November 21st, 2012

Thanksgiving Eve preliminaries

Typically I don't like to do too much food prep in advance of Thanksgiving Day itself, preferring to save the fun of it for that day, my favorite holiday and the one day of the year that I can consistently rely upon for being free of day-jobbery. But this evening, Jeffy and I took care of a few things best done ahead, a couple of the more tedious projects that are less fun to do tomorrow. He made a pie this afternoon, a task we are both glad is done already.

Also, he made the doughs for the blue cheese-almond and parmesan-rosemary crackers that we will bake tomorrow. Over the last few years, we have had a habit of making these crackers to support crab dip--a snack for the early afternoon while the main bulk of cooking and socializing is going on. We have made the blue cheese item several times before, but the other one is new. Jeff used some of our fresh rosemary which is still flourishing out on the deck in the autumnal remains of our summer garden. The crackers now rest in the forms of logs of dough, chilling next to the chocolate black-bottom pie until tomorrow morning when we will slice and bake them.

And I went ahead did the bird butchery, spatchcocking the turkey to ready it for a preparation that I will detail tomorrow. Here it is whole:

turkey1

And here it is again:

turkey2

What I have done is removed the back bone, separated the leg quarters from the body, and completely boned the breast (but leaving the wings attached), by cutting out the ribs and wish bone and carefully removing the entire breast bone. In this way, the breast pieces will roast in an almost flat posture. And the leg quarters will get an entirely separate preparation, almost as if the two halves of the bird are different dishes entirely (which they really are, because the two colors of meat call for different sorts of attention to be at their best). That container on the counter behind the turkey contains the bones that I removed along with the neck and the giblets. Tomorrow morning all of this, along with some chunky pieces of onion, carrot and celery and some whole cloves of garlic, will be seasoned liberally with salt, pepper and thyme, glossed with olive oil and roasted in the oven until browned. Then it all gets moved to the stock pot where it will simmer for several hours. The resulting stock later is then used in several places: gravy, moisture for the dressing, and sometimes in the braising of vegetables if we are making something like Brussels sprouts.

Tomorrow I will, as usual, tweet and Facebook our progress, and return here with an assessment of the whole affair. HTG2012 all y'all.

Thanksgiving NaNoWriMo excerpt

melonThis is some real first-draft unedited business here, just a segment from my NaNoWriMo project that I came up with to tie into Thanksgiving. I submit it here in honor of the holiday, not because I think it was worth writing for any other reason. It is from the middle section of a trio of interconnected novellas, and so will make little to no sense to anyone in this stand-alone way. But it's got to do with dinner.

"Spatchcock"
from The Curve and the Cairn

Lastain claimed never to have had in her entire life an actual Thanksgiving dinner. Her expression soured after she said this. She pursed her lips over the rim of her glass and sipped her drink. A-R told her that this was an absurd assertion: “Everybody in this country has at one time or another had a Thanksgiving dinner—even if it was a really shitty one. It’s embedded in our cultural DNA.”

            But Lastain persisted that her family had never honored the holiday properly, instead doing things like going to movies and eating popcorn, or running through fast food drive-thrus and eating in the car. A-R wondered if, during these times, she had been thankful for anything. Because, if so, then this too could have been a form of Thanksgiving dinner, albeit a shabby one. She said nothing at first, but peered at him darkly, sipping her drink. Then: “You have always been so snobbish about stuff like this, Arthur. Not everybody’s dad was a celebrity chef, you know. Hardly anyone has a kitchen this nice in their house!”

            “I’m not talking about the food.” A-R reddened, felt his ears get hot, and he looked inside the refrigerator. “I am talking about an unavoidable, deeply encoded cultural norm in America.”

            As if to defuse further clashes between A-R and Lastain, Haider interrupted with his assessment of the holiday and its fare: “Turkey, mashed potatoes, Stove Top Stuffing, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole and sweet potatoes with marshmallows on them.”

            “Barbarism,” muttered A-R, still examining the contents of the refrigerator. Lastain sighed loudly behind him.

            “And you watch football on TV.” Haider leaned back, ass on the countertop, satisfied. Case closed, he seemed to say.

            “Whatever.” A-R sighed and reached for a bottle of white wine. “You two are missing the point. Tomorrow night we will have Thanksgiving dinner together and I will show you how it’s properly done.” He looked at Lastain. “No snobbery, I promise!”

            “Arthur. It’s January.” Lastain pushed her glass forward, hopeful of a refill.

            “It doesn’t matter. Thanksgiving can happen any day of the year.”

           

            A-R wrote the menu with a chisel-tipped Sharpie on a sheet-pan sized piece of parchment:

TURKEY IN TWO STYLES w/natural pan gray

CELERIAC SMASHED POTATOES
CREAMED CHARD AND KALE, gratineed yo!

ROASTED WINTER SQUASHES AND RADISHES

OYSTER STUFFING w/pancetta FTW!

