My parents, in their mid 60s (only 20 years older than me), are heading towards retirement. Not bingo night and senior bus tours yet, but discussing the possibility of moving somewhere warmer someday, as mom continues to work part-time, and dad takes frequent time off work for various fun trips.
So they're now able to visit us more.
Last month they stayed with us for five days or so, with plans to return at Thanksgiving.
"What day are you coming?" I asked my mom.
"Saturday," she said.
"But Thanksgiving is on Thursday," I replied.
"I know. If you've invited a big group, then we're got to get a jump on cooking," she said.
That stumped me, even coming from my mother.
"I am not going to start cooking five days in advance," I assured her as my brain did the math on that plan. "Also, Shawn will be working and the boys will be in school until Wednesday, and I was planning to drive to West Yellowstone to visit a friend on Monday."
"Well. OK," she said. "We can come Monday night, but my gravy needs to cook for three days."
God love my mother and her special gravy. It really does take three days to cook and involves boiling the shit out of a giant cauldron of turkey wings. It fills the house and even the driveway with a heavenly smell, as the gas burner keeps chugging like the Little Engine that Could. The first night it boiled I woke around 2 a.m., envisioning the house burning down due to gallons of unfinished turkey gravy. So I tiptoed to the kitchen and turned the burner down to a less assertive bubble; this somehow making me feel safer.
On Tuesday, my apparently tech-savvy mom presented me with her thumb drive. "This," she said. "Has hundreds of Thanksgiving recipes I've collected."
She had me install our printer at the kitchen table next to her laptop, setting up a mobile Thanksgiving dinner headquarters -- not to be confused with Hell's Kitchen. She began calling out: Here's a stuffing recipe with roasted red peppers! (Aren't those for salads? I said) Here's one with chestnuts! (You'll never find chestnuts in Montana, I said.) Or how about stuffing with sausage! (I wrinkled my nose at her, Yuck.) I know, we could make TWO different kinds of stuffing!
"How about plain stuffing with celery and onions?" I said. "It's just Shawn's mom and dad and sister's family. They don't expect anything fancy."
Harrumph, she responded, dismissing that last bit.
Forget Not Fancy.
Her answer was to be expected, but it still seemed worth an attempt to corral her vision a bit, since I would be required to cook alongside Julia.
She had already made her Drunken Cranberries -- some sort of amazing concoction that involved steeping cranberries in Amaretto and who knows what other elixir that makes them the crack of the cranberry recipe world.
She would soon move onto her green bean casserole. None of this canned green beans with Cream of Mushroom soup and fried Durkee onions on top. My mother's casserole involved crafting a creamy roux with shitake mushrooms and dry Sherry, topped with organic sweet potato chips.
For myself, I agreed to make the mashed potatoes and broccoli salad, and anything else she wanted me to make.
"What are you planning to put in the mashed potatoes?" she quizzed. "Are you sure you bought enough potatoes? I've got a great Marcus Samuelson recipe here for mashers with red onions and horseradish. Also, what do you think of making a fruit salad with mint syrup as a palate cleanser?"
In the end, we put on quite a feast, and I will concede this: Cooking over several days meant that Thanksgiving day and serving a meal for 15 was unusually relaxing, despite the fact that between my boys and my sister-in-law's, we had six boys, each two years apart -- 9, 11, 13, 15, 17 and 19 -- running around the house.
By the time our feast was done and the delicious pies (brought by my mother- and sis-in-law) were consumed, my 13-year-old nephew plopped down next to me and sighed.
"I've already farted like 20 times," he said.
I coughed. "I thought I just walked through a stink cloud."
Then I passed a sly one too, in solidarity and completion.
Thanks for all you did.
Thanks for always nudging me to up my game.
END NOTE: Regarding my previous post....I got the job! More on that bit of good news soon.