Monday, November 6, 2017

Around the Kitchen Table: Our Holiday Disasters and a #Giveaway!

With the season of feasting coming up fast, we crime-writing cooks are employing our monthly chin-wag to laugh (and cry!) about the mistakes we’ve made or the foul-ups we’ve fumbled through during the holiday season. We invite you to join our circle and share your own stories.

Leave a comment for us (with a way to contact you) and you will be entered in our random drawing to win a special prize…learn more at the end of the post. This contest is now over. See the winner announced at the end of this post. And now, let's talk Holiday Disasters!

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Cleo's disaster inspired the
last scene in Holiday Buzz.
Click to learn more.

CLEO COYLE: I was in my early twenties, on my own in New York City, and I'd been looking forward to seeing my family for Thanksgiving, but I just missed making my train. The moment was so awful, I can still see those taillights pulling away from me as I ran down the platform, dragging my luggage, ready to cry. It was Thanksgiving morning. There were no other trains that day to Western PA, and I was strapped. I couldn't afford to say "Oh, well," and buy a plane or even a bus ticket. I thought I was doomed to eating fast food alone. Thankfully, a girlfriend took pity on me and invited me to her sister's house. To this day, I feel terrible that I’d disappointed my mom and dad. But I did make the next morning’s train (after exchanging my ticket). There were plenty of Thanksgiving leftovers waiting for me in Mom’s kitchen. And, years later, that very disaster at New York's Penn Station helped inspire an important final scene in HOLIDAY BUZZ, our 12th Coffeehouse Mystery.

Years before he met me, my husband (and partner in culinary crime-writing) had his own holiday disaster. It was his first Thanksgiving in New York, and he wanted to make a feast for his friends. Marc proudly stuffed his turkey and popped it into the oven. All done! (Not quite.) Marc had failed to clean the gizzards out of the neck flap, and they were sealed in plastic. The bird looked great, but it tasted like hot, wet Styrofoam. That Thanksgiving, Marc and his friends enjoyed dinner at the local Nathan’s fast food joint, where the hot dogs were delicious. 

Click here for our doggone tasty
holiday appetizer recipe.
Which goes to show you. No matter what you're eating for dinner, if you're sharing it with people you care about, Thanksgiving can turn out to be a doggone beautiful meal. And on that note, Marc and I sincerely wish all of you a disaster-free holiday feasting season!

We're also pleased to share a fun, delicious (and insanely easy) party appetizer. Click here to get it and may you and your loved ones eat with holiday joy!


LESLIE BUDEWITZ: Mr. Right and I are classic trailers -- his siblings are 7 and 11 years older, mine 9-1/2. As a result, we have never been allowed to host a family holiday dinner! My two sisters-in-law are absolutely lovely, but they are also older, strong-minded women who know exactly how holiday dinners are supposed to go in their houses. One has probably never forgiven me for the year my cranberry almond bundt cake (yes, I took a cake!) was more popular than her Costco pumpkin pie at Christmas dinner. My other SIL has a hard time sitting still, so she packs up the leftovers for everyone. Which is great, except for the time she packed up the mashed potatoes before I got any. And since we're usually traveling, the leftovers don't do us a lot of good. Talk about disaster!

So Mr. Right and I have created our own tradition. We join the family and have a great time. Then, sometime during the week after Christmas, we make a turkey dinner with all the mashed potatoes we want. And no one sweeps up my half-full cup of coffee when I turn my back. On the other hand, there's no one to help us with the dishes ... The only real disaster, in my book, is not finding a way to celebrate that makes you happy.


PEG COCHRAN:  My holiday disaster is still fresh in my mind! Every Christmas I make a buche de Noel.  How elaborate it is varies--sometimes I do the meringue mushrooms, sometimes there's no time for that. Last Christmas I was working with a new oven. My old oven ran hot--unbeknownst to me, this one runs cool.  I made my cake and when I tried to turn it out of the pan to roll it, it stuck and disintegrated.  (Hubby ate it anyway.) I tried a second time.  This time I got it out of the pan (a lot of sweating was involved) but when I went to roll it, it fell apart.

So...I went with plan B.  I got out my large crystal bowl, layered the broken up cake with whipped cream and other goodies, and proudly declared it...a trifle! 

So in the end, not a tragedy at all.  


