Archive for the ‘holidays’ Category

Our fat & festive tree...plus glowing cat eyes at right.

Rather than therapeutically writing about the inevitable “post Christmas blues,” which undoubtedly will befall many an individual in just a week or so from today, I’ve decided to revel in the beauty of the season by creating a “best of” list for this Christmas.  If you’re looking for a new cookie, a new Xmas CD, a new festive drink, a new holiday scented bath product, a new holiday date spot, (oh, and a way to possibly beat the post-holiday doldrums) look no further!  Well, at least here are some ideas…

1.  Music: John Erickson’s “A Feeling of Christmas” is one I highly recommend for peaceful piano tunes most likely in the jazz category.  There are a couple cheezy renditions, but for the most part, I absolutely love this record, particularly his versions of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Greensleeves,” and “Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming.”  Our bass-player friend Patrick Williams gave us the record last year…and he’s on it!  🙂

2.  More music: Frank Wallace’s “Joy: Carols & Songs for a Season of Light.”  Peaceful, Renaissance-influenced guitar music.  Absolutely fabulous, beautiful, peaceful…

(I still think Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas is my fave of all-time…)

3.  Cookies/treats: the famous Riley Holiday Nuggets (top secret recipe), but I will share a recipe I recently acquired from my good friend, Angie.  Sandwich a peppermint patty between 2 Ritz crackers; coat with melted chocolate (preferably “almond bark,” which is apparently better for coating and NO, it does not have almonds in it).  Let the cookies dry on wax paper and store in an air-tight container.  They don’t sound like my kind of thing AT ALL – I mean…Ritz crackers??? – but these are…in a word…superb.  TRY THEM!  Or at least take them to a Xmas or New Year’s party when you don’t have time for in-depth baking.

4.  Candles: holiday scented candles from Bath & Body works.  Ever since Illuminations went out of business a couple years ago, I’ve been searching for a truly wondrous scented candle.  Look no further, Bath & Body Works is the way to go.  They also have these beautiful ceramic shapes — pumpkins, acorns, apples, pine cones.  They’ve been gracing chez Rigby since October.  They had some pretty sweet sales online recently, so check it out.

5.  Drink: Riley Cranberry spice tea with Jameson.  3 parts cranberry, 1 part water & a splash of OJ if you have it on hand.  2-3 Constant Comment teabags and or mulling spice sack.  Sliced oranges.  Cinnamon stick.  Liberal sprinkles of nutmeg, cinnamon, &  whole cloves.  This is fine without the booze as well, but nothing warms a winter night like Jameson.  You could also use Maker’s Mark, of course.

6.  Decor: Strands of white/clear Moravian star lights.  This is our favorite piece of holiday decor.  You can hang them anywhere.  Since we do colored lights on our tree, we take the Moravians off the lights on which they come and put them on the colored lights.  (See photo.)  Ours came from the Winterthur catalog maybe 3-4 years ago, but I’m having a very hard time finding them online.  I’m sure they’re out there, so it’s worth the search.  Moravian stars in general are just gorgeous, so I think every home should have one.  🙂

7.  Arts/dance/theater: the 1977 version of the Nutcracker with Baryshnikov & Gelsey Kirkland.  This is the one I grew up watching…as many of us did!  🙂  Kirkland looks bizarre, but I really think this is THE quintessential Nutcracker.  Almost all of it is on youtube, but I think this is a DVD worth owning.

8.  Movie for all ages: Polar Express.  I have a rather lengthy list of holiday favorites, most of which I’ve been watching since the 80s, but Polar Express is one of my relatively new faves.  What a beauty!

9.  Movie for little ones: Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas.  This is a fantastic, fun, imaginative film that Jim Henson & his ingenious team did back in the early 80s as an HBO special.  It is just wonderful!  I still have such fun watching it.  And be sure to watch the special features.  Frank Oz (Miss Piggy, Yoda, etc) originally did the voice of Ma Otter.

