I WOULD LIKE to report that I spent my recent vacation from work sitting in the living room, reading great literary works, thinking deep thoughts. But the truth is that mostly I spent it in the kitchen cooking grub, serving it to my kids and their friends, then restocking the larder.
When your kids are out of the house, your kitchen is like a sports car - it works in short bursts. But when your kids are home for the Christmas break, your kitchen works like an 18-wheeler, grinding meals out over the long haul.
A typical home-for-the-holidays kitchen routine began with breakfast. It was an adults-only affair, at least for the first seating. After downing a couple of cups of coffee and taking a quick glance at the newspapers, I began mixing waffle batter, pausing to figure how many bodies were sleeping upstairs before calculating how many cups of flour to add to the batter.
I use the classic waffle recipe which calls for mixing 2 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 teaspoon of salt, 4 teaspoons of baking powder, 1 tablespoon of sugar with 2 beaten eggs, 2 1/4 cups milk and 3/4 cup melted shortening. It makes enough waffles for six adults or four teen-agers.
In the quiet of the morning, my wife and I would enjoy a steaming waffle or two, then the waffle iron would go cold for hours, waiting for the second shift of eaters to rise and greet the day. This usually did not happen until noon.
Around midday, the water pipes would start to sing as showers were turned on. This was a signal to plug the waffle iron back in.
Within minutes our freshly bathed older son and a couple of house guests - friends from college - would meander to the kitchen. There they were sometimes joined by our freshly showered second son, and a friend or two of his who had spent the night.
The waffle iron reddened as the light, crisp cakes emerged from the glowing grid and were quickly devoured by the huddled youths.
Presiding over the waffle iron, I would hear noises coming from the direction of the kitchen table. A clank of silverware, a squirt of syrup, a grunt of approval and - once the waffles had made it to the empty stomachs - full-blown conversation. Mostly, the conversation centered on what had happened the previous night. Mostly that meant going to various movies. There was a time in my career as a parent when I believed in staying up late and quizzing a returning teen-ager on where he had been. Now I wait until the next day and eavesdrop after waffles.
Around 3 p.m., the kids would be in the kitchen again, foraging. Having been told that they were on their own for lunch, they would either toss some horrible-looking frozen concoction in the microwave or make sandwiches. I am not sure what our older son has learned in college, but he seems to have mastered the tuna-salad sandwich. Both he and his brother, however, need to work on their hot-dog preparation.
As I have told them countless times, a hot dog is not dropped into the pot until the water has reached a boiling point. Then the heat is turned off, the dog is quickly slipped in its bubbling bath, and a lid is placed on the pot. After five minutes of basking in this steamy setting, the hot dog is ready to be served on homemade bread, slathered with a mixture of horseradish and mayonnaise.
That, I have told the youths, is red-hot perfection. That, they have replied, is too much trouble for a hot dog. Such frank exchanges are, in my view, what being home for the holidays is all about.
Shortly after dark, supper would be upon us. When the college boy returned home, he came bearing a list of favorite suppers that he had missed while he was away. His mother dutifully cooked many of them, including spaghetti, chili, and Cajun chicken with peanuts and cream. Meanwhile, on nights I was responsible for supper, the fare was sausages with onions and peppers, or homemade pizza.
We ran out of everything. There were constant trips to buy gallons of milk, dozens of eggs, boxes of cereal, pounds of flour and sausage. Still from time to time the cry "There is nothing to eat in this house" was heard.
I put as little credence in that complaint as I did in the promise I occasionally heard after a kid had polished off a favored dish. "Someday I am going to learn how to cook this."
Now the holidays are over, the kids are back in school, the kitchen has quieted. That "someday" has not arrived. Maybe next vacation.