Stories and thoughts about family and life

Brush and Stumps

on December 9, 2013

I would like to say that I still enjoy Thanksgiving with all the enthusiasm I had as a child, but it just isn’t there anymore. It’s nice to have a couple of days off, and see everyone, but it’s so much hustle and bustle that it’s hard to really enjoy it. I have never been able to just eat turkey and kick back and nap all afternoon. We’re usually inhaling our lunch and then preparing to hit the road again home, which is exactly what we did this year. So, not the typical Thanksgiving by most people’s terms, but still plenty to exercise our thanks.

We left Little Rock at 7 a.m., planning on being in Booneville by 9:30, and at my parents’ by 10. My younger sister, Joan, and her husband were already at my parents’ house, and when I arrived my sister and I set about preparing our pieces of the meal. My dad had decided to smoke the turkey this year with the new smoker we bought him for Father’s Day, and mom made a spiral cut ham for me (I’m not a huge fan of turkey). Mom’s specialty is a meal we’ve come to call “brush and stumps.” Now, you’re no doubt wondering about the name. When my little sister was very young, mom made this concoction of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and cheese for the first time and my sister marveled at how the broccoli and cauliflower looked like “brush and stumps.” The name stuck, and everyone who has ever been introduced to my family and been the recipient of this particular dish requests it at future family gatherings. It’s a must-have at the holiday table.

I should take a moment and explain that my parents live 30 minutes from town. Usually, though, they do their grocery shopping in nearby Ft. Smith, which is an hour away. As anyone in a small town can tell you, you usually try to buy your groceries in a larger, less expensive town. For this reason, and considering the distance they are to even Booneville, we learned very long ago that you either did without, or you become quite resourceful should you forget to purchase something.

As Joan prepares the vegetables for the big dish and we’re just a few minutes away from needing to add the cheese sauce, we realize that the usual block of Velveeta mom almost always (note the “almost”) has in the fridge is not there. We search the second fridge, the pantry, and anywhere else we think the cheese might have ended up. Finally, I ask my dad. Daddy did the grocery shopping that particular week, and doesn’t recall buying any cheese. Regardless, he proceeds into the kitchen to help take up the search. My sister and I are exchanging troubled glances across the kitchen as my mom suggests we use the small block of cheddar in the fridge. First, it’s too small, and second—ughh. This particular dish has always had American cheese. Now, I know you’re probably like my husband, and you’re arguing that Velveeta isn’t actually “American cheese,” but you get the point.

Daddy, ever the resourceful farmer, realizes that there IS Velveeta in the fridge! There are at least, oh, about 24 slices of it! Problem solved, right? My sister and I again are exchanging glances across the kitchen. Mom suggests mixing that with the cheddar–surely that will be enough. I chuckle a bit to myself and catch my husband’s eye from the end of the dining room. He’s getting nervous. This is going to be some kind of crazy modification to his beloved brush and stumps, and he doesn’t have the heart to say he doesn’t like something my mom has made. Plus, I’m probably the only one in the house who could care less, because I’m the only one that doesn’t eat broccoli, or cauliflower nor carrots that taste like broccoli or cauliflower.

Good thing for us that Joan is an excellent cook. I’m apparently the only daughter that missed the cooking gene in our family, because they’re all good cooks but me. Joan is one of those people, like my mom, who can open the pantry, see 12 ingredients, and whip up a casserole. Joan spots the box of shells and cheese (also Velveeta, by the way), that my mom had bought for Brennan, and an idea strikes. The next thing I know, I’m stationed at the stove and, at her direction, I’m stirring the cheese packets, now mixed with the cheese slices, into a wonderful creamy sauce.

As I was exchanging texts with various friends that day who were encountering their own family craziness, everyone who knows my parents very much enjoyed the story of all of us standing in the kitchen, contemplating how to make this cheese sauce, and ultimately settling for ready-made cheese sauce in the shells and cheese box.

Those are the things that make the holidays memorable. Those will be the stories we’ll appreciate trading back and forth again years from now, as we’re seated around the table for some other family occasion. I would never have believed it, but my husband and my sister both assert that it’s one of the better batches of cheese sauce ever created for brush and stumps. We may have stumbled on a new family tradition. . .


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