Carolyn Hax Holiday Hootenanny Guide to: Cooking

December 24, 2013

Every year around this time, we gather for a hallowed tradition –  swapping holiday horror stories. Holiday meals are among the most anticipated of the year: Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas morning brunch and all those desserts. But when a holiday meal goes wrong, it goes wrong in spectacular ways. Take a look at some of these stories we’ve heard over the years about holiday food that didn’t go quite as planned. Maybe your burnt cookies aren’t so bad after all.

“But you’ll eat it and like it.” – Carolyn

FLAMING CAKE:

Every year we fly in to spend Christmas with my husband’s family. A couple of years ago, I was assigned to provide dessert, and I decided to bake a cake. It was a rather heroic effort considering that I had to use my mother-in-law’s kitchen which had absolutely no baking equipment or basic supplies – no flour, no baking powder, no mixing bowls, no measuring cups, no pans, etc. – and I knew my mother-in-law would freak out if I bought too much stuff. But I managed to create a lovely cake under the circumstances. My brother-in-law, who fancies himself a gourmet but is more of a glutton, complained that the cake did not have enough alcohol in it. (Of course it didn’t – it was being served to young children.) I said nothing but plotted my revenge. The following year, I made two cakes – one for the kids, and one that was doused with brandy. I set the liquor-soaked cake in front of my brother-in-law and my husband used a blow torch to, uh, caramelize it. With his beard a little singed, I didn’t hear any more complaints from the brother-in-law. [2010]

OUR 2009 FAMILY HOLIDAY QUOTE:

So there’s my husband, cleaning out the fridge in a bit of a dudgeon; I’m on the computer; visiting daughter, busy with grandson. Husband blurts out something in an urgent tone; I catch “butt” and “turkey” (turkey was thawing in the fridge) and I think ‘Yeah, and — ?’ Daughter wonders, “‘But’ -what about?] ‘the turkey!’” Neither of us takes any action — doing what?

Husband comes stumbling towards me, cradling the turkey in one arm with his other arm resting oddly on top of it. “Hurry! It’s heavy!”
Daughter and I are still bewildered — “hurry” to do what, exactly?

“I’M BUTTONED TO THE TURKEY!”

And then we catch on that the shirt cuff button on the sleeve of that oddly-resting upper arm is caught in the mesh outer bag of the turkey. We almost wet ourselves before we got him free. [2009]

MCLEAN, VA:

The first Christmas after we were married, my husband and I drove 8 hours to Upstate New York to spend Christmas with my in-laws. I baked homemade Christmas cookies the night before, and I brought a tin of them to share with everyone when we arrived. My mother-in-law (MIL) quickly whisked them away to the basement, saying that the rule in their house was no cookies until Christmas Eve.

I was a more than a little offended since I had taken the time to bake them the night before and Christmas Eve was a still a few days away. Who takes something a guest has brought and announces that instead of serving it, you’re putting it in the basement?

I only felt better after dinner that night when my MIL pulled out a stale cake for dessert–my sister-in-law had made it a few days earlier, but MIL didn’t want to serve it until we had arrived. When we went up there for Christmas last year I didn’t bake anything–we brought Bailey’s instead. [2008]

Have some make up pie and don’t look back – Carolyn

HOLIDAY BAKING:

I have always been really into baking. My step-mother used to buy me tons of ingredients and let me go wild. Unbeknownst to me she would then wrap them up and take them and pass them off as hers. This went on for five years until my paternal grandmother was staying with us for Christmas. She quickly caught on, and rather than mentioning it to me she quietly sabotaged a big batch of cranberry orange bread. Well my step-mother took that bread to work and was given a hard time about it. When she got home she started to yell on me, but my grandma stepped in and asked her why she got blamed for the baked good when she hadn’t made them. That shut my step-mom up. I miss my grandma, but that story always makes me smile. [2011]

PIE OH PIE:

Thanksgiving this year: due to branches of the family not speaking to other branches, organizing who would bring what got complicated and we ended up with 5 full-size pies (for 10 adults and 2 kids) and no vegetables. The great thing was, there was a pie within reach of every place setting so no one had to ask anyone they were feuding with to pass it. [2011]

When planning a holiday meal with the family, be sure to serve a projectile course – Carolyn

POTATO CHUCKING:

My grandmother was a most proper lady who said everything with perfect diction, always sat and stood with perfect posture, and never had anything even remotely resembling a rude or untoward thought or moment – in short, the polar opposite of my grandfather, who was a rough-hewn Long Island policeman who smoked, slouched, and cursed as he pleased, though never in front of Grandma, who hated it.

The table at which we sat was long enough for almost 20 of us, and the bowl of baked potatoes was at the head opposite my grandfather, next to my grandmother. He decided he wanted one, and asked my grandmother to pass him a potato, please. She didn’t hear him, and carried on her conversation as if nothing had happened (she was also known for being a chatterbox, again, opposite of taciturn Grandpa).

This repeated itself several times, and eventually a couple of us grandkids caught on to it and sat back to see what would happen. My grandfather got so irked by his lack of potato that he banged his fist on the table and bellowed, quite loud and clear, “Rita, would you pass me a god-d*** potato?!”

Without missing a beat of her conversation – or even looking away – my grandmother picked up a potato and heaved it at him, narrowly missing several of us in the process (not to mention nearly smacking him right in the nose). The entire table froze in expectant silence – what would happen next? Grandma dabbed at her mouth with the corner of her napkin, cleared her throat, and very quietly and gravely said, “There is your god-d***ed potato, Robert.” I’ve never loved her more than I did in that moment. [2011]

F’ING TOE CHEESE:

One Christmas many years ago Aunt #1 was trying to feed my very young cousin some carrots at the dinner table. Aunt #2 (who was only about 22 at the time) started nagging Aunt #1 about something…pass the mashed potatoes or the baby doesn’t like carrots…no one really remembers. My cousin picked the height of the nagging to dump her mashed up carrots directly into Aunt #1′s shoe. Aunt #1 couldn’t take it anymore when Aunt #2 started laughing. She scooped the carrots from her shoe and flung them across the table at Aunt #2 while yelling something about “F’ing toe cheese”. To this day I joke that food is less likely to be thrown at the “kid’s table” so that’s where the kids (who are now in their 20s and 30s) still sit. [2011]

Happy holidays, and happy cooking!

 

Jessica Stahl is a producer on The Post's audience engagement team.
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