The Christmas season combines two of my all-time favorite things: decking the halls, and creating and sharing treasured family traditions. Come home for the holidays with me for a glimmering glimpse at a trio of trees, a rustic holiday table, and a soulful Southern Italian custom that has been in my family for five generations.
Keeping it Real
I like keeping it real at Christmas. Three festive and fragrant trees set the holiday mood at our house, from a towering noble fir in the entry, to a flocked beauty in the family room with a vintage vibe, to a tabletop Swiss pine. The branches are dripping with thousands of lights, treasured family ornaments, and memories.
Pops of Orange
I love to add bits of citrus to my holiday decor. Pots of mini citrus trees and a small stack of oranges create the feel of an orangerie!
A sweet touch
Small guest packages topped with real mini orange ornaments sit at each place setting, and vintage gold ornaments and fresh flowers dance down the table. A preserved boxwood garland adds even more touches of green to the holiday dining table.
O’ Christmas Tree
In the dining room, a potted Swiss pine sets a humble tone. The tree sits in a fabric-lined French oyster basket, draped with a vintage glass gold garland. A ribbon of torn and frayed linen fabric swaths the pine limbs, which are lit from behind with a string of lights and lit from below by gobs of candles!
Family Tradition: Feast of the Seven Fishes
For as long as I can remember, my family has gathered on Christmas Eve for the Feast of the Seven Fishes. It’s a Southern Italian custom in which seven different kinds of seafood are enjoyed by midnight on Christmas Eve. What began with my Italian-born grandmother, Nettie, all those years ago, lives on today. Here is my take on a delicious Christmas Eve seafood pasta dish that pairs two of the seven fishes with a simple red sauce.
Seafood Fettuccine with Prawns and Clams in Red Sauce
Makes 5 servings
1 cup chopped fennel
2 large garlic cloves, minced
Extra-virgin olive oil
Pernod (French star anise spirit)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
Several fresh-torn basil leaves
Two 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
3 tablespoons concentrated
17 ounces dried fettuccine
15 mini clams
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
Splash of dry white wine
- In a large pot coated with olive oil and a few drops of Pernod, sauté the chopped fennel until tender. Next, add the minced garlic to the pot, and cook for a few minutes longer, being careful not to burn it. Add the red pepper flakes, crushed tomatoes, and concentrated tomato paste to the pot. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place the dried fettuccine in a pot of well-salted, boiling water. Cook and drain. Reserve a few cups of the starchy water.
- Toss prawns in olive oil with the juice of half a lemon, and hit them with salt. Roast in the oven at 400 degrees for 6 to 8 minutes.
- In a stovetop pan, simmer 3 cups of water with the chopped Italian parsley and a good splash or two of dry white wine. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the mini clams into the broth, and simmer until they open and are tender. Discard any unopened clams.
- Plate up the pasta; drizzle with a bit of olive oil and a splash of the reserved water. Add salt and pepper. Ladle on the red sauce, and arrange the prawns and clams in each bowl. Drizzle on a bit more sauce; add a splash of the clam broth; and top with fresh-torn basil leaves, salt and pepper, and lemon zest.
Sparkling Lemon Sorbet Christmas Cocktails
Makes 2 cocktails
This classic, swoon-worthy, Italian lemon cocktail is so pretty, yummy, and frothy, thanks to the lemon sorbet! I serve this drink in my grandmother’s vintage Champagne coupe glasses, lined with lemon peel, and garnished with a sprig of fragrant garden rosemary.
1 cup chilled Prosecco
2 tablespoons vodka
1/2 cup lemon sorbet
In a bowl, add chilled Prosecco, vodka, and sorbet. Whisk the ingredients until the Prosecco begins to get frothy but the sorbet hasn’t entirely melted. Ladle into coupe glasses, garnish, and enjoy!
Simple swags of greenery made up of our garden — olive branches, magnolia, rosemary and bay — hang from the chandeliers. Preserved boxwood garlands and wreaths dot the room, which literally is aglow with Christmas by candlelight.
Parmesan and Olive Wafers
These salty crisps complement the sweetness of the lemony Christmas cocktail, and you can make them in minutes. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, drop a tablespoon of thickly shredded Parmesan cheese, and spread it out about the size of a silver dollar. Repeat this step six times, leaving plenty of room between each wafer. Press a thinly sliced green olive into the center of each wafer, and bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 31/2 minutes until the cheese begins to turn golden brown. Remove from oven, and cool.
Festive and Easy Dessert
The quick combo of pistachio ice cream topped with pomegranate seeds is the perfect light holiday dessert. Serve alongside biscotti and pots of warmed Nutella hazelnut and cocoa spread for dipping.
See Monica Hart’s design, recipe, and entertaining ideas in every issue of 425 magazine, and at lafamigliadesignllc.com.
Credits: Hair by SEVEN the Salon, senior stylist Chu. Tabletop Swiss pine tree from Wells Medina Nursery. Ingredients from Metropolitan Market in Kirkland. Vintage glass gold garland and vintage gold ball ornaments from Oscar & Co. in Kirkland. Preserved boxwood table garland from garnethill.com. Preserved boxwood wreaths from target.com.