Prison Kitchen


My cousin emailed all of us coming to Thanksgiving the other day and asked us to let her know what we were bringing.  I have a large extended family and we try to see each other at Thanksgiving.  This tradition started when we were children.  We used to gather at my paternal grandmother’s large home.  Grandma is gone, as is the house, so we meet at my cousin’s church now.  There’s plenty of room inside (including bathrooms) and the youngest ones can go out and play on the church grounds.  Whenever I start thinking about what I’m going to make for Thanksgiving, I am flooded with memories of those “special moments” cooking for and with a crowd.

I like the holiday season.  I enjoy fixing food for family and friends.  But there’s  nothing like too many rear ends in the kitchen and too many armchair chefs giving their unasked for advice to start the holidays off with a bang.

You know how it goes.  You and maybe a sibling/in-law or two are in the kitchen sharing the duties.  You’ve planned the menu and each family coming has agreed to fix a few things to help out.  You encouraged them to make the items at home and then bring them ready to go in the oven or be served.  But, no one listens to you so they all show up with their coolers and bags of ingredients.  “We thought we’d make it here; it’s so much easier.”  So now you’re on the hunt for extra mixing bowls, utensils, baking dishes, etc.  You’re also on the hunt for that glass of wine you poured when the first group pulled in the driveway.

So with three of you bouncing off each other like balls in a pinball game, you’re managing to prep food and enjoy being together.  About this time, one of the sweet college age family members breezes in to bake the biscuits from scratch.  She’s small, so she sees no problem squeezing in.  This is the same family member who is well known for enjoying the thrill of baking, but manages to be totally committed elsewhere for the agony of cleaning up.  She starts singing some musical show tune as a cloud of flour floats across the stove.

You are trying to multiply a recipe in your head (and for some of us this IS higher math) when a sibling/in-law starts asking where things are in the kitchen.  The train of addition leaves the mental station and you notice your wine glass is out of sight again.  You realize you are gritting your teeth while you look for whatever is needed, an item that could have been brought had anyone listened to your original request.

That new dish you made for this year’s event comes out of the frig to return to room temperature.  You ask someone to go ahead and put it on the table.  And what do you hear?  Is it, “Wow.  This looks delicious!”  Of course not.  It’s “What is this?  I’ve never eaten anything that looks like this.”  And it’s spoken by one of those family members who still, even as an adult, won’t let his different foods touch on the plate.

You are sweating now.  The oven is on and with all the other people in the room, it’s hot.  You strip down to that tank top you were smart enough to put on about the same time one of the armchair chefs walks in.  “Hot flash?” he asks as he starts to laugh.  “Why is it cloudy in here?”  Our baker is totally oblivious that this smart remark is directed at her; she’s still singing show tunes.  Suddenly you hear from the other room, “When are we eating?  I’m hungry.”

The voices grow dim as your eyes spy the butcher knife.  You know the turkey doesn’t need that knife, but there are other options for its use in the room.  You realize your hand is trembling.    butcher knife

Welcome to Prison Kitchen.

Ahh…the stuff of which family holiday memories are made.  Happy Thanksgiving, a little early.

Special thanks to my friend Sharon Holmes who introduced me to the term Prison Kitchen and had me laughing until I cried.

3 responses »

  1. I just keep laughing and laughing! I’ve read it three times now. 🙂 The truth is always funnier than anything you can make up.

  2. Great story … great phrase. I honestly can’t relate. My mom was a warden, and when she said bring something for the table, it better be cooked ahead of time. It was much more fun showing up at your Prison Kitchen today. 😉

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