Psst. Come here. Ain't nothing more fun than effing with your kids. Wanna do something special to them this Thanksgiving? Plan now, so you'll be ready.
Got no kids? Fine. You got someone. Why spare their minds of your mischief or wait until April Fools Day? This is what I did last year this time. You can do the same thing or something similar. Follow my lead and have a few laughs along the way.
Last November, I rolled my cart down the Snacks aisle at my grocery store and spotted a bag of Simply Enjoy Pina Colada Pecans.
What the heck, I thought. I'll try them.
This is why I try not to shop when hungry. I'm not picky and I'll eat almost any thing. I use this approach to cooking, and quite often, my food tastes weird.
I decided to bake sweet potatoes. Boiled them, sliced them, covered them with warmed butter, brown sugar, and hmmm, wonder how those Pina Colada pecans would taste on them?
I'm a generous person. I generously sprinkled on the nuts, then the marshmallows. Popped it and either a little ham or chicken in oven with it. An hour later me and Cassie, in the 8th grade at the time, sat down to this. My son Xavier was out and that was a good thing.
She took the first bite.
"Hmmm. This is good, Mom," she said.
I glowed with pride.
Then her face changed from sunny to cloudy.
"What is this?", she demanded.
"Uh, um, what is what?"
"This?! What are these crunchy things in it?!"
"It's good, ain't it?"
"No! It's awful! What's this weird taste?"
"Um, I added Pina Colada pecans to it..."
"You ruined them! Who wants crunchy, nutty sweet potatoes? Now I'll have to pick through it! Ugg!"
That's when my wounded pride kicked in... along with my secret, invisible friend, Mischief.
I threw that snotty tone in my voice and said, "You don't what you're talking about. This is a famous recipe and a world class dish. You're just too young to appreciate it. I shoulda served you a hot dog. This is too good for you."
Cassie loves those cooking shows and has oddly been watching them since she was a wee thing, after discovering The Food Channel.
She tried another bite and spit it out. "No," she said, "you just threw these in on a whim. Why? You messed up our dinner!"
I liked the dish myself. Looked my girl dead in the eye and lied my azz off.
"No, it's the truth. I learned how to make this when I worked at a restaurant in New York City."
"That's right. Back in the early 80s..."
"You have never lived in New York City!"
"Oh, you think you know everything about me," I said real snotty. "I lived there the summer before I started college for my master's degree. It was great..."
"You're pulling my leg! You have never..."
"Oh yes I did! I learned how to cook all sorts of wonderful potato dishes."
"And what was the name of restaurant?" she asked skeptically.
Since she nibbled the bait, I didn't bat an eye.
I answered, "La Dancing Potato."
"La Dancing Potato? That's the silliest thing I've heard."
She kept nibbling the bait which is how I knew she was uncertain. I took another big mouthful and was lovin' it.
"It's true," I lied. "Potatoes were their specialty. It was a great place to work..."
She went into her interrogation mode.
"What did this place look like?"
In my mind, I pictured the diner in the old Jerry Seinfield show and described it to her.
Cassie kept trying to trip me up. "What was your boss's name?"
"Max," I said, "he was the owner."
I then went on to describe Max as an older version of Seinfield.
"Mom," she said with exasperation, "you are not a good cook and you fix the same basic two potato dishes. Mashed, or home fried. No way you had a job as a cook at some place called La Dancing Potato."
I shrugged nonchalantly. "Think you what you want. I did and it was a great summer. I'll see if I can get in touch with Max. You'll see."
Heh-heh. I even got my son Xavier in on it, so when she asked him, he had my back.
Cassie still wasn't quite buying the story. I got her lil' azz good when she was four years old and she never forgot it. At that age, she was going through her I'm scared of the dark stage and used to sleep with me.
One night, she said, "Mommy. I can't fall asleep. Can you read me a story?"
"Sure," I replied.
I grabbed one of her books on the table next to the bed, and began telling the story - without turning on the light.
"Mommy! You're reading in the dark!"
