Did I mention that I'm in the food business? This past week has been one of the busiest of the year for foodies in the retail business. If you're a food consumer, this is a great week for you, if you're a food provider, it's hectic, and not as enjoyable. Still, I love winter holidays, and I love food, so being a part of the process is a lot of fun. Getting paid for it is even better.
The week began on Monday with the delivery of thousands of turkeys. We're a small operation, so the arrival of so many of these fowl stacked high on wooden pallets was a challenge. Our cold storage area was stacked to the ceilings with these ill fated creatures destined for the ovens of DC residents.
It's still a little strange for me coming from the Midwest where everyone cooks, and holidays are planned at least a month in advance. In Washington, no one cooks, and holidays seem to be dreaded a month in advance. I'm not completely clueless, I get it; holidays spent with your family can be completely weird and uncomfortable, nearly everyone has issues, and no one seems to have these Brady Bunch relationships with siblings and parents. In real life, families just don't work like that. In order to compensate for the many dysfunctions in our family lives, we must have copious amounts of food to distract us from the very strangeness from which we spring. Conversation about meals is way more comfortable than answering your mother when she begins asking about your personal life, for example, who you have been dating. I usually distract my mother with a complicated recipe for Cornbread Stuffing with Pablano Chiles and Andouille Sausage. By the time I have gotten to the part in the recipe where you have to drizzle melted butter and fold it into the diced cornbread, she forgets that I haven't dated a man in like twenty years.
Most of my customers in DC order prepared meals for big holidays. I guess it's because my customers are busy and important, and they have no time for life's tiny details such as the peeling of an onion, or the chopping of sage and celery. We roast turkeys, mash potatoes, mix matzo, whatever the holiday, if you can't cook, or don't have the time, we provide the service. There are an astonishing number of people in Washington who can't cook. Now these people are smart and educated, but somehow have failed at one of life's basic survival skills. Many of them have newly re-modeled kitchens with six burner Viking Convection ovens with those cool warming drawers and electric pilots. Why do they need the high end $10,000 Viking to reheat the Horseradish Crusted Salmon I've just sold them? Even a $20 toaster oven from Best Buy would perform the same function.
During the Thanksgiving holiday, my kitchen and catering staff worked long hours peeling and dicing, roasting and basting, hours on the phone taking orders for turkeys and pies, potatoes mashed and sweet, grating the rinds of oranges to flavor the cranberry relish, stuffing, chopping, seasoning and packaging until we thought that we might either scream or begin to tear open the neatly boxed mashed potatoes and eat until we passed out. When the last boxed feast was sold, the phone began to ring. We were all sitting around exhausted, eating the food that customers had returned for refunds, odd bits of things like marcona almonds, baby squash, Walkers Shortbreads, anything left on the customer service desk that was still edible. I picked up the first phone call, my mouth stuffed with cookies and said,
"FWank woo fo calling _______ this is Tankwoman, how can I help you?"
"I'm cooking the turkey that I just bought, and there was no basting liquid in the package!"
I let out a loud belch.
"Oh excuse me! Mam the basting liquid comes from the drippings at the bottom of the pan."
"Liquid? There's no liquid! Just a raw turkey!"
"Mam when you put the turkey in the oven and cook it for an hour, there will be liquid in the bottom of the pan. Trust me."
I hung up the phone, and picked up the next line.
"Should I take the plastic off of the turkey before I put it in the oven?"
Wow. "Yes, the plastic should be removed."
I picked up the one on hold.
"The turkey has been in the oven for four hours and it's not even WARM!"
"You might want to check to see if your oven is on." I finally had had enough. I hung up the phone sent my crew home, grabbed the box of Walker Shortbreads and locked the doors. The phones were still ringing off the hook.
I drove to my own Thanksgiving celebration far away from my own dysfunctional family and missing them like crazy. I couldn't believe there were so many people who didn't know the first thing about cooking. Aren't these the things you learn at a young age? When you are sixteen and your mother asks about that funny smokey smell coming from your bedroom, doesn't everyone change the subject by asking for the recipe for the Spinach Lasagna? When you're 21 and home from college and your Dad asks about your grades, isn't it just better to get up in a rush to save the rolls from burning? When you're thirty, and you are recovering from a particularly unhealthy relationship with some jerk and your Mom asks about your love life, doesn't everyone think that it's time for dessert?
And once the familial attention has been diverted, and all eyes are on the pies (Pumpkin, Apple, Cherry, Pecan, Sweet Potato, Peach) there descends a great and profound silence around the table, and any burning desire to understand the odd members of your family, with their weird quirks and habits dissolves into the thing that is truly great about holidays.