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A Thankgiving story. And cake.

November 29, 2010

On Wednesday night, I was feeling pretty good. I had scrubbed and vacuumed the downstairs, vacuumed the stairs, made some quick chicken enchiladas for dinner, set the table and had moved on to Thanksgiving baking.

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It's a buffet - the big plates were on the counter

I decided about two months ago that I wanted to make this glorious cake from the front of the October/November issue of Fine Cooking for the holiday this year and it was finally time to get baking. I knew there were a lot of steps, but I figured I could do some other meal prep in between. My goal was to be out of the kitchen and on my way to bed by 11:00.

Things went well. The topping alone for the cake was magically delicious and I feared if I didn’t stop nabbing buttery toasted pecans soon, there wouldn’t be enough for the cake. Then I made the frosting and whoa, Nellie! I love cream cheese frosting, but who knew it was even crazy, insane better with brown butter? Well, it is. I even relaxed for a few minutes with my stepdaughter watching Beauty & the Beast on ABC Family while she licked the beater and I licked the spatula.

I was so excited about the final product that I took a crappy picture with my phone and tweeted it right away.

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In the meantime, I had also made cranberry salsa and had started in on peeling potatoes. This is what my mother always did so I do this too – peel and chop the potatoes the night before, and leave them in a pot of cold water overnight. I was pleased when by 10:30 I had peeled and chopped 10 pounds of them and I was ready for bed!

On Thursday morning I was up at 6:00 and wishing I had managed a little more prep in the days before Thanksgiving. I baked the sweet potatoes for The Merry Gourmet’s Grandma’s Sweet Potato Casserole while I took the dog for a walk and got to work assembling it while the regular potatoes boiled for the mashed. I got the mashed potatoes into my slow cooker to stay warm and I was just about to wash the pots when I heard an urgent call from downstairs,

“JEN! BRING TOWELS, QUICK!!!”

Ut oh. That can’t be good. I grabbed about 4 towels and dashed downstairs to find my husband feverishly plunging the utility sink in the laundry room and chunky brown water overflowing to the floor and inside my washing machine. Oh my.

We tested the toilets and the shower and the kitchen sink and came to the conclusion that even though the kitchen sink wasn’t backed up, the clog was being caused by gunk that had come down that way and diverted to a shared drain. My husband called our plumber friend and no, he couldn’t come out that day and no, he didn’t think Drano would help at all. The good news? We could all take showers and use the bathrooms. The bad news? No kitchen sink or dishwasher all day on Thanksgiving.

This is not by any means a mommy blog, but for the first time I am reporting on a crying fit anyway. And yes, it was me. When it is 10:00 AM and you are still vacuuming the upstairs and you haven’t cleaned the bathroom or taken a shower yet, and you haven’t put the turkeys in the oven yet and you are expecting the first of 12 guests to arrive at 11:00 AM, there’s a possibility that you could freak out and collapse into a rather pathetic heap of tears. This is a %&$ING NIGHTMARE, I shouted through the blubbering while my husband helpfully suggested we wash dishes and rinse the turkeys in the tub.

When I pulled myself together, I thought of at least one thing that might help a little.

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Nothing says class like a big old used kitty litter pan in your kitchen sink on Thanksgiving. Uh huh.

So, for the rest of the day, dishes were hand washed in my makeshift wash tub and water was dumped outside. We survived. My turkeys were tender and delicious, there was plenty of gravy to go around, I burned the bottom of the sweet potato casserole a bit but they were still awesome anyway. And there was the cake. The beautiful cake made me forget all about my woes, as the brown butter and pumpkin and cream cheese melted in my mouth, the pecans gave crunch and the candied ginger a bit of zing. Mmmm. Cake!

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The plumber came the next day and had the pipes cleaned out by 9:00 AM and I could run the dishwasher and scrub pots & pans to my heart’s content, or at least until I could see some semblance of my normal kitchen. And later, there was still leftover cake. Thanksgiving was saved and all was good.

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2010 11:27 pm

    It seems like disasters like this always happen at times like this. I’m glad it all worked out for you, though, and your cake looks AMAZING. I’m also glad the sweet potato casserole worked out well for you!

    • Jennifer A (Bread and Putter) permalink*
      November 30, 2010 12:10 am

      I highly recommend that cake! Tastes as good as it looks. And we LOVED the sweet potato casserole – perfect balance of sweetness with the sweet potato flavor shining through.

  2. November 29, 2010 11:29 pm

    Ugh, what a disaster! I’m glad everything turned out okay in the end and that cake looks so delicious!

    • Jennifer A (Bread and Putter) permalink*
      November 30, 2010 12:10 am

      Me too! I am thankful for helpful family members too. 🙂

  3. Andrea permalink
    November 29, 2010 11:36 pm

    Oh boy, I’m so sorry. Although this made for a very stressful day, it will, no doubt, make you smile as you re-tell this story years from now.

    We had a similar thing happen with the same drain; however, I was pregnant, sicker than a dog, and supposed to be on bed rest. Derrick was out of town, as usual, and my Mother was over helping me. She decided to do laundry, which until then we didn’t know the laundry and kitchen sink shared a pipe to the sewer line in that house (not a good idea, by the way). Anyway, long story short — the basement flooded with laundry rinse water, junk from the kitchen sink that had accumalated in the drain. We ended up with a big mess, a plumbing bill and new carpet for the basement. 😉 And, about 8 months later a cute little baby girl. 😉

    Glad it all worked out for you! What a great story you’ll have to tell years from now.

