Dinner options in Tinsletown for Christmas Eve were very limited. The Dash Away All Convenience Store had a hot table, but that was no one’s first choice. Donner’s Diner would be closing early for their company party. Even the Dairy Queen was closing early this particular evening. John and Marsha knew that practically, The Stable would be their only option.
The rest of the extended family had largely gone their own directions. James and Jill took their mother Margot back home to start preparing for Christmas dinner the next day. Jefferson, Elizabeth, Alex and Nora decided to head on to Jefferson’s family home to be ready for Christmas Day with them. That left John, Marsha, Peter, Mindy, Jenny, grandfather Bill, and Uncle Dudley to try their luck at the stable. John and Marsha knew Vern from school and hoped he would be able to squeeze them in tonight.
“This is the place.” John announced as the family pulled up to The Stable.
“You’re kidding,” Peter interjected. “This is nothing but an old barn.”
“Right.” said John.
“WOW!” Jenny exclaimed.
“You mean we’re going to eat Christmas Eve dinner in a barn?” Mindy asked.
“It’s not a barn. It’s The Stable, ‘A unique dining experience.’” replied Marsha.
Peter laughed. “Unique is right. I’ll bet the ‘unique’ part is eating with cows, horses, pigs…”
“Dad?!?” Mindy interrupted.
“That will be enough young man.” John scolded. “This happens to be a very nice restaurant. Besides it’s the only place open this late on Christmas Eve. Now we are going to enter this restaurant like one happy family and pray that they have enough room to seat us.”
As the family entered the restaurant, Peter, Mindy, and Jenny got a sense of how wrong they were in their assessment of The Stable. They were able to take in all of the extravagant decorations that filled the space. The white linen tablecloths. The music from the house band wafted through the air and they were able to see the choir ready to take their places. There was something truly magical about The Stable at Christmas. Even the menu reflected it, which Vern had posted near the front door.
This year, Vern had chosen to offer a five course dinner featuring a braised rack of lamb. The appetizer was a fruit pastry square, followed by a roast turkey consommé, and fruit sorbet. The braised rack of lamb for the main course would be served with hasselback potatoes and blue cheese, enriched with a signature sauce that Vern had developed. Finally, patrons would be served a black forest trifle for dessert. All in all, Vern was very pleased with the selection and the earliest patrons had been raving about the choice.
“I take it all back,” Peter proclaimed. “This could be very good. Maybe even better…” He stopped before he finished the thought.
John approached the host stand. Mr. Valkotukka was on host duty tonight and was as busy as a beaver. When he was finally able to stop for a moment he asked, “How can I help you John?”
“Any chance you have a table for seven?” John replied.
“No reservation, I’m assuming.”
“I’m sorry John, but as you can see, we have no room. Even the private dining room’s are all booked up.”
“I understand, Mr. Valkotukka, but we thought we would give it a shot. We really have no place to go, after what happened this afternoon.” With that, John began to explain the whole ordeal to Mr. Valotukka, with the family chiming in at various other points.
“I see,” said Mr. Valotukka. He thought for a moment and turned to John and Marsha. “Let me talk to Vern. I have an idea that just might work.” Mr. Valkotukka turned from the host stand and head back toward the kitchen.
“Say a prayer this works,” said Marsha.
At that moment, Vern was running back and forth all across the kitchen. Checking on the consommé, perfecting the trifle, preparing another rack of lamb. There were a thousand things running through his head at any moment, as he made sure everything ran smoothly. He loved every minute of it, but the last thing he needed was a new problem that needed a solution.
“Vern, can I speak with you a minute?” his father asked. As Mr. Valkotukka pulled Vern aside, he explained the predicament of the Moore family. “Now I know we do not have any place for them in the main dining hall, but I thought maybe they could dine with us.”
Vern though about it for a minute. It would require a little bit more effort on his part, but he should be able to make it work, he thought. After all, he couldn’t turn them away. Not on Christmas and not in The Stable.
“That could work.” Vern replied. “Let them know what they are getting in for, though. We don’t want to surprise them too much. And let Mama know to set the extra places at the Chef’s table.”
“Will do. Love you, son. And thank you.”
“No, thank you Dad. Likewise. Now, get out of my kitchen and let me get to work.” Vern joked, and got to work.
Mr. Valkotukka returned to the host stand and explained the situation to the Moore family. “As I said before, we have no room for you in the main dining hall. But, we would like to invite you to join us at the Chef’s table for our Christmas dinner. Now it won’t be the main menu. We have just enough of that for the reservations. But Vern will be making his favorite Christmas dinner for us like he does every year. If that sounds good to you, we would be honored to have you.”
Vern’s favorite Christmas dinner. The Moore family raced with visions of what the premier chef of Tinsletown would think of as his favorite Christmas dinner. Marsha and Bill were hoping for a traditional turkey dinner. John was pulling for tamales and various Mexican dishes. Uncle Dudley hoped for a roast duck. The children hoped it just came with plenty of desserts.
“We accept.” John exclaimed, not even looking for further agreement.
And with that, the family followed Mr. Valkotukka through the main dining hall into the Chef’s Table, a private dining room adjacent to the kitchen, with a perfect view of all the main festivities.
Mrs. Valkotukka was already in the dining room, and proved the perfect hostess. She got the children started with juice, wine for John and Marsha, and the perfect Tom and Jerry for Uncle Dudley and Bill. She filled the Moore family in on the history of The Stable and regaled them with stories of their favorite holiday entertainment acts. John and Marsha shared with her the events of the afternoon, and were able to laugh about it for the first time. Throughout, Mr. Valkotukka popped in and out checking on them and updating them on Vern’s progress.
When Vern had finally completed the family meal, he turned the rest of the evening’s preparations over to his sous chef, Felix Bassenak. He enlisted a few servers to help him move the dinner to the Chef’s Table.
“I’m glad you could all join us tonight. I think you are in for a treat. Please take your place at the table, and we will start serving.” Vern stated as he entered the room.
With that, the servers began placing covered platters in front of each member of the Moore and Valkotukka families.
“This Christmas dinner has been a tradition in our family for as long as I can remember,” Vern began. “Through all of the situations our family found ourselves in, this meal has been a constant, and we are so glad to share it with you.”
Vern asked his father to say grace, and once completed, invited his guests to begin. “Without any further adieu, my favorite Christmas dinner I have ever made.”
In a flourish, the servers removed the covers from the dishes, revealing the evening’s feast:
A peanut butter and cranberry jelly sandwich on white bread, homemade potato chips, day old ginger-bread, and a single stalk of hay.