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Dressing up the holidays

By Lynn Grisard Fullman
Published: Nov/Dec 2000

A display of fresh fruit adorns a mantle at The Governor Holmes House in Natchez, Miss. /The Governor Homes House photo
When the holidays roll around, ordinary homes and dinner tables can look rather bland. We long to enliven our homes so that they, like our spirits, will reflect the joy of year-end celebrations.

For those who are creatively challenged, the assignment to brighten a room or a dinner table may seem overwhelming. But look around–from bed-and-breakfasts to Southern gift shops and culinary schools–and you’ll find inspiration. Appropriate a few ideas from the experts, who effortlessly cluster fresh fruit, hang boughs of greenery and light up windows.

Notebook in hand, nose around the South to acquire decorating ideas that will enhance your home’s holiday wardrobe. Ready, set, go–and don’t forget the eggnog.

Chef’s classes celebrate cooking

Chefs may know best when it comes to holiday cooking. But for those who rarely entertain, the challenge is getting organized.

“The problem for most people is that they wait too long,” said chef Patrick Mould, a leading authority on Cajun and Creole cuisine and owner of Louisiana School of Cooking & Cajun Store in St. Martinville, La. “People should not be afraid to start early.”

Parboil vegetables, make stocks, assemble certain dishes, and chop celery, onions and other vegetables a day ahead of the big event.

Mould suggested assembling bread pudding a day ahead before popping it into the oven just in time for cooking. He’s developed a bread pudding recipe that is short on sugar and spiced mildly with nutmeg and cinnamon. The crunch from pecans in the rum sauce is a nice balance to the creaminess of the traditional custard-based dessert, he said.

For the holidays, Mould often serves his favorite cheesecake recipe, which “is pretty much a basic cheesecake recipe (but) what makes it so special is the praline sauce I use as a topping. It is so good you could be tempted to eat it by itself,” he confessed.
Pralines are another holiday favorite. “No holiday meal would be complete without pralines,” he said of the popular Louisiana confection.

It’s important to remember that planning ahead and starting early is the secret to hosting a successful event, according to Mould. His cooking classes help students learn how to tackle a cooking project. In his classes, he also shares favorite recipes, and in his Cajun Store, he offers seasonings, spices and condiments.

For details on chef Patrick Mould’s Louisiana School of Cooking, call (337) 394-1710 or e-mail patrick.mould@gte.net.

Hart-Hall’s holiday hints

Sara Emma Hall, owner of Hart-Hall, Ltd. in Meridian, Miss., insists that decorating is no mystery.

“You can do plenty with things you already have,” she said. Little touches can transform everyday items into seasonal decorations.

A planter filled with red peppers, jalapenos, lemon and ivy can become a centerpiece, and a crystal cake stand can be piled with sugared fresh fruit.

Silver candlesticks with silver shades can be used with white candles rubbed with silver metallic paint to slightly soften the look.

Making a topiary is as simple as carving foam, gluing and decorating, said Hall, whose shop is in a century-old Queen Ann/Victorian house dating to the late 1800s. Filled with elegant home accessories, distinctive jewelry, creative tableware, dinnerware, crystal, flatware, lamps, rugs and pillows, the shop showcases holiday displays and ideas. Visiting is enough to inspire you into creativity.

For information on Hart-Hall, Ltd., call (601) 485-8942.

A governor’s garnish and greenery

Fruit, greenery, candles and imagination are the holiday byword at The Governor Holmes House, a bed-and-breakfast in downtown Natchez, Miss. Take a notebook when you visit this 1794 house because there are plenty of ideas worth replicating.

“If you have a little imagination, it’s not difficult at all to decorate,” said the home’s owner, Robert Pully, who retired as manager of New York City’s famed Algonquin Hotel before moving to Natchez a decade ago.

When the holidays roll around, Pully decorates his two-story home to the hilt, using natural items such as greenery, fruit, nuts and vegetables.

“Nothing glittery,” he said, honoring the tradition of the home’s Federal period.

During the holidays, the house is vibrant with wreaths made of fruit, garland draped above doorways and a dining room table centered with fruit. The centerpiece of the bed-and breakfast’s decorations is a 13-foot-tall tree laden with chicken and duck eggs hand-decorated with Austrian stones, ribbon, velvet and gold braid.

Noted for its brick-nosed construction and exposed ceiling beams, the house once was home to David Holmes, who served as the last governor of the Mississippi Territory in 1809 and the first governor of Mississippi (1817). During Holmes’ years there, the home was the center of Natchez society.

To contact The Governor Holmes House, call 1-888-442-0166 or (601) 442-2366.

Bevy of Brasstown brightners

In north Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Brasstown Valley Resort goes all out for the holidays, with decorations cropping up just before Thanksgiving.

Jane Sowell, who heads up the resort’s year-end decor, works to retain a rustic theme, in keeping with the property’s surroundings. With 134 rooms, suites and cottages, Brasstown centers 500 acres so naturally that it seems as though Mother Nature wove the resort and conference center into her mountain midst.

“Christmas is such a special time of year (when) people are in a different mind frame so you want to spark their imaginations and use a touch of nostalgia,” Sowell said, explaining that every tree she erects at the resort has a different theme. Each tree is set atop a box draped with a tree skirt, allowing space for props and gift boxes.

The five-year-old resort–which offers guests places to trout fish, swim, golf, boat, horseback ride, mountain bike and whitewater raft–this holiday season has more than a dozen trees, plus a pair of tall soldiers standing guard at the resort’s entrance.

“It is very important to use props for all the trees,” Sowell said. She uses everyday items such as toys, bicycles, doll carriages, drums, stuffed animals and train sets, which can be clustered under trees.

“To add depth and dimension to the setting, put poinsettias everywhere, on top of presents, on the floor, on the stairs,” she said.

At the resort, outdoor pavilions are decorated with natural themes (birds’ nests or feathers), outside trees are strung with lights and trees in the hotel’s dining room are bedecked with food-related items, such as berries.

Reflecting another of Sowell’s touches, wreaths on windows overlooking the mountains are placed back to back so that visitors never have to see wreath backs.

For details on Brasstown Valley Resort, call 1-800-201-3205 or (706) 379-9900.

Fantastic forest festival

A wonderland of trees, wreaths and tabletop decorations on display at the Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock is actually a fund-raiser for Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute (CARTI). The collection also is the place to capture decorating ideas.

From traditional to trendy, the forest of cheer springs annually from the creative minds of Arkansas designers. This year’s Festival of Trees, slated for Nov. 24–27 will include tabletop trees decorated with items donated by celebrities.

The event, now in its 24th year, offers a chance to view decorated Christmas trees and to hear live entertainment.

The Festival of Trees, which has raised more than $1 million for Arkansas cancer patients, includes live and silent auctions of the decorated Christmas trees, wreaths, celebrity trees and thousands of festive holiday and celebrity gift items. In a Christmas Bazaar area, vendors sell specialty foods and gifts, and a “Deck the Halls” shop is stocked with holiday gifts.

For more details on the festival, call 1-800-482-8561 or visit online at www.carti.com.

As you drape greenery, light candles, wrap gifts, arrange flowers, set tables and serve guests, have a cherished holiday season, creating memories to last a lifetime for you and those you treasure.

Lynn Grisard Fullman is a contributor from Birmingham, Ala.

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