Everyone has a Thanksgiving disaster story of some kind – and here is mine.
Some background: We’re remodeling our kitchen. The remodel is being done by my father-in-law, Steve. Hosting Thanksgiving in the middle of a kitchen remodel isn’t really the smartest thing to do, but it wasn’t enough to stop me from trying.
Three days before Thanksgiving, Steve showed up at our house an announced that he would be putting in the kitchen floor. We were unprepared for this, but decided not to argue – a new floor would be something to be thankful for! He worked all afternoon but (owing to the fact that our house is old and spiteful) managed to floor only a few square feet.
The next day he completed most of the main part of the kitchen and half of the dining room. I was getting nervous. “Just finish the dining room,” I told him, “the rest can wait until after the holiday”.
The day before Thanksgiving I woke up late and depressed. My new director wanted me on campus for a meeting that day, so I got dressed, did my hair for the first time in a week, and walked to my car to go to the office.
My car refused to start.
Small Boy had left his door ajar overnight and drained the battery. Huzzybee was at work and most of the neighborhood was gone for the holidays. I stomped back into the house and worked in the living room until Steve showed up. He agreed to jump start my car. It took about 15 minutes, and after the car started I took off down the freeway and drove aimlessly for about 45 minutes to let the alternator charge the battery. Then I headed to the office.
During my meeting, I was asked to present to the group (something I didn’t expect or really prepare for) and when I was done stammering out an explanation for why my project was going badly I dragged myself out of the office and into the parking garage. On the way down I met a man and his 3-year-old girl walking slowly to their car. I smiled. He smiled back. The toddler looked at me with distrust. I got into my car, turned the key and…nothing. The battery was dead again. Feeling tears starting to burn behind my eyes, I tried to call Huzzybee. Seeing my panic, the man and his toddler came to the rescue, jump-starting my car and sending me on my way.
Back at home, Huzzybee and I both tried to finish our work from the living room while Small Boy got in everyone’s way and Steve continued making a chaotic racket in the kitchen. He had finished the dining room and pulled the dishwasher into the middle of the kitchen among a pile of tools and boards. To get away from the noise, I took Small Boy outside to pick some apples, telling him that as soon as Steve left we were going to start baking apple pies for Thanksgiving the next day. Suddenly I heard Huzzybee yelling my name at the top of his lungs. “WHERE ARE MY KEYS!?” he screamed. “Why do you need them?” I asked, annoyed. He came running out of the house, “Dad’s hurt, give me my keys NOW!” That could only mean one thing: emergency room.
I dug the keys from my pocket and he sprinted off with me running after him. “What happened?” He ignored me and I heard his car screeching out on to the street. That is when I looked down at Steve’s table saw outside and saw blood. Lots of it. A trail of blood led into the garage. A pool of blood was soaking into the gravel. The blade was coated in red. I turned, ran to Small Boy who was standing perfectly still, confused, holding a basket of bright, green apples. We went into the house and I paced and wrung my hands together for 30 minutes. Small Boy was going to his first piano lesson today, but the only car at the house had a dead battery again. So we waited. There was sawdust and debris all over the kitchen. The dishwasher was in the middle of the room. I went outside again, back to the saw. Gritting my teeth, I searched the area to see if there were any fingers laying on the ground. Nothing. I found a tarp and covered the equipment and went back inside.
Steve and Huzzybee returned hours later; Steve with two of his fingers heavily bandaged. His finger had nearly been severed, but fortunately the bone was intact and all he required was stitches. Painfully, he and Huzzybee and I got the dishwasher back in place. Steve’s bandages kept getting caught in the machine and pulling off. Then his finger started oozing blood. We sent him home and that’s when we realized that the dishwasher wouldn’t turn on. Thanksgiving was in 12 hours.
Thanksgiving morning, I woke up and had to take a conference call for work (turns out they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Prague). After that, it was non-stop cooking. Since I couldn’t do most of the pre-work I had planned the night before, I was in a rush. Everything that needed to be baked had to go in the oven before the prime rib. I spent the morning on my feet and absolutely nothing went right. I needed a rolling pin: couldn’t find the rolling pin because the kitchen has been under construction for 9 months, so I improvised and wrapped a wine bottle in plastic and rolled out pie dough. Then I couldn’t locate my second pie pan, so the apple pie became an apple tart instead. I baked two crusts: they both shrank. I over-roasted the sweet potatoes so they got mushy. Then I put the prime rib in the oven, shoved an electric thermometer in the meat, and took a break. In the next room, Jordan and Soren started watching Return of the Jedi. I sanctioned this media choice on the condition that Jordan fast forward certain scary parts.
