8th Day of Christmas – New Family Traditions


I was a bachelor for the past decade and my cooking efforts were basically limited to TV dinners, microwave popcorn and making coffee (scratch that last one, I pretty much always went to Starbucks.)

But happily, my diet took a healthier turn for the better when I got married last spring and moved in with my new wife and her daughter. While my kitchen exploits are still constrained — I’m the designated dishwasher — I am enjoying home-cooked meals.


My new family likes the following dessert when they gather for holidays and any get together. My 11-year-old stepdaughter Julia (pictured) made wine cake this weekend from a recipe she got from her grandmother. It got rave reviews for moistness and flavor. Julia says it’s so easy that even I could make it…….but I’m not taking any chances. It’s yummy, though!

Happy holidays, everyone.


Wine Cake
1 box yellow cake mix
1 package instant vanilla pudding
4 eggs
3/4 cup oil
3/4 cup cream sherry
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Mix together all ingredients and bake in a non-stick bundt pan at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. When cool, dust with powdered sugar.

Makes 8-10 servings


New Family Traditions, Continued

By Melinda McRae

While harkening the spirit of Christmas past to write about family traditions, I was inundated with a variety of childhood memories, but not of any particular tradition, per se. Sure, we had some annual traditions such as going to “Cal Store” in Long Beach and picking our tree fresh off of a train, and my mom making yummy fudge each year from the marshmallow cream jar recipe, but what I think of most are Christmas adventures. I remember packing up our orange Nova for a three-day trek to where our people are from, Montana, sans DVD player, video games or iPod, heck, pre-Walkman days and not even a tape player in the car! (nor shoulder seat belts, just the painful lap belt that we had to keep buckled even when trying to sleep). Instead, we had stacks of books, word puzzles, Highlights Magazines and magnetic board games, and of course, the rite-of-passage “don’t make me pull this car over!” hand-waving warning from my dad when we got too whiney.

Me in front of the Nova, and dear lord, my outfit matches the car; that’s our dog Krissie whom we got on Christmas eve 

Another year, my mom got a part-time job at the long-defunct Zody’s, a Target-esque chain in Southern California, to get my dad an eight-track tape player for our new orange van that supplied us with hours of Cat Stevens, The Beatles and my favorite one-hit wonder single, Melanie’s “I’ve got a brand new pair of roller skates, you’ve got a brand new key…” over and over again.

Then one balmy Christmas year, we went to the beach and made smores with crushed-up candy canes. And each year, my parents would tell the story of how when my sister and I were very young, my dad had to work on Christmas, so my mom kept us indoors on the 25th and we celebrated on the 26th and were never the wiser.

My dad, Christmas 1982, I got a spiffy Minolta camera and in addition to orange cars, apparently my parents were fond of orange furniture, too

My mom, Christmas 1982, I do believe we had turkey every year

It wasn’t until I met my husband, Johnnie Beer, that I embraced a Christmas tradition that we must do each year. I’ll turn it over to him.

By Johnnie Beer

December means many things to many people. Family, holidays, togetherness. And Dungeness crab. For many Northern Californians, the opening of crab season is a sacred time, an acknowledgment of the passing of the seasons. This year the Dungeness season was painfully delayed by an oil spill in the San Francisco Bay (which was also bad because of the environmental damage). But now that we’re in it, it’s time to grab a claw and start cracking!

I grew up in the Bay Area and my parents introduced me to Dungeness crab at an early age. For our family, eating crab in December and January was just a thing you did, like putting up and taking down Christmas decorations. Mainly we ate it straight up – steamed with everybody’s favorite dipping sauces (mayonnaise, melted butter or my favorite to this day, homemade 1000 island dressing). I also learned that there were other kinds of crabs out there, and some people actually thought they were better. This remains a mystery to me.

As I became a young man I never gave up the Dungeness habit. When I met Melinda (in October 1992) and our first late November came around I asked her if she was excited for crab season. She looked at me as if I’d asked if she was ready for bingo season – she knew there was such a thing out there but she had no idea people would get excited about it. Raised in Southern California, she missed out on one of the quintessential Northern California experiences.

I’m happy to say she’s now fully immersed in crab culture. When the season arrives we’ll have one immediately, with some white wine (Sauvignon Blanc preferred over Chardonnay which is usually too buttery for our tastes) and some crusty sourdough. We may enjoy four or five more over the next couple of months which usually satisfies the craving for the rest of the year. Another wonderful thing about fresh Dungeness is its seasonality. You can really eat all you want for a couple of months, and then its time to let it go, until the next season when you can barely wait to heat it up before pulling out delicious morsels.

Dungeness crab has now become a Christmas Eve tradition in our home, along with many others including my mother-in-law and wife’s baking marathon. Last year I decided to put on my chef hat and made “Crab Three Ways” – traditionally steamed, Chinese-style with hot chili and lots of garlic, and in a creamy gratin, along with some chilled Champagne. I’ll probably try the same again this year, but however we do it, one thing will be certain – it will be ridiculously good. And it will leave us looking forward to doing it all again next year!

Me again. We did indeed kick off crab season on Dec. 1 with a fresh Dungeness crab from Corti Brothers – they will crack and clean it with no additional charge. My friend Barbara Arciero from the CA Farm Bureau sent over the December issue of their periodical “California Country” that contained some great-sounding recipes. To kick off the holiday season, we made the crab cakes for our most recent Christmas tradition, a pre-Holiday Home Tour party, and they were yummy balls of crustacean heaven!


Dungeness Crab Cakes and Saffron Aioli

Serves 6
Crab cakes
2 lb. whole Dungeness crab or 10 to 12 oz. cleaned crabmeat
3 oz. fresh scallops
1/2 tsp. sea salt
Fresh ground white pepper, to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. chopped cilantro
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 cup grapeseed oil

1 egg yolk
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. champagne vinegar
1/2 tsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/8 tsp. saffron
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 cup grapeseed oil

For crab cakes
Crack and clean whole crab, removing all shells and keeping only the meat. Place crabmeat in a mixing bowl and keep refrigerated. A 2-lb. crab should yield approximately 10 to 12 oz. cleaned crabmeat.
Place scallops in a blender with 1/2 tsp. sea salt and a pinch of white pepper. Turn on blender and slowly add cream in a steady stream. Stop blender and scrape down sides with a rubber spatula. Blend mixture one more time to make sure the scallop mousse is a nice, homogeneous mixture; set aside.

Add mustard and cilantro to the bowl with the crab; gently toss to evenly disperse ingredients. Lightly mix in scallop mousse, taking care not to break up the crab. Season mixture to taste with sea salt, white pepper and cayenne pepper.
Form cakes into a free-form shape about 1 oz. each and place on a lightly oiled baking dish. They can be made up to this stage several hours in advance and kept in the refrigerator.

Before serving, turn the broiler on high and allow it to heat up. Lightly brush the tops of crab cakes with grapeseed oil and place under the broiler for 3 to 5 minutes until they begin to lightly brown on the top and are heated through. Remove from the broiler, and with a spatula, place on a serving platter or plate each serving individually. Serve with saffron aioli and a lightly dressed mixed green and herb salad.

For aioli
Place all ingredients in a blender except grapeseed oil. Turn on the blender and slowly add oil in a steady stream until all oil is incorporated and mixture is emulsified. Adjust seasoning. Refrigerate until ready to use.

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Leave a Comment

3 Comments so far ↓

  • Jenna | Dec 18, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    The wine cake looks so festive! Come on, CT, I’m sure even you could make it! 🙂

  • "Babs" | Dec 19, 2007 at 11:05 pm

    Yummy balls of crustacean heaven? It doesn’t get much better than that!

    You FH foodies are a lot of fun!

  • Melinda | Dec 21, 2007 at 2:35 pm

    Forget the cake, give me the wine! 😉