Holidays around here are very much about roots and tradition. And an obsession with really good food. I recently came up with an explanation why we are all so crazy about eating at our gatherings when, of all things, I was reading a Rachel Ray magazine where she equated her recipe stash as a scrapbook of memories and adventures. I think this is why food is so important to us; as a military family, we didn’t grow up next to grandma and grandpa or aunties and uncles, and we associated the very different food we ate on our visits with family as memories.
Case in point, I still remember sitting in the kitchen with my brother Sean after making my first Sherry Almond Pie from Grandma Nita. We both took a bite, and immediately said to each other, “Tastes like Grandma’s house.” Jambalaya reminds me of 300 year old oak trees, dripping Spanish moss, and the scent of humidity and magnolias. The fragrant sweet smell of Aunt Rochelle’s cookies brings me back to her farm house kitchen and the sturdy round wooden table, and Old Bay and a good beer will always take me home to the waterfront of Virginia picking crabs and having laughs with loved ones.
So yes, when we eat, it is more than just sitting down for a good meal. We’re sitting down with our memories, and with the company of good friends and family, making new ones. And with a little extra atmosphere and a few new dishes, I’m hoping the memories of Christmas this year will be spectacular.
The pictures shown on this post are our actual Christmas dinner with my husband’s family, who came down this past week for the holiday. I wanted to celebrate the atmosphere as much as the food this year at dinner! As I said, my father’s side of the family is from New Orleans, so family cooking always has a decidedly Cajun/Southern flavor, and was part of my inspiration. And I admit, there is a Christmas song from my favorite New Orleans Christmas CD called “Joyeux Noel” that I sing all year long that I couldn’t get out of my head and on to paper quickly enough as a design.
I’d like to say that each piece of decoration here was specifically chosen just for this dinner. But really, everything but the magnolias and ribbon was already around the house and it was just a matter of rearranging. And if I were at Grandma Nita’s, I would have just wandered out to her back acre and climbed my favorite magnolia tree for some blossoms or used some of her prize-winning camelias!
It was fun weaving in a little family history and heirlooms when I planned this dinner. The dinner table was set with a hand made table cloth and set of napkins from Malta that were gifted to us last Christmas by our Nashville-based brother and sister-in-law layered over burlap for texture. I also set out our wedding silver and candlesticks, magnolias, antique silver toned chargers and my collection of plates I bought just because I thought they were pretty—none of them match.The favor boxes I designed after the ironwork in the quarter, and attached a gift tag with some jute to each box to make the boxes also serve as a place card.
I was thrilled when Nicole of Tradewind Tiaras sent over a dozen of her sparkly crystal napkin rings to use for my place settings. I accented each one with boxwood sprigs after consulting my new favorite florist around the corner, Buds and Things. The tree was already in the room, and I took everything off but the bulbs when I started decorating for dinner. I love the simplicity of this look, and it makes it blend with everything so much better. After a hunt for a real extra large wreath for this room here in Florida, I had to give up and use an artificial, but would have really loved to see some pretty boughs hung in the window.
I love Kate Lander’s style—the cotton ruffles she uses just inspire me. So I took a little time to sew some ruffled chair accents with her in mind that turned out just wonderfully and added a little something extra special to the table! I left mine unfinished, as it suited the overall look of the room and added a knotted ribbon, Christmas bulb and sprigs of boxwood. I used a sheet that was no longer used on the beds for material and then pinned on the ribbons an bulbs so I can use these again for another occasion!
My husband’s grandmother’s buffet was used to set our pre-dinner-wait-for-the-turkey-to-be-done appetizers out. Even though we all love that Louisiana flavor, there are some of us that don’t eat seafood so there are a variety of little bites here.
With any luck, I’ll be able to put up the recipes for these dishes this week. But if you’re on the hunt for pretty appetizer ideas, I can’t recommend Martha Stewart’s Hors d’Oeuvres Handbook enough! The Pommes Annette and Parmesean Crackers came from this book, and over the years I’ve tested many many of the other recipes.
When it comes to dessert, I always want a little bit of everything. So I made my usual holiday favorites and made them bite-sized so we could exercise a bit of portion control with our little bit of everything. The croquembouche was a new adventure, but very worth the effort and singed fingers! The sherry almond pie with the meringue top is my grandmother’s; I still have the worn handwritten recipe on an index card scrawled out by her hand. It’s as much an heirloom to me as the furniture! I set all our treats in hy husband’s great grandmother’s secretary. When it was refinished, I wouldn’t let them do the inside, as I loved the worn wood from all the letters my husband’s grandmother wrote at the desk. This was a beautiful dark backdrop for our sweets! And the best part was I got to savor a little of each without feeling too bad about having too much.
I learned to make apple pie at my Grandma Catherine’s apron and it is the singular request from my mother whenever I visit that I make it. It’s one of those things that never really gets written down, you just do it. I did play with the recipe a bit this time as I wanted bite sized pies; so I took it apart. I baked the filling separate from crusts I sugared and cut into wedges. I added a dollop of whipped cream to apple filling, a cinnamon stick and the cooked pastry into a votive and made a heavenly little dessert.
While I do like to decorate a little for dinners such as this, we are usually a tad more casual. Why such an effort? Not to put a damper on the festivities in this post, but our family is racing a clock with Alzheimer’s and we’re trying to make as many beautiful memories for us and the kids before it’s too late. A picture-perfect setting for dinner was a good start to the week! The printable items seen on the table are available in my Etsy store here, and all profit made from the sale of this collection will be donated to the Alzheimer’s Association.
So from my family to yours, a Joyeux Noel, and hope you make many happy memories this holiday season! As for us, we had a wonderful week and are looking forward to doing this all again for my family on Christmas day!