Everybody knows that the holidays are crazy busy.
But what we don't know is why we make it busier.
Or rather, why I do.
I begin by saying that as of this writing, there are less than two weeks left before Christmas and I have not begun to shop. I've bought some gifts online, but I still want to go into an actual store, not only because it's fun, but because I want actual stores to remain open.
This is one thing I've learned in my dotage.
If you want something to exist, you have to support it with actual money.
So, as much as I love to shop online, I make sure I spend my money in the bricks and mortar.
Vote with your boots.
And your bucks.
So you would naturally think this is a story about me going shopping for gifts, but it isn't. Because at about the same time, I decided to try a really unusual holiday meal for Christmas.
The holidays are the time for recipe ambition.
Please tell me I'm not the only one who decides the busiest time of the year is the perfect time to make the fanciest recipe ever, for the first time.
It's worth noting that I first had this idea for Thanksgiving, but I got too tired.
But now that Christmas is coming up, I wanted to give my recipe ambition a trial run. The last thing you want to do is cook a new dish at Christmas and have it fall through, so that you end up serving cereal with a side of beer.
And because my daughter Francesca and I are vegetarians, we're always looking for something to substitute for turkey, and our days of Tofurkey are over. No disrespect, but Tofurkey reminds you that you want real turkey, and we're making a clean break.
In other words, we're going cold turkey on Tofurkey.
I had been reading my recipe books and feeling my Italian heritage, which is the kind of thing that happens at the holidays, when I get nostalgic for hardcore ethnic food that no one in my family ever made, because we got too tired.
Which brings me to fava beans.
You may not have heard of them, except that if you watched Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, you know he had fava beans with a census-taker's liver.
But, like I say, we're vegetarians.
I had fava beans when Francesca and I went to Italy, and they were hearty and delicious, so when I was in the grocery store before Thanksgiving, I decided they would be my recipe ambition. The beans were large, hard, and an ugly green-brown, kept loose in a plastic container that had an opening on the bottom, which I had never used before. I got a plastic bag, put it under the opening, and released the lever, which was when a zillion beans poured into my bag, clattering like an organic jackpot.
It was way too many, but I couldn't figure out how to pour them back.
People were looking at me, and I felt stupid, so I got a twist-tie, labeled the beans, and bought them. I had a recipe on how to make them, and they're easy to make, but none of the recipes kick in until you get the bean out of the skin.
One recipe actually said, "It's mainly because shelling fava beans can be such tedious work that making this soup becomes an act of love."
Now you tell me?
Tedious doesn't even begin to explain the process of shelling fava beans.
Tedious is foreplay.
Especially when you bought a zillion of them.
And you can't begin to shell them until after you soak them overnight, and I even found a recipe that calls for soaking them for six days.
This was more Italian than I can deal with.
So I soaked them for five hours, which was all the hours I had left in the day, and that barely loosened up the skin, so I had to start scraping with my fingernails, a paring knife, and, at one point, a corkscrew.
I was trying to figure out the easiest way to do it.
Turns out the easiest way is not to bother.
But I was not about to be beaten by a bean.
So I turned on the football game and started shelling. I had shelled enough to make whatever I was going to make after about two hours, 45 beans, and two bloody cuts.
I took the unshelled beans, put them in a Ziploc bag, and froze them, which means I will forget about them until next year.
And I went to the mall.