Some Favorite Scents & Flavors of the Holiday Season
and a couple of precious family recipes...
I adore the Christmas season and just like for so many of you it is just such a magical time of the year for me. For one thing it was my parents anniversary so Christmas was always doubly special for us all. Even today we still raise a toast to them.
For me, the holidays are a blend of magnificent colors, textures and fragrant sensations. Because I'm a cook as well as a perfume obsessed writer, the smells of the season tend to blend together for me in a gloriously fragrant stew starting from Halloween through the New Year.
During the season there are always several constants like the annual reading of Clement C. Moore’s “The Night before Christmas”, white truffles, lots of chocolate, roasted chestnuts, smoked salmon, New York City, gallons of bourbon milk punch, Champagne and the wonderful Pavlovas, one that my sister makes filled with fresh berries on Christmas Day and the rosewater and pistachio Pavlova that my niece often makes me for New Years day.
If you read my perfume musings know that from November the 1st until January the 2nd, I wear only Caron's magnificent Nuit de Noel. Sadly, it’s getting harder and harder to find. I love it because to me it smells like a crackling fire with a split of champagne and a bouquet of slightly warmed roses in a vase nearby. Nuit de Noel is full of spicy amber, musk and a bit of oak moss… some may call it a chypre, but to me it's a true oriental. Last year I was gifted with a bottle of the vintage perfume that I have worn all season…1 drop on each wrist, one drop in the cleavage . It's just beautiful…an entirely different animal than the eau de toilette and is to be so cherished provided you’re lucky enough to even find it.
Sad but true to my word I put my Nuit de Noel away every year come the second of January but because I do so, it's a bit of magic that's never lost its ability to enchant me year after year.
What perfume says the holidays to you?
The second of my favorite holiday scents is the Christmas Tree candle and Room/Linen spray from Paiges Candles, a wonderful minority and woman owned company based in Brooklyn. This is possibly my favorite home fragrance anytime of the year, but during Christmas it is just so beautiful to me. Christmas Tree is the classic balsam and pine smell of Christmas with a touch of mistletoe. It gives me a lift all year round but never more so than during the holiday season when it is completely and understatedly elegant.
Every year until recently, Jim, Alex and I would return home on Christmas Eve after spending the evening deep in the country with our oldest friends. We’d get home well past midnight and after Alex went back to his own apartment, we’d light the bayberry candles for love and abundance, crack a bottle of Taittinger Champagne, wrap ourselves in each others arms, exchange our presents, hang the stockings and dance a bit while listening to our favorite carols.
But the most magical moment always comes on the drive home from the country. Nestled at the bottom of the River Road in a small town called Hunting Valley there sits a beautiful old fir tree that is practically a hundred years old. We love to visit her early Christmas morning after midnight when the world is silent except for the beautiful carols ever present on the radio. This tree is magnificent, at least 75 feet tall and covered from head to toe with beautiful colored lights.
I visit her late at night on the evenings from Thanksgiving to New Years Day because thats when she is usually surrounded by families of deer and I love to park my car across the street to sit quietly for awhile with a steaming mug of cocoa and the Nutcracker Suite for company. She has an alluring fragrance all her own, of freshly falling snow and sweet pine, smoky wood resins, windfall apples and moonlight. When the snow is falling softly all around I promise you have never seen such a beautiful tree.
She is forever the true essence of the season for me as she casts her warm glow on the cold December nights.
To me the holiday season isn’t complete without a trip to New York City and the roasted chestnuts that can be found on every other street corner is my idea of simple and perfect fast food. A bag of them in my lap while snuggled up against my husband in a horse drawn carriage is, as far as I'm concerned the best time to be had in the world. I love them…peeling them leaves a roasted , woody aroma lingering on my fingertips and eating them is a sweet and seasonal pleasure. Roasted chestnuts and champagne are a perfect pairing but let’s not forget about marrons glace, those delightful confections that begin appearing in fancy candy shops this time of year. Marrons Glace are simply chestnuts that have been simmered for hours in a sugary syrup until they are candied. The best recipe I’ve ever found for them is linked to the photo above!
Crumbled over fresh vanilla ice cream and sprinkled with a bit of candied ginger you won't find a much more delightful and festive dessert to enjoy with your favorite holiday drink!
Every year on Christmas morning I would walk into my mothers kitchen where she would be making the same breakfast that she had cooked and eaten for almost her entire life. Creamed Chicken a la King on buttered toast points, egg strata with cheese and smoky bacon, a fresh pecan roll , stewed fruit and a pot of coffee . Since she's been gone I make it every year (my family would riot if I didn't!) and it's a wonderful way to spend my morning thinking of her. All of the aromas of that breakfast are wonderful, simmering onions and warm yeasty sugary dough , but the stewed fruit is especially amazing. It's a simple recipe too, water and about 5 different sorts of dried fruit go into a saucepan along with a cup or two of mulling spices, two cups of brown sugar, a cup of sherry and a sliced lemon and orange. It simmers for hours until the whole thing is a syrupy , delicious mess of fruity spicy goodness. There's always plenty left over because a little goes along way. Around New Years I'll put it back on the stove, add an onion or two and simmer it down some more and serve it with a pork tenderloin and some crispy roasted potatoes. It’s one of the flavors of my childhood that was a constant, and although I couldn’t stand it as a child, I grew to love it.
The last of my favorite holiday aromas is perhaps the simplest one. It really can't be Christmas if I don't have a batch of my mothers Christmas Chocolate Pears, shown on the bottom right of this photo. This is possibly the simplest recipe in existence and it was first discovered by my father and me at a wonderful old Atlantic city restaurant called Bruno's Knife & Fork.
It took my mother years to replicate it and when she finally did we were in heaven because it is just so good. You must have freshly whipped cream and you must use canned pears and a thin layer of the very good chocolate. At Bruno's they made these in individual servings but for a party you can layer the pears in a crystal bowl. Then layer the whipped cream on top of them, and place them in the freezer . Melt the chocolate, add a little bit of the canned pear juice into it and then pour a thin layer of the chocolate over the top of the whipped cream and pears. The chocolate will harden into a delightfully bittersweet coating that cracks when you touch it with the spoon. Each mouthful is a decadent bite of pear, chocolate and whipped cream and is simply perfect.
You will need:
2 14 and a half oz cans of pear halves with lite syrup (not juice!)
1/2 pint of heavy whipping cream
1 twelve oz bag of semi sweet chocolate chips
Drain and chill the pears (reserving the syrup!) and layer them in a pretty bowl (then chill some more!)
Whip the cream until stiff and spread over the chilled pears, then put them into the freezer for a while so that they are really cold , but not frozen solid!
Melt the chocolate alone in a double boiler, and add a dash of cinnamon. Add a little warmed pear syrup- about 1/2 a cup (must be warm!)
Pour the chocolate over the pears and refrigerate or freeze until set!
Easy and Perfect!
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“Christmas cookies are made with butter and love.” - Anonymous