When we think about the holidays, it is virtually impossible to ignore home and family—they are synonymous. In the midst of the holiday season, I’m taking a trip down memory lane, thinking not just about past Christmas gatherings but about what home means to me.
Admittedly I am a homebody through and through, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The passions I am so grateful to have developed all began within my domain, surrounded by my family. These discoveries were very much an introspective revelation that was stewing, (pun intended), over time. When I think back to my twenties, the beginning and the end were dramatically different experiences. At 20, I was bartending at The Tunnel, Limelight and Palladium in NYC, and modeling, studying acting and exploring all that NYC had to offer. I lived alone in a 368-square-foot studio apartment on Broadway, in what is now the Ace Hotel. Just about the only thing I cooked during that time was packaged Spanish yellow rice and black beans. But in a drastic shift, halfway through the decade I was a wife and mama and obsessed with my new role. Making my home beautiful and creating meals for Victor and Jivan were activities I engaged in with a great sense of pride. They also became my forms of self-expression. I pored over developing new skills in the kitchen and finessed and fussed over the design and decor of our nest. Very soon, I found that my home was what nourished my soul and offered the deepest connection to myself and my loved ones.
We each have our own paths. I found family first, before career. Perhaps this was backwards for some, but for me, it was just my way. So when I think about home, I think about what I have built, together with Victor, from the time I was 20 years old. We met in the wee hours of the morning under the thump-thump-thumping bassline of house music in a nightclub. And miraculously, we instantly became best friends. We were inseparable. He brought forth a playfulness within me that I did not even know existed. My mom eavesdropped on our calls and would tell me how giddy and giggly I would get. Apparently everyone knew we were in love but me. But once I figured it out, well, the rest is history.
You see, Victor and I have been so much more than best friends and husband and wife over the past 20 years. We are partners and collaborators in this thing called life. Victor is a music producer and DJ. I was a huge part of each and every creative decision early in his career, even managing him early on. I sat in on meetings with his agents and worked on the production and art direction of his large-scale events. His recording studio has always been in our home, so I have also been there for every track he has crafted. I would lend my opinion, or in those early days, sit in on the recording session when he was working with Sting or Madonna on a dance remix.
Likewise, Victor has been my greatest supporter on my many creative pursuits, offering both emotional and financial support as I explored cooking school, design school, yoga teacher training, or photography workshops—and always without any judgement. We live life together in every capacity, we make decisions as a team, yet we allow one another space to grow. Even when our paths fork, somehow we feel we are on the same highway. We have moved, renovated and sold over 12 homes together—this alone makes us an authority on what a home is! Where most people claim a renovation is a sure path to divorce, somehow we thrive on it and complement and respect one another’s decisions. Each of these homes were a part of our development and journey that inspired my love affair with cooking and entertaining—it’s how I came to be a swooner!
Over the years, Christmas has undoubtedly been a time for me to play in these areas. I had just turned 26 for the very first Christmas I hosted. It was in our first Dumbo loft, and it was snowing—a picture-perfect white Christmas. Everyone ran downstairs to see the NYC skyline under a blanket of white, to throw snowballs and make snow angels. I stayed inside to stir the risotto. It was my first time serving a holiday feast and I was a novice cook to say the least, but I wanted everything to be perfect. Besides, risotto is not one to wait for anything or anyone! The memory remains etched in mind—my life was about to shift dramatically with a baby and my heart was swelling with anticipation to meet this little creature, this mini “us”, who would arrive in less than 2 months.
Since then I have hosted Christmas every year, and each year I love to create a new menu. I am not always one for tradition when it comes to our meals. I love the research and discovery of poring over my cookbooks for inspiration and finally settling upon our holiday feast lineup. I always create a holiday cocktail and my entertaining rule of thumb these days never involves something as laborious as risotto. Nowadays the dessert and entrée are something that can be prepared in advance, just in case it snows. That way, now I can run outdoors to make snow angels too.
We now spend every holiday at our home in Amagansett. We bought the house in 2009 and labored over the massive renovation for a year. It was our largest project to date, and the one I am most proud to have designed. This home would not exist without the many joint decisions that lead us to this very swoony spot! The home continues to build memories and is our cozy little escape in both the summer and winter. This year I could not be happier to be sharing my holiday mainstays with Goop and Neiman Marcus. And by mainstay, I not only mean my holiday recipes and entertaining tips and tricks, I also mean my main squeeze, Victor. When this partnership came to me, I was over the moon excited that Goop requested Victor to be a part of the story. He is, after all, the biggest piece of my puzzle, the single most important part of my story. This home is one we build together, as is This Wonderful Life. I know, I know, totally corny, but I can’t help it. Thinking back to all we have established together, my heart simply swells exponentially. What is abundantly clear is that a home is what you make of it—the memories—not the four walls themselves, or even the décor. Home really is where the heart is.
Head over to Goop for more of the decor and tabletop, and to get the recipes for my Spiced Bourbon Cocktail and Satsuma and Red Wine Poached Pears Over Vanilla Pavlovas.