Friday, December 4

For December I use the imagination, beauty and grace from the Nutcracker ballet to inspire for my holiday decorating!

December is one of my favorite months of the year because the nostalgia of my childhood seems to hover, reminding me of the vivid days when I awaited the arrival of Santa Claus. Call me immature, but I love the complete fantastic journey of the season, from stuffing the stockings with trinkets to writing Saint Nicholas’ note (along with leaving carrots and cookies). It becomes an exercise in the magic of creativity. I dislike the commercialism of Christmas and the excessiveness that comes with the season, but truth be told I am willing to overlook that for the love of the decorating, cooking, wrapping gifts, adorning the tree and spending time with my family. I even enjoy watching the campy videos of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and Charlie Brown's Christmas. We slow down a little and take time from our busy schedule to stay home and listen to music and spend quality time together. From a decorating perspective, this season is a time to inject creativity into my home without all the painstaking decision making that comes with more elaborate decorating (after all, everything comes down the day after New Years).

After we attended the Nutcracker ballet at Lincoln Center, I was so moved by the beauty of the music and the dance that I decided to use the subtly of the ballet as inspiration for decorating for the Holidays. The colors from the ballet are light and the feeling is elegant with a bent towards sugarplums, candy, snow and pink tulle-what's not to like? Tchaikovsky's music dances in my head from memory after many years of listening to the soundtrack while decorating our tree. After our family trip to Michigan and a visit to the Bavarian town of Frankenmuth, I was inspired. We walked the infamous Bronners, which is the largest Christmas store in the United States. It can be a little overwhelming with the crowds and so much holiday cheer in your face, but once we got home and looked at the photographs of the candy ornaments, nutcrackers and Bavarian-style architecture of the town, I got in the spirit of the season.

My daughter, some good friends and I took a trip to the wholesale flower district in Manhattan to comb the goods and bring home a fresh tree, wreath and foliage. New York City is an amazing place during this season and the city’s take on the holiday is spectacular, from the Radio City Music Hall’s Rockettes to the infamous Bergdorf Goodman windows. You can simply walk for hours and breathe in the wonders. The melding of the many religions and cultures pulse in this city like no other place in the world, and the vibrant way that New York celebrates this season is no exception. To top off the festivities, we attend a friend's annual cookie decorating and trading party in the countryside. This fun family event was a great way to kick off the holiday season - I try to capture the generosity of spirit with my camera. I hope all this inspires and brightens your day. Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!
last year's tree in the country,
an ornate tree with a wide girth
Our 2009 Nutcracker Ballet-inspired Christmas tree. This year I opted for a lean tree with a light touch, using translucent pink ribbon, mercury glass gold and plum-colored ornaments, snowflakes, wooden birds and LED lights.
We got into the "Holiday Spirit" early with a trip to the Bavarian village of Frankenmuth, Michigan-the home of the largest Christmas store in the United States. Bronners sells ornaments and decorations from countries all over the world.
The history of the Christmas Tree
Many believe that Germany started the Christmas tree tradition during the 16th century when Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Rather than angels, the earlier Christmas trees had figures of fairies to signify good spirits, while horns and bells were used to frighten off evil spirits.
Some of the earlier trees were made of wood and decorated with greenery and candles. When Prince Albert and Queen Victoria decorated the first English Christmas tree at Windsor castle in 1841 the popularity grew in England. English trees often were laden with candles, candy, fruit, gingerbread,dolls, miniature furniture, tiny musical instruments, costume jewelry, toy guns and swords. But, the fashion of a decorated Christmas tree in the United States was slow to catch on. In 1830, a small group of settlers in Pennsylvania put a tree on display outside of a parish to raise money for the church, but when the townspeople protested and claimed this signified a return of paganism, it was quickly taken down. Christmas ornaments were arriving from Europe by the late 1800s and soon became a growing trend. European trees were diminutive at just three feet high compared to the American grandiose trees that graze the ceilings of homes today. Americans decorated their trees mainly with homemade ornaments in the 20th century as opposed to the European style of using apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies and popcorn. With the invention of electricity, Christmas trees have been forever transformed to glowing, sparkling, and sometimes over-the-top focal points in the home.

I was completely enthralled with these pink peonies (it's December for goodness sake!) I picked up several small white narcissus (aka paperwhites) in pots, large bunches of pink amaryllis in pots (which I transplanted into various antique urns at home), a wreath with pinecones, some translucent pink wired ribbon (for my tree and wreath), snowflake ornaments and some small baby pink roses.

The shops I prefer are Persaud, Fischer & Paige and United Wholesale Florist. These have the freshest and most beautiful flowers and potted plants. I like Caribbean Cuts if in the mood for exotic- they had bananas and raspberries on the vine, orange and lemon trees and many more. There were also a large selection of orchids and topiary in every shape - including a topiary reindeer! For ribbon, garland, lights, candles and other supplies I prefer B&J Florist Supply.

wreaths of every size and shape - pomegranate encrusted wreath with eucalyptus leaves was one of my favorites

my friends were inspired by the colors,
choices of flowers, plus the glimpses of all seasons represented at the market

We arrived early and just as the new paperwhite stock was being delivered

hard to find moss-covered pots make a beautiful container for orchids and other flowering plants-although there are tricks to do-it-yourself (such as smothering yogurt and curing the terracotta pots), but it is certainly easier to find them ready to use such as these above
When choosing garland, I opt for boxwood because it is less likely to shed and dries nicely, retaining its deep green color and shine
I use birch logs in my fireplace when not using it as a decorative touch
In need of a hostess gift or interesting present this Christmas? check out this cookbook, which has fabulous recipes while serving a good cause - PARK AVENUE POTLUCK CELEBRATIONS

a new book just published with tips on entertaining at home with New York's savviest hostesses. A very dedicated group of women from the Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering have collaborated with Florence Fabricant, an award-winning food writer and contributing New York Times columnist, to author this amazing book. It is over 250 pages of beautiful photographs serving up a compilation of recipes and tips for year-round special occasion entertaining. Please check out the contribution of my friend Elizabeth Fuller's "Whirl-Away Chocolate Cake". It was her great-grandmother's recipe, and it looks both delicious and a fun project to do with children!