10. Beauty: Holiday scented shower gels & hand soaps from Bath & Body Works OR Philosophy.  I highly recommend Sweet Cinnamon Pumpkin & Twisted Peppermint from Bath & Body Works…and just about anything from Philosophy (available at Sephora or philosophy.com).  Superb!  Also, any holiday scented handmade soaps off ebay.  They are easy to find…and cheap!

11. Manhattan holiday date-spot: Bin 71 or Barcibo (and/or the soon-to-open Bar’rique).  I found myself unexpectedly at Bin last night & it was just super cozy & candlelit & I ordered one of my favorite wintertime meals — meatballs in a lemon broth with crusty bread.  I can’t speak more highly of these places & they are so wonderful in the wintertime.  Cozy up to your sweetheart & enjoy!  Bin is on Columbus & 71st (SE corner) and Barcibo is on Broadway & 69th (NE corner).  The soon-to-be-open Bar’rique is on Bleecker & Cornelia.

12.  Asheville, NC holiday date spot: the lobby at the Grove Park Inn…or (if you’re lucky) a ROOM at the Grove Park Inn!  (wink, wink…)  I’m unfortunately only in Asheville a handful of times a year, but this is a go-to spot for hanging with friends and loved ones, esp. at Christmastime when GP goes all-out with its decorating.  There is also a beautiful spa there as well as shops, Christmas stores, restaurants, etc.  It’s an Asheville gem!

13. International Christmas destination: York, England.  The most Christmasey place I’ve ever been to!  Jason and I went there on our honeymoon and it was like stepping into Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.”  Beautiful, charming, interesting medieval town…they know how to do Christmas there.

14. Swanky gift-buying spot for gals & metrosexuals: L’Occitane.  This is my new favorite beauty supply place, though I really can’t afford anything there.  But…if you need a luxurious, swanky gift with absolutely gorgeous holiday gift wrap, check out L’Occitane.  They’re usually generous with their samples as well, which one can certainly pocket.  For more CRAFTY gifts, check out etsy.com.  Esp. the tattoo tights!  🙂

15.  Beating the post-Christmas blues: I really don’t have a fool-proof solution for this except to create things to look forward to in the new year.  This year for me they are: SNOW, starting up ballet classes again, maybe starting riding again, SNOW, becoming a stronger runner, seeing lots more of my family…oh, and snow.  🙂

Merry Christmas!

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If there’s any blog post that may arouse my fear of seeming narcissistic, it’s this one…sorry!  This is my going-into-the-new-year reflections, therapeutic perspectives, etc.  But I couldn’t pass the holiday season without a tribute to the many sides of this time of year.

Harkening back to the dog days of summer, I have to say August is my least favorite month of the year.  Way too hot, the city seems to lack its usual hustle-bustle, there’s usually not as much gig work, etc., etc.  BUT…I do often find myself traveling in August, either to my parents’ house in Asheville or to my in-laws’ in beautiful Bath, Ohio.  And the last two summers I was lucky enough to head to Trinidad for two weeks, and for work no less!  I digress…one of the really nice things about August is that fall is right around the corner.  When I get to the end of the month, it’s like, YES!  Thank GOD summer is almost over!  And then there’s September with the same kind of early-fall anticipation, (plus I usually feel like September is really my ‘new year’), then beautiful, golden October, November with the first cold-weather runs, hot cider on the stove & Thanksgiving, and alas, the gloriousness of December and its festive spirit.  So basically from August on, I’m pretty darn happy.  Oct., Nov., Dec. constitute the most beautiful (and fun-filled) months of the year if only from a visual/nature-inspired perspective.

So how does one get his/her head around the months following all of this beauty & anticipation???  Lucky for me, I LOVE winter.  I mean, I LOVE it.  I live for it.  I don’t mind the short days, I don’t mind bundling up, I very, very, very rarely have to deal with any sort of winter driving, and I think we’ve only had to dig our car out a small handful of times…and I don’t remember minding it one bit since I love snow so much.  I think I probably spent a few former incarnations in Scandinavia or Russia…or Canada.  So the winter thing is not an issue.  I suppose it starts to get old when you’re still frigid in March, but leading up to that, I’m totally fine.

