Christmas Dinner

Martine and I played host to her family for Christmas-eve dinner again this year. We planned a full-on turkey fest for ten adults and three kids. This is only the second time we’ve fed so many people, and we hoped things would go smoothly.

Things got off to a promising start. For one thing, I didn’t sprain my back like I did last year. As well, we used the same recipes for the turkey, gravy, and (un)stuffing as we did last year, which considerably reduced the stress and uncertainty level.

We also planned to keep it fairly simple (turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, vanilla-maple yams, cranberry sauce, sausage-apple [un]stuffing, and cranberry sauce). I was able to make the (un)stuffing and the yam sauce the night before, which helped a lot. We didn’t bother with soup or salad courses (they weren’t necessary), and dessert was provided by a brother-in-law who brought a couple of home-made cakes.

Still, there is always a lot that can go wrong. One of the biggest problems is trying to keep all the tasks and the timings straight. So I sat down the night before and mapped it all out. I made an effort to be realistic when planning, and to stick to the plan as the day went on.

Here’s the plan, with time-sensitive items clearly indicated:

  • 9:00 AM; Brine the turkey
  • Prepare the roasting pan (Carrots, leek, celery)
  • Cut fennel and trim beans
  • 2:30 PM; Put the turkey in the oven (theoretically until 6:30)
  • Prepare the table (10 adults, 3 children)
  • Wash and pierce the yams
  • Roast 6 of the oranges (quartered) @ 500° for 10-15 minutes (toaster oven)
  • 5:45 PM; Peel the potatoes
  • 5:55 PM; Open the cranberry sauce
  • 5:55 PM; Put yams in the oven @ 350° (45-60 minutes)
  • 6:15 PM; Boil the potatoes
  • 6:30 PM; Take turkey out of the oven
  • 6:30 PM; Put the stuffing in the oven (20-25 minutes)
  • Cool the pan drippings
  • 6:45 PM; Steam the green beans/fennel
  • 6:45 PM; Mash the potatoes (delegate)
  • 6:45 PM; Make the gravy
  • 6:50 PM; Carve the turkey (delegate)
  • 6:55 PM; quarter the yams, sprinkle with fleur de sel, nuke the syrup for 45 seconds and pour it onto yams.
  • 7:00 PM; Load up the table and EAT!

Notice that half of the items (in blue) take place in the final 35 minutes. That was the “panic zone.”

Fortunately, it all went like clockwork. In fact the process was so methodical and precise that at one point I thought that surely I must be dreaming. For example, I predicted the turkey would take four hours to roast — it took four hours and five minutes. The recipe predicted there would be four cups of pan drippings from which to make the gravy — there was exactly that much, to the spoonful.

Delegating some of the time-consuming tasks such as mashing the potatoes and carving the turkey left me free to concentrate on finishing the green beans, the gravy, and the yams.

It was incredible! All of the food was hot when served, the turkey was juicy and delicious (and perfectly cooked), and it went so smoothly that my pulse barely quickened at the peak of the panic zone. We were at the table and filling our plates at 7:05.

After dinner it was more wine, gift-swapping in front of the fireplace, family chatter, and all that other Christmassy stuff.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Ho for the Holidays (part 2)

Last year about this time I complained about those tarty Bratz dolls in a post titled “Ho for the Holidays.” This year, The Sneeze has a tarty toy reference under the same title, over here.

2004’s holiday ho is none other than Tinkerbell! Upon further consideration, however, I think Tinkerbell is far less of a ho than those Bratz things. After all, she’s not trashy and I don’t think she buys those sexy little green dresses at Wal-Mart or Zellers. No, I’d say Tinkerbell is more of a risqué sylph than a ho — by a long shot.

Not too bright…

Sunday night was cold outside but cozy indoors. In the kitchen a big pot of beef stew was bubbling away in a terracotta cocotte in the oven. I had used Guinness and beef stock as a base, and lots of aromatic onions in with the beef and vegetables and herbs, so the fragrance was wafting through the house making everyone salivate, even the cat.

Meanwhile, in the living room, we were decorating the Christmas tree while a fire crackled in the fireplace and the Illico digital TV thingy poured cheesy Christmas music through the sound system.

Loyal readers know that I’m not too bright when it comes to song lyrics. Part of the problem is that I often don’t hear right. Other times, however, it’s because I don’t listen right.

