My version of parenthood was probably a little bit eccentric. One Christmas, when the kids were very young and really enjoyed stories, I spent a week reading, “A Christmas Carol” to them. The following year I did the same. By the third year, the three of us got the idea that we would like to try some of the food described in the story. Before I knew it, we were hosting a Dickens’ inspired Christmas Day dinner.
For several weeks, we researched Victorian food and recipes. Finding all of the ingredients wasn’t easy but we accomplished it. Prepping the food took three days with only written directions from dusty books from the library to guide us. There was a lot of laughing…and flour on the floor by the time Christmas Day arrived.
The kids were giddy with anticipation as family and friends arrived for dinner. My son enthusiastically introduced the idea of a Dickens inspired feast to everyone as they sat down. He returned to the kitchen crestfallen. The guests at the table did not seem as excited as he did. I assured him the food would win them over and the three of us proceeded to bring out a Christmas dinner even Ebenezer Scrooge couldn’t pass up…or maybe not.
The platter full of roasted, carved goose went around the table. The burning question asked by several people, “Where is the white meat?” I looked up to find two of my family members, the most health conscious of the family, picking through the pile of meat with a roasting fork as they searched.
“There isn’t any,” I admitted.
“What do you mean there isn’t any? How can there be no white meat? Where is the breast?”
“It’s a wild bird. Geese only have dark meat,” I reported. They stared back at me, incredulously. “There’s lots of other stuff though,” I added encouragingly.
My mom tried to be helpful, “This potato casserole looks good, even if they did get a little brown.”
I sighed. “That’s pureed chestnuts with butter.”
“Oh” she smiled and set down the bowl.
My grandmother frowned as she tried to swallow her sip of wine. “Michele, what is this?” She held the glass high up and at arm’s length. She tilted it back and forth in the air as if she had been served cleaning fluid.
“Mulled wine….basically red wine with cinnamon and nutmeg, served warm.” She curled her lips and shook her head, setting the glass far away from her plate. I sighed again.
The dinner continued in much the same way. When it was done, the only plate that had been devoured was the fresh fruit with cheese and nuts. The kids looked really disappointed.
“Dessert! Everyone loves dessert!” I hopped up from my chair and plated the steamed pudding we had made with butter rum sauce and whipped cream. As I brought it to the table, two friends were putting on their coats and scurrying out the door. As we waved them good bye, I heard one ask the other if he thought McDonalds might be open. The rest of the dinner party followed soon after.
After the dishes had been done and the kids had eaten their fill of goose (they still prefer duck and goose over turkey even now as adults), I fell into my couch with a huge bowl of rum sauce and steamed pudding…in that order. Something poked me uncomfortably from the corner armrest. As I reached between the cushions, I pulled out the slightly worn copy of “A Christmas Carol.”
Staring at the thin paperback, I noticed some of the corners of pages had been bent to mark passages about the food served throughout the story. There was a hot chocolate ring on the back cover, par for the course after spending so much time in the kitchen. While part of me wanted to throw the stupid book in the trash, a greater part of me wanted to treasure it.
We might have driven people to rush home to peanut butter sandwiches but it had been worth it. For one entire Christmas, the presents and toys, while important to the kids, had been minimized. We had spent the week before Christmas learning how to fold dough together instead of stressing out. The kitchen floor had been covered in flour. The counters had been filled with mixing bowls and library books. The room had been filled with awful attempts at British accents and Victorian etiquette. One small book had done that. It was worth keeping for a while.
It’s been several years since that Dickens dinner and it is still one of my favorite memories. Listening to my daughter on the phone as she plans her menu for this upcoming Thanksgiving, she is serving ducks. When I heard that, it made me laugh just a little. “Better warn your friends who are coming for dinner,” I reminded her.
“Nah,” she answered mischievously, “it’s more fun this way.”