The Great Thanksgiving Day Seduction of 2013
PART ONE: I AM SEDUCED
In the Hebrew Scriptures, when the prophet Jeremiah realizes just what he has gotten himself into by agreeing to serve as God’s messenger, he laments “Oh, Lord, you have seduced me; and I have let myself be seduced!” I know just what Jeremiah is talking about…only my version is “Oh Norman Rockwell, Life Magazine, and Macy’s Parade, you have seduced me; and I have let myself be seduced!” Not that I am complaining, mind you. I have spent the last six decades running headlong into the seductive arms of this most American of holidays. This year is no exception, it’s the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and I have already been shopping, and cleaning and planning for weeks. I’ve even taken the week off so that I can re-produce all the signs and sounds and smells of the big day.
We’ve ordered a heritage turkey for which we will brave a nor’easter this afternoon to collect from the Farmer’s Market the next county over, and I’ve bought a glorious new roasting pan that more closely resembles a mirror than a kitchen tool, and a remote roasting thermometer. Well, William’s Sonoma WAS having a great sale, and after what the turkey costs ($9/lb), I’m not taking any chances! Besides, these heritage turkeys are supposed to taste just like the ones we had back in the 1950’s. (Did I mention that I am seduced by the holidays?)
But this year there’s a glitch. As I rifle through my favorite memories, choosing which ones to buff and polish and bring out for display, I realize that most of those aren’t mine. In fact, most of them aren’t anybody’s. But they’re so REAL, my heart insists! There was the time that we went over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house. Nope, that was a song I sang in grade school. I lived in the Deep South and so did Grandma. No snow. And we only visited during the summer.
OK, how about the time we watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from the window of our Fifth Avenue Apartment? No…that was Natalie Wood in “Miracle on 34th Street.” Besides, the one time I did visit Macy’s in NYC on the day after Thanksgiving, was during a freak November heat wave. It was 70 degrees outside and the furnaces in the store were going full blast. Idyllic? Not so much.
But wait, there was the time that we flew home from Houston to North Carolina with two toddlers. The one my lap looked out the airplane window as we flew over the Mississippi and belted out, “Over the VIVER and through the boods” which he continued to sing for the remaining two and a half hours of the flight; thereby entertaining the rest of the airplane and providing them with their own somewhat dubious memories of the day.
And, every year for as long as I can remember, I have watched that parade on television. In a succession of homes and living rooms, from a tiny black and white TV with rabbit ears to a cable-fed HD flat screen. And every year I have loved it all – from the freight-car sized balloons to the inane canned commentary, to the high-kicks of the Rockettes (whose mother’s obviously never told them about the dangers of scanty clothing and bare legs in November).33333333333That was good – especially as it was always accompanied by the jostling of siblings or kids on the sofa, and the indescribable aroma of my mother’s turkey stock simmering on the stove. These days, it’s Will, and Rudy and me on the sofa. It’s lox and bagels and Irish Coffee. And, It’s very good.
Come to think of it, it’s all good. So this year, I am going to celebrate all the memories, and not worry so much about whose they are – or whether or not they’re real. Because all of them together are what makes me love it.
But, this year I am going to do it with as much mindfulness and gratitude as my oh-so-easily seduced heart can contain.
Stay tuned for more. I will be posting as I go…Today I make the cranberry relish and the cornbread for the stuffing. Tomorrow we brine the turkey, and start the stock. Then we are off and running…
So pour a glass of wine, light a spice-scented candle and start making memories. And remember, no matter what, it’s all good!
PART 2 (Monday) CORNBREAD AND CRANBERRY SAUCE
Today we have to do two things. Make the cornbread and the cranberry sauce.
If you are going to make the best southern style turkey dressing imaginable, you have to start with homemade cornbread. And it has to be stale. In our house it also has to be gluten-free. So make it today and by Thursday morning it will be just right to crumble with the other indescribably good ingredients you’ll be using. This recipe is modified to be gluten-free, so the texture will be slightly finer than normal. If gluten is not a problem for you, make it with 1 c cornmeal and 1 c white flour (omitting the rice and oat flours). It makes one 9×9 pan, but doubles easily if you stuffing and turkey and cooking a pan of dressing on the side.
