Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Groaning Board

In literature, a great feast, a smorgasbord, is often described as a groaning board, a sideboard so heavy laden with good food that it groans under the weight. Every once in a while we like to pull one of these off, bury our guests under an avalanche of food and watch their eyes sparkle at the sight of it all.

I’ve always enjoyed a good gathering. The beer bashes of high school and college just don’t bring the satisfaction of an intimate gathering of family and friends. Getting the hang of pulling one off without being totally stressed out about all the details took several years of marriage to a good cook to perfect.

It used to be that we would plan for days. We would spend the whole day getting ready, cleaning and cooking and straightening things out. It was nice in that it got the house sparklingly clean on occasion, but somehow it just wasn’t worth all the fretting. We could pull off one heck of a gathering, but seldom enjoyed it and wound up totally spent afterward.

Lately we’ve come to terms with our life and have accepted that with three kids and two businesses to tend to, we’re just not going to keep the house spotless, or even manage to get it there for special events. We realized that we don’t care what our friends’ houses look like when we visit we’re there to see them, not their house. So now it’s, “Hey, glad you made it! Move some laundry, grab a chair!” I was so glad the day I realized that my friends’ warts-and-all mentality would easily extend to dinner parties and that I could just relax and enjoy the event myself.

There’s a second side to this particular dinner party. It started back in the fall when we bought a twenty-seven pound free range turkey. He was the smallest one we could get and with some difficulty we managed to get him squared away in the freezer to enjoy sometime this winter. The day finally came when we hauled him out again and began to defrost him. Unfortunately he took a while longer to warm up than we expected, being twice the size of the turkeys we usually encounter, and we had to postpone the glorious day of his roasting two times. But at last his icy middle warmed up and in the oven he went.

The pace of the day just idled along, I left to do some errands and later my wife took her turn, the kids played and ate lunch and napped. I had the marvelous experience of baking some dinner rolls with my daughter, which are destined to become a family tradition. Those in particular were a high point on a lot of levels. My father has baked bread recreationally for years and since his semi-retirement has taken it to a new level, dropping off still warm loaves to friends and family far and wide. My daughter has been baking with him and it was quite the experience to bake my first bread and have her giving me pointers all the while.

With a little tossing of stray objects behind couches and last minute washing up we were ready for our guests and still cruising along in second gear. Our kitchen filled up with guests, our counter top filled up to overflowing with food, and we all sat down to tuck in at the stroke of five thirty… right on schedule, HA!

Sitting in my kitchen, slightly overheated by all the cooking and continuing to be warmed by the breath and conversation of eight grownups and four short people was better than drugs. In the midst of my warm fuzzy I glanced over at the stove, its digital readouts declaring that all four corners were sporting hot elements. HE HE HE HE, it seemed to chuckle, self satisfied and relaxing after the big push. To be warm and happy and full, pour the coffee and settle in to some after dinner conversation while the grandparents keep the shorties occupied is the true mountain top experience of family life.

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