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Saturday, November 22, 2008

If anything can go wrong…

We had three holiday-feast disasters, two of which happened on different Thanksgivings and one on Christmas Day.

The first was on Thanksgiving Day in 1985. I remember the year so clearly because our daughter was born four days earlier and I had just come home from the hospital on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving.

My husband was a novice cook at the time but prepared a very special dinner of Cornish game hens, wild rice with mushrooms, fresh spinach and warm oven-baked rolls. The special added touch was a chilled bottle of champagne to celebrate the birth of our daughter and her first full day at home.

When he popped the cork, the champagne burst out of the bottle, flooded the entire table and completely drenched our beautiful meal.

It was gross, but we made the best of it by sopping up as much of the champagne as we could and ate every bite of that very special cold, champagne-soaked dinner.

The second disaster was also on Thanksgiving but a few years later.

We had just sat down to enjoy our traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings. No sooner had we taken our first bite than we heard an explosion in the kitchen.

We had left a Pyrex casserole dish of dressing on one of the stovetop burners, which was accidentally left on. The casserole literally exploded into a thousand pieces.

The kitchen was covered with dressing and tiny pieces of glass from one end to the other, ceiling to floor. We blocked the kitchen off to keep out the dogs and child, sat down to enjoy our feast, and dealt with the mess after dinner.

The third disaster was on Christmas Day a few years ago.

We had just purchased a new stove and were preparing a prime rib roast for Christmas dinner. About halfway through the cooking process, my husband went to check the roast.

He opened the oven door, and the entire door came away in his hand. There he stood with a practically raw rib roast in the oven and the door in his hand!

We tried everything, including duct taping the door back on to the stove but it was just too heavy and the tape didn't hold.

Nothing worked, but he wasn't about to throw away the rib roast or pan fry it.

He spent the next hour standing in front of the stove holding the door in place mumbling things not very much in the spirit of Christmas.

In the end. we all enjoyed our rib roast and had another story to add to our collection of holiday disasters.

- Patty Actisdano


Much-relished dessert takes odd turn

In the spring of 1976, when I interviewed Vi Lilly of West Yellowstone for an oral-history project, she gave me a jar of her prized green-tomato mincemeat.

I had never tasted green-tomato mincemeat, but mincemeat pie was my favorite, especially the way my grandmother made it with her home-canned mincemeat.

That summer, my husband Bill and I moved to Boise, Idaho, where he had distant cousins.

Although we did not know them well, when they invited us to Thanksgiving dinner, I offered to make a mincemeat pie. I had never made a mincemeat pie, but I had Vi Lilly's green-tomato mincemeat.

On Thanksgiving morning, when I opened the jar, it smelled like green-tomato relish. It tasted like green-tomato relish, so I began to doctor it up with raisins, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, more brown sugar, allspice, cloves, some diced apple, more cinnamon, and a little rum.

After every addition it still tasted like green-tomato relish.

In last-minute desperation, I sent Bill to the store for a box of the dried mincemeat my mother had always used. I stirred it into my concoction, filled the crust and took extra care with the lattice top. I hoped that somehow in the baking all of the ingredients would miraculously meld together into the sweet-tart taste of mincemeat.

At dinner, Bill's cousin introduced his mother-in-law and her sister who loved mincemeat pie and could hardly wait to try mine.

At dessert, the three of us (the only mincemeat lovers at the table) helped ourselves to big pieces.

My first taste? Green-tomato relish. They tasted, paused, praised the crisp crust and declared the pie to be, "Interesting. Really. It's not bad."

I knew better.

They gamely ate all they had taken, did not ask for seconds, and politely refused my offer to share the leftovers. No one came to my rescue with humor. At home, I scraped the leftover pie into the garbage.

I wish I could have saved Vi's gift to use on hamburgers or sandwiches. It would have been delicious.

However, now when anyone, especially a young cook, is embarrassed by a holiday food disaster, I ask if they would like to try my recipe for green-tomato relish pie.

- Lee Cooper

Red Lodge

Family has timely Thanksgiving

It was always a special treat when we could have Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day.

