20210610: Filet Mignon and the $1000 Pot of Chili.

Tonight, I was standing in the meat section of the grocery store, trying to decide whether or not to purchase the scraps of a beef tenderloin, which is Filet Mignon……. for $21/lb…. on sale. It’s normally $27/lb at our grocery store. I remember when whole beef tenderloins were $10.99/lb and the butcher would trim them up for me.

Well, that butcher has long retired, and today I sound like my grandmother, constantly thinking about the price of something…… 30yrs ago. Have I turned into “that woman”? Guess so…..

I put the scraps of Tenderloin back, out of my budget, being prudent, and opted for frozen salmon. Sad face.

But the Beef Tenderloin scraps reminded me of a story. Here we go….

In the first few years of the Bed and Breakfast, we held hundreds of parties in the house. Many were lavish multi-course dinners which went on for hours. I assembled about 20 menus to offer that were world class winners and our business thrived. One of those menus included a recipe for Cajun Beef Tenderloin. It was served with a sauce, if desired, of sour cream, cracked black pepper, and fresh horseradish…… and the loin sat atop a small bed of red onions, sliced and stewed in a port wine reduced sauce….. and then the whole thing sat on a thin slab of crusty sourdough bread.

The Cajun Beef Tenderloin Recipe was a 100% winner, a perennial favorite, and the recipe for it was one of the things my ex-husband demanded in the divorce.

Out of about a 6lb tenderloin, I could normally get about 8-10 servings, BUT you never know who will show up for dinner and you can’t give a big man a scrawny piece of meat. Thus, for a dinner of 20-40 people, I usually cooked an extra beef tenderloin to make sure I had enough….. and husband had a good dinner that night as an added bonus.

Well, if I had extra beef tenderloin, I never…… threw it away…… heavens no. But often, the next day, we were onto another party and a different menu. So, I would “Ziplock” (to Ziplock is a verb in our house) the leftover beef tenderloin and toss it in the freezer.

One year, by Christmas week, I had 9 FULL leftover beef tenderloins in one freezer, plus pieces of many. They were stuffed into the top freezer section of one refrigerator (there are 5 refrigerators here) and were starting to fall out of the freezer when anyone opened the door to get ice. Which was exactly what happened to husband. THUD, went the beef tenderloin, like a frozen brick.

  • Husband: Good thing I’m wearing steel toed boots….. What are you going to do with all these beef tenderloins?
  • Me, busy, ignoring him: I don’t know. I’ll figure it out later…..

But later was the next day. It was the 23rd of December. Our last party was the 22nd, and we were gliding into “family time” for Christmas. I decided to make several casseroles, Prime Rib PLUS Shrimp Au Gratin for Christmas Dinner and had a menu planned for the whole week. MONTHS of preparation. Yet, I decided I needed one thing which was easy to grab or warm up…. cuz the women would shop and the guys would watch a LOT of football…… A big pot of Chili would be a good idea, right? And I used about $1000 worth of beef tenderloin to make it. It was a BIG pot of Chili. Of course it wasn’t quite $1,000 worth of beef, but it was expensive.

  • Husband: Please tell me YOU ARE NOT using $1000 worth of perfect beef tenderloin to make CHILI of all things……
  • Me: Yep, plus about 18 bottles of Corona Beer for the base. Don’t worry, it will be good. I threw in everything in the pot but the kitchen sink.

By the 24th, I had another fridge stocked with all the sliced and diced and prepped things to roll out my many menus, family favorites, all of them. I was ahead of schedule, but we were still wrapping presents and working on the stocking stuffers. I was nursing leftover white orchids from the last party for the family Christmas dinner centerpiece and even had that arrangement done in sections, nine feet long.

That afternoon, I worked in the butler’s pantry and lined up what we would use for our Christmas feast. I was so happy in that moment…. playing and polishing precious “to me” family treasures. A wonderfully heavy white damask tablecloth which was a found in the house during the renovation, rolled up in thick brown paper. It would be topped/covered with a ecru crocheted 14′ long tablecloth, embroidered with our family name, done by two elder ladies outside of town. We were using a mix of my Grandmother’s wedding crystal and my wedding crystal……and I found some old red French silk velvet to tie around the stems in small bows. Vermeil over sterling flatware from my Aunt Helen, passed down to her by my maternal great Grandmother….. and the Mother-of-Pearl handled cake knife from my parent’s wedding. I also had stacked 4 generations of China to use for different courses and the sterling serving pieces were already polished ….. cuz of all the previous parties. I had Rosemary/Wheat/Douglas fir sprigs trimmed for the big linen napkins made by Great Great Aunt Ruth, cross-stitched/embroidered with a family crest. The massive table runner of mixed greens and white orchids was ready. I was ready to set the table, and since everyone was not arriving until late in the day, I had plenty of time…. or so I thought.

