Look local for the holidays, Christmas Day dining at Manny Hattan's, and more

Well, I've seen White Christmas, delivered a vanload of desserts to the Chronicle Christ­mas party, and fallen asleep to the sound of the Raleigh Ringers playing songs from The Nutcracker Suite on PBS, so now I am officially in the Christmas spirit! Shoppingwise, I find I'm most delighted with gifts I've had made by local artisans such as Wendy Irwin of Ballistic Sweater Girl Designs (a custom retro cowgirl diaper bag for Flannery Norman and her mom, Paula Disbrowe) and delightful pink sunbonnets for my sister's granddaughters by Chia Guillory of Chia Hats. Partywise, I don't get out much during the holidays, but I did attend an art show at Spazio (1214 W. Sixth, 474-5768) earlier this month presenting the paintings of my longtime friend Tom Darnell. We met years ago when I was making desserts for a living and he was working his way through the University of Texas waiting tables. About the time I came to work for the Chronicle, Darnell moved to the south of France to pursue his dream of a painting career. His work has been shown in Madrid, Barcelona, London, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Nashville, Buenos Aires, and Hong Kong, but this was his first show at home in Texas. I'd never been to Spazio before, but it turns out Lytle Pressley's sophisticated interiors gallery is a great venue in which to appreciate art – displaying paintings among the furniture groupings definitely establishes context for the work. Pressley saw to it that I was comfortable in a fabulous chair, and his gracious staff made guests feel right at home with plenty of bubbly and tasty nibbles from Portabla. Darnell's paintings remain at Spazio through the end of the year... Also in the holiday spirit, baking and pastry students at the Culinary Academy of Austin (6020-B Dillard Circle, 451-5743) created an elaborate eight-building gingerbread village and presented it to the Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas earlier this week. The village will be on display in the hospital lobby through the holidays... For a distinctive holiday dining experience on Christmas Eve, why not celebrate La Vigilia – the Italian feast of seven fishes – at Ciola's Italian-American Restau­rant (1310 RR 620 S., Lakeway; 512/263-9936;, where they'll be serving from 3 to 9pm on Dec. 24. We're advised this feast has every bit as enthusiastic a following as Ciola's popular Big Night events, so reservations are strongly suggested. And the friendly folks at Manny Hattan's New York Delicatessen (Gateway Square Shopping Center, 794-0088; will be serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Christmas Day from 8am to 8pm, with take-out items such as bagels and lox available, as well... Growing up in Midland, I was always jealous of people who were getting oil royalty checks (we only ever got one – long story for another time) and people who were "going to the ranch" for the weekend, the summer, the holidays – whatever. My sister is married to a man who actually has a ranch, so now I'm finally one of those people who is "going to the ranch" for the holidays. I'll be cooking in the all-new Viking kitchen in their party house! Ho, ho, ho.

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Food-o-File, Wendy Irwin, Ballistic Sweater Girl Designs, Flannery Norman, Paula Disbrowe, Chia Guillory, Chia Hats, Spazio, Tom Darnell, Lytle Pressley, Culinary Academy of Austin, Dell Children's Medical Center, Ciola's, Manny Hattan's

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