Our dad was a railroader and often worked the holidays for the extra income. Our dinners could be on any day of the week - whatever day he had off.

Like all "command-performance" dinners, there was a pre-set time to eat, which, in our home, meant absolutely nothing (but that's another story altogether!).

In 1959, we shot for 6 p.m., and everything seemed to be working perfectly for all six of us. The table was set, good dishes were out, trimmings were done and cooking was choreographed to be ready all at once (rather than having a few of the usual burnt offerings).

It was only 7 p.m., and it was THURSDAY!!

As Mom poured the turkey gravy into the gravy boat, she splashed some on her good blouse. Dress-up being mandatory, she dashed to the bedroom to change, tripped over the vacuum cleaner and took "a header" into the edge of the closet door.

Dad gathered us all up for the trip to the hospital for stitches to her scalp.

The emergency staff let us kids watch the doctor stitch. (Try THAT nowadays!) My sister and I were fascinated, but our brothers did not last long and were escorted out before they hit the floor. Mom did great!

Hungry and home, Mom changed out of the gravy- and now blood-stained blouse, but, with the light on, and headed back to her "post."

With everyone helping out, we were able to have our turkey dinner by 11 p.m., on THURSDAY, and had extra thanks to offer!

- Cynthia L. Finch


Kids want no part of this dinner

I remember the worst Thanksgiving I ever had.

My mother came home one day with a duck. This was in September of 1941. She told my brother Jim and me to watch and feed the duck. We were 5 and 6 years old.

The first thing we did was dig a big, wide hole, then put water in it for the duck to swim.

The water would not stay in the hole. We pumped and pumped with a pipe going to the hole; it would not fill. We walked and played with the duck all day, for days. We loved our duck.

Thanksgiving Day came, and my Mom took the duck and chopped his head off, then cleaned all the skin. She then put it in a pan and into the oven.

Thanksgiving dinner was ready, and our duck was on the center of the table.

My Dad picked the plate up and carved the "turkey." Dad put some on our plates. Jim and I stared.

"Mmm, mmm, so good, just right," Mom and Dad said.

Jim and I did not eat any, just looked at it. That was our pet.

- Joann Fortier


Balancing act gets out of balance

My family still talks about the year I hosted Thanksgiving dinner.

It has become one of those "remember when" stories that, unfortunately, never dies.

I spent the preceding week in a cooking frenzy and felt very prepared when Thanksgiving Day dawned.

My husband had graciously gotten up at 4 a.m. to stuff and put the turkey in the oven, the casseroles were ready to join it and the salads and other side dishes were either cooling in the fridge or outside on the porch. I even had appetizers ready in the form of goose paté, crackers and crudities.

The first problem arose when I tried putting the casseroles in the oven. I had failed to consider that a 20-pound turkey takes up most of a regular-sized oven.

Well, no problem. I'll just take the roaster lid off, cover the bird with tin foil and balance the beans here and the sweet potatoes there and the baked beans here.

The next problem I encountered was when I tried to use the garbage disposal and everything I tried to put down came spitting back at me.

Thankfully, my husband is handy with that kind of thing, but he soon determined he would have to get under the sink and unscrew the pipes. So, as the first guests arrived, they were met with the proverbial "plumber's crack" and some "fowl" language to go with it.

Being the consummate hostess, I proceeded to ply my guests with appetizers and wine. My husband got the sink unplugged and joined us.

Everyone had arrived with the exception of my parents, who were habitually late, so they weren't actually late yet. And, when I checked the turkey, it wasn't done yet anyway, so I plied more appetizers and wine.

My parents finally arrived, but they had had a fight on the way over and my mom went directly to a bedroom and refused to come out. My dad pretended everything was fine, but mixed himself a very strong drink, and then another. I checked the bird again. It still wasn't done.

My sister asked what time I had put it in, and I rather snippily told her.

"But it doesn't have a lid on it"" she replied. "It takes a lot longer if you don't have a lid, especially if it's stuffed!"

"Oh," I replied. "Would you like some more wine?"

