Word Count 3,340
Twelfth in the Small Matters Series
Note: Scott is a few months shy of fourteen, Johnny is a few months shy of eleven
“Hey, Johnny! Guess what day September thirteenth is?”
I groaned, nothing good ever came of this question.
“Okay, I give…just what is September thirteenth, Scott?”
“It’s ‘Kids Take Over The Kitchen’ Day,” he crowed.
“So? How do you know that any way? I tore up….your…calen….”
Oops, too late! I remembered my mistake when Scott threw a glare my way.
He looks a lot like Pa when he pulls that face…scary!
“Ha! I knew it….I knew it! You tore up my calendar, didn’t you?”
“Well, yeah….sorry about that….but your stupid holidays always get us in trouble. Remember the annual Turtle Racing Day and how much trouble we got in?”
“Well, how were we supposed to know that betting on turtle racing was against the law? – Hey, don’t try and change the subject!”
“So, how’d you come by a new calendar, anyways?”
“When the last one went missing, I wrote Grandfather and he sent me another one. Don’t you dare try and rip this one up, too!”
Well, that did it. I hate when he goes all ‘big brother’ on me so I lowered my head and butted old Boston right in the gut! And, when he got his breath back, he launched himself at me and the fight was on!
It was too close to declare either of us the winner when we heard the bellow from downstairs.
“ BOYS ! What’s going on up there?”
We broke it off mighty fast; the ‘tune caller’ was in the house and he sounded mad!
Looking at each other warily, we both chorused, “N-u-t-h-i-n’!”
“Well, it doesn’t sound like ‘nuthin’ to me. Do I need to come up there?”
Like the ‘holiday of the day’ question, this one was never followed by anything good.
“ N-O !” we chorused.
“Well, see that I don’t!” was the final word from Pa.
Scott and I stared at each other, wide-eyed.
A visit from Pa would not be pleasant so we figured we’d better cooperate with each other.
“Okay, what are we supposed to do on ‘Kids Take Over The Kitchen’ Day, anyways?”
Scott’s eyes lit up.
“Let’s surprise Mia by fixing her dinner! We’ll invite folks over and treat her like a queen. She’s so good to us, Johnny. Let’s pay her back by cooking her a wonderful dinner. The thirteenth is on a Saturday so we’ll have all day to get ready. We’ll ask Pa, but I’m sure he’ll agree!”
‘Mia’ was Maria, our housekeeper and cook. She was more than that to Scott and me, though. Since neither of us had our own Mama, she kinda adopted us and we adopted her.
Scott had given her his own special nickname when he first came to Lancer and when I showed up a few months later, I called her Mia, too.
“Scott, I love Mia and all, but we don’t know how to cook!”
“What’s so hard about it? All you gotta do is follow directions; we’ll use Mother’s cookbook.”
Scott’s mother had died shortly after he was born. She had lived at Lancer for a couple of years before having Scott so some of her things were left behind, the cookbook being one of them.
Since Scott never knew his mama, these things were dear to him.
I sighed again. Once my brother gets one of his ‘good’ ideas, he’s like a dog with a bone.
We were going to go through this whether I thought it was a good idea or not.
“All right, all right. Let’s ask Pa if we can do it first. If he says yes, what then?”
“He’ll say ‘yes,’ said Scott, confidently. “Then we just need to come up with a menu and a list of who we want to invite.”
It’s hard to resist those pleading puppy-dog looks from my boys, even when I know that they are probably biting off more than they can chew. I was glad, though, that they were thinking of someone other than themselves and wanted to honor Maria on Saturday.
So I gave in, telling them I wanted final approval of the menu and the guest list.
The ‘tune caller’ had spoken.
Hurray, Pa was all for my idea. He just wanted to know what we were going to make and who we wanted to invite.
Johnny and I first decided on the guest list:
* Mia, of course, and her husband, Cip
* Paul O’Brien and his little daughter, Teresa
* Henry and Aggie Conway
* Jim and Maura Talbot and their sons: Kendall, Rory, and Blair
All together, there would be fourteen of us.
If the day was nice, we would set up a table on the patio to accommodate us all.
Next, the menu:
* mashed potatoes and gravy
* greens, of some kind (Johnny hates the idea, but I knew Pa would insist upon it!)
* cherry pie
* coffee for the grownups, milk for the kids
Pa looked over our guest list and menu and pulled a face.
“Boys, this guest list and the menu seems a bit…uh…ambitious for the two of you, doesn’t it?”
