Friday, December 26, 2014


Christmas around our house would not be Christmas without having to put on our cafe aprons and giving our thirty-five year old Cuisinart another opportunity to pulse and gyrate, chopping and dicing herbs and aromatics. I’m not going to speak for the rest of my family but the top button on my jeans will be going unbuttoned until after the first of the New Year.
We got to start out the holiday season with a sweet little gift from Marsha Belisle. She delivered a heaping plate of gingerbread cookies on a reverse-painted Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer plate tied with a diaphanous blue ribbon. The cookies lasted maybe a day but only because I refused to let anyone untie the bow until I had photographed the entire package. Marsha was cruel enough to attach the recipe forcing us to add yet another baking entry to our culinary bucket list. Here’s the recipe for all of you. Now you can add it to your list as well. Happy baking!

A friend in Alaska gave us this recipe for old-fashioned, four-inch-round spice cookies with crackly sugared tops. The second best thing about them, after their great taste, is that they keep so well you may want to bake up several batches.
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup salad oil
¼ cup dark molasses
¼ cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons baking soda
1teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon salt
1 egg
About 1½ hours before serving or up to one month ahead measure ½ cup sugar and the remaining ingredients. With mixer at low speed, beat ingredients until well blended, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula.
When ready to bake preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place 2 tablespoons sugar on waxed paper, shape ¼ cupful of dough into a ball; roll in sugar to coat evenly. Repeat with remaining dough to make 10 balls. Place the balls 3 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. (Dough is very soft; balls will flatten slightly.) Bake cookies 15 minutes. With pancake turner, remove cookies to wire rakes to cool. Store cookies in tightly covered container to use up within one month. Makes 10 extra large, mouth-watering seasonal favorites. Thanks Marcia

I’m not a big fish fan. My biggest complaint is more a fear than a loathing. If I find one bone in the meat of the fish I’m out. So when my family agreed to a whole salmon as our counterpoint to the beef tenderloins we were going to be serving as the main courses for our Christmas Eve dinner I was pretty sure of which dish I was going to be cutting into. Still, I was going to wait until the salmon made it to the table before I completely ruled out a taste. We were able to reserve a whole fresh Atlantic salmon from the fishmonger at Metro Market. I picked it up the day before. It spent that evening in a beer cooler in the garage covered in ice. I hated having to look at that damn fish, it looked right back at me with an evil eye as if it knew its fate and I was the one responsible.
Rick had taken a Jamie Oliver recipe and modified it. Our salmon was about to get itself baked.
1 six to eight pound fresh Atlantic salmon scaled and gutted
1 large roasting pan
Sea salt and pepper
Olive oil
One bunch of thyme
One bunch of rosemary
One bunch of tarragon
One bunch of dill
One bunch of parsley
3 grapefruits
3 Florida oranges
6 lemons
3 Clementines
Finely chop about half your herbs for placing inside the fish. Put the rest aside for stuffing whole in the fish leaving a few sprigs aside for garnishing the final presentation. Strip the leaves off the fresh herbs and discard the stems. I use a mezzaluna to chop the herbs. Put the chopped herbs aside.
Set your oven up to burnout or as high as it will go.
Even though your fish has been scaled you still need to make sure it is thoroughly cleaned. Wash it down. Then slit the fish down the belly. Salt and pepper the inside of the fish. Thinly slice three lemons. Place a layer of lemons inside the fish. Then lay several sprigs of each of the herbs on top of the layer of lemons. Add one more layer of lemons on top of the herbs and close up the fish. Place the fish in the roasting pan. If the head and tail don’t completely fit, don’t worry. It’s okay, no one is going to eat those parts anyway. Make several slits on the top of the fish. Insert the chopped herbs into the slits then brush the entire fish with olive oil. Put the fish into the blistering hot oven for 15 minutes. Take the fish out, brush it once more with olive oil. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes.
While the fish is baking slice the remaining lemons, clementines, grapefruits and oranges. Sear these on a grill pan with a little olive oil and set aside.
When the fish is done place it on a platter and garnish with the braised fruit slices and remaining sprigs of herbs. You can serve the salmon either warm or at room temperature. Either way it’s delicious or so they say. I did try it and for one who doesn’t care all that much for fish, this salmon with a dollop of my sister’s bernaisse sauce was melt in your mouth delicious – as long as you didn’t find a bone.

