This truly is the year in which I’ve failed to install Christmas in my home. It is 8:30pm on December 17th and to date…..I have a tree with some ornaments. A red poinsettia purchased from a fundraising-neighbor. And a few strands of lights hanging from very dirty windows, along with five felt stockings littering the floor in various parts of the house.
[Because we don’t have a fireplace mantle or shelf from which to suspend said stockings, so the boys have taken to ‘hanging’ them on their closet doors. That is, when they’re not wearing them on their feet, ‘like socks!’]
The lack of festiveness is
entirely largely due to my considerable absence on the homefront. Yes, in what can only be described as classic-Nicola, I took on an apprenticeship the minute the professor returned from Caganer-land.
‘Apprenticeship’ being a nice way of saying ‘some catering friends needed help in their shop and I, being reasonably competent in the kitchen and not entirely averse to money, said yes.’
And so followed eleven long days of donning a white-ish chef coat and doing my best to approximate the professionals.
There was peeling – squash, carrots, more carrots, more squash, parsnips, more parsnips, more parsnips, beets and potatoes. I’d estimate I peeled 75 pounds of carrots and 70 pounds of potatoes. Me, with my own bare hands and my trusty peeler which shaved off at least one fingernail and left me with calluses. On top of calluses.
My fingers and palms have turned brown.
Once it was determined that I wasn’t a total nitwit and hadn’t completely screwed up the peeling business, I was given a promotion: to chopping slash slicing. Chopping onions, parsnips, carrots, cucumbers, beets, squash, potatoes, more carrots, more potatoes, more parsnips and herbs.
There are, of course, different ways of chopping slash slicing – the fine dice, the chunk, the cube. And perhaps some other ones I can no longer recall. I realized I had a bit of a problem on my hands when, on the ninth morning of work, I prepared the boys’ breakfast. I grabbed a banana for their rice krispies and, before I could stop myself, I’d cut off the ends, quartered it lengthwise and chopped it finely.
Bananas. For cereal.
Of course, the experience wasn’t without its trials. There was shrimp day, when I was given a hotel pan full of frozen shrimp – hundreds, I’m guessing – and told to butterfly them. Which I did (once I figured out what ‘butterflying’ meant.) By the end, the fingers on my left hand were all swollen – either from a shrimp allergy or some other bizarre reaction to whatever is in (on?) frozen shrimp.
There was mussel day in which I steamed mussels with white wine and garlic. But then I was asked to remove the mussel from its shell and remove its beard with a paring knife. I was already grossed out by the squishy mussel so when a friend-colleague offered to de-beard them, I happily accepted and made more risotto cakes.
I made a thousand risotto cakes. Well, at least several hundred. Tiny ones used as appetizers and large ones used as entrees. All molded, individually, using pastry molds and various tamping devices.
I spent the better part of half a day with one bowl of risotto, turning it into small cakes. I filled baking sheet after baking sheet with cakes and still that bowl was full. It felt a lot like that Bible story about the poor woman who, courtesy of a miracle, had unlimited oil. Of course, dealing with a bottomless bowl of risotto didn’t feel particularly miraculous.
There was also veal bone day. Really, it was more like veal bone minute(s), but this may have been the worst. I was asked to spread a box of veal bones onto a baking sheet so they could be roasted for stock. Not a big deal, I thought. Until I looked at the veal bones. They were mostly normal-looking bones except for the ones that looked like my balled up fist with visible knuckle bones.
There was no denying those bones had previously belonged to a live creature.
I ended my apprenticeship with shepherd’s pie day, or, more specifically, ricing 35 pounds of potatoes, turning them into mashed potatoes and piping them onto 60 individual portions of shepherd’s pie.
Yes, piping – like frosting, but with gluey, thick, mashed potatoes instead. The first 15 looked like they’d been piped by a three year old. My technique did improve along the way, though I was exiled to the dish pit for one-and-a-half hours afterwards, so maybe I’m the only one who saw improvement.
Of course, my ‘cavorting’ in the culinary world meant the professor was basically the solo parent for eleven days. I will say, I felt somehow justified when I returned home in the evenings to a disastrous house and an irritated spouse. ‘I don’t know who’s watching your children tomorrow,’ he informed me after day 8, ‘but I am not.’
On day 9, I walked through the door at 1am and found the professor and the Hen lying on the couch watching cartoons. Which was odd, because I thought the Hen was five and went to bed around 7.30 or 8. [Or 6.30 when his parents need to cram in the last five episodes of Parenthood Season 3 because it’s overdue at the library.]
This evening, when I walked through the door, the professor kindly offered to take a stack of envelopes to the post office, and returned….six hours later.