Just weeks before I host, for the first time in six years, the meal of the year, the one that is to represent 12 months of bounty and blessing, this is the scene in my kitchen:
It’s late fall Sunday afternoon. The Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that I remain faithful to during this dreadful season, are playing the much-loathed Baltimore Ravens. I’m reading the Sunday newspaper and listening to the game on the radio. My husband wanders into the kitchen and nonchalantly asks when dinner will be ready. After the game, I bark.
But a look at the clock and a quick calculation given the game’s 4 p.m. kickoff is making dinner look more like a bedtime snack. I start cooking.
An hour later, dinner is just about ready. Pierogies and onions are sautéing on top of the stove. The salad is ready to be tossed. And it’s the final minute of regulation.
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The Ravens tie the game with a minute left. The Steelers are set to receive the ball. The ball is kicked, and Emmanuel Sanders grabs it in the end zone and starts running up the field. He’s on the 20. The 30. The 40 — the announcers’ voices are rising. I start yelling to do my part in what could be a game-winning effort. Go! Go! Go! I yell, giving a final stir to what’s sizzling in the skillet.
But — false alarm — Sanders stepped out of bounds so that ball is brought back.
That doesn’t stop my husband from racing into the kitchen to see what all the yelling is about.
“What’s wrong?” he says anxiously, glancing quickly from me to the stove and then back to me.
Nothing, I say, conscience clear as I reach for the salad dressing.
“Nothing?” husband asks, eyes narrowing suspiciously as he glances around the kitchen. “What were you yelling ‘no, no, no’ about?”
“I didn’t say ‘no no, no’ – that was ‘go, go, go,’” I reply before enthusiastically launching into a play-by-play of that near game-winning score that he had just missed.
My husband shakes his head before coming out with this charred response — “I thought you had caught the stove on fire.”
What? Who does that?
The whole “stove on fire” quickly escalates into “well, you need to watch what you’re yelling” which devolves into “well, you can just make your own dinner” before we simmer down and laugh.
No fire here.
In my husband’s defense, over the years I have been guilty of plenty of kitchen and culinary mishaps.
The last time I hosted Thanksgiving I bought a fresh turkey. A big, beautiful bird. So big that we had to use bungee cords to secure the lid over the electric roaster.
There was the time I read one of those “bring it home” holiday articles about how much people would appreciate a made-from-scratch gift from the kitchen. The article made homemade peanut brittle sound especially delectable and decadent instead of what it usually is, the cause of a trip to the dentist for a cracked or broken tooth.
I boiled and bubbled a whole pot of trouble in my kitchen one Saturday that December, ending up with a molten mess that would have been better suited for road repair. I poured the tar into the garbage can, which caused the rubber container to melt, dripping a trail of globs of polysucrosethylene, a compound created by yours truly, as I raced the disintegrating container to the Dumpster.
I seared the rings of an electric stove burner into the bottom of a cutting board, the one my husband had made by gluing slats of wood together in high school woodshop. In my defense, this wasn’t a museum-quality heirloom of early American craftsmanship regardless of what my husband says.
I singed the same distinctive arcs into potholders that got too close to a hot burner and a (happily) flame-retardant tea cozy. Like the stamps used by master craftsman, we joke that those black arcs are “the mark of Chris.”
Baking — casseroles, roasts, pies — regularly turn the oven into a smoking dragon pit.
The exhaust fan seems to click on automatically whenever I preheat the oven. I would like to chalk it up to a malfunctioning appliance but I’m not so sure.
Windows are regularly open in the winter months to let in some fresh air and take some of the heat out of the kitchen.
The smoke alarm has sometimes been my timer, its piercing pings our dinner bell.
I hate to think of what I’m contributing when it comes to global warming.
So, weeks after the “go, go, go” debacle, I got to wondering about what I had committed to in just a few short weeks. There’s something to be said for that old saying “if you can’t take the heat … .”
So I made the call.
“Hi, Mom. Change of plans. We’re coming home.”
And it just so happens that my beleaguered Steelers are playing football Thanksgiving night. God willing, I won’t be anywhere near a stove.
A blessing indeed.