I “met” AJ on the KDP forums and then discovered her blog. Her post brings to mind all the past holiday meals where the power failed, the pie refused to be a pie, and when my mom and I decided that we didn’t need the good dishes, silver, and linen tablecloth; we just needed to be together.
Christmas mocks me. Well, not the whole holiday. Just the dinner.
I screw up my family’s Christmas dinner every year.
It’s not that I’m a bad cook. I’m actually a pretty good cook the other 364 days of the year. I’m not ever going to win any awards for it, but I’ve managed to keep my kids pretty well-fed for eighteen years, and even my ex-husband has been known to call on occasion for one of my recipes.
To be fair, I call him for recipes, too, but only because he got custody of the recipe file box in the divorce.
At any rate, something goes wrong with the holiday meal I prepare every single year. At first, it was because I was far too ambitious in my meal-planning. I tried to make a turkey, mashed potatoes, homemade gravy – which always turned out as a vaguely gravy-flavored ball – sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, biscuits, and more. I tried to do too much and ended up overwhelmed. Half the meal would burn while the other half was undercooked. Nothing ever hit that midpoint where it was actually edible.
Then there was the year I cooked the ham in the crock pot and someone – who has yet to confess, even after all these years – turned it to the “keep warm” setting when I wasn’t looking. I think it was done around noon the following day.
There was the year we ran out of propane and I had to cook the meal with nothing but an electric skillet and a microwave.
My family still talks about the year I served them coconut cream soup for dessert. It was supposed to be coconut cream pie, but it refused to “set up.”
One year, I got hit with a stomach bug late in the day on Christmas Eve. By Christmas Day, I was violently ill. I still cooked the holiday meal between bouts of vomiting, and my family ended up eating their dinner at the table while I stretched out on the bathroom floor throwing up things my ancestors ate.
My favorite memory – or lack thereof, actually – is of the year I started with a shot of Bailey’s in my morning coffee and moved up to mimosas by the time I washed the breakfast dishes. It was all sort of downhill from there.
The year I finally stopped trying so hard was the year my children got new sleds from their grandmother for Christmas. The kids played with their new toys all day and talked about sledding, but never seemed to get around to it. That year, all the food turned out perfectly. Everything was done at the same time. The table was set with the special holiday dishes and my grandmother’s tablecloth. It was perfect.
But when I called them to the table, all I saw were their horror-stricken faces and a lot of tears. “But Mom!” they wailed. “We never got to try our new sleds, and now it’s dark out!”
What was I to do? Out they went, in the dark, riding their sleds up and down the driveway under the big yard light, while their father and I watched from folding chairs by the front window and ate our Christmas dinner off of paper plates.
That was the year I realized that it doesn’t matter what I cook or how I cook it, as long as we all enjoy our day together. I now start the ham in the crock pot the night before (and God help anyone who touches the dial). I make mashed potatoes from scratch, but the corn is canned, and so is the gravy. For that matter, so are the biscuits. I skip the sweet potatoes and green bean casserole because no one ever ate those anyway. It’s a pretty simple meal, made up of foods we all love, and nobody stresses out over it.
The kids have plenty of time to play with their toys and games, and I have time to get out of the kitchen and enjoy a good book. It’s the perfect Christmas.
And the dessert? My mom’s traditional lemon meringue pie, of course.
Find all of AJ’s books here.