I'm doing my best to lean into the trimmed-back version of the holiday season. Without the usual accoutrement of holiday happy hours, glittering parties, and festive school performances, our family schedule feels focused on that which is essential: time at home with one another. Now more than ever, I'm clinging to the traditions that bring me joy each year, and below I'm sharing some of them with you (along with a few other tidbits!). Bright days are ahead, my friends. May your holidays be chock-full of time with loved ones, the magic of the season, lots of rest for your soul, and plenty of laughter, too.
FAVORITE HOLIDAY TRADITION
Each year we mark the start of the season by setting up the white bisque porcelain Boehm Nativity Set given to me by my uncle, an antiques dealer who loved Christmas more than anything. He made a practice of loaning the set to a local Baton Rouge hospital for patients and visitors to enjoy. Someday I hope to do the same.
WRAPPED WITH LOVE
The Jaipur trim market, a bustling labyrinth bursting with copious amounts of sari borders, is where I find festive and inimitable ribbon for gifts. My go-to formula for festive, finished, and deceptively easy wrapping: package the gift in simple brown butcher paper and tie it up with glitzy trim and a piece of clipped garland greens or rosemary to make it extra merry.
KEEP IT COZY
After we tuck our boys in for the night, we forego our usual TV-watching for sitting around the twinkling tree and chatting, wintry cocktails in hand. It’s the ideal context for unwinding from the whirlwind of the season and the year. Our go-to beverage of choice: an Old Fashion or Brandy Milk Punch. (Pro-tips: To up-level your Old Fashion, grab a bottle of Trader Joe’s seasonal Amarena cherries… at $4.50 a jar, these are a steal compared to their $25 competitors. For the punch, cut the sugar a bit and it’s perfect.).
SPEAKING OF PUNCH...
I fell in love with the punch issue Garden & Gun released last year…I wish they would do one every holiday! The Champagne Punch is a real winner. If you don’t have a proper punch bowl, fear not! A repurposed plastic oyster bucket is an equally apropos set-up for this tipple.
A LOW COUNTRY (and low maintenance!) CHRISTMAS EVE DINNER
Every Christmas Eve we eat pheasant and andouille gumbo topped with fried Gulf oysters. It’s an adaptation of the seafood gumbo my dad would serve each year when I was growing up. Gumbo is always better the day after it’s cooked, when the flavors fully marry—so do yourself a favor and make this ahead of time. That way you can simply reheat and fully enjoy your Christmas Eve (and/or get your last-minute gift wrapping done!).
A loose recipe to give this a go:
For starters, my preferred pot is a 13.25 qt. Le Creuset and if you've never made a roux, begin here. The roux consists of equal parts oil and flour, I use 2 cups each for this recipe. Heat oil over medium-low heat, then add the flour in batches to incorporate fully into the oil. Stir or whisk constantly until the roux has turned to desired color (I prefer a slightly dark caramel and this step could take up to 30-45 minutes). Season appx 4.5 lbs. pheasant breasts with salt, pepper, Tony Chachere's Original Creole seasoning, garlic and onion powders, and brown both sides of meat in the cooked roux. Remove breasts and set aside for later.
As my Grandma would say, "Mais, chop 'til you can't chop no 'mo." Add lots of diced onions, celery, green bell peppers to the roux and once softened add minced garlic and stir together.
In another skillet so grease doesn't build up in your gumbo, brown 2 links of sliced andouille sausage. Do the same for cubed Tasso, 10 cubes for a large pot is plenty.
Add 5 quarts of chicken stock, 2 bay leaves, browned meats and sliced pheasant breasts back into the pot of roux and simmer for a good while. As the gumbo comes together, continue tasting and adding seasoning to your liking.
Top with just-fried Gulf oysters (5 dozen oysters soaked in buttermilk overnight, breaded in Louisiana Fish Fry, and fried at 350 in an electric deep fryer. If a seafood market isn't nearby, Whole Foods will have them, and if you don't own a deep fryer (*gasp!*), you can use any pot but be sure to work in batches so the oysters aren't touching the bottom of your pot. Finish with a dollop of steamed jasmine rice, sliced green onions, and a sprinkle of filé, dried, powdered leaves of the sassafras tree.
Gracing our shelves and other surfaces is my admittedly motley assortment of Santa figurines. Over the years I’ve added to the original collection gifted to me by my Christmas-loving uncle—and they range in style from Victorian antiques to big box store finds.
When it comes to fresh garland, more is more! Each December I buy two 75’ rolls from a floral distributor and drape the mantle (several times over), my entry cabinet, and the kitchen doorway, where I also hang holiday cards. I even swathe a bit around the bust in my bathroom and throughout our bedrooms.
To usher in the holiday season away from family, I mailed my siblings bottles of my favorite olive oil, Old Country Olive Oil (made from hand-picked olives from a family farm in the south of Lebanon).
For no-fail stocking stuffers, grab this all-in-one makeup pallet that gets me out the door in ten minutes. Le Labo’s Rose Oil would also fit the bill—use it after a hot shower. And I’m obsessed with these titanium headphones that sit in front of your ears—I’ve gifted them numerous times.
ON MY WISH LIST
Topping my list this year is wallpapering my hallway (Santa, did you hear that?!) and I have my eye on Sister Parish’s Appleton design.
I’m so in love with the Maison Balzac wine glasses we carry at the shop. I bought a pair to try out and am itching for more to complete a full set. Also, these odd-size measuring spoons – aren’t they genius?