“Out … out of the kitchen … all of you!”
We heard this every holiday and most meal times. My mom did not like having people gathered around her in the kitchen when she cooked.
“I need to concentrate.”
Sad to say, I carried on with the chase-every-one-out-of-the-kitchen tradition when my kids were small. Coming from a lineage of farmers on both sides of the family (although my immediate family did not farm), the pressure was upon me to feed people and feed them well. There also might have been something of a hidden motive of wanting the praises that come with a perfect meal. Being raised around incredible farm cooks, it was the highest compliment of any kind to be asked for seconds or to be asked to share a recipe, so the personal stakes I’d set in my head were high.
I sometimes felt a little guilty about chasing the kids (and anyone, for that matter) out of the kitchen, especially during holidays. Part of farm-style cooking involved teaching the next generation to cook well. My grandmother had the most patience in this department, especially when it came to baking . I guess holidays, though, just weren’t the day for on the spot training.
It took a few years of fussing alone in the kitchen, followed by a meal gobbled down in 20 minutes to wake up to the fact that I was getting ripped off on holidays by standards I had imposed upon myself.
- It’s not fun to spend most of the holiday alone in the kitchen.
- I like eating far more than cooking.
- I’m too lazy to become a gourmet cook, so why try.
- The word “lazy” has shown up in just about every post having to do with cooking … which is why I am more of an “eating” blogger, than a “recipe or cooking” blogger.
- We have favorite family foods, but not necessarily family recipes … so every year is a bit of an experiment with a new way to try an old favorite.
- Food experimenting has its pluses and minuses … both with extreme reactions attached … i.e. “Uhhh …thanks for the efforts” OR “That is amazing … can I have seconds?!”
This year’s food experimentation fell to the scalloped potatoes. My mom always had scalloped potatoes with her ham but she made them from a box. She worried about getting the sauce right, but knew Betty Crocker had it down to a science, so why reinvent, right?
This is our first Christmas without Mom … it seemed right to honor her with the potatoes and with a little extra effort.
My daughter convinced me that it wouldn’t be that hard to make them from scratch. “We must have REAL potatoes,” she insisted. “Plus, Grandma would be proud of us for figuring out the sauce.” I agreed with her that rehydrated spuds just don’t cut it, no matter how daunting it felt to make a sauce from scratch.
With no family recipe to lean on, we scrolled through Pinterest until we found something that suited the ingredients we had on hand, and we went to work late on Christmas afternoon … our meal preparations had been delayed by FaceTime and Zoom visits with the rest of the family. Also to note here … it was very lax of me to get to Christmas Day without a recipe in hand.
I wouldn’t have anticipated it, but it was a golden afternoon in my daughter’s kitchen. There was no fussing about the perfect meal … just mom and daughter laughing and experimenting together … very chill.
“This is looking really good, Mom,” she cheered me on as I whisked whole milk into flour and butter. (We heard that calories don’t count on Christmas.) She dropped in grated cheese (extreme sharp white cheddar) and we each held our breath slightly, but no strange or stringy globs appeared. The cheese quickly melted into a smooth and creamy texture.
We poured it over the carefully sliced and layered Yukons and yellow onions which my daughter had artfully arranged in a prepared casserole.
“I don’t think this is big enough.” Fearing that our beautiful sauce would bubble over and meet a horrid death on the bottom of the oven, I made her prepare and transfer the potatoes to a different dish giving at least a centimeter of more room.
It’s fine,” she cut me off before I could suggest an even bigger casserole, so we poured on the sauce and slid it all into the oven.
Four adults in the house became four little kids. It was like we were waiting to open stockings or catch a glimpse of Santa slipping through the chimney the way we sneaked into the kitchen and glanced through the window of the oven, the smell enticing us as the dish began to bubble.
They came out perfectly and interest in the other dishes was a bit waining, even though all seemed exceptional this year. The real telling point of our holiday meal success came the next day with the leftovers. A bit of family tension emerged as the four of us hovered over the re-heated potatoes and tried to act nonchalant as we each assured that the potatoes were divided absolutely equally.
I sighed when the very last bite of those potatoes were gone … but it wasn’t the potatoes I was already missing.
For the week afterwards and now into a new calendar year, I have continued to think about those potatoes.
The fact that I didn’t chase anyone out of the kitchen … the joys of shedding perfectionism and just being together … cooking together with my adult daughter … witnessing how well my daughter is “adulting” … the longing all year long for this day when we would all be together even if part of it was through Face Time and Zoom …
It all emphasizes how much togetherness is deeply important to me … thus the heart of what has been both excruciating and … dare I say … wonderful … about 2020.
The pandemic has brought to my family less taking togetherness for granted in … we are much more intentional. Even though we’d like to meet in person more often, I ‘d have to say that we find ourselves more together in the same “Zoom” than we are in the same room. No one is distracted by their device … a terrible temptation for all of us … we are the device in these online meetups.
I’m sure there are others like me out there, but I hate seeing the holidays come to an end. It really gets to me how fast some stores and even friends, pack everything up and move on. We spend weeks talking about Christmas miracles, anticipating the hope and the remembrances of God’s love by sending His Son as a light into the world … the memories to be made … the family connections …
Then as fast as the gifts can be ripped open and the scalloped potatoes gobbled down, it’s back to life as usual. I’m never quite ready for that.