Special Occasions Made all the More Special by Problems with the Food

This disaster happened when I was a new husband and did not know anything about cooking. But I decided to try my hand at a somewhat gourmet meal. We invited good friends to join us. First, I served shrimp that I had defrosted. I thought they were rather limp. Little did I know they needed to be cooked first. Everyone said the shrimp just didn't look right, and I said, "Well, they just got defrosted--that's why!" and then I went on to have a bite and was horrified by the soggy, raw, fishy taste. So away went the shrimp.

Then on to the mashed potatoes. I wanted them really smooth so I decided to put them in the blender, only to get a runny liquid potato mess. So away went the potatoes. Then I made Crepes Suzette, but when using the brandy, I didn't know you had to heat it first for it to flame up. So I poured brandy on top of brandy on top of even more brandy and tried to over and over to light it. Needless to say, it would not light. So my new wife and I decided to eat it anyway and got pretty drunk on dessert. After that memorable dinner, I decided to go back to the drawing board.

Years ago, my husband was nice enough to take the time to clean our oven on the day before Thanksgiving. So the next day I was cooking our Thanksgiving turkey. I placed the turkey in the oven to roast for dinner and somehow, it just did not smell right. You should know that I always wrap my turkey in an old piece of well-oiled tea towel. It keeps it moist and makes it beautiful and brown.

After an hour or so, I started to smell burning material. What had happened was that while cleaning the oven, my husband had dislocated the bottom element. The broiler element had tried to get the oven up to the temperature I'd set it at, and was constantly clicking on to broil. Eventually my oiled cloth burnt and caught on fire. I pulled the flaming bird out of the oven and tried to put out the flames. With much screaming, and waving of tea towels and pot holders, I finally got the fire out. It was getting close to guest arrival time, and I began to panic. I rushed next door and asked my neighbor if she could cook my turkey. Thank God she had two ovens.

But that's not the end of the story. Later, I was cooking the gravy on top of the stove and while leaning over the stove, my (very long) hair caught on fire. Now I was feeling very upset and about to resign my place in the kitchen. I did quickly put the hair fire out with a large tea towel. Then my guests arrived with a perfectly cooked golden brown turkey. She said I brought an extra one so we can take some home for leftovers. It looked much better than my charred interrupted turkey that was still next door. I had a glass of wine and relaxed. At that point, I felt that this cook had had her share of disasters for that day.

Well, this is short, though not especially sweet. I was making mulled cider for one of my rare holiday open houses. I had spent hours simmering all the fresh, expensive spices I had bought--cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, allspice, whole cloves--in a stockpot full of equally expensive old-fashioned unfiltered apple cider. The kitchen smelled wonderful and guests were arriving as I finally carried the steaming pot to the sink. There I very carefully poured all that super-fragrant cider through a colander to strain the spices. Consumed by last-minute details and party nerves, I watched with unseeing eyes as the cider went right down the drain, leaving me with a colander full of wet, expensive, and utterly useless spices.

One year, my expatriate neighbors and I decided to have a big Thanksgiving dinner together. My house was selected, and my only condition was that the turkey would have to be roasted and carved at some other house. Thanksgiving arrived, with places set in china, etc. for over 18 people. 13 arrived on time with their dishes--5 others were at home desperately trying to get a huge bird to finish. One hour passed--no turkey, but the 3 boys from the turkey family arrived by themselves. Everyone was starved. We started eating all the side dishes. Still no turkey. Over two hours late, the turkey arrives, done but not carved. The carving had to be done in my small kitchen which was covered with everyone else's food plus a children's table. I think we had a good time, but we never repeated the dinner so I didn't get any payback, and I have never spoken to the turkey cooker since!

Get married, and invite people to dinner soon after the wedding to show off your wedding china.

Listen to your husband when he says that you should have his parents over soon.

Invite your picky mother-in-law (and your father-in-law, of course) to dinner.

Worry for several days over what you should fix.

Run several ideas past your husband. He will tell you that none of them are good.

After several days, it will occur to him to clue you in on a key fact: Fix chicken, because that is all your mother-in-law will eat. (Don't worry about your father-in-law--he'll eat anything.)

Try to fancy up the chicken a little, just to keep it from being boring. Listen to your husband's concerns that his mother won't like it.

Tell your husband to stop talking or to fix dinner himself, then.

Watch your husband roll his eyes and go back to watching TV.

Worry for several days that you have made the wrong decision.

Refuse to admit that you might be wrong, for fear that this will start your new marriage off on the wrong foot.

