Playing With Tradition

I love the holidays and the trips back in time that they bring. We are blessed to have four generations present in our family. Nana tells my children-her great-grands-the same stories and passes down the same traditions as she did with me. But creating new memories is also really special. For festive gatherings, I plan the menu and decorate my home to appeal to our five senses. My recipe for success:

Favor FLAVOR: I layer the flavor in all my dishes. Each ingredient I add brings a little excitement, like a habanero pepper in the greens, saffron in the rice and pineapple chunks thrown in with the yams. And I use short-bread cookies instead of vanilla wafers in the classic banana pudding.

View photos of Nikki Shaw with her Family »

Keep color in SIGHT: To decorate the table, living room and tree, I go with gold tones, burgundy and reds that shout holiday. (And I dress myself in winter white.) Candles lit throughout the house cast a warm glow.

Reach for TOUCH: The table is set with items made of wood, crystal and china, plus African beads and silky cloth napkins-all with a different feel.

Add swell SMELL: The holidays have fragrances all their own-cinnamon and spice from freshly baked pies, pine from a grand tree and fresh flowers arranged everywhere.

Surround with SOUND: I’m as serious about my music as I am about my cooking. I play my old-school jams instead of typical holiday songs. At the top of my playlist is “Happy Feelin’s” by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly. And there’s nothing like Anita Baker’s “Angel,” Mary J’s “My Life” and even Phyllis Hyman’s “Betcha by Golly, Wow!”

Last, I want guests to leave with a little gift. It might be a bag with as sorted goodies like gift certificates, CDs, DVDs, chocolates, a bottle of nice wine or sparkling cider. Just a little somethin’ that says thanks for sharing your day with us.

California Crab Cake appetizers offer a warm, tasty welcome.




Coconut Rum Eggnog gets a sprinkle of nutmeg.



Candied Yams and Pineapple glisten with festive flavor.




For the grand finale: Auntie Brenda’s Sweet Potato-Pecan Pie and Banana Pudding With Shortbread Cookies will have guests floating on a cloud.







The perfect meal: a balance of spicy, creamy, crisp, rich and lean.








                        Mango Passion Punch