Monday, December 28, 2015

CHRISTMAS MORNING TRADITIONS

CHRISTMAS CINNAMON
We slept until nine on Christmas day when the smell of baking cinnamon rolls wafted its way through every bedroom in the house.
The stockings were hung on the staircase with care. We made them ourselves out of old matelassé, linen napkins and vintage buttons we told ourselves Santa had dropped in the snow.
The presents were wrapped in paper the butcher might use tied with copper ribbon and spiced with lustrous loden green ornaments looking like moss on a forest floor.
The tree left the room infused with balsam with humble tiny white lights glinting off the pewter colored balls and globes both big and small. A string of silver pearls swaged from limb to limb on the tree like a necklace encircling a flapper's neck.
But the highlight was seeing the smile on Emmy's face and the joy of sharing a first Christmas with our new puppies: Joey and Phoebe. Peace to all.





RICK'S CINNAMON ROLLS RECIPE




















Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Dough:
2 cups of flour
2 tbsp of baking powder
1 tsp salt
½ tsp of ground cinnamon
¼ cup sugar
6 tbsp of butter chilled
Enough milk or cream to form the dough

Pecan and brown sugar mixture:
1 stick of softened butter
1 cup of dark brown sugar
1 tsp of vanilla
1 tsp of cinnamon
1 cup of pecan halves


Frosting:
6 oz of whipped cream cheese
1 stick of softened butter
2 lbs of powdered sugar
1 tsp of vanilla


Prepare the pecan and brown sugar mixture while the oven is heating up
Put the butter, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon for the mixture in a food processor until thoroughly mixed
Add the pecans and pulsed until the nuts are chopped and then set aside

Put the dry ingredients for the dough in the bowl of a food processor and pulse five times
Add the butter and pulse until the butter until the pats of butter turn pea sized
Pour the mixture into a large mixing bowl and add the milk, enough to form the dough
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface
Pat the dough into a rectangle about a ¼" thick then fold into thirds
Wrap dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes
Repeat the folding process three times
Then roll out the dough into a rectangle approximately 10" x 15"
Spread with the pecan and brown sugar mixture onto the rolled out dough
Roll the dough and mixture into a log
Using a serrated knife cut the log into 1" thick slices
Lay slices on a baking sheet, brush with butter and sprinkle with a little extra sugar
Place in a hot oven for approximately 20 minutes until golden brown
Let cool down to a warm temperature before icing

Mix the powdered sugar, softened butter, vanilla and whipped cream cheese in a bowl and blend with a hand mixer until smooth

Ice the rolls and serve with a big glass of milk for Christmas morning breakfast.
Hoping everyone had a safe and joyous holiday!