The next time I checked it, I decided to go ahead and put the marshmallows on the yams since THEY were certainly done. I unbalanced everything, put the marshmallows on the yams and balanced everything back on top of the still-not-done turkey.

Shortly after, while enjoying another glass of wine and tolerating all the ribbing I was getting about the delay, I heard the crashing of dishes coming from the oven. Sure enough, my food pyramid had collapsed, and the side dishes were on the side, dripping off the turkey and pooling on the bottom.

I chewed my lip as I saved what I could, replaced the darn turkey and cranked the oven up. I couldn't offer more appetizers and wine because they were all gone.

My family was standing around with hollow faces and glazed eyes, checking their watches and sighing a lot. My mom was still isolating in the bedroom.

An hour later, I finally deemed the turkey to be done enough to carve. Mom decided it was better to be fed than angry, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief as we finally sat down to celebrate our family Thanksgiving dinner.

- Lori Frank


On the trail to Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving, 1966, Don, my husband and I were running cows on my parents' ranch and starting our family.

D. J., our oldest son was 21 months, and I was seven months pregnant with our middle son, Wayne.

The cows summered at Sage Creek in the mountains 70 miles by road south of Dillon. The trail through the mountains that the cows walked was about 20 miles. Their winter range was along the Beaverhead River, two miles south of Dillon.

Due to the long fall, the cows were still at Sage Creek on Thanksgiving. However, the day before Thanksgiving, it snowed, and we knew we would have to trail the cows out of Sage Creek on Thanksgiving.

My in-laws, Bud and Agnes, were invited to Thanksgiving dinner at our home in Dillon.

I had the rolls and pies in the freezer. (My Grandmother said, if one had rolls and dessert, one had dinner.)

We arranged with Bud and Agnes to take D. J., and Agnes would cook the turkey the next day at our house. Bud would meet us with a truckload of hay at Small Horn Canyon, where the cows would stay overnight.

Don and I drove to Sage Creek Wednesday evening to start out the next morning.

Thanksgiving morning, as soon as it was light enough to see to catch a horse, we set out on our cattle drive. A Sage Creek neighbor helped us gather and start the cows.

Once the men loaded Wayne and me aboard Charm, a tall, stout, sorrel mare; I was set for a long ride. Don was the in the lead, and I brought up the drag.

The snow was so deep in places that Don's horse would not go; so Don walked to break trail for the cows. The cows knew they were headed to better pasture, so they lined up single file and walked out of the mountains.

When we reached the Dillon side of the mountains, the snow was not as deep.

Don stopped and built a fire to heat up our hobo dinners. Hobo dinners are a hamburger patty with onions, carrots, celery and potatoes with a sauce wrapped in foil.

Bud and D. J. were waiting for us at Small Horn Canyon with the truckload of hay for the cows and a ride home for the horses and Don and me.

Agnes had the turkey cooked when we got home, and we enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner.

As I remember that Thanksgiving it was all in a day's work, but now those times make good Grandma Stories to share with my three grandsons.

- Gayle Gransbery


Onto the ferry to cook the pies

In the early 1980s, my husband and I were living on Bainbridge Island, a short 30-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle.

My husband's mother, sister, brother-in-law and two nieces lived in and around north Seattle. We were all going to gather at my mother-in-law's for Thanksgiving.

The day dawned gray and rainy, typical Seattle weather for that time of year.

About mid-morning, I had just put the pumpkin pies in the oven to bake, when the power (electricity for the whole island and area) died - another typical happening at that time in northwest Washington.

After telephone calls confirming there was still power at "Ma Haffner's," we packed up the uncooked pies, clean clothes and other Thanksgiving goodies and drove to the ferry dock. We were able to get on an earlier ferry than we had planned.

We arrived at her condo, finished cooking the pies, showered, changed clothes, helped with getting the remainder of dinner and enjoyed a very happy Thanksgiving with family and friends.

- M. June Haffner


Turkey foul-up turns up the heat

For many years when our children were younger, our family shared Thanksgiving Day with our neighbors, the Solem-Seviers (Rita and Mark) and the Crowders (Judy and Richard).

