Thanksgiving is behind us and ahead "looms" Christmas. Sounds rather ominous, doesn't it? If you are responsible for preparing a holiday meal, especially if it is your first attempt, the thought of "messing it up" can be daunting. Below is a story I shared November 13, 2007 on my recently retired blog One Generation to Another. I thought now was an appropriate time to share it in case you just came through a Thanksgiving dinner fraught with mishaps or if you're nervous about the prospect of entertaining over the next few weeks. Hope you enjoy!
Without pondering it, quickly think of 3 memorable days in your life. Chances are you’ll list the day you graduated from high school or college, got married, had your first child, got your first substantial promotion or some other equally pleasant, but innately ordinary event. Life is full of satisfying experiences, thank goodness, but they are seldom the type of stories that enthrall an audience and have them leaning forward in their seats, anxiously awaiting the outcome. When hearing these stories we politely listen, give well timed agreeable nods, and secretly prepare grocery lists or review tomorrow’s agenda. Thank God we are programmed with the ability to multitask! (Hmmm, okay, not all of us are proficient multitaskers, but at least most of us can go to our happy place and resurface at the finale of a mind-numbing story!) Let’s face it…it’s the goofs, the blunders, the mishaps, the screw-ups, the mix-ups, the gaffes, the errors, and the mistakes that make for the best stories and most repeatable tales.
Case in point…Like most women, before getting married I went out on my fair share of dates. Most of them were nice, some of them were boring, BUT, it’s the awful dates that I’ve recounted over the years. Take my date with the Congressional Page, aka, persistent frat boy determined to woo me. We were having a run-of-the-mill date at a lovely restaurant, followed by drinks at a bar frequented by state politicians. He was in the middle of laying out his 15 year plan to become a state senator. I was thinking about the guy in my Anthro class that started growing a beard. Slightly catatonic I took a drink of my Bloody Mary. (FYI…if you decide not to utilize the straws inserted in your libation, remove then before guzzling your drink, if not, you’re apt to wind up with a straw up your nose.) Yep, when I set my drink down, one of the straws remained in my nose. True story! Now, here’s an etiquette question that Emily Post was probably never asked…what do you do with a straw that you’ve removed from your nose? Do you put it back in your drink? Perhaps drop it on the floor? Call the waitress over and ask her to clear the table? As it was, I nonchalantly laid it on the table between us, and neither one of us mentioned the incident. Periodically, I’d notice him looking down at the straw. I think he was assessing my ability to function as a state senator’s wife. Well, I didn’t marry the boy, but he didn’t become a state senator either! Humiliated myself, maybe, but came away with a great story! (BTW…he did ask me out again…go figure!) (And BTW…I didn’t go out with him again…guess the incident was just too mortifying…or more to the point, he was monumentally boring!)
Then there was the time I was putting on a lovely Christmas dinner for a group of friends. The atmosphere was enchanting! The lights were off and the table was totally illuminated by a myriad of candles. Soft instrumental Christmas music played in the background. The conversation was peppered with laughter and good cheer. And, in all due modesty…(right!)…the food was superb! Halfway through dinner I reached across the table to pass a condiment. As I went to sit down a unified gasp arouse from my dining companions. “Oh my God, Kim. Your sleeve’s on fire!” Sure enough, when reaching across the table, I also reached across a candle that decided to test my sweater’s flammability tolerance. It failed! (Note to self: Next time I’m around open flames wear kids’ pajamas!) Well, without much effort I was able to extinguish the flames. Actually, all it really did was quite efficiently remove those nasty sweater boogers that collect on the surface of knits, although I can’t suggest this method as the preferred technique for defuzzing a sweater! But to the point…I can almost guarantee you that no one remembers what I made for dinner that night, but EVERYONE at dinner remembers the Sweater Flambe, and I often get good naturally teased about it.
About now you may well be asking yourself, “Uh, is there a point to this story?” And the answer is indubitably YES! Life is about taking chances and not all of them will turn out the way you planned. Your path will be littered with mishaps, but in the long run, it doesn’t matter as long as you get a good story out of it! Heck, most of the history books are filled with “Oops!” So, don’t be afraid to try new things, and when faced with embarrassing or seemingly unbearable situations (like the day I started a new job working in the stock room of a dress shop, slipped, fell backwards into an open box, and wound up with my skirt around my waist as my fellow employees tried to pull me out or the time I roomed with a woman who actually believed she was the reincarnation of Mary Magdalene, prior to meeting Jesus) remember that it is the goofs and blunders, trials and tribulation, that with time, and an occasional sprinkling of embellishments, become great stories to remember and share!
FYI…just in case you’re wondering…for dinner that night I served my mother’s recipe for Beef Bourguignonne. It is a little labor intense but well worth the effort when you want to make a lasting impression on dinner guests…maybe not as lasting as igniting yourself, but it will certainly delight and impress your company!
My mom stumbled upon this recipe many years ago and used it for “special occasions”. I’ve yet to see her make it without someone asking her for the recipe!
4 tablespoons butter
4 pounds round or chuck, cut in 2-inch cubes
1/4 cup Cognac
1 cup chopped onion (1 large)
2 cloves of garlic, mashed
1 teaspoon salt
1 bottle Burgundy
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 can (10-1/2 oz) condensed beef broth
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon leaf thyme
2 sprigs parsley
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
24 small white pearl onions, peeled
4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons soft butter or margarine
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Brown beef well on all sides in 4 tablespoons butter. Add only enough beef to kettle to cover bottom or beef might stew and not brown.
Remove browned pieces before adding more beef. When beef is browned, pour off any fat. Return beef to kettle. Heat Cognac in small saucepan; ignite carefully; pour over beef. When flames have died, add onion, garlic, salt, pepper, bay leaves, parsley, thyme, wine, tomato paste and 1/2 cup of beef broth.
Bring to boiling; lower heat; cover and simmer 2 to 2-1/2 hours or until beef is tender.
Heat 3 tablespoons butter or margarine in skillet; saute mushrooms quickly until just tender; remove; reserve. Add small white pearl onions to fat remaining in skillet; brown well. Add remaining beef broth; bring to boil, cover, lower heat; simmer about 10 minutes or until onions are tender. Blend flour and 4 tablespoons butter or margarine to form smooth paste. (This is the thickening for the bourguignonne, called beurre manie.)
Add beurre manie bit by bit to hot liquid until it has reached desired thickness. Stir in lemon rind. Return beef to kettle; add onions and mushrooms. Heat until bubbly; sprinkle with parsley. Serve with small boiled potatoes, buttered noodles or rice.
(May be oven cooked in large, covered casserole. Cook at 350 degrees for 2 to 2-1/2 hours or until tender. Remove from oven; thicken liquid over direct heat.)
So, if you're responsible for a major Holiday celebration, relax and enjoy it! What's the worse that can happen? Even if EVERYTHING goes wrong, people will still walk away with an entertaining story to share for years to come. In the long run, that probably has more value than a perfect meal!