Chef’s Holiday Fun

There was a point in my culinary career where I feared the Holiday Season, having all the family gather and consume enormous amounts of food that I prepared, hoping everyone enjoyed every bite and they all had their favorites represented with panache and taste.  There were standards, green bean casserole with fried onions and sweet potatoes with mini marshmallows; there were also the unique, torta di ricotta & polenta ribollita.  Lots of worrying, stress, and effort went into those meals, much like having a busy dinner service in the restaurant.

future chefs

Erin not licking knife & Destiny licking knife making reindeer treats.

I’m happy to say that those days are over.  My lovely wife Amy and I have adopted a new strategy for the Holidays; we’re inviting our three grand-daughters to assist with the Turkey and Spiral sliced ham this year!

Destiny is 9 and newly rooted in Kalamazoo from Kansas City, she is the task master and preparation expert of the three, loving the planning and making lists and often telling everyone what they need to get done.  We knew she would be a natural fit for our Holiday food extravaganza when she came over one day with her folks and asked what was for dinner.  I had some great Angus filets I was going to grill and showed her the platter of beautiful beef.  Her next question made us smile; she asked ‘What are the sides?’  Seriously?  Sides?  I proceeded to ask her what she would like to prepare.  Thus we ventured on the everything is hot and everything is sharp and be safe in the kitchen speech.  She of course prepared nothing, she made requests and then ventured back to the Taylor Swift YouTube videos she was watching and dancing to leaving me with a list of things that would work with steak.  If I remember right mushrooms were at the top of the list.

makin eggs

Erin making eggs.

Erin is 6, she’s the baker and the doer and the ‘I’ll get the stool and help Papa’ girl.  She isn’t afraid of the mess, knows how to clean up (but doesn’t do it very often), actually enjoyed loading the dishwasher at an earlier age, and used to try anything.  Her palate has ‘matured’ over her young life to include not eating mashed potatoes (she prefers mac & cheese as her starch), loving yogurt and fruit (but not peanut butter, except for when she has the hiccups), and her late night snack of choice is cheese.  Cheese?  I used to beg for Archway sugar cookies as a kid, she wants cheese.  I distinctly remember carrying her at age 2 up and down the line at the restaurant, she’d point at things and say ‘What’s that Papa?’  The only thing she wanted to try that day was freshly pulled Mozzarella, pure and beautifully pristine white, I remember her saying as only a 2 year old can sound out ‘monsterella’ with a smile.  Happy times.  Erin has ‘matured’ into the girl who wants to bake a cake at 9 in the  morning so we can have a ‘lovely’ dessert with lunch.  Not happening, but a nice thought.

Bailey is 2, she puts stuff in the trash.  She’s our culinary police person.  She tells everyone that everything is hot.  She tastes everything, being most fond of chocolate, but also a huge fan of beets.  Right now her palate leans toward Princess Gummies and fresh apples, though I’ve never seen her consume an entire apple.  She has the most polite way of saying ‘No thank you’, very matter of fact.  She passed on something we offered for her to try once and went into the kitchen.  We found her sitting on the floor in front of the pantry, items strewn on the floor, diligently looking for something.  She came across a bag of chocolate chips, spun on her rear end and quietly said ‘Oh…..chocolate.’  The chips then took position at the front of the pantry with the canned soups and tomatoes, peanut butter and powdered sugar being thrown in the back.  It was adorable.  Bailey is still mastering the art of fork and/or spoon, only a short time ago growing out of the stage that food went on the floor when she was finished.  If I was quicker with the camera feature on my cell, I would have included the truffled pasta hanging from our dining room light fixture, Bailey’s simple way of saying she’d had enough.

This year we’ve decided to do both turkey (thanks Gary Otto) and spiral sliced ham (thanks Honeybaked).  For the second Holiday meal in December, we’ll do beef.  We always make cauliflower potato puree and jus, either green bean casserole or a seven layer thing that my wife makes that is amazing.  I asked once what was in it, while being polite and listening to her answer I noticed it disappearing on other plates so I tuned out (sorry Honey) to grab my portion before it was gone.  Amy will make a pie or a cake or something sweet.  Sweet potatoes will be brought this year by our eldest and her family (thanks Lindsey) having been advised not to bring canned yams.  Stuffing will be on our youngest, he’s a huge Stove Top fan so he will learn to make his own.

Papa & Bailey

Bailey the youngest in the kitchen.

The rest of the meal will consist of all the great things the grand-daughters will make for us.  On the docket are chocolate covered pretzels, chocolate chip cookies, and these wonderfully easy chocolate chip cookie things with a mini peanut butter cup stuck inside (great with Chai tea).  All three will help prepare the main dishes, but they’ll be responsible for serving the sweet snacks.  I think they are excited but I’m also a realist and know that YouTube will be on a computer and Matty B. will be rapping and something else will have some game called Temple Run, and we can’t forget the Barney video for Bailey.  Maybe there’ll be a media device for some football (or HGTV if Amy has a say) so we can relax and digest.

So my perspective has changed.  No more stress at Holiday meal time, only giggles and crazy requests and way too much food and not enough family time.  They have grown up so fast, we’ll choose to cherish the flour on the floor and the massive amounts of dirty dishes and the loud music videos to know that the kids and grandkids ate very well, had too much fun, and are healthy and happy.  Here’s to a successful Holiday meal for you and yours.  I’ll let you each define successful on your own terms.

Happy November/December from your friends and family at Webster’s Prime.


Tending garden with Erin.

Stefan Johnson
Food and Beverage Operations Manager

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