When I was a child, Christmas was my favorite holiday. It remained so until we started having Christmas dinner at our house. Don't get me wrong. I love hosting the family at Christmastime -- last year we had a sit down dinner for 27 relatives -- but I don't love the fact that they expect to eat the kind of dinner that Mom always fixed: turkey, ham, four kinds of potatoes, two types of stuffing, six vegetables, breads, three different pies, even (shudder) lumpless gravy!
I am not the cook my mother was. Heck, I'm not the cook my dad was! Dad had two specialties: rabbit succotash and parched corn. Late one night he got hungry for the latter and retrieved some pretty colored corn from the back porch which he parched and ate. Belatedly, he went to the bedroom and awakened Mom to ask, "That pinkish corn on the back porch IS Indian corn, isn't it?"
"No," answered Mom sleepily, "that's treated corn for the garden." Thanks to the spoon Dad gagged himself with, he wasn't a victim of the poisoned seed, but that experience killed his taste for parched corn.
Getting the turkey ready to cook is the most difficult thing about Christmas dinner. In the good old days, the cook would just plop the turkey in water for six hours to thaw. But now we can't do that or we'll get food poisoning. Our grandparents' generation must have been a lot tougher than we are because I've never heard of them getting ptomaine from their Christmas dinner.
The first turkey I bought had so much ice on the label that I misread the directions for thawing. After three hours in the refrigerator, the turkey was still frozen solid as a rock, but the ice had melted so I immediately saw my error. Those Butterball people expected me to thaw it in the refrigerator for three DAYS ... as if someone who buys her turkey the night before Christmas could actually DO that.
So I nuked it. However, if you try my method of quick-thawing a frozen bird, I suggest you remove the metal wire that holds the turkey's legs together at the ankle. The word "arcing" which the microwave manual mentions so benignly is not benign at all. It's FIRE!
Also, do not stuff the turkey with uncooked popcorn. I learned too late that the clown who told me to do that was joking. In fact, don't stuff it with anything. It's easier to buy your stuffing in a box and cook it in the microwave for five minutes. The first (and last) time I made stuffing from scratch, I discovered I was supposed to use dry bread. Because I had purchased three loaves of bread when I bought the turkey -- the night before Christmas -- the bread was fresh and moist. So I toasted it. It takes a long time to toast that much bread, but it does give your stuffing a distinctive taste. (Serve a little jelly on the side.)
Important! If you plan to bake sweet potatoes, you need to punch holes in them with a fork before you place them in the oven. This is something I learned only recently when we invited our mothers to dinner. Just as Ray escorted our moms into our kitchen filled with the gourmet smells of meatloaf and sweet potatoes, I opened the oven door ... and a humongous sweet potato exploded! It scattered orange remnants of its innards from floor to ceiling. My mother-in-law was in awe. "I've never seen a sweet potato do that!" Periodically, she reports to me on a survey she's been taking since the Great Sweet Potato Explosion. So far, I am the only person in the Western Hemisphere who has managed to detonate a sweet potato.
A menu item that doesn't give me a problem is the relish tray. I've had lots of practice because when Ray and I are invited to carry-in dinners, that's what the hostesses suggest I bring. Pie isn't any trouble either. We serve pumpkin, mince, cherry, pecan. It's as easy as pie, too, because I figure if God wanted me to actually bake pies myself, he wouldn't have created Mrs. Smith.
I guess that Christmas -- even when dinner is at our home -- is still my favorite holiday. It doesn't matter what you eat, it's who you eat it with. So, whatever you're having for Christmas dinner, I hope you're eating it with someone you love. Merry Christmas!
-- Marsha Henry Goff is a free-lance writer in Lawrence. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.