So, last year, I faced the ultimate culinary challenge: a holiday meal for a dozen people.
And you’d think that would be a huge success, right? People do this all over the world, and it goes off without a hitch, so this Saveur-endorsed expert will have no trouble, right? The girl who’s piped eclairs and rendered duck fat and baked cakes from scratch?
Sure, you would think so.
And you would be wrong.
Don’t those potatoes look so great? Sure, they do. They look terrific.
But my guests, the ones who were supposed to be eating them for Christmas dinner last year… what did they get?
Oh, sorry. They got a bunch of burned potatoes.
And, you guys… I feel like I have some story to tell, but there’s no story here.
I was six months pregnant. I didn’t have a crying baby to look after or a seven-month sleep deficit.
I just tried my best at a holiday dinner, and… well, I burned the potatoes. In fact, I burned everything. The details aren’t really important, so let me just say: it was inedible. I spent all day cooking, and there was literally no edible food on our table. We didn’t even save the leftovers — and, yes, there were plenty. They went straight into the trash.
I felt awful. I felt so badly about ruining Christmas dinner that I could hardly talk about it for months — Chad had to pretend, every time I brought it up, that really, it wasn’t so bad. Sure, the potatoes were tossed into the garbage, but, even a holiday dinner sometimes goes awry; people understand. No one starved.
And as our family was leaving (after I’d given them enough dessert and wine to ensure they weren’t still actively hungry, even if they weren’t quite full), my mother in law told me that the first time she’d cooked for her husband’s parents, she’d done the same thing. She’d spent all day in the kitchen, planned a perfect menu, and then burned the whole thing.
And, you know what? Someday I hope to tell this story to our son’s wife. Some holiday, many decades from now, when I see her (and him! I’m raising a man who cooks, if it’s the last thing I do) take on the incredible effort of a holiday meal and see it go wrong, I’ll share this story. I’ll tell them about that time, a few months before he came into this world, when I bit off more than I could chew and came up just a little bit short.
And I’ll tell them about how we all laughed about it the next year (while eating the store-bought backup dishes I’m ordering this time around).
So, this year, turn on the Christmas lights. Open a bottle of wine. Play some great music and take a moment to focus on the faces of the people around your table. Because life goes by really fast, and this year’s burned potatoes are next year’s funny story. And a decade later, they’re a treasured memory of a time you tried and failed; a time you were just human and not superwoman.
So go ahead. Burn the heck out of those potatoes.