1 ¼ c organic stone-ground corn meal
¼ c white rice flour
½ c whole grain oat flour
¼ c sugar (optional)
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
¼ c vegetable oil
1 c milk (or soymilk)
1 egg, beaten
Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Mix the wet ingredients together and add to the dry. Stir until the lumps are gone but don’t beat. Pour into a greased 9×9 pan and bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes. Turn out of the pan onto a rack. Let sit uncovered at room temperature for 24-48 hours. Crumble coarsely to use as a base for a cornbread stuffing. And if you want the recipe for the stuffing itself, here it is:
1 recipe cornbread
1 qt hot turkey stock
1 large onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 c pecan pieces
1 lb sage sausage
1 large granny smith apple, peeled and diced
4 oz butter
1-2 tbs poultry seasoning
Salt and pepper
Crumble the cornbread into a large mixing bowl. Crumble and cook the sausage. Set aside to cool then add to the mixing bowl. Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Saute the onion, celery, garlic and pecans until golden. Add to the bowl. Add the diced apple, salt, pepper and poultry seasoning. Stir all together. Moisten to your preference. Let cool slightly and use to stuff your turkey. Or bake in a buttered baking dish at 350 for 45 minutes or until crispy on top and heated through.
Preparing Thanksgiving Dinner can be a bit labor intensive, but remember…these dishes are all very basic and require only your love and attention to turn out fabulously. Homemade cranberry sauce is almost ridiculously simple to make, so add a few of your own touches and make it your own. I love this stuff, but since I cannot tolerate the sugar, my satisfaction comes from seeing everyone else dig in!
1 bag fresh cranberries
2 c sugar
2 c water
Combine the sugar and water. Bring to a boil and cook for about five minutes to make a syrup. Add the cranberries. Bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to a slow boil and cook until the cranberries pop open. Remove from the heat and let cool to warm room temperature. Cover and Refrigerate.
1 bag fresh cranberries
2 c sugar
2 c water
Grated rind of one orange
1 c raisins
2 cardamom pods
1 2” stick cinnamon
¼ c whiskey or brandy
Put everything except the liquor into a large saucepan. Mix well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and cook for about 10 minutes or until all the cranberries have popped open and the sauce is starting to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in the whiskey. Cool to warm room temperature. Refrigerate until set (about three hours).
PART 3 (Tuesday) THE HERITAGE TURKEY
The turkey was ordered in early November. I am told that some buyers have to wait over a year to get a heritage turkey. I happened to be at the Farmer’s Market the day they announced there were nine as yet un-reserved turkeys, so I put down a $40 deposit and started dreaming of the applause as Will and I brought the perfect turkey to the Thanksgiving Table. Last week the email arrived telling us where to go to collect the turkey. We were also told to bring the balance of $110. Yes, this 17lb turkey was due to ring in at $150.00!
After some confusion about which of the two drop-sites we should go to, I was told to expect further email instructions later in the week. The location was in a city park one county over and we were admonished that we would need to bring cash or a check and to be on time. I started to wonder if this was a perhaps a slightly more sinister arrangement than I had imagined.
Tuesday was pick-up day. The weather was awful and getting worse as an early winter storm bore down on us. No snow was forecast, but the roads were slick and the traffic was heavy. Still, nothing was going to dampen my enthusiasm. Because of the weather and my notorious lack of navigational skills (I have been known to get lost between the kitchen and the laundry room, Will came along riding shotgun. We arrived at the appointed spot and found –NOT A SINGLE SOUL. No cars, trucks, vans, or perplexed customers. Nada. I called and left a plaintive message with the vendor.
Ever resourceful, I drove to the local whole foods store, thinking they would know where the rain location was. They didn’t, but they knew where the winter/indoor site was normally held. Meanwhile, Will had googled the vendor and found a Face Book post announcing that they had been onsite at the Farmer’s Market with an truckload of turkeys for over an hour. I could see the supposed site from the car. It remained obstinately vacant.
We set out toward the purported indoor venue and had gone about two blocks when I saw a collection of rain-soaked pavilions and panel trucks in a parking lot. “That looks like a Farmer’s Market”, I said, and cut a sharp left. Sure enough, the city park had TWO parking lots.
