A Gunch Culinary Christmas
LORI OSIECKI ILLUSTRATION
My mother-in-law Ms. Larda’s cooking is to die for. People probably already have, with smiles on their faces and blockages in their arteries.
But it was worth it.
Still, her own daughter, my sister-in-law Gloriosa, cooks only healthy food. Healthy – but revolting.
Now, Gloriosa, whose mission in life is to be better than anybody else, is married into high society, and this year she gets named to the Uptown Junior Ladies cookbook committee. But when she submits her Fabulous Flax and Bran Cookies, the ladies politely tell her that they prefer old New Orleans family recipes.
Gloriosa’s husband’s family is pretty old, so she asks her mother-in-law Ms. Sarcophaga for some recipes. Ms. S informs her that they’re closely guarded family secrets, but since it’s for a good cause, she’ll bring herself to part with two of the secrets.
Huh. When the Junior Ladies’ chef tests them, it turns out Ms. S’s secrets have the taste appeal of dryer lint. I guess Ms. S belongs to the leave-one-ingredient-out school of recipe sharing; or else she just made them up and actually sneaks out to the Walmart to get whatever she serves at her fancy parties.
To save face, Gloriosa has to fall back on old Chalmette family recipes, meaning Ms. Larda’s delectable concoctions of sugar, salt and lard. Her bacon-fried veal smothered in macaroni and cheese; her deep-fried oyster-stuffed creamed potato tartlettes; and her famous raisin bread pudding with buttered rum sauce are no doubt the best-tasting, most lethal recipes in the entire book.
The ladies decide to have their recipe-sampling and cookbook-launching gala at Gloriosa’s house. It is a big, old, turn-of-the-century mansion with a huge kitchen and a real working fireplace. This is because Gloriosa won’t allow anything as historically unauthentic as fake logs with gas jets behind them in her house. On the other hand, she don’t like soot. So most of the time she has a potted geranium in there.
But, since it’s Christmastime, she thinks a roaring fire would add to the ambience. Since Ms. Larda contributed so many recipes, Gloriosa had to invite our side of the family to the cookbook launching, and our side of the family includes her brothers Lurch and Leech. Them two are big eaters, and she worries about how many recipe samples they will scarf down and slobber over before anyone else gets a chance. So she comes up with a plan.
She asks them to get there early to help out, and the second they walk in, she gives them $40 and tells them to go buy a Yule log – not the kind that’s a cake, but a real one for the fireplace. Yule logs ain’t for sale anywhere Gloriosa knows of, so she figures that they’ll just head for the Sloth Lounge and drink up that Yule log money. That will give the other guests a good shot at the food.
Except … would you believe, pretty soon, Leech and Lurch show up again. And they got a log.
“Better than a Yule log,” says Lurch. “It’s a Y’all Log.”
“And the price was right,” says Leech. Lurch gives him a look, and right away I get suspicious. That log looks like a piece of a telephone pole I saw on the side of the road near their house in Chalmette. I bet it’s been there since Hurricane Katrina. But Gloriosa is too busy being a hostess to pay attention.
They roll it into the fireplace, squirt on charcoal starter from Gloriosa’s barbecue supplies and fire it up.
Whoosh! Suddenly we got us some ambience. The Y’all Log burns bright and even sends off colored sparks.
Less suddenly, but pretty soon, the house don’t smell like gingerbread cookies no more. It smells like a street being tarred. I remember they treat telephone poles with creosote.
The food soaks up the fumes, and gradually everything starts to taste like telephone pole.
Gloriosa opens up a bottle of pine-scented Air-wick but it’s too late. The party breaks up pretty quick. After a while, the only ones left are Gloriosa and her husband and the Gunches. Gloriosa puts her kids to bed, while the rest of us do the cleaning up, holding our noses. We ain’t even tempted to snatch no leftovers.
Then we gather around the fire, which is still roaring and spitting. “How do you turn it off?” Gloriosa asks. We all look at each other, blank.
To make it worse, they don’t have no glass curtain or screen on this fireplace.
“We can’t even go to bed,” says Gloriosa. She sounds a little hysterical. “The house might burn down in our sleep.”
So we sit. And sit. And the Y’all Log keeps burning. I think it might burn forever. Then I think maybe Y’all Logs could solve the world’s heating problems if we could all get used to the smell. Thank God Ms. Larda gets an idea. She tells the boys to drag out the turkey roaster, fill it with water and haul it over by the fireplace. Then, with two sets of barbecue tongs, a broomstick handle and whimpering from Gloriosa, they roll the log out and into the turkey roaster.
It don’t like it. It hisses. And then it pops. And crackles. And sizzles. And it sets off a shower of sparks like the New Year’s Eve. Everybody shrieks and the kids wake up. Then slowly and gradually – we’re all crouched behind the couch for safety at this point – it quiets down, sending off an occasional spark to show it’s not giving up. Finally it just lies quietly in the turkey roaster and looks evil. The Y’all Log is dead.
Gloriosa and her family go to bed and we go home.
Well, there’s always a silver lining. Nobody’s arteries had time to get blocked.
Merry Christmas, y’all.