Every single year, I make a pledge to approach the month of November prepared, ready to tackle every challenge it issues, armed with experience and predicting the ensuing chaos. But this time, again, it took me by surprise. It ambushed me. November skulked at a safe distance behind a harvest moon, hung meaninglessly from the silhouetted palms like a demented piÃ±ata. It laid low, hiding behind the Halloween costumes and lying pumpkins completely out of their comfort zone under the cerulean skies of Southern California. It leapt at me with a shout of “BOO!” as soon as we sorted the candy. And being needy November, it demanded instant attention.
We barely had a moment of respite after putting together the award-winning Gypsy costume for the younger Beastie, and making a non-winning, but truly terrifying Hannibal Lecter mask for the older Beastie, when the birthday party preparations came into focus. I know, I know, I dig myself into a hole every year, trying to make something memorable for my girls, stretching every penny, and pulling every ounce of creative energy I possess.
Some time in September, when November was just a distant thought, Zoe and I decided on a fancy cocktail party with a bartender, pretty hors d’oeuvres, and chocolate cupcakes instead of a cake. No, the inspiration did not come from an episode of Orange County Housewives, and you might think that we are shacking up in one of the mansions in Coto de Caza. That is obviously what my delusional youngest child envisioned when she showed me the list of about twenty friends she wanted to invite to her long-anticipated birthday fÃªte. I had to make her choose and apply the red marker aggressively, until the number dwindled to ten, still too many to sit at the dinner table, and way too many for our small two-bedroom apartment. But, the invitations went out, hand-delivered to the lucky few by the party girl herself.
That Saturday afternoon, everything in our home was black, white, and silver. The freshly ironed crisp white tablecloth was a perfect background for black platters filled with tiny stacked sandwiches, deviled eggs, bites of hot dogs wrapped in puff pastry, colorful vegetables with a dip, hummus, fruit kabobs, shrimp cocktail, and cheese with crackers. The guests started trickling in, dressed for the black-tie affair, their eyes twinkling with excitement. Our twelve year old was behind the kitchen counter, dressed in a mandatory white shirt and black skirt as any self-respecting bartender, surrounded by bottles of juices, nectars, soda, straws, and cut-up fruit for garnish. In twenty minutes she mastered the skill of mixing a proper Shirley Temple and a booze free Bellini, and we had a room full of starlets attending their first Hollywood gala, balancing the cocktails in one hand and a small plate of nibbles in the other, with the appropriate pop standards unobtrusively completing the atmosphere. By pop, I mean Dino, Frank, Sammie, etc.
After this first, successfully accomplished November task, we were ready to finally embark on a long, luxurious scuba-diving vacation in the Philippines. Oh, I forgot: it was my sister and her husband on that sail boat cutting through the turquoise waves. Silly me! But I had no time for petty jealousies. We had to prepare for Father’s yearly visit, coordinate the arrival and organize the departure of the College Kritter, tackle Thanksgiving, and properly celebrate another birthday: that of the aforementioned alien from Academia.
I took a day off work on Monday, and spent the whole morning twirling around and singing (I would have whistled if I had ever managed to master the skill), ecstatic that I did not have to come close to the odious location of my employment. Father’s flight arrived on time, the suitcases following him, piled on another wheelchair (he is a very agile man, but for his complete and utter ignorance of any other language beside Serbian, we convinced him to ask for land transportation when he travels). It was the first sunny day after several gloomy and rainy ones. TSA did not subject him to the dreaded groping routine, LAX was not the usual nightmare, and the I-5 took us home in less than an hour. Feeling exhilarated, I stuck my tongue out at November.
We sipped Courvoisier as is our ritual for welcoming Dr. Popovic (Father to me, “Meeko” to Husband, “Deda” to the Beasties and the Kritter) to our home, as he slowly unpacked and I put away the goodies he brought from home. Everything survived the trans-Atlantic voyage and the gentle, loving attention of the baggage handlers. We talked as Husband retreated to his laptop, unable to follow the conversation (he is a very smart man, but completely and utterly ignorant of any other language besides English), or rather a winded monologue.
While nodding and interjecting an occasional “da” or “aha”, I pulled a chicken out of the fridge, emptied its cavity and separated the liver from the neck, heart, and gizzards which went into my soup bag. I sprinkled the chicken with salt and pepper inside and out, rubbed it with butter, stuffed it with rosemary, thyme, a garlic head cut in half, and the liver. I put it in a roasting pan on top of six thick pieces of baguette, and poured several glugs of olive oil and wine to moisten the bread. It roasted for forty five minutes before I added the wedges of potatoes, big chunks of carrots, and the other half of the garlic head, glistening with olive oil. It remained in the oven for another forty-five minutes, filling the house with an air laden with pleasure breathed through the nose and straight into the soul.
The table was set and red wine poured, while everybody was milling around feeling good, listening to the 80s ballads in anticipation of the delectable meal. After all this was Dorie Greenspan’s Roasted Chicken for the Lazy People, and I have been looking forward to making it since I read the first glamorous review on the French Fridays with Dorie group site (yes, it was the crispy bread that did it for me).
Husband and the Beasties are properly trained, and accept that my Canon Rebel must eat before they partake. But Father and the Berkeley Kritter set the pace and set in on the beast like vultures. The crispy golden skin was peeled and half-digested before I could remove my lens cap. Hence, no pictures of the meal.
And still, November whines, kicking its bratty feet, unwilling to relent. The Kritter’s birthday is up next and her ever evolving palate is not easily appeased. The Brits have an ode to Guy Fawkes that begins, “Remember, remember, the fifth of November…”
So, why is it that year after year, like a mother forgetting the agony of labor, I let November sneak up on me so that by the fifth, I am the victim of its treason and plot.
But, oh how we remember, remember our sweet Novembers.