In the Holiday Mood: Indulge in a custom-designed meal accompanied by seasonal songs by St. Louis ar

For the last few weeks we’ve been surrounded by the familiar sights and sounds of the holidays: registers and “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer,” gift wrap and “Jingle Bells,” candy canes and “White Christmas.” And in a few weeks we’ll partake of the same holiday meal we’ve had year after year –
turkey or ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cakes and pies – while listening to holiday classics by Frank Sinatra or Nat King Cole. Ho, Ho, Hum.

How about an early New Year’s resolution to try something different – something “Better Than Fruitcake” and tastier than turkey: a St. Louis-inspired holiday
dinner party.

Start with “Better Than Fruitcake: Nourishing Holiday Classics by St. Louis’ Finest Rockers,” which includes both covers and original music by local indie bands. One hundred percent of profits from this CD go to Operation Food Search. Throughout dinner, delight in soft jazz with “Merry Magic” and “MaxJazz Holiday,” both from MaxJazz in Webster Groves, as well as traditional performances on “A Chamber Christmas” by the St. Louis Chamber Chorus and “Songs of the Season” by the Kirkwood Children’s Chorale. Paired with recipes inspired by the music and created by Dave Owens, executive chef at Cardwell’s at the Plaza, your party will be a merry original.

Upon the arrival of guests
“Better Than Fruitcake” will set the tone as your guests arrive. They will not lack for conversation while they nosh on olives, Aged Jack Cheese Crackers and Truffled Fava Bean Dip and listen to a punk-rock version of “White Christmas” by Bob Reuter and Kamikaze Cowboy or a rockabilly original “Santa Please” by The Loaded .45’s. “This is good start-a-party music, fun and alternative,” Owens said. “With good, healthy, nourishing appetizers, guests should be feeling relaxed and festive by the time they sit down for the first course.”
Be warned, however, many of the songs on the second half of “Better Than Fruitcake” are dark or satirical, almost better suited for Halloween than the holidays. We suggest songs one through 10, but don’t miss No. 18 “Rudolph the Red Neck Reindeer” by Rocket Park. This version of the well-known children’s favorite set to the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” will keep your guests amused and probably requesting to hear it throughout the night.

First course – Soup
“We want people to settle into the meal, so I partnered a hearty flavorful soup with a CD that has a good combo of instrumental and vocals,” Owens said. Owens chose “Merry Magic” by Eric Reed. This mostly instrumental CD contains subtle jazz interpretations of many familiar songs along with a few originals. The warmth and earthiness of the Chanterelle Mushroom and Apple Soup combined with the tranquil tunes on this CD make for a cozy beginning to dinner.

While all of the songs on “Merry Magic” are appropriate accompaniment to this course, don’t miss “Santa Baby” with vocals by Paula West. It’s lusty and fun. “I Wonder as I Wander” with vocals by local favorite Erin Bode is a good segue into the entrée.

Second course – Entrée
By now the guests are comfortable, conversation is flowing and the entrée is about to be served. “A Chamber Christmas” is well-matched to Owens’ recipes for this course. “I want to bring the guests back home to the tradition at this point,” he said. Owens’ suggested recipes are Honey-Mustard Roasted Duck and Toasted Faro Wheat with Greens and Parsnips. These dishes evoke a feeling of Christmas past, almost a Dickensian experience combined with the a capella melodies on the recommended CD.

Start “A Chamber Christmas” on track 11, “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” just as the duck is served. The chorale version of this traditional carol is perfect background to this traditional dish. Continue with tracks 12 to 20 and your guests will be treated to about 40 minutes of time-honored classics performed in a way many have never heard before. The last track, “Jingle Bells,” shows how a common song can be done in a very uncommon way. It’s tradition with a twist, plus it provides just the right pep and momentum to move into the next course.

