Photos by Sarah Ward Weddings.

Free rein feast: An equestrian-inspired holiday gathering

Photography: Sarah Ward Weddings
Planning and design: Angela Marie Events
Floral: Angela Marie Events
Place cards and menus: Rachael Roxanne By Hand
Furniture: Distressed Rentals & Revival

Arabian horses have always been known for their strength and stamina. In their earliest days in the desert, they had to be extremely hardy to survive the rugged conditions. Their sturdy hooves stood up to the sandy and rocky landscape, and their distinctive body shape allowed them to carry heavy loads over long distances. Even today, these horses are known for their endurance.

Arabians are also known for their loyalty and ability to bond with humans. It is said that the ancient Bedouins treated them like members of the family, sharing their food and water with the horses and welcoming them inside their tents. The gentle, affectionate and empathetic personality that resulted is still a unique characteristic of the breed.

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Endurance. Affection. Empathy. Sounds like the perfect ingredients for a Thanksgiving celebration that comes after several long months of keeping our distance from friends and family. So inRegister asked event planner and floral designer Angela DiVincenti Babin of Angela Marie Events to create a fanciful holiday gathering set right in the midst of these beautiful creatures. At Live Oak Arabians, a sprawling ranch that stands as a respite in the heart of the city, Babin planned a holiday scene that’s equal parts rustic and refined.

From the moment visitors arrive at the Live Oak Arabians barn, it’s obvious that this is no ordinary day in the hay. The arched front doors are set off with oversized grapevine wreaths upon which Babin has affixed flowers in shades of coral, bronze, copper, mustard and peach. “It’s a color palette that’s not traditional for Thanksgiving,” Babin says. “It kind of brings the masculine feel of the barn together with a feminine element that’s unexpected.”

Inside, the dining table is set beneath a massive chandelier laden with more of the warm-hued blossoms, along with foraged vines and branches. On the table itself, she has arranged dahlias, amaranthus, garden roses and white majolica along with leaves that are just finding their fall color, all within a petite footed urn. The centerpiece stands out atop a neutral textured tablecloth that puddles on layered Turkish rugs. Surrounding the table are bentwood chairs with rust-colored velvet seat cushions, and at each end is a weathered leather armchair that plays off the space’s masculine vibe.

“I think the rugs and the linens help to soften a space like this, with all of its wood and brick,” Babin says. “Rugs can give a warm feeling to any space, even outdoors.”

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Babin has opted for casual pieces on which to serve the food and drink, making this a no-fuss feast befitting its surroundings. Stoneware plates from Macy’s can transition easily from everyday use to Thanksgiving, and wood chargers echo the tones of the massive columns that flank the table. Plaid napkins from Pottery Barn give a wink to a Ralph Lauren-esque equestrian style, and hand-lettered menus and place cards on deckled-edge paper spell out the fact that these festivities are anything but fussy.

The menu for this meal is a mélange of dishes created by a combination of local chefs and bakers and inRegister food writers. The dinner begins with a Fall Harvest Salad by Aimee Broussard of our Aimee’s Pretty Palate column; she cleverly incorporates traditional holiday flavors like cranberries, squash and spinach into a fresh dish that’s a departure from heavy holiday casseroles. Next up is frequent Cuisine department contributor April Hamilton’s family-favorite Butterhorn Rolls, of which she proclaims, “The moment they emerge from the oven, they start to vanish right off the cookie sheet.”

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Lisa Boudreaux-LeCoq, the chef behind catering company The Gilded Artichoke, tackles the heart of the meal with a twist. Instead of the typical turkey and cranberry sauce, she serves up Roasted Herbed Cornish Game Hens along with a Quick Sage and Brandy Cherry Jubilee. On the side, LeCoq presents a platter of pretty Braised Heirloom Carrots with Honey Greek Yogurt. “These are recipes designed for the home cook,” says LeCoq. “I chose easy, budget-friendly, semi-homemade dishes that are shortcuts to help everyone celebrate the holidays.”

The slide toward the sweet side begins with individual-size Sweet Potato Tarts by Laura-Kate Amrhein of Sweet Stirrings. Food writer Maggie Heyn Richardson, who pens our Dish department story each month, finishes off this feast with her fancy Lemon Charlotte, which she discovered years ago in a community cookbook from her hometown in Georgia. “It’s a little bit of work, as is sometimes the case with recipes in these old cookbooks,” says Richardson, “but it’s hard to find a prettier dessert whose flavors and textures so nicely complement the biggest meal of the year.”

Event designer Angela DiVincenti Babin shares her top tips for holiday hosting at home:
Bring the indoors out. “We have a huge family, so when we gather for family holidays, we often eat outside,” Babin says. “I love to pull out touches of indoor décor like these rugs and use them in unpredictable ways.”
Go green from your own backyard. “I used greenery that I found in a field behind my son’s school,” she says. “You don’t have to go out and buy every flower or branch for your arrangements.”
Seek the element of surprise. “It’s easy to get stuck in a decorating scheme,” she admits. “Try something outside the box like adding flowers to your dining room chandelier, and you can really jazz up a space without much effort.”
Basic is often best. “Details like these casual stoneware plates from Macy’s aren’t something you’re only going to use once a year,” she notes. “They can be part of your year-round rotation.”
Have a backup plan. “I always want to be prepared for the unexpected,” Babin says. “Keeping a closet or cabinet stocked with pretty pieces like dried florals and simple glasses and dishes makes it easy to mix up the look even if something breaks or extra guests arrive.”

Click here for all the recipes from this full holiday menu.

Click here to read more about the history behind Live Oak Arabians.