“No, Pa,” I assured him, “We can do it; I know we can! Please let us try!”
I couldn’t help but notice that my little brother looked less confident than I felt.
I held my breath and crossed my fingers behind my back when Pa hesitated.
After what seemed like ages, he said, “All right; I think you two may have bitten off more than you can chew, but your hearts are in the right place. You have my permission.”
I forgot I was nearly fourteen and I jumped up and down with excitement.
Johnny must have caught my fever because he jumped up and down, too. He added a few whoops and hollers for good measure!
Johnny and I went our separate ways later on Shadow and Storm to invite both the Conways and the Talbots to dinner on Saturday.
We asked Pa to invite the O’Briens’ and Maria and Cip to the special dinner on Saturday.
Pa wasn’t to spoil the surprise for Mia, though. She wasn’t to know she was to be the Guest of Honor and that Johnny and I were doing all the cooking!
It was set; our guests agreed to come on Saturday. Well, all except for Kendall and Rory. They were older and both had dates, but Jim, Maura, and Blair were coming.
Johnny couldn’t understand why both Kendall and Rory would pass up a good dinner to be with a girl.
I was starting to understand the attraction and could picture myself on a date with Laura Murphy… Of course, I knew it would be a few years before Pa would let tham happen.
Early Saturday found Johnny and me down at the chicken coop. Chicken was on the menu, so we needed to pick out a couple of nice, plump chickens.
Pointing, I said, “How about that one, Johnny?”
“No, that’s Clara! We can’t eat Clara!”
I sighed and rolled my eyes.
“Okay, that one?”
“No, that’s Henrietta!”
“No, that’s Hortense!”
“Hortense? Okay, that one?”
“Definitely not! That’s Prudence!”
My head started to hurt.
“Johnny, save me some time. Do all the chickens have names?”
“Of course! I couldn’t name some of them and not all of them!”
“Well, how are we going to have chicken for dinner if you’ve named every one of them?”
I wanted to pull all my hair out. I guess it was time for Plan B.
“All right, we can have ham instead of chicken…that is, if you haven’t named the hams, too!”
It was Johnny’s turn to roll his eyes at me.
“Don’t be dumb, Scott. Of course, I didn’t name the hams!”
“Okay, ham it is then!”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the hams probably had names when there were still pigs attached to them.
“While we’re out here, we better decide on something green to serve.”
“ W-h-y-y-y-y? ” Johnny moaned in a tone that grated upon my ears.
“Because Pa will insist on it, that’s why! We can serve dandelion greens. There’s a recipe in the cookbook. Go pick some, will you?”
“Yes, Master,” he intoned, trotting off. Honestly, sometimes he can be so trying!
Johnny brought in a basket of dandelion greens while I picked out a good-sized ham in the smokehouse.
Looking at the cookbook, it said to score the hat and stud it with cloves.
“What’s ‘score’ mean, Scott? And, what are cloves?”
“’Score’ means to cut the ham rind in a diamond pattern. I’m not sure about cloves, though.”
I thought a minute, then snapped my fingers.
“I know! Garlic comes in cloves….it looks like we need to poke a lot of garlic cloves into the ham!”
Several heads of garlic later, it was rather smelly in the kitchen.
Johnny had rubbed his hands over his eyes and the garlic juice made his eyes sting. He started to wail so I pushed his head under the spigot and began to pump water over his head.
He came up sputtering and mad as a wet hen. Grabbing my collar, he pushed me under the water!
I was only trying to help him and the fight was on….again!
“ Boys! What’s the racket out there?!”
Uh oh, the ‘tune-caller’ was in the house…. again!
“NUTHIN’! ” we yelled.
“Well, keep the noise level down to a din or I’ll have to come in there….Do I make myself clear?”
Crystal clear and this was to be avoided at all costs!
“Y-e-s!” we chorused.
We set the ham aside to cook later and tackled the potatoes next.
“How many of these things do we have to peel? I’m tired….my fingers hurt…this is boring!” whined Johnny.
Exasperated, I grabbed the knife from him.
“You are such a baby sometimes! Okay, I’ll finish up the potatoes! You can wash the greens.”
I heard him grumble something about ‘bossy’ under his breath as he headed for the sink.
I pretended not to hear him.
Finally, the potatoes were put on to boil.
Johnny was right, although I’d never tell him. My fingers hurt and it was boring!
The greens were washed and we decided to start on the biscuits.
