Tropical Holiday

By staff December 1, 2001

Graci and Dennis McGillicuddy have lived in a gracefully sprawling modern home on the bay on Siesta Key since 1971. They raised their son and daughter there, and now their island residence is Holiday Central for two sets of young parents and six grandchildren all under the age of five.

In sharp contrast to their high-profile public lives as indefatigable gala-goers on behalf of the many charitable causes they support with volunteer time and funds, Graci and Dennis like to keep their private lives simple and focused on family. They often entertain in tennis togs, and lots of gatherings start with competition on the family courts.

"Just about all of our holiday entertaining revolves around family and close friends, and we love to be outdoors," says Graci, who turns into Mimi when the grandkids arrive. Dennis is Pop-Pop. "We practically live out by the pool, and we keep the parties simple. Sometimes we cook out, sometimes we order out and sometimes we just pile into the cars and eat out. With so many youngsters around, everything has to be casual and child-friendly. For instance, we heat the swimming pool so that when Dennis Jr., his wife Lise and their little ones, Corinne and Charlotte, arrive from Falmouth, Massachusetts, they can all enjoy a Christmas swim." Dennis Jr., is a research scientist with Woods Hole Institute and spends a good deal of his time on the water off the coast of Cape Cod.

But casual doesn't mean plain when it comes to adorning a poolside party pavilion for a family Yule buffet prepared by chef Paul Mattison. Graci selected her comfortable weathered lattice gazebo for the family gathering. Near the swimming pool, the pavilion also has a great view of the bay. Collaborating with design professional Lee Younger, Graci decided to mingle familiar tropical and traditional seasonal decorations to set the theme of a Sarasota island Christmas dinner.

Starting with an oyster-shell-encrusted white mirror as the centerpiece on the back wall, the elves began layering the walls and the perimeter of the gazebo with potted banana plants and bamboo along with holiday greens and berry garlands. Orchids and amaryllis, pineapples and ferns are integrated with cranberries, oranges and pine boughs, and everything is embellished with colorful crystal pendants instead of icicles. Graci brought comfortable wicker chairs and side tables from inside and set them near the pool. Then she scattered plush throw pillows on the ground for extra seating.

After a perfect Florida sunset, the participants were silhouetted against the night sky by a candle-powered iron chandelier, votives placed in crystal drinking glasses on side tables, Moroccan lanterns set at pool level and tiny white lights threaded through the topiaries in the pavilion. The sparkling light played with the reflections cast by the swimming pool and by the jewel tones of fine china and European crystal stemware.

The adults arrived at the buffet table in Florida-casual attire, cotton or linen in casual island styles. The youngsters, including brothers Johnny and Rowley Evans (the older sons of Alyson McGillicuddy Evans and husband John of Winter Park), wore their favorite red polo shirts. And 15-month old twins Suzannah and Michael Evans, looking like golden cherub ornaments on a tree, appeared in holiday plaid and red velvet. Shoes, of course, are always optional on these occasions, and bathing suits wait nearby.

Pop-Pop offers the toast. "Let us celebrate the blessing of being together and the blessings of life."


Great ideas from Lee Younger.

* Consider a centerpiece of fresh seasonal fruit and berries. You can brush the fruit with egg white and roll in sugar if you want extra sparkle. You can even use glitter on the fruit. Just wash it off before you peel and eat.

* Keep all your candles one color. This creates maximum impact and the single color will help unify your decorating scheme.

* You can't have too much candlelight.

* Your table isn't lovely? Just drape it to the floor and see the transformation. Layer cloths for extra impact. Start with a sheet if you don't have anything else long enough. Just roll the extra cloth under to create heft and achieve the right length.

* For an outdoor poolside buffet, bring furniture and accessories from the house and arrange a comfortable, elegant environment. Oriental rugs, a mirror, side tables and plenty of cushy throw pillows will help pull together a lavish look.

* Use a charger or fancy presentation plate as the plate that will stay on the table for the duration of the whole meal. Soup bowls, salad, and entrée plates come and go.

* Add tassels and colored glass pendants to your flower arrangements, chandeliers and wall sconces for extra elegance.

* Wind tiny white lights through topiaries.

* Place candle lanterns on the floor as well as on tabletops.

* Sink votive candles into fancy glasses and spot them around the area in clusters. To remove the wax build-up, put the glasses in the freezer. When the wax freezes, it will pop right out of the glass.


Mimi and Pop-Pop's advice for kid-friendly holidays.

* Realize that children have no interest in adult parties, so keep lots of toys and videos around for them to play with during the family dinner party.

* Plan holiday activities just for the kids. Take grandchildren out on the Mote boat, to Siesta Beach, to the park, to the library. Kids love to roam Jungle Gardens.

* With water everywhere and lots of distracting conversation and confusion, remember you can never for a minute take your eyes off those babies.

* * *


Easy does it, for a holiday even the hostess can enjoy.

Holidays should be happy, insists chef Paul Mattison, who recently left the helm of the Summerhouse to start his Mattison's American Bistro in St. Petersburg. He advises home cooks to choose tried-and-true dishes they know will succeed, preferably things that can be prepared ahead and just popped into the oven to warm. It's also smart to select entrées that yield leftovers for the next meal. Here's his menu for the McGillicuddy party.

Lobster bisque with fresh basil

Herb-crusted pork loin with apples, cranberries and roasted shallots

Honey roasted yams

Asparagus or leafy greens with warm pancetta dressing

Stuffed roasted tomato

Apple strudel

jeanette, I am thinking we will only use one or 2 of these recipes--let's discuss which works best with pix, etc.



3-4 lb. center-cut pork loin

4 oz. olive oil

1/2 c. each: carrots, celery, onion, garlic

2 sprigs each: thyme, rosemary, sage, basil

4-6 oz. Madeira wine


Rub pork loin with olive oil and herbs. Place on rack of diced vegetables.

Roast at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour (until pink in the center). Remove pork loin and deglaze the roasting pan with Madeira wine and reduce by half and strain.


1/2 c. sliced shallots

2 c. peeled sliced apples

1/2 c. cranberries

2 oz. brown sugar

Dash of allspice


Sauté shallots in butter over medium heat to caramelize (slightly brown). Add apples and cook until soft. Add cranberries, brown sugar and strained pan juices. Simmer and adjust seasoning

Asparagus or Leafy Greens with Warm Pancetta Dressing


4 oz. diced pancetta

1/2 c. diced onion

1/2 t. minced garlic

2 oz. olive oil

3 oz. brown sugar

3 oz. balsamic vinegar

6 oz. water

1 sprig fresh thyme


Sauté pancetta until crispy. Add onion and garlic. Add brown sugar, stir to dissolve. Add balsamic vinegar to deglaze. Add water, simmer, reduce to half. Drizzle over steamed asparagus or let cool and serve over leafy greens. Garnish with ripe tomatoes and toasted pine nuts.



1/2 c. diced onion

1/2 c. diced celery

1/2 c. diced leeks

3 roasted lobster bodies

3 qts. shrimp or lobster broth

2 oz. cognac or dry sherry

2 oz. heavy cream

Lobster meat (from tails and claws of the three lobsters)

1/2 c. fresh basil

Salt and pepper


Sauté onion, celery, and leeks. Add roasted lobster bodies. Add broth and simmer until soft. Purée and strain. Season with cognac or sherry and heavy cream. Add basil, adjust the seasoning. Serve over cooked lobster meat.

Stuffed Roasted Tomato

Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, garlic and basil. Season tomato halves with fennel salt and pepper. Stuff with bread crumb mix and bake until soft.

Honey Roasted Yams


6 large yams

2 oz. olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 oz. water

2 oz. honey

2 oz. brown sugar

Dash of cinnamon

Dash of nutmeg

4 oz. melted butter


Peel and quarter yams. Season yams with olive oil, salt and pepper. Put in roasting pan. Add water to rim of pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes until slightly firm. In a separate bowl, make a separate mixture of honey, brown sugar, dash of cinnamon, dash of nutmeg, and melted butter. Whisk together and drizzle over yams. Return to oven for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool 10 minutes.

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