DARYL WOOD GERBER:  I will never forget the first Thanksgiving I was in my current home. Though I was quite used to the space on my own, moving around a lot of other people was a challenge. Well, my stepdaughter wanted to learn how to make mashed potatoes that night. Okay, fine. Not hard. But when the milk started to boil and three people converged to lower the heat or move the pot off the heat, the milk bubbled over the top, down the stove, and into the drawers below. As if that weren't enough, as I was trying to set the stuffing into the lower oven, the lip of the pan caught on the oven door, and the stuffing spilled all over the floor. Everyone was laughing except me. I like things to be perfect at holidays, but this was a major disaster. We had a lovely meal, but the clean-up was atrocious. It wasn't until the next day that I realized WHY it has been so difficult. It's narrow between the island and the stove/oven area. And there were three or four people trying to navigate the aisle. Like I said, if I'd been on my own, it would have been fine. The following Thanksgiving, I told everyone to sit at the island and have a glass of wine. Guess what? No disasters. I guess I'm like a ship in a sea lane. I want clear passage and no obstacles in my way. LOL


My disaster came a couple of years ago when we hosted a giant family Thanksgiving dinner. Along with the turkey and gravy I made pumpkin and chocolate cream pies. Chocolate cream pie on Thanksgiving, you say? But my husband's family loves anything chocolate. And I was happy to show off, even buying designer chocolate instead of the usual Baker's. I've made this pie a dozen times--using a recipe right out of the JOY OF COOKING. The graham cracker crust was lovely, but the chocolate pudding part looked grainy. And though I refrigerated it overnight, it never set. We served it in bowls and I was humbled. Though the mounds of whipped cream did help...(These pix are the actual offending pie--If you look closely at the full pie, you'll see the grainy texture. Why you might ask, did she stop to take a picture? Because a Mystery Lovers Kitchen blogger knows everything come in handy one day!)


SHEILA CONNOLLY: Where to begin... I can well remember my mother and grandmother arguing over the Thanksgiving turkey every year: is it done? is it overdone? It was always one or the other, never just right. I've had better luck with turkeys than they did--I even managed to cook one in my dorm (with a tiny kitchen) and fed the other people who couldn't go home for the Thanksgiving holiday. 

But there was one Christmas that my sister and I were both at our mother's, along with my daughter Julie, and we volunteered to cook dinner among us. Unfortunately my mother was not a scrupulous housekeeper, and there was a bit of extra grease in the burner liners on the stove, so we created a small fire on top of the stove. We didn't panic. I said, "I will find a cover to deprive the fire of oxygen" and my daughter said, "I will get the baking soda," and we calmly extinguished it. Except then we had to do it again, because we didn't quite get rid of all the grease. (BTW, the dinner turned out fine.)

But I am very fond of what I have always called "the cake mess," Julie and I created together (I had to look long and hard for the picture). I still have no idea what went wrong with the poor thing, but somehow since Julie has has turned into a professional baker. Go figure.


LINDA WIKEN:  I'm almost embarrassed to admit I don't have any stories about monumental disasters to share, probably because I've never been too into cooking so never tried anything too daring. Even though that part has changed -- yes, I do enjoy cooking now and in particular, tasting and trying new recipes -- I still have nothing major to report except for underdone turkey on one occasion or another. 

I also admit to not being into baking. However, at Christmas, I take on the mantle of 'Swedish Coffee Bread maker'. It's my Mom's recipe and while it tastes similar enough to hers each year, I've had some crushing results with texture. It's almost as if the oven elves give up partway through the 'rising' part, leaving me with an unlight, unfluffy result. Those years that I do succeed, I savor (pictured here). But, I will not give up trying! In fact, I'm eyeing a new mixer that might help with the kneading portion, which might, just might bring me a step closer to perfection. Fingers crossed. 


I love this topic and all your tragic tales of disasters, but I hardly know where to begin!  Our disasters so often happen at Christmas, the focal point of the year for the Maffini girls. Take for instance the Christmas many years  ago when we had an ice storm. The fully stuffed 25 pound turkey was roasting away in the oven on Christmas Day when the electricity went off!  Much later it had not returned and my hubby and my brother were busily bailing out the basement. Brother is still complaining thirty years later.  Luckily Victoria's sister, Virginia, was newly married and had an apartment in a different part of town and she had power!  She was also willing to save the day.  Because NOTHING may ever interfere with Christmas turkey, I drove the turkey over to her, skidding over the icy roads to her so it could finish cooking. Later on (still without power at home) we all squeezed into her little flat to enjoy it at the end of an exhausting day.  It was not the first or the last time that Virginia saved the day and it was a grand Christmas dinner in the end.

The next year, Christmas was perfect, BUT as we approached our New Year's Day Open House the wall oven died and so did the microwave.  As the first guest sat down on the newly reupholstered sofa (inherited from MJ's mom), the back leg collapsed.  Ah, the best laid plans!  

I could go on, but I'll give you all a break.

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Like MJ, my most memorable disaster was losing electricity on Christmas. Fortunately, it was early enough in the day that nothing was in the oven yet. We just shoved the entire celebration to the following day.

