For the record, it was Emma who inspired us to make cracked Dungeness crab a December tradition. Now if I can just convince my husband and son to get out there and catch a few crabs at 4 in the morning on the pier in Pacifica, we'd be set for the entire month. Take it away, Emma!
Tradition. It’s one of the things we strive to both maintain and create as we make our way through our stressful, scary lives. The stakes rise after you have kids. You so desperately want to be the kind of person who writes into parenting magazines saying, “Every December, we have a sleepover in the living room the first night we put up the Christmas tree,” or, “My kids and I have made this same cookie every December since the year they were born.” I remember sitting in a baby group when my son was one month old and the moderator asked, “What traditions would you like to create as your children grow?” I was panic-stricken as we moved around the room. I think I mumbled something lame like, “Uh, I plan to make them a great birthday cake every year.” Because that’s the thing about traditions: you can’t predict them. They have to evolve organically, grow by themselves from the messy bit parts that make up your day-to-day life.
With nothing, of course, is tradition more entwined than with food. Again, here I have major tradition envy. I remember my dear friend Amanda, she of this very blog, telling me that their family makes gingerbread waffles every Christmas morning. I think our Christmas morning breakfast is a last-minute pulling-things-out-of-fridge as we drag ourselves from our beds after having been up till midnight stuffing stockings. When she told me, I had a momentary thought of stealing her tradition, but I knew it wouldn’t stick. Again, you can’t force tradition.
I tend to think of myself as more spontaneous (read: disorganized) than tradition-bound, by nature. But of course, when I stop and look closely at my life, I see that we have traditions, too. Because I’m close to them, they may not be as clean and pretty as the two-liners I read about in magazines and on blogs. In all their real-life disarray, here are some of the food traditions that bring joy to my own life:
- The Bûche de Noël yule log cake that I make every Christmas alongside my mom. Part of the tradition is, every darn year, forgetting which of the gazillion recipes out there we usually use, and frantically paging through cookbooks and trawling the Internet to find the right one.
- My husband roasting chestnuts. I love this tradition because he does all the work.
- The scones my mom learned to make living in Scotland when I was a baby. The scones are more biscuit-like than the bakery ones we’re used to here, and I love how they’re baked in a round and cut into wedges.
- Cracked Dungeness crab at the holidays, usually just twice because it’s so expensive.
- My aunt’s homemade yeast rolls. The recipe comes from her grandmother, my great-grandmother, and we have never had a holiday dinner without them. Hot from the oven and smothered with butter, they are, hands-down, the best thing on the table. (Recipe below!)
- My parents’ food-crazed yellow Labrador Retriever stealing at least one precious food item a year. When my son turned three and my mom baked him a cake in the form of the first letter of his name, guess who wolfed the whole thing behind our backs? Rosie. One Easter eve the dog gulped down ten hard-boiled eggs, shells and all. And one Christmas we bought an expensive Panettone for my aunt who was just back from Italy. Rosie ate it. But it’s okay—the story will last longer than the memory of the Panettone would have.
- Abalone, mussels, and halibut, all courtesy of my fisherman brothers. Never am I so proud to live on the northern coast of California as when I am with my family table feasting on local seafood, plucked fresh from the brine just hours before.
- Eggnog, the day after Thanksgiving. Irish coffees on Christmas morning with my in-laws. Wine at any hour with my friends. My brother’s homemade beer. Charles Shaw red (hey, we served it at our wedding!). Rosé with my husband in the summer. A glass of sparkling wine in the lobby of the Hyatt every Christmas season, as my kids go nuts around me. These are some of the little things that give my life a twinkle.
- And lastly, lest you think me a snob, a bag of potato chips, a diet soda, and a beef jerky on road trips to see Grandma up north. There’s a time and a place for everything.
What are your food traditions?
Grandma Katherine's Rolls
I'll make the rolls for a dinner with our families sometime. They're so soft and yeasty--basically fresh-baked white bread in muffin form.
4-5 cups flour
1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup shortening
1 package dry yeast
1 3/4 to 2 cups warm water
vegetable oilSift four cups of the flour, the salt and the sugar into a large bowl. Mix shortening into flour mixture with fingers. Make a hole in the middle, put yeast in, add about half of the water, and mix until dissolved. Add remaining water and mix thoroughly. If dough is too sticky, add a little of the remaining one cup flour. Dough should be quite soft. Put some vegetable oil on top, cover, and let rise in warm place for about two hours. Form into rolls with oiled hands, set into muffin tins, and let rise another 1-2 hours. Bake at 450 for about ten minutes, until tops are lightly browned. Eat instantly with butter!