And before I begin, congrats to the Go-Gos on their recent inauguration into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
For as much anticipation taking a year off of vacation and travel created for us all, I have to say that my own came and went without much fanfare.
Which was great on a couple different levels. First, I got to deploy all my snark when asked if I was participating in Octsober. Um, it’s a family reunion-slash-vacation, so that’s a big
The second great thing – and just to be clear, I’m enumerating things beyond seeing the foursome from Texas that I call my extended family. Truth be told, they are the only other family. Anywho, the second great thing was the timing of it all. We’d originally planned this for late June-early July of 2020. And then 2021. But the parentals ultimately decided to exercise their right to cancel/reschedule on the last day they could before everything locked in 30 days out. With COVID and Delta being what it was, they made a good call.
October was the reschedule. For whatever reason, the original date lined up with my youngest brother’s 45th birthday. The fallback encompassed my sister’s 55th. This, of course, brought up my unresolved – and equally heretofore unknown – issues around 70s and 80s coffee commercials. Y’know, the ones with the butthurt housewife that’s upset when her husband orders a second cup of coffee with his dessert. They even spoofed it in Airplane!
Why don’t we ever do family vacations around my birthday?!? Surely not because it’s in the middle of January and everyone is knee-deep in their resolutions.
But the real coup d’etat on the timing was the timing! October isn’t the summer anywhere in the northern hemisphere, nor is it yet fully winter. In the Oregon high desert, that means the resort town we meet up in is itself deserted.
Also, there are no crazy temps either way. Sure, it got down to the 30s at night, but the days were high 50s-low 60s. It was awesome. Light sweater weather during the day, at worst. Then at night it was cold enough you could leave the window open a crack to get that crazy cold air deep sleep going.
Plus, the parents were on the main floor. “Age Rules” being what they are, that means that in addition to playing the TV at the same volume as their ages, the temperature was set the same way. If I didn’t open my window, I’d have woken up looking like a Costco rotisserie chicken!
All of this really bubbles up to the reality that after 4 pm, all there really is to do in Sunriver in October is eat and drink.
Well, that and watch the neighborhood deer.
What? You thought that seeing my family would be the best part of this story to me?
Don’t get me wrong, my enjoyment of my food and beverage consumption was greatly enhanced by my family’s presence. Not just because they are my blood. No, because the extended family foursome I have are Texas residents, so you know one of them was unvaccinated – and proudly declaring her natural immunity from the COVID she survived. Given her Instagram stories, I can safely guess this was from spending her pandemic galavanting around the western side of the country.
Still, I am of the opinion that she should have been vaccinated. I expended a great deal of emotional energy during the vacation trying to not lecture my 20-something first cousin on this topic. Helpfully, we seemed to be seated quite near one another at every damn meal. Well played, family. Well played.
Our usual meal routine for family vacations is that breakfast is a drop in event, we’re on our own for lunches and dinner is a family time. Generally, each person gets a cooking night but since working folk might pop in or out during the vacation according to their schedules, occasionally couples can pair up.
Me? I’m always fucked. I mean, destined to cook alone – the one time I brought someone, his grandmother died the day we fucking arrived…the nerve. I mean, lesson learned. Not that the family minds my solo-cooking misadventures, particularly since their favorite pastime seems to be harassing me while I cook. Can’t blame them, though…I can generally be relied upon to do something entertaining while cooking.
Hey, in the grand scheme of things, two small fires out of all the vacations we’ve taken is a blip at most. Right?!?
There are food related vacation traditions involved, for sure – beyond my minor conflagrations.
The ‘Phew generally orders pizza for his night. And that’s usually the day we arrive so we can ease into it.
The lil bro usually grills burgers.
The bro-in-law usually grills steak.
Mom makes spaghetti.
Dad…well, dad takes us all out to dinner. Then, per family tradition, argues with his brother about whether he can chip in. Short version: he can’t. Long version: we all had another round while they debated.
And, me? Well, since I love cooking but hate cooking for myself, I go all out. I’ve been known to pack not just a favorite knife – turns out, my LTR ends up being cutlery – but even a 10 lb pork loin and most of the ingredients for a molé or a paella pan or what have you. Hey, I’m not starting a fire cooking Mac & Cheese, ok?
You might notice the Texas Foursome was not listed. Not a bunch of cookers in that group. The mom isn’t super domestic, so they come by it honestly. Since there’s usually more people than nights, this usually isn’t an issue, though. Myself, I think this was the first time I’ve stayed the full duration.
