This Side of the Pond – Jan. 4

By Sarah Pridgeon

Karma, it catches us every time. During the family festivities over the holidays, I felt overly proud of how helpful I was being – and hubris wasn’t having a bar of it.

This learning opportunity presented itself while I helped to prepare a Mexican-themed smorgasbord for an afternoon gathering. As mom-in-law wasn’t feeling her best, I took charge of the bulk of the preparations (it seemed only fair, considering how many feasts she treated me to over the holidays).

Dad-in-law was theoretically in charge, but got distracted by the cranberry relish. It turns out that the recipe he was determined to make required a food processor, but such a thing was not at that moment available.

He wasn’t going to give up, because this was a dish my sister-in-law served at Thanksgiving and he hadn’t stopped thinking about it since. The solution was to use a blender to process tiny amounts of the cranberry mix at a time. It was clearly going to take a while, so I busied myself with the rest of the recipes on the list.

I put together the cheese and broccoli dip (a must for Pridgeon gatherings) without sloshing melted cheddar over the surfaces. I prepared the spicy ground beef without dropping any of it on the floor. I got the chili on to heat without spilling any over the sides.

I put together what I can only describe as a stylish display of sour cream, tomatoes and cheese and laid out the tortilla chips, tacos and wraps. Shredded lettuce was added to the table, two types of salsa were whipped together and refried beans were heated without scorching the bottom of the pan. I even finished the dishes without breaking a single bowl or glass.

Not one mishap, all morning long – I think you can understand why I was feeling so pleased with myself. The gathering, too, went off without a hitch and the feast was gobbled down by all in attendance.

As the afternoon drew on, I roused from yet another food coma and wobbled into the kitchen. Most people had finished building their taco extravaganzas and were concentrating on the fudge and cookies, so I took it upon myself to preserve the leftovers.

I covered the cheese, tomato and sour cream tray with its lid and turned to place it in the fridge. Unfortunately, it turns out that you need more than one hand to hold the two pieces together.

As I opened the fridge door, the tray began to gape open at the far end like a duck’s beak. It happened too quickly for me to do much about it. In a matter of milliseconds, it had slipped from my fingers and coated the inside of the fridge in taco trimmings.

The previously pristine cooler was now dripping with cubed tomatoes and sauce. It had splashed onto several shelves, snuck into the cheese tray and found a way to get underneath the vegetable crisper.

I stared at it for a few moments, hoping that denial might be the answer. Surely that hadn’t just happened, had it? And, more to the point, how had some of the tomatoes managed to get into the freezer?

The canine clean-up crew got to work on the mess on the floor. Like living vacuum cleaners, they hoovered up the shredded cheese with little effort. Molly, a large boxer, was then gently encouraged to climb back down out of the fridge for the sake of basic hygiene.

Obviously, our guests found this all very amusing. Understandably, my fumblefingers became the topic of teasing for the rest of the holidays and I grew to dread any mention of a tomato. Mom-in-law was particularly amused that, while distracted by sour cream, I had chosen to very neatly place the empty lid on a shelf inside the fridge.

But I’m worried that one person didn’t take the loss of his sour cream very well, and that would be my dad-in-law. Oh, he chuckled with everyone else as I scrubbed down milk cartons and butter boxes, but I’m not convinced he was really that amused.

The next morning, as hubby and I enjoyed a cup of tea and prepared for round eight of the holiday excitement, I saw a silhouette skitter across the snow and onto our back deck. It leaned down for a moment, then turned tail and disappeared from whence it had come.

For reasons that were not immediately obvious to me, the silhouette left behind three headless mackerel in a small bowl. I turned to the internet for clues and discovered that such a gift has a terrifying meaning.

Apparently, members of the mafia in Sicily once left dead fish on the doorsteps of their enemies as a warning: get in line, or you will soon be swimming with the fishes.

Dad-in-law swears blind that he just wanted to give our outside cat a festive treat but, to be on the safe side, I think I’ll be handling the shredded cheese bag like it’s made of fine china in the future. Thank heavens I didn’t harm his cranberry relish.