The highlight of our meal was Mark's special turkey - injected with wine, slathered with mayonnaise and roasted outside on a Weber grill.

One year, after the Crowders had moved to Joliet, we made the trip to their new home for Thanksgiving. Mark put the turkey on the grill, and we settled in to visit and watch football. Dinner was to be served at around 2 p.m.

My husband, Gene, loves Thanksgiving because of the 4 F's - family, friends, football and food.

Anticipating a delicious dinner, he went to check on the turkey at about 1 p.m., and it was COLD. The coals were out.

He whispered to me, obviously distressed, "That turkey is not cooking!"

I went to Rita, who then approached Mark and suggested that he check on his turkey.

Mark said, "Rita, I know how to cook a … bird!"

He then went to check himself, and, sadly, it was true: the bird was not cooking.

With the help of a blow dryer, he got the embers going again.

By 3:30, the over-baked stuffing was dry, the potatoes were cold, the fruit salad was mush and we decided go ahead and eat a "turkeyless" Thanksgiving meal.

Two hours later, the turkey was finally done. It was too late for that meal, but, at least, there were lots of leftovers!

That dinner, disastrous as it was at the time, has been the source of fond memories and the mainstay of many Thanksgiving jokes.

Each year, we cannot resist the urge to call Mark on Thanksgiving morning to make sure the grill is hot and that he really does know how to cook a bird. He takes the ribbing with grace and humor, but I'm sure he wishes we'd give up on it.

- Karen Jarussi


No use crying over spilled water

Last Thanksgiving, I woke up early and put the turkey in the oven around 7 a.m.

I heard an unfamiliar noise coming from our basement and went to check it out. I landed one foot on the carpeted floor and knew immediately that our basement was flooded.

I bolted upstairs and screamed at my still-sleeping husband, "THE BASEMENT IS FLOODED."

We ran downstairs to discover that our outside spigot had been turned slightly (probably by our then 2-year-old) and froze, breaking the pipe in our wall.

I called my sister frantically, took the boys to her house and went to Albertsons to rent Rug Doctors.

I called everyone I could think of who wouldn't mind on Thanksgiving morning. We had friends and family over moving out everything in the basement and running four Rug Doctors.

After many hours and a missed football game, I went through the Yellow Pages to try to find someone to help.

To my surprise, the Clean Team came and used special technology to suck up most the water. While he was there, with the front door wide open (it was freezing outside) and his tube going through the house and downstairs, we (10 of us) sat down to a nice cold Thanksgiving dinner.

All we could do was laugh and be thankful for very good friends and family.

- Kori Keller


Holiday dinner has saving grace

I'll never forget the first Thanksgiving at my house 12 years ago.

My husband and I had a new baby girl, and a new home.

Holidays were always at mom's, so I was excited and anxious to do it right. I spent more than we really could afford, but I wanted it to be perfect, like something out of a magazine.

I decked out the table with lovely new dishes, sparkling wine glasses and holiday linens.

My family arrived to the warm smells of holiday cooking, with everyone hugging and smiling. They gathered in our small dining room, oohing and awing at the feast I'd prepared.

I even marveled at the lovely dishes of food - pies, mashed potatoes, stuffing, fresh baked rolls etc, and a perfectly browned turkey. (This wasn't just any turkey; it took two days to thaw! Plus, myself being a vegetarian, I'd never even touched a raw turkey before! Yuck! And I'd not be eating any of it. But I read the instructions, and I did it! There it was sliced perfectly on the platter!)

The table was extended and looking just like that picture I'd imagined in my head.

There wasn't quite enough room between the wall and table, so the men decided to move the table just a couple more inches. Yep, just a couple of inches!

It was one of those moments frozen in time with every second ticking in slow motion - the loud crack as table's pedestal completely snapped, then there was that sickening moment of understanding!

We all gasped and stared in unbelief as my new dishes and all the beautiful food I'd prepared started flinging into the air, and it seemed to me to be magically suspended there.

Then slowly, one after another, they began falling and crashing at our feet. The dishes and glasses being smashed as the heavier dishes laden with food slammed down upon them. We all stood there; no one even breathing as we looked on in horror.