The rich traditions of Southern cooking have enshrined such classics as fried chicken, okra, and buttermilk biscuits into its hall of fame. I’d like to nominate Rick’s Coca-cola cake into that hall. It was the exclamation point to our Christmas dinner this year even though it had some stiff competition from my cousin, Maggie’s, first very successful attempt at a German sweet chocolate cake affectionately called either “Puke Cake” or “Snot Cake”. I think if she had stuck to German Sweet Chocolate as her cake’s label she might have had a better chance of receiving the top award.
Here we go with the recipe for Coca-Cola cake handed down for generations in the Shaver family.
2 cups of all-purpose flour
2 cups of sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 stick of butter
½ cup of vegetable oil
1 cup Coca-cola
½ cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees. Mix together the flour, sugar and cocoa in a large bowl until evenly blended. In a separate pan bring to a boil the butter, vegetable oil, and Coca-cola. When it comes to a boil pour the liquid mixture over the dry mixture in the large bowl and mix well. Add the buttermilk, baking soda, eggs and vanilla and blend until smooth. Pour into a Bundt mold and bake for one hour. Check with a toothpick to make sure the cake is done and the toothpick comes out clean. Place the cake on a drying rack
1 stick butter
6 tablespoons Coca-Cola
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 box powdered sugar
In a sauce pan add butter, Coca-cola, cocoa  and vanilla and bring to a boil for one minute. In another bowl add the powdered sugar then pour the boiled mixture over the powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Let this cool but not harden. Slip the cake out of the Bundt pan onto a platter or cake stand with lip. Drizzle the frosting over the cake. The lip on the platter/cake stand will prevent the icing from dripping off.
In development is a version using dried cherries for a Cherry Coca-Cola cake. We’ll let you know how this one turns out once the kinks have been worked out.
Right now it looks a little like a statue of Cybele, the Goddess of Fertility. Those bullets were supposed to resemble evergreens. We’re going to have to work on that.

Oaks in Snow, Yosemite Point, ca 1935
Ansel Adams, photographer
Represented by The Ansel Adams Gallery, Yosemite National Park, CA

Friday, December 19, 2014


We're not perfect but we expect it. We're definitely not easy to live with (neither one of us) So when it comes to getting the house ready for the holidays things can get a little cantankerous; two designers and two points of view not to mention an eighteen-year-old daughter with an opinion of her own. You either find a way to compromise or you give in and back off. This year it was a little of both. Here's what we learned and we're going to pass along some lessons learned.

We started with garlands swaged along the fence that runs the length of our property. You can buy coils of evergreens in twenty-five or fifty foot lengths of pre-wired live greenery. The truth is you can purchase these any time after the first ropes are put out for sale at your local nursery or Home Depot. The first supply is frequently the only delivery so whether you buy it the day after Thanksgiving or on Christmas Eve what you get on either day or any day in between isn't going to be any fresher on the first day or the last. I'm the analytical one so I got out pencil and paper and began my long division to figure out if we bought fifty feet of rope and had six, six foot sections of fence how much rope would I have for each section? Would this be enough of a swag or too much? Rick said, "Screw it. Just put the damn stuff up and cut off what you don't need. " He was right of course.
We added swags of fir and boxwood and then finished off the fence with bows of wired copper ribbon tied with pinecones and then wrapped the swags with tiny amber battery powered lights.
We paid an arm and a leg for these miserable lights. If you read the tiny type on the tiny box for these tiny lights you'd see that although they are labeled for indoor and outdoor use they aren't guaranteed in extreme weather. As it turns out extreme weather apparently means anything north of New Orleans. There's a theory somewhere about Christmas lights and the inevitability that once strung they'll never work.
We gave up on the batteries and stepped back in electrical time replacing those sweet little lights with a mile of electrified strands connected by two miles of extension cords all plugged in to the house electrical system. The tag on the new lights said we could connect up to five strands. I'm now pushing the limit with, at last count, nine. No fuses blown as of yet.
One of the things you want to remember in outside decoration is that your decorations don't walk back into the garage during the day.
Decorations should look good not only at night but during the day as well.

We have a set of galvanized planters at the entry that during the spring and summer are blooming with morning glories, geraniums and sweet alyssum.
This holiday I wanted to plant birch branches in our planters and cover them with more little lights (not the battery operated kind). Restoration Hardware was my inspiration with their faux birch trees with bud lights and big prices. I couldn't afford the cost. I thought, "I can do this". So I set out to go to the woods and chop off some birch branches. With no botany in my background I failed to realize that a birch branch doesn't take on that beautiful white bark until it morphs from a twig to a trunk.
I switched gears and chopped down some nondescript branches that had the shape and size of those faux Restoration Hardware trees, brought them back, spray painted them to look like birch, and stuck them in the unfrozen dirt in those galvanized planters. I draped some snowball lights between the branches and spread a whole string of three hundred lights in each container.
Then we lined the porch with paper stars. We had done this last year and learned our lesson about paper and the weather. These stars were okay with a little snow that with a little wind would blow away but they didn't take kindly to any rain. When wet they started to droop and then they started to tear. This year we sprayed them with several coats of clear coat in hopes they would adjust to the weather better than our tiny light did. We stuck a wreath on the arbor and declared the entry finished.

