The house to see is at 1209 E. Quinientos St, near Soledad.
The SB trolleys come by at night, filled with happy people shouting "Merry Christmas!" as they pass by.
My friends and I have now made it a tradition to bundle up, pack a thermos of hot spiced cider and walk from Haley down to Carpinteria St, zigzagging through the neighborhood looking at the lights. Often, owners or their friends are lingering outside and amicable to receiving a few compliments.
Much of the lower Eastside is lit up, and it's a pity that many people opt to drive by Quinientos rather than walking through more of the neighborhood. The above home in the photo is the insane crazy not-to-be-missed one, but dozens of other homes have their own qualities of specialness, whether it's the house that feels so perfectly gingerbread that you want to eat it, or the home with the flashing lights overlooking an ornate nativity shrine, or there's a jovial man named Jose that welcomes you into the yard and invites you to come back for hot posole.
Do you like cupcakes? Sure you do. They are tidy packages of sweet joy. And Santa Barbarans are so crazy about cupcakes, they go to war over them.
Four Santa Barbarans so far have participated in the Food Network's Cupcake Wars in recent years, but last night one of them finally brought home the winning prize. That's Alison Riede from Sugar Cat Studio! I got her meet her Sunday night at a reception and showing of the winning episode of Cupcake Wars at Oreana Winery down in the Funkzone.
The tasting room was bursting with people, standing room only, with just as many people craning their necks in the back as were seated up front by the large viewing screen.
Elaine and her assistant, Erica Livery, were up against three other teams in this episode based on the Hollywood Chrstimas Parade theme and in the first round had the daunting task of producing a cupcake reminiscent of old Christmas traditions, like a green bean casserole or a cheese log. Really? It would take a holiday miracle to turn those two dishes into a delectable cake, IMHO, and unsurprisingly two of the contestants failed miserably. Sugar Cat was on the road to failure when their first attempt at a batter ended up having too much bacon in it. It hurts me to say that. Bacon should never be a bug, it's a feature! Alas, the batter was dumped in the trash and they started over, resulting in a sharp cheddar cheese cupcake with a candied pecan crust and honeyed blue cheese frosting. As with most reality tv shows, the suspense had the audience enthralled, including Alison (pictured below, left). Fortunately, the judges raved over it.
Besides being tasty, what made Sugar Cat's cupcakes stand out was the beautiful design and presentation, that's where Alison's secret powers come from. Sugar Cat Studio originally started as a cupcake wrapper producer, and Alison holds a degree and work experience in art design from New York. She hand made cupcake wrappers and sold them on Etsy. Logic followed that in order to display the wrappers best, there had to be a steady supply of cupcakes in them, so she made those too. It was her former experience in design that gave her the edge over her competition, especially in Round 2 of the Cupcake Wars, when design was weighted 50% of the overall score.
So, how were the goods? Well, we weren't able to try the cheese log cupcakes that soared in the competition when half the contestants crashed and burned, but we did get to gorge ourselves on six other tasty creations:
* Peppermint hot chocolate with mashmallow meringue * Pumpkin cheesecake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting * Gingerbread latte with brandy spiced buttercream * French toast cupcake with maple buttercream * Mimosa cheesecake with champagne buttercream * Coconut cream cake with coconut frosting
I sampled four of them and adored the chocolate peppermint with marshmallow best (far left photo). What is it about mashmallows that makes them to gosh darn yummy?
Eventually, Sugar Cat made it to the final round with a 1,000 cupcake display and took home the $10,000 prize. Wired on sugar and toasty on wine, the audience went wild. Way to go, Santa Barbara gals!
So, you think going home for the holidays is a dreadful affair, driving you to flee to Elsie's one day in, to drown your sorrows and gripe about your parents' latest demands, like asking why you haven't gotten a better job, gotten married, or bore them grandchilden? Be glad you're not the English royal family of the 1180s, because they're dealing with all that too, and on a grander scale. Plus syphilis.
The Lion in Winter is the current play by the Ensemble Theatre, written by James Goldman and directed by Jenny Sullivan. It lays out all the dysfunction and strife of an upwardly mobile and ambitious royal family, back in the day when marriages were made for political and financial reasons, and occasionally this pesky thing called "love" got in the way.
King Henry II (played by Eric Pierpont) is getting old, he loves his young mistress (Thea Brooks) and he loves his land and wealth. Stephanie Zimbalist is Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. She too loves her wealth and power, but she's pent up in an English castle prison by Henry, although allowed out to celebrate the Christmas holidays with the family at Henry's castle in Chinon, France. The two of them have successfully managed to beget a number of children, but the eldest son and heir has died, creating an opportunity for the King and Queen to name a new heir and both want to put a different son on the throne. The two are excellent opponents in the game of power, and they play their progeny cleverly against each other like pawns.
The surviving princes fall into a stereotypic hierarchy: the eldest is Richard Lionheart (Rick Cosnett), who is the brave soldier that sometimes acts before thinking and who also can produce copious amounts of saliva on demand (hint). He is favored by Eleanor to inherit the throne. The youngest is John (Daniel David Stewart), sensitive and spoiled, favored by Henry. In the middle is Geoffrey, played well by Ross Hellwig. He is the cerebral one and like every middle child, ignored by both his parents.
Along comes Philip, the young King of France (Paul David Story) and brother to Henry's mistress, demanding that Henry upholds a treaty first forged by his father, King Louis. This is the catalyst for all the wacky hijinks that rapidly ensue.
The characters worked well with each other, I hated and loved each of them as they revealed their strengths and weaknesses. It was riveting to watch, much like a glorious trainwreck. The play comes in two acts, the first is 80 minutes, the second is 40 minutes. Sounds excruciatingly long, but it goes fast! Then go home and feel smug knowing: Christmas with your own family? No problem.
The Lion in Winter runs at the Alhecama Theatre through 18 December. 914 Santa Barbara St (behind Zaytoon and La Playa Azul) Santa Barbara, CA 93101 www.ensembletheatre.com
Big ups to my friend "J-Blo" for taking the photo.
Tags: ensemble, jenny sullivan, james goldman, eric pierpont, thea brooks, daniel david stewart, ross hellwig, rick cosnett, stephanie zimbalist, paul david story, the lion in winter, Ensemble theatre, Theater
The 100 Grand exhibit is one of the most popular events at Sullivan-Goss, where 100 works of art are presented and sold for under $1000 each. Many are much lower than the $1000 price cap, too.
The opening at the December 1st Thursday was crowded with people, including a number of the artists. Actually, thanks to First Thursday, I'm now friends with some of these artists, so thank you First Thursday for introducing me to cool art and cool people over the years.
If you've been thinking about buying a piece, do wander down to Sullivan-Goss, because the point of entry is much more accessible with this exhibit.
S-G is also displaying works from Hank Pitcher and Lockwood de Forest, other perennial favorites for the Santa Barbara area (not part of the 100 Grand exhibit, of course).
100 Grand runs from 1 December - 29 January 2012. If you're in the market to buy, go sooner. I was there by 5:15 on opening night and saw red dots by a number of pieces already.