    • Jennifer A (Bread and Putter) permalink*
      November 30, 2010 12:11 am

      Wow – okay, you win – sick as a dog pregnant beats standard holiday stress by a mile! Not to mention the ruined carpet, yikes!!!

      • Andrea permalink
        November 30, 2010 12:55 am

        Hmmm…I don’t know about that. At least I didn’t have guests coming over. Glad it all worked out for you though!

  4. Anne permalink
    November 30, 2010 12:04 am

    I’m glad it all worked out – but you should be used to washing dishes and dumping the water!!

    • Jennifer A (Bread and Putter) permalink*
      November 30, 2010 12:08 am

      We definitely had a Peaks Island vibe going! Note to self – never have Thanksgiving on Peaks Island.

  5. November 30, 2010 1:14 pm

    So you know this Thanksgiving is destined to become legend in your family somehow. And each time the story is told, the situation will become more dire and you will become more heroic. Even if none of that is true, you still had cake ; )

    • December 1, 2010 2:06 am

      Ahhh, yes, what year was that? Aught-eight, aught-nine? No, I think it was twenty-ten. It was epic. There was water gushing out of every sink, toilet and tub. We threw the cats outside and shook out the cat litter pan then and there and spent the entire day up to our shoulders in water. Oh, and it was about 10 degrees outside, right? Oh, I think it was colder with the wind chill. Every bucket we dumped outside froze immediately as we poured it. But that cake – that was some damn good cake.

      • December 1, 2010 3:14 am

        Heh, heh! What a perfect version of “we had to walk uphill, both ways, barefoot in the snow back in MY day!” We had to get up 2 hours before we went to bed to clean the lake…. try to tell THAT to kids these days!

  6. November 30, 2010 1:20 pm

    Love the story. Simply terrific–even if it involved tears–because it was so real: beauty among the gritty, good among the bad. It’s hard to imagine anything more thanksgiving-filled about “life”–or cake.

    • December 1, 2010 2:08 am

      Thank you, Mark! Glad you enjoyed the story. We have to have bad things happen to appreciate the good, right?

  7. November 30, 2010 2:22 pm

    Okay, the kitty litter pan in the sink did me in! That’s the ultimate Thanksgiving picture!

    Cake looks utterly delicious–love everything with brown butter.

    • December 1, 2010 2:09 am

      I knew even in the moment that scene needed to be immortalized in megapixels.

      The cake is fantastic – brown butter in the batter and the frosting, and the pecans are toasted in more butter!

  8. November 30, 2010 3:53 pm

    I now have an image of your kitty litter pan serving as a personal cornucopia. Great post. And, mmmm, cake.

    • December 1, 2010 2:11 am

      Thanks, Chris. I do want to clarify that this kitty litter pan was long retired to the garage and hadn’t been in active use for over two years. 🙂

  9. November 30, 2010 4:33 pm

    I knew about the burnt sweet potatoes but not about the clogged drain. I only knew that two other friends on Twitter had Thanksgiving plumping issues and then I heard the other day it is the single biggest day for things getting stuck in the drain. Go figure, right!

    Not feeling smug at all because I knew better (I had my own experience once!) I felt for my friends but apparently did not learn a lesson. Thankfully not on ‘the day’ but on Sunday when I was making soup I put just a few two many carrot peelings in that disposal…and I KNOW better. It was apparent it was close to the sink as it filled up so quickly, so I got the bathroom plunger and about two plunges before I was going to give up and call a plumber, magic happened and water left the sink and I was happy!

    This cake would make me happier though; I’ve become addicted to anything that includes the words, ‘brown butter.’ Yum. I’ll give you some of my orange cranberry cake for a slice of your cake, okay?

    • December 1, 2010 2:13 am

      Barbara, I saw some of those comments about clogs on Twitter too and I almost chimed in but I wanted to save the drama for my post. 🙂

      Good job with your plunging efforts! I am re-converted back to using my scap bucket that I keep under the sink to bring to the compost pile. I have been lazy and too dependent on the disposal.

      That sounds like a really good trade on the cake. I love cranberry!

  10. December 1, 2010 3:16 am

    P.S. How’d you get it to snow on your blog?

  11. December 1, 2010 2:29 pm

    It usually takes a breakdown to see the light. Human ingenuity saves the day. Got any of that cake left? 🙂

  12. Patricia Weldon permalink
    December 1, 2010 10:50 pm

    There may have been somewhat of a disaster but the day was lovely! I had some cake too! Wonderful!

  13. December 3, 2010 3:42 pm

    “THIS IS A %&$ING NIGHTMARE!”

    Aww, hahaha. I’m sorry to laugh but I’m picturing you screaming that in the midst of all the chaos. Total movie scene material.

  14. December 5, 2010 4:20 am

    Aw, what a nightmare! I’m glad it all turned out well, though!

  15. December 5, 2010 12:01 pm

    LOL
    Your story made me chuckle…all it takes is one minor crises to throw everything off. “Life happens while you’re making plans.” So glad you managed to get through it and still have a wonderful day. 🙂

    I have had several plumbing disasters over the years, one on Thanksgiving four years ago when an outgoing (read sewer) pipe burst in my basement. Thank God Zan and his siblings are talented do-it-yourselfers, but they spent the rest of the afternoon in the basement fixing and cleaning…and thank God for Dear Neighbors who allowed us to traipse in and out of their house all day to use their bathroom.

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