|My infamous Christmas Coffee Mug which got a lot of use yesterday.|
I hope everyone had a safe and fulfilling Christmas. I know I did, at least the safe and 'filling' part. I actually had to work Christmas and part of that work was cooking Christmas dinner for ten. This then will be partly a cooking column and partly a column about Christmas with Pope Francis' 'sheep', but first a little background. I manage an eight bed facillity for severely disabled mentally ill adults. In theory it's supposed to be a transitional facility in that clients stabilize and then move out back on their own. In practice we've begun to accept clients for whom the State Hospital or crisis facilities can't find any other placement. Which means we have a very diverse group of people representing African Americans, Native Americans, young adults, an 82 year old, three Developmentally Disabled mentally ill, two who are brain injured and two who might actually transition to independent living. What most of them have in common is that they have little or no family connections. Holidays can be really trying for clients and staff. Only one of the eight actually spent any time over the holidays with family. So staff walk a fine line between creating a holiday atmosphere and not triggering a lot of depression about not being an actual family with actual Holiday traditions.
I get to work at 7:30 in the morning and am met at the door by a sweet heart of woman who greets me with a hug and forces me to get to the Christmas tree and watch her open her gifts. One of which came from my daughter who knew this woman as a neighbor before JW was overcome by the vicissitudes of living life in an adult world not designed for a Black American orphan with a less than average IQ. She's laughing her heart out because I'm drinking coffee from my Christmas mug. It's completely black and reads "Bah Humbug". "You, so funny", she says and gives me another hug and a hug for my daughter and then takes her loot to her room from whence it will never be found.
Most of the rest trickle in for meds and breakfast and exchange some gifts at their leisure. One of them got the movie Fast and Furious 6 which we had to watch right then. Lots of talk about death on Christmas and lots of comments from me about how Vin Diesel really can't hit the broadside of a barn with a shotgun. By the time the movie is over I decide it's time to get going on the turkey.
First off I discover we have no stuffing mix which will force me to make stuffing from scratch. I assign one client to toast an entire industrial size loaf of bread and another to saute the celery and onions until they are clear. "How much margarine should I use?", he asks. I give him very explicit directions, "A whole bunch". He puts in the correct amount of margarine, pours a cup of coffee and wanders to his room completely forgetting he's supposed to be sauteing the onions and celery 'until clear'. In the meantime I am trying to thaw out some sausage patties to add to the dressing and finally just cut them up frozen, add them to the vegetables, and saute the whole thing until vegetables are clear and sausage thawed. I wound up seasoning with garlic salt and Italian seasoning because I discover we had no other traditional spices. Spices like sage. The Italian seasoning did have some sage. I used a whole bunch. Thank God my other helper had stayed on task and the bread was toasted to a fine crispness. We got the dressing done and the turkey stuffed. By now there are at least six clients in the kitchen including our 82 year old and all loitering in my work space.
One of them had watched a cooking show in which the TV chef stated the key to cooking a turkey is to bake it with breast down. I am appalled at this suggestion. How totally untraditional. Secretly I'm thinking about why that might actually work and while I'm voicing my concerns about destroying generations of turkey cooking tradition have decided I will let them think they have a say in this meal and suddenly flip the turkey over on it's breast. Our 82 year old gasps. "NO NO NO NO, that's not how you cook a turkey!!!!" I have a flashback to my own mother, she too would have been appalled. My co staff is skeptical. "You do know", he says, "that the breast will be cross hatched from the drip rack and be ugly." "You do know", I respond, "that no one is going to notice that after the turkey is sliced." "Good point. I sure hope this works."
"It did on TV", says the client who brought this up in the first place. To which another client responds, "and on TV Vin Deisel can't hit the broadside of a barn with a shotgun." Everyone cracks up, except the 82 year old who stomps off to her room with many mutterings about how I'm insisting on ruining Christmas dinner. She is so sure about this she returns to the kitchen three hours later and makes herself a huge breakfast of eggs and bacon.
About the time that grandma is cooking herself a breakfast for a lumber jack, we pull the turkey to do a little basting. Except there aren't enough drippings with which to baste. "Why isn't there any drippings?" gasps my co staff. "I TOLD YOU YOU WOULD RUIN DINNER" snaps grandma. I ignore her. "Maybe because they are all in the breast meat and they will magically appear when we flip the turkey and brown the ugly cross hatched breast side for the last forty minutes." I tell him, but in truth I did not anticipate this phenomenon.
