Myriad munchies for Christmas feast |

Myriad munchies for Christmas feast

Susan Wood
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Albertsons seafood clerk Debi Faulkner pulls out a live 3-pound lobster from their lobster tank.

Could Mom have been wrong? Perhaps honesty isn’t the best policy when it comes to the proverbial Christmas dinner – especially those family tradition dishes you can’t quite find palatable.

All families have their traditions – from how they act to what they serve. Unlike the hard-line Thanksgiving entree of turkey, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners diversify in the main course.

Albertsons Meat Manager Steve Sherman said he has taken more requests for prime rib than any other entree, but the new stars for the store this year have claws.

The lobster tank at the store was full of the sea creatures, complete with bands around the claws to keep them from fighting.

“They’re not in the Christmas spirit,” he said.

Reactions to the holiday eating rituals are sometimes mixed.

Rebecca Leary plans to muster the courage to eat onions put out like appetizers at her brother-in-law’s house in Minden. It’s their tradition every holiday, and Leary was too wary to try popping the no-frills snack in her mouth over Thanksgiving.

“They call them cocktail onions – with no dip,” the South Lake Tahoe woman said, wheeling her cart through Albertsons.

Chris Booth of San Clemente, who was up in Tahoe visiting relatives this week, has briefed her teenage girls since they were young about how to behave when grandma brings her unpopular Jello.

“When she asks about it, they’re told to say: ‘This is the best food,'” Booth said after shopping Wednesday.

Even the cooks might be trying to pull a fast one.

South Lake Tahoe baker and pastry chef Don Ewing has taken several orders from servers wanting him to bake their specialties from their recipes because they don’t have time to do it themselves.

Some people go to great lengths to get their recipes across, drawing stick figures to show the various stages of cooking.

“They don’t want their kids to know they didn’t make it,” he said.

From bagels to chocolate sculptures, Ewing has his hands full this season leading up to Christmas Day – one of the four holidays he takes off for the year.

He bakes for 45 wholesale clients, juggling restaurants and coffee shops around town.

Ewing has found that although many people branch out from Thanksgiving and serve more than turkey for the formal Christmas dinner, they’re hesitant to take a risk by cooking a dish they’ve never made.

“People don’t experiment on the holidays. You don’t want to mess up on your mother-in law,” he said.

But it’s his own family that has prompted more personal fodder in wrestling with its traditions.

“I remember Aunt Gladys always made the crab salad. After she died, my mom tried but couldn’t make it like she could,” he said. “They may not like that bean salad, but they’d miss it if it wasn’t there.”

At this time of year, Ewing has focused on Italian bread, sugar cookies – still the most popular cookie order around Christmas – and an assortment of pies: pumpkin, pecan, apple cranberry and mincemeat.

Marie Callender’s workers have also concentrated on the pie brigade. The restaurant plans to make 800 pies for walk-in clients and the 300 to 400 call-in orders expected by Christmas Day.

Mark Cohen of Overland Meat has been working on overdrive for his customers scrambling to have the perfect meal for the holiday.

His customers gravitate toward prime rib, honey-baked ham, duck and geese – the latter with a long history as traditional Christmas fare in the U.S. as well as Europe, where they cook the wild game as often as U.S. cooks serve turkey. Remember Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol?”

People’s palates tend to evolve through the years.

Cohen has seen many cooks come in for crab with shrimp as appetizers, popular dishes around the New Year’s holiday along with fresh ahi and salmon.

It appears the cooks or wannabes not only need meat. With less people finding the time for such an activity, they need advice.

“They come in with funny expressions on their faces, and want to do something different, but they’re looking for advice,” he said.

The suggestions even expand into food and wine pairings.

“I tell them to drink what they like,” he said.

– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at

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