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Late Late Nite – With Pat Metheny & Herb Aspic

My most memorable family Christmas, like all good experiences, had a few pitfalls. My entire family actually managed to get together in a an enormous mountain top home, far from our traditional gathering at grandma’s house in the city. As the last cars arrived, the temperatures dropped into the low single digits and heavy snow began to fall.

In NW Arkansas, Christmas is usually a day in the fifty degree range but on this occasion, we ended up with nearly two feet of snow and over a week where the highs never hit twenty degrees. The electricity went out, which meant we lost running water due to reliance on our country well. The ponds froze over with a foot or more of ice which required twice daily chipping so the horses could get a drink. Fortunately the house had a few fireplaces and a wood stove.

That year my Aunt and I were in charge of the food. We started planning a month in advance with many nights spent reading cookbooks, trying new recipes, and making copious notes. It was going to be the best holiday meal ever, by golly. I think it was in an old copy of the New York Times cookbook we stumbled across a recipe for herb aspic. For some strange reason we thought it would be a good idea to have herb aspic with our ham. We really didn’t know what it was, but the recipe called for lots of dill which we had in abundance from the previous summer’s garden and the recipe looked simple enough. It was something new.

Everything went perfectly, considering all water for kitchen operations required melting snow on the wood stove. I began making the herb aspic and the next thing I know I am nervously calling my Aunt, "We need another bowl, a BIG bowl, Hurry!" I quickly discovered aspic expands more than popcorn. By the time we were through we had more herb aspic in volume than the very large ham itself. Ultimately, several of our largest bowls were full of grey-ish gel with green speckles.

Somehow in all the hustle and bustle we managed to cover up this…this…stuff. As we began surreptitiously hiding it behind other foods in the refrigerator, we mumbled with a slight nervous giggle to ourselves that we would just have to make sure everyone received a large helping.

The table was set and it was grand. A roaring fire in the dinning room fireplace and a mountain valley view of snow, ponds, the lake, and horses. It was like Currier and Ives met Disney with a stem of Lalique crystal in hand and ma nature’s Lalique touch on every tree. Everyone was getting along and still thrilled to be together even though we had been stranded in the same house with no electricity or running water for days.

As we served everyone, the ooh’s and ah’s were like a chorus in perfect harmony, until about five minutes into the meal, a silence set in. I looked up from my plate and glanced around the table, I don’t know who said it first but someone finally said, "what, is this?"

With a slight laugh I said in an innocent matter of fact tone, "why it’s herb aspic." My Aunt laughed a bit louder as I was trying to say this in earnest sincerity, and the whole family erupted in laughter. By the time we could get up and waltz the giant heaping bowls of grey gel with green speckles around the dinning room, everyone was in tears.

So if it is not to late, my advice would be to skip the herb aspic recipe. Consider yourself warned. If you must try it and the weather is mild you might consider making your first batch outdoors. It’s like mentos and coca-cola in gel form. Kids, don’t try this at home alone.

Whatever you have this week, make it merry folks.

R.I.P. Oscar Peterson

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