Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I Say Disaster, He Says Delicious

Well. For those of you who don’t know, I am considered a pretty good cook. Not in a Julia Child or Martha Stewart kind of way, but you know, my meats are always tender and flavorful, my pancakes are light and fluffy, and my veggies are always steamed just right. For the last ten years or so, in my family and friends realm, any holiday or special event that involves food has been given to me to plan and prepare. I am the one that bakes like 20 pies for the church fundraiser and teacher appreciation day. I am the one that sends baskets full of fudge and muffins at Christmas time. I have special platters for Deviled Eggs, special tins for tiny little muffins, and more pots and pans than I have shoes (gasp!). I really like this about me and always look forward to a party where I can feed people.

But this Thanksgiving was going to be different. This Thanksgiving I had no family in hollering distance, except for our small little nuclear unit of four, to prepare a Thanksgiving feast for. I thought that maybe we would completely buck the system and order Chinese food or pizza and use the day to get a head start on Christmas decorating. But then our next door neighbors came up with this great idea. See, they have a large family and each year there has been this dilemma on where to entertain guests before the meal, since an additional table needed to be set up in their living room to accommodate the crowd. So, they asked if we could host a “social hour” (in Texas this is called “drinks and dip”) at our house for everyone, then we would be welcome to come to their house for the main meal. I was thrilled (no really, I was) because even though I had never met 13 of these people that were going to descend on our house at noon, but they had never met me either! So I was really looking forward to preparing some pre-meal goodies for a fresh audience.

Since I didn’t want the appetizers to fill everyone up before we sat down for turkey, I decided to go with a very simple and fool-proof menu. Veggie trays with carrot sticks, celery, and broccoli with ranch dip. A platter with a few different cheeses and summer sausage (you would not believe how hard that was to find up here – it involved the assistance of the grocery manager and a scavenger hunt through the wine and fine cheese section. For real!!). Deviled eggs, of course. Fudge with and without walnuts. Mini Banana Nut muffins. And then a few little dishes here and there that involved various nuts and chocolate (my favorite combination). Simple – right? But see, I also agreed to make a pecan pie (or as they say up here, pee-can pie) so that I could offer a taste of the South. And this is where my Thanksgiving preparations went to Hell in the proverbial hand basket.

I had my mom ship me pecans from Texas and I scouted out the best vanilla and eggs I could find. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, just after I got the kids on the school bus, I began baking. On my list for the day was to do a few batches of fudge, the pecan pie, and a pumpkin pie for my son. See, my son Dalton absolutely loves pumpkin pie. Well, I really don’t think it is the pie, but more like he adores my Aunt Dawn who always makes him his very own pumpkin pie. From the essay he wrote earlier in the week for school, I knew that my sweet little third grader was also missing our family and I wanted to make sure he had his pie (He was asked to write about his best Thanksgiving memory, and he wrote about Auntie Dawn always making him his own pie).

So. I set out all of my ingredients, turned on the ipod and got to work. But see, while I was stirring the fudge, my Dad’s favorite song came on (Wasted Time – Eagles) and I started to cry. So then I had to stop stirring and go blow my nose and wash my hands and by the time I got back to the fudge, well, it was ruined. It looked a lot like this:

That my friends, is tree bark. Not what silky smooth fudge that you’ve made at least 954 times is supposed to look like. But I added in some nuts and said the hell with it.

I put on some happier music and started on the pecan pie. But you know what happened? Ten minutes after I put it in the oven, the pie swelled up like something I have never seen before! I swear, it was like a score of blackbirds were going to come bursting out the top at any minute! The poofiness went down by the time it finished the 50 minutes of cooking time, but it still looked like baked dog vomit! At this point I really lost it. I had used all of my Texas pecans sent from mom and the last of the good eggs on this pie! It was supposed to be my masterpiece! I called my mom. I called my aunt. I called my husband. And you know what I said to each of them? Can you guess? I said, “I WANT TO GO HOME!! THIS NEVER HAPPENED TO ME BACK HOME!” But nobody gave me ruby slippers to click three times, so instead I went to the store and bought pecans that originated from God only knows where and more brown sugar and more eggs and went home to try again.

Since I needed the pie dish the barf-o-rama pie was sitting in for my next attempt, I dumped the pie on a plate. Just then the kids walked in from school and said “Ewww! What’s that?” A really ugly pecan pie I told them. “Can we eat it?” they asked in unison. Umm sure why not? Here is what it looked like:

And here is what it looked like after the kids ate their fill:

My sweet son says to me, “Mom. You should so totally open a restaurant. Yeah. You could call it ‘Ugly Food’ because some of the stuff you make looks like really really gross, but tastes really good.”
Gee. Thanks.

But after that? You know what? Everything turned out perfectly.

Turkey Day was terrific. I guess maybe I needed a small moment to truly and deeply miss my family so that I could appreciate the kindness and generosity of another family including us in their holiday. We met some really great and wonderful people. And, you know what?? They LOVED my pecan pie!!

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