"You can't do that!"
"Sure I can. I'm doing it, ain't I?"
"But you can't see in the dark!"
I watched her in the low glow of light from the window. She went back and forth, struggling with how this could be possible and she was totally perplexed. I nearly died trying not to laugh as she thought out loud.
She mumbled, "No way! For real? No, no one can do that. But you are. How? No. That's cool. But you can't, can you?"
Knowing the same old story nearly by heart and ad libbing when I didn't, I continued "reading".
She continued talking to herself wondering how her mommy could defy the law of physics and biology, even though she didn't know these words. Finally, poor lil' thing turned on the light so she could see my face. Maybe she wanted to look at my eyes.
I couldn't hold back. I cracked up laughing.
"You fooled me!", she said with shock and delight. "But I figured it out!"
"No you didn't. I really can."
"Nope," I said. "You'll just have to take my word."
She shook her head and laughed. "Nuh uh. You remembered the story."
I laughed again. "You're so sharp. I love it!"
It's one of our fun family memories, a tradition passed onto to me by both parents, but particularly my father who did similar pranks. One of his best was when I was three or four years old. I was pouting over something, and he ran into the bathroom and pretended to flush himself down the toilet, saying I didn't love him anymore, and then hid behind the shower curtain laughing silently while I looked into swirling waters, saying, "Oh Daddy, I do love you! Please come back!"
Seriously, why have kids and not eff with their heads a little bit? is our motto.
So, on Thanksgiving Day last year, we were to have a big family dinner at David's, one of my relatives. He loves to cook and had just bought his first condo. I told him the plan, and whispered it to other relatives.
Cassie wandered into his kitchen and spotted the bag of Pina Colada Pecans, deliberately left next to his baked sweet potatoes.
"David," she said in her you're a suspect voice, "Why do you have these?"
"Oh," he answered, "I had planned to use your mother's recipe and add them to my sweet potatoes, but at the last minute, forgot. It's very good."
"Mom put you up to this, right?"
"No," he said with a straight face. "I learned it from her though, from when she worked as a cook in New York."
Cassie shot a look at me and rolled her eyes.
"You two are in on this joke," she said, but her statement was more like a question.
"Nuh uh," I said. "This may surprise you, but I had a life before you came along that I never mentioned to you."
Thus, the bait had been laid out well, and at dinner I caught the lil' fish.
We were all enjoying the meal, Cassie blurted out, "Did Mom ever work in New York City?"
David's mother answered, "Yes! I had forgotten about that. It was a diner that specialized in potato dishes... what was the name of that place?"
The whole family went down a memory lane that never existed, on my adventures in New York City at La Dancing Potato. Cassie was utterly dumbfounded.
A few days later, she challenged me again. "Why don't you have photos in your album from this?"
"Lost the pics when I moved back."
She bit her lower lip, uncertain.
"You're smiling!", she said. "That's how I know you're lying!"
I milked that prank almost to Christmas. The next time she brought it up, I was ready for her.
"Oh, I'm glad you mentioned this," I said. "My old boss Max returned my email. He's happily retired in Florida. Here's an old photo of him with a dancing potato."
Cassie's mouth dropped open. Once again I heard her internal dialog. Baby girl was talking to herself.
"Oh my God! It's true. No it's not. But there it is. Nuh-uh..."
My lil' fish has been trained well to not believe everything someone tells her when her gut warns her not to. She jumped on the Internet and started googling for images. Took her a couple minutes to find the same pic.
"Busted!", she yelled with glee.
I cracked up laughing.
She was dancing with joy that she solved the mystery of Mama's New York City Adventures at La Dancing Potato.
"I knew it! I knew it!", she exclaimed. "You were lying! But I gotcha!"
She put one hand on her hip, looking like a little mama demanding an explanation. "Now what do you have to say for yourself? Huh? Huh? Go ahead! I wanna hear this."
I lit a cigarette, leaned back in my chair, and smiled.
"But I can still read in the dark."