While in New York we stopped by CB2 to pick up a fire screen Rick had put on hold for the New York apartment. It's never a good idea to leave me with too much time in a design store. While we waited for them to retrieve the screen from storage I wandered the store and discovered this beautiful simple wreath hanging on the wall. CB2 was selling these wire wreaths that they filled with large metal balls. It was the perfect wreath for the front of the house. On closer inspection you could see that they had used two wreaths wired together to hold the balls in place and the balls were sold separately. So the twenty-five dollar price tag dangling from the wreath on the wall was only the price for one wreath not two and no balls.
Once again the mantra, "I can do this" came into play. We ordered the two wreaths and had them shipped to Madison. Thus was the beginning of the world's, well at least our world's, most expensive wreath. I should have just bought the CB2 balls and been done with it. By the time I'd scoured every Pier 1, Kirklands, Marshalls and Michaels in Madison I'd run up a bill that not even Santa would be proud. I have to rely on amortization. You can depend on seeing this wreath attached to the front of our house the following year and the year after that and the year after that, and if I can think of a way to dress it up for other holidays you'll be seeing it on Easter and the Fourth of July as well.

We're very loyal when it comes almost anything and buying our Christmas tree is no different. There's a group of guys who for the last several years have set up a tree farm outside a Pepto-Bismol pink defunct Mexican restaurant down the road from us. They fence themselves in along with their tiny trailer complete with a generator that runs their heater and TV. No one in Wisconsin is willing to miss a Packer game no matter how cold it might get outside.
We bought our Douglas fir off their lot. The Douglas fir has the short needles and a beautiful blue cast. With eight foot four inch ceilings and a foot high tree stand we ended up with a tree that's lowest bough to its tip-top spike measures around six feet. Again, I bring out the mathematician in me whenever I can. Getting the tree into the stand, wrangling it in the front door, and making sure it is perfectly straight are the tasks of the holiday that always seem to fall on my honey-do list.  It is also my job to wrap the lights around the tree but from there the design concept falls to Rick. He puzzles and plots for days about what this year's tree is going to look like. We don't rely on tradition when it comes to our tree. Oh sure, we'll resurrect a design periodically but most year's it's a whole new look.
This year he went toward copper and matte white. We found we were able to do this out of stored unsold stock we had from the store on East Wilson Street. Rick and Emmy tied copper ribbons on all the old ornaments while I draped twelve twenty foot strands of silver beads around the tree until I was dizzy. The result is dazzling., and every year we marvel at our own amazing talent. As punishment for that last statement I'll be reminded of what it'll be like to have to unwrap those strands of pearls and lights off the tree once the holiday is over and the soft needles have turned to knives.
Happy Holidays to all. Now where's the snow?

Cambridge Circus, London, 1936
Wolfgang Suschitzky, photographer
Represented by The Photographers Gallery

