What’s on Your Holiday Dinner Table?

The holiday season evokes a deep sense of nostalgia with the sweet aroma of cookies baking in the oven, of cinnamon and spices mulling on the stove or of roast turkey. There are many holiday traditions — some more unique than others.

Some families recreate the dishes they grew up with as children to bring back a sense of youth, home and family while others create new traditions aligned with the ever-changing times.

My parents were from two different backgrounds and we celebrated two different holidays. Our Christmas tree was decorated with blue and white lights to appease my Jewish grandmother who cooked brisket and potato latkes with sour cream for Hanukah while Aunt Muriel brought the honey cake and noodle kugel. On my mother’s side of the family, Christmas dinner was prime rib, buttered new potatoes with parsley, string beans from my grandfather’s garden (I would be sent to retrieve the beans from their basement), creamed pearled onions and whiskey sours. My grandfather made the best whiskey sours — just the right amount of tangy and sweet.

Try some of Chef Smitty’s favorite holiday recipes & tips:
Sugar Cookies
Green Bean Casserole
Cranberry Sauce
Making a holiday shopping list
Tackling the holiday dinner

Russian tea cakes and chocolate chip cookies along with fresh apple pie and vanilla sauce were served for dessert. There was always a large bowl of whole unshelled nuts and a nutcracker on the side table, as well as chocolates filled with truffles and caramels and holiday hard candies with little ribbons of red and green running through them.

My friend and local attorney Alison Bermant sat down to a warm bowl of matzo ball soup and chicken liver at her holiday dinner. Tahoe Weekly Publisher and Editor Katherine Hill remembers best her mother’s butter cookies and there were always stuffed mushrooms at every holiday table. A tradition she and her sister, Michelle Allen, continue at holidays and special occasions. Tahoe Weekly Art Director Alyssa Ganong recalls the homemade pierogies at her family Christmas dinner.

When anyone mentions chopped chicken liver it conjures up images of a former boyfriend, a staunch vegetarian, who joined me for a family event and heaped a large dollop of what he thought was hummus on his plate only to realize it was my aunt’s famous chopped chicken liver. He freaked out and, yes, I laughed.

Local artist Liz Penniman cracks crabs for her holiday and dips them in melted butter with warm sourdough bread. Jeff Brunings remembers beer — his family drank Budweiser and Coors.

Sam Khalsa, a friend of Swedish descent, explained that his mother made a rice pudding with a custard consistency in which one almond was mixed into the pudding and all of the kids hoped to find the almond prize in their bowl. They also enjoyed pickled herring, homemade liver patty, wort-flavored rye bread called vörtbröd, and a special fish dish, lutfisk, made from aged stockfish or dried salted whitefish and lye, which is gelatinous in nature.

For many of us foodie types what we eat during the holiday is of great importance, whether it’s ham roasted with maple syrup, rack of lamb or something more exotic, I find it fascinating how traditions evolve. Some families recreate the dishes they grew up with as children to bring back a sense of youth, home and family while others create new traditions aligned with the ever-changing times.

These days my family eats sushi and seafood on Christmas Eve. Last year, I hosted a Christmas potluck with a hunter-gatherer theme for 25; I love themed dinners. One friend went out and hunted duck, which he grilled and served with a plum sauce. Another guest showed up with a rabbit duck pate. I served boar meatballs with a marinara sauce while good friend and photographer Ben Lazar took over the kitchen making his father’s delicious fried potato latkes. Who knows if this will be the start of a new tradition?

Whether you are going traditional this year or making something unique, let us know what’s on your holiday dinner table this year.

Grandpop Wagner’s Whiskey Sour Recipe
1 12 oz. can frozen lemonade concentrate
1 12 oz. can orange juice concentrate
12 oz. whiskey; add more if you like it stronger

Fill blender with ice and blend.