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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Holiday Disasters

November 20, 2006

Holiday Disasters

During the holidays we reflect on the kindnesses that have been shown to us over the years. We give. We receive. And we remember.

Memories are clearer around this time of year. We remember the Christmas we received our first bicycle and a few others when we received milestone presents. We remember bits and pieces of various Thanksgiving dinners through the years, but what we remember most are the holiday disasters. It’s the bonehead mistakes that we all make that create the most lasting holiday memories.

My grandmother prepared dozens of flawless Thanksgiving dinners, yet the Thanksgiving meal that is Gorilla glued to the forefront of my brain is the first Thanksgiving my newlywed wife cooked a turkey to the point of carbon dust with the giblets, liver, and neck still inside the turkey. The resulting odor remained in the house until after Christmas.

Of course, this is the same woman who, after being told she must “season” her new cast iron skillet, asked, “Do I use salt and pepper?”

The holidays are rife with opportunities for cooking disasters. Anytime someone gives a turkey a cornbread enema, calamity is always waiting around the corner.

My favorite three questions asked of help-desk operators who answer the Butterball Hotline are (these are actual questions):

1. “How do you prepare a turkey for people who don’t eat meat?”

2. “The doorbell is ringing, everybody’s here, but the turkey is still frozen solid. Can I serve it anyway?”

3. “I lost a bet on a football game and now I have to fix Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people. How does a guy do that?”

I would have loved to been a fly on the wall at each of those Thanksgiving dinners— the stories we could tell.

I once spent a Thanksgiving in the apartment of my recently divorced father-in-law in which he decided to prepare what is now legendarily referred to as Rick’s Mexican Thanksgiving Dinner. Not caring that the citizens of Mexico have no use for Thanksgiving— and being a newcomer to the culinary arts— he dumped a can of every product that Old El Paso sells into a casserole dish and baked it for a couple of hours, dubbing it “Chili-Enchilada Surprise.” It was not enchilada-like but it was very surprising. Later we learned that it was a dish he had invented while being cooped up in a small, cramped sailboat for months— not the usual prerequisite for adding a Thanksgiving entrée to the repertoire.

My brother-in-law once prepared an oyster dressing that looked more like lime Jell-O than a savory side dish. While getting ready for a Christmas party, my brother’s wife touched the tip of her tongue to an iron to see if it was hot enough to press her dress. It was.

I get some of my best material during the holidays. Last week my daughter did something that we all thought was funny. She even thought it was funny, yet before we could finish laughing she said, “Daddy, you’re not going to write about that are you?” I told her that I wouldn’t, but I’m hoping that the statute of limitations will run out by next Thanksgiving.

Actually I might have a personal holiday disaster in the making. At a recent book signing a woman told me about a cranberry recipe she serves at Thanksgiving: A bag of cranberries cooked down with one box of Red Hot candies. I’m going to give it a shot. I figure it’s a win-win. If it works I’ve got a new recipe to add to the file. If not, I’ll have a story to tell for years to come.

Jill’s Holiday Cranberry Sauce

This time-proven Thanksgiving staple will be used as a standby cranberry dish to be served alongside the aforementioned Red Hot Cranberry experiment

12 oz. bag Fresh Cranberries
1 cup Port Wine
1 /2 cup White sugar
1 /2 cup Brown Sugar
1 /2 cup Orange Juice
2 tsp Cornstarch
2 Tbl Cold Water

Combine cranberries, port, sugars and orange juice in a sauté pan and simmer over medium heat for 20-30 minutes or until the cranberries become soft. Separately, mix the cornstarch with the cold water then add it to the cranberry mixture. Turn up heat to a heavy simmer and continue to cook, stirring well, for another 5-10 minutes. Serve warm.

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