An hour later, the meat was cooking faster than I anticipated. Too fast. Then I heard the sound of the Emperor killing Darth Vader. Suffice it to say, Huzzybe and I exchanged words, and then I decided not to make Thanksgiving dinner after all and ran out of the house crying. Eventually I got cold and wet and had to pee, so I went back home. Inside, Huzzybee and Small Boy were washing dishes. All three of us ignored each other. I looked at the roast. It had been sitting in the now cold oven for an hour. The temperature read 40 degrees Celsius. I had to get it up to 80 in 1 hour without turning the heat past 275. I started to sweat.
Guests began to arrive, and the meat was only at 67 degrees Celsius. Angrily I whacked at some brussels sprouts, and sautéed mushrooms. I put polenta into a pot to steam and it almost immediately boiled over, baking into a starchy cement all over the stove top. An hour went by. The meat was at 77 degrees. At that time, it occurred to me that I didn’t know where I had gotten the idea that it had to be 80 degrees Celsius, so I sat down and looked at my recipe.
Bake in the oven at 200 – 275 degrees until the meat’s center reaches 125 degrees. The recipe said, as if that was the easiest damned thing in the world to do.
I Googled the conversion and felt my heart drop straight into my stomach. 125 degrees Fahrenheit was 51 degrees Celsius! A $75 roast had just been ruined. I pulled it from the oven, calmly announced “I think the meat’s done now” and immediately started crying. Then I cranked the heat up to 400 and put the brussels sprouts in to roast with some bacon. While they were roasting, I went outside to the garden and picked kale for the sweet potato-kale salad. By this time it was dark any seriously rainy. When I returned inside, swarms of baby moths flew up from the kale in a white cloud over the kitchen sink, wakened by the heat of the house. I looked down at the leaves that I had picked in the dark: they were covered in holes and slug slime. Growling, I shoved the sluggy leaves into the compost and went back outside and picked more kale. Inside again, more moths flew up into my face. I waved them away and washed the kale. What the guests didn’t know wouldn’t kill them.
Steve, Huzzybee, and his friend Luc had all been drinking whiskey and they stomped into the kitchen merrily to steal bits of food and get underfoot. I shuffled around miserably, my face blotchy from crying, adding fontina to the polenta, browning the jus for gravy, draining potatoes and…what was the smell? Something smelled…weird. With a shriek I wrenched the oven door open. Blackened brussels sprouts and a cloud of smoke came out. This time I just started laughing like a deranged hyena. My mother in-law carved the meat. It was gray, all the way through to the center. I collapsed against the counter. “Prime rib isn’t supposed to look like that” I whispered.
Everyone sat down to eat but I was still making gravy. Small Boy refused to eat if I wasn’t at the table with him. Then he refused to eat anything that wasn’t white. Eventually, he just refused to eat anything that wasn’t mashed potatoes. I poured myself a very full glass of wine. The meat didn’t taste terrible. It was flavorful and juicy, but it was well-done, not medium-rare. Fortunately, none of us really did care that much. The sweet potatoes and kale were mushy but delicious – any remaining moths just added a little extra protein. I didn’t put enough fontina in the polenta, but it still tasted fine. After we had finished eating we discovered the tray of cold, blackened brussel sprouts that had been completely forgotten during the fray.
Our plan was to deliver mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, and lemonade to the local women’s shelter that evening after our meal. Because everything had gone so terribly wrong, we were running behind. My slightly intoxicated husband and equally intoxicated Luc pulled up chairs and started to peel potatoes and tell jokes while my mother-in-law washed dishes. Steve sprawled out on his stomach on the kitchen floor, trying to get the dishwasher to start. Small Boy ran back in forth down the hallway yelling “where’s my pie!? Where’s my pie!?!?” I slumped into a chair and worked my way through another glass of wine. Everybody was busy. No one cared that the meat was gray and the pie crusts were shrunken and the polenta lacked sufficient amounts of fontina. Everyone was just happy to be with good company (me excluded – I was very poor company) and to have all of their fingers mostly intact.
Later, I drove our one working car down to the women’s shelter while Huzzybee held a tray of steaming hot mashed potatoes with a tipsy smile on his face. “This has been good,” he said.