Johnny peeked over my shoulder and pointed at the baking soda biscuit recipe.
“How much is ‘2 t?’ ” he asked.
“I think it’s 2 tablespoons. We gotta put two tablespoons of baking soda in the biscuits,” I replied.
Soon we had the biscuits mixed, rolled, cut out and waiting on the baking sheet without much trouble.
After that we put the ham and biscuits in the oven to bake and the potatoes on the stove to boil.
When the ham was done, we would make the gravy.
Now was the time to start the pie.
I mixed up the pie crust and went into the Great Room to gather up the plates and silver so I could set the table out on the patio.
While I was getting these together, Johnny decided to roll out the pie crust.
I heard a lot of words flying from the kitchen that would have earned my brother a mouthful of soap if Pa was anywhere within hearing distance.
“Johnny, what’s the problem?”
That’s when it happened.
All of a sudden, a big lump of pie crust came sailing into the room, crashed into the wall, and landed on the floor with a thump.
As I was absorbing this, a wooden rolling pin flew over my shoulder, just missing my head!
“Damn it….it ain’t working! I can’t get this stupid crust rolled out! S-C-O-T-T!”
Shaking my head, I picked up the pie crust and the rolling pin, marched into the kitchen and calmly rolled out the pie crust and placed it into the pie tin.
“See, Johnny? Nothing to it…I’ll finish the pie. You set the table.”
Johnny stomped off and I heard something about ‘know-it-all’ big brothers under his breath.
I pretended not to hear as I finished up the pie and shoved it into the oven, along with the ham and biscuits.
All that was left now was to finish up the greens, mash the potatoes, and fix the gravy as soon as the ham was done.
Looking at the clock, we both began to get a little nervous. This was taking a lot longer than we thought it would!
I threw a few more pieces of firewood into the oven to get the ham done faster.
Johnny drained the greens and added butter, salt and pepper, pouring them into a bowl.
I pulled the biscuits out of the oven.
“Uh, Johnny…do these look right to you?”
Johnny trotted over and took a look.
“Well, they’re awful big, aren’t they? And some of them kinda flattened out. They don’t look like Mia’s biscuits!”
I shrugged and tossed them into a towel-lined basket.
“Well, I guess that’s okay as long as they taste like Mia’s biscuits. I better start on the mashed potatoes. Go get the starch so we can start the gravy.”
Johnny stood in one spot and gave me a glare.
“Please?” I sighed. He smirked and turned on his heels.
I drained the potatoes, retrieved the potato masher from the drawer, and started to mash the potatoes.
When Johnny returned with the starch, I was starting to sweat from the effort of mashing all the potatoes. I had no idea how long to mash them so I worked until my arms got tired and then Johnny took over. When we thought they were finished, we dumped them into the bowl.
It was time to start the gravy so I pulled the ham out of the oven.
It looked done…maybe too done. I couldn’t dwell on that right now; I needed the ham drippings to make the gravy.
“Johnny, it says to mix the starch and water together to thicken the gravy…please, mix it up while I take the ham from the pan…okay?”
Johnny nodded and got busy while I pulled the ham from the pan and put the drippings on the stove so I could make the gravy.
I followed the instructions, and stirred and stirred and stirred the drippings and the starch/water mixture.
The gravy got thick….real thick…and real shiny. I poured, rather, scraped it into a bowl.
I pulled the pie out of the oven and we were done!
It was time to start the celebration!
I looked at Johnny and he looked at me. We were both exhausted and agreed that Mia made cooking look easy.
Thank goodness, Kids Take Over The Kitchen Day only rolled around once a year!
The table was set up and the guests arrived.
It was a beautiful evening and the table looked lovely.
The boys had used the good china, silver, and glassware. There was a linen tablecloth and a vase of flowers in the center of the table. Dusk was beginning to set so they had also lit candles and set them nearby.
I don’t know how young boys thought of all the details but I was very proud of Scott and Johnny.
They escorted Mia to the head of the table, presented her with a bouquet of flowers, gave a little speech of appreciation and gave her a peck on the cheek.
Mia was so surprised and touched that she nearly burst into tears.
And, I nearly burst the buttons of my jacket with pride!
The boys brought out the food and that’s when everything went south, unfortunately.
The ham was so tough, the knife blade bent when I went to slice it. The boys had confused cloves with cloves of garlic and all eyes at the table began to water!
The potatoes were lumpy and gluey and it was nearly impossible to get them out of the bowl!
