By Maggie Van Ostrand
My First Christmas in Ajijic
Everyone who relocates to Mexico sooner or later cooks a big holiday dinner for visiting family and friends. My first Christmas, everyone I ever knew, casually met, or went to high school with, showed up. Sure they said it was to visit me, but I knew darned well it was an excuse to visit Mexico, and who could blame them?
That year, I had decided to break my long-standing rule and let a couple of kind-hearted relatives help in the kitchen, while the rest watch football on satellite TV. Big mistake.
“Never assume” was my large lesson for the year. Too bad I didn’t think of it before the holiday. First mistake was assuming that my second cousin’s teen daughter had a mind. I should never have assigned the simple task of washing and salting the turkey to her without pointing out that there are not one but two bags located in separate cavities, one with the giblets and one with the neck. The one with the neck in it was left inside the bird. Trusting that a teen has common sense is a misnomer.
Well, I always wanted to try cooking in parchment, I thought. After all, it wouldn’t be too much of a problem to yank out the burned bag with the neck in it before anyone saw it. That brings me to the second wrong decision.
I’ve always thought the turkey was the easy part, and it should have been. What could possibly go wrong? The hard part was mine: making the special Thanksgiving stuffing, mashing, muffins, seasoning, coordinating all vegetables so everything would come out at the same time. Heaven forbid the aforementioned teen’s twin brother should be excluded from the kitchen labor force, so he was assigned the task of carrying the prepared bird and placing it in the oven. Easy. Except he was unfamiliar with the oven and pushed the wrong button.
Ever tried to roast a turkey with the oven on “automatic clean?” You have no idea how much and how fast black smoke can come out of it. Everybody knows smoke is supposed to waft. But it doesn’t waft at all when your oven is on “clean,” it pours. And the aluminum foil “tent” we had remembered to place over the top of the bird to keep the skin moist, burned like pyrotechnics on a Fourth of July in Boston.
How clever the manufacturer was to have installed a “safety lock” so that, when it’s automatically cleaning as it accidentally was that Christmas, the oven door could not be opened.
How do you stop the smoke alarm from going off and scaring neighbors? Screaming “Shut that *$#*!! thing off” at the top of my lungs did not help. Grandpa was right; we had no choice but to get a big ladder, pull the alarm off the ceiling, and remove the battery. I expect a thank you note from the Mexican fire department for saving them a trip.
The kitchen was too smoky to continue with what was left of the planned meal. Besides, we couldn’t open the oven door until the temperature returned to normal, which we thought might be never.
So we all trooped to La Nueva Posada for a perfectly cooked and served meal with no clean-up. And as bonus, instead of the smoldering pile of gizzards I expected when we got back, the house was still standing, the oven cooled and clean, with nothing left of the carcass to dispose of.
All this happened 13 years ago but it’s that particular Christmas that’s still being talked about. Always will be, they tell me. Like a wedding where the bride falls into the cake, it’s the disasters that are best remembered by everyone.
If you’re planning to cook a big meal this holiday season, you can save yourself a lot of trouble by cutting out the middle man and just going directly to La Nueva Posada instead.