Got my elf hat ready, the oven mitts shaped like reindeer (with bells), got in a supply of icing sugar, flour, almonds, chocolate chips, white chocolate, coconut, lots of butter, some goofy sprinkles…all set for cookie baking. *snort* I made some last year, having been all inspired by a neighbour who sent down some simple sugar cookies swathed in the most deliciously sour-sweet lemon icing glaze. I thought, hey…I can do that. I think I made some shortbreads that were almost edible, and the ones that weren’t company quality and looked a bit wonky, I dunked in chocolate and all was well.
I don’t bake. I cook.
Give me a turkey, almost any size and I cook that sucker to a delicious state of orgasmic tenderness. I say almost any size because for the past 40 yrs or so I’ve been cooking Christmas turkeys upwards of 25lbs…so I know how to cook BIG turkeys. Smaller ones…well…I buy them occasionally because the SIL likes turkey, and when there are only 8 of us noshing, it seems a bit overkill to cook a 25lb bird. So I adjust. I stare at the chicken-like thing for a while and commune with the turkey gods, knowing it won’t take four loaves of bread and two rolls of sausage to stuff it. Probably won’t take 7 hours to roast either. In the end it all works out, thanks to a trusty meat thermometer, right down to the stuffing which usually is NOT enough to feed 8 if stuffed inside the bird where stuffing belongs, so that requires “outie” stuffing as well as “innie” stuffing, which is also a carryover from the BIG bird, which doesn’t hold the four loaves worth either and doesn’t feed the usual 22 or so I have for Boxing Day dinner.
I believe I mentioned in another blog somewhere that I claimed Boxing Day (26 December) for my big family celebration as far back as when my son was in diapers. Having had a boy, I knew the future girlfriend/wife would always want to be at her home for Christmas Day, so I stamped a claim all over Boxing Day and it’s worked out smashingly well ever since. There was a period of about 8 years in there, when the Clone was about 9 or 10 when I put my foot down and decided I wanted to have Christmas at home too, for my side of the family. Up to then we had all shlepped up to my parent’s place, where the Christmas spirit was not always as cheerful as it might have been. My mother was a stickler for time, and if you weren’t there on or before the clock struck 12 noon, she basically spent the rest of the afternoon glaring, cleaning her oven, and muttering under her breath. 12 Noon at the farm meant a *snack* was on the table by 12:01. To a Polish person, a *snack* means anything from a full roast beef dinner, to 10oz steaks on the barby complete with all the various trimmings and four kinds of dessert. If we were lucky we could roll away from the table by 2-ish, just in time for her to start cooking the turkey dinner. Bellies swollen and heads reeling, we would stagger to various rooms in the house, or go out skating on the pond in the hopes of recovering enough to face another meal in a few hours time. The BIG meal.
She had a scrawny fake pine tree that she stuck in the corner of the basement and a few twinkly lights she put out on the porch, but aside from the awe-inspiring amount of food she cooked, my mother was not a Christmas person. I was, however, and it began to irk me a little when the Clone came bounding out of his room in the morning all excited to see what Santa brought, then to sit and tear through the small mountain of boxes and parcels, and open the stockings, and almost….almost…get to play with something before it was time to get dressed, pile into the car and head to the farm, an hour away, and get there by 12 Noon.
I, on the other hand, decorated every square inch of wall, table, mantle, fixture available to me. We slogged out every year when the snow was waist deep and spent hours looking for the *right* tree to cut and haul back home. At last count, I had 60 strings of lights on the tree, dozens of hand made ornaments, bazillions of candles and Christmasy trinkets and music boxes and garlands strung everywhere…even a Santa toilet seat cover. We even had a second tree in the basement, by the fireplace, emblazoned with lights and ornaments. So I said to my family, one fine November day, that I wasn’t hauling ass up to the farm anymore Christmas Day. Everyone was invited to my house for dinner, arrival time non-specific. My sister had two small girls by then and she was all for it. My mother thought I was joking…and she thought that right up to Christmas Eve when I called to remind her that no one would be there the next day. That first year was a bit tricky, I’ll admit, but I made sure my oven was clean and all the cooking was done so she had no excuse to mutter to herself in the kitchen. She still arrived with a huge roast and twelve desserts (I had requested the desserts so her nose wouldn’t be completely out of joint) but it was almost fascinating to see her actually sit down and chat and play with the kids like real company instead of being frazzled and sweating and out of sight in the kitchen.
