Bake Cake Vol. 1
2003-11-26 - 10:15 a.m.
"Revenge is a dish best served cold."--Old Klingon Proverb.
"Barbara's pumpkin cake is a dish best served warm, with some whipped cream on top. Cool Whip is fine."--Old (circa 1995) RRZ Family Proverb.
Bada-ba-pah badabada-bah-pah badabada-bah-pah badabada-BAH! PAH! PAH! Bada-ba-pah badabada-bah-pah badabada-bah-pah badabada-BAH! PAH! PAH!
This Thanksgiving . . .
BAH! PAH! PAH!
The Notorious RRZ will . . .
BAH! PAH! PAH!
For those regarded as Thanksgiving cooks, when engaged in preparation of food the deliciousness of thy dish can be the cook's only concern. Suppress all human emotion and compassion. Kill whoever stands in thy way, even if that be Nigella Lawson, or Emeril himself. In fact, please kill Emeril. All of America will have something else to be thankful for. This truth lies at the heart of the art of filial dining.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There is none of the pressure of Christmas to find the right presents for the right prices, but you still have the joy of a family coming together to eat a great big meal and pass out afterwards. Really, what could be more American? Also highly enjoyable is the posturing of numerous cooks in the kitchen and at the dining room table, a power struggle as subtle, intricate, and ruthlessly bloody as a yakuza gang war. This is particularly true at my house, where the loss of my grandmother a few years ago has left a vacuum that my mother, my aunt, and various offspring are now struggling to fill.
My grandmother was a tough lady and a great cook, with a wide reputation. Back in the day, my grandfather would kill the animals we were using for the meal himself. One day another turkey came in to see him plucking the bird, and he said, "It was not my intention to do this in front of you. For that I'm sorry. But you can take my word for it, your friend here will taste delish'. Next year, if you still feel raw about it, I'll be waiting." Then he'd hear that the neighborhood had been invited and he'd just grab that turkey anyway.
My grandmother would then prepare everything on a Depression era budget (I'm talking Carnivale-style economic status, people) and come to the table like a conqueror. Even years later, she would always say, "I can tell you with no ego that this is my finest batch of mashed potatoes. If, on your journey home with leftovers, you should encounter God . . . God will eat too much." I remember when my aunt came to Thanksgiving the year after my grandmother died. She said, "I have brought mother's meat dressing."
My mother whipped around, "YOU LIE!!!"
My aunt opened the tupperware just enough to let her smell. After dinner, my mother said softly "It really was my mother's meat dressing" before falling over onto the ground, largely from having had too much tryptophan.
For the most part, my mother has risen to the top, being the one to prepare the turkey, stuffing, and gravy, the cornerstones of the Thanksgiving meal. I have gotten too used to my mother's turkey to really have an opinion on it, and I also don't like the way it gets cut, but I join everyone around the table in exuberant praise of the rcihness, the divine flavor and texture of this perfectly prepared turkey. We know better than an unfortunate boyfriend of one of my cousins whose first Thanksgiving was his last. He said that injecting butter under the skin made the turkey more moist. Knowing what was coming, we covered our dishes with our napkins when my mother jumped on the table, walked over to the poor guy, and decapitated him with the electric carving knife. As other boyfriends, girlfriends, and guests stared in terror at my mother and their own blood-drenched plates, my mother said, "As the maker of main dishes and owner of this kitchen, I encourage you from time to time, and always in a respectful manner, to question my logic. If you're unconvinced that a particular seasoning or amount of butter I've decided to use is the wisest, tell me so, but allow me to convince you and I promise you right here and now, no subject will ever be taboo. Except, of course, the subject that was just under discussion. The price you pay for bringing up either the juiciness or tenderness of the turkey as a negative is - I collect your fuckin' head. Just like this fucker here. Now, IF ANY OF YOU SONS OF BITCHES GOT ANYTHING ELSE TO SAY, NOW'S THE FUCKING TIME!!!"
This year, as with last year, I will be making the pumpkin cake. Pumpkin cake is like pumpkin pie, but instead of having a crust on the bottom you have a crumbly crust on top, with pecans on it. Someone came up with it a few years ago and it's been a fixture ever since. Of course, I went to the grocery store before work this morning to avoid the lines, as well as to make sure they didn't run out of the necessary ingredients. I got in to Albertson's and went to the canned fruits and vegetables section. Theree was no pumpkin pie filling to be found.
I rounded the aisle and met this kindly looking old woman with a nametag. She said, "My name is Melba, and I'm here to helpya!"
I threw her on the ground and slammed my shopping cart into her head. "WHERE'S FILLING?!" She whimpered and cried and I hit her again, "PUMPKIN PIE! WHERE'S FILLING?!" She looked up aghast and I said. "You're name is Melba, right? And you're here to help . . . uh . . . moi, right?! WHERE'S THE PUMPKIN PIE FILLING?!"
She sent me off to baking goods. To make sure no one got there before me, I had to kill her.
Of course, when I got to the counter I didn't have cash. And they didn't take my credit card. The cashier said, "You didn't think it was going to be that, easy, did you?" I said, "You know, for a second there, I thought I did." We both said, "Silly Rabbit, Trix are for kids." Then I, you know, went to the ATM and came back. No one else was in line at 7am.
Tonight, I will go home and prepare my dish, and wait for the call that I always get from my mom whenever I start cooking for Thanksgiving: "As I said before, I've allowed you to keep making dessert for two reasons. The first is because I don't have the time or the oven space to make everything myself, what am I, a miracle worker? And the second reason is so you can feed them in person with everything that I've taught you over the years. I want them to witness the extent of my skill by tasting your delicious dish. I want you to have all the information your grandmother gave me. I want you to know what I know. I want you to know I want you to know. And I want them all to know they'll all soon be as stuffed as this turkey."
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