My whole labor of love was smattered across the floor and up the walls of the dining room. The food was totally unsalvageable, filled with broken glass.

All that was left was a somewhat bare carcass of the turkey in the kitchen, along with the extra dinner rolls and pies.

I took a slow breath and did my best to look brave, but my eyes started filling with tears.

I looked about at my shocked guests and family standing there stricken, and then across the shattered heap of food and dishes on the floor to my mom. She met my eyes, and I knew she felt my pain.

We sure couldn't salvage the beautiful dinner I'd prepared, but together we could salvage the day. She squared up her shoulders, and announced, "I think it just might be a perfect day for turkey noodle soup and homemade pumpkin pie!"

With our hands held and our heads bowed, we all gave the most sincere thanks for the love and the food we shared that day.

No one in our family who was present that day has ever forgotten the Thanksgiving dinner at my house of turkey noodle soup and pumpkin pies.

- Amber Kelly-Nash


Tradition gets off to rocky start

A few years ago, I was planning an unusual Thanksgiving for my husband and me.

We grew some wheat in the garden, watched it all grow and ripen and harvested the wheat along with more usual things such as beans, peas, corn, and winter squash.

Freezing food that wouldn't keep fresh provided more options for a terrific turkey day while I planned our "Fruits of the Garden" Thanksgiving.

Getting ready for the nearing big day, I bought the turkey and a couple quarts of heavy cream and made a pumpkin pie. After grinding our harvested wheat, there was just enough flour to make two loaves of bread.

Preparing some things the night before granted enough time on the big day to get everything done.

One of those preparations has since become a family tradition: Making butter.

I left the cream out on the counter for a couple days to thicken and sour, poured it into a big glass jug, rolled it around and around on the floor, and suddenly, golden butter! Buttermilk pancakes for breakfast on Thanksgiving Day were a welcome treat left from the butter making.

On Thanksgiving Day, I prepared the bread dough, let it rise, kneaded and shaped the loaves, baked them and had them cooling on the counter while the turkey roasted. We snacked and waited for the turkey to finish and the rush to gather it all together and have our meal.

Hearing my husband in the kitchen, I thought he was getting a little snack to stave off the hunger pangs from the smell of that almost-done turkey and bread and all the other goodies destined for our table.

I heard a loud "bang" in the kitchen and rushed to see what had happened.

Since the microwave was occupied with items that needed to be in a cat-proof place, my husband had thought it was a good idea to try heating a Pyrex measure cup of water on the flames of our gas stove. It had exploded into a million pieces all over the kitchen.

Those glorious loaves of homemade bread were covered in glittering shards of glass and were the only casualty except for the hapless measuring cup. And my pride.

I had to throw that bread out, couldn't even feed it to the wild birds.

Having to wipe down the entire kitchen to make sure glass couldn't get into food or a foot meant that dinner would be delayed, and the butter meant for the home grown baked bread was spread on some hurriedly made biscuits for our meal. We finally got to eat!

The next Thanksgiving? We had homemade butter and bread. And no mishaps.

- Mary Grace Kobey


Turkey-time troubles come in 3's

Ah, Thanksgiving!

My family was coming, so, while I was waiting for them to arrive, the pie baking began. Crusts were mixed, rolled, placed and filling added. Into the oven they went.

Before too long, I realized that the oven wasn't working. After a brief consult with my husband, I sent him off to purchase a new kitchen stove while I went on with the preparations.

Later, perplexed by all the stove choices, he asked me to come to the store.

Leaving a key under the milk box for the anticipated arrival of my family, I went to the store.

While I was at the store, the family arrived, knocked and couldn't get an answer to the door so called the cell phone. I told them where the key was, what we were doing and said we'd be right home.

My husband and I brought the stove home, installed it and, when I went to put the rest of the pies together I exclaimed, "What happened to the rest of the pie crusts I had rolled out?"

No one had an answer.

After much discussion, someone suggested the dog ate them, and, upon further inspection, it was proven by the flour around his mouth that he had, indeed, eaten the pie crusts!

The next day, the rest of the company gathered with us.

