It’s coming up on that holiday time of the year again. Sigh. You heard me. Blended families can prove difficult at the holidays. Many families face challenges during this time, but blended families, in my humble opinion, have added dynamics. Moviemakers have been jumping on the dysfunctional holiday family scenario since the first reel went into its box. I watch “Home for Thanksgiving”, “Christmas Vacation”, et al, every year just to remind myself as I’m pouring that third glass of wine on Thanksgiving, that it really is, in the long run, all worth the effort. Basically, it boils down to the reality that you can mix oil and vinegar in a bowl but the two will still separate at parties.
Feelings get hurt if one invitation is accepted over another. Uncle Milt, your second wife’s first cousin by his third marriage, shows up with your husband’s Aunt Fran and her step-children from a recent divorce. Seating arrangements become a nightmare. Martin can’t be seated next to Renee since the annulment, and if Renee’s father sits within ten feet of Martin he’ll be in violation of his restraining order. Stories told at the table recalling past experiences with ex spouses while in earshot of new or prospective spouses and their family members can cause pregnant pauses the size of Kate Plus 8’s belly in her ninth month. It’s just not pretty.
Personally I think we should adopt a “shirts and skins” approach to these dinner parties. As the guests arrive they’re handed a colored tee shirt signifying their clan affiliation, with a separate eggshell color for those who wish, like the Swiss, to remain neutral and simply enjoy the day.
Over the years I’ve hosted some Thanksgiving disasters. The first turkey I cooked I neglected to remove the giblets from the cavity, and several years later my cocker spaniel snatched the carcass and remaining turkey off the bread board and hid it under my son’s bed during dinner.
About fifteen years ago I had been dating a man for about six months. With the holidays approaching, and his family living in Florida, I extended an invitation for him to join us for Thanksgiving at a relative’s house, which he accepted. Two o’clock was the time indicated for hors d’oeuvres on the invitation, with dinner following around 5:00. Facing a three-hour trip on a holiday, we allowed ourselves an extra forty minutes to get there, and anticipating a huge meal, ate a light breakfast. I packed bottled water and a large thermos of coffee for the trip.
Traffic began to slow down as we approached the half-way point of our trip and then simply came to a stop. Soon it became apparent by the emergency vehicles passing on the shoulders that there was more to the tie up then just too many people and too little road. Again I sigh. After about 45 mins. people began getting out of their vehicles and milling around. The coffee, which had seemed an excellent idea earlier on, was now turning on us with a vengeance. Unfortunately, we were stuck in acorridor along a wilderness protection area and the next facilities of any kind were about 12 miles down the road. Squirming became so rampant inside the car we could have squeezed juice from tangerines with our thighs.
My mother overheard the man in the next car say he’d heard the CHP were hoping to have us file out in a single lane within the next hour. At this point my date, whose eyes were turning the shade of light mustard, leapt from the car and fell in line with a group of men headed towards the wetlands and a large copse of trees. Having been fortunate enough to have the male equipment necessary for this venture installed at the factory, we women were left to either find a spare catheter or try to indulge in any conversation not involving water.
After what seemed like an eternity and most probably would result down the road in bladder surgery, the cars moved forward and were directed off at the first off ramp. Waiting in line with the other trapped holiday travelers at the convenience store for a stall, we relieved ourselves and hopped back in the car notifying our hosts we’d be arriving in time for dinner.
It was suggested by my date that we pick up a snack at the convenience store, but I assured everybody that our hostess was known for her amazing displays so we would surely have something to keep us going until the main course was served. Arriving at last, introductions made and hugs received, we headed for serving tables looking for a lingering deviled egg or a piece of cheese. The hostess’ mother, noting our dismay at finding empty tables, informed us that they’d opted for light snacks that year so people in a panic had consumed everything but the wax grapes in the centerpiece. Are you kidding me? Explaining that we hadn’t eaten since Reagan took office, she rifled through the pantry and came up with rice cakes and an oily brown substance labeled “natural” peanut butter. In desperation we formed a circle vying for possession of the butter knife.
Big doings were going on in the kitchen as last-minute touches were put on the meal itself. The turkey, looking inviting and golden brown rested under his aluminum tent waiting to be carved. My saliva glands went into overdrive.
My offer of help declined, I wandered into the dining area. To occupy my mind until dinner was served, I surveyed the place cards. Our group was to be seated across from a hippie couple, former Vietnam activists, who viewed the U.S. flag as a window covering and tie-died everything from their tee-shirts down to their boxer shorts. To my right, Magdalena, a diminutive lady in her 90’s who after sixty years in the U.S. still only spoke four words outside of her native Italian, “yes”, “no”, and “bugger off” (contributed by her English daughter-in-law), the latter being her two favorites. Directly behind us were thirteen smaller chairs surrounding a table bearing a handwritten sign reading “children’s table”. Wine please.
Feeling I couldn’t relive the sixties in starvation mode, I took the liberty (pardon the pun) of moving our names to a lovely table in the corner by the fire, and across from the picketers, replaced our place cards with those of an R.O.T.C. instructor and his opinionated right-wing wife always itching for a good political rumble. Let us give thanks. Smile.
Try this pie, it’s a nice change from pumpkin. Very southern, and very delicious.
Sweet Potato Pie with Nutmeg Whipped Topping
1 deep-dish pie crust
2 lbs. sweet potatoes
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs, plus 2 yolks
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. bourbon
1 Tbsp. mild molasses
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
Partially bake pie crust according to package directions. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
While crust is baking, prick the sweet potatoes well with a fork. Place on paper towels in microwave. Cook at high for 10 mins. turning halfway through. Remove with oven mitts and allow to cool until you can handle them.
Slice in half and use spoon to remove flesh. Mash the butter into the potatoes until just a few lumps remain.
Whisk eggs, yolks, granulated sugar, nutmeg, and salt together in medium bowl. Add bourbon, molasses, vanilla, and then whisk in milk. Gradually stir the egg mixture into the potato mixture until smooth.
Sprinkle the bottom of hot pie crust with brown sugar. Spread batter over sugar. Bake until set around edges but still slightly jiggley in the center (45-50 mins.). Cool to room temperature before serving. Refrigerate after use for up to 2 days. Serves 8-10.
Nutmeg Whipped Topping
1 8 oz. tub of whipped topping
2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. lemon juice
Fold nutmeg and lemon juice into topping. Serve chilled over pie.