Continue resolutely as planned, and purchase the ingredients specified in The Episcopal Women's Fundraiser Cookbook for "Party Chicken Casserole."

One hour before your in-laws arrive, assemble one chicken casserole, making certain that it is chock-full of sour cream, chicken, chipped beef (or ham) and other items that quickly grow deadly levels of bacteria when kept warm for several hours.

Bake the casserole as directed in The Episcopal Women's Fundraiser Cookbook.

Feed your picky mother-in-law this casserole, and be surprised when she actually likes it. (Hey, Mikey!) Be unsurprised when your father-in-law asks for a third helping.

Say goodbye to your in-laws, and have a beer to relax from the ordeal. (Do not drink the beer in front of your in-laws, as they are Baptists and, therefore, teetotalers.)

After relaxing for thirty minutes or so, dress up in a poodle skirt for your husband's office's Halloween costume party. Dress your husband up as Elvis.

Enjoy the party. A little too much.

Come home. A lot too late.

As you are going upstairs to bed, note that you have left the oven on all evening.

Note that you have also left the chicken casserole on top of the stove all evening.

Remember that the casserole really was good--and you could use a bite to eat.

Swipe your finger through the sour cream mixture and taste it--then remember that dairy and meat products left out and kept warm for several hours could be dangerous.

Decide against a big, juicy piece of chicken. You don't need the calories anyway.

Go to bed.

Wake up at 5:00 AM feeling like you might throw up.

Tell your new husband that you're sick.

He will say, very sympathetically, "Well, get up then. Don't throw up in the bed! What do you want me to do?"

Go directly to the bathroom. This may take a little while. (Like days.)

Place your head directly above the toilet bowl, so as not to muss the floor.

Thank God that you didn't eat a whole piece of chicken. There's probably an appropriate prayer in the back of The Episcopal Women's Fundrasier Cookbook.

Repeat this process for two days.

On the third day, try some saltines and ginger ale.

Repeat the above process for two more days.

This recipe lasts for years. Every time you invite your in-laws to dinner, they will be ever-so-clever and ask if you're fixing your famous cream-of-disease casserole.

Invite your picky mother-in-law and your oh-so-clever father-in-law to dinner. Purchase all of the ingredients specified by The Episcopal Women's Fundraiser Cookbook for "Party Chicken Casserole". . .

We had invited a couple of friends over for dinner one night. They called sort of last minute and said that a friend of the husband's had just unexpectedly dropped in and they didn't know what to do with him. Wanting to be a gracious hostess, I said, "Bring him with you!" Boy, what a mistake that was. This guy was the most obnoxious guest we've ever had in our home. I had made a lovely dinner, complete with homemade rolls and homemade dessert, and had worked very hard at it. He picked at his food (which everyone else wolfed down, so I know it was just him) and actually complained about the way I'd spiced the main course! When it was time for dessert, he loudly announced to the room, "Ewww, I hate lemon meringue pie" and proceeded to retire to the living room, where he turned on the television loudly while the rest of us finished dessert. I couldn't wait for him to leave--and when he did leave, I was not surprised that he didn't bother saying "Nice to have met you" or "Thanks for dinner." We never saw him again, thank God!

When my daughter Annie was little, she was one of these kids who was into everything. We used to joke that I would assume the "sumo wrestler position," because as soon as she got into one thing and I'd gotten it cleaned up, I'd turn around with shoulders hunched, hands outstretched and legs wide apart, ready to deal with the next mess she'd throw my way.

One night, we were having friends over for supper. I decided to go all-out and make my homemade potato rolls. Everyone loves these, and I took my time making them. The dough had risen, and I'd formed all the little cloverleaf rolls, lovingly crafting each one so that they looked pretty. The oven was preheated and I put the rolls in and headed upstairs to take a shower while they baked. When I got out of the shower, the smoke alarm was buzzing and the kitchen was smoggy. Annie had managed to reach up and turn the temperature gauge on the oven to "broil." Broil the rolls did, and were they a mess.

I don't know why, but my aunts on my father's side always felt my mother was not quite good enough. One day, two of the aunts came for a visit. My mother got the teapot down from a high shelf and brewed a pot of tea. I have no clue as to why she made tea, as everyone usually drinks coffee. She set out her matching cups, sugar and creamer while the tea was brewing. Then poured. A spider came surfing out of the teapot spout right before the eyes of the snooty aunts!



Catherine S. Vodrey is available for freelance writing, editing, fundraising/development, and photography projects at:

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