Spare the lamb and spoil the Christmas meal

December 30, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

Our traditional Christmas supper includes a leg of lamb and fried chicken, a culinary dichotomy that will need no explanation to anyone who has a child.

I tackle the lamb, from calling the butcher and having it butterflied, to rolling it up with olives, feta and various other floor sweepings that don't taste like much but give it the look of pretension I so sorely crave.

All I want is a dish I can bring to the table that plausibly says, "I made an effort, OK? Now leave me alone so I can eat and get back to the game."

Christmas to me is defined as trying to stay alive in a sea of disturbingly happy people, but to the Elf in High Heels it's one of those proactive holidays that sees energy and fervor galloping neck-and-neck into the home stretch to see which can be expended the fastest. I get tired just watching her make her lists, which are like Cray computer how-to manuals, only more detailed.


So she's talking to her mom on the phone at 7:30 p.m. Christmas Eve, outlining a meal that has more courses than Hagerstown Community College, when she freezes. She shoots me a look and says "didyoupickupthelamb?" For once in my life, I was gratified to know the answer to one of her probing questions, and I quickly and proudly responded "No."

It is interesting, in a scientific kind of way, to take note of the way a person's facial features rearrange themselves to simultaneously express panic and rage. Impossible as it sounds, she just sort of flushed and went pale at the same time.

"Relax," I said. "It's Christmas Eve, everything's bound to be open late."

Her face softened a bit and even in that time of crisis she managed to pay me a compliment, saying that all things considered I was more kinds of a moron than any man she had ever met in her life.

"Have you ever been out on a Christmas Eve?"

"Well, no, but I would assume that ..."

"Nothing is open on Christmas Eve."

We sat there in silence for a moment, suddenly finding ourselves with one roasting pan too many. And, perhaps I failed to mention, we had four of my relatives flying in from Minnesota on Christmas Day for dinner.

We had one small frying chicken, but that was it. An inventory of the freezer only turned up some potential science fair entries, but no main course.

I peeled out of the driveway and quickly discovered the grocery stores to be locked up tight. It was a true Homer Simpson moment: "Well, this makes four Christmases I've ruined, one Christmas I saved, two were kind of a wash ..."

Then I thought, "Wal-Mart SuperCenter. They're always open. Surely Wal-Mart won't let me down."

My heart sank when the only vehicles in the parking lot were two Hagerstown Police Department cars. I fishtailed around the corner doing about 60, slammed on the brakes and drove up onto the curb, rolling down the window to see a sign that said "Reopening Friday."

An officer standing on the sidewalk watched with some interest as I loudly cursed the ghost of Sam Walton, and went, tires squealing and spraying gravel, off into the night. Something about my countenance must have made him disinclined to intervene.

Back home, Andrea, bless her, did the only thing she could do: She laughed. It started out low, and it started to grow. Pretty soon we were both howling. Our mirth was barely tempered 30 minutes later when we were flipping a complex apple-caramel torte (which had taken me two hours to make) and I asked Andrea if she had it and she said yes - about .0831 seconds before it hit the floor, spraying all over the kitchen and making one dog named Jake Biscuit deliriously happy.

At that point we knew we had to get out of the kitchen. We phoned the AC&T gas station on Sharpsburg Pike, which has about the best fried chicken in town, and they assured us they would be open Christmas Day.

Then our friend Lelia, who doubles as our guardian angel, called and it turned out she (of course) had a spare pork roast in her fridge. So what one man was able to tear asunder, Lelia and the AC&T were able to patch together.

And next Christmas, Andrea and I already have decided that we're getting Chinese.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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