The schedule was odd that year. My step son was to spend almost all of Christmas with his mother’s family, and he would not arrive until late Christmas afternoon. He would then be with us from Christmas afternoon thru New Years – so the whole family schedule was shifted. My parents were coming up from New Orleans……. but they would not arrive until Christmas afternoon. Husband’s sister and brother-in-law spent Christmas Eve with his family and would wake up early on Christmas Day to drive to our house in Mississippi……. from Milwaukee. They were SUPPOSED to be staying with his mother, dinner at our house on Christmas night.

So, on Christmas Morning, my husband and I awoke to a quiet house…… which is an incredibly rare occurrence here and a little eerie. The house was decorated to the hilt, partially to indulge me, with the excuse of “guests expect a Christmas House”! Everything was done, house was immaculate, as I waited on the flurry of family to arrive.

Husband settled into the big chair at the head of the dining table with the newspaper. He was happy.

  • Husband: What’s for breakfast on this fine Christmas morning….. I know you’ve planned something…..
  • Me: Just wait and see.

Of course, he was right. I had planned a special breakfast just for the two of us. A real treat. I was busy in the kitchen and he was comfy at the long chestnut dining table. The dining room was particularly beautiful that year. From the corners of the room, right above the wide chair rail, we draped thick fir garland, up to the corners of the 12′ ceiling, and from the corners of the room all the way to the top of the chandelier, and then up to the ceiling medallion. Within the garland, teal and gold silk ribbon, white lights, gold glass balls, etc., and the arms/prisms of the Baccarat Chandelier were all decked in teal and gold ribbons. In the corner, a 10′ super-fat Douglas Fir with teal and gold ornaments, dripping in pearls, crystal, and sequins, 125 ornaments hand made by me when I had spare time and disposable income. The three tall windows at the end of the dining room were all trimmed in fir garland, with matching wreaths hung in the windows. The girls and I spent over a week just on the Dining Room and admittedly, they all did a gorgeous job.

So, that Christmas morning, husband was feeling like King of the Castle, Lord of the table, reading his paper in silence, with me making breakfast. I made a soufflé, then turned it into an omelet, stuffed with huge Gulf shrimp, fresh blanched asparagus, and a scratch Hollandaise……. little bit of fruit, homemade yeast rolls, and our own Cinnamon coffee. It took me a while to make breakfast….. cuz it was a special day, Christmas!

  • Husband: Sure does smell good….. How long until we eat?
  • Me: I’m coming….. I’m coming.
  • Husband: You know, I still have a few things I have to do, pick up, and wrap….
  • Me, thinking: Where in the hell was he going to PICK UP something on Christmas Day? But of course, he was notorious for hiding big presents at the shop, at friend’s homes, etc.

Finally, I came around the corner to proudly present my 6″ tall masterpiece of an omelet…… and I just about died. I shrieked, loudly, and startled him. He dropped his paper to see what was wrong…..

“LOOK!!!!!!”, I said and pointed to the ceiling.

The wallpaper had come off the ceiling and was gently draping all over the garland, strung to the chandelier. The entire weight of it all, resting on the priceless chandelier, original to the house, …….. which we both expected might come crashing down at any moment. Understand, the house is all plaster. To “seal” the plaster, the former homeowners papered the ceilings. When we moved in, we Kilz-ed the ceilings and then painted over the paper. I guess….. the warmth of the Christmas lights was acting like steam, and the wallpaper came tumbling down.

Husband insisted on eating his soufflé first. Priorities, ya’ know.

But we spent the rest of the day removing the garland….. From Husband…… “I told you it was a bad idea to string all this garland”…… And removing the wallpaper from the ceiling….. on Christmas Day.

Schedule = blown.

We just finished putting ladders away, multiple contractor bags of 70yr old wallpaper, pots of PineSol to wipe down the ceiling- with at least a hundred wet rags used, when Husband’s ex-wife showed up to drop off my step son. I looked at my husband when the doorbell rang. He looked like hell. We both looked like we had been through a tornado. Instead of lipstick and my usual perfume, I had plaster dust in my hair and I smelled like a PINE BOMB. I was still wearing sweats. So much for the red velvet blazer and pearls.

It was about 4:30pm….

Of course, step son wanted to open his presents immediately, but had to wait for the rest of the family. Within 20 minutes, my parents arrived with 4 dogs. You know how kids always prefer to play with the boxes from Christmas presents??? Yeah, but in this case, puppies were much better. The dogs distracted him and he was overjoyed.

No time for a shower…. or to cook…. or to set the table….. Daddy was looking for hors d’oeurves and Bourbon.

About 5:00, Mother-In-Law showed up with a large insulated glass filled to the brim with the equivalent of about 4 Martinis. Mother-In-Law figured out if she FROZE the olives, they could act as ice cubes in her martinis and she would not “pollute” her drink with water from the ice…… She was an innovator…..

She announced she was tired of waiting on Christmas to begin and left a note on her door for her daughter and husband to….. “just come over to our house and YOU can stay with the kids (us)…. cuz they have plenty of room”, …. meaning …… house guests……….and they arrived within moments…… about the same time Grandma Della came through the back door holding a leather strap of sleigh bells that was bigger than she was…….

