Holiday Dinners

Holiday dinners at my house have certainly changed throughout the course of my life. When I was a youngster, holiday meals were true extravaganzas. Three generations of family sat down at the same table, which itself was overburdened and groaning under the weight of a huge turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, a variety of salads, candied sweets, stuffed dates and olives, and several cranberry dishes, just to name a few items on that table. We stuffed ourselves until we could barely move, and then the pumpkin and mincemeat pies made their appearances. Needless to say, holiday dinners left us in food comas for hours.

It isn’t like that any longer. Through the years, holiday gatherings have become less and less lavish and less and less populated. At this point in my life, simple meals work well, don’t crash the pocketbook, and allow us to feel quite satisfied but not stuffed to bursting. For the most part, simpler meals mean less planning, less preparation, and less stress.

We now try to share holiday dinners with the neighbors when possible, and this year they were fortunate enough to escape Nevada and come to their mountain home for Thanksgiving. I told the neighbor lady before she got here that I already had a fully cooked, smoked turkey breast that we would share with them prior to Thanksgiving, and that my husband had bought thick, luscious steaks for us all to enjoy on Thanksgiving Day itself. Because we have limited freezer space, I had stored these items in the freezer in her garage.

The neighbors arrived on schedule, so we decided to have the turkey meal on Tuesday, and enjoy the steaks on Thanksgiving. We would hold the Tuesday meal at our residence and have the Thanksgiving meal at theirs. We try to share preparation of these meals so I agreed to cook up the turkey, gravy, provide cranberries, and have some sort of salad, while they would bring potatoes and pie.

Tuesday arrived blustery and cold. I decided that rather than lighting the barbecue to heat up the turkey breast, I would simply prepare it on the wood stove. I do a lot of heating and cooking on that stove, so I figured this would let us feel more like the Pilgrims if we actually made part of the meal using wood heat.

The turkey, which I had retrieved from the neighbors’ freezer a few days prior, heated on the stove. The neighbors arrived, so I started the gravy. Our friends also brought garlic bread, which required heating in the toaster oven. The oven is small, these were huge slabs of garlic bread, so we could only heat one piece at a time. The neighbor slipped the first roll into the oven, and two minutes later it was ready, hot and smelling delicious. The gravy had not quite thickened, so we delayed a minute so the gravy could come to a full boil. Meanwhile I hauled the turkey off the stove, opened the foil it heated in, and discovered to my chagrin that it was not quite hot. I grabbed two fry pans, put turkey slices into the pans, and placed them back on the stove to heat quickly.

The first slab of garlic bread by this time was cooling, so my husband ate it while my neighbor started the second roll. The gravy finally thickened; I set it aside, we decided that the potatoes that the neighbors had brought were a bit cool, so we reheated them in the microwave.

The second slice of garlic bread finished heating, we pulled the, by now, somewhat dry slices of turkey off the stove, added potatoes and gravy to the mix, and called it good. We heated the remaining two slices of garlic toast, and everyone had plenty to eat. Not quite the turkey dinners of my youth, but we had good company, everything was edible even if slightly over or under done, and all was well. We had plenty of pumpkin pie to finish the meal, so who could ask for more?

Even though the turkey meal wasn’t quite up to snuff, that was fine, we still had Thanksgiving and luscious steaks to look forward to.

Thanksgiving Day arrived bright and clear. We had planned to eat about 4:30, so at 4:15 my husband and I grabbed the remaining pumpkin pie and headed over to the neighbors. As we rounded the corner, I could smell the potatoes, onions, and peppers frying in the neighbors’ air fryer. It smelled better and better the closer we came to their porch.

We greeted our friends, I handed her the pumpkin pie, and she said to me “Where are the steaks? Did you forget them?” I looked at her and said, “Last time I saw them, they were in your freezer.” We looked at each other, dumbfounded, then we started to laugh.

Needless to say, we did not eat at 4:30. We retrieved a three-inch-thick frozen slab of meat from the freezer, placed the frozen brick into cold water, and poured ourselves large adult drinks. The potatoes by this time were more than done, so we all ate some potatoes and had another drink. We visited, checked the status of the thawing meat, and had another beverage. My husband finally got the steaks apart, we seasoned them well, placed the steaks on the grill, and had another drink.

The steaks, slathered in mushrooms, turned out superbly well. The entire meal was delicious, even if eaten in several courses. It possibly can rate as one of the top Thanksgiving meals ever.

I wonder what Christmas dinner will be like? I wonder now how I ever managed to have large meals prepared and served on time.

The neighbors will be back for Christmas, I have no idea what sort of meal we will plan, but I do know we will all be well aware of who has the protein, and in which house it might be stored. I think I will also stock up on wine, beer, and vodka just in case dinner gets delayed a few hours because of human error.


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