I took a few days off after my big onion-less soup victory (a few weeks’ distance from the soup experience has changed the narrative of its taste and smell and overall only moderate success from being boring to superb, in my mind) to get ready for Christmas. I had deliberately scheduled butternut squash for that week because it seemed like a pleasant winter vegetable and I would rather have something warm and friendly on my Christmas table than something disgusting that no one would eat, like turnips. My sister, Bethany, who has been angling for another blog cameo since her last appearance was less flattering than she cared for, signed on to make Christmas squash so I could concentrate on everything else. But unfortunately for Bethany, just because she cooks something yummy doesn’t mean her second appearance on the blog will be any more flattering than the first (even though she also has good hair, it kind of runs in the family).
In the days leading up to Christmas—which was at my house this year and was the first time since both my sister and I have been married that we would all be together on Christmas—I began to plan a menu and schedule what I should cook when so I could achieve the one thing I want to accomplish in this project: everything coming together at once. If I was able to do that on Christmas day it would be like my own little Christmas miracle.
I’d put together a pretty straightforward menu, but one that incorporated as many elements of the project as possible without straying too far from traditional Christmas goodness (I didn’t want my dad to go hungry, plus since he had so successfully scheduled Thanksgiving so that everything landed on the table all at once, hot and ready to eat, I would be relying on him pretty heavily to help me do that at my house, and I figured the least I could do as thanks was make a few things he wouldn’t mind eating).
Our Christmas menu for six (which was clearly enough to feed 112):
- Roast and gravy
- Orange maple glazed sweet potatoes (which I first made for pre-Thanksgiving)
- Brown sugar Brussels sprouts
- Epic butternut squash casserole (so named by Bethany)
- Mashed potatoes
- Mixed green salad
- Grandmother Judy’s butter muffins
- Pumpkin crisp (this delight has found a permanent home my repertoire; I love it)
I got the sweet potato and Brussels sprouts recipes from the Fresh Market Holiday Handbook I had been holding onto for months but only got around to looking at the Wednesday before Christmas. I knew the sweet potatoes would be easy and the sprouts looked even easier, and because I had just about convinced myself that cooking only easy things would be the best way to achieve synchrony, they both went on the list. Everything else was pretty standard: roast, red meat, obviously; David is a mashed potato expert and for me no holiday is complete without them, so that was an obvious inclusion; the salad was just because it seemed like the right thing to do; my grandmother’s butter muffins are a holiday staple; pumpkin crisp instead of pie for dessert because I love it and I don’t love pie; and finally, last but not least, the butternut squash casserole my sister promised would be epic.
I had talked to my sister about a dozen times earlier in the week and traded several text messages about plans and how much time she would need to make epic squash (many, many hours) and whether she would make it at my house or her house and whether there would be enough oven space and and and…. We also talked about how she and her husband should bring all their presents to our house so we could all open everything together and then have our big dinner and then all collapse on the couch in beautiful, stuffed misery and watch football. I said, hey, make sure to bring your dog so we can spend all day doing all the things we’ve always done on Christmas since time immemorial. It was around this plan and these conversations that I built my schedule, my hard-and-fast, dinner-at-3, because-that’s-what-time-we-always-have-dinner schedule.
So you can imagine my surprise when late, late, late on Christmas Eve I got a little text message from her that said, hey, we’ll be there around 2.
This was when If You Fuck Up My Christmas I’ll Kill You Dead Julie told It’s All Good in the Spirit of Christmas Julie to take a hike, and replied:
Me: No, no, no. Party starts at 11.
This was me being generous, still tending slightly toward Christmas spirit; I really wanted them there at 8 a.m.
Her: Sorry, lunch with husband’s family.
And this was when searing venom began to shoot out my eyes, ears, nose, fingers, toes, ala fire-breathing dragon lady, but worse, because it was me.
Me: I don’t like this at all.
So she called me. Her husband lost his mother to breast cancer a number of years ago, so it’s especially important to them to spend holidays together with his father and sister and celebrate in the spirit of holiday togetherness.
Me, on the phone: OK, let me sulk about this for a minute. I’ll be fine.
We hung up. I sulked. And then I relented. Begrudgingly.
Me, back to texting: OK, we can wait to do presents and dinner. We’ll just make it supper. Do NOT open ANY presents before you get here. At least let me have that.
Me again: And don’t be late or I’ll poke your eyes out and won’t give you a good blog cameo.
She said something nice and sincere here.
Me: I’m serious about poking your eyes out.
The next day they arrived early and her epic squash casserole was heat-and-eat ready. I’m not saying I’m a bully, but sometimes the fear of god, or eye gouging, goes a long way. I’m just sayin. What?
Christmas dinner was a fantastic success. My dad worked out the schedule, I chopped up my fancy vegetables with the fancy knives my parents gave me for Christmas (someone reads the blog!), and then I delegated the shit out of everything else, which actually felt great. Having more hands on deck made achieving my ultimate dinner goal much more manageable, and at 6:05, my entire Christmas dinner—including four new-to-me-in-2009 vegetables—was on the dining room table, hot and delicious looking. Happy Christmas to me. We did it.
And Bethany was right. Her butternut squash casserole was epic. Won.
Bethany’s Epic Butternut Squash Casserole
Cut two large butternut squashes in half, lengthwise. Get all the goo and seeds out of the middle. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place them face down on a cookie sheet and roast at 350 for 1 hour.
Scoop all the mushy goodness away from the skin. Combine with two eggs, salt and pepper, a mountain of shredded cheese (I used sharp cheddar), and lots of bread crumbs. Mash it up really good. Spread in an appropriate sized baking dish. Throw a few pats of butter around the top (I did about 8). Then bake at 350 for 40 minutes.
Remove from oven.
Crumble Cheez-its over the top to form a nice crust. Bake for 5 more minutes.
And another thing: This is my friend Sarah’s blog documenting her treatment and personal commentary on breast cancer issues. It’s funny, enlightening and includes some great not-your-typical breast cancer resources: http://www.thetitoffensive.blogspot.com/