Four Questions With Debi Traub of Simply Beautiful Eating
On all other posts, we share inspired ideas for celebrating our Judaism;
on this post, we talk to the women who give us reason to celebrate.✨
I couldn’t be more excited to be featuring Debi Traub of Simply Beautiful Eating today on “Four Questions With”! Debi is such an inspiration to me. I’ve been following her over on Instagram for years now, and have always been blown away by her creativity, her photographic eye, and her out-of-this-world styling and interior design skills. She’s got a huge following of devoted readers over on her blog, and even if you’ve never visited the site, odds are you’ve come across her gorgeous recipes, pretty tablescapes, and stunning interior design work in some form or another (her kitchen, which she designed all on her own, was featured on Martha Stewart last year—it’s an absolute dream). She also happens to be the loveliest and most down-to-earth person, which sort of makes everything else about her even more wonderful. I got so much out of our conversation, and I hope you do, too.
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What would you say are the most important elements to consider when it comes to preparing a truly beautiful meal?
The two most important factors, I'd say, are the aroma and the decor. Those are the first two things your guests will notice when they walk in the door, long before they've had a chance to taste any food. First, they're hit with the smell of delicious food wafting over from the kitchen; next, they'll spy the decor and tablescape. To me, the first initial point of contact when the doorbell rings—that's what's key. Your guests are starting to arrive, and they're already excited to be here and they want to stay. It starts there, with the doorbell.
Of course, aroma and decor together are really just a fancy way of saying "warmth." That ambiance is critical. You can be in a very tiny apartment; you can be in a huge home, but no matter where you're hosting, there's just always that first initial point where you welcome your guests. There's got to be something that'll grab them into the house—something inviting, sincere, and beautiful.
If I might add a third...I'd say that it's also really important to have an organized seating plan for your guests. I love putting people where I know they're going to have the best time and great conversations.
That said, I really don't believe in the concept of a kids' table. I'd go so far as to say this ritual has become obsolete. Segregating the children means that you're essentially saying to them, "You're almost invited, but not quite." I’d rather have them sit with the rest of the family.
From start to finish, could you walk us through your typical tablescape creation process?
I'll start by saying that I truly believe that tablescaping is one of the most important things you can do when you entertain. You want the table to be a place where people really want to sit down and eat. If all you've got are paper plates and disposable cutlery, then go for it—I've hosted several parties of my own with gorgeous, throw-away tableware—but it can also be worthwhile to really invest in your table and your entertaining arsenal. When I entertain, I take out the very best that I've got. It’s one of my favorite things to do because a holiday deserves to be celebrated with tableware that you don’t use on a daily basis.
The first thing I do when I’m planning a dinner party is come up with some sort of a color scheme. Maybe you just want to keep things simple and pick a color palette that works well with your own decor, the things that you've already got going on inside your home. Maybe you'd rather go with the traditional colors of whatever holiday you're prepping for. Either way, it's important to pick one general set of colors and stick with them, though you can get creative with that too. Around Hanukkah time, for instance, most people are accustomed to decorating with blue and white. But that doesn't mean you have to go with royals and pure whites. You could instead go into all kinds of indigo shades, or you could throw in some copper in place of the typical silver.
The second step is to create warmth. When you're entertaining, it's the ambiance that'll keep your guests coming back for more. The general energy and vibe, the soft candlelight, the flowers, whatever you've got going on—just keep it friendly and festive, not austere.
Then there's the matter of flowers. You don't have to be a florist to make your table look truly beautiful—I promise! Just throw a couple of vases here and there, or arrange pretty floral greenery in the center of the table.
Finally—though I could really talk forever about tablescaping—I'd add that I love when people incorporate food within the table itself, and use food as a decorative element. It's the coolest thing ever. I've strewn grapes down the center of the table as a makeshift "garland," I've done apples, I've done pears, and I have even written names on painted gold eggs to use them as place cards. A tablescape that can be edible…now, that’s a fun and interactive tablescape.
“… To me, the first initial point of contact when the doorbell rings—that's what's key. Your guests are only just starting to arrive, and you’ve got to make sure they’re already excited. It starts there, with the doorbell.”
What's your favorite Jewish holiday to host?
I’ve got to go with Passover. I always want to make sure that whatever I’m serving is kosher for Passover, but with a fun twist. The constraints and laws of the holiday are difficult, yes, but they also make for such a cool opportunity to develop new recipes. You’ve got to work with and around those things to come up with recipes that are as interesting and vibrant as they would be without the modifications, and that’s a great challenge. A few years ago, I developed a recipe for coconut macaroons with blackberry and dark chocolate that resulted in this gorgeous purple color, and I also did a fun vegan lemon macaroon this year.
I also have to mention Hanukkah, of course! I actually got a little ambitious and melted down crayons to make my own candles last year, and I threw together a DIY latke party with Martha Stewart. There’s always something new to try.
“Measure with your eyes and cook from your heart.”
“Those exact recipes that our parents and grandmothers and great-grandmothers used might never be formally written down, but trying anyway to get at the heart of them and make some version of them on our own is so important...”
How do you strike a balance between maintaining tradition and pushing creative boundaries?
I think it’s not just fun, but necessary to put your own creative twists on each holiday. These sorts of DIY projects are an excellent exercise in creativity, but they’re also a wonderful opportunity to make each holiday personal to your family, and to get small kids involved as well. Children love to be involved in creating things for the holidays, after all, and making crafts or spinning ancient recipes is an easy way for them to learn more about each tradition and all the symbols involved.
I think that it’s so important for the new generation to join us in the kitchen and see what’s happening first-hand. Young kids might ask questions about this or that holiday or recipe or tradition, and the only way to really let them in behind the scenes is to have them join you. They’ve got to work with you, side by side, to make those traditions come to life.
My mom, who’s turning 98, taught me a long time ago that you’ve always got to “measure with your eyes and cook from your heart.” It’s a beautiful idea, and it centers on the concept that it’s the spirit of the thing that matters most. Those exact recipes that our parents and grandmothers and great-grandmothers used might never be formally written down, but trying anyway to get at the heart of them and make some version of them on our own is so important. We’re able to keep traditions alive that way, and we’re able to hold onto our cultural memories too.