By Kat Kiefer-Newman
It never fails: Students always complain about having to go to class the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Hey! I don’t like having to report to work on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, either. Year-after-year, my husband and I scramble to get everything done before the noon meal, mainly because we both teach and don’t have the day before to prep all of the components of the meal. If that makes peeling carrots sounds complicated, it’s meant to, because at my house we’re not talking peeling carrots. We’re talking “the components of the meal.”
A few years ago T-Day prep got even more difficult. That was the year my husband decided we needed a theme for the meal. A theme? The theme is Thanksgiving, I tried to tell him. He wouldn’t listen. Last year, the theme was individual-sized foods. We made game hens for the meat-eaters, and mini-tofurkey’s for the vegetarians. Each person got a twice-baked potato, a tiny crock of dressing, a mini broccoli and cheese soufflé, and on and on. If the food could somehow be put into a single serving container, we did it. The pièce de résistance of the meal—at least in my husband’s opinion—were the individual tarts we spent days making.
The year before that, the theme was “on a stick.” It was as weird as it sounds. Luckily, we only had family eating with us that year, so no one outside the family had to endure skewered stuffing, yams dipped in batter on a stick, or carrot and Brussels sprouts kabobs. He had some idea that the gravy would work like a fondue, but it really didn’t. It was all just strange and messy.
The year before that was so odd that I’ve blocked it out of my memory. The children shudder when Thanksgiving is mentioned. My father mutters, but never openly complains.
This year, my husband has decided that he wants to make individual tarts for his students, since they have to be in class the day before. He teaches communications and thinks it would be great to demonstrate how to make a tart as an example of a demonstration speech. I hate those stupid tarts. These are the same tarts he made last year, and if I never see one again, it’ll be too soon. Oh, they taste great. You haven’t had dessert until you’ve eaten one of these little pies. Some have pastry tops, others have a crumb top, and still others are just topless and decadent. That’s the problem with them: there are so many kinds.
Last year, we ate tarts all day Thursday, and Friday, and Saturday. We gave away tarts to visitors, friends, and the neighbors. In fact, by the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the neighbors had started turning off their porch lights— in an effort to pretend they weren’t home. The glow from the televisions, however, was a dead giveaway.
When it comes to baking, my husband can be, how shall I put it? More than a little….compulsive.
He made mixed berry tarts, apple tarts, pumpkin tarts, and an amazing pear and cranberry number that I can still taste if I close my eyes.
My two daughters and I were rolling pastry dough for days. Before that was the scavenger hunt to find some kind of mini-tart pan. No store seemed to have enough of the non-stick kind of tins with fluted edges that he wanted. He was stubbornly set on having all of the tarts match. I don’t know why, perhaps someone out there who teaches psychology might explain it to me? We finally got the blasted things at a restaurant supply store.
My daughter caught him digging through my grandmother’s recipes last week.
“Did you ask him what he was looking for?” I asked her.
With solemn eyes she shook her head and whispered, “I was afraid it was….the tarts.”
She has nightmares about peeling apples, dicing pears, and sugaring cranberries. For days last year he was like the Victor Von Frankenstein of baking— concocting new combinations of sugar-to-butter. “Igor! The sugar.”
I’m tired of my father’s mutterings when the green bean casserole is served like a filling in the stuffing. If you’re having a hard time envisioning that combination, welcome to the club. I’ve already told my husband I’m not making tarts, or peas in a blanket, or potatoes molded like a pilgrim, or deep-fried tofurkey, or cranberry roulade.
Thanksgiving is about traditions, not themes….and especially not themes with tarts.
About the Juggler: Kat Kiefer-Newman currently teaches as an adjunct instructor at two colleges in two different departments. In addition to her busy working (and driving) schedule she attends conferences presenting her research, is in the last stages of finishing her Ph.D., takes care of her elderly father, has recently packed up and sent off to college her second daughter, chats in status updates with her students on Facebook, does not hand out her cell phone number to said students despite their pleadings, and in her spare time she plays in her organic veggie garden. (And though she will never admit it, she also enjoys reading trashy vampire novels.)
By Kat Kiefer-Newman