During cornucopia season, a.k.a. this very time of year, it's tempting to think "Centerpiece!" as you decorate pumpkins and pass by stems of pussy willow at the grocery. But the reality of most dinner parties—and arguably the best dinner parties—is that they're more casual than highly-produced affairs. Food will be crowding the table, friends will be crowding the room, and the decorations will not (and should not) take you all day and all night to shop for and arrange.
For your next get-together this season, an idea: Small bundles of dried fall leaves are autumnal aplenty and feel like whimsical little gifts at every guest's seat. You can forage for them on your way home from work (or instead of sweeping off the stoop) and tie them with a bow just ten minutes before the party starts. Table, set.
Here's how to make them:
Go scavenging for pretty dried leaves. Look for crisp leaves that are fully dried out, in all colors of the autumnal rainbow: auburn, marigold, chocolate, even green-going-yellow. Gather them up on your way home, or on your way to get coffee the morning of your dinner party, and carry them in a loose tote (taking care not to crush them!).
Bundle 'em. Arrange your leaves in little piles of two or three that you think look nice together. A big maple leaf makes a good backer, a sunny yellow ginko will stand out right on top. Tie a bow around their stems using a wee golden cord or any delicate string you have around the house.
Dole them out on your plates. Like little autumnal gifts to your guests atop a napkin on a plate. No other centerpiece needed!