We were pleased to be using a hint from Heloise to expand our countertop for our buffet meal. She had stated than an ironing board could be used to serve salads and such for the dinner.

We did so, and, as we finished giving thanks for our meal, the ironing board collapsed and the food along with it.

Luckily, it fell straight down and all we lost was some Jell-O salad that splashed out, and some olives. We had a great laugh!

- Karina Lahue

Miles City

Dinner décor ahead of its time

As the eldest daughter (age 12), I was recruited to help my mother with Thanksgiving preparations.

We placed the extension in the dining room table to accommodate our invited guests.

While my mother went to retrieve a tablecloth, I placed a stack of dinner plates on the end of the table. I noticed the scatter rug was folded under the table leg.

When I lifted the leg to straighten the rug, the stack of plates slid across the slick surface of the table, hit the wall and fell to the floor. Aghast, I looked at the chips in the wall and then the shattered china.

The sound of the crash brought my mother to the scene. She shrieked when she saw the broken dishes.

To resolve this situation, we rescued the few plates that did not break. Then I was instructed to canvass the neighbors for replacements.

Since most families were having company for dinner, I had to go to several homes relating my mishap and taking whatever china was available - an activity that could surely be deemed adequate punishment.

Much to my mother's chagrin, we were faced with a variety of dinner-plate patterns when we sat down to Thanksgiving dinner. Years later, Martha Stewart would promote such settings as acceptable eclectic style.

- Linda Larsen


Great catch saves the day

In 1998, our family's holiday season started out with a BANG on Thanksgiving Day.

My brother, David Pease, had invited our extended family to his house for the big dinner. He had finally finished stripping and refinishing the hardwood floors in his family's little house on Avenue B in Powell, Wyo. It looked beautiful!

The dining-room table had been stretched out by adding a leaf or two so it could hold the turkey, stuffing, potatoes and all the other traditional fare.

Everyone was seated and had just finished saying what they were most thankful for when the table broke-right in two!

Fortunately, there were only adults around the table, and they sort of caught it in their laps.

The table just slid apart on that fine, shiny floor. Not a single dish was broken, and not a morsel of food was lost. All that ended up on the floor was water and ice cubes.

After the table was carried out to the garage for repairs and the floor was wiped up, we finished eating and had our pumpkin pie perched on chairs around the edge of the room, balancing our plates in our laps.

David was especially thankful that the table hadn't given out until everyone was seated - otherwise, his beautiful floor might have been marred!

- Delores Pease


Dinner leaves lasting impression

I bought a fresh turkey, my first one ever.

I got it home and put it into the refrigerator the day before the big dinner.

On Thanksgiving morning, I was going to get it ready for the roaster, I took off the wrapper, and it smelled to High Heaven.

What to do now?

I happened to have a frozen one in the freezer. This meant no feast by noon.

I put it in the sink in cold water to thaw so I could get out the giblets for the dressing. All was going well, and the guests were coming. No noon meal, so McDonald's it was.

By 5 p.m. the turkey was roasted, and everything was prepared. My son-in-law took it out of the oven and put it on the cutting board to take over to the counter to carve. Lo and behold, it slid onto the floor.

We dusted it off and had a great meal anyway!

But, the next day, I made turkey salad for lunch. That night, we all passed each other in the hall (some of us crawling) to get to the bathroom. We all had diarrhea from the food poisoning.

Luckily, we all recovered, and most Thanksgivings have gone much better since!

- Alice Schroeber

Miles City

Little brother comes to rescue

When I was growing up, we had huge family get-togethers for the holidays.

It was fun and festive, and everyone always just went on and on about my granny's Thanksgiving turkey.

So, when I was about 25, I decided I wanted to do the turkey and asked my grandmother.

That morning, I got up extra early to make sure the turkey turned out just right.

When it was time to eat, we all gathered (all 20 plus of us) around the table and said the blessing. Then everyone said, "Bring in the turkey, granny!," and she said, "I didn't do it this year, Nelita did."

I raced into the kitchen, grabbed the turkey and carried it out to the table. Everyone was telling me how good the turkey looked. I was so proud!!