This book is a follow-up to the first cookbook these ladies collaborated on, Park Avenue Potluck. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book will provide funding for the Society's patient care, research and education programs at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. This group of pioneering women work to bring comfort and care to improve the quality of life of patients treated at the Center. Some of the women who have written and donated to the book include -Wendy Arriz, Muffie Potter Aston, Chesie Breen, Mary Davidson, Elizabeth Fuller, Eugenie Niven Goodman, Leslie Jones, Coco Kopelman, Heather Leeds, Nicole Limbocker, Daisy Soros, Kathy Thomas, and Barbara Tollis.
Whirl-Away Chocolate Cake
By Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth has generously shared her recipe with me - it appears in the book on page 154.
Makes 12 Servings
1 ½ sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2 ½ Cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 ½ Teaspoons baking powder
¾ Teaspoon Baking Soda
½ Teaspoon Salt
1 ½ ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 2/3 Cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 Cup cultured buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Use a little of the butter to grease a loaf pan 9 by 5 by 3 inches. Dust the pan with a little of the flour. Put the remaining butter into the bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk the flour in another bowl with the baking powder, ½ teaspoon of the baking soda, and the salt.Place the chocolate, the remaining ¼ teaspoon baking soda, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan. Place over low heat and heat until the chocolate melts. Stir.Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.In a large bowl, beat the butter with the remaining sugar until light. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Stir in the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the buttermilk. Stir in the vanilla. Remove one third of the batter to another bowl and stir the melted chocolate mixture into it. Alternately, drop generous spoonfuls of the white batter and the chocolate batter into the pan. Use a table knife to cut down through the batters in a zigzag motion to mingle them without thoroughly mixing them. The top is lightly browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven, cool, and then remove from the pan.
*a note from the authors there were no microwave ovens in great-grandmother’s day, but now the chocolate, baking soda, sugar and water can be combined and microwave on high for about a minute, just until the chocolate melts. Effectively marbleizing the cake means not overdoing it-cut down into the batter and zigzag back and forth just a few times. Less is better than more.Just in time for the Holidays, this book will make a great gift. Park Avenue Potluck Celebration and can be purchased on their website at published by Rizzoli New York - can also be purchased at
For December, I am dedicating this blog to my friend Sharon for her generosity of spirit all through the year. Sharon's annual cookie-trading party has become an event her close friends look forward to every December. All guests bake six dozen of their favorite cookies and arrive to enjoy a few hours of fun. As Sharon approaches almost every facet of her life, her special party is a treasure, from the warm apple cider and homemade minestrone soup to the creative way she involves the children with their very own cookie decorating table. We all leave with a beautiful tray of an assortment of candy and cookies. Bravo Sharon!

Sharon is a mother of five, teacher at

the East Hampton Ross School, and is actively involved in her community

in many areas, and now she adds author to her list of accomplishments
as she has recently published a children's bereavement book. Please
look for Tough Tommy at

Once back in New York City, we visited the wholesale flower district to hunt for the freshest foliage and unusual accessories to add to our holiday decorating...

The wholesale flower district in New York City (around the blocks 28th/29th Street between 6th/7th Avenues) has a variety of shops selling fresh foliage, plants, cut flowers and supplies like ribbons, moss-covered pots, garland and more. It was originally set up for the professionals in the floral industry drawing from shop owners in the suburbs, but lately they are accepting of laypeople and specifically during this time of year. I go a few times a year, but especially enjoy visiting during the hustle and bustle of the Holidays to check out the quality and even better prices of the goods. It is best to arrive first in the morning during the beginning of the week when the flowers are just brought in. You will most likely rub elbows with the industry's experts in floral and interior design as you walk the warehouse shops. We saw such a wide array of products from exotic bananas, palm leaves, raspberries on the vine, orange on stems, peonies, to hundreds and hundreds of orchid choices, roses in every shade and color and more. You need plenty of time to meander into all the various stores, but the prices are worth the time.


Anonymous said...

love all the photos and makes me want to go to a ballet class - I miss dancing and this has really reminded me. Thanks for a lovely blog. Amy

Anonymous said...

Great post Tamara - very festive and puts one in the Christmas spirit! xo Alexandra

Susan Young said...

Hi Tam, nice to see your blog this month....looks good! xo Susie

Anonymous said...

Oh...ah... I love the Nutcracker! My daughter is now crazy about it (4 1/2 years old) and wants to be Clara. Lucky me, I get to relive the wonder all over again. As the music started, she said to me "Mama, something magical is about to happen".

Your holiday designs are magical as well!

Anonymous said...

I live in Long Island and read your story in Dans Paper magazine last weekend. This blog is beautiful, and have the music on while we decorate our tree. Thanks, Jessica

pinwheelgirl said...

What a beautiful blog - I love all the gorgeous photos. It is really important to surround yourself with things you love, that warm the heart, and that lift the spirit. Thank you for the pretty reminders!!! Love it.