MAMA STAMBERG’s CRANBERRY RELISH!! fuck yeah!

PUMPKIN PIE w/whipped sour cream

            Beneath this list, with a fine-point Sharpie, and in much smaller letters, he wrote his grocery list, checking the pantry as he went for items he might already have. When the list was finished, Hurricane jumped atop the steel island and examined it. “Coeurl,” he said. And, “Mew.”

            “Did I remember everything, kiddo?” A-R bent low to accept a nose-kiss from the cat. Hurricane emitted a loud purr, gazed at his human for a moment, and then leapt away, back about his day’s business. A-R added one more item to the list: cat food. Then he took a picture of the list with his iPhone, grabbed keys and left for the store.

            He decided to try the new supermarket that had recently opened on the former site of a desolated strip mall. It was called Circus of Foods, and rainbow flags flew gaudily, gleefully from its concrete ramparts. Having been raised by two dads, A-R could not see a rainbow-anything without thinking GAAAAYYY. But he doubted that this was likely the store’s proprietor’s intent.

            He passed through the broad entrance, grabbed a cart and turned left into the large produce section. Assessing it’s vastness and variety, he made a mental note to send Chris here—if Chris ever returned from Wisconsin. Celery, carrots, celeriac, garlic, parsley, chives, A-R said to himself, trying to tick off as much of the vegetal section of his list as possible before resorting to looking at his phone image of it.

            A big bin caught his eye. It was heaped with a large red-purple fruit with bright green and yellow fibers growing wildly from its skin. He had never seen anything like it. He picked one up. It was heavy for its size, fist-sized and cool. “It’s fantastic, isn’t it?” said someone. He looked to his right. A boy in the store’s uniform stood there, moving more of the fruits from a big box into the bin. The kid’s blue shirt collar splayed open to expose a necklace: steel charms in the shape of curvy tentacles hung from a knotted leather strap. Cult Cthulhu, A-R thought. But said, “What are they?”

            “They’re called kudzu fruit,” said the kid. He grinned. “They’re delicious!”

            Not on the menu: A-R took two anyway.

            Chopping an onion:

            Arthur-Rimbaud did it first, shedding its skin, halving it from root to stem, sweeping its ends to the side. He laid one half on its flat cut surface and quickly sliced through it in many close cuts perpendicular to where the root had been. Then he turned the thing slightly widdershins and sliced again, rendering the half to tiny dice. “Like this,” he said to Haider.

            Haider had just asked how properly to dice an onion, professing that he’d attempted it and occasionally seen it on a TV show, but had fallen short in accomplishing the task himself. “I’ll teach you,” A-R said, “by making you do it yourself.”

            Lastain sighed. “Oh Jesus Christ,” she muttered.

            A-R glanced at her, said, “We need a ton of onions anyway.” He pulled from the basket another onion “Here,” he said, setting it upon the board, handing Haider from across the steel prep island the ceramic knife, handle-first. “I will talk you through it.”

            “You did that so fast,” said Haider.

            A-R wondered, “Are you left-handed or right-handed?”

            Haider pursed his lips, nodded slowly. “It kind of depends. I’m kind of bi.”

            Lastain snorted behind A-R.

            “OK,” A-R said, “let’s say you were hacking to death a zombie during combat in Ruhrapenthe, in which hand would you be holding your war ax or machete?”

            “The right,” said Haider, no hesitation. He grabbed the onion.

            “Hold it against the board,” A-R said, “on its side. Yes, like that.” He watched Haider position the knife for the first cut. “Now, cut. One slice. Take off that end.”

            “And again. The other end. As close as you can to that root.”

            Haider did as he was told. Next, A-R showed him how to make a shallow cut through the skin from end to end and then peel away the papery layer.

            “I know how to do that, dude,” Haider said, gazing at his peeled onion. “But what I don’t get is how you get it diced without chopping it all to fuck.”

            “You’re making a big mistake,” Lastain said, rather dryly. “Letting Arthur think that he knows something that you don’t.”

            “Ignore her. Listen to me.” A-R grinned at Haider and was surprised that he smiled back. “Now do what I am doing.” A-R grabbed the remaining intact half from his onion and pretended that he had a knife in his hand. He positioned the end of its imaginary blade against the onion’s white flesh. “You put the tip roughly here, just short of the end of the onion, and make one straight slice downward. And then again, as close as you can to the first cut. And so on, et cetera.”

            Haider paused for a second, considered what he had seen, and then botched it entirely by making his first cut in exactly the wrong direction, making half-rings fall from his onion half.

            “OK. Stop.” A-R stepped around the end of the island to Haider’s side. “Don’t freak out. Because I am going to touch you, bro. Don’t go all PTSD cyborg killer on my ass.”

            Haider gazed down at A-R for a moment, as if deciding how to answer that. He laughed. “It’s cