Sometimes, the best laid plans of the most serious cook go awry.
You run out of time, out of propane, out of ingredients, or just plain out of energy to complete the task. Children, pets, spouses, jobs, friends…all need attention too. The end result?
Sudden unexpected scaling back of your meal plans.
I remember the “worst ever great Christmas” of my own. It was a tale of horror in one sense, but now, well over a decade later, my daughter and I laugh about it.
It started off with a party, innocent enough, and a potted plant met its end in my living room. Messy, but it could be handled, right?
The next morning dawned early, like all post-party mornings do. You are sure the sun rose at least six hours earlier than ever before. My head was pounding, my stomach was rolling, and I swore I would never ever drink alcohol again.
By noon, the rolling stomach and pounding headache were joined by incredible aching, fever, sore throat, and dizziness. The party mess was only superficially cleaned up, and organization had not been recreated. The kids had not been cajoled through baths either. Dishes stood unwashed in the sink, and both breakfast and lunch leavings were on the table…and I didn’t care as people dropped by. I was barely able to stand upright, weaving slightly, and getting funny looks.
The next day was Christmas Eve, and Day 2 of being really and truly sick. Still people are dropping by, and now we have more dirty dishes and leavings from kids-preparing-own-food in the kitchen. There are even cups and plates in front of the TV and guess what?
I still didn’t care. I was semi-comatose on the sofa, dragging myself to the door as it seemed an endless parade of friends dropped by. By evening, as the chill outside grew more intensely cold (we were living in Minnesota that year) and finally people headed home to their families, leaving me in peace with my flu.
There had been no last minute shopping. There was no last minute cooking. It was as done as it was going to get, but I did have guests coming for Christmas dinner. My dad & stepmother were coming to dinner the next day, with the time set for 1 pm. I had been thawing the turkey for days in the refrigerator, and went to investigate its state of thaw.
It was as hard as a brick. With a sigh, I lugged the massive bird, a huge expense on my strict single parent budget, and put it in a giant pan on the top of the stove, hoping it would thaw out enough to extract the giblets and cook it by morning. I baked my cornbread, and the kids were probably relieved to be given cornbread for supper. At least it was hot and Mom was upright. My daughter, eleven at the time, was pretty much stuck entertaining and supervising her three year old brother, as I was still three quarters out of it. (Shrieks of pain would bring me back to consciousness, but anything short of that…it was unlikely.)
They were sent off to bed to await Santa’s arrival. I had to stay awake long enough to do the Santa routine, even though my daughter was old enough to know who Santa was…her little brother wasn’t. As soon as they were snoring softly in their beds, stockings were stuffed, gifts set out (at our house, Santa did no wrapping…he was way too busy and that way he’d not make a mistake about who got what) and a bite was taken out of the cookies.
Like always, my early rising daughter got up even earlier on Christmas morning. I still was sick, and had slept on the sofa, and while they were investigating their treasures, I went into the kitchen to investigate the turkey.
I screamed. I cursed. I cried.
Something evil had chewed on the turkey and I blamed my daughter’s cat, threatening it with dismemberment. We live in small town, Minnesota. There is no store open for a hundred miles in any direction. There is NO WAY to get even a chicken, let alone a turkey, and I have a gnawed carcass.
What am I going to do?
After a cup of coffee, my flu fogged brain found a solution. I surgically remove the chewed vicinity of the turkey, stuff it, season it, and cook it. I threaten the kids with dire consequences if they EVER mention our little gnawing incident to anyone (like my father) and proceed to handle the situation. I tell my daughter to keep the evil cat away from me, as I want to throttle it.
Now dinner was set for 1, and even at 6 am, that’s a tall order when you have a turkey (with or without surgically removing chewed bits) to stuff and roast, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, gravy, plum pudding AND hard sauce to make. That’s when you feel good, and keep in mind, I’m running a fever of like 103 degrees F still and feel like I’m walking through water.
Turkey stuffing was made, stuffed into turkey, turkey is rubbed down with herbs and placed in pan, then into the oven it goes. Sweet potatoes are prepared and slide in with the turkey. The plum pudding is mixed up, placed in the coffee can saved just to bake it in (I had no pudding mold) and started steaming on the stove. Green bean casserole is assembled, and rolls are made and set to raise.
Over the years since I had left home, I had forgotten a detail about my dad. If you are going to have him be on time for dinner, you plan it for 5, tell him 1, and then sleep in so it’s really not ready until 6 pm.
Dinner was late getting done, but I had starving kids and a very tiny table. I fed the kids, and I was too sick to even think about eating. I boned the turkey, and told the kids they’d have to wait for plum pudding until their grandpa and grandma were there, as I was not flaming it twice. The boned turkey hid all evidence of surgery or chewing.
Grandpa and Grandma never knew.
But that night, after they had gone, and I was laying on the sofa wishing for a quick death, I spied the evil cat come running into the living room. I yelled for my daughter, as I didn’t want to look at the cat that had caused me such horror early that morning, and she replied that she had the cat in her room and there was no way that it was in the living room.
I’m staring at a coal black hissing cat glaring balefully at me from the base of the Christmas tree. I tell her I can SEE the cat right in front of me, so she comes to get him. The cat hisses, lashes out towards her, and runs.
About then, I spy the real cat sauntering down the hall to see what is going on in the living room. So what cat is this other black cat and where did it come from? And better yet, how are we going to get rid of it?
The day of the party, a gust of wind had blown the door open when it had been left unlocked when I’d run to the store for a forgotten item. I’d not been gone long, as the store was just a block away, but apparently, that was enough time for a feral cat to decide our house looked like a warm place to spend the holidays. Even if we saw it, we just assumed it was OUR black cat and he was acting goofy, not unheard of for any cat at all.
It took some creative “herding” and plenty more open door time in sub-zero weather to get this strange wild cat out of the house, but the mystery of what had chewed the Christmas turkey was solved, and “our” black cat was absolved of any potential guilt for getting on the cupboards (not allowed.)