The gravy was thick and impossibly shiny. It came out of the bowl in one huge glop!
Teresa went to reach for it and Maria screamed and snatched up the bowl.
“No lo toques! Ninos, de donde saco el almidon para hacer la salsa?” ( “Don’t touch it! Ninos, where did you get the starch to make the gravy?”)
Scott looked at Johnny and Johnny looked at the rest of us.
“From the laundry room. Where else would the starch be?” he asked with a look of confusion on his face.
“Madre de Dios, Chicos!” moaned Maria. “Debe utilizar almidon de maiz en la salsa. Usted utiliza almidon de lavanderia en cambio que podria hacer alguien muy, muy emfermo!” (“You must use cornstarch in the gravy. You used laundry starch instead which could make someone very, very sick!”)
The boys looked crestfallen.
In the meantime, Blair had taken a bite of the dandelion greens and began to sputter.
“Damn!” he screeched.
Maura looked at her youngest and chided him.
“Blair Patrick! I could expect that from your brother, Rory, but not you! Watch your language, young man!”
“But, Ma…my tongue…there are stickers in the greens!” Blair stuck out his tongue and Moira peered at it.
“Oh dear, he’s right,” she said, picking some stickers off of her son’s tongue. She turned and looked at the rest of us in confusion.
Scott turned on Johnny.
“Johnny, you weren’t supposed to use the prickly dandelion greens!”
“How was I supposed to know that…you didn’t tell me!” he exclaimed, indignantly.
“What’s wrong with the biscuits,” asked little Teresa. “They are so big and they taste funny!”
Maria shook her head. “Probably too much baking soda..”
I tried to rescue the dinner for my boys.
“Well, how about some cherry pie, everyone? It looks delicious!”
Paul took a bite and let out a howl.
“Ouch, my tooth! I nearly broke it off!”
“Chico, hoyo de las cerezas?” (“Boys, did you pit the cherries?”) asked Maria, sympathetically.
My boys looked at her in confusion.
“Pit?” they asked.
“Si, debe quitar el hoyo o la piedra de las cerezas antes de ponerlas en la tarta.” (“Yes, you must remove the pit or stone from the cherries before you put them in the pie,”) she said softly.
This was too much for two young boys who had worked so hard and had felt so proud at the beginning of the dinner.
Two big fat tears rolled down Johnny’s cheeks and Scott, who felt so very mature, had suspiciously shiny eyes. They looked so dejected and completely worn out.
“We tried so hard,” wailed Johnny. “We wanted your dinner to be wonderful, Mia!…But, it’s a disaster!”
Scott nodded sadly.
Maria jumped up and put her arms around them both.
“Oh, Ninos. Trabajas tan duro y estoy muy orgullosa de ti. Tocaste mi corazon con tu amor por mi. Solo necesitas empezar a hacer algo simple para comenzar con. Empencemos de nuevo, esto puede ser ahorrado. Sigueme a la cocina, todo el mundo!” (“Oh, boys. You worked so hard and I am so proud of you. You touched my heart with your love for me. You just needed to start out making something simple to begin with. Let’s start all over, this can be saved! Follow me to the kitchen, everyone!”)
So we took the party to the kitchen which was a disaster area, by the way!
Maria took charge and assigned the chores.
The grownups were on cleanup duty and made the coffee.
Blair fried the bacon.
Teresa made the toast and gathered up the butter and jam.
Maria showed Johnny how to scramble eggs and taught Scott how to make flapjacks.
Coffee was made, milk and juice were poured, and dinner was served!
It was delicious and all the kids in the kitchen were proud and happy with their efforts.
Johnny summed it all up with a winning grin.
“Oh, boy….I love breakfast for dinner! I wish it was “Kids Take Over The Kitchen Day” every day! Don’t you, Scott?”
Scott, and the rest of us, shook our heads and answered as one.
~ end ~
September 13 th is “Kids Take Over The Kitchen Day.”
This story was written in honor of Janet Brayden’s birthday on September 13th. The Talbots showed up to help her celebrate. Happy birthday, Janet!
The pie crust and laundry starch gravy stories really did happen in my family. My Aunt Marge made laundry starch gravy for my Dad which was suspiciously shiny. My mom threw the pie crust and rolling pin into the living room in a fit of temper. My dad picked them both up and calmly proceeded to roll them out.
The potatoes and baking soda biscuit disasters are true stories taken from the web.
The rest of the kitchen fiascoes were a product of my fertile imagination.
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