Culinary Triumphs, Big Trouble, and Thanksgiving Dinner-Redux

20101004-souffle-pumpkin

Thanksgiving is right around the corner here in the USA, a day of feasting, celebration, family, friends… and of being thankful. It is also a day when cooks across the land are on the hot seat, being responsible for the central event of the day: Thanksgiving Dinner. You see, this particular dinner “must” have certain traditional components, components that you don’t usually make, and they tend to involve large numbers of eager eaters, considerably more than the home cooks of America are used to cooking for, and when you put all of this together, the pressure is on.

In our house, when there is a “company dinner” I get the cooking job. My wife is a very fine cook, but she will admit that on these occasions, she gets just a bit too nervous, as she worries about every little detail. Me? Well, let’s just say I have a bit of an attitude: “Oh, you didn’t like it? Gee, that’s a shame, but look at the bright side; it was worth every penny you paid for it!” (No pressure when you think like that.)

The only problem is that on this particular occasion, one (or more, I’m not quite sure) of my wife’s sisters will be attending, and when a sister-in-law is present, I am always told that everything MUST be perfect. Anything less than perfect and I’m in Big Trouble. Of course, there is also the “talking rules” to be observed, the off limits topics, the requirement that I agree with everything that is said and all of that… oh, and I can’t just be silent, or “everyone will think you’re mad at them.”

Have I ever mentioned that I don’t much care for social situations?

Come to think of it, there’s one more thing, and that is what I perceive as the Midwestern attitude about guys who cook. Here in the Midwest, it seems like this is considered odd, unless there is a barbeque involved, and I really wasn’t planning on roasting a turkey on a barbeque grill… out there in the snow.

Of course, that’s always been an issue, even when I was a little kid. My mother didn’t think I should be so curious about cooking, so she referred me to my father when I asked too many kitchen questions. My Dad taught me how to cook “guy stuff” like scrambled eggs, bacon and barbeque, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy my curiosity, and one time, that curiosity got me into Big Trouble.

It was a fine October afternoon when I came home from school, a bored 11 year old. My Mom left a note on the counter that said she was at the neighbor’s house and that I should do my homework and not to make a mess. I didn’t have any homework…

There was a cook book setting on the table and I started looking through it (since nobody was there to see) and I came across a section about pumpkin. There was information on how to turn a pumpkin into food that I read through; that sounded pretty easy. Hmm, we have two pumpkins for Halloween, and we only need one of them. Then I read a recipe for Pumpkin Soufflé; we had all of that stuff, and there weren’t any words I didn’t know (except soufflé).

Hmm…

I got to work. I knew that I’d best hurry because if my Mom came home before I had the soufflé completed, I’d be in trouble, but turning a pumpkin into food was harder than I expected; I pressed on. I had stringy pumpkin guts and seeds all over, but I was not deterred, and when my Mom came home, the soufflé was in the oven.

Looking back on it now, I would imagine that the neighbors heard her reaction to my little enterprise. Oh boy, I was in Big Trouble all right. The thing that concerned me the most was that my Mom left the adjudication of the matter until “Your Father Gets Home!”

That was never a good sign…

Confined to the limits of my room, I awaited my fate. My sister popped in, in strict violation of the rules and asked me what I had done. When I told her, she burst out laughing, “You idiot, you’re dead. How could you be so stupid; I can’t even do stuff like that, and I’m sixteen!” More laughter… “Your name is going to be in the obituary tomorrow idiot!”

“What’s that?”

“Where the dead people are listed, stupid!”

I wasn’t really liking my chances much, and then it happened; he was finally home.

My Dad was later than usual that day, so I got a brief reprieve because dinner was ready. The silence at the dinner table that night was palpable until my Dad said, “OK, what’s going on?”

All eyes were on my Mom as she told the story of my crimes, my sister suppressing her laughter as best she could.

My father, though stern in matters of enforcement, was a fair judge, so he said, “he made what where is it now? Let’s see it.”

When my Mom retrieved the finished soufflé, my sister gasped and then, unable to hold back her laughter, got up from the table saying, “Oh my God, you really ARE dead!”

My father, ignoring my sister’s outburst, looked at the soufflé and said, “Well, let’s see if it’s any good.” At this, I couldn’t help but notice that my mother gave him The Look.

The taste test: “Dang, that’s pretty good son, and you made this from that other pumpkin? How did you know how to do that?”

Fully realizing that my very life was hanging in the balance, I tried an unusual tactic, and told the whole truth: “I read it in Mom’s cook book, Dad.”

“And what made you decide to make Pumpkin Soufflé’ of all things?”

“Well, we had all the stuff, and the only word I didn’t know was soufflé, but that wasn’t in the directions.” Now it was my Dad who seemed to be trying not to laugh, but there was smoke coming from my mother’s ears.

“How did you manage to actually have it turn out right?” There was a hint of a smile on his face, as he seemed to struggle more and more not to laugh.

At this point, I made a crucial error, for I kept to my unusual tactic of telling the whole truth: “Well Dad, it’s just like making model airplanes; if you do exactly what the directions say, everything turns out just fine.” At that, my father could suppress his laughter no more, in fact, he actually pounded the table, he was laughing so hard. My Mom decided that she had other matters to attend to and left the room.

That’s when my sister burst back into the room: “Mom can’t make a soufflé, you idiot, they’re really hard.”

“Oh, well if I had known they were hard, I wouldn’t have made one.”

More laughter from my Dad; things banging in the next room.

My Dad handed down his ruling: I was never to do that again, I would be cleaning that kitchen, getting every single bit of pumpkin guts off the counters and floors, and I was never again to cook anything without permission… and I would pay for another pumpkin. Then he got up from the table, and with a smile and a wink, he gave me an “atta boy” pat on the back, and went into the other room to make peace with my Mom.

I was up well past my bedtime that night, scrubbing the kitchen like it had never been scrubbed before under the watchful eye of my mother. I didn’t even mind all that work; I had managed to escape the noose, hadn’t I? Within a few months, I was cooking dinners when my Mom had other things to attend to… and I have never tried a soufflé again; I hear they are way too hard!

So what does this have to do with next week’s Thanksgiving meal?

Well nothing, except that I’ve gotten in Big Trouble before in the kitchen and lived to tell the story, this shouldn’t be any big deal.

You might be wondering why I’m telling you all of this; a fair question, to be sure. You see, I’ve had another crazy idea; I thought I would post about the dinner preparations, the food, the recipes, and how it all goes… of course “richly Illustrated” with original photos.

Yeah, I know this isn’t that kind of a blog, but a little change of pace never hurt anybody. Come along for the ride, have a few laughs, and maybe we’ll see something of love, family and giving thanks along the way!

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4 thoughts on “Culinary Triumphs, Big Trouble, and Thanksgiving Dinner-Redux”

  1. Good story, Don! I could cook a little bit as a young teen and progressed over the years to being able to prepare a pretty mean meal when I have to. The “stigma” attached to a man who can cook is more than slightly irrational. As you say, cooking is like building something piece by piece. That’s linear thinking and it appeals to my masculine sensibilities.

  2. Great story, Don. A wonderful homey feeling. That idea of men not cooking is crazy. Many of the world’s greatest chefs are men. My husband loves to cook, and I love having him do it! Glad you survived to tell about the soufflé!

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