This time, my COVID cousin brought along her fiancé. It was my first time meeting him, but it seemed everyone else had met him before briefly at some family function I missed. To his credit, he took up steak grilling duties for one meal – which my brother-in-law regrettably but graciously abdicated. I mean, who wouldn’t cede grill master duties to a Texan?!?
Poor guy. He asked how everyone wanted their steaks cooked and then served us all saddles. I know the pain of going from zero to 60 on cooking. The fires I set are obvious. His was more subtle – merely cremating a cow carcass. Why he gets a pass and I get harassed…well, further evidence of how nice my family is.
Or how much more they…like me?
That all being the case, I still found myself using my extra family time relaxing into cooking for pleasure. I had planned a beef stew over polenta dinner, with an ancillary black bean chili type dish.
Texans, remember? I knew there’s gonna be extra nights. Plus, with COVID protocols being in effect, I was pretty sure dad wasn’t getting a reservation for 10+ anywhere.
I got my stew inspiration from a cook at the restaurant on my block. The recipe served 30, so I halved it. There was 12 of us that night – the ‘Phew brought a girlfriend for the night – and everyone got one serving. Yikes.
My hecklers’ fantasy moment? Making polenta. It’s pretty easy…boil some stock, stir in the polenta and then stir as it does it’s polenta thing. I made the full restaurant recipe, but chose the wrong pan. I chose a 4-quart saucepan and needed at least another quart of space, although in retrospect, I’d have chosen a 6-quart sauté pan so I had more surface area for the liquid to cook off.
So, I fucked up the polenta. Think of it as me being a gracious host and serving low hanging fruit to my loving tormentors.
Remember, to make up for it, I had a second meal up my sleeve!
Plus, my mom pulled her favorite “I have a gay son”/Thanksgiving trick on her cooking night – handing me the spatula. So I cooked up a bunch of spaghetti.
Then, in a fit of “don’t end up like me” life lessons, I made a breakfast date with my 20-something first cousins from Texas and made a date for a breakfast cooking lessons. That sentence was…ouch.
The menu? Frittata and home-style potatoes.
I told them around midnight – it was more of a dropped gauntlet than an invitation – to meet me in the kitchen at 8 the next morning. Then we drank for a couple more hours.
She looked perfectly put together.
Surprisingly, my youngest cousin was already there when I arrived. I’d set my alarm for 745 and brushed my teeth and threw on a ball cap.
When I expressed my surprise, she was all, “What? You said 8!”
For my part, I mumbled, “Well, we’re batting .500”…you know I was still drunk if I was credibly attempting sports analogies. I started in on how easy frittatas are – I mean, do you want to make more than two omelette ever? – and how it can be something you just throw together with supplies on hand, put under the broiler and then slice up like a pizza and throw on the table.
Guess who showed up right about then? That’s right…COVID cousin!
I told them my default frittata: cubed ham, cubed cheddar and broccoli florets. Pro-tip: you can buy the ham pre-cubed and use frozen florets. Aside from that, you’re big decisions are what herbs you want to use. Garlic powder, maybe a red pepper flake and “anything green” were my loose guidelines.
I put COVID cousin on frittata prep and showed my younger cousin the potato ropes. Since we were nearing the end of the vacation, my sister – tasked with provisioning the pantry for each of these vacations and affording my uncle another opportunity to hone his “let me chip in” argument – was in high “use everything up” mode. To that end, I instructed my cousin to use the remaining potatoes.
Short cut for home style potatoes: quarter them and nuke them for 3-4 minutes to soften them up. Then cube them and throw ‘em in a sauté pan with some oil and…whatever spices you have handy!
Why? Because the M.O. for this Homo in the kitchen is “Because I can!” Pretty much everywhere else I’m my life I seem to can’t so this is cathartic.
Keeping with my traditions of affording my family opportunities to harass me while I cook and simultaneously making a near-critical-slash-comedic error, the 6-quart sauté pan I chose for my cousin turned out to be too small for that many damn potatoes.
Fuck my fucking life. On top of the ongoing Struggles of Xtopher, I forgot to get a frittata spread pic. Ugh. Will these humiliations never end?!?
But at the same time, this minor crisis allowed me the chance to show my cousins how to roll with the culinary punches. I’m no Julia Child – despite my default childish behaviors – but I’m all for her “no one needs to know what happens in your kitchen” confidence. If they walked away with any of that from my struggle of tossing 4 lbs of cubed potatoes in a 6-quart sauté pan…my work as a twice-their-age cousin is done.
Since they are in their 20s and I haven’t seen any home cooked meals posted on their Instagrams, I’m gonna guess these confidence boosting lessons will need a <ahem> booster shot.