Friday, December 18, 2015

TOURING THE CHRISTMAS TREES OF NEW YORK

O TANNENBAUM
You can smell the balsam of a fresh cut Christmas tree the minute you walk in our door. There's a small trail of needles that remain embedded in the carpet during the holiday; a burnt orange rust mark remains on the carpet from two years ago when some water from the tree settled under the metal runner of an antique sled leaving a reminder of Christmas' past for the other 364 days of the year. In our house Christmas is not meant to be artificial or easy. For me Christmas isn't Christmas if I can't rub the needles of our tree between my fingers and fill my nostrils with that intrinsic touchstone scent of pine that heralds the holiday.
In celebration of the Christmas tree (I'm assuming the Donald would want me to refer to the tree this way rather than trying to call it a Holiday tree) I've spent what free time I could find this trip to New York cataloguing the public trees I've seen this season and assessing whether they are real or artificial and if they are filled with the true smell of a winter wonderland. If I can get close enough I'll rub a few needles between my fingers releasing the aroma of the holiday and seeing if they meet the true test of an authentic Christmas by leaving that small spot of pine sap between my fingers that's impossible to wash off.
You have to start with the massive tree at Rockefeller Center. Trimmed in those egg-shaped colored bulbs it's the setting that is the trees biggest decoration.
Perched above Prometheus and the skating rink the view is best seen from the promenade leading from Fifth Avenue and looking to the west. You can't really get close enough to touch the tree, there's a barricade preventing close access and then there's the selfie-stick brigade to deal with as well. But if you've never seen the tree and you're in New York for the holiday it'd be a sin to not journey over to Rock Center to experience the ultimate Christmas scene while the Salvation Army bell ringers wag their clappers to the tunes of the season.
Moving uptown the towering tree in the center of the courtyard at the Bloomberg building is decked out in blue lights. It's a very sedate and stylish tree, a blend of the Christmas tradition done in Hanukah blue. This one you can touch. I have the sap marks to prove its authenticity.
The heavily decorated tree in Bryant Park behind the Main Library spreads the holiday spirit over the red and white striped awnings of the European inspired Christmas market
and its skating rink creating family memories that will live for a lifetime.
Nothing says Christmas like walking into the St. Regis and wandering into the King Cole room for a winter drink. No matter what your scocioeconomic status there's a feeling of power and pride in taking a stool and infusing yourself with the warmth of some holiday spirits served in a crystal glass.
On your way out there's a small shop with a tree decorated with antlers. Even here the hunt and power of conquest is on display making the holiday seem more than child's play. I couldn't force myself to get close enough to the antler tree to verify if it was a real tree, the antlers were a bit too intimidating for me.
Not to be out done The Peninsula on the west side of Fifth Avenue decks out its entrance with a pair of fierce bucks rearing up on their hind legs atop the heated metal canopy put there to shelter guests from the elements. Backing up the deer was a group of lit Christmas trees aglow with white lights.
Almost everywhere you turn in the city that is so connected to the holiday there are reminders of the season, Christmas carols seep out of revolving doors from the stores and shops that line the streets of Manhattan, ice rinks flourish from Central park down to the High Line, and vendors still sell roasting chestnuts from carts lining the sidewalks of the city. How can you not feel Santa isn't real when you're in the city that defines the spirit of Ol' Saint Nick.
Not to be out done I made a trip to the square in Madison. Wisconsin has one of the nations most beautiful capitols. The rotunda with it's coffered ceiling, marble columns and exquisite frescos is the perfect setting for the state tree. Every year the tree is decorated with handmade ornaments donated by statewide school children centering on a theme. This year's theme was sports. How this ties in to Christmas is beyond me but if you look closely you'll see an abundance of Packer green and gold along with Badger red and white. Madison may not have the grandeur of New York but you can't deny it has its own beauty and reverence for the holiday.

SAKS' GIFT TO THE CITY
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Friday, December 11, 2015

