Family Matters,  preg-nuts,  Stealthy Spy Cooking,  Tis the Season

Everything I Remember about Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving this year is a blur to me. Maybe because I did more than my usual baby sitting the kids and sitting around eating olives. Maybe because I’m pregnant and I have the memory of a goldfish. Maybe because there were just so many dirty dishes to do that the many images of my hands in soapy water overshadow so many other special moments. I don’t know. But it was a special Thanksgiving and here is what I do remember:

We woke up at the crack of dawn, like we always do at my mom’s house. All my life I remember waking up to the sounds of dishes clanging and banging in the kitchen. Who needs an alarm clock when you have a mom who is always up bright and early doing something in the kitchen? Before I’ve brushed my teeth, gotten dressed or even taken a shower, my mom informs me that that we are going to have a timing issue with the oven. The pies that we didn’t make the day before (because we were too busy cleaning house and cooking for the birthday party) must be done first thing if we are going to have a turkey done by two. “Hop to it!” says mom.

I don my apron over my nightgown and start rolling out my nearly frozen pie dough that I did make the day before. (My mom likes to keep her refrigerator so cold, soda cans explode if you put them on the top shelf.)

A little back story: I forgot to mention my meltdown over the pie crust recipe the day before. I was practically in tears on Wednesday. I didn’t bring any of my fancy pie making gadgets with me and that meant that the recipe I followed so carefully when I made my first pie (which is printed on the dough rolling mat) was not with me. How hard can it be to make pie crust pastry? Apparently for me, it’s heart wrenching.

I searched the internet for hours to find the simple recipe I knew. It has flour, butter, salt and iced water. That’s it. No lard, no vinegar, no sugar, not some kind of combination of butter and lard… No matter what I googled, I couldn’t find MY recipe. And you know me and my intimdation of baking. I can’t fudge anything. Baking is a SCIENCE, EVERYTHING MUST BE EXACT. It was horrible. My sister-in-law, who was making a very complicated chocolate cheesecake from scratch and hardly even looking at her recipe, just smiled at me as I slowly went insane. Of course she already knows I can be nuts about little things like this, but she attributed it to pregnancy moodiness.

I did finally find a simple recipe but I still managed to bungle it by accidentally doubling it and then forgetting to double the salt too. I didn’t realize this until three in the morning the next day when I lay awake for four hours stressing about how my pie crust was going to be completely ruined and I didn’t have enough ingredients to make another one. Oh woe is the brain of a pregnant woman who cannot sleep between the hours of 3 am and 5 am.

This brings us up to 8 am the morning of Thanksgiving Day. My sister-in-law consoles me over my missing 1/4 teaspoon of salt. She assures me that even though baking is an exact science, if you’re intelligent enough you can make variations here and there. I’m a skeptic but because I have no other choice and time is now an issue, I decide to trust her and roll out my salt-challenged dough.

HA! Rolling dough! Let this be a lesson to me in letting go.

Let me just say that my mom’s house is not my house. It is not quiet or peaceful. Clean clear counters are a figment of your imagination. I decide to roll my dough on her little kitchen table which I should call a table-ette. It is small and covered with stuff that belongs somewhere else. My rolling pin must compete with my mom’s prescription pills, yesterday’s laundry, receipts and advertisements flyers from 1992 and of course 59 million little packets of Splenda. Nothing is calm and serene about my mom’s kitchen. When I open a cupboard, plastic tupperware containers come raining down on my head. Things like this frazzle me.

I haven’t even gotten to the part about the rolling mat that refuses to stay flat. I must weigh it down with an uncooked butternut squash, her flour canister, an unopened can of cat food and my empty mixing bowl. The mixing bowl is too light and goes crashing to the floor after one knock with the rolling pin. Everything is a mess. Flour is everywhere and my dough is crumbly and uneven. Also my little niece, Superchick, is running through the kitchen every other minute in her plastic high heels screaming and refusing to go to the bathroom because she doesn’t want to be potty trained. It’s a mad house.

The dough does managed to get rolled and Rapunzel and I even cut out little birds and a heart to go on the top of my pie. We also made some very special little cinnamon and sugar dough twists for Uncle Toby. The apples are peeled, cored, sugared and cinnamon-ed and they all go into the pie crust with very little fuss. The pie goes in the oven and we are off to the start of Thanksgiving day.

While I’m in the shower and getting presentable, my mom figures out that her turkey (that has been in the refrigerator thawing since SUNDAY–what is that four days ago?!) is STILL FROZEN!!! She takes all kinds of drastic measures, like soaking it in hot water, to get it up to speed. When I get back to the kitchen, she is in tears (like mother like daughter?). Somehow in his eagerness to help, my Dad has now ticked off my mom and she throws the roasting pan on the floor with a big loud crash that scares the crap out of everybody. Nothing like a little Thanksgiving drama to really get things in full swing!

Rapunzel and I make ourselves scarce and decide to make extra complicated name cards with turkeys with individually cut out feathers. We have a grand time doing crafts. Superchick alternates between drawing all over herself in magic marker and smearing our glue stick all over the coffee table. It’s a challenge to do crafts with a seven year old and a just-turned-three-year-old at the same time but somehow we manage and our name cards turn out beautifully.

