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I love my grandmother. I know, I know; I’m far from the only person to say that but I do! She’s a tiny old Irish lady from New York with a big heart and a gentle soul. One of my best friends once told me that Anne Koch is the epitome of the classic little-old-lady stereotype and he’s not wrong! She loves her family, loves taking care of us, and loves holidays. So every year she does a big dinner for family and friends on Christmas where she makes a big Christmas ham and lots of delicious sides that we all look forward to. Because of this tradition, a tradition of eating lasagna on Christmas eve was born out of necessity. And because of this necessity, the lasagna miracle was bestowed upon our hungry family one Christmas Eve.
Christmas day is always the big dinner for my grandparents and takes a lot of time and energy to prepare. For Christmas Eve then, my grandmother does one of her favorite go-to, prepped meal options: lasagna. That way, she can prep it a few days ahead of time, freeze it, then heat it up while Santa and the elves do their final checks on the sleigh. It’s not too much work and it is something everyone enjoys. To this day, lasagna is a dish that I associate with my little Irish grandma even if it isn’t one of the traditions I enjoy every year.
Like many people, as I get older I find that I miss out on many holiday traditions from my childhood as I create new ones. In the Koch family, I am the oldest of ten grandchildren and missing out on some of these customs is not a misfortune that I alone experience. Which is why it was incredibly special when almost all of my family was able to get together for Christmas about five years ago. All of my aunts and uncles and my cousins came into town to celebrate Christmas together actually on Christmas kind of! Well, we were all there on Christmas Eve and lost some of our number to other obligations for Christmas day. It was nevertheless very special to get together on the 24th and not on a day like December 28th with 40% of us which is what usually happened. The traditional Christmas eve lasagna this year had become the larger dinner and in some ways the more special dinner.
Christmas in Greensboro, NC always feels more like fall than a Dickensian winter wonderland so instead of snow falling, imagine a cloudy Christmas eve day with a festively decorated kitchen with large windows looking out over a heavily wooded backyard filled with bare trees and lovely fall foliage on the ground. Christmas music plays over my grandfather’s sound system inside the house as we all visit with one another and many of us assist my grandmother in the kitchen, placing the frozen lasagna in the oven for the nearly two hours it will take to cook them. It’s a really lovely day and it’s the first time all of us are in the same house together in a long time. Then someone noticed something strange with the oven.
“What does ‘cleaning mode’ mean on the oven?” someone, I forget who, asks.
“Why?” someone, I forget who, replies concerned.
Panic slowly sets in as the few of us in the kitchen realizes that somehow, someone has accidentally hit the “cleaning mode” setting on the oven after the lasagnas were already placed inside and we don’t know how long it’s been like that. If you don’t know about this mode, self-cleaning ovens have a cleaning mode which causes the oven to raise its temperature to something like 800 degrees to cook off all of the grease and food that can get stuck in there. It’s meant to be done over the course of hours and manufacturers recommend doing it while you’re not around so that you hopefully don’t breathe any possible fumes. It also locks the oven door for safety reasons and once you start it, you can’t stop it.
So our dinner on Christmas Eve for about 20 people was about to be absolutely incinerated because someone bumped the cleaning button. I thought my grandmother was going to fall on the ground. We were all starting to panic as we tried to figure out how to fix it. The atmosphere was a mixture of anxious laughter, worry, and my mother trying to keep everyone looking on the bright side and insisting we would soon be laughing about this. Some of us (me) had been drinking and were not a ton of help but we all tried to put our heads together.
Yep, the door was locked. Nope, pressing the button again didn’t work. Nope, pressing the cancel button didn’t work. Yep, The door is still locked. No, of course we don’t still have the manual for the oven that was installed like a decade ago. My cousins and I start calling restaurants in the area to figure out who is open on Christmas Eve. We eventually ordered a bunch of pizza from Hungry Howie’s who will deliver. My uncle Dave googled the manual for the oven. After a little while we realized there wasn’t much to be done and we trickled out of the kitchen. Pizza for dinner would be fine and we were all starting to laugh about the situation already.
After the lasagnas have been in the oven for about an hour, my Uncle Dave discovers the manual and pulls the plug on the oven. In hindsight, this seems like something we should have tried but to be honest, I always forget that ovens have plugs! We cracked the oven door and let it cool down.
When the pizza arrived, we checked on the lasagna to see just how charred these lasagnas were and if maybe one of them could be salvaged somehow. We pull the layered pasta dishes out of the oven, and to our absolute astonishment, both of them are cooked to perfection. Bubbly, melty, delicious. My grandmother declares it a Christmas miracle and crosses her heart. We all laughed with delight at this news and had one of my favorite non-traditional holiday dinners ever with perfectly cooked lasagna and delivery pizzas.
Don’t forget to share your own favorite family memories in the comments!
We’re happy you’re here,
Ben and all of us at Beth’s Christmas