That was me.
That first Christmas, there was pressure to get everything right. Being Polish also requires the mother to do all of the cooking and not allowing any help in the kitchen. We were supposed to learn how to make all of the wonderful foodstuffs by osmosis, I guess, because any time I asked for a recipe or tried to watch what she was doing, I got chased out of the kitchen with a broom.
So there I was making a turkey and stuffing for the first time for the whole family. I made cabbage rolls and saurcraute the Polish way, taters and gravy and squash and perogies. I barely remember anything more than polite smiles, because the perogies were store bought and the turkey…well…there were a lot of leftovers that first year. And my dad, who was not allowed to drink at home, was quite cheerful about the whole thing, especially after he discovered that I refilled his water glass…and mine…with vodka each time. We smiled a lot at each other.
I had to smile because in the back of my mind, I knew I had to do it all over again the next day, when Stupid’s family piled in for Boxing Day dinner. Yep. Another turkey, more stuffing, all the trimmings. There wasn’t as much pressure the second time around, since my mother in law usually roasted a simple 4lb chicken for four hours. She cooked two things well all the years I knew her…meat pies and an onion/cheese/potatoe pie. Pretty much everything else was overcooked or over boiled. I mean really…frozen brussel sprouts boiled for half an hour? Unlike the Polish suppers where everyone rolled from the table, the British dinners were very much quantity-controlled, to the point where, if you didn’t get your fork into the meat plate fast enough there was a good chance you wouldn’t get any. So on Boxing Day, when I cooked the way I had been raised to eat (ergo the size of my hips) the in laws were the ones rolling from the table in utter belching bliss.
I did that for three or four years, the two turkeys on two days thing, but then I wised up. I figured if i cooked a 30lb turkey on Christmas Day, it would not only look damned impressive, there would be more than enough for the next day, supplemented by a baked ham. Hah. The outlaws were happy with roasted potatoes, a bit of stuffing and a veg. The first time I gave my father in a law a perogie he stabbed it with his fork like it was going to attack him. So basic food the one day, whole hog the next. Worked like a charm for the next 10 years or so, until the last Christmas my dad was with us. We lost him in March of that year, and that was it for me for doing the family thing. We had it at my sisters that next year, and maybe the year after that, I honestly can’t remember…but then she got into politics (anyone remember the Member of Parliament who said all Americans were damned bastards? *snort* that’s my sister) and I started inviting my cousin and his family to come over Christmas Day.
It’s stayed that way ever since. My cousin Ed and his family comes over on Christmas Day, and while I haven’t (until this year hah) done the two turkeys on two days schtick, I still go whole hog with the Polish food. My 90yr old uncle comes with them and god forbid I don’t have a perogie or a cabbage roll for his plate LOL. On Boxing Day my son and his family and my adopted son and his family and their inlaws and some of my good friends–22 in all pile in and we eat until we have to roll away from the table in belching bliss. Turkey, stuffing, mashed taters, roast yams, sugar baked ham, innie stuffing, outie stuffing, butternut squash, saurcraut, two kinds of perogies, cabbage rolls, corn (forgot the corn one year and the Clone blinked at me like there was no other food on the table) shishkabobs, tiger shrimp….I’m probably forgetting something, but that’s the main eats.
All but dessert. I still don’t bake. I have a no-bake cheese cake recipe that covered up that major flaw for a good number of years, and I try to make sure everyone is too stuffed to think about dessert anyway. But…*huge dramatic sigh* I am determined to expand my horizons. This year I want to bake. I’ve been rummaging around in Betty Crocker land while my knee was propped up and immobile, but I haven’t really seen anything that sparkles my taste buds and is easy enough for an 8 yr old to help me with.
So, while I stocked up today (see, I did manage to get back to the baking topic) on nifty things I thought might come in handy (is there any other use for cream of tartar other than merangues, or is it just for that one thing, cuz man it’s hard to find this time of year…I got the last little tin on the shelf) I’m still not quite sure what to do with them all. I’m hoping my neighbour sends down some of those lemony sugar cookies again. But I plan to hoard those. Ummmm….if anyone has some ideas? Some good recipes? *batting my eyelashes* Something a non-baker can bake without setting off the smoke detector? Remember…you know who is watching to see who is going to be nice…..