Why my Christmas amaryllis have me California Dreaming

There’s a red letter day for Misti this month as she becomes a British citizen, but red amaryllis always take her back to California.

There’s a red letter day for Misti this month as she becomes a British citizen, but red amaryllis always take her back to California. Also in this flower diary: vicious peacocks in Porto, a drag panto at Selfridges and lots of Christmas baking at home…

No matter where I am in the world, the last Thursday of November is always Thanksgiving to me. It is a day of gratitude and sharing and I have celebrated it with British friends and family since I arrived in 2009. Before my husband went freelance, he used to take the day off to help me in the kitchen. I loved it. It was one of our traditions.

But traditions evolve.

Which is why we decided to do away with roast turkey this year. Usually I order a bird that we brine two days before the feast. It then gets spatchcocked and roasted and served with delicious gravy and every kind of side dish and condiment imaginable. Mostly to disguise the fact that turkey is the blandest meat ever.

So after much discussion, we decided to take liberties and switch things up a little. Henry made Elizabeth David’s boeuf bourguignon which we followed with cheese, fruit, and Rivesaltes. It was perfect. Especially as we flew to Portugal the next morning and put the remaining stew in the freezer to enjoy upon our return.


The British Association of Porto had invited my husband to speak at their annual Treasurer’s Dinner as he has written a book called Empire of Booze which features port quite prominently.

The evening was a thing to behold. Not just because of the sparkling company we kept or the 1863 Taylor’s we drank, but because of the flowers!


(Something totally unrelated to wine that I learned in Porto: Peacock insurance is a thing. And apparently it’s very expensive but necessary. Our hosts were lamenting the birds that they say just appeared one day, never to leave again.

Don’t be fooled by their beauty. Peacocks are vicious bastards who show up unannounced for an indefinite length of time and attack people. First, jumping on their backs then pecking at their necks. Worst guests ever.)


For the weekend we had the pleasure of staying at The Yeatman in Vila Nova de Gaia. Our room had a view of the Douro that was magical at sunset. On the last day I had a massage that was unlike any other I’d ever had. I left the spa feeling like I was vibrating.


When we returned home to London, there was a box from Freddie to cushion the blow of reality…


Recently Freddie has sent lots of gorgeous amaryllis. Almost like they know how much these bright red beauties remind me of my mother in California. Having them in the flat makes me feel like she is with me just as I know having some of my Christmas ornaments on her tree in L. A. makes her feel the same way.



That first Monday back, life immediately got busy. The festive season was upon us. Mulled wine and ciders of all sorts. Salted creme fraiche caramels. Peppermint bark. Gingerbread and baked goods a plenty. At this rate, I don’t think I’ll see my waist again until spring. Maybe I’ll wait and see what the verdict is on Groundhog Day.

gingerbread house

gingerbread bear


My wildly talented milliner friend, Gabrielle Djanogly of Hood London, invited me to my first panto, a drag panto, for which she had made several glittering pairs of rabbit ears. The show, aptly named Down the Rabbit Hole, was performed in the basement theatre of Selfridges. It was such a good time. I sincerely hope they do it again next year.



On the tenth of December, our family had a triple gold star day. Not only was it our daughter’s fifth birthday party, and our seventh wedding anniversary, but it was also the day I received word from the Home Office that my application for British citizenship was successful. I’m finally British, y’all!


Well almost. I still have to figure out what to wear to my citizenship ceremony and swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen. Tartan or tweed? That is the sartorial question. Perhaps I’ll watch some more of The Crown for inspiration.

Merry Christmas!





at Coworth Park

Misti Traya fell in love with an Englishman and moved from Los Angeles to London in 2009.  After her daughter was born, she began a blog called Chagrinnamon Toast that won the writing category at the 2014 Young British Foodies. She was also named runner-up for the Shiva Naipaul Prize. She has written for Gawker, Jezebel, Look, Mslexia, The Pool, The Spectator, and Stella Magazine.


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