I parked and we dashed across the lot to a spot where turkeys and cash were changing hands under umbrellas. My heart raced; the heritage bird of my dreams was nearly mine! Except it was the wrong vendor. “Last tent on the right” a woman in a hooded jacket said. “Look for the guy in the Aussie hat.” Down we went, where we were greeted by a down-under accent and a row of coolers full of turkeys. I stepped up smartly and announced our name….which was not on his list.
I don’t know who was more concerned at that point, me or the rain-soaked Aussie. He showed me the list, got on the walkie-talkie back to the farm, and muttered something about “It’s probably on its way to ____. We can maybe get it to you tomorrow.” I stood there, my lip trembling, while Will said something about this being the last time we shopped with these folks. At which the Aussie started rummaging through the coolers just in case the turkey was there even though it wasn’t on the manifest. And low and behold, it was. The problem having been that I had used my hyphenated last name when ordering, and which was on the list. (Ever the gentleman, Will waited until the transaction was complete and we were back in the car to suggest that we might want to reconsider which name/s we used for purchases.) Even better, the turkey turned out to be even bigger than the one I had ordered – though the Aussie threatened to charge me an extra $10 for giving him a heart-attack. We paid, dashed back to the car and battled our way home through the deepening dark and worsening traffic. No worries! I had my turkey and all was right with the world.
PART 4 (Wednesday) BRINING AND STOCK MAKING
At the end of yesterday’s installment, we had just arrived home with the heritage turkey. Rudy-the-Schnoodle’s nose had started twitching the moment the door opened, and had I been faster with the camera, I could have gotten a shot of him standing on his hind legs sniffing at the counter. We put the turkey in the fridge and settled in for the evening.
This morning I assembled the ingredients for the turkey stock, chopped the veggies and put them into the crock pot. Then I opened the double plastic bagging and pulled out the turkey. My first surprise was that the neck on this turkey was much longer than usual and that the skin of the neck was intact to the base of the waddle and still attached to the bird. OK…that’s a new one. The neck went into the stock. I decided to wait until after brining the bird to decide what to do with the skin.
The second surprise was the size of the liver (both lobes) and the heart – huge, plump and lean. Into the stock pot with those as well. I removed the tail and several other fat pads and added them to the pot.
By using boiling water, I gave the crock pot a head start on the heat. Once everything had been at an active simmer for about an hour, I reduced the heat to warm. The stock will simmer for the rest of the day and overnight, though I will have strained it before going to bed. I love waking up to the scent of turkey stock wafting throughout the house.
1 very large (or 2-3 medium onions) coarsely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, smashed
2 large carrots, cut into 2 inch lengths
3 ribs celery (leafy parts included) cut into 2 inch lengths
6 whole cloves
6 small or 3 large chicken bouillon cubes
1 tbs poultry seasoning
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
Neck, giblets and tail from turkey
3 quarts water (boiling)
Combine all in a crockpot or stock pot. Bring to a boil, skim, reduce heat and simmer for 3-4 hours, removing the giblets and liver after 30 minutes. Strain and discard the solids. Refrigerate the stock or keep it at a slow simmer until needed, adding water/bouillon as necessary.
This part proved to be much more challenging — Mainly because a heritage turkey is not shaped like a conventional, hormone enhanced and liquid injected bird. First of all, it’s much longer. Unlike the neatly folded limbs of a conventional turkey, these guys’ legs are not demurely bent at the knee. The bird looks like it met its end during the leg-lift portion of an exercise class. And at 17 lbs, it is not top-heavy; it’s long and very well proportioned. As my nephew would say, “it’s buff.” You can believe it when they tell you it was running around the farm yard 48 hours ago. Which means, I am told, that it will cook more quickly and evenly than the Mae West variety.
The extra length also means that it will not, repeat not, fit into the huge pot I normally use for brining. I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that before we got the turkey into the salt water-filled brining bag inside an ice lined cooler, Will had to change clothes and I had to mop the kitchen floor.
Of course the cooler would not fit into the refrigerator, so I wrestled it onto the side porch thinking it would certainly be cold enough to stay there overnight. Will came back downstairs, freshly attired in dry clothing and I said “The turkey is on the porch till tomorrow. There is no way that a raccoon can carry it off.” To which he said, “You wanna bet? A raccoon could rip through that in a heartbeat.”
Do you have any idea how much a 17 pound turkey in a cooler full of ice water weighs? Anyway, the turkey, safely ensconced in its purple vinyl cooler, is now resting comfortably on the kitchen floor.