Third course – Salad
This course is comprised of oranges and children – Fennel, Frisée, Beet and Orange salad and the Kirkwood Children’s Chorale. Many children find oranges in the toe of their Christmas stocking, a custom likely started during the Victorian age. The orange is a reminder of the gifts St. Nicholas left and a tasty peak-of-the-season treat. “I wanted to include oranges because they’re in season, but I also wanted this salad to be different,” Owens said. With fennel, frisée, artisan blue cheese and verjus dressing, this flavorful salad is not something seen on many holiday tables. The tart, bold ingredients are an interesting contrast to the sweet harmonies of the children.

“Songs of the Season” was recorded live and contains some unfortunate background noise, but the kids’ lively voices make up for it. We decided the best songs on this recording are tracks one, three, five, six, seven, nine, 11 and 13. The whole recording is just a little over 30 minutes, so if you don’t mind some applause and a brief bit of audience noise, play the whole thing and let your guests linger over this savory course.

Fourth course – Dessert
At this point in the meal guests will be ready to hear some recognizable holiday favorites. “MaxJazz Holiday” is a collection of carols and hymns performed by several different jazz vocalists and musicians. “This is the last celebration before winter hibernation. End it with fun music and rich flavor,” Owens said. Indulge in his Steamed Dried Cranberry Pudding with Port Cranberry Sauce and this CD. Together they are the ideal way to top off the night.

At just under one hour of music, the CD allows your guests plenty of time for a second cup of coffee while they enjoy the melodies. Bruce Barth’s piano rendition of “O Christmas Tree” is notable, and Phillip Manuel’s “Peace on Earth” ends the evening with the exact sentiment we hope for this holiday season.

Other Holiday Celebrations

While Christmas music was our primary focus for this meal, we certainly did not forget that other celebrations are also taking place this time of year. Hanukkah begins on Dec. 8, the winter solstice is Dec. 21 and Kwanzaa begins on Dec. 26. While unable to find CDs recorded by St. Louisans in celebration of these holidays, we found local stores that sell such music and a number of events where music will be performed.

• The Source Unlimited at 11044 Olive Blvd. in Creve Coeur sells Jewish music, books and gifts and has a small selection of CDs for Hanukkah. 314.567.1925.
• The St. Louis Circle of Jewish Music will perform a Hanukkah concert with the University City Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 11 at Shaare Zedek on Hanley Road in University City. Advance tickets are available at 314.727.1747.

Winter Solstice
• Music Folk at 8015 Big Bend in Webster Groves has a nice selection of folk music CDs. They’ve even got one titled “Winter Solstice” by John McCutcheon, but it is not specifically in celebration of the solstice. The CD describes itself as “hammer dulcimer music for Christmas, Chanukah and the New Year’s season.” 314.961.2838 or 800.892.2970.
• Mystic Valley at 3212 Laclede Station Road in Maplewood’s Deer Creek Shopping Center, 314.645.3336, and Pathways at 11419 Concord Village Ave. in south St. Louis County (near Tesson Ferry Road and Lindbergh Boulevard), 314.842.0047, both sell music that celebrates this holiday.

• “The Kwanzaa Album” by Women of the Calabash can be sampled on
• The Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kwanzaa: Festival of the First Fruits runs noon to 4 p.m. on Dec. 29. 314.577.9400 or 800.642.8842.

Find the music featured in this article:

• “Better Than Fruitcake” – Vintage Vinyl, 6610 Delmar Blvd. in St. Louis, 314.721.4096.
• “Merry Magic” and “MaxJazz Holiday” – Borders; Barnes and Noble; Webster Records, 117 W. Lockwood Ave. in Webster Groves, 314.961.4656; Euclid Records, 601 E. Lockwood Ave. in Webster Groves, 314.961.8978 or 877.938.2543; and
• “A Chamber Christmas” –, 636.458.4343 or send a check for $18 payable to The St. Louis Chamber Chorus to P.O. Box 11558, Clayton, MO 63105.
• “Songs of the Season” – Mary Poshak, executive director of the Kirkwood Children’s Chorale, 314.822.7491.