Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thanksgiving II

The first Thanksgiving feast I cooked was in college. There were four couples to feed and we each kicked in to buy the food. Sean was living in a house that overlooked a young river valley nature preserve. The November day was grey and blustery with on and off rain, fog early and late. A typical Southwest Ohio late fall day.
I started cooking early, before Sean and his housemates were really stirring. I made noise. I made commotions. I made messes. I cleaned up messes. By late afternoon I was rewarded by the sight of my friends sprawled back from the table forms recumbent in satiety. Not a bad start.

The menu changed but subtly over the years mostly in response to what I learned about cooking and about eating. My reward for all that effort was that no cooking need be done for the next week as the remains were encored again and again. The penalty was that Turkey was off the menu the rest of the year.
I'm still working on that one. Turkey is too good -- and inexpensive -- not to appear periodically, and in other guises, e.g: turkey with mole sauce.
Dorothy always finished by turning the turkey carcass into a soup. It was tasty the first time or two. Regrettably it did not disappear then but lingered for several more meals spaced into December by which time the stock had soured. Dutifully I did the same. My stock, though good, waited its encores even longer and so more of it soured. At last I gave myself permission to not make stock. Throwing out the carcass before making soup may not have been the best conservation practice, but it did save expense compared to making soup and throwing that away.

Once we had Thanksgiving at Phyllis' house. She was a Californian, A student of the Martha Graham school of modern dance, an interior decorator and writer manque, trapped in the Midwest. She was like encountering a cordon bleu restaurant in the middle of a farm town. She added the wild rice ring to Dorothy's menu and subsequently to mine.

In my menu the turnips and rutabagas were out tout de suite. Of recent years the turnips have sometimes crept back. This year my crustless leek quiche will join the parade in my effort to shift the feast away from carbohydrates. A forlorn effort given my love of stuffing and potatoes and rice. Is self mastery the only answer? Gawd help me!

The best turkey was, of course, a unique and unrepeatable experience. We moved into a house set against a hill side we called Tiger's End because it was where the plain (tiger in feng shuey terms) ended.
It was an old house that had grown without much benefit of professional contractors. The owner had removed the kitchen. Over the summer I had replaced the bathroom, and re-plumbed the whole house and built the kitchen cabinets as inspired by the Motion Minded Kitchen.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving I installed the new oven-broiler and the cooktop. All that remained was to run the gas line from the meter on one side of the house to the kitchen on the other side.
First I connected and lit the furnace. It was cold. It was very cold and starting to snow. This was a rare phenomenon at maybe fifteen feet above sea level. We were used to wearing many layers: under and over shirts, sweaters and even jackets. Elaine had just arrived from grad school in Oregon. There was a stray cat huddled in the window between the porch and my office. She was pulled inside which was accepted with a haughty bad grace. She did us the favor.
Then the furnace blower started.
Melissa, just two, took off her coat. She began to move about. The frost patterns on the windows faded. Melissa took off the first sweater and then the second and began to dance. Finally it was warm enough that in just her 'ummers' she danced from one end of the house to the other.
I cooked dinner on the propane two burner camp stove as usual and soon we settled for the night in a warm and snug house while the snow blew outside.
In the morning there was almost a foot or snow drifted to a couple of feet in places. It was so pleasant to be in a snug warm house and look out at it. Del arrived to help me lay and connect the last bit of gas pipe. As the coffee descended to bottom of the pot he pointed out that if we were going to eat turkey that day we had best get the turkey in his oven.
At the time he was the live aboard watchman of the former Army Corps of Engineers steam snag snatcher: the USS Preston then moored aground as a museum, next to the old railroad station just a block or two away.
Del and I hefted the bird into the back of Beulah Witch, our black VW squareback, and slid-drove to the boat. The galley featured a rather massive oil fired range which Del soon lit. We slid in the bird and made our way back to lay the pipe.
Which took longer than expected, of course.
At last , crossing all available limbs, I lit the pilots on the oven.

We didn't explode.

By then it was four and getting dark. Grateful to Del for suggesting it, we returned to the Preston and picked up the bird.
Then I put the various side dishes, made the day before, in the oven to warm. In the second oven I put the pies. We could eat in a half hour so it was time to uncork a nice red.
Ten Minutes later a wonderful aroma of done stuffing & pies perfumed the air. Only twenty minutes to go.
Five minutes after that a general suggestion from the assembled company offered that any pie that smelled like that wanted some supervision. So I opened the door to reveal the most gorgeous deep mahogany pies I have ever baked. Two of them. One was a crust covered mince. The other was an open top, spicy pumpkin. Both a rich almost chocolaty brown.
Intervention occurred just in time. The pies were on the dark side of perfect.
In my haste to start baking, I had neglected to place the temperature probe inside the oven. So the gas roared away without moderation driving the temperature to heights where few pies have ventured before.
The rest of the meal was hot. And the turkey ...

The turkey fell apart at a touch into succulent and tender bits of meat. There was no need to make gravy because the pan juices reduced to an excellent thickness a beautiful light brown color and delicious flavor.

Melissa calls this the 'fall-apart-bird' and it has become the standard by which we judge our efforts

-- ml

No comments:

Post a Comment