Because I cook for my dogs, and I used to have four to feed, I have roasted a lot of turkeys. It's sort of a no-brainer for me. Last Thanksgiving, I calculated the times carefully and all was well until the guests arrived and I peeked at the turkey. It was raw! Oh no! As far as I can tell, I must have accidentally turned the oven off when I took the turkey out to flip it over. Sigh. It tasted wonderful, which prompted a conversation about whether turning the heat off in the middle of roasting might be the best way to roast a turkey!

But the worst of all was really more of a faux pas. It still makes me shudder today. I was invited to the home of my boyfriend's parents for passover seder. Between his mother and sisters, it was determined that I should bring two pies as my contribution. Being of the clan of the cake, it was slightly out of my comfort zone, but I very carefully made the pie crusts and prepared two pies for the dinner. We packed them up and joined his rather large and noisy family for a lovely dinner. I'd had plenty of Jewish friends, but hadn't given any thought to foods that might be forbidden . . .

As my boyfriend's father took a bite of my pie, complete with the whipped cream I had dutifully brought along, I saw him lean over to his wife and ask very quietly, "Is this real cream?" 

His wife said, equally quietly, "I think so." 

The father shrugged and kept eating. In fact, the pies and cream were snarfed up and no one ever said a word to me that wasn't complimentary, which just goes to show what lovely people they were. It was years before I realized that the cream was probably frowned upon as not appropriate because one doesn't serve dairy and meat in the same passover meal. Oy vey!

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Now it's your turn! Leave a comment on this post, telling us about your own holiday disaster or you can simply comment on ours, and you will be entered in our in our special giveaway of a Mystery Lovers' Kitchen tote bag...

You will also win these
wonderful new book
to fill it! 

 * Krista Davis' *
Not a Creature was Purring 

* Daryl Wood Gerber's *
A Deadly Eclair 

* Sheila Connolly's A Late Frost
and the new trade reprint of 



Tell us about your own
holiday disaster or
comment on ours...

Be sure to include an email
address where we can
contact you.

Good luck and may your 

upcoming holidays be disaster-free!

This contest is now over.
The winner is...


Congratulations, Nora!


  1. I fortunately have the pleasure of just getting to eat what has been fixed, but the one time my mom decided we would have dinner at my house, she had to contend with making everything on two electric eyes and a toaster oven as my stove did not work. That took some planning to make dinner for 8 that way. centraleast2 at gmail dot com

    1. Moms always find a way. Thanks for sharing, CentralEast2!

      ~ Cleo

  2. A few years ago I had the smoke detector go off when a bunch of company was here for Thanksgiving. I opened all the windows, but it still took about ten minutes to shut off. That wasn't fun, but the food was okay. One of the pies had just bubbled over and was burning on the bottom of the oven. I'm hoping that will stay my biggest holiday snafu ever!

    1. So your Thanksgiving party was smokin', literally. Fun story. Thanks for sharing, Marla! ~ Cleo

    2. Ha, ha, yes, it was a smokin' Thanksgiving! The cats were not happy with me!

  3. I preheated the bottom oven instead of the top oven by mistake (all the buttons are right near each other, in my defense, haha), and of course the dish I was trying to bake in the top oven took longer (it was a whole spaghetti squash); so I had to do twice the work when I FINALLY realized that the top oven wasn't even on. Dumb blonde to the extreme here - but at least it all worked out in the end.

    1. LizNoVeggieGirl - Marc and I can relate to the "Hey, this oven isn't on!" horror. (We have an older gas oven that is becoming temperamental--difficult to light and occasionally turns itself off in the middle of a cooking cycle. Can you say time for a new oven?!) Thanks for sharing today. ~ Cleo

    2. Oh, Liz! Thank goodness you didn't do like many of us do and store other dishes, parchment paper, and the like in that bottom oven! But boy, is it a life-saver at holiday time.

  4. How about two Thanksgiving disaster years in a row? I never make mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving (because I figure the stuffing is more than enough carbs for one meal) but my husband loves them, so one year I decided to make mashed potatoes. We had a food-stealing dog at the time, so to keep her away from the potatoes I put the pot on top of the fridge when they were done (bet you can see this one coming!). My husband, in an effort to be helpful, opened the fridge to get out the wine, and the potatoes came crashing down. So the dog got the potatoes anyway, I had a huge mess to clean up, and my pan still has the dent. To make matters worse, one of my favorite vegetable bowls broke when I was washing the dishes.

    Fed up, I told my husband that next year he was treating me to a lovely restaurant Thanksgiving dinner. We made reservations at a beautiful inn, planning to stay overnight after the meal. Of course, a few days before Thanksgiving I came down with a particularly nasty flu, and we had to cancel (luckily the inn was happy to refund our money, as they had no desire to expose their other Thanksgiving guests to my flu germs). We ended up having frozen Trader Joe's holiday dishes for Thanksgiving. They weren't too bad, according to my husband (I couldn't taste anything anyway), but somehow reheated frozen foods are just not the same as a home cooked holiday meal.