THE 2015 HOLIDAY WINDOWS MANHATTAN STYLE

BERGDORF'S, SAKS AND LORD & TAYLOR
Miracle on 34th Street begins with Kris Kringle walking by a store window where a befuddled employee is trying to put together a Christmas display of Santa and his reindeer. I can't remember a Thanksgiving that I haven't sat in front of the TV and watched as Kris corrects the shop owner with the order of his reindeer. As early as I can remember, back when I wore footed flannel pajamas printed with cowboys on horses and wooden post corrals; sitting and watching Kris was that delicious beginning of what seemed the unendurable anticipation of Christmas that plagues all children.
'Bucket List' wasn't a part of the lexicon back then but 'Wish List' was.  I could see the North Star outside the bedroom window I shared with my younger brother. Through the crystals that would form on the window panes at my boyhood home in Wisconsin I'd make my wish that some day I'd get to walk down those same Manhattan avenues Kris walked down swinging his cane and see those decorated windows and the glamour that is New York style.
Now that we've lived in New York for several decades the wonder of the department store windows hasn't worn off or lost its charm. Not rain, or sleet or snow stops me from walking from the Plaza down Fifth Avenue until the tips of my fingers have turned purple and my feet are numb with cold. This year the weather was mild and the windows didn't disappoint. Emmy went with me as she has for many of the past nineteen years. From the time she was two and perched on my shoulders in order to see till now when she carries her own camera it's been one of our father daughter bonding experiences.
We got out of the subway at Columbus Circle right in front of the Time-Life Building around eight in the evening just as many of the stores were trying to straighten their disheveled sweater displays before they could lock the doors. We walked across Fifty-ninth to Fifth Avenue.
The street was still crowded with shoppers trying to maneuver the packed sidewalks, their hands clutching the chic fabric straps attached to bags filled with gifts from the fashionable shops that occupy the Avenue. In front of the limo lined entrance to the Plaza the glitter and glam of Bergdorf's beckoned from behind Grand Army Plaza and the Pulitzer Fountain.
Over seven million crystals in collaboration with Swarovski blinded everyone who walked by. Their theme this year was simply "Brilliant".
The first window we passed completely embodied the theme of "Brilliant" with a fortuneteller in front of spinning wheel of fate, a pair of tarot cards and two palms all covered in crystals
From there Bergdorf took us under the sea where Neptune was completely encrusted in pearls as he sat atop a dolphin head with a bevy of crystalized under-the-sea treasures and creatures laid at his feet.
Then the party in the windows went into full swing with cakes and cones, games and bands. The only thing missing was a mirrored ball but with so many crystals who would have noticed?
It's almost impossible to calculate the hours of production time it must have taken to assemble and glue all those crystals.
The last window was a trip back to a time when royalty ruled, doors leading to the bed chamber were upholstered in velvet and knights in crystal armor stood as sentinels guarding the secrets behind the doors.
Even the royal dog wore a suit of emerald crystals. "Brilliant" was the perfect one word description for Bergdorf's entry into this year's holiday window experience.
Saks' windows for the past couple of years have had to compete with the light show projected on the their flagship façade. The best view seems to be from across the street where the "Winter Wonders of the World" were dwarfed by the light show above.
The windows took a tour from Paris and the Eiffel Tower
to the Sphinx in Egypt
then off to the Taj Mahal
and finally to the Colosseum in Rome.
The year I met Rick was the first year I was in New York for the Christmas holiday. A light snow, a warm coat and I was off on a bucket list venture down Fifth Avenue past Saks and Rockefeller Center, B. Altman's, Macy's and Gimble's but the windows that took my breath away were at Lord & Taylor. Spinning a tale that could have been written by Dickens the windows were full of animatronics and the elaborate sets as intricate as Colleen Moore's dollhouse and as authentic as an episode from Dowton Abbey. These pages from a child's picture book made my adult imagination tear up with joy and amazement.
The tradition of capturing Christmases of yore went on for decades but change is inevitable and Lord & Taylor's windows have caught up with the times. Amazing projections now compliment the 3D centerpieces for each window. There's no way to appreciate their windows in still photographs. Each window has to be seen in the way you'd twist a kaleidoscope its little stones and bits of glass forming patterns and color combinations that thrill and delight.
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Their theme this year was, "A Few of Our Favorite Things". It started out with a holiday countdown envisioned through the windows on an imaginary Manhattan mansion. Like an advent card the windows flip on and off with scenes of the holiday appearing in the mansion's windows.
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The gingerbread kingdom consisted of an army of bodybuilder gingerbread men hoisting a Victorian gingerbread house while visions of holiday delights danced in the background
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The cuckoo clock ticked off every goose bump on my joy meter. A Rorschach of black and white abstracts swirled and collided behind the clock telling animal time with chasing rabbits, tweeting birds and resident owl.
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The final window was a Sweet Shoppe that put Magnolia Bakery to shame. A conveyor belt of cupcakes danced around a counter filled with petit fours, macaroons and holiday cakes on hydraulic stands that bounced up and down to Christmas carols.
I thought that maybe the joy of seeing the windows would be over after I had seen them once. Then I thought I'd need the eye of a child to regenerate that sense of awe at seeing the windows again and again, but nineteen years of traveling Manhattan's avenues of Christmas lights have passed since Emmy and I strolled the avenue her bundled in a carriage or perched on my shoulders. Now she walks beside me and both of us still ooh and aah our eyes glistening and our imaginations loving each precious moment of sharing a tradition I hope never grows old.
THE GALLERY
Macy's Christmas Windows, 1870
Source Unknown

