Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Crash Course in Hospitality

I promised you a story. This is the tale of one young lady (me!) and her first attempt to serve a formal holiday meal to her in-laws.

It all started back at Thanksgiving. My father-in-law was good-naturedly grousing about having to host another holiday. He pretends to not like people. It's all a game, part of his charm, but in retaliation I replied, "Well, fine. Let's do Christmas at my house."

"Are you serious? Are you sure?"

"Why not?" And with that, I stepped off the cliff. We decided that Sunday the 18th was close enough to Christmas to count, fit everyone's work schedules, and offered me enough time to figure out what I was doing.

I spent days pouring over menu ideas. There were some important requirements: it had to be healthy, it had to be easy enough to accomplish, and it had to be cheap enough to feed 7 people without breaking my budget. I settled on this menu:
  • Spiral cut ham, on special at Aldi for $1.29 a pound
  • Scalloped potatoes with onions and cheese
  • Green bean cassarole
  • Cranberry Relish (a Holiday tradition passed down by my grandmother)
  • Dessert brought by my mother- and sister-in-law

So after a fruitful planning session and a bargain-filled shopping trip, I pushed the dinner to the back of my mind, confident that everything would work out just as I had planned without any more input from me. Which brings us up to Sunday...

12 pm, leaving Church, 6 hours until serving

"I've been meaning to get my oil changed," my husband declared. "Can we go do that now?"

I felt confident. I had 6 hours before my relatives were due. The ham was fully cooked and just needed warmed, so... "Sure, let's go."

We drove over to Sam's Club to drop the car off at their Tire and Lube while we picked up a few last minute gifts. This is officially when things began to go wrong. This is also when things began to get really, really funny.

1pm, at Sam's, 5 hours until serving

"What do you mean, you don't do oil changes?" That's right, Sam's installs batteries and tires, but doesn't actually do lube after all. But since we were already there, we decided to wander around, try the free samples, and throw things in our cart that we may or may not have actually needed (2 huge jugs of Welsh's Grape Juice?). While there, one of the samples I tasted triggered a reminder:


Which led to an hour long pursuit of brie cheese to make a snack tray. I finally found some at Shop n Save at a price I was willing to pay. I also decided to try a feat I saw once in a cookbook from the '60s -- a pineapple tower. We still had 4 hours to go, so why not?

2:30 pm, at home, 3.5 hours from serving

Shaune and I decided that, with only a few hours to go, we should really get started on some parts of dinner so that we wouldn't be scrambling once his family arrived. The ham was supposed to cook 15 min per lb, at 8 lb, was right about 2 hours. Time to spare. The potatoes cooked right at an hour. Plenty of time. I'd already changed the green beans to be stove top instead of a cassarole, so that would only take a couple minutes. Then I realized one huge, glaring, unacceptable problem with my kitchen...

"Shaune, did you know there is only one rack in the oven?"

I had two things that needed in there, both at the same temperature for long periods of time. I put in my first paniced phone call to my mother.

"Well, you could take aluminum cans and put a cooling rack across it to build a shelf." But I don't have any cooling racks... "You could just put the pyrex dish on the cans." But the cans went out in the garbage, which was just picked up the other day.... "You could... try something else."

So, I pulled out my trusty crock pot. 3 1/2 hours on high might just be enough to warm it throughout. I grabbed the crock, unwrapped the ham, and dropped it in -- only to watch it land right on the edge and stay there. It was several inches too large. I ended up using the crock pot lid like a template and cutting off one large corner of the ham, praying that there would be enough meat without that bit. Then I pushed and shoved until the ham fit. I turned the crock pot on high, pushed it to the corner, and for the first time began wondering if I had gotten in over my head...


I have to dash off and take care of Christmas Eve festivities now, and this post is getting long. I have more to tell you! I hope to finish this story very soon. I hope you're laughing as much as I am. It was a wonderful time.

1 comment:

Gillian said...

Oh my, Jenny! I lost it when you wrote about trimming the ham to fit in the crock pot... too funny!

The whole shopping part reminded me of the other week when I was in charge of planning, prepping, and setting up for semi-formal... we had a last-minute dash through Sam's and then a frantic scramble to set up the food and move all the furniture! Made it just in time though... I hope your story turns out as well :-) (Also... I don't think my family has EVER had a company meal that went completely right or was on the table on time. So take heart! You're not alone!)