Christmas Cheer

Ocala Gazette columnist Sadie Fitzpatrick prepares a holiday classic fit for a queen.

 By Nick Steele | Photography by Meagan Gumpert 

   If you found a recipe that called for a dash of Jennifer Garner, a sprinkle of Reese Witherspoon, a cup of columnist Julia Reed and a healthy scoop of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, you would likely end up with a Southern classic like Sadie Fitzpatrick. Like Reed, a charismatic chronicler of politics and the quirks of Southern life for the likes of Newsweek, Vogue, The New York Times Magazine and many other publications, Fitzpatrick is making a name for herself as a writer focused on the unique character and quirks of her hometown. She left Ocala to attend college and thought she might never move back, but returned because her boyfriend, who is now her husband of seven years, was living here. The two initially met on a blind date, have since traveled the world together and now have two beautiful children and a golden retriever named George Bailey. She is a passionate advocate for the issues she champions through her column, which include topics such as politics and social issues but also celebrates the many charms and good people of the town she once thought she had permanently put in her rearview mirror. She explains that it is “our ability to make everyone fall in love with Ocala whether they’ve been here 20 years or 20 minutes” that makes this such a special place to live.

“We also do a good job of honoring traditions and places—like Light Up Ocala,” she offers, before adding with a sly smile, “and the institution that is Tas-T-O Donuts!” Fitzpatrick says Christmas is her and her husband’s favorite holiday and is only getting better as their children are getting older. “The holidays were always big occasions at our house growing up and still are,” she explains. “Thanksgiving meant my mom’s amazing stuffing. She calls it dressing—this remains a huge debate. I could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner 365 days a year. Christmas decorating started shortly after Thanksgiving, never before—sacrilege!” she continues. “Mama always made sure to showcase our ornaments no matter how hideous they were. Christmas music played around the clock. We always made a birthday cake for Jesus to remember why we celebrate the season, which is a tradition I’ve started with my own children.” She also recalls another special tradition. “On Christmas morning, we would wait at the top of the stairs to get the ‘all clear’ from daddy that Santa had, in fact, visited. It was a race to get down the stairs,” she recalls. “We followed the German tradition of looking for a specially placed pickle ornament hidden in the tree. Whoever found it first got to open the first gift of Christmas. This was definitely competitive…and I usually won.” She isn’t competitive about cooking though. “My husband is definitely the chef in our relationship,” she offers. “He is always coming up with new recipes to try or will adapt a recipe to become his own. I’m always amazed at how he can take random ingredients and make it into something delicious. I am his sous chef when he’s at the helm.” But she can hold her own in the kitchen and loves to whip up a delicious and decadent-looking dessert for guests that is relatively simple to prepare. “I’ve made the Mixed Berry Trifle off and on for holiday gatherings since I found the recipe for it in Parade in high school,” she shares. “I first made it for the Fourth of July because it has such patriotic colors. As an admitted novice in the kitchen, this recipe was easy for me to follow and all of the ingredients are readily available.” 

  There are many variations on the basic trifle recipe and Fitzpatrick was delighted to learn that it is a traditional English dessert at Christmastime and a favorite of the royal family, for whom she has a passion. “I think my love of the royal family was passed down to me by my mom. I remember her stories of a party she and some friends hosted in the wee hours of the morning to watch the wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles,” she explains. “They had tea, mimosas and scones to be on theme. I really got into the royal family when Kate and William got married. I woke up early to watch their wedding, just like my mom did all those years ago. I’m fascinated by the outward grandeur and pageantry of the monarchy. I also admire the Queen—she sticks to her guns but can also poke fun at herself.”The same could be easily said of Fitzpatrick, who broke out in fits of laughter during our photo shoot as she described a photo session from her childhood where she was wearing a long black dress with a massive lace collar.“I resembled a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” she offers with a hearty laugh. “I guess there are worse things, right?”  

Mixed Berry Trifle
1 angel food cake, cut into cubes (make your own or use premade)
1 3.4-ounce box instant vanilla pudding mix
2 cups cold milk
1 cup powdered sugar
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 ounces Cool Whip, thawed
2 pints blueberries
2 pints strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 pints blackberries

   In a small bowl, combine the vanilla pudding mix with the milk and whisk for two minutes; set aside. > In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. > Gradually add the powdered sugar as you beat the mixture until combined and smooth. > Add the prepared pudding to the cream cheese mixture and gently fold and stir until completely combined. > Add Cool Whip to the bowl and fold it into the mixture until no white streaks appear. To assemble the trifle, alternate layers of angel food cake, berries (either in single layers by kind, or mixed), pudding mixture, berries and so on. > Add a final layer of pudding mixture and arrange the remaining berries in a decorative pattern on top.> Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. 

   Special thanks to Agapanthus Ocala and Dillard’s in Market Street at Heath Brook for providing seasonal decor items. On this page, above: Lenox French Perle Decorative Centerpiece Runner from Dillard’s; Vietri Old St. Nick Dishes/Bowl from Agapanthus. At left: Vietri Incanto Stone Lace Cereal Bowl from Agapanthus. On the opening page: Viva by Vietri Bohemian Linens Tree Apron (seen throughout); Vietri Foresta Blanca Swirl Tree; Himalayan Trading Post Fleur de Lys Candle; Vietri Holiday Salt and Pepper Shakers, all from Agapanthus Ocala. 

Posted in Ocala Style Features, Uncategorized

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