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Having done Kips Bay, I willingly and admiringly take my hat off to any designer willing to take on a showroom challenge. There are so many pitfalls, limited production times, and unexpected expenses that any designer who makes it to the finish line and actually ends up with a room deserves praise and not criticism. It's Christmas after all, a time when if you can't say anything nice you shouldn't say anything at all.
Let's take a tour of the seventh annual Holiday House located in the Blavatnik Mansion, 2 East 63rd Street, benefitting the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
The mansion holds four floors each decked out with an abundance of designer inspiration. After you've paid your $35 entrance fee and donation, you are squeezed through an entry vestibule and drawn forward by the enticing hint of holiday color peeking through from the grand dining room directly ahead, a gift from Amy Lau Design celebrating Baccarat's 250th Anniversary.
What's the Christmas holiday without red? From the red crystal goblets to the red crystals clinging like snowflakes to the chandelier to the vases filled with cranberries and pomegranates red danced and played over the table set for twenty. All of the crystal donated by Baccarat is to be auctioned off and donated to the research foundation. Generosity is always a major part of the holiday season.
My guess is Ally Coulter Design lucked out with a room already detailed with paneled walls, an intricate vaulted ceiling and a view to a beautiful courtyard. Having this already in place turns the designer's mandate into more of a decorating assignment then a construction transformation.
It might have made the task easier budget wise but it was clear the mansion owners weren't going to let the designer of this room damage the existing envelop with any unwanted nail holes.Artwork had to be selected that was large enough in scale to hold up resting on the floor or a mantel rather then being hung at eye-level.
The curved grand staircase designed by Carlton Varney, the protégé of Dorothy Draper, wound its holiday magic with lit garlands, candles and a magnificent Christmas tree around a the cantilevered steps and simple wrought iron railings.
The second floor rooms were smaller in scale but I'm guessing blanker canvases for the designers to deal with. Size has its benefits but blank canvases can be very very costly. The largest of the rooms was given to Matthew Patrick Smyth, an icon in the industry and a veteran of the show house circuit. If anyone were capable of dealing with a room this size it would be Matthew. The room he created is eclectic but demure. He has chosen a neutral palette as his backdrop and then taken us on a journey of historic period furniture from the Regency sofa, up to the French Moderne chandelier and on through to the contemporary art.
Gary McBournie chose to put heat in the holiday with his Caribbean Island Holiday retreat. Curtaining walls is often a copout in a show house room but one I understand since the life cycle of a room rarely exceeds thirty-one days. But here the choice of fabric everywhere made total sense. The room is an outdoor tent waiting for the slow lapping of a St. Barths surf.
In complete contrast was the sweet pastel bedroom lullaby created by Guillaume Gentet. The tiny scale of the room created a sweet intimacy that made you want to snuggle up with childish innocence waiting for Santa to appear.
The rooms got a bit smaller as you rose to the third floor, but no less intriguing. Pamela Banker brought dining for an intimate group of four into her seaside inspired seafoam dining room.
Patrick James Hamilton brought color into his room through both his chosen furniture and art. Pops of cerise and aquamarine glint across his daybed and chairs while an almost wildly colorized portrait of a bearded man scandalously follows you around the room with his glowing tangerine eyes.

The eerie broodiness of Louis Nararrete's cave-like space is totally spellbinding. The dark walls and rich woods make you constantly feel the need to check your back as you walk through his den. Overhead hangs a Warren Muller chandelier he has titled, BahdeeBahdu, an assemblage of odd bits of light and found metal pieces worthy of Freddie Krueger and just as foreboding.
There is only one room on the top floor, its original use remains a mystery to me. It has ballroom proportions with large arched windows and a skylight. It seems to far up for a public room but then too detailed for a storage attic. Justin Shaulis has transformed the space into a representation of the Miami art scene and this was my main reason for attending.
We work with and depend on the talents of a woman who has carried our weight through all of our recent work in the New York area. She not only has saved our collective asses time and time again with her architectural knowledge and knowhow but continues to create her own art in three-dimensional forms that stop you in your tracks. Pryor Callaway's beaded coffee table was my highlight. Like a parent's pride in seeing your child's delight and ingenuity, Pryor's sole piece burst my heart with joy.
For me the 2014 Holiday House was a success if only for this one piece and the knowledge of the cause the house supports. Please be generous during this season and beyond and if you can go to the Holiday House go and let it put a smile on your heart.

Charles James 1948 Collection, Vogue
Cecil Beaton, photographer
Represented by Staley-Wise Gallery, NYC

Friday, December 5, 2014


There was a chill searing through the heavy sweater I wore. The tips of my exposed fingers had begun the aching prickly feeling. My gloves were tucked under my arm so I could hold my iphone as I squeezed my way through the crowds lining Fifth Avenue around Rockefeller Center. Most had stopped glued in place as projected snowflakes danced across the façade of Saks.  It was ten thirty at night but you wouldn't know by the number of kids perched on parent's shoulders their faces showing nothing but awe at the millions of lights and piped in Christmas carols. I can no longer hoist Emmy on to my shoulders or push her stroller past the windows of Lord & Taylor but I can't help making the walk. Perhaps there's still a little kid in me that can't resist braving the bitter winds as cold tears trickle down from my brilliant wide open winter stung eyes.
Here's my invitation to take the walk with me
Saks Fifth Avenue and their fairytale windows

The tree at Rockefeller Center

Radio City Music Hall

Tiffany and the star that hangs over the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street

A look down 58th Street and the entrance to the Plaza Hotel

Bergdorf Goodman's fashion forward extravaganzas

Inside Grand Central Station and the Holiday Market

Macy's; it's windows, the main floor and the chance to sit outside and watch Miracle on 34th Street on the big screen

Lord & Taylor's windows of imagination and whimsy


Times Square
Ciaran Tully, photographer