My large family has had many holiday disasters, probably just like yours. My general motto, “be flexible and adjustable,” has worked for much of my life but I need it even more when the unexpected happens when entertaining.
For many years, my husband has liked to shoot a wild turkey at our hunting club for our Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. I have always thought they were skinny, gamey tasting and a little hairy. But the worst part is that they do not come with a pop-up thermometer, my favorite cooking gauge. So every year I say no thanks to his gracious offer. He is happy to smoke them for guests to taste and talk about the hunt.
In our former Montecito Boulevard home of 30 years, I had only one old Tappan oven, which was new when the house was built in the early 1950s. Many a meal was prepared in that kitchen. The one I remember the most was a holiday bird. It just wasn’t cooking or turning brown. I took it out and my dad checked the oven to discover a coil was broken up in the top. Half the oven was not heating up. I cannot remember how we fed about 30 people turkey that day; perhaps we just skipped that part of the meal.
Like most other women, I always followed my mother’s tradition of getting up about 5 a.m. to stuff and bake the turkey on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day. Now I have a new, faster routine. The day ahead, I cook white boneless turkey breasts. So easy, less hassle, less stress and the taste is the same. Only this year, I had a problem.
Now that I live in a really old house downtown, I have a new fancy double oven. So, no problems, right? Wrong. I turned on the top oven. Aluminum foil was in the bottom to catch any grease. All was well for the first few minutes. Suddenly, I noticed a smell. Billowing smoke was coming out the closed oven door. The fire alarm went off. The dogs started barking and running around the house. I rushed to turn off the alarm and turned on the kitchen exhaust fan at the same time. Doors and windows were opened. My son-in-law just sat there and enjoyed all the confusion.
When it cooled off, I pulled out the hot foil and discovered it was hiding a huge black spill and it was still smoking. For the next hour, we were cleaning out the oven, spraying and wiping, wiping and spraying. I finally got the turkey in but this sure delayed my plan. Guess I forgot to check under the foil.
I am not alone in experiencing holiday disasters. Many years ago, my sister had one of hers. Of course it is a must to clean out the refrigerator before a holiday dinner to make room for the jello molds. Well, my sister found two to three cups of very hard, leftover spaghetti hiding on a lower shelf.
In a hurry, she stuffed it down her garbage disposal and turned it on. It tried to grind it down but stopped dead. In her haste she forgot to run warm water. It would not work. The old disposal had been a problem before and now Christmas Day it was dead again. Company was expected in a few minutes and her husband was under the sink. Guess what she got for Christmas that year? Another exciting household gift for the wife.
A variety of things can happen to make your holidays or parties extra exciting. Some we have no control over and they just happen. We giggle as we tell these stories over and over. What else can you do but laugh?
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A sneaky family dog ate the Groom’s Cake at our daughter’s wedding. A guest unplugged a ham in a crock pot instead of the toaster one morning at breakfast. I got very sick entertaining friends for dinner one evening. The guests put the dinner together and enjoyed themselves while I was in bed.
Then there is my classic Easter egg story, which happened right after we were married. My parents, brothers and sisters were coming to Napa to visit our little apartment for the first time. I boiled eggs the night before and Philip and I decorated and hid them around the apartment.
The next day, my younger brothers and sisters found them and took them home to Pleasanton. But on the way home, in the back seat of my father’s new Plymouth, they discovered that they were soft-boiled eggs. I hadn’t boiled them long enough. My Dad was cleaning yellow yoke from the car seats and floor for days. I am still teased about those Easter eggs today. One of my siblings will probably tell this story at my funeral.
Our niece, Tiff, used to baby-sit the neighbor boy at her home. Late one Christmas Eve the toilet in their one bathroom home got plugged up. In a panic her mother called our father and told him the problem. He and our two brothers came over right away. About 20 of the family were coming for our big gift exchange and dinner the next day. They couldn’t unplug the toilet using the plunger or sewer rooter so they decided the problem must be farther down in the sewer line.
Since it was too late that night to start digging, my dad, who was a contractor, said that they would have to work on it the next morning. He told my brothers that they would have to dig up the sewer line in the front yard on Christmas morning.
So, at dawn they dug out a 3 feet wide and 6 feet deep hole. Before they started to take the line apart Dad checked the toilet one more time. Whatever he did, this time it worked and a ballpoint pen suddenly appeared. Laughingly, he scooped up the pen and went back outside to the front yard where all were waiting for instructions.
He announced that he knew what was wrong, “Cover the hole, boys, all is solved.” Our dad and brothers hardly had time to go home and clean up for Christmas Day. In fact, a few relatives, like the Champlins from Napa, arrived as they were leaving. Upon further investigation, the little boy our niece was baby-sitting admitted he had thrown the pen in the toilet.
My husband was sure happy he missed all the digging and excitement. My niece never baby-sat the neighbor’s boy again in their home.
The key thing when disaster strikes is to stay calm, adjust and just think of all the good stories you will have to tell your friends. Then have another spiked eggnog.