Tomorrow night will be my first Christmas Eve Feast as the retired hostess of this annual family event, a role that I’ve been anticipating for some time….well, since last December 24th, actually. I decided then that it was time for Mama to pass the torch to the younger generation.
(In case there’s anyone left on the planet who hasn’t heard me complain about it, cooking is not my favourite activity.) I’ll paint, wash floors, clean toilets – anything – as long as I don’t have to cook.
In fact, I’ve been positively basking in the luxury of not having to cook or bake, since Younger Son (who is doing the honours this year) is a stupendous cook and planned to create the feast without any assistance from anyone except his lovely wife, who has blossomed into an equally wonderful dessert chef. Oh, glory! What bliss!
That was last week.
As the big event drew closer, nearly everyone in the family began to offer gentle reminders about their favourite baked items that they sure would love to have on Christmas Eve. One daughter-in-law mused about how nice it would be to have some of Mum’s delicious glazed potato doughnuts, and Elder Son allowed as to how he always loved that melt-in-your-mouth whipped shortbread, but, oh well….
Even Chef Younger Son got into the act (et tu, Brute?). In his latest email update to the family, he reminded everyone that no one need bring any food because it was all taken care of…..however, if Mum would like to bring some of her wonderful homemade bread, that would be very much appreciated. No pressure, though!
So I’ve spent the past several days trying to meet the demand. So far, I’ve:
1. – Made enough potato doughnut dough to feed a cast of thousands and tried to cook them in the automatic deep fryer, only to discover that the temperature gauge didn’t work properly and I couldn’t get the oil hot enough, so DH and I had to cook them in an ordinary pot with one of the electronic temperature gauges from his tool shed. (We couldn’t find the candy thermometer.)
The doughnuts are done now, such as they are. They’re a bit greasy, but oh well, they’re doughnuts, right? If I ever (and that’s by no means certain) make doughnuts again, they will be tidily baked in the oven, not dunked in grease so they come out soaked like a bunch of wet sponges!
2. – Baked two enormous batches of whipped shortbread, topped with cut maraschino cherries because there are no more candied cherries to be found anywhere in the city of London. I know; DH has been out searching for me.
3. – Cooked three of the required loaves of bread in the bread machine that Younger Son loaned me for this express purpose. (No pressure, though, remember?)
Ah, yes…the bread. Allow me to fill you in on this particular adventure.
First, a bit of background: Taught as a young woman by my grandmother, I’ve baked homemade breads for most of my adult life, using the recipe my grandmother herself perfected and embellishing as I pleased or the occasion dictated.
In fact, I have (ahem) been hailed as an excellent baker of homemade bread. In the wide world of cooking, bread is my single claim to fame.
Back in the day, I did all the work myself, using the tips my grandmother taught me to bring forth loaves that were light and tasty.
Nowadays I use a bread machine. This method is certainly easier, but I have to say that there’s something missing in bread that hasn’t been beaten 600 strokes by hand and kneaded to a glossy, elastic ball before rising and baking. My grandmother made her own bread that way, by hand, until she was in her 90’s, but she was made of sterner stuff.
Anyway, a day or two ago I set out to make the requested loaves of bread for the feast. Our own bread machine having died not too long ago, I borrowed one from Younger Son. I put everything together in the bread pan, set it to do its thing, and retired downstairs to wash and block a small scarf I had just finished knitting.
Eventually the smell of smoke began to filter into my consciousness. I got up from trying to arrange the points in the edging so it looked like a scarf and not like a dog’s breakfast (lace isn’t the least bit pretty until it’s washed and properly blocked), and went upstairs to investigate, fearing the worst.
However, I could never have imagined the worst in this particular case; it was beyond my wildest nightmares. Wisps of smoke curled up from the vents of the bread maker; and when I opened the door, I was horrified to discover that somehow my bread dough had bubbled up OVER the pan, down the outside and over the heating elements of the machine.
Most of the inside of the bread maker was covered with burnt dough, and the entire thing was blackened with smoke. The bread that remained in the pan had cooked to a lovely texture….and stank to high heaven of smoke. The smell was truly nauseating.
Worst of all, this wasn’t even my own machine; Younger Son had kindly loaned it to me for the duration. My first thought, as I pulled the plug and prepared to manhandle the bread pan out of the mess: “Okay, we’ll just buy him another bread machine.”
Did I swear and curse and throw the thing into the garbage? No, the deed was too awful for anger. It hurt to even think about it. I had bread to make, and come hell or high water, I was going to make bread!
I pried the pan, trailing charred dough, out of the machine, dug the remains of the loaf from the pan, threw the pan into soapy water in the sink, and proceeded to try to scour the inside of the machine itself.
Have you ever tried to clean caked, dried bread dough off anything? It sticks. In fact, it sticks with the tenacity of Krazy Glue. It took me over an HOUR to get that thing clean, because you can’t immerse it in water, which would at least have softened the dough enough to scrape off. Oh my.
Much later, I carefully put fresh ingredients into the now-mostly-spotless bread pan, closed the cover, and prayed. The size of the second loaf was nothing to write home about, but it was light, and whole, and didn’t smell like smoke. It’ll do, I thought.
Nowadays anything I put my hand to in the kitchen for any purpose other than a regular meal is destined to flop, or sag, or BURN!!!
When I was a young woman, I used to swear that someday, when I retired, I was going to live in a house with no kitchen and spend my remaining days eating out. (You’ll begin to notice here that I never did much enjoy cooking.)
However, I fear that I’m now paying the price for annoying the Kitchen Gods, and this is the hell to which they’ve assigned me: to be forever attempting to make things that used to be a cinch to turn out, but which now are not only a royal pain in the butt to make, but are also either ugly as sin or completely inedible. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!
Woe is me. I began this journey a couple of days ago (on the shortbread day, actually) thinking to myself, “Why, baking’s kind of FUN. I think I’ll do more of it.” At the moment, however, I believe that if my kitchen were to explode in front of my face, I’d stand at the sidelines cheering – or perhaps pouring cooking oil on the conflagration.
All that to say that sometime between now and tomorrow evening, I have yet to turn out two more loaves of bread and a double recipe of lemon squares, wrap the Christmas presents that remain to be wrapped, find something to wear tomorrow evening, and GET SOME SLEEP! I’ll deal with the state of the house later. The one bright spot here is that no one is getting inside the house to witness the mess.
Decorating? You’re kidding, right?
Ho ho ho,