We flip the turkey and crank up the temp. I begin to pray very seriously. Grandma finishes her breakfast and stomps back off to her room.
I loudly suggest people quit loitering in my kitchen and go watch Vin Deisel again. Nobody pays the least bit of attention. That happens a lot and besides it's not my kitchen. We begin to make deviled eggs and discover we have no relish, only really big full sized dill pickles and an onion. We add a ton of Miracle Whip, a little mustard and call it good---and they were. In the meantime three clients decide they want a summer sausage and cheese plate, which we all make and they finish off in five minutes and I wonder if anyone is even going to be hungry enough to eat my potentially butchered Christmas dinner.
Finally the turkey is done and my patience with it. We pull it out and by the Grace of God, the drippings are right where the should be. We will have gravy. I start slicing and the breast meat just flows off like butter, the dark meat too inviting not to try. So we all did. It was to die for. Seriously. It was hands down the best turkey I have ever made, and I have made a lot. Of course I got no credit for it, the TV chef and the client who watched the show got all the credit.....which I suppose is only fair. All I did was to agree to break a generations long tradition and evolve as cooker of turkeys. It's how this whole faith journey sometimes works. Sometimes the gifts come when one is open enough to listening to even the most seemingly heretical of ideas. Like baking a turkey breast side down.
Fantastic piece of writing. I can smell the gravy!ReplyDelete
"I manage an eight bed facillity for severely disabled mentally ill adults." Is RDP46 one of them?ReplyDelete
You wish huh? Let's just say I would never hire you.ReplyDelete
It was the dressing, the turkey, and the gravy that was unbelievably good. When you do a turkey this way the spices in the dressing go back and forth from back to breast to back again along with the drippings from the gravy. It was all gooood.ReplyDelete
But Colleen! It's Christmas!!ReplyDelete
And I'm sure RDP46 will take my ribbing in the good-natured, friendly spirit in which it was intended. He's just that kinda guy!ReplyDelete
Thank you so much for giving the gift of laughter to me in this writing. Also, for the gift to your clients and giving them a wonderful Christmas dinner.ReplyDelete
Wishing you all the joys of the seasonings!
A dinner fit for a heretic. Merry Christmas!ReplyDelete
That's the problem with com boxes. It's sometimes hard to tell when people are joking. I wish Disqus would add emoticons.ReplyDelete
It was too. Best heresy I ever ate. Merry Christmas to you too.ReplyDelete
agreed! Maybe I should've added a ;)ReplyDelete
I'll tell you what. Do you like chocolate cream pie? I make the best one in the whole world! If you would like, I would be happy to post the recipe for all to have.ReplyDelete
That would be swell. But remember, chocolate is a major tempter from the dark side, which is why I prefer white chocolate. :)ReplyDelete
If I actually do this at the house, it will serve one. Me.ReplyDelete
You are too kind, so I know you will be at war with yourself... Share, or eat the whole thing? I look forward to finding out.ReplyDelete
Of all the pies to mention, a chocolate cream pie! My sister-in-law had the best one for our dessert on Christmas! She's never served it before either. She would usually make a lemon meringue pie or cheese cake or pumpkin pie. She did not have time to make dessert this year. A grocery store's in-house bakery made it. It was "sinfully delicious", as my father used to say when he really enjoyed a certain dessert. Thanks for sharing the recipe!ReplyDelete
So my daughter didn't come for Christmas and I'm reading her this recipe from Smartuckus and she says: "No don't do it at your job. We'll do it at home when I come for Easter. You've never baked a pie and I do it all the time. It will be servings for two."ReplyDelete
I'm like, I think not. I will bake my first pie at home, alone. Smartuckus gave me everything I need to know and you think I won't know enough to do it right. Haha, Pie dough screw ups are cheap, turkey screw ups are not.