Then my brother looked at me and asked where the giblets were.

I said, "The what?"

And everyone started laughing. They all said every turkey had giblets, and, of course, I knew that. But my turkey had not had any, and I told them so.

My brother started laughing again and said, "I bet I know where they are!"

He pulled the turkey over close to him and reached inside the cavity and, sure enough, pulled out the giblets, bag and all!

I was mortified, I felt like crying.

My brother got up and put his arm around me and told me not to worry about it. He said I was not the first to do it and probably would not be the last.

"Besides," he said, "they are still cooked, I'll eat them."

I don't think I have ever been so grateful to my little brother in my whole life!

- Nelita Sciretta


No turkey for two

Back in 1973, my wife and I had been married less than four years.

We had always had Thanksgiving dinner either with her parents or mine, but 1973 found us too far away with too little time and too little money to go and celebrate with either of our families. This would be dinner for two in exotic (at least to young Montanans) Monterrey, Calif. where my wife had been assigned by the Air Force to the Defense Language Institute and I was a freelance writer.

We were living in a studio apartment our landlord had created by walling off part of his basement.

Studio: Think large L-shaped room, with tiny separate bathroom and tinier kitchen alcove crowded with appropriately tiny range and refrigerator.

My wife came from a family of seven children, four of them girls, who quickly learned how to cook and did plenty of it. She might not have done a complete turkey dinner solo, but she knew what to do and how to do it.

Unlike her spouse, she was smart enough to take into consideration the size of the oven when we went to buy a bird. Coming from such a large family, however, she got a little carried away with the quantities for all the side dishes she either cooked or readied for our first Thanksgiving dinner by ourselves.

She stuffed the turkey and popped it into the preheated oven. Soon, there was the wonderful but faint aroma of roasting bird.

No doubt it would soon fill the little apartment with that delectable smell - but it didn't.

And, when my wife checked some time later, not only was the turkey not roasting, the oven was barely warm. Nor were the burners putting out any heat. The range had quit working.

It was plugged in, so that wasn't the problem. Perhaps it was a fuse or circuit breaker switch.

Unfortunately, although we enjoyed having a private entrance to our apartment, it meant we had no access to the other part of the basement, which was where the fuse box was located. Equally unfortunate (for us), our landlord and his family were gone for the day to have Thanksgiving dinner with relatives in another part of the state.

We managed to stuff the half-cooked turkey and the other goodies into the minuscule refrigerator. We still had electricity for everything except the stove, so our first Thanksgiving dinner alone consisted of fried-egg sandwiches, courtesy of a toaster and electric frying pan.

The next day, when our landlord returned, we were able to finish preparing the real deal and were lucky, perhaps, not to suffer food poisoning from roasting a half-cooked bird that had sat for 24 hours stuffed with raw dressing.

- Roy Warner


Non-cook becomes accidental gourmet

I am 69 years old, and I still remember the Thanksgiving disaster when I was 21 and newly married.

My husband and I were living in Palo Alto, Calif. My sister-in-law and her husband were living in Oakland, Calif. They had invited us to share Thanksgiving dinner with them.

I asked them what I could contribute, and they suggested dessert, perhaps pecan pie.

They were gourmet cooks. I didn't know how to cook, having grown up with a mother who did not cook. But I thought: "I can follow a recipe!"

Early Thanksgiving morning, I baked a pecan pie. It smelled wonderful.

My husband and I took off for Oakland with the pie wrapped in a towel and carefully set upon my lap. Halfway to our destination, my lap had this warm gooey feeling. The pie had not solidified; it had overflowed, seeping through the towel and my Thanksgiving clothes.

What to do?

We exited the freeway, turned around and returned home. While I showered and changed my clothes, my husband salvaged the innards of the pie. We drove to Oakland with "pecan sauce."

My husband and brother-in-law spent the better part of Thanksgiving Day driving around Oakland looking for vanilla ice cream. Finally, they found a small market that was open and purchased ice cream.

We all enjoyed a gourmet Thanksgiving dinner, topped off with pecan sauce dribbled over vanilla ice cream.

- Joan Wilson


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