I love the holidays! One of the best parts of this season is spending time with family. As I’m sure you know, that could also be one of the worst parts. This is my story (insert Law & Order pum-pum here).
Cooking is big in my family. If you read my post on SITS with papi’s pernil recipe you already know that (if you didn’t, shame on you! I’m crying tears of hurt right now! <—line from mami’s book of guilt reserved for future use with the frog princess). While that story was sweet and tender, I think it might have been written before what has now been dubbed “the turkey incident”.
My dad is the cook of the family. My mother was perfectly happy with that. Not that she didn’t cook yummy food but, dad has a love of cooking that surpassed hers. Up until about 10 years ago, I was the same way. Partially because I hated the stereotype the male subjects in my family (not my dad) wanted to push on me that as a Dominican woman I somehow had to serve them by cooking. Have you met me?! The only one I serve is God and I think that if He came down from heaven He’d probably ask Bobby Flay to cook for Him and not me.
Enter the holiday season of 2001. I was working at Scholastic Book Fairs and got inspired by my fellow coworkers talking about great big thanksgiving dinners. In my house “sangeeveen”, as the Dominicans like to pronounce it, consisted of a dry turkey (I’ll explain later), chick peas and rice, a potato salad and the general trimmings NOT found in typical American households (like flan, which rocks my world).
Upon hearing about this great recipe for a magically moist turkey, I made a decision and told mami that I wanted to cook Thanksgiving dinner. She loved the idea as she was cool with change. I chatted with my sister who would be my sous chef and she was on board. I don’t recall chatting with dad about this and if I did, I don’t recall a reaction. If this was a movie, this would be the part where the camera would capture mom and I chatting it up in the kitchen while drinking coffee and then, slowly, with perhaps a slow deadly musical composition, the camera would pan to my dad sitting on the couch listening with a frown on his face.
I decided I wanted to cook some soul food. I used Patti Labelle’s 5-cheese macaroni and cheese recipe as a base and created my very own 6-cheese mac and cheese that must be eaten ONLY if you have health insurance because I cannot be responsible for potential coronaries. The menu looked something like this with my sister running all things sweet:
Turkey cooked in a newly discovered seasoning called Bealls
Honey Baked Ham
6-cheese mac & cheese
Green bean casserole
Sweet potato pie
We got cooking early on Wednesday as I had heard this is what people do. Dad had a tooth ache and I remember him lingering in the background but don’t remember much said. Again, if this was a movie, the camera would find my sister and I happily busying ourselves with the work in the kitchen while my father could be seen in the far corner, arms folded and with the same frown on his face.
Long story short: the dinner went off without a hitch. Everyone loved everything! Well, almost everyone. I heard praises left and right for the food we’d prepared. I heard praises from everyone but my dad. I chucked it up to the tooth ache but recall him sitting in the living room on Thursday morning suspiciously watching my sister and I finalize dinner. My mother ranted and raved about the food, especially the turkey. Her words? It’s so juicy, not like that turkey we have every year. I secretly suspect that my mother was ecstatic that her daughters could make such great food and that, after years and years and years of being married to a man who was a creative force in the kitchen, she was probably tired of hearing about it. I believe this was mami’s payback for whatever it was that dad had ever said to her about her kitchen skills. Those words said to dad: look at what my girls can do. Ha! Dad said nothing.
How could we have known the shitstorm that we had set in motion?
It had been decided by the general counsel of Dominicans that dad would still cook Christmas Eve dinner. Which was fine by me. However, the stories of my turkey had reached all 389 family and friends who were going to be eating at our house that year. And so, a special request was brought forth and hand delivered on a scroll (trying to make it interesting, bear with me). It said:
Hear ye, hear ye! By the powers in place of hungry Dominicans everywhere we request that the marvelous hands that created the thanksgiving wonder turkey grace us with yet another bird for Christmas Eve.
And I, naive in what was to transpire, happily obliged (camera pan to dad sitting in a corner, fuming).
