Flying thoughts

My thought are flying about this fine Easter Monday. I swore I would not make Easter dinner this year, wondering if ever anyone would think to invite me instead of me doing all the cooking as I have, year after year. (I must admit that Nephew Hugh has been a huge help in the past four years on any family kitchen fests). Last week, though, I saw the price of turkey meat and wavered. Turkey is a very economical meat and I love it the day it is cooked and in sandwiches next day. When all is said and done, I always boil the carcass to make a fine soup. The price for small turkeys under fourteen pounds was exceptional. I bought two. After all, Heather and her husband were coming in for thespring marathon race and a medical appointment.His sister was coming to town with her husband on a business trip, so that was double reason for them coming. Heather and hubby are turkey afficianados also and it was a perfect choice for lots of company.

I mentioned to Otto that I would be cooking the turkey either the Sunday or the Monday. Whenever. But I wasn’t going to go to a lot of trouble. I wasn’t going to be slave to the kitchen. I wasn’t even sure I’d make dinner with it. Just cook it and then everyone could take some when they wanted some.

Ron, Nephew number two, who has come back home after a break up with his girlfriend, is a great candidate for a turkey meal. He has an appetite that gives honour to the cook. My out-of-left-field flying thoughts took me back to when the two boys first came to stay with us. I could cook a kilo of pasta for dinner and a small bowl of it would remain after dinner. It would be cleaned up by midnight. Now there’s appetite! Five years later, he had gotten away from the hollow leg syndrome, but he still could pack in a good meal.

So as I was doing no work to prepare this turkey:

“I’ll just spice the skin and put it in the oven. No dressing”, I told Otto. He’s easy. That was fine.
I found a pound of sausage meat in the fridge and thought, “when else will I use this sausage meat?” and I looked to see if there was bread suitable for dressing. There was a loaf of multigrain in the freezer, and I toasted up three quarters of it to thaw it and make it dry; cut it into squares; tossed it in the big red Pyrex bowl, thinking, I hope Mom’s not watching me slice this into bits instead of tearing it into bits. That would be a kitchen faux pas!. I was beginning to thaw the sausage meat in the microwave when Otto came in.

“I’m not supposed to be working at this, ” I stated, “but I’m making dressing anyway.

He offered to help, tended the thawing, set the table and then went away.

There I was dicing up onions fine and weeping, then slicing celery fine. These I place in a frying pan to partially cook with a chunk of butter (no wonder I’m not anorexic), while I chopped up parsley, added spices to the bowl, cleaned off my chopping board and let my thoughts fly.

There was no Easter that we did not gather the family about, who ever was available. For the last four years, we’ve been saying, this may be the last one with Mom. You have to come. And they did. At Mom’s last birthday, Hugh said to me a bit scornfully, “You’ve been saying that year after year. Stop it! Every year she is still here.” I had to concede that was so. Now we were having an Easter with out her and I didn’t want to do it.

Every year, we pulled out the Lavender Rose dishes and the Louis Fourteenth silver. Easter was a celebration as important as Christmas. All stops were pulled out. We fussed over the right paper serviettes and the right place mats. At Easter, we often used the sea green linen ones with cutwork lace. They always had to be ironed before and washed after, then re-ironed. We never had candles because Mother feared the possibility of fire and she loathed candlewax drippings on her table cloths and special placemats. On the table, there would be a small deep blue crystal bowl of water with the garden offering of new blossoms – sometimes a cherry sprig, or forsythia, or on a late Easter, a branch of the cerise coloured azalea that had masses of tiny compact blossoms.

We planned the menu for weeks, debating the two vegetables, how we would do the potatoes, what ingredients we needed for the stuffing, what would we have for dessert. Every time the preparations became subject of discussion Mom would say, “But don’t do any work. Take it easy on yourself. You do too much work already. Delegate!”

And here I was, not doing any work, just slicing, dicing, measuring, chopping, preparing.There was no one to delegate to.
Otto swung back by the kitchen.

“How about raisins in the dressing?” I asked him. I’d always liked that, but it wasn’t the traditional recipe and Mother held us steady on course.

“I like them; it’s fine with me.” Otto responded and he swung back out and was gone. So I added in some Craisins because that was what I had at hand. I saw some pecans that were going begging, so I added in a fistful or two of those as well. I like to experiment with my cooking.

I added the cooked celery and onions plus two eggs to the bowl of bread, mushed everything together with my hands gingerly because the cooked bits were still quite hot. I was breaking down any big bits of sausage as I mixed everything when who knows what triggerd the thought of Sylvie’s dinner in 1989.

Mom and I went to Scotland and France when she was seventy-eight. We spent two weeks, the first in Scotland with friends way up near Oban on a four thousand acre farm with sheep that roamed in flocks, coming early in the morning past the cottage, the eastern sunlight at their backs, giving each one of them a curly halo around the edges. We flew from there to Paris where we stayed for two days looking at art museums before I picked up a car and drove east to Reims where I had gone to art school and then to Nancy where my step-daughter in law lived. It was the family dinner that had triggered the thought.

Mom was of British background. When we sat down to dinner, we ate it all in one fell swoop, had dessert and left the dining room for coffee in the living room, talked for a half hour, made one’s escape excuses and left for home (as a visitor, that is). She could not get her head around the French way of spending five hours around a dinner table talking.

