Monday, April 16, 2012

The Thrill is Gone (but so is the panic)

While our wonderful Kate Collins finishes the last part of writing her manuscript--rewrites, copy edits and even more edits--we are fortunate to have Julie Hyzy, who writes two cozy series, join us for a few weeks. Many of you are probably familiar with her White House Chef series as well as her Manor House Mysteries. We welcome Julie while we await Kate's return. (We do miss our Kate!) 

Our first house in Chicago
 When my husband and I were first married we went to my parents' house for Thanksgiving, his sister's house for Christmas, and Easter kind of flip-flopped. Fortunately, our families were small enough and they got along well enough that everyone was usually invited, no matter where the party was being held. Worked out great.

Although we didn't have an assigned holiday at first we did attempt a few dinner parties of our own. One of the most memorable was our second anniversary. We decided to roast a turkey on the grill (how hard could that be?) and serve it with stuffing (a family favorite), and a couple of other side dishes. For dessert, I made a pound cake (Mom's recipe). To make it extra special, I decided we'd load each serving up with fresh bananas. You know... like you get on top of waffles at a restaurant. I made the side dishes and the pound cake ahead of time and decided to cut up the bananas early too. I wasn't stupid - I knew that they'd turn brown without lemon juice - so I put them in a bowl and covered it with the contents of a large bottle of RealLemon. We set up the grill outside and put our defrosted turkey atop it, making sure the coals were nice and hot.

Family wasn't due for several hours and for once the house was clean. We decided not to waste all this downtime - we'd been talking about buying a new car because our current one (we only had one at that point) was dying a slow death. How about we go buy one now?

Yeah. Seriously. What were we thinking? All I can say is that we were young and inexperienced.

We took off for the car dealership and found a great demo model that was in our price range and fit our lifestyle. Having never bought a car before - except as a tagalong when my parents bought theirs - I didn't remember how long it took.

Three hours later (at least) we were driving home in the new vehicle. But we weren't worried. Family wasn't due for another hour or so.

Except... we hadn't counted on the coals dying out. The turkey had browned a little, but it was still raw inside. No way was it going to be ready on time. My husband and I panicked, of course. We wound removing the bottom tray of our microwave (thank goodness it was a giant microwave, as most were back then) and we shoved the turkey in, fighting the legs that kept trying to escape. We heated it, turned it (as much as that was possible), heated it and turned it again, and again. Finally, the bird was cooked. I can't say that it tasted all that great but at that point we didn't care. We just needed it to be done.

After dinner (I wonder why everyone ate more of the side dishes and less of the turkey?) I pulled out the pound cake and cut everyone a slice. I heaped on a huge spoonful of bananas onto the first dish and handed it to my father in law. He took a big mouthful and then his face contorted in a way I've never seen on a human before. Yeah... I guess soaking the bananas in lemon wasn't such a great idea after all....

That was one of our first family dinners. We had more, and lots more mishaps. The picture to the left is of a subsequent turkey-on-the-grill attempt, but this one turned out better, probably because we stayed home to tend to the coals. 

The kids love hearing our silly stories. Over the years, however, I've hosted Thanksgiving (my brother has that one now), Christmas, and Easter, among countless birthday parties, and graduations. I just hosted Easter last week. A small crowd this time - only 13 people - and everything went so smoothly it was almost boring. I had daughters helping me in the kitchen and with cleanup. Our food was tasty and plentiful. Nothing went wrong. Not even a little bit. I'd have to say it was an unqualified success.

But you know what? I kind of miss the excitement. Those moments before guests arrive where I'm puff-puffing and worried about every last detail. Where the layer cake falls apart because I frosted it when it was still hot. Or when the dog jumps up and eats half the dessert (that was years ago and she was fine). We have everything under control nowadays... but that makes for fewer stories to tell.

How about you? Any fun moments to share about dinner with your family?
I'd love to hear them!



Katreader said...

