A few months ago, I had the great good fortune to be a part of a 1960's holiday photo shoot with my dear friend Melissa of Events by Melissa McNeeley. We became kindred spirits in our early years of living in New York City discovering that we both had a passion for the past. Our clothes, our music taste, literature, film, dishes, Christmas decorations, furniture - you name it; if it had a history, we were into it. As our friendship developed, our love of vintage strengthened. It remains one of my favorite things we share.
Our businesses began to take shape and now we are so lucky to collaborate from time to time. When Melissa and her team of wizards came up with this retro holiday photo shoot, I jumped at the opportunity to bring my food to the table. The theme was meant to really capture the nostalgia of holidays past. It included Rankin and Bass claymation characters from Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer like The Abominable Snowman, Yukon Cornelius, Hermey the Dentist, and a bunch of woodland creatures and other little elves.
Projects like this are such a treat because I can be creative and just play. I was given the assignment to make a 'Roast Beast' a`la Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas. She wanted it to appear cooked to death and ugly. I so badly wanted to gloss it up with some demi-glace, but I kept it dried out and unappetizing. I think it looks very cool, all the same!
Other than the 'Beast,' I wanted to create foods that wouldn't really show up on a 2013 holiday menu. I came up with all sorts of weird gelatin aspics and Jello molds. Risky! Challenging! The best things, once you've faced them and succeeded, in my book. I made a simple orange jello bundt mold with fresh cranberries suspended in it. Once I unmolded it, it lasted just long enough for the photographer to take a few pictures before it ungracefully slid off its vintage pedastal.
I tried a more complicated tomato aspic with peas suspended in it and it came out perfectly. The phrase,’You win some and lose some’ was never more true that day. THIS blackberry and wine gelatin was a win! I’ve included the recipe at the end of this post.
The charm of our shoot was that it involved children. What’s a holiday without children? I just recently had a party and 3 very special kids were there to join in the festivities. It really made the night so sweet to have little ones darting in and out, giggling, and playing pretend in corners of the house. Children embody wonder and mischief and fun that as adults we sometimes forget about this time of year. It was such a reminder of how grownups can experience holiday time differently from little ones. As adults, we are constantly rushing around lamenting about shopping and end of the year deadlines and their most important part of the day is finding the Elf on the Shelf each morning!
I was recently at a spiritual talk and the speaker had such meaningful lessons to share about children. How they believe even when they can’t explain something: Magic. Fairies. Santa. Elves. Their faith is so big. They have an inner intuition that seems to fade over time and we let distractions of adulthood chisel away our childlike belief. Our gifts of wonder and awe are lost unless we nurture and develop them. Children have a capacity not to let the unexplainable drive away the undeniable. We don’t have to be able to understand or explain everything to believe in it.
One of the great things about this retro Christmas shoot is how it payed tribute to childhood memories. The food had a bit of whimsy and an odd quaintness that added to the mood. It was a really great day creating holiday cheer and getting in the spirit months in advance of the actual season. Check out the whole photoshoot on the 100 Layer Cake-let blog to see all of the merriment.
I hope you take some time to look at things through the lens of a child this holiday season and may your heart be light!
Blackberry Red Wine Gelatin(adapted from Martha Stewart)
- 1/2 cup apple juice
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
- 1 cup full-bodied red wine, such as zinfandel
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 pint blackberries (12 ounces)
- Fresh mint leaves, for garnish
Prepare an ice-water bath; set aside. Add 1/2 cup water and the apple juice to a medium bowl; sprinkle with gelatin. Let soften about 5 minutes. Combine wine and sugar in a small saucepan; bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. Reserve 8 blackberries for garnish; add remaining blackberries to the saucepan. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Slowly stir hot wine mixture into gelatin mixture. Transfer bowl to ice-water bath, and stir gently until cool, about 5 minutes.
Pour mixture into a 9-by-5-by-2 1/2-inch nonreactive metal loaf pan. ( I used a vintage pudding mold.) Refrigerate, covered, until set, about 45 minutes, or up to overnight. To unmold, set pan in warm water until gelatin loosens, about 2 seconds; invert onto a cutting board. Use a knife to break seal along edges if necessary. Cut gelatin into 1 1/2-inch cubes. Divide among 4 small bowls. Garnish each with 2 blackberries and mint leaves.