We were blessed to be home for the holiday, which meant not one, but two awesome, delicious, and thoughtful meals prepared by people who love us dearly and really are happy to see us (most of the time). By seven o’clock in the evening, I was doing my Jabba the Hutt impersonation to perfection. I have seriously never seen so much food – all of it incredible – in one place at one time.
Because I was home, Mom asked me to bring something to contribute to the meal. At first she entrusted me with the holy grail of side dishes, broccoli, rice and cheese casserole, but she decided against it because she can’t give anyone the recipe. Not because she’s guarding it or anything, but because she has no idea what she puts in it. This would be unsettling to anyone who doesn’t have the benefit of a Southern cook for a Momma, but it’s completely normal in our family. My mom can’t tell you how she makes about half of what she makes, and the thought occurs to me that half of the dishes we long for all year will die with her unless one of us video-tapes her cooking a meal.
This year my Mom’s sister, the beloved and cherished Aunt Nanci, was with us because she and her husband (the extra-cool Uncle Freddy) moved from the wilds of South Georgia up to the tundra of Ohio to live close to us. A change in venue for Uncle Fred’s job made it necessary for them to leave their lifetime home to come all the way up here to live for a while. My Mom is over the moon to have her little sister here, and I’m super happy they’re here, but it became apparent at the Thanksgiving dinner that I’m going to have to step up my game with Aunt Nanci participating in the potluck.
Having two Southern cooks in the kitchen for Thanksgiving is heaven. It’s heaven in a cast iron skillet, with bacon grease and gravy drenching every surface of every meat product you can imagine. I’m not a bad cook, I can hold my own with some fried chicken, but being around my Mom and my Aunt reminded me that I was raised to a pretty high cooking standard, one that was passed down to our daughter, who happens to be a pretty good little cook herself. It reminded me that I need to try a little harder sometimes. Just showing up with my sparkling personality isn’t always enough.
We showed up five minutes late, which isn’t unusual because when it comes to an event at my mother’s house, we absolutely can not make it on time. I have no idea what the problem is, it’s like time warps on the ride over and we’re suddenly late. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it, but just for the record, I’m usually ready and waiting at the door for one or both of the Georges to get all their Cheerios in a sack and get out the damn door. Never mind.
We showed up late and every square inch of counter space was walled off with steaming dishes of exquisite-smelling food.
“Hey Mom! Where should I sit this?”
“Well hey honey! What did you bring?”
“Fruit salsa and cinnamon chips.”
“Oh. Well. Isn’t that pretty? Put it over there by the sink, honey. What’s fruit salsa?”
“It’s a bunch of berries and stuff, chopped up really tiny, so the juice all melds together and makes a salsa, like the tomato kind, but with fruit.”
“Oh I made that once, un hunh, just put it by the sink over there. It’s so pretty, honey.”
This is where I realize fruit salsa was not in the awesome category of things to make for Thanksgiving dinner. Putting something over by the sink is relinquishing it to the dirty dish area, the last place anyone ever looks for food in the whole kitchen. The only people eating over by the dirty dishes are the vultures of family dinners, the ones who never make their own plate, just pick off the main dishes and other people’s plates. Vultures don’t eat fruit salsa, they eat turkey skin and shit like that. And my Mom is way too nice and civilized to criticize me, she really did think it was pretty.
“Your Aunt Nanci made a pork loin. And whipped sweet potatoes with brown sugar pecan topping.”
(FYI – pecan is pronounced pee-can. Don’t argue, we’re civilized people, it’s pee-can.)
“Wow, that’s awesome!”
It really was awesome, the pork addition to the turkey tryptophan mix is genius beyond belief. And I cannot explain to you the creaminess of the sweet potatoes underneath the brick of sugary, nutty topping. She also made two cheese balls and corn pudding, but it went unannounced.
“Marcie made ham and cheese pinwheels and Oreo cookie balls.”
Thank goodness my child redeemed me by bringing food that required more preparation than squeezing a bunch of berries through an egg chopper.
“I didn’t do as much as I usually do. I made turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy. And some green bean casserole. And four loaves of bread and the broccoli rice and cheese.”
“God, you’re such a slacker.”
“Well, I made some pecan pie, too.”
“You’ve been redeemed. It’s beautiful, Mom, Thank you.”
So the bar has been set for Christmas. I know where I stand now. Fruit salsa is fine for a tupperware party, but family dinner requires thought and effort. I get it. Challenge accepted, ladies.