But every year — and I mean, every year, I have a bit of post-Christmas doldrums.  I always try to beat it, and I think the last couple years I’ve done a good job.  I was talking to Jason about this, and we agreed that it’s easier now that we have each other.  It used to be that we would respectively spend a good chunk of time at our parents’ house at Christmas, then reluctantly head back to the city…alone.  So it does indeed make a big difference heading back with each other to our cozy apartment and our super super sweet baby kitties.  🙂  This year also I’m lucky enough that my fabulous in-laws, George & Eileen, are coming to NYC for new year’s eve, so that keeps the spice going.  They are truly fabulous!   And we are actually heading to Ohio later in January to formally celebrate Christmas with them…so this may actually be a year when Christmas does indeed go on for quite a while.  I mean, we’re obviously not going to ditch our date with the Polar Express in George & Eileen’s super cozy basement just because it’s January!

But sadly the question remains…how do I get over missing Mom & Dad, Mom & Dad’s house, the festive spirit, the music, the feeling of anticipation, etc., etc., etc.  Here is the answer:


Which equals: me hunkered down with my computer while it’s windy and frigid outside, a steaming cup of hot chocolate to my right, Pickles on the table standing guard over the library books I’ve had in my possession for at least a year, Burnzee curled up on the couch, Shmoo no where to be found…and maybe some hot apple cider brewing on the stove, fingers typing away furiously.

And really, for me this year, that’s the answer.  And I’m turning 30 in April too, so am hoping to do some serious springtime celebrating!

And my hopes for 2010 and next Christmas?  My number one wish is that my mom’s health continues to improve…which it has – dramatically- these last few months.  Other than that – and that’s BIG – I do indeed hope I am completely 100% finished with anything & everything school-related.  I hope for Jason that his artistic pursuits continue to move in the direction of his ultimate dreams.  I hope to spend lots of time with my beautiful niece who is hands-down the world’s cutest, most gorgeous baby, and I am so incredibly excited to see her grow. As for Asheville/Ohio logistics of next holiday season, my number one wish is that we do what we’ve done in previous years, which is to fit it all in!  I wouldn’t mind doing new year’s in Asheville next year, but we’ll have to see.

So I’m putting my writing hat on, and wishing everyone a happy 2010!  Thanks to everyone for a fabulous holiday season!  Let’s all beat the post-holiday doldrums and embrace the glories of winter.  There are indeed many.  🙂

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Cozy den at my parents house: note the holiday cats adorning the mantle

At my parents house: note Chopin & Tori Amos music on the piano

2009 Christmas season will probably be most remembered for the east coast snow storm.  And this post wouldn’t be complete without sending a heartfelt tribute to my sister, her husband, Charly, Captain Nissy, and Little Bird: they got stranded in the Atlanta airport because of snow in Asheville, rented a car the next day to drive to NC, and apparently (I haven’t yet heard the full story) ended up having to HIKE UP THE RILEY HILL in the snow because whatever four-wheel-drive Dad had procured couldn’t make it up.  What an adventure!   I hope they are sleeping soundly right now & making the most of the utter coziness of Mom & Dad’s house.  🙂

I’ve sort of been neglecting my blog lately for a couple reasons: 1) general holiday busy-ness & preoccupation with my dissertation have kept me from recreational writing and 2) I think only about 3 people I know actually read it…and that’s cool, man, that’s cool.  😉

But I couldn’t pass this holiday season without writing something about my favorite time of year, so I figured I would gear it around three of my favorite things: food, wine, music.  (Hence ‘foodwinecello’).

So Christmas music: this is probably the only time during the entire year that I listen so consistently to choral music…and I love it!  My faves: York Minster Choir Christmas album (York RULES), anything Christmasy by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and general Christmas choir recordings that I’ve discovered on itunes — Cambridge Singers, Westminster Choir, the Princeton University Chapel Choir, etc., etc.