It is 1:30pm on the day before Thanksgiving. I’m still elated about the heritage turkey and know it’s going to be fabulous, but I am exhausted, my neck hurts and it’s still 4+ hours till the sun is over the yard-arm….it’s got to be 5:00pm somewhere!
PART 5 (Thursday) COOKING AND SERVING THE HERITAGE TURKEY
At last the big day was here! We had moved the turkey back into the kitchen so that the raccoons could not carry it off, and I left the crock pot of turkey stock simmering at a very low heat overnight. The stuffing was cooked and cooling. (Never stuff a turkey with hot stuffing). The turkey was drained and dried and coming to room temperature. After watching the parade on TV and enjoying our annual breakfast of lox and bagels, it was time to put the heritage turkey to the test.
I carefully, and lightly stuffed the cavities of the turkey. That was a bit of a surprise because this turkey had been butchered in such a way that the flap which normally covers the neck opening and folds under the body of the turkey was facing in the wrong direction. The flap was there, but there was no way to secure it. So I used metal cocktail skewers to secure the flap but there was no way to connect it to the skin on the breast…hhmmm, that could be a problem.
Once the turkey was stuffed and trussed it went into the roasting pan. Most of it did, that is. Remember how I mentioned that this turkey’s legs were sticking straight out? Well, that meant that they extended over the end of this very large and expensive roaster by about two inches. Never mind, I tied the ends of the drumsticks together, poured in the hot stock and slid it into the oven.
Oh, did I mention the new thermometers? There were two of them…one remote and one old fashioned kind. They went in, too – one in the breast and one in the thickest part of the thigh. I didn’t want to take any chances with this bird! After the 20 minutes at 400, I reduced the heat to 300 and went on to preparing the rest of the meal. The instructions had said to allow 2 ½ hours for the turkey, plus resting time.
Less than an hour into the cooking, the remote thermometer announced “Your food is ready” in a very authoritative voice. It said the internal temp of the turkey was now 150 degrees. (It was supposed to finish cooking while it rested) The old fashioned thermometer didn’t speak to me, but it read the same. 150 degrees. I could not believe it. So I moved the thermometers to another part of the turkey – twice. Each time the temperature registered at a higher point. When they both registered 180 I nearly had a meltdown. (Do you remember the scene in Julie and Julia when Julie is lying on the kitchen floor crying and kicking like a two year old?) Now I know my oven runs a bit hot, but this was ridiculous. The only reason I didn’t kick and scream was that the turkey was still a very pale shade of beige – and that was after I had put butter under the skin and rubbed olive oil and seasoning on the outside.
At that point I removed the thermometers, raised the heat to 325 for another two hours and decided to trust my gut. After 5 decades of cooking I was not about to give my guests food poisoning for Thanksgiving. I continued cooking it until the juices in the thigh ran very light pink, took it out and let it rest while we had drinks and starters.
It was a beauty when it came out of the oven. Golden brown, crisp and smelling terrific. That’s when I had the second huge surprise of the day. The breast meat was perfect, but the thighs…well, they did not look done – at all – and the juices were bright pink, not clear. But the carvers insisted it was fine, so we ate the breast meat and the drumsticks and decided to put the rest into the stock pot for later. And what we ate was very, very good! I recounted the details of the great seduction to my guests, who roared with laughter, and promised me a place in their pantheon of Tall Tales of Thanksgiving Hilarity. An award no doubt aided by the consumption of copious amounts of Single Malt before dinner.
That night, I was still worried about the color of those turkey thighs and their proximity to the parts we had eaten, and I didn’t sleep well at all. I kept waiting for the text or phone call that my guests were violently ill in the emergency room. But no calls came, and the funny thing was that when I drained the stock the next day, the meat which had literally fallen off the bone into the pot, was still so pink it was almost red.
The stock, by the way, was fabulous, and I am convinced, made the best albeit most expensive soup on the planet. (Not to mention the most incredible turkey risotta!)
So, that is the last chapter in the saga of the Great Thanksgiving Day Seduction of 2013 – the heritage turkey. It was not the perfect turkey, and it was not the perfect meal, and it was a very expensive experiment, but it was great fun, very tasty, and as Will said, “well, we learned something!” Who knows what will seduce me next year?!