It’s the most wonderful time of the year! I truly believe that and think it’s the perfect opportunity to reflect on our many blessings and beautiful holiday memories we’ve enjoyed over the years.
Christmas is such a magical time. As a child, I remember delighting in the sights and sounds of the season. I feel fortunate to have lived on the East Coast as a child because my parents were great about taking us to see and experience everything the region had to offer. At Christmas that meant such delights as the beautiful Colonial-style holiday décor that featured natural elements such as greenery, leaves, pinecones and fresh fruit. Visiting Colonial Williamsburg was a favorite of my mother’s and enjoyed by the whole family.
Another highlight was visiting Washington, DC. We lived in nearby Virginia and always loved driving into the city. Christmas was especially fun. We would walk the National Mall, looking for the signs for our birth states (me = Hawaii and my brother Peter = Massachusetts) that lined the walk up to the Washington Monument. We also loved the windows in the department stores with their holiday scenes.
When I started third grade, we moved west to Salt Lake City, Utah. My father worked for a company that developed western resorts. It was so much fun to visit the different locations. These are also great places to enjoy the holidays. As you can imagine, for my formative years, Christmas meant SNOW! It’s still kind of hard for me to be 100% in the spirit when it’s 80 degrees outside!
Salt Lake City Christmases were entertaining. We picked up a new tradition from my best friend, Vicky Robinson’s family. They all selected a gift to open on Christmas Eve. I had never heard of that but thought it was a brilliant idea. I presented it to my mother, and she agreed. We still do that to this day.
Christmas Day in Salt Lake City meant we didn’t have family around (as they were still mostly back east) but we spent the entire afternoon going to open houses. I loved that tradition. I would usually pick out my favorite gifts, a new outfit and perhaps some jewelry and get dressed up in my new finery for the afternoon of visiting.
Some years we would travel back to Virginia. Those were great Christmases too. My Aunt Patty and Uncle Gordon lived next door to Mount Vernon, another delightful place to visit during the holidays. Each trip we’d look forward to seeing the décor, visiting the shops and regaling in the Colonial atmosphere.
My paternal grandmother and aunts were all excellent cooks and skilled hostesses, and we had meal after meal of delicious holiday fare. I still marvel at how seamlessly they could feed a crowd. One tradition that I thought was especially clever was that my Aunt Patty would buy a large Honey Baked Ham and set it out around mid-morning. At that point we had family that lived from coast to coast and it was an endless run of airport trips and various outings for those who had already arrived. She had the ham and plenty of fixings for us to make delicious sandwiches at will. The daytime schedule was kind of all-over the place, but a tasty lunch was available at any time.
Fast-forward to adulthood and I celebrated with my family out west. My mother and brother Peter had moved back to Utah, so we got to enjoy white Christmases once again. In fact, I had the chance to ski again with both brothers, Peter and Paul, when we were all together. Other years my mother and I visited local holiday sights and post-holiday sales. It was the perfect time of year to stock up on things like snow boots, mittens and scarves since I seldom needed those items in Houston.
Holidays in our Houston home continue many of my childhood traditions. Of course, like most families, a lot of them revolve around food. Some years I do the ham for all-day grazing. Other years, we do my mother’s favorite of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. My mother and I always enjoyed making a bûche de Noël (shown below), especially dusted with cocoa powder! This was from 2021.
I love making and decorating Christmas cookies. Sometimes it’s a family affair and sometimes I do it in preparation for holiday parties and events. Either way, I love pulling out my now enormous collection of cookie cutters and coming up with a theme. I have cookie cutters from many places from my past including Pacific Northwest shapes like salmon and whales to western designs like coyotes, buffalo and cacti. I have all the traditional shapes too. It’s hard to pick! In the interest of time, I like using a recipe that does not call for chilling the dough and limiting myself to about five shapes and two colors of frosting. Even with these limitations, they turn out beautifully and delicious too!
- I have very good luck with this dough. By eliminating the baking powder, you get sharp details and a delicious, buttery shortbread-style cookie. I highly recommend them!
- Sprinkles can add color so you can just use white frosting.
- To add an extra layer of décor and deliciousness, consider using the glaze first and then decorate on top with the royal icing and sprinkles.
Roll Out Dough
Note: This makes a pretty large batch. It’s written a bit oddly but I took it word-by-word from a handout given to me at a cookie decorating class and I follow these steps.
(This dough can be stored in the fridge, wrapped tightly in several layers of plastic and in a Ziploc® bag.)
Pre-heat oven to 350℉ and bake 10-12 mins. (Do not brown or the cookies will be too dark on the bottom!)
Mix in food processor with paddle:
- 2 cups salted butter (4 sticks, cut into 1 T cubes and cold)
- 2 cups granulated sugar
Incorporate, but do not cream, butter. It will be chunky and coated with sugar only.
- 2 eggs
- 4 T whipping cream, whole milk or ½ and ½
- 4 T vanilla
- 2 t almond extract or other flavor (If not using another flavor, use 5 T vanilla.
After mixing together, add:
- 6 cups of flour (Don’t need to sift, just aerate & lightly spoon in.) Omit 1 T if really humid!
- 1 T baking powder (Optional; If cut details are important, then leave out.)
- 2 large egg whites
- 1 pound confectioners’ sugar
- Juice of 1 lemon
- optional: lemon or vanilla flavoring / pinch of salt/ food colors
Beat on low speed with an electric mixer. Start with 2 teaspoons of liquid and adjust to desired consistency. If you use liquid food colors and flavorings, take them into consideration when adding liquid. To pipe, it should be fairly thick but not stiff. To spread, it can be runny. This icing dries quite hard and cookies can be glued together and carefully stacked when dry.
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 4 t light corn syrup
- 4 t milk
- food color (optional)
Mix thoroughly. To achieve desired consistency, I usually add a bit more corn syrup. This flows very nicely, tastes pretty good, and hardens firm, smooth and shiny. It makes a nice base for piping and/or sprinkles.
I usually end the year with a tongue-in-cheek final new construction project – in gingerbread! Whether for a design competition, just for family or our new tradition of making gingerbread houses with our little girl neighbors, we always find time for one more project! Here is an example from year’s past.
Design-related traditions have also made their way into my holiday schedule. For several years Pamela Hope Designs participated in the Houston Design Center Deck the Tables competition. As you may recall, I adore tablescapes and everything related to tableware, so we went all in.
Our first table setting was a Winter Wonderland in the form of an Alaskan Christmas at Thorntree. Since it was our first time to participate, we were thrilled to win the Judge’s Prize and tied for People’s Choice.
We repurposed the stunning snowy branch arches at Thorntree another year to create a Winter Solstice theme featuring the magic of the Northern Lights as shown on the right. That year we won Best Use of Color.
We took a turn south and created a Wine Country Christmas (shown below) at Kitchen and Bath Concepts a few years later and again took home the top Media and People’s prizes.
Whether at home or at work, with friends, families or colleagues, the holiday season is an endless source of inspiration for me. I wish you a season filled with your own holiday inspiration or call us, and we will help discover it with you.