AND because I’m a cellist, I’m lucky enough to do at least one choral-y concert every Christmas season, and this year I’ve also been fortunate to attend one as an audience member.  My good friend Angie is in the Riverside Choral Society (and she had a stellar solo!), so I attended their holiday concert with the American Brass Quintet on the upper west side.  Total holiday treat AND we went to one of my very favorite wine bars, Barcibo, afterwards with Angie’s very sweet mother-in-law, Cathy.  I love Christmastime.  🙂

Normally I get to play at Union Theological Seminary for their holiday concert – the Barnard/Columbia singers conducted by Gail Archer…sadly, I had to turn down the gig for another one, but I’m hoping to do it next year!

This is also the only time during the year that I listen to what can be described as ‘religious’ music, and despite my lack of label as a “Christian,” I do find myself having profound respect for the themes presented in some of these beautiful Christmas carols – ‘Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree,’ from James Galway’s Christmas album is one of my favorites.  ‘Zither Carol’ off the same record is another fave and I love the lyrics, “Hallelujah the angels sing, Hallelujah from everything.”  Beautiful idea and I think it goes beyond anything strictly ‘Christian.’  Here is a verse from ‘Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree,’ which is an 18th Century poem:

For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.
I like that Christ is really a beautiful symbol of a tree in this poem, and not a person.
So FOOD & DRINK!  I’m not going to give away the famous holiday nugget recipe – 2009 will be remembered as the year the Rileys almost lost the precious recipe.  But suffice it to say, it is THE taste of Christmas — somewhat spherical butter cookies laden with maraschino cherries, lemon peel (KEY ingredient), cocounut, pecans, and well…lots of butter.  Alas, a holiday nugget wouldn’t be quite complete without the equally famous Riley Cranberry Spice Tea!  Here is my recipe — I think we all do it a little differently, but this is my current recipe.  I should add that I believe this came from my Grandma Dorothy as did the holiday nuggets…
Cranberry Juice Cocktail (You can also add a little water, but you don’t have to)
A little orange juice (so roughly 3 parts cranberry, 1 part orange)
Freshly sliced orange, plus the ends squeezed into the tea
Constant Comment tea bags — KEY ingredient
Cinnamon stick
Whole Cloves
Allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, whatever else you want to dump in
Simmer over the stove.  This is the smell of Christmas, I swear!
Am hoping to make a batch of green Spritz christmas tree cookies this year…not sure I’ll get to it, but that’s another Riley favorite, albeit one we don’t do much anymore.
My hope for next Christmas season, 2010 or 2011 — make it to York, England at some point…it is the MOST Christmasy, charming, beautiful, cozy place I’ve ever been to.
Happy holidays, happy eating, drinking, musicking!!!!

My parents house - the ultimate cozy Christmas destination

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I used to view Halloween as one of the key partying high-points of the entire year.  One of my first…uh, illegal experiences, was on Halloween…circa 1999.  Alas, said view has changed.  I love to go out, I love to party (though “party” has taken on a different color as the years have gone by, and I’m happy to say so), I love to see the city in all its vivacious, ‘partying’ glory (minus the excessively drunken NYU undergradutes that permeate both sides of the Village).  But soggy fall nights are often best experienced inside my ever-cozy apartment with my cats, the jack-o-lantern inspired by Martha Stewart, some good food, some good books, my trusty laptop, and hopefully my husband who is in a state of chronically working his you-know-what-off.  I digress…

Today was brilliant!  I’m aiming for the April dissertation deadline so any and all work time is like pure gold…or like the candy corn that I was unable to find yesterday at either Duane Reade or Rite Aid.  Let’s just say it’s profoundly cherished time, particularly when I have enough motivation (i.e. am not too distracted by fall and/or general holiday festiveness).  So I finished the last (I hope the last!) of my interview transcriptions, which was an interview with the wonderful cellist-improviser Daniel Levin…if you’ve ever done transcriptions, you’ll know that it takes hours and hours and hours and hours….

