I know it's a few days late...but my turn in the rotation came up, and my turn to be thankful. This year, I'm thankful I didn't have to cook. I don't do large dinners so well. Hell, sometimes I don't do small dinners all that well, either.
This love/hate thing with the kitchen began in my early years. As a latchkey kid, I took on an early responsibility for dinner. I'd come home most nights to something large and lumpy in the big roasting pan, covered (mercifully) with aluminum foil, and a note from my mother to put it in at 350 for 45 minutes, take the tinfoil off, and use the turkey squirter to put the juice over the top of it. What eventually emerged an hour or so later was a lump of roasted meat--beef, chicken, or pork, it didn't matter--and potatoes and vegetables of various sorts that had been slowly starved of stiffness under the onslaught of meat drippings with phenomenal corrosive power, thanks to the ten million little envelopes of Onion Soup mix that filled our cupboards to bursting on a regular basis.
By the time my mom got home, it would be time to make the gravy. I'd stand next to her and tell her about my day while she made gravy. I watched it enough times that I thought I could do it, so in third grade one day, I decided I was going to do it before Mom got home, and wouldn't she be surprised and maybe realized I was "mature" enough to handle having a Barbie RV to play with. I was pretty confident I knew what to do. Just put the white stuff in the juices little by little until it turned thick. So I opened the cupboard, and brought in the bobcat to shovel away the envelopes of onion soup to get to the stuff behind it.
Flour--white stuff, baking soda--white stuff, baking powder--white stuff, corn starch--white stuff.
Well, I knew it wasn't flour--you only used flour if there was chicken in the roasting pan, and then you mixed it with milk and blobbed it on top to bake the last fifteen minutes and called it "dumplings"--probably because you dumped them out for the dog when Mom wasn't looking.
Baking soda--well, that was the stuff you put in the fridge next to the onions to keep the whole fridge from smelling like onions. You dumped it into the bathtub when you had poison ivy to keep from itching. Gravy didn't itch, though, so baking soda was out.
Corn starch--what the heck was corn starch. Dad complained when there was too much starch in his shirts--good lord, he'd hit the roof if I put it in his gravy. Because if there was one thing Dad liked, it was his gravy over potatoes and buttered bread. And everything else. French fries, carrots, and probably apple pie, if he thought he could get away with it. Okay, so corn starch was out.
That left baking powder. In it went. Just a little at first. The encouraging little bubbles that frothed up made things look murkier than clear pan drippings and I thought that was a great sign. But things weren't thickening. So I added a little more and turned up the heat.
Mom came home and I impressed her with my hop-to-it-iveness. I went back to my gravy masterpiece and she gave me a pass for setting the table and did it herself. She seemed pleased I was finally showing interest in "girly" things. "Interesting" was a word that would come up later. Along with several unprintable invectives...
Meanwhile, I was showing interest all right. My gravy started to bubble. Aha! I thought. Here's the part where the thickening happens. It'll bubble, and get thick, and I'll turn around and--hey, Dad's home, just in time to see his budding Julia Child!
And the gravy bubbled on. I left it to go greet Dad (something that involved rooting in his bag and looking for dum-dums). Finally, my mother went over to the stove.
"Did you just start this?"
"No, mom. I put a bunch of stuff in it a while ago."
"Stuff?" She gave the gravy a stir while I told Dad that I made the gravy and I cooked the dinner because man, I was The Shit.
It was a vigorous stir, unlike the delicate swipes I'd been giving the pan. Dad peeked over Mom's shoulder just in time to hear the singe of scalded gravy, and with the release of heat, the baking soda in the bottom of the pan frothed up, mixing with the rest of the drippings in a chemical orgy that shot up six inches in the air, spreading over the burners, the counter, and a little of the backsplash behind the stove.
"Volcano!" my little brother yelled from the table.
My mother had gamely poured off what she could of the volcano gravy into the gravy boat and set it out. Since I was the cook, I ladled the gravy over my meat and had the dubious pleasure of the sensations of chewy roast mixed with the effervescence normally reserved for carbonated beverages. To this day, I think I can safely say that I'm the only person in the world who has the experience of enjoying meat soda. My brother delighted in taking the ladle to give the gravy a stir, mixing up the baking soda from the bottom for a fresh round of bubbling frothiness.
That evening, we enjoyed a very dry meal. For my mom and dad, each bite forced its way past lips folded tightly against teeth. Many years later I learned that they were trying hard not to laugh. I don't know if I believe it or not, since I never did get that Barbie RV.
But I can name several members of my family who are also exceedingly thankful every year when it turns out to be not my turn again to host dinner.