We still tell the story about Bandit and the turkey at my house. I was a sophomore in college and came home to my parents' house for Thanksgiving dinner, bringing my new kitten, Bandit, with me. Mom cooked a beautiful turkey and dad carved it. They placed a portion of it on a platter which we brought to the dining room while we ate, leaving the rest on the kitchen table. At one point during the dinner, Mom returned to the kitchen and screamed. We all ran it to find Bandit standing INSIDE the turkey carcass (still on the table) munching away.No leftover turkey that year. Sigh.

ponyswimgal said...

Loved both Julie's column & Katreader's Bandit story. I'm reminded about a story my mom told. She came from a huge family (she was the 13th) & at one Thanksgiving dinner, as one of the kids was carrying the one (and only!) turkey to the dining room table, the tray tipped and the turkey plopped onto the floor. Dead silence. Then (this was in the Depression & money was TIGHT), my grandmother said in a clear voice, "Never mind. Pick it up and bring out the other one." Without a beat, the tray-bearer picked up the turkey, went into the kitchen, tidied up the turkey as much as possible, re-plated it, and brought it to the table. It was carved & dinner went on as though nothing had happened. Gotta love a mother's quick thinking!

Liz said...

Once, for Easter, my husband and I cooked a whole lamb--and cooked and cooked and cooked. Naturally, the skies opened up, but the men hauled the grill under the deck and soldiered on--that is, cooked and cooked. I was all but reduced to tears amongst a host of women, not one of whom ever made (or, at least, admitted to) a mistake in the kitchen. But, armed with wine, the men had a great time. Is being a relatively new bride fun or what.

Julie Hyzy said...

Oh my gosh, Katreader, I am laughing out loud here! I can see this! How cute, but how awful at the same time. We love leftovers, but obviously Bandit did too! Thanks for sharing!

Ponyswimgal - Excellent recovery! And what a great story.

Liz - Those new bride moments make the best stories, don't they? I can see this - and I can relate. Whenever we have an outdoor even here, it monsoons. Never tried cooking a whole lamb, though. You are a much braver woman than I! Thanks for sharing!

Leann Sweeney said...

Tending something on the grill may not always be the answer. My birthday always used to fall on the REAL Memorial Day, May 30th. We always had the entire family over for an outdoor picnic in our backyard. Mom made a huge "family steak" and my dad and his friends were "tending" it (while drinking LOTS of beer). Our wonderful dog Jet was well aware of the drinking, I suppose. He made his move, stole that steak right off the grill and took off. I'll never forget my father chasing that dog down the street. The dog was a LOT faster. We had a vegetarian picnic that year. :-)

Aurian said...

Lol, those stories are great. I have never tried to make dinner for more than 3 people or so, and have no stories to relate. But of course, I can make lots of mistakes on my own dinner. One of my sayings is: dinner is ready when the smoke alarm goes off. Of course that never happened, but I have burned pans and the oven caused the kitchen to be blue from smoke often enough.
Cooking and reading don't go together very well.

Julie Hyzy said...

Oh, Leann, what a clever dog! I'll bet he had a wonderful dinner! That's such a fun story.

Aurian - I know what you mean! In my house growing up, we always kept a towel nearby that had one use - as soon as the smoke alarm went off, whoever was closest had to grab the towel and wave it to get the alarm to stop. In this house, the alarm isn't right on top of the kitchen, thank goodness, otherwise we'd have to take the same precaution!

Dru said...

I remember the first time I cooked a full dinner at my new apartment and no one showed up. They thought it was the next day, this after I called the day before to confirm.

Julie Hyzy said...

Oh, Dru! No! That's terrible. I hope they liked the leftovers!

Laura said...

One year at Thanksgiving, when I was a teen, we left the rolls in the oven. Part way through dinner my father asked where they were. of course they were burned by then. During clean-up, my dad the practical joker picked one up from the tray and jiggled it as if testing its weight. Then he yelled, "Incoming!" and threw it from the kitchen to the dining room. The food fight lasted about five minutes, and still makes us laugh every Thanksgiving.