day and night, or did you have to primp?

I chose to have my hair in an up-do so that I wouldn’t have to worry about fixing it all night. I was very happy with that choice since it looked wonderful the entire night. My makeup also lasted all night and only needed one touch up later in the evening after a teary speech from my dad! I was very pleased!


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The Vanilla Wedding Cake Conundrum

Cake Flavors!

One of the most under-appreciated aspects of planning a wedding is deciding on the flavor of your cake. Couples often come to their tastings so ready to talk about the design aspect of a cake that they completely overlook the endless list of exciting potential flavor combinations sitting before them. So many choices can leave couples feeling overwhelmed, and so often we hear the dreaded “I’ll just play it safe and go with vanilla…”

Stop right there.

First of all, this is YOUR wedding. This is a day all about you and your partner! Do you like vanilla? Are you willing to have this beautiful masterpiece of edible goodness be cut open only to reveal one of the most simple cake flavors out there? I mean, if you are a die-hard vanilla cake fanatic, by all means go with vanilla. But if you’re only choosing a “safe” flavor in order to please all your guests, we implore you to think again! Think about it: you wouldn’t choose your dress, your flowers, your favors, your what-have-you based solely on what you thought would make your guests happy, would you? Don’t get us wrong – guest happiness is important, but they are getting free cake out of the deal.

Vanilla Vanilla buttercream cake slice

Another thing to consider when choosing cake flavors is the potential for diversity. Larger wedding cakes are usually divided into multiple tiers. You can consider this as an opportunity to get some variety in your cake and buttercream combinations. For example, one tier could have coconut cake with pineapple buttercream, while another tier could have chocolate cake with raspberry buttercream. Seriously, we mean it when we say the possibilities are endless. An added bonus to this is that you won’t be forced to pick just one flavor.

Tropical wedding cake slice

You can also coordinate your flavor to coincide with the season your wedding falls in. Summer-friendly flavors are usually light and sometimes fruity. Lemon cake with raspberry buttercream is a great example of a perfect summer flavor. The contrast of the lemony cake against the pink buttercream practically screams summer. For fall or winter, we often suggest flavors that pack a punch of spice, such as carrot and apple. These moist and flavorful cakes are especially well-received during chilly months full of rich foods and hot drinks. But no matter the season, the bakers and decorators crafting your cake will be able to recommend which of their flavors perfectly suits your needs.

So remember: it’s your day, it’s your cake. Eat what makes you happy!
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Meet Kriss Blevens of Kriss Cosmetics!

One of our biggest recommendations for brides is to invest in quality hair and makeup styling on their big day. Getting pampered before you walk down that aisle not only relaxes you, but a fantastic stylist knows how to design a look that will bring out your best features and keep your style looking fresh all day for those thousands of photos that will be snapped! I sat down to chat with Kriss Blevens, founder of Kriss Cosmetics in Manchester, NH, to learn about her amazing business working on all the top celebs and politicians as well as local brides, and get some tips for brides-to-be!

kriss blevens

How long have you been working with brides for their big day?
I can hardly believe I have been painting brides for 27 years! The field of makeup is always an art in progress as technology forces our work to become more perfected because of HD cameras, and makeup fashion changes and products yield new effects. It certainly keeps the art of bridal makeup interesting. I have found that over the years, the general theme of a bride’s request for how she wants to look remains the same: fresh, naturally beautiful, defined and approachable…and definitely waterproof and kissable!

What is your process to get your client picture-perfect?
To get a bride picture-perfect is a long process, beginning with a consult preferably two to six months prior to her wedding day. The most important thing to me as an artist is to get to know my bride and make a connection with her. I want her to feel comfortable with me and to look forward to our time together on such a sacred day. I love asking questions and having the bride tell me everything about her wedding. Bridal makeup is not something that should just be thrown on, it should be designed and applied prior to the wedding day. I love it when a bride “can’t wait to look like this again” because she loves it so much. Bottom line: the bride must love the look and feel confident and gorgeous in it. My job as an artist and esthetician is to make suggestions on what she can do to improve her skin or shape her eyebrows; these are all things that need time to prep for.

kriss blevens

What kind of bride is a Kriss Cosmetics bride?
A Kriss Cosmetics bride is a bride who wants to celebrate her inner and outer beauty. A bride who wants a beautiful experience, not just makeup slapped on her face at a discount rate. A Kriss bride realizes that how you look is almost important as how you love.

Of course, on her wedding day, I will be prompt – if not early – to ease my bride’s mind. I will create a peaceful place to set up so she can relax and look out a window and reflect as I stroke every brush of beauty to her face. Often, I do deep breathing and positive affirmations with my nervous brides. It is often so much more than makeup. Add in a meticulous blend of colors, a well-planned, perfect recreation of her look…and she is off to say “I do,” and surely her partner will say the same. Your wedding day pictures are around forever!

Please tell me a bit more about your business.
In my 27 years of working as a full-time artist, I have surely become a master at my trade. Painting the faces of thousands brings the art to a level of perfection. My passion as an artist and my commitment to serving the people I am blessed to work with has opened mind-blowing doors for me. I am proud of my accomplishments of developing my makeup line and knowing that it is a superior product for women, and for the technical level I work at in my career as a national high-definition television specialist. I am the artist who transformed Hilary Clinton in 2008 for the presidential race, and traveled for 18 months as the head makeup artist for CNN. I have worked extensively with political and media celebrities for 21 years with NBC, ABC, FOX, PBS, HGTV, the Food Network, and more. My work has been talked about in Allure Magazine, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and I have appeared on “Access Hollywood” and “Inside Edition” for my work on political dignitaries. And through all this, I consider it an honor to paint each and every face, no matter what walk in life has brought them to my touch.

