The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men


In movies, it usually happens right after the hero says something foolish, like: “Well, this isn’t so hard!” or “What could go wrong?”

Nothing tempts the powers of chaos like smug self-satisfaction.

This year, our first year in a home of our own, we hosted Christmas dinner for the first time ever.  I didn’t start out feeling smug, but as the finely choreographed ballet of food preparation played out on the pristine stage of my freshly scrubbed kitchen, pride swelled within me.  The turkey, stuffed with apples, was tucked tidily into its roaster pan and lovingly anointed with oil before going into the oven at 9:30 sharp.  The sweet potato casserole and Yvie’s special recipe dressing followed two hours later.  The potatoes were boiled and mashed, and the bread, the green beans, and the cranberry jello mold all took their place on the table like planets of kitchen conviviality converging miraculously on a single point.  Everything seemed to be ready at the same time.

That’s when I said it.

“Wow, I can’t believe everything is turning out so perfectly my very first time!”

The last thing left to do was to sprinkle baby marshmallows across the top of the hot sweet potatoes and heat them to a bubbly, delicious golden brown under the broiler.


In actuality, I turned my back on the broiler to put the bread in the bread basket, only to hear Paul, who was carving the turkey, ask, “Why is that back burner smoking?”

He opened the oven door to check on the potatoes, and was nearly engulfed in a ball of flames.

“F-f-fire!  It’s on FIRE!” he sputtered, and looked around for something he could use to put it out.  His dad swept into the kitchen, grabbed a potholder, and quickly moved the flaming pan to the bottom rack before closing the door on it.

It turned out that I had set the top rack in the oven too high when I moved it to make room for the turkey.  As the marshmallows swelled in the heat, they made contact with the glowing red heating element and burst into flames.

When the fire finally subsided, the whole top of the casserole was charred black and crisp.

Thankfully, the fire had spent its rage on the sugary topping while leaving the potatoes themselves unharmed.  I was able to scrape off the entire barbecued top layer and start over with all new marshmallows.

Clearly realizing that I needed more supervision in the kitchen, Paul’s dad watched over the second browning attempt himself.

It’s a good thing he did.  The second try turned out just right.

Behold!   The (Almost) Perfect First Ever Notes on a Napkin Family Christmas Dinner:

My favorite Christmas gift: NOT burning down our first home less than a year after moving into it.

Now I just have to endure a lifetime of family jokes about my Twice-Baked Sweet Potato Casserole recipe.


13 responses »

  1. I only laugh because A) That is how many a “toasted” bread has turned out in my house and B) I have my very own story about using the colored marshmallows for sweet potato casserole. Turns out they’re flavored as well. Blech.

    I’m glad everything turned out perfectly though! Merry Christmas!

  2. Love it, Katrina! The marshmallows are nothing! Any culinary mistake where one can salvage the dish was just an extra step in my book: place in oven, burn the first layer of marshmallows catching on fire if possible, remove the burnt layer, add another layer of marshmallows and brown nicely. See? It was just a recipe that was a bit longer is all 🙂 The dinner looked wonderful! Glad you had a nice first Christmas in your new house!

  3. Yummy! Your efforts looked delicious! I’m ashamed to admit that I let Ryan and his mom cook everything this year, but at least I avoided disaster that way. You know my cooking prowess is lacking. Anyway, don’t feel bad. We bought a new oven not that long ago, and I didn’t realize the bottom rack was too low. The first Papa Murphy’s pizza we baked in there caught on fire. Unlike your marshmallow layer, we could not salvage our pizza!

  4. I’m glad everything worked out for you and you got it out of your system. See now it won’t ever happen again. I had to laugh though…after all it’s a classic. LOVE the pillows! You did a great job! Because I didn’t get to say it earlier….Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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