HOLIDAYS ON NICE

Camille Styles with her new book, Camille Styles Entertaining: Inspired Gatherings and Effortless Style, joins us in this excusive look at how to make your holiday dinner parties for family and friends more magically merry this year.

Some of my favorite holiday memories center around setting the table in preparation for a family feast. When I was little, my mom would let me craft place cards for the Thanksgiving table; I’d use my best cursive and colored pencils to scrawl each guest’s name and a little reminder of one thing we had to be thankful for. A few days before Christmas, we’d unpack my mom’s china adorned with evergreen trees and reindeer, which seemed even more special due to its limited use. These days, I still get a rush from designing a holiday table that feels different than the year before; one that sends a rush of delight to family and friends the moment they lay eyes on the festive linen tablecloth, delicate vintage glassware or flickering candlelight. A beautiful table contributes to the magical feeling in the air and creates all kinds of anticipation for the feast ahead. This year, I incorporated shimmering touches and metallic accents to cast a warm glow over my holiday table, inviting guests to eat, drink and be merry until long after the sun went down.

PALETTE: Evergreen, ivory and burnished gold.

LINENS: In an effort to let the beauty of my vintage wood table shine, I topped it simply with a linen runner and a second “runner” formed from evergreen branches. During the holidays, I look for ways to incorporate as much greenery as possible — nothing’s more evocative of a classic Christmas than pine, cedar and fir (and the wonderful scents that they impart!) No need to craft any kind of complicated garland — to achieve this look, simply cut branches to size and lay them artfully around the centerpiece.

CENTERPIECE: I’ve always had a bit of an obsession with croquembouches — the tree-shaped French confections consisting of towering stacks of cream puffs, “glued” together with caramel. Sure, you could spend hours in the kitchen making pastry from scratch and then methodically-assembling the tree… or you could order one from a great local bakery (my preferred route!) Either way, something this tall and dramatic is all the centerpiece your holiday table will need.

When there’s no room for flowers on the table, I often consider adding a few blooms or branches in another spot, like a side table or buffet. For this look, my friend and floral designer Elizabeth Lewis from the Nouveau Romantics gathered simple bunches into mercury glass vases, and we arranged them on the mantle directly behind the table for a stunning display. These included ranunculus, tulips, winter berries and bay leaves.

PLACE SETTINGS: Since my everyday dishes are made of casual stoneware, the sheer sight of using fine china on the table transforms any dinner into a special occasion. The woven pattern on these plates feels modern while the gold accents add glamour and sparkle, especially when illuminated by candlelight. I love the vintage vibe of the etched champagne coups and mismatched silverware, adding a timeless touch that recalls Christmases of long ago. 

THE DETAILS: A scattering of narrow brass candlesticks in varying heights appears to dance across the length of the table. I scooped these up at a thrift store recently and have been surprised by their versatility — they’ve been the perfect finishing detail on loads of different tabletop looks, and their slender silhouettes add a certain gracefulness.

On the first holiday I ever spent with them, Adam’s British side of the family introduced me to the tradition of Christmas crackers. A cardboard tube gets filled with treats and wrapped in pretty paper then placed at each setting, ready to be opened at Christmas dinner. These play double duty as place cards, with each guest’s name calligraphied across the front of the packaging.

*Sources: Floral Design: The Nouveau Romantics,Calligraphy: Antiquaria, Props: Loot Vintage Rentals, China: Vera Wang Gilded Weave Dinnerware / Newlywish, Croquembouche: Word Of Mouth catering, Location: Home of Andrea McWilliams 

EAT. DRINK & BE MERRY: ‘Tis the season to eat, drink and be merry and as much as I love experimenting with new recipes and innovative flavors, there’s something about the winter months that just calls for the comfort foods of childhood and the familiar flavors that always make an appearance on the holiday table. For me, Christmas morning goes hand-in-hand with my mom’s fresh-from-the-oven almond kringle, and now that I have a daughter, I’m looking for ways to be intentional about creating some new family taste traditions of our own. Think about how you feel when you come in from the cold and are handed a steaming mug of spicy cider, or sit down for Christmas dinner to a table groaning with roasted meats and bottles of red wine. Although I often can’t help myself from adding one new item to the menu each year, I know that keeping these beloved traditions alive is sacred. And of course, one of my very favorite tastes of the season? Fizzy champagne as glasses clink on New Year’s Eve.

JAM THUMBPRINT COOKIES 

These are a holiday classic at our house, and I love that the flavors can be changed depending on your mood. Ive filled them with all kinds of jam, honey and nut butters, swapped out the almond extract for orange or peppermint and even drizzled the tops with a sugary glaze. Its a great one to get kids involved in, since their little thumbs are perfect for stamping the dough. 

*Makes 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar
  • raspberry jam and apricot jam

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. In a food processor, pulse the flour with the almonds until finely ground. Add the baking powder and salt, and pulse to blend.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and both extracts, and beat for another minute until well combined. Add dry ingredients and mix on the slowest setting until just combined. Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes.

Place raw sugar on a plate. Scoop out 1 tablespoon of dough at a time, and use your hands to roll into a ball. Roll each ball in sugar, pressing gently to adhere. Place a couple inches apart on prepared baking sheets, then use your thumb to make a deep indentation into each ball of dough.

Bake cookies until golden, about 12 minutes. Halfway through, rotate baking sheets so they cook evenly. Remove from oven and let cool for a minute, then transfer to wire racks and let cool completely.

Use a small spoon to fill half of the cookies with raspberry jam, and the other half with apricot jam.