Friday, December 4, 2015

BLOWING UP BALLOONS 2015

BEFORE THE THANKSGIVING PARADE
Each year, the day before Thanksgiving, the giant balloons for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade come to life to the oohs and aahs of children and adults alike. It's supposedly quite a sight to see as SpongeBob, Big Bird, Garfield and the others fill up with helium on the streets of Manhattan's Upper Westside.
We had done the parade when Emmy was little. In fact we did it twice: once without a ticket and the second time with one. Without a ticket means you need to get there early, very early, in order to get a space close enough to the action that you can see what's going on unless you happen to be tall enough to see over the crowd. We learned our lesson on that trip since we didn't get there early enough and we were definitely not tall enough. We hung out for a few minutes and then went home where we had seats in front of the TV. The second time we had bid on tickets at a school charity auction. There are bleacher seats that line the east side of Central Park West. With a ticket you are allowed in but there are drawbacks with this arrangement as well. The year we had the tickets happened to be one of the coldest Thanksgivings on record. We bundled up as best we could but we couldn't beat off the numbness in our fingers and toes and once your in the roped off bleacher area you can't get out and return. There are no port-a-potties in the bleacher area. With a six-year-old in tow no bathroom means when she has to go we all had to go. We maybe saw a third of that parade before we were back in front of the TV for the climatic Santa entrance.
This year, since we had decided to spend the holiday in New York and our apartment was only a few blocks from the start of the parade and now that Emmy has grown beyond childhood and the weather was on the mild side for this Thanksgiving, we decided we'd try to see the blowing up of the balloons on the night before. The viewing begins at three in the afternoon and is open until ten in the evening. Giant nets are used to hold down the balloons white they are being filled with helium and securing them until just before the parade. This year's latest additions include; Angry Bird's Red, Ice Age's Scrat and his Acorn, Snoopy & Garfield, Hello Kitty, Shrek and Abby Cadabby. Almost none of which I could identify without a "whose who" cheat sheet.
Those foolish enough to arrive early only get to see the flat latex lying out on the road, a huge disappointment. The time to see the balloons is after seven or eight when the latex has transformed from blob to balloon. Most people have figured this out so what happens then is the line to visit the balloons grows to tens of thousands of hopefuls after the sun has set and the massive lights have been turned on making for a more Halloween feel than Thanksgiving. By the time Emmy and I got there, around nine, the line was so long and the crowd so packed we decided to abandon our idea.
I, of course, don't like to give up on a quest I've started out on so my new plan was to get up at five in the morning and see if I could sneak in to see the balloons unencumbered by the crowds. It sort of worked. Under cover of night at five in the morning there weren't any crowds only the security guys posted at the ends of each block where the fully inflated but imprisoned cartoon characters now rested awaiting there celebrity positioning in the upcoming parade. There was just enough light to see the figures as generators continued to pump life into their now inflated forms.
There was a black and white photograph I had coveted of Spiderman being inflated taken by the photographer, Stuart Sperling, back in 1998. The photo had been donated several times to another charity auction we were a part of years before we left the city. This was the main reason for my obsession with going to the inflation. I'd hoped to recreate the image. So I snapped away trying to capture the essence of Sperling's photo.
I caught Dino the Dinosaur cowering over Harold the Fireman looking very apologetic at having either having tipped him over or killed him.
Snoopy seemed ready for takeoff with a rye smile as if he knew something I didn't.
Thomas the Train looked more bank robber than children's hero, the netting squishing him like a thief's nylon stocking mask.
The eerie quality of Toothless from "How to Train Your Dragon" was by far my favorite and the closest I came to capturing the mystic of Spiderman.
After the balloons I some how got to walk up Central Park West as the light was just coming up. The workmen were now assembling the floats that would accompany the balloons and the bands and dance groups.
I hit the eighty-first street subway exit just as the Spirit of America dance group was climbing up the exit stairs. The police barricades only allowed enough room for two people to pass each other. I couldn't count them but it seemed like thousands of little girls kept coming out of the exit some wrapped in the thermal silver blankets marathoners use after they've completed the race.
It was a short walk back against a crowd that was going the other way, some dressed in turkey outfits having eluded the butcher and someone else's Thanksgiving table.

THE GALLERY
Eddie Cantor Balloon, 1934
Photographer Unknown
From the Getty Archives