Monday, October 10, 2011

Thanksgiving: poison potatoes, severed finger, and a skunk standoff.

Thanksgiving weekend ended up being full of adventures, many culinary. I threw myself into the deep end of the pool on Saturday: Mom’s family was getting twenty-five of us together and I volunteered to bring the sweet potatoes. To be fair, I hadn’t realized there would be twenty-five people when I volunteered, but when I found out the night before, I was brave and just bought more potatoes.

I had made mashed yams once before, a few weeks prior, when I attempted to make baked sweet potatoes. We had been visiting my parents, and eager to show them my new cooking interest, I had found a recipe online for a twice-baked sweet potato. The instructions were deceptively simple: bake, scoop out, mix ginger and raisins, bake again. What ended up happening was that after an hour in the oven, the damn things were still hard as a rock, so we threw them in the microwave and did them as ginger-raisin mashed potatoes instead. They turned out really delicious, and Mom was a great support; I was so frustrated that I couldn’t pull off this recipe that a certain famous Food Network chef thinks is sooooo easy. Mom just kept saying (and this is my advice to all of you): “Potatoes are funny things; sometimes they’ll cook in no time, and sometimes they’ll take hours. Don’t bother with that stupid recipe. Throw them in the microwave.” And her mantra for the evening, chanted at me so I wouldn’t throw the yams out the door: “It’s not YOU, it’s the potatoes.” In the end, we made a delicious dish, and I felt ready to try them again for the larger family.

Saturday morning, first thing we did was wash the potatoes. Then Brian volunteered to cut them up into smaller sections, as I was determined not to nuke my food in the microwave; we figured, cutting the potatoes into smaller portions would help them cook faster. We had talked with some tweeters the night before about just getting pre-cut potatoes, but a) I didn’t find them, and b) I figured my best bet was to follow my botched twice-baked recipe again, with the same modifications, because the end result had been great. After what happened next, I’ll tell you, I wish I had bought the stupid cut-up potatoes…

Brian cut his finger open. Even writing this out, three days later, I cringe. I left the room for two seconds and that’s when I heard his swearing. I knew what had happened. I thought I was ready for it. I ran in, saw the blood pouring out of him and the actual fear on his face…and I panicked. All my First Aid got jumbled in my head, like someone dropping a deck of playing cards. We managed to rinse the wound, sit him down, and apply pressure with a clean cloth. But every time we tried to look at it, it gushed again. What did I do? The only thing I knew how to do: I called my BFF MJ, who worked as a chef for fifteen years. I made her come over and assess the wound. She doesn’t live far, and she showed up, my hero, in mismatched pyjamas, running up the stairs. She suggested the Brian needed stitches, which Brian flat-out refused to do, so she suggested keeping an eye on it and seeing what happened. What happened was, it refused to seal itself, so we went to the pharmacy and got that 2nd Skin stuff to seal it.

As Brian lay down for a while, looking pale and really scary, I forged on with the potatoes. I baked them for an hour, only to find they were still rock hard. I gave them another thirty minutes, and then discovered half of them had dried out. Stress and worry got the better of both of us, and Brian and I had a seriously crabby argument for no good reason while I tried to salvage the portions of potato that were either undercooked or cooked, but not dried out. I threw the resulting pulp into the microwave, feeling like a big cheater.

After that, though, the potatoes were indeed cooked and there seemed to be a pretty good yield, though maybe not enough to feed two dozen people. I mashed and stirred the potatoes, adding some (almond) milk, butter, raisins, and ginger, but it still tasted like it needed something. In a moment of inventiveness, I grabbed the maple syrup and gooshed in a large amount: perfect. They tasted great and I was satisfied. We took the bowl to dinner and ordered everyone to eat some, as there was, literally, blood, sweat, and tears in those potatoes. I received compliments, and somehow the fact that Brian was slowly bleeding to death seemed worth it. (I kid. Mostly.) There were leftovers and my mom in particular loaded up a container with them, which made me puff up with pride.

The next morning, I crawled out of bed, went to the kitchen in search of sustenance, saw the maple syrup…and realized something terrible. It was mouldy. A thick, fuzzy-gelatinous carpet of mould was floating on the top of the syrup. I think I thought it was frothiness, the day before when I used it. I don’t know how I didn’t spot it. Brian had woken up feeling a little sick, and suddenly I was terrified. I snuck into the art room, shut the door, and called Mom. When she answered, I said, “Mom, listen to me carefully. Don’t eat the potatoes.” She asked why, and I told her. She scoffed and said not to worry about it, mould wasn’t a big deal and no one was sick; why, she’d eaten a big helping of the potatoes again for breakfast! I blanched, but pretended to find that reassuring.

