-Melissa Moore France- I have discovered that there is a yawning trap waiting to snap shut on unsuspecting women who have reached the age of being expected to bring food to the family holiday dinners. I feel it is my duty to warn those who still have the freedom of choice: Choose carefully what food you bring to the family holiday dinners!
What you choose will follow you for the rest of your life. The family members will expect you to bring these same dishes, Your Dishes, to every holiday and odd-occasion family dinner to come. It becomes an unspoken law. The organizers, the people who provide the place for these dinners, will stop referring to you by your name. Instead, they will call you things like Turnip Greens and Cornbread.
I am Potato Salad and Cheese & Bacon Potatoes. Aunt Mary is White Beans, Cornbread, and Fire & Brimstone, a very finely chopped cabbage, onion, and pepper relish that will singe nose hairs if one is foolish enough to inhale too deeply once it has been unleashed. Aunt Jackie is Two Chocolate Pies and Sweet Potato Casserole. Mom is Banana Pudding, the cold, uncooked version. A friend of mine is Deviled Eggs and Potato Salad. Her family’s logic is deviled eggs because she raises chickens and potato salad because she had to buy salad dressing for the deviled eggs anyway. If my friend had a Lizzie Borden-moment in her hen house, I wonder if she would be allowed to change her dishes?
The smart women are the ones who pretend they can’t cook. All they are expected to do is wag in a couple of liter bottles of soda and a bag of chips. Secretly for themselves, they cook gourmet entrees like Sturgeon on a Citrus Tomato Stew.
Don’t think that preparing something new and exotic will break the chain to Your Dishes. It wouldn’t matter if you went to Auberge de I’Ill, a famous chef school in France, if you are known as Potato Salad, you had darn well better bring potato salad to Granny’s house for Christmas dinner. Don’t waste your time and talent preparing Bruschetta of Pears and Apples with Warm Creme Fraiche because it won’t be appreciated. But you will hear “You didn’t bring your potato salad?”
Family holiday dinners are not the forum for culinary trend-setters. The majority of my family tends to put much more emphasis on quantity than quality. I’d love to know what chefs Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme bring to their family holiday dinners. Their family meal organizers probably call them White Beans and Cornbread.
There is only one sure way to be separated from Your Dishes once the family ties you to them: you must die. Divorce will get you out of cooking Your Dishes for half of the family dinners. I wonder how many divorces are really the result of some woman wanting to be Coconut Cake at all of the family dinners on her husband’s side instead of Cream Corn. I would like to track down some ex-female-family-members-who-have-remarried, and ask them what they take to the new family’s dinners. They probably show up with Dorritos and a Coca-cola.
Another warning concerning family dinners needs to be heeded by both cooks and non-cooks. Be careful what dishes you compliment! Tell a complimentary white lie at the risk of having a really revolting dish brought especially for you, and the flattered cook watching you eat every bite so she can bring you seconds. And after you choke down two helpings, with a smile, the kind cook brings out a second pan of her dish for you to take home.
A variation on this warning is do not compliment particular flavors in a dish that is truly delicious. I know of an incident when someone complimented the lemon flavor of a lemon ice-box pie as opposed to the blandness of others he had eaten. At the next dinner, the lemon ice-box pie looked as beautiful as always so it was quite a shock when the first bite burned your throat and chest before souring the entire contents of your stomach. This once perfect pie now had the potency of Liquid Plumber drain cleaner. I guess it is just human nature to think that if a little is good then a lot must be great!
I think this obsession with everyone bringing the same dish cooked exactly the same way is just an extension of the traditionality of holidays. The plus to having Your Dish is that you don’t have to scramble for something new if you are pressed for time. Besides, potato salad deserves its day. Where else would it be so appreciated and festive?