Skip to main content
Sarasota Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018 1 year ago

From socks to sauerbraten, Sarasota residents cherish holiday traditions

Families share the recipes and rituals that make the season grand.

Holiday traditions breathe life into the past, present and future, often facilitating that welcome feeling of joy during the holiday season. Whether it’s a family cookie recipe or a chance to catch up with loved ones, this holiday season, no matter what your tradition, we wish you and yours the best!


The Drass family encourages their children to think of others with suggestions on giving, tucked inside strands of garland on their tree.

Giving garland

The Drass family focuses on a giving-centric Christmas. Each year, as November draws to a close, the family of four pulls out their Christmas tree garland, which contains 25 pockets. Instead of filling the pockets with traditional advent goodies such as candy and chocolates, the Drass family stuffs them with daily “giving” inspirations in the form of random acts of kindness for their children – Julian, 6, and Layna, 3 – to implement. Examples include making Moose Munch for friends, baking cookies for neighbors, picking out gifts for teachers, donating toys, and crafting for grandparents. Some acts carry on year-to-year, but they plan to add new ones as the kids get older. “My mom always had so many tricks up her sleeve at Christmas, but still made it about helping others rather than ourselves.”

Steffani Drass, architect and Sarasota resident.


The more decorations, the better say Roger Capote and Tony Pinho.

Tree toppers

Roger Capote and Tony Pinho choose a new theme for their Christmas tree every year. Last year, the newlywed’s tree was bright and bold, highlighted with neon greens and pinks and adorned with glittery peacock feathers. This year, Capote and Pinho went with a northern winter theme for their pencil tree which is draped in white lights, colored ornaments and black and red plaid accents. Capote gleaned the tree tradition from his mother, who he remembers would always have a theme for their nine-foot tree growing up. To make it their own, each year Capote and Pinho add new ornaments to their collection, which carry meaning from experiences throughout the year. “I am one of those that when you decorate the tree you can’t see any green anymore.”

Roger Capote,
Southside resident and Chief Advancement Officer of CAN Community Health

Cultural Connection

Sarasota City Commissioner Jen Ahern-Koch looks forward to her husband Thomas’ homemade sauerbraten each Christmas Eve. Ahern-Koch says it is the perfect way to incorporate her German-born husband’s culture and upbringing into their American holiday traditions. Sauerbraten is a traditional German dish that takes weeks to prepare and calls for a specific cut of meat, which must be tenderized at length prior to cooking.

Sauerbraten is a staple of the Koch family Christmas.

“If done properly, it is like butter,” Ahearn-Koch said.

Thomas Koch gets to the local German market as early as possible to get the most authentic ingredients.

In addition to the meat, this sauerbraten feast includes side dishes of rotekohl (red cabbage), knödle, boiled potatoes, breads and applesauce – all meant to complement Sauerbraten’s sourness which Ahearn-Koch says makes it extra festive and special.

“We have warm weather and palm trees outside, but we also have sauerbraten.”

Jen Ahern-Koch, City Commissioner

Oma Koch’s Sauerbraten

2.2 pounds (1 kilo) of beef hip (Rindfleisch hüfte)

1/4 liter (8.5 ounces) of vinegar (apple cider or white)
2½ cups of boiling water
1 teaspoon of mustard seeds
2 carrots, sliced
2 large onions, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 tablespoon coriander
1 teaspoon of nutmeg
1 teaspoon of thyme
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon dill 
handful of raisins
3 Bay leaves
1 tablespoon juniper berries  
1 tablespoon clove
1 tablespoon of ground paprika
1 teaspoon of all spice
salt and pepper to taste
Place meat in a large bowl and salt and pepper it. Boil carrots, onions, celery for five minutes. Do not drain water. Let sit until cool. Add all other marinade ingredients to the pot and let sit. Pour over the meat, cover and let sit in the refrigerator for two weeks. Turn meat once a day and day drizzle the marinade over.

On the day of the feast, remove meat from the bowl and let it dry on a dish towel. Brown the meat in a pan with olive oil or butter. Remove meat from pan and set aside.

Strain the marinade and add it to a pan.

Add the meat back to pan and cook in the oven for two hours at medium heat. 

Erika Wise Borland and her older daughter, Madison in 2015.

Grandma's Goodies

Erika Wise Borland has fond memories of the large tin of cookies her grandmother Rose Wise would mail from Kansas each holiday season.
“As a mother of six, everything that Grandma Rose made was in large quantity,” says Borland, who remembers that Grandma Rose’s “colossal” cookies were always the first to get eaten.

Borland and her Florida family, which includes her parents and two sisters, carry on Grandma Rose’s tradition each year, using that same hearty “colossal cookie” recipe to bake and decorate dozens of cookies with their children, who she says enjoy squishing and balling the dough most.

“Family and time together are important. We are creating our own memories.”

Erika Wise Borland, Cherokee Park Resident

Colossal Cookies

1½ cup white sugar
½ cup butter
4 eggs
3 cups quick oats
3 cups old oats
2 teaspoons vanilla
12 oz chocolate chips
1½ cups brown sugar
18 ounces peanut butter
2½ teaspoons baking soda
½ cup chopped walnuts
Beat sugars, butter, peanut butter, eggs. Add oatmeal, baking soda, vanilla, nuts, chocolate. Stir. Space apart as
they flatten. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 min.

Sibling synergy

It’s often difficult for large families to find time to all come together for the holidays. The Gruters family has a secret weapon in matriarch Robin Gruters.
“I’ve been with Tim for 10 years,” says Ashely Gruters (married to Tim Gruters). “And during that time, not one of the Gruters siblings has missed the Christmas traditions.”

Each Christmas, according to Ashely Gruters, Robin, ensures her sons and daughters – all six – as well as their significant others and 10 grandchildren come together for quality time, which often includes some form of game or activity. One year, it could be family dodgeball, the next bowling, but each time she encourages the family to interact and be physically active at a time when many others choose to be sedentary. On Christmas evening, Robin and husband, Terry, host a potluck dinner at their home, which includes all the traditional Christmas fare.

“Christmas at the Gruters is their thing. That’s their day.”

Ashley Gruters, Southgate resident


A more laid-back approach to Christmas Day at the Minges home involves TV, an exchange of socks and turkey.

Turkey tidings and new socks

Growing up in Canada alongside four siblings, Louise Minges recalls a living room they weren’t allowed to enter because it was full of gifts and formal Christmas dinners. As a mom, Minges chose a more laid-back approach to Christmas Day with her son.

“We sit on the couch in our PJs and watch funny Christmas movies… and then I cook,” says Minges, who roasts a turkey each year for dinner as well as making her family’s mashed butternut squash. This Christmas, Jordan Minges, who is now grown and expecting his first child with wife Christine, will join his mom to watch "National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation" and exchange socks – a tradition Christine’s family brought to the Minges holiday. “We had so many gifts, it filled living room, but we weren’t allowed in until Christmas day.”

Louise Minges, Indian Beach resident

Simple mashed butternut squash

Medium-sized butternut squash
Sour cream or Greek yogurt
Salt and pepper

Remove seeds and bake until soft. Peel when cooled and mash with a potato masher. Add butter and sour cream, salt and pepper to taste. That’s it. Delicious!

Related Stories