MacGyvering Dinner without a Kitchen
How my heroic wife delighted everyone on Thanksgiving day
I rarely watched the TV show MacGyver when I was a kid, but I understood the concept.
My dad taught us more concepts than skills. His father was entirely conversant in auto repair and maintenance, but grandpa was surprised by how little Oliver and I knew about these topics. I had friends who were Boy Scouts, but for my Quaker dad, the uniforms seemed too military in their appearance. For the same reason, we were not allowed to play with toy guns or Army Men.
But this admirable pacifism came with an opportunity cost. When I wanted to learn about all the blades on a Swiss Army Knife or the many uses of an Erector Set, I turned to friends in the neighborhood. I went camping only on school trips. We cooked food in our kitchen rather than over coals. I watched other people bait hooks rather than doing so myself. Although in the early 1990s I changed a number of flat tires on my 1978 orange four-door Datsun B210, I’ve never rebuilt a carburetor.
I did have other strengths. Growing up, I knew more about Boris Karloff, Gene Kelly, The Magna Carta, and Norse gods than most of my parents’ adult friends. I could recite entire poems by Lewis Carroll and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. I could tell you the titles of all four of Nat King Cole’s #1 singles from the 1940s, and by the time John Lennon was assassinated, I had read more than a dozen books about The Beatles. In conversation or with a drawing pad, I could also helpfully illustrate the salient differences between orcs, goblins, and kobolds. These important bits of information rarely served any purpose in the field.
As we fast-forward to the present, the MacGyver of our household is my wife Kate. Because of our first-floor remodel, she has come up with ingenious ways to make do as we continue to live without access to a functioning kitchen or laundry facilities at home. When friends heard that she was planning a full-course Thanksgiving meal without a kitchen, stovetop, or oven, they offered her their sympathies, as well as their kitchens and slow cookers. Kate, however, felt determined to challenge herself to create her traditional feast all on her own, a Thanksgiving we’d always remember.
Regular readers know that I am working my way through the 684-page biography titled Emerson: The Mind on Fire by Robert D. Richardson Jr., and that self-reliance was one of Ralph Waldo’s favorite topics. In his 1841 essay “Self-Reliance,” Emerson says, “It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” A practicing introvert, Kate relished her own company and that of her own ingenuity as she worked with a microwave, a toaster oven, and a hot plate. Because our garage electrical system would not allow any two of these three appliances to be working simultaneously, she used the microwave in the garage, set up the toaster oven in our entryway, and the hot plate on a card table in the empty laundry room.
The challenge – and the joy – of our celebration was heightened when we heard that a friend’s family Thanksgiving was cancelled because of the cook’s Thanksgiving eve broken collarbone, so we invited him and a bottle of his favorite wine (a Cabernet Sauvignon) to join us for the vegetarian feast. Part of the fun of this holiday is the pleasure one takes in the company and the stories of beloveds who don’t already live under the same roof. With my daughter Geneva returning home to enjoy a glass of that wine and the delicious feast, we all got to catch up with each other’s lives in ways that transcend what one can find in a post on a social medium.
And what a feast it was! Sitting outside on an afternoon when it was warmer outside than in, we enjoyed what Kate created in a variety of disassembled and partially-remodeled first floor rooms in our nearly unheatable home. We dined on spinach quiche, steamed veggies, stuffing, cranberries, scalloped potatoes, an arugula salad with lemon basil vinaigrette and chopped almonds, fluffy dinner rolls, and pumpkin pie!
After dinner, some of us watched a movie that my dad the film critic had introduced to Kate during the first Thanksgiving that she and I spent as a married couple. On Thanksgiving Day in 1992 and 2022, Kate and my son Truman, respectively, got to watch for the first time a favorite film about extended families: The Godfather.
All credit for the success of our Thanksgiving goes to our resident culinary MacGyver. I bet that Thursday night Kate felt all the more triumphant because of the challenges she overcame to make us such an ambitious, tasty, and seasonal meal. As George S. Patton said, “Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory.”
I bet when Patton was a child, he knew the purpose of every blade on a Swiss Army knife.
This year I am deeply thankful to all the friends who support this writing project via Patreon. Most subscribers get a weekly Pub Quiz with questions on a variety of topics, including current events, history, popular culture, technology, books and authors, sports, retirement options, and science.
Of all the supporters on Patreon who make this happen, I’d like especially to thank the Outside Agitators, the Original Vincibles, Potent Potables, and Quizimodo. I’m always grateful to the team captains who pledge for their entire team, and thus sustain this enterprise.
Enjoy the rest of this holiday weekend.
P.S. Here are three questions from last week’s Pub Quiz:
The U.S. Government. The U.S. Department of Education was founded in what odd-numbered 20th-century decade?
Science. Starting with the letter M, what branch of biology deals with the study of the form and structure of organisms and their specific structural features?
Books and Authors. What American wrote the books Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood?
P.P.S. Please listen and subscribe to Dr. Andy’s Poetry and Technology Hour wherever you get your podcasts, or find the show at https://poetrytechnology.buzzsprout.com/. On the first and third Thursdays of each month, such as this coming Thursday night at 7 with Katie Peterson, I host the Poetry Night Reading Series at the John Natsoulas Gallery, 521 1st Street in Davis. Find out more at www.poetryindavis.com (where you can sign up for the mailing list).
I love that Kate revealed one of (many) her superpowers!