Christmas had begun.

Of course, there was the great unloading of suitcases and presents. We already had our gifts, Della’s gifts and Mother-In-Law’s gifts at the house and under the big tree in the parlor. BUT we added in-laws gifts and my parents gifts and the big strange stuff husband wrapped in newspapers he kept adding to the pile…..By the time we were done adding….. the presents stretched all the way to the library. It’s my fault, really….. if I gave you a pencil for a gift, I would wrap it up…. I wrapped EVERYTHING…. and if it was a 6 pack of white socks…. each pair was wrapped.

People were hungry, sure, but it was chaos. Daddy opened the bar, helped aptly by Mother-In-Law, and we had plenty of hors d’oeurves in the house….. but opening presents became mandatory for step son. He was tugging on his uncle’s coat, demanding he open gifts, while the poor guy was still carrying suitcases to his room….

Ohhhh, to be a child at Christmas….

and so we opened gifts….

and played with dogs…….

And had $1000 Chili for Christmas Dinner served in cheap white porcelain bowls I probably bought from WalMart.

It didn’t matter…..

Instead of everyone going home, they all decided to stay. Why not? The rooms were all empty and made up… ready for a guest. We had plenty of bedrooms for each person. And we all woke up together.

The best of Christmas, unplanned, no fuss, family all together.

And hey, the Prime Rib and Shrimp Au Gratin marinated for one more day….. December 26th.

Sometimes, all we need is a shift in the schedule to remind us of what is most important.


In the aftermath……

I do recall talking to the garbage men when they picked up our trash in the days following Christmas….. our pile was unusually large and overflowing….. cuz of the Dining Room wallpaper….. I loved our garbage men and had a secret crush on Wallace when I was younger. I brought them cookies to apologize for our huge pile….

“No problem, Miss D”, called the younger driver. He was a handsome fellow, with hair as black as coal but wavy and lustrous. I was wondering what kind of shampoo he used when he said, “We thought you would have a pretty big stash this year. You’ve been having a lot of parties…… but we couldn’t talk the Mayor into doing our Christmas shin-dig at your house….. I sure did want to see the inside this year…..I bet it sure looks pretty……” His voice trailed off wistfully. “Do you think you might need another receptacle for a few months?” Huh? I already had two big green garbage cans….. I shook my head. If they only knew…. about the wallpaper….. But I looked at the driver and he was forlorn…. like he was a 6yr old KID who MISSED Christmas cuz he didn’t get to come in our house. “Do you want to come in and see?”, I said, “You’re welcome to….”, open palms….

And they parked that garbage truck on a dime and had breakfast that day, with the family. Why not? That dining table is always long enough for a few extra friends.



21 thoughts on “20210610: Filet Mignon and the $1000 Pot of Chili.

  1. The very best stories are the near — but not too near — disasters, where love and cunning find a way.

    1. My son Brandon, Josiah’s twin, still thinks the Liver Biopsy Christmas (J was hospitalized for LB, prior to transplant, & they punctured his diaphragm so on room suction to inflate the partially collapsed lung) was the best. We had only found out about J’s brain tumor & liver masses/tumors at Thanksgiving & I was a mess. Usually I did B-day (4 guys’ b-days w/in 2 weeks in early Dec) & Christmas shopping in that time period but I was so out of it w/ J’s health situation that most of my stocking stuffers were junk food from the hospital. All the presents I got were Crappy resale stuff & my oldest son, Nathaniel, cracked sufficient sarcastic jokes to basically have us all rolling on the floor throughout the present exchange time. There was even fart spray & general chaos. In my view it was in many ways the worst Christmas but to B it will live as the best ever!

      1. Yes. Sorry I don’t stop by more frequently. So much to read & so little time 😉 My daughter’s getting married in 2 months so we’ve got lots going on chez moi ❤

            1. I was SO envious of your family vacay in northern MI. We’re driving back from CO in August for a week in Saugutuck area with sublings & cousins. Really looking forward to it 🤓

              1. Hope it’s a Wonderful time for you all! We’re back at my parents’ Cottage for the 4th & surrounding. I might see if Josiah & I can go early to get away from the covidiocy of Metro Detroit–it’s still soul crushing 😦

                Hubby was born in CO & we honeymooned there & took our kids on one vacay in the Rockies about a decade ago (wish we could have done more). Beautiful country getting overrun w/ crazies, it seems…

              2. Yup, those crazies are everywhere. At least our lefty state politicians have been a tad less oppressive than your witch Gretchen. !!

  2. Best chili I ever had was made with good beef finely cubed cooked in lots of wine or beer, I’m not sure which. Best venison I ever had was cooked the same way in a brown sauce with lots of wine and so tender…. oh man.

  3. Lovely Christmas story, Daughn 🌺 Because my family lived in an 1800’s farmhouse, I know all about those crooked plaster walls/ceilings and the ‘joys’ of wallpaper 🤓

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