Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"The Year Onions Ruined Christmas!"

My sister called last night and asked "What are you making us for Christmas Brunch?" I don't know why she asks this question every year--she knows the answer. "The same thing we have every year!"

Ever since my mother passed away, it has fallen upon me to drive 800 miles to cook Christmas brunch for my family in Southern Indiana and Western Kentucky. Yes, I have the honor of getting up at 5:30 am on Christmas morning to cook for the some of the pickiest group of eaters ever assembled.

As I noted last year, my vision of a Christmas brunch is something out of a Food Network special without Rachael Ray-- salmon Eggs Benedict, Duchess potatoes, Challah Bread French toast, brandied fruit, dry champagne, and a team of uniformed personal assistants to clean it up. Unfortunately the family demands that the brunch be prepared exactly as my Mother would have done it.


Recipes from one of those Midwestern cookbooks where 90% of the recipes start with a can of cream of mushroom soup. No substitutions and no deletions. No smuggling of exotic illegal aliens across the culinary border such as oregano or green bell pepper. If the dreaded onion is added in a dish (how is it possible that I am related to these people?) it must be minced until unrecognizable. The precision chopping I perform on the rosemary to hide in the potatoes practically calls for a magnifying glass attachment to the knife. And you can just forget adding garlic to anything.

The "Menu":

  • Breakfast casserole (you know the one you start the day before with white bread as the base) made with milk, eggs, cheese, bacon and sausage

  • Cranberry Casserole (the topping is made with Quaker Oats Instant Cinnamon and Spice Cereal)

  • Ham (because we need to complete the Trinity of Pork)

  • Roasted Potatoes a la Hidden Rosemary and Onions

  • Green Bean casserole (yes THAT one)

  • Biscuits from a can

  • Fruit salad (usually only touched by any visiting girl dates)

  • Butter

  • Salt

  • Pepper

  • Jelly

  • Soft Drinks (Dr Pepper is the Midwestern Red Bull, apparently)
  • Sanka
  • An assortment of Christmas cookies

Now I am just as mildly OCD as the next guy, and there is really nothing wrong with never setting the dryer timer at anything past 50 minutes (the house might burn down), or always turning the TV in the kitchen on regardless as to how long you are going to be in there (the house might burn down) or always carrying the green umbrella with you (the house might burn down). But I am starting to dread now the pressure each year of our OCD Christmas. What if I lost a recipe? What if I made a dicing miscalculation and the onions were found in the potatoes? Would I be the source of some sad future Christmas Movie of the Week "The Year Onions Ruined Christmas?"

Last year I did make a mistake with the breakfast casserole but one that I was able to eventually recover from. Smug in my knowledge that I had sneaked in a pinch of cumin and had the perfect cover story if discovered "That Jimmy Dean Sausage is just not the same ever since they fired Jimmy Dean!" I realized that something didn't look right as I was about to put the breakfast casserole in the refrigerator.

I had left out the two cups of milk. F***! It was Christmas eve and the stores were closed so I had to make it work. I poured the milk in but it just sat there looking very white like the rest of the state of Indiana and politely mocked me while refusing to mix with the diverse layer of egg, bacon, sausage and cheese.

I got three bowls out. I dipped out the cheese and bacon from one end, the cheese and sausage from the other end, and the highly desired middle section of cheese, bacon, AND sausage.

Swishing the milk around with my fingers I was able to mix it with the eggs, rearranged the soggy white bread and poured the meat and cheese back to their respective sections.

Everyone said it was the best breakfast casserole ever. And no one even noticed the cumin. It was the best brunch ever because it was exactly like all the others before it.

I will repeat this menu next week. Maybe our OCD Christmas isn't that bad. Traditions are what makes visiting family special over the holidays and with my family, I never have to worry about any surprises! Or Onions!

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