On that cozy winter Sunday night, however, when I heard the song “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” as I was struggling with the tree lights, I had a revelation. I’ve heard that song every Christmas since I was a kid, and something about it always troubled me. In the song, a young kid sings happily about witnessing his mother making out with Santa Claus. She’s committing adultery — getting down and dirty with a fat man in a red suit — yet he’s not upset about it.

It would be different if there was some kind of black humour at work, but this is a simple and sentimental song about mommy going astray. Was I the only one who noticed this? Where was the outrage? Where were the cranky old radio phone-in ladies? Where were the beligerent old coots? Where was the Moral Majority and its shorts-in-a-twist whingings?

As I said, I had a revelation, and it was this: after hearing that song for 35 or more Christmases, I finally realized that Mommy’s bearded lover was actually Daddy done up in a Santa suit!

OK, all together now… Duh!

One more time… DUH!

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December Monkey

This is the last of the 12 Monkeys! The theme is “give me a year.What would you do if you had a free year, all to yourself, to dedicate to whatever you wanted? Assume money was not a problem — you’ve just received a $60,000 Monkey Grant.

Would you spend your year travelling? Reinventing yourself? Would you go back to school to reorient your career? Would you try to see every movie you ever wanted to see? Forget about crazy things like flying to the moon or whatever — think about what you would really do, if you could spend a year doing something you really want to do.

Remember, you have to dedicate yourself to something. What would it be? (Note: monkeys en français can be found over here.)

(Here’s mine. Oddly, it involves neither travel nor writing — the two things that spring to mind whenever I wish I had more free time…)

Wow! 2 MHz!Don’t tell anyone, but lately I’ve been thinking about changing my career. I’ve been a technical writer since about 1991, and I think I’m pretty good at it. But I’ve done about all I care to do in this line of work, which leaves me at a bit of an existential loss when I trudge into work each morning.

But what else could I do? Any transition would involve a huge step backwards in terms of status and salary while I established myself and acquired the necessary new skills. Starting over like that scares me — what if I made a big investment in time and money (in term of opportunity cost) and then found myself no better off, or worse, than I am now?

On the other hand, if I had a “free year” in which to do some thinking, studying, and to work a poorly-paid job or two (perhaps as an intern), then maybe I’d find the courage to make such a big move.

strong like bull!Perhaps more important than my career is my health. For a number of not-very-good reasons I’ve let myself slip over the past 18 months. Part of this decline is because going to the gym is more inconvenient than ever — an issue made larger than itself because of a problem with my foot and another problem with my shoulder. As a result, my level of physical activity is at an all-time low, and my level of physical expansion is correspondingly at an all time high.

Wouldn’t it be great to spend a whole year dedicated to sports and physical activity? Imagine spending each day in a healthy (but not fanatical) dedication to your bones, muscles, organs, and cardio-vascular system. If you didn’t have to worry about working, that would be easy and fun! Can you imagine ending that year feeling ten years younger than when you started?

However, when it comes right down to it, there is one big thing that is really slowing me down in life — one 800-pound gorilla on my back that impedes my progress even more than my career woes and my emerging corpulence. That is my apparent inability to learn a manageable amount of conversational French.

It’s insane, really. I’ve been living in Montreal since 1987, yet about all I can manage is “restaurant French.” No, that’s not entirely true — I’m pretty good at short declarative sentences. La soupe est trop chaud! Mon doigt n’est pas mauve! Il y a cinq lapins sur la rue! Unfortunately, Hemingway novels are the only places where I find conversations made up of short declarative sentences, and those are all in English.

If I could get a handle on that, it would change everything. OK, not everything, but a lot. You might argue that all I need to do is to practice more, or watch some French television, but I’ve tried that with only limited success.

I’m just not good at learning languages. Ditto mathematical formulas — they make sense when you explain them but two minutes later it’s all vapour. One of the problems is that I’m a very visual learner, and there are not a lot of visuals involved in stammering your way through butchered French and having the other person always switch to English because it is easier for everyone.

Therefore, if I had a year to dedicate to one thing, it would be to finally learn conversational French. That would involve a few immersion sessions in places far away from anglos (Gaspésie? Provence? Côte d’Azur?) and a lot of study and practice, but if I didn’t have to work I think I could do it, and I think it would be successful.

Note to self: Is this a cop-out? Am I just using this “I need a year” thing to avoid knuckling down and doing the hard work it takes to do what I need to do? Must think about this more…