Four heartfelt tales of how holiday traditions can evolve

By Jen Meyer

Styling: Jen Meyer

Photography: Jen Meyer

November 30, 2005

Lest we forget the “arts” in “culinary arts,” it should be no surprise that many who work in our local arts community occasionally take time out during this busy month to revel in traditions – and many of those, of course, revolve around the indulgence in seasonal food and drink.

Bourbon in the ’nog

“When you have children, you really have an interesting time at Christmas, because they so want to have a tradition, even if they don’t know it,” said Sally Bliss, executive director of Dance St. Louis. “So I’ve followed this through my life for years and years: We get up on Christmas morning, and I make everyone sit down and eat breakfast. And they always hated it! For me, it made Christmas last all day.”

The star of the spread is usually a special sweet German Christmas cake. Once the kids are let loose from the table, the adults let loose as well. “After breakfast, the adults all have eggnog,” she said. “And I always put bourbon in it. I don’t drink bourbon except for my eggnog on Christmas Day. Some like Scotch, some like rum, but for me, it’s always bourbon.”

Although everyone (especially the adults) is relaxed and feeling festive, there is a certain order to how things transpire on Christmas morning in the Bliss household.

“Oh yes, they call me The General,” said Bliss. “I’m the one to give out the presents, and everyone starts out with the simplest, smallest present, and we build up. Oh, and another thing, I don’t let anyone open a present at the same time, that’s why Christmas morning will go until 2 in the afternoon! We watch everyone open their presents, and it takes forever.”

Another seasonal staple for Bliss is dessert. “I am big for plum pudding with hard sauce. It’s to die for, a very English thing. Hard sauce is literally just almond extract with butter and icing sugar and some kind of liquor,” she explained. “But the pudding must be cold so when you [pour on the sauce] it steams the pudding, and it’s just the most delicious thing ever.”

For more information about Dance St. Louis, call 314.534.5000 or visit

Blue cheese-bacon dip, beef tenderloin and BACH-lava

When not rehearsing for what is a very busy time of year for choirs and choruses, Alayne Smith, executive director of the Bach Society of St. Louis, is conducting in her kitchen this month as she whips up everything from cookies to “yummy” beef tenderloin and a “dynamite” blue cheese-bacon dip for the annual holiday party for the staff at Christ Memorial Lutheran in South County, where her husband is the senior pastor.

After warning that it’s “a bit corny,” she finally revealed her pièce de résistance. “My signature dessert,” she said, “is BACH-lava. It’s pretty labor-intensive, you know, those layers and layers of phyllo dough. It’s a lot of work, but everyone loves it – and it gives me an excuse to talk about the chorus.”
Patrons and board members of the Bach Society will have the opportunity to sample some of Smith’s sweet homage during a reception following the Dec. 20 and 21 performances of the annual Candlelight Christmas Concert at Powell Hall. Smith and the rest of the staff and chorus of the Bach Society have much to fete this year, including her 30th anniversary with the chorus (six as executive director) and the organization’s 65th season of performing the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and other composers.

For more information about the Bach Society of St. Louis, call 314.652.2224 or visit

Sidecar, shaken

For Kim Humphries, local artist and public art project manager at Arts in Transit, and his wife, Sarah Colby, also an artist, the holidays are very much a family affair. “We do the standard married-person thing, we [alternate],” said Humphries. “And our traditions are very diverse. My dad is in the Dominican Republic, so when we go down there, we know there will be plantains on the table.”

Humphries waxed sentimental on the differences between the two clans. “Sarah’s family is 100 percent involved with the arts,” he said. “Her mother is the longtime arts reporter for the Detroit Daily News, her dad was a graphic designer, her second sister is an architect in New York and the youngest is a metalsmith and has her own jewelry line. Everything, down to the gifts and wrapping and meals, everything is fun and creative, done with absolute precision. There’s no simmering potpourri and weak smiles.”

“When it comes to food,” he continued, “Sarah’s family would never do canned cranberries – they all think they are chefs – and so you get something that looks like chutney, adding orange and garlic; everyone’s enthusiastically cooking together, making wonderful messes!”

For Humphries’ family, “third-generation Ford dealers” from New Philadelphia, Ohio, humor reigns supreme for holiday traditions. “It’s a diverse group. There are six kids, from teachers to truck drivers. I’ve received Chia Pets and Salad Shooters in the past and loved them both.”

This year is a first for the pair, as they’ll be celebrating in their own home, largely because Humphries has an exhibition opening at the Bruno David Gallery in mid-January. Despite the absence of longtime family quirks, traditions will abound for Humphries and Colby this year. “Our [holiday] cocktail of choice is the Sidecar,” said Humphries. “Good brandy, Cointreau – amazing stuff – and lemon juice. Just shake it and serve it up. The trick is to rim the glass in the lemon juice and dip in powdered sugar, so it has this sweet edge to it. It hardens just like candy.”

For a heightened experience, the vessel from which the concoction is served must be special: Humphries and Colby collect mid-century barware.

For more information about Kim Humphries’ upcoming exhibition at the Bruno David Gallery, visit or call 314.531.3030.

Chrismukkah and cold cuts

“We celebrate Chrismukkah. I grew up with Christmas and Hanukkah, celebrating both, which was really terrible because it’s made me into a horrible person and completely spoiled me,” laughed Philip Slein, owner of the Philip Slein Gallery on Washington Avenue. “We have a very close family, and [my dad, sister and I] go to the mall the day after Christmas and buy stuff [for each other] on sale. We’re allowed to get anything, as long as it’s at least 50 percent off.”

Slein is busy for the majority of the month with the run of “Marked Men,” an exhibition opening Dec. 2 and running through Dec. 30 that highlights the work of the six most famous tattoo artists in the country. It’s no wonder that there’s not enough time for pre-holiday shopping – or for feast preparing, either. “We used to do latkes and have the big dinners and have everything in the house, but now we eat out to avoid the dishes and all that,” said Slein. “We’ve gone to Truffles, but my dad is all excited about the new Busch’s Grove, so we’ll see.

“A lot of times,” he continued, “my dad will go to Gourmet to Go, get tons of different cold cuts and sandwiches, we’ll drink a lot of eggnog and beer and wine and watch ‘Scrooge.’ We get a little emotional ’cause we’re drunk, but we always get in the spirit.”

Slein is quick to explain that the movie is the old black-and-white rendition of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” with Alistair Sim, not one of the newer versions.

“I like the grainy black-and-white one, when everyone’s moving a bit faster than they should be,” he said. “It’s always on like 10 times, and you’re always crying at the end; it’s a catharsis, you promise to make next year a better year.”

For more information about “Marked Men,” call 314.621.4634 or visit

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