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Easy Thanksgiving Surprises

Since everyone knows what your Thanksgiving meal is going to be, sometimes all you can do to make it special, and different from last year's, is how you decorate and set your table.

The Early Show's resident event planner, Colin Cowie, shared ideas on presenting a fabulous table that anyone can do in no time.

His secret is using natural, organic elements that are accessible everywhere, and using your festive meal as part of the decor.

"The idea," he says, "is to incorporate the season and nature into the decor. I always like using leaves and branches and things that anyone can find easily either at the local farmers market or even right outside."

Cowie uses a wood farm table, set for 10 people. Instead of using all the same chairs at the table, he uses a combination of mismatched chairs and a bench.

As for the table decor, Cowie starts with a potato-sacking jute runner with frayed edges. Along the right and left sides (lengthwise), he makes three-inch incisions every 10 inches, and weaves ribbon and thread through them. Then, he takes an ecru-colored hemstitched napkin and ties a matching ribbon around it. Next, he takes an actual leaf and writes a person's name on it; these are your seating cards. It all makes the table very fall-like.

Also suggested for the table: two wrought-iron candelabras on each side. Scattered around the table, you could have twig votives as well as dark brown and gold crysanthemums. Cowie says he doesn't use expensive flowers on the table because, "Not everyone wants to have to spend a lot of money on Thanksgiving decorations, especially after preparing a huge feast. I like to use flowers that are easily found, that are in season, and that are affordable for anyone."

To set the table, Cowie uses square plates from Kimmicca, which are gray and ecru with a leaf embossed on the bottom. Instead of using traditional stemmed glasses, he uses a set of wine tumblers for red and white wine. These glasses, which are new, make the settings modern but with a rustic element. Also on hand: gold flatware.

Because Cowie likes to use the runner and votives down the table as decoration, he doesn't use a traditional centerpiece. For this table, he employs the turkey as the centerpiece because, "Let's face it, once you start serving the food, the turkey is the centerpiece!"

Cowie prefers hollowed-out gourds for the cranberry sauce, and calls that one of the easiest things to do to really make the table look special, and as if you've spent hours planning and making everything perfect.

He also has some Thanksgiving side dishes, such as roasted yams, but it won't be too much food because it's more about the decor.

He leaves a few gaps on the table, where the food is placed, to complete the table. Many people make the mistake of putting so much stuff on the holiday table that there's no room for the meal!

For some of the food, set up a sideboard with a matching jute covering. Once your guests are seated and as soon as you're ready to serve, voila! You put the food on the table into the gaps we've left, and the payoff will be a fabulous table filled with decorations and a fantastic meal. The food will be presented on the sideboard and then moved to the table. When you add the food to the table, it takes it to the next level.

"Above all," Cowie stresses, "this is about using easily-found objects to decorate the table. An organic, natural approach is so easy for fall - and so appropriate. It's wonderful to incorporate the elements of nature into your decoration, especially when the holiday is all about a particular season, like Thanksgiving is."

A final tip for anyone cooking the bird this year is to use cheese cloth to cover the turkey for a portion of the roasting as a way of keeping it from drying out.

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