    To this day, I will not make mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving, and so far so good - no more disasters have occurred!

    1. Cee Plus - Oh, my goodness, you had double-header Thanksgiving disasters for sure! I feel for you, especially with the flu year and missing the trip to the inn. On the mashed least your dog was happily fed! Fun stories. Thanks so much for sharing. ~ Cleo

  5. No real disasters here. When I was 18 I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner for family. Turned out ok, but my turkey was on the dry side. I had heard so much about salmonella from undercooked turkey that I did let it overcook a bit. My oldest brother still teases me about it. The only other problems we have had have been my brother and sister-in-law who were bringing the stuffing - and showed up 2 hours late. moodiesmum at yahoo dot com

    1. Raquel - Kudos to you on cooking such a challenging meal at only 18--and, hey, a little overcooking of turkey is no problem if you've got plenty of gravy, right?! (I'm a huge fan of stuffing--must have it--so that 2-hour lag would have driven me nuts.) Glad you shared with us today, thank you! ~ Cleo

  6. I love all these stories, and love even more that despite the disasters, everyone ended up having a great time with family and friends! I haven't really had any holiday disasters, though Peg reminded me of the year I made a buche de Noel. I'm not sure what I did wrong with the "frosting", but it ended up shiny and hardened, like a giant Ho-ho. Delicious, but not a traditional buche de Noel! picard1900 (at) gmail . com

    1. Those buches de Noel can be very tricky!

    2. Peg and Amanda - Kudos to you both. I never made one, but I would still eat yours, absolutely!!

    3. I made one Buche de Noel, for my high school French class 40+ years ago. That was, apparently, enough! Love hearing how you made the dessert even more fun!

  7. I love these stories! I have no personal disaster stories because my mom always cooked Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. After she passed away, one of my cousins took over. Lucy Burdette, my family always has chocolate cream pie at Thanksgiving and Christmas. We have had a few that turned out like yours! cking78503(at)aol(dot)com

    1. Chris, chocolate cream pie! Yum. I used to make them and sell in my neighborhood. Somehow at 8 years old, I seemed to master making chocolate pudding and pouring it into a graham cracker shell. :) ~ Daryl

  8. I baked a cake which was very difficult to remove from the pan so it split into several pieces, but I saved the day by cutting it up into cubes and then serving it with compote in pretty dessert dishes. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

    1. Petite - Sounds like a brilliant kitchen save (and a very tasty dessert)!

    2. Petite, what a terrific idea and to serve with compote, splendid! I'd probably go for a whole ton of icing. Icing covers a world of mistakes ! LOL ~ Daryl

  9. One Thanksgiving when I was newly married, I left the bag of gizzards, etc. inside the turkey! So embarrassing! brichardson0056(at)yahoo(dot)com

    1. That made me laugh because I'm pretty sure I did that once myself!

    2. Becky and Peg - Yep, Marc did that!

    3. Sounds like something I would do, Becky! A story "to dine out on".

  10. My first turkey was dry and tasteless so I revived it with a little help with broth and lemons. Made a big difference. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

    1. traveler - What a fabulous tip for a dry turkey. Thank you!

  11. One Thanksgiving, I made the most disgusting stuffing ever! Luckily, they still had some boxed stuffing at the store. Thank you all so much for sharing your stories and for the chance to win!

    1. Abby, I'm dying to know why it was disgusting! LOL ~ Daryl

  12. My mother couldn't cook to save her life. We'd alternate holidays between my uncle's house (his wife was a great cook) and my aunt's house (she had a fantastic caterer).

    Jump forward 35 or so years and I'm making Thanksgiving for friends and family. I buy 3 breasts and at least 5 thighs. It's easier to cook them separately that way with root veggies underneath them. We have an adopted son who is a C.I.A. trained classic baker who handles desserts. Each of my kids brings specific items such as drinks, salads or sides. We even have an extended family member who brings 2 trays of meat lasagna.

    With age came wisdom. The meal is served buffet style since there's not enough room to seat everyone. This year will be a problem since we'll have to get most of it done by Wed. evening. We have a Bar Mitzvah on Thurs. morning. THEN in the afternoon the holiday family invasion.

    NoraAdrienne (at) gmail (dot) com

    1. Wow, what a busy house that will be but sounds like a blast and a CIA trained classic baker? Wow, wow! Wish I could come and have dessert. ~ Daryl

    2. Ok. CIA...who knew the government had classically trained dessert gurus? Maybe Culinary something? I’d rather have a culinary school grad fixing dessert than a CIA agent!