On December 23rd, I put the turkey in the fridge. My father asked if I was going to season the turkey and suggested I hurry up and do it so it would be ready on Christmas Eve. I reminded him and explained that, I wouldn’t be stuffing the turkey with seasoning as was the custom (ala the way that pernil is made). That I’d be making soup with the giblets, stuffing the turkey with the seasoning and bread and then I’d be basting. He said nothing. His way of season was cutting into the bird, sticking seasoning in it and voila! If you know anything about turkey meat you understand why the turkey was dry every year.
On December 24th, I was woken up by my distraught sister at approximately 7:23 a.m. with this question: did you ask dad to help you with the turkey? This prompted me to fly out of bed as she recounted the fact that she had seem him in the kitchen with MY turkey stuffing it with seasoning.
I ran into the kitchen where my dad was happily stuffing his personal stash of yummy seasoning into inch-long incisions he had made IN THE TURKEY BREAST. The conversation went something like this:
“Papi, what are you doing?”
Camera pans to my father with an innocent “what did I do?” look on his face. “What do you mean?”
“Papi, I TOLD you that I didn’t need the turkey seasoned and that it would be handled this morning before I put it in the oven!”
My dad standing half turned to me next to the kitchen sink, one hand with the spoon half-filled with seasoning and the other firmly on top of the turkey. He delivered the crucial line at this point in time complete with Oscar winning facial expression of concern and innocence: “I was only trying to help you cook the turkey.”
I believe that while this exchange was going on my sister had run off to get my mom sure that this would turn into a battle royale. I was dumbfounded by my dad’s last comment. REALLY DUDE?! We talked about this no less than 2 different times and I took the time to explain to you how I’d be cooking the turkey!!! I ran back to my room where my mom came in to check on me with my sister in tow. I ranted for a bit. Then my sister, Radio Bemba herself, announces: dad is now washing the seasoning off of the turkey for you.
I fumed back into the kitchen where in fact my father was standing over the turkey now a tinge of green from the cilantro and peppers that were part of the seasoning he had previously lathered on like sunscreen at the beach. He looks at me with the fake innocent look again and tells me I can go ahead and season it how I want and reminds me again that he was only trying to help.
I found mami and explained to her that I would NEVER cook again! How could he think that I was going to cook this turkey which had obviously been ruined by cutting into the breast that would be holding all of the juices?! I explained I’d never, ever, ever make anything in that house again and that HE could cook all of the dinner if he so chose because I would NOT be touching the defiled turkey! #endrant
My father cooked ALL of Christmas Eve dinner that year. If the camera had been there it would show him facing the kitchen sink while washing the turkey with a smile of satisfaction.
In my household, this has become known as the “turkey incident”. A cautionary tale of what happens when two overzealous girls decide to take over a man’s territory without understanding that he would interpret that as a hostile takeover.
I lived to cook Thanksgiving dinner again. It is known through the Dominican realm as something that you HAVE to try and people now vie for an invitation to such a delicious affair.
The next year, when I made dinner and we had well over 55 people over (no that’s not a typo, I told you, the Dominicans roll deep), my dad spent THE ENTIRE DINNER boasting about his daughters’ cooking. His best line to date regarding that? “Well, what did you expect?” I believe he equalled it to a thief’s kids grow up to be a thief so dot dot dot. My dad has gems like this that would rival the book S*** My Dad Says on any given day. The man took ALL OF THE CREDIT for our cooking skills. Instantaneously forgetting the turkey incident. I now wonder if mami had words of warning for him that year about not mutilating the turkey.
It will be interesting now that we are in the same household to see what the kitchen drama will bring. Having been here for 3 months while he was away has made me the queen of the kitchen. I somehow think he’s going to arm wrestle me for the title of Chief Executive Chef so, I don’t think this story has ended.
Have you had any holiday mayhem in your families in the kitchen or otherwise?