I am currently working on the infamous “Tomas Ulrich chapter,” which is great fun and interesting to say the least.  His interview was/is one of my favorites, particularly because (apart from being insanely witty) he went to BU as well, and though he was there a number of years before I, had an almost identical experience regarding the joys of crack-of-dawn theory classes.  Gotta love walking down Comm Ave. in windy, sub-zero temps at 7:45 in the morning for species counterpoint, harmonic dictations, etc.!  Fun times!

Apart from that, my Halloween has included admiring the gorgeous & charming jack-o-lantern that Jason carved a couple nights ago…we copied my sister whose jack-o-lantern is inspired by the cover of the ever-enjoyable Martha Stewart Living.  I made a Moroccan chicken tagine via a recipe in the November Cooking Light issue — delicious & easy!  Just be sure to simmer MUCH longer than they suggest — you want the chicken to tenderize & that only happens with a long, uber-slow simmer.   And dump on the spices.  I don’t know why recipes are always so stingy with their spice recommendations.  Also made hot cider as I was expecting one of my best friends to stop by.

Wine buying tip for white wines: I recommend the “La Linda” viognier from Argentina.  It is CHEAP – $10 and delicious.  I’ve bought it a number of times, and it’s wonderful.  I’ve also bought the La Linda rose, which is pretty good.  Rose is absolutely not ‘white zinfandel,’ for the record.

Music-wise, I’ve been listening to “Peaceful Pat & Brad.”  I made myself a mix a few weeks ago with said title referring to Pat Metheny & Brad Mehldau.  I chose the ‘peaceful’ tunes of theirs – some together, some not – and made an itunes mix.  I think I’m going to make it into a CD to give my parents at Christmas.

Happy Halloween, happy cooking!  And best wishes for this holiday season…Duane Reade already has their Christmas decorations in stock.  Oh my goodness…time to whip out Vince Guaraldi.  😉

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So Tori is releasing a ‘seasonal’ record in November…so soon, so excitement abounds!  At first I was mildly horrified at the idea considering Tori is the fiery, piano pounding, sometimes brash, sometimes overwhelming, yet often angelic goddess to whom I’ve been listening consistently for the last 14+ years.  She is hands-down my musical idol in so, so, so many ways.  But things change & her last couple records left me disappointed after a good two weeks of excited listening…they just couldn’t hold up to ANY of her previous material.  I mean, “Boys for Pele” (imo) is the best record, hands-down, by anyone, ever.  And I think Choirgirl Hotel is not far behind that, to say nothing of To Venus & Back, etc., etc.  And I really say this with ultimate sincerity because these are records I’ve been revisiting for years and years.

But after her last couple records, the idea of Tori doing a seasonal record just wasn’t doing it for me.  A huge question mark was all I was seeing.  And i was truly horrified when I saw the pics.  (Prepare yourselves: http://undented.com/images/2391.jpg).  I mean….what is THAT about?!?!?

Nonetheless, some clips got released on the internet & I have to say, they are lovely & imaginative in a way only Tori in her middle age could be.  And I mean that with a total absence of sarcasm!  A girl on the ever-trusty, ever-sassy Tori forum (@forumz) put it very well: she said that this is Tori making beautiful songs for us to enjoy.  It’s not about her being a rock star or (god forbid) being a MILF (*shudder*).  It’s really just her doing her thing, and her thing is making beautiful music.  That sounds like an over-simplification, but that’s exactly why I started listening to her religiously when I was 15.

She’s chosen some beautiful carols, plus a few originals.  O Come O Come Emanuel is one of my favorite seasonal tunes ever & was very excited to hear she had included that.  She’s also included Coventry Carol, Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming, Light a Torch Jeanette Isabella, Noel, What Child is This, and an apparently very altered & Tori-esque version of We Three Kings (which I think is entitled Star of Wonder on the record).

Here’s a youtube collage of the clips: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_VUPUhE1rI

The whole fam damily (including Gillian’s baby who is due November 19!) will be in Asheville for Christmas, so I have one thing to say to those in the family who have second thoughts about Tori: prepare yourselves!

Happy Halloween to everyone & happy Tori listening.  🙂

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