Well I am happy to share! Of course the suspense is gonna kill me; I'm dying for one of you to make it and tell me how it turns out for you!ReplyDelete
I don't make pies. Sorry. My husband makes apple pies. I'll copy and paste the recipe for him. :-)ReplyDelete
Loved it.Happy Christmas and I praise your caring workReplyDelete
I have pie-crust making phobia trauma syndrome from a prior negative experience trying to make a pie crust for the first time. I was royally embarrassed that I failed at making what was a recipe officially called "No-Fail pie crust." Well, despite the fact that I spent soooo much time and diligently followed the instructions & used up a lot of dough & made a complete mess in the kitchen, I failed at making an edible pie crust. :-( One has to know how to use that rolling pin & I sure as heck did not & for the life of me could not keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin. Some people are naturals at making pie crust. I sure ain't one of them. :-)ReplyDelete
Good luck with making that pie, Colleen. I'm going to look up where the closest bakery is around here!!
It's a great kind of pie to have at Easter. Let us know how it turns out. Maybe I'll give the old rolling pin a spin again one day, perhaps, maybe, probably not. :)
Just don't forget the sugar this time, Smartikus!ReplyDelete
Colleen, I second Jayden: this is a fantastic piece of writing. I like the final several sentences, which kind of sneak up on you in the way a very good parable does, as well, making the point with a surprising twist you don't see coming, and won't soon forget.ReplyDelete
Sounds like you broke bread with the poorest amongst us. This is the true communion we all need! Thanks Colleen. It was a wonderful story and well told. dennisReplyDelete
So we are going to do this again today. That's how good everyone thought the Christmas one was. Typical for us though, we forgot to take the turkey out to thaw until yesterday afternoon. One of the clients decided this was too important to not do so he suggested we float the turkey in hot water in the laundry room tub sink. It worked.ReplyDelete
In the meantime the dishwasher went tits up and that isn't going to get fixed until Friday. I pointed out we would have to do a lot of dishes by hand if we did the turkey thing today, but was told that wouldn't be a problem and they all proved it by hand washing everything in five minutes from last night's dinner.
I have to admit Bill that when writing this column I kept thinking about your cooking posts and knew I couldn't begin to compete. We never have half of what we need for any recipe so I didn't think there was much point in getting overly detailed. It's really typical to have to invent new ways of doing things. I got a call Christmas from the other house from a young twenty something staff member panicked because they didn't have any milk for the mashed potatoes. I told her to water down some sour cream and use that in place of the milk. She called back and said they were the best ever mashed potatoes. Another heresy worked and I'll probably use that heresy today as well.
Thank you and a Happy New Year to you.ReplyDelete
Thanks Dennis. I didn't tell the whole story though. I was called back in later that night because 'grandma' was not doing well at all. She broke down in tears in the arms of Co staff and cried her heart out for a good twenty minutes. Grandma has been disowned by her entire family including her children and has never seen her grandchildren. Co staff did a great job so I was more or less supporting him rather than grandma who was sound asleep by the time I got there. Really, if we staff were allowed to vote on Holidays, we wouldn't have them.ReplyDelete
I love these food heresy pieces by you, Colleen. Never having half of what we need can be such a stimulus for innovation and creativity. And you tell the story so well! Wish I were there to enjoy the meal with all of you (and help wash dishes). We're cooking our traditional Southern new year's good-luck meal right now--black-eyed peas. We'll cook the pork part of it closer to our meal (pork chops, maybe barbecued, I'm thinking). Steve also saved the greens from a bunch of beets he cooked a day or so ago, and I've cooked those with turnips for the greens part of the good-luck formula. Wish you were here to eat with us!ReplyDelete
I wish I was eating with you guys too. Our food budget is really tight. We live off commodity foods. We usually have three choices for vegetables: canned green beans, canned corn, canned peas. We would not be having all this turkey if we hadn't gotten turkeys in the last commodity shipment.ReplyDelete
Commodity shipments are a crap shoot. One time we got 8 cases of dried plums. What do you do with that? The next two shipments included boneless lamb roasts and I about died from glee.
I've heard that same thing from many people relying on commodities over the years, Colleen--that it's a crap shoot as to what you'll get. When we were living in New Orleans in the late 1980s and early 1990s, many of our neighbors in our almost totally black neighborhood relied on government food assistance, and they would point out that one week, you'd get huge allotments of cheese, but little else, and then another week, it might be beans. I suppose with the prunes, you could have made a lamb curry the following week and added prunes to it!ReplyDelete