By the time we finished up our crafts, the turkey was ready to be stuffed. Every year we have a tradition of letting the youngest family member stuff the stuffing in the turkey. Last year Superchick was scared of the turkey. This year she lovingly massaged it’s slimy feather plucked skin as if it was her favorite teddy bear.

What comes next is foggy but I think I spent most of the middle part of the day stashing junk out of sight in closets and back bedrooms and yelling at my brother to lift heavy things for me.

Dinner was supposed to be on the table by two but because of the issue with the turkey and the frozen-ness, things get moved back to four. This was actually perfect because Toby and his mom and brother, who are driving in from Orange County (which is normally an hour and a half drive), are stuck in traffic for FOUR HOURS!!!! Four hours. Toby already hates the drive out to my parents as it is. It’s amazing he didn’t just turn around and drive back home. I am very glad to see him when they finally arrive.

We search the house for every chair we can find. Five of the eleven chairs are broken and missing pieces. One has been left out in the weather and the wood finish has peeled off so roughly that you get your hands exfoliated just by grabbing the arms when you try to scoot in. Of course nobody really cares about this but it takes up quite a bit of time discussing the matter.

By five-thirty everything is officially on the table except the turkey and the rolls. We go ahead and attempt to sit down and start eating while we wait for my Dad to nuke plate after plate of turkey because he is paranoid that we might catch food poisoning from it not being cooked completely through. The kids aren’t a bit hungry because they’ve been grazing off the trays of olives and pickles that we had out to keep everyone from starving to death before dinner. Toby is annoyed at me because I am getting up and down from the table every other minute to check on the rolls that are now baking because the turkey is finally out of the oven.

The stuffing is delicious, the cranberry-orange sauce is just right. The mashed potatoes are to die for with their skins left on. Nobody notices that we don’t have yams. We barely have room on our plates anyway with the corn, the fresh green beans, my hearts of romain salad and of course the fifty-seven different varieties of pickles. I don’t know what the deal with the pickles was this year. I don’t remember Thanksgiving being a time to bring out the pickles but there were a lot of them. There was even a plate of Tobasco pickles! Maybe it was my brother’s idea, I don’t know. He’s the one who is a freak about Tobasco. It’s amazing really, the things my mom does to make sure everyone is happy.

After eating way more than I should (considering that my stomach is supposed to be smashed up near my collar bone somewhere in order to make room for my gigantic uterus), we cleared the table and started the epic clean-up process.

I really like doing dishes. I’m serious! Maybe it’s the sense of accomplishment that I get from seeing plate after plate stacked up clean and sparkling. Maybe it’s because my parents never made me do dishes when I was a kid. Maybe it’s because the house is so full of people and noise that it’s the only place I can escape and be somewhat alone without raising eyebrows. OR maybe it’s just that I don’t have a clue where to put any of the clean dishes. So if I wash, someone else has to dry and put things away.

Even though my belly keeps me from getting close to the sink and the angle I must hold myself is murder on my back, I was happy as a clam to wash dishes forever. We didn’t even use the dishwasher. I washed every dish by hand. Well, almost every dish. My mother-in-law cut in later and I was banished to the living room to discuss computers and get my brain picked by relatives I barely know.

By then our stomachs had somewhat settled and we started on round two: Desert. Everyone raved about my pie. I secretly think it’s because my sister-in-law told them about my recipe breakdown while I was in the other room. I’m not sure. But everyone made a point of telling me how great it was. Personally, the crust was perfect (besides that it peeled apart at the edges because I didn’t allow for enough of an overlap) but the apples were mushy! Like applesauce! It wasn’t soupy though. I followed all my blog commenter’s advice and added a tablespoon of flour to the apples. It worked like a charm. Nothing was soggy at all. It did taste pretty good. I’m just not sure why the apples didn’t stay intact like they did last time. Maybe they were too juicy. When I peeled them, they seemed extra drippy. Oh well, it’s only the second pie I’ve ever made in my entire life.

The best moment of the whole day was when Toby taught Rapunzel how to make ice cream. I don’t know how it started but Rapunzel and Toby got their heads together and next thing I knew Toby was breaking ice cubes with a hammer and they were mixing up some kind of salt and ice concoction at the dining room table. Rapunzel is being home schooled right now so their little experiment turned into a full on science lesson. Toby was in his element. He’s always wanted to be a teacher and Rapunzel is like a sponge soaking everything in. They were captivated for what seemed like hours. And they did make ice cream! I tasted it! It tasted exactly like soft serve ice cream from McDonald’s. It is moments like this that make me love my brilliant husband more than ever. He is going to be such a great dad.

Things died down after that and slowly cars of relatives left. I think it was probably ten before we had everything packed up and Toby and I and the rest of the Orange County crew decided it was time to go home too. Rapunzel hugged Toby and made him promise to come around more. I rolled myself out to the van and we hit the road home. I don’t remember much after that but somehow I made it into bed before midnight.