Sylvie had prepared a wonderful meal. She was newly married and her mother in law who had provided the young couple with some assistance, knowing they could hardly manage on her husband’s salary to provide an adequate showing of their ability to entertain. Food was expensive. Her mother-in-law worked in a bakery and sent along desserts as well as some savory pastries for hors d’oeuvres. Sylvie’s husband worked in a butcher shop. His boss, knowing full well that his young employee would be hard pressed to supply excellent meat for the dinner, had given him meat at cost for this occasion. Mamie, Franc’s mother had simply contributed money for the rest.

It was an unforgettable meal. Sylvie, her infant son, her husband, my other two step children were there, Annie and her daughter and Franc junior. Mamie, Franc’s mother, was eighty-eight at the time and Mom and Mamie got along so very well, even though they could barely talk to each other. They understood by some archetypal maternal mechanism.what all these progeny were about.
The hors d’oeuvres were pastries stuffed with mushrooms and cheese. Then followed little rolls of smoked prosciuto. The bottle of Champagne we had brought from Reims was served and we sat back and talked. Half an hour later, a serving of vegetable dishes arrived, roasted potatoes and green beans done in butter and garlic. I had lived in France long enough to know I should eat little; more was to come. We chatted and laughed, told stories, jokes, related family connections, asked how everyone was, told more stories. The dinner wine was served.

Mom leaned over to me and whispered (although no one else could speak English) that we should make our excuses and leave. Mamie was tired and old, she said. We had been here long enough. We should take her home.

I explained that dinner was not yet over. There was more to come; just then, filet mignon came hot and juicy from the kitchen. Glasses were topped up. Sylvie doted on Mother as best she could without any English to help her. Her husband ran back and forth from the kitchen to the dining table until everyone was served. Bread was cut and passed along. We ate our steaks. More stories were told; remembrances of times past were shared; questions were asked about the kid’s Papa, my Franc, who had immigrated to Canada. Another hour had past.

We talked about our trip to Scotland; our stay in Paris; Mom’s and my road trip from Orly airport to Chateau Thierry to Rheims, to Nancy, then our plans to see Strasbourg Catherdral, Baccarat Crystal Works, a side trip into Luxembourg and Trier in Germany. We talked about my husband Franc’s work and mine back in Canada. Sylvie’s husband told about his application to apprentice at Daum crystal works; he had connections. Franc junior explained how he came to work at the hospital where his mother worked. Everyone had a story to tell. Conversation had no beginning, no end.

By this time, Mother was getting insistent, but I was adamant. We could not go home; it would be an insult to our hosts.. Even if Mamie fell asleep at the table, she wouldn’t miss this family occasion for the world. Besides, we hadn’t had cheeses yet.  Nor the salad to clear one’s palate for the dessert courses.

Franc explained to me afterwards that Tony, her husband, was of Sardinian stock. Every special dinner required three desserts or the family was not worth the dignity of it’s name. We were served three desserts, confections from Tony’s mom’s bakery, even though we had no room left to put them. They were delicious. And then there was coffee.

We had come at five in the afternoon (a sensible hour for the British or Canadians of British stock) but stayed until a shocking eleven o’clock.

I thought of all that while I was cramming my gooey stuffing into the back and front orifices of the turkey; while I trussed the bird with string to keep it together, salt, basil and peppered the upper skin and put pats of butter on its back to give it a toasty, crispy skin.

I covered the turkey with tin foil, then put it in to the oven and mentally noted the time it would need to come out. I was taking the hard stems off the asparagus as I remembered that I hadn’t wanted to do any work. I hadn’t wanted to think about the Easter with out our Mom. I hadn’t wanted to sit down at the big dining table and serve dinner with all the trimmings, with all the fancy dishes and the good silver.

I put the asparagus in a frying pan with water, ready for a last minute cooking. Then I looked at those tail ends and thought they would make a fine addition to mushroom soup if I only sliced them fine, cooked them and blended them. One wouldn’t want to waste good food, I thought and remembered the countless times I had made such economies when we had so little money for food. Thrifty habits die hard.

With the asparagus tails cooking on the stove, I remembered that the asparagus for dinner was going to need some kind of sauce and I’d picked up some shallots for just such a thing. I peeled and thin sliced four shallots and chopped up some parsley and put them in a small pan to cook with a big chunk of butter. More Salt, Pepper, Basil, and a squirt of fresh lemon.

I didn’t tell you about cooking potatoes. There’s nothing to tell really. But Caroline had come in. Caroline is Otto’s girlfriend. She asked if she could help and I set her to whipping the potatoes that I’d already mashed with milk, salt and a bit of garlic. Help was welcome, but it took me away from my reveries, until we got talking about how her mother liberated herself from a senior’s residential extended care unit, by hitch hiking. Only problem she had was that she couldn’t remember her address and the big, burly truck driver who had picked her up took her to the police station. The police called Caroline and her sister in Nanaimo and they had to come across the waters to Vancouver to set things right.

That reminded me how Mother had wanted desperately to have her house keys and money. I knew she was plotting her own escape so that she could be at home. But we couldn’t look after her at home so I couldn’t let her have them.She let Otto know about her desires. I think he was encouraging her in her planning, but of course she couldn’t come home. Poor dear.

The last thing to prepare was gravy which I did quite quickly, actually. I was rather surprised. I took all the dressing out into a bowl, carved enough turkey for our dinner, got asparagus, potatoes and gravy into reheatable dishes with kind help from Caroline, By then I was exhausted and glad to sit down to dinner.

Caroline and Otto served at table. Otto got out the bottle of Champagne that George, Mom’s elderly friend who came for Christmas, had brought on that occasion. Otto proposed a toast to health and happiness; to many more Easters, and many more simple, Easter dinners that were no work to prepare.


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