Home on the range on Christmas Eve but there being no deer and antelope around I had to make do with chicken. In my lexicon, Good Housekeeping is not a standard of sanitation that is impossible to meet, or even as Lord Hamlet said, a consummation devoutly to be wished. It is my favourite cookbook and my standard tome if I want a consommé devoutly to be cooked, a cheesecake done to perfection or, in this case, baked chicken breasts stuffed with potatoes and pastrami.
This year, to honour Santa’s Rudolph-led reindeer due to land on the roof, I added a special ingredient. Not a Blitzen, Dancer or Prancer but the forgotten one. Olive. Remember the song – Olive the other reindeer? She was in the mix, adding colour to my Christmas mélange.
This particular Christmas was turning out to be a gas despite two of the curtains being burnt because the iron struck while it was too hot. I had returned home just in time to terminate the rain-fed weeds with my usual coup de grass, trim the malevolent bougainvillea bushes that scratch but fortunately have not yet learnt to bite, helped in my own clumsy way to put up the remaining curtains, and threaten to cook our Christmas Eve lunch on the Mabe stove.
It was then that the Mexican-made stove took the opportunity to demonstrate why my friends in Belize call it a “Maybe” stove. It staged its own coup de gas and exploded. It was almost curtains for me too. Well, no range-fed chicken and no small potatoes either, I said to myself after checking to see that all my limbs were intact and that cooking was not a cinch so much as a singe.
In my youth we used to take an Ovaltine or Milo tin, punch a hole in the bottom of it, put in some carbide, spit on it, quickly close the lid and apply a flame to the bottom of the tin. The carbide gave the tin more energy than its original contents and the lid would blow right off with a good solid thump. It seems I had a carbide stove.
Even though it was Christmas time, the stove made a whoosh instead of a wish and almost turned my Christmas into a war zone – a bummer and a bomber at the same time. Having made up my mind that I would cook the meal, and with the chicken already marinating in lemon juice, I took a saunter down electric avenue without Eddy Grant or Joanna but with hope that all would go well. It was then that the large electric toaster oven refused to work.
This madness did not surprise me as it too was made in Mexico. I figured that it had a screw loose and I was right. Immediately after we took off the many screws holding it together, and without getting into the vital parts, the oven started running like Usain Volt. Had the iron done that it would have been curtains for all the curtains.
I told my wife who had run into the kitchen after the explosion and was still a bit stunned, “The current situation means that despite the high cost of electricity we have no choice but to do watts required in the circumstances.” She was wired, I tell you!
We pulled out the Chinese rice cooker from a cupboard where it had been fallow for a long time, and tested it, standing far back to make sure it did not have a fuse problem. I could hear Confuse-ius saying in the background, “Rice cooker that stay too long in cupboard not wok.”
My son Zubin had volunteered to help me and I gave him the chicken breasts to flatten. Because of his love for cricket, and the implement he used to pound the chicken, I changed his name to Ashley Mallet (the Australian spinner). In the meantime we called the “electric stove” man who reminded us that it was Christmas Eve and that he was not sure when he could come. Another Mabe I thought.
However, his response did not shock me as much as his charges for work done.
What did give me a jolt though was when Zubin put his finger into the socket of a Christmas tree light. Lunch having been consumed and commended, we moved on to a little cricket until it was time to complete the adornment of the premises, bougainvillea and all, with what in my tiredness I call these “blinking” lights.
Zubin’s job is to climb the ladder and link together the lights. When the current hit him and I saw the look on his face, I immediately changed Zubin’s new name from Ashley to Ashok (Mankad, the Indian cricketer whose surname became a verb for a bowler running out a batsman who is out of his ground at the bowler’s end).
Zubin took it as a good sport and though a bit strung out by that time, lit up almost immediately when his mother, looking at the huge Christmas tree in the yard said, “We need an outdoor star for that” and I immediately suggested Clint Eastwood.
I had acquired a collection of Scrunter’s “Parang Soca” songs and it was the ideal accompaniment to our labours – the touch of country in Scrunter’s voice and the truly infectious rhythm. No piece of pork for Christmas but who needs it when your life has been spared and you live to light another day.
Some of the outdoor electrical cords, dormant in boxes for a year, had left us facing an economic crisis similar to the one now confronting President Obama – how to deal with both the haves and have-knots. The Republican approach was tempting but we could not just look after the haves and leave the have-knots to suffer. I did what Obama should have done and snarling, “Don’t you dare tangle with me” I fixed the entire mess without breaking a sweat or a bulb.
Later, we allowed the children to each open one gift and leave the rest for Christmas Day when we gather together after breakfast and open all the gifts under the Christmas tree. It was just around midnight when we finally left the stove and the day’s events behind us and switched off the lights. My next recollection was seeing the faint morning light and it suddenly dawned on me. Christmas.
*Tony Deyal was last seen asking, “What do Trinis call the day before Christmas Eve?” Christmas Adam.
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