What does every client need to know when thinking about their hair and makeup?
Every bride should feel a special energetic connection to their artist on their wedding day. It’s a feeling, it’s the touch, and certainly the art must be perfect…after all, it’s her perfect day!

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Naked Cakes: Letting It All Hang Out

As professionals in the wedding industry, it’s part of our responsibility to be up to date on trends. We’re well versed on what’s up and coming on sites like Pinterest; we’re familiar with bunting and gold leaf and mason jars and everything else that’s currently hot in the world of weddings. One major trend we’ve been seeing lately is the “naked” cake. That’s a cake divided into layers, each layer filled with buttercream and/or fruit, and stacked – with no frosting on the outside. Just layers of cake and buttercream. This creates a rustic-looking cake, for those going for a less refined type of wedding.


Cake by – Photo by AmalieOrrangePhotography

For us, the naked cake trend is a tough sell. We bake all of our cake from scratch, and that includes using butter rather than oil in most cases. When exposed to air, a butter-based cake has a tendency to dry out. This is because butter-based cakes have more air whipped into them during the baking process, creating tiny air pockets that can result in a drier cake when exposed for long periods of time. That’s the great thing about buttercream – it’s airtight and creates a blanket to seal in that moist goodness. We would never want a couple to have a beautiful cake that didn’t taste just as good as it looks, which is why we often try to steer couples away from the idea of the naked cake. That being said, there are some cakes – carrot cake for instance – that are entirely oil-based cakes. These oil-based cakes are more rich and dense in texture and therefore have fewer places for air to sneak in and dry it out. Our carrot cake is incredibly moist and would probably fare well when exposed to the air for a few hours.

If you’re interested in having a naked cake at your wedding, consider asking your baker about the specific ingredients in each cake. We recommend either an entirely oil-based cake or at the very least, half butter, half oil. This will help the cake retain moisture while exposed to the air, resulting in a beautiful and still delicious cake. Whatever you choose, be sure to discuss with your baker and cake decorator the best way to store and handle your cake before the ceremony to ensure when it comes time to serve it, it’s at room temperature and won’t be exposed to any extreme cold or heat.

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How Long Should Our Wedding Ceremony Be?

I’m often asked this question by my couples at our first meeting: “How long should the ceremony be?”

How Long Should Our Wedding Ceremony be?

As a team, I guide them by asking a few questions:

  1. What time is your cocktail hour?
  2. Do you have special readings or songs during your ceremony?
  3. Do YOU like sitting through lengthy ceremonies or do you prefer a 15 minute ceremony loaded with inspiration and romance, intimacy and personality, motivation and humor?

We make the decision on length based on their answers, though the average ceremony length is approximately 15 minutes. You can fill your ceremony with as much love and inspiration as you like: you can keep it short and sweet, or stretch it out to fit your needs and desires. As long as you have a good rapport with your officiant, you will work together to create the perfect ceremony!

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To Freeze or Not to Freeze?

That is the question. The age-old tradition of saving the top tier of your wedding cake in your freezer and then digging it out a year later to celebrate your first anniversary is something of a debate in the wedding cake world. Should you stick with tradition and actually eat a year-old cake, or should you break tradition and at the same time free up crucial space in your freezer?

A lot of couples come to us at their cake tasting and say, “Wait a second, aren’t we supposed to save that top tier for our first anniversary?” as if it was a written rule in The Wedding 10 Commandments somewhere. This tradition actually started back in the 19th century. At that time, a wedding cake was a brandy-soaked fruit affair that was easily preserved for long periods of time and was believed to bring good fortune to your marriage. At our bakery, we bake all of our wedding cakes from scratch – without preservatives – just three days before they’re served. We don’t freeze our cakes at all during our process, so why would we recommend freezing the top tier? We don’t.


Our cake in Boston Wedding Magazine Spring/Summer 2013

For hardcore traditionalists, we recommend saving the top tier for dessert the night after the wedding, or at the most, save it in the fridge until you get back from your honeymoon. One week, max. Another consideration is that if the top tier is being saved, we will have to bake more cake. For example: If you are planning your wedding cake to serve 100 guests and you want to take the top tier home with you, you will have to order a cake to feed 110-115 servings. The top tier of an average 100-serving cake will be a 7″ round, which feeds about 12-15 people. If you take that home, what remains still needs to feed 100 guests.

If you are sticking with tradition, be sure to inform your venue that you’re saving the top tier so that they don’t cut it up for serving. They should be able to box it up (in a box usually provided by your baker) and send it home with you or a trustworthy, non-sweet-tooth member of your family. When you get home, wrap the cake in plastic wrap, and then foil… and then wait a year. The day before you want to eat it, let it thaw in the fridge, and then warm up to room temp before serving. It might taste OK, and it might not…We don’t know what else you store in your freezer, or if you’ll store the cake next to your pickled garlic!


Oakleaf Cakes

If you are rebelling against this tradition all in the name of extra freezer space, you won’t have to worry about keeping track of that cake from the night after your wedding until a whole year later. We recommend coming back to us on your first anniversary and ordering a custom-decorated cake designed around all the fun stuff you did in your first year together. This also gives you a chance to try out a new flavor combo that you’ve had your eye on, and maybe even start a new tradition!

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