Magazine article Sunset

O Christmas Tree

Magazine article Sunset

O Christmas Tree

Article excerpt

Two years ago, Seth and Kendra Smoot moved from New York to Northern California seeking a total lifestyle 180. The couple had originally relocated from Utah to New York for Seth's job as a photographer, but found themselves longing to return to the West. "Seth would come out here to work almost every month," says Kendra. "He got a taste of it and couldn't shake it."

Since moving to Marin County with their kids-Stella, 9, Imogen, 4, and Truman, 1-the Smoots have become devoted daytrippers. Even picking out a Christmas tree is a chance for an adventure. "Moving here from a city, we were excited for our feet to crunch through piles of fresh fallen needles," says Kendra, who works as a freelance stylist. For her family's inaugural trip to Larsen's Christmas Tree Farm in Petaluma, Kendra made the most of the day, packing a picnic and playing Frank Sinatra's holiday classics as they drove through the redwoods and a fog-banked reservoir: "We took the most scenic route," she says. "It added a special step."

+ TIPS FOR A TOP TREE

Here's how to keep your conifer happy and healthy through the season indoors.

PICK A WINNER

Whether you're at a farm or on a lot, look for trees that are lush without any brown branch tips. A trick to determine if the tree is fresh: Pick a few needles and bend each in half. Fir tree needles should snap cleanly; the fir is too dry if the needles arch without breaking. For pines, it's the opposite-the needles should bend without snapping.

KEEP IT IN SHAPE

Many farms will shake your tree to remove loose needles and insects and then wrap it in twine for the ride home. When placing the tree on the top of your car, face the cut end toward the front so branches aren't bent the wrong way during the drive.

REÇUT AT HOME

Within a few hours of a tree being chopped down, the trunk seals itself off, preventing water from passing through. Use a small handsaw to remove an additional two inches off the base, then place the tree in water.

CHECK WATER DAILY

Your tree is thirstier than you might think: In Sunset tests, a Douglas fir with a 41/2-inch trunk took up a gallon of water in its first 24 hours at home.

+ A FEAST IN THE FOREST

Check ahead to find out whether the farm you're visiting allows picnics on the grounds; if it doesn't, find a park to stop at along the way. For her family's picnic on the tree farm, Kendra filled a thermos with homemade butternut squash soup and kid-friendly toppings (recipe opposite). Another idea: hot cider plus a fruit-and-cheese spread, including Bose pears, red grapes, salumi, and a favorite Western blue (or cheddar for the kids). Instead of disposable tableware, Kendra loads her everyday dishes into a crate, with napkins cushioning breakable items. "It's part of my goal to be zero-waste, but it also makes it feel more like a special occasion," she says.

+ SPICED ARPIE BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP

SERVES 4 TO 6 / 2 HOURS

Roasting a whole squash takes longer than one that's cut up, but Smoot finds it easier (and safer) to peel and cut the squash after it's cooked.

1 large butternut squash (about 33/t lbs.)

2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup chopped red onion

1 Granny Smith or other firm-tart apple, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped

1/4 tsp. each ground nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger

1/8 tsp. ground cloves

2 to 3 cups reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

Kosher salt and pepper

1/4 cup crème fraîche

Optional toppings: Candied pecans, rosemary crackers, thinly sliced apples or pears, pomegranate seeds, flat-leaf parsley leaves

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