I watched her the rest of the day, as we went over to my parents’ for Mom’s birthday dinner. She really was fine, and Brian’s stomach settled down so we suspect he just had too much dairy. No one else showed any signs of illness, though Mom teased me mercilessly all night. It was too ironic not to make fun of: the obsessive-compulsive food phobic weirdo managed to use mouldy ingredients to feed a small army. Har, har, har. Everyone really was fine, though, and we all enjoyed a treat that was new to me: a Chinese fondue. My parents had worked all day, cutting up the veggies, buying paper-thin steak slices, and laying out shrimp and scallops. Eight of us sat around the table for a couple hours, boiling our food in deep fryers-turned-hot pots while fighting over whose skewer was whose. It was delicious, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

It was as we were contemplating heading out into the warm, dark night that someone spotted a skunk walking across my parents’ driveway. My parents have giant picture windows along the front of their ranch-style bungalow out in Barrhaven. It was easy to watch the striped creature make his way from the koi pond all across the property to the garbage bins. Someone (and no amount of loud arguing managed to pinpoint the culprit) had left a bag of garbage on the ground instead of in the bin. Mr Skunk went over and put his pointy little jaws around the bag, gnawing through in seconds. My dad and Brian ran to the front door, which opens out to face directly at the garbage bins, but the full length of the house away. The picture windows allowed us womenfolk to watch the men, staring out at the skunk who, forty feet away, was happily gnashing at the garbage.

This skunk and my dad have a personal vendetta thing going. Mr Skunk is the white whale to my dad’s Captain Ahab. This skunk keeps my parents up all night because their neurotic puppy runs out into the dog yard (there’s a doggy door) and barks incessantly at it while it eats the garbage. This was my dad’s first face-to-face encounter with the thing, and it was obvious he couldn’t just walk away, letting this monster eat undisturbed. Something had to be done. He stomped off into another room, clearly looking for a weapon. He came back with a bottle of dishsoap, which he pitched at the animal. It struck the recycling bin with a reverberating THWONG, and the skunk paused, raising its tail. When the soap failed to jump up and attack it, Skunk went back to his meal. Seeing my dad’s angry face and damaged pride, sweet Brian decided it was time to get involved. They stood in the open doorway together, discussing the situation like military generals. Then they both headed into the back room while Mom and my queries were ignored. The men returned, their arms full of weird metal pieces. Mom asked me what they were, and it suddenly became clear: “They’re shelving brackets, those things that hold up shelves” I said, and we watched in utter confusion, until Dad took one and pitched it at the skunk.

The image of my dad and husband standing on the front step, lobbing shelving brackets at a big fat skunk, was like a modern-day parody of an illustration out of some ‘Early Man’ textbook. Like some form of rudimentary boomerang, the two hunters stood, poised, taking their best shots at their prey, silent yet seeming to communicate without language. Framed in the big windows, I wish I’d taken a photo so I could have found an old etching of early Neolithic man, hunting with crude weapons, and superimposed the two shots. The only thing that ruined the tableau was my mother’s hooting laughter because I’d pointed out the caveman thing and now she couldn’t stop laughing.

After a while, the skunk moved out of range, though neither man was convinced it had left. Dad went into the back room, perhaps to attempt inventing the wheel or making fire, while Brian slinked out into the dark night. It was the young caveman’s turn to prove his manhood, and he began his journey out to the garbage bins, shelving bracket raised high and cocked for action. It was only once he disappeared into the skunk’s shrub that I decided I had to put an end to this particular rite of passage. I went to the door and told Brian that if he got sprayed, I wasn’t helping him get cleaned up. That seemed to bring both men to their senses, and Brian returned to me, safe and scentless.

With the sweet potatoes behind us, Brian’s finger mostly staunched, and the skunk subdued, we headed home. It was a helluva weekend, with lots to be grateful for: I didn’t poison the family, Brian’s finger is healing, and I now have a permanent mental image of my dad and Brian wearing animal skins and hunting a black-and-white striped sabre tooth tiger.


  1. LOL!

    So essentially you thought it was time to outdo the shopping cart post so you came up with all kinds of fun to have this weekend to write about ;)

    Hilarious. Although I'm a little concerned Brian didn't go in for those stitches. hmmmm.

  2. Lara, I still think he should have gone, too, but our experience with Brian's crazy injuries has taught me: after the first 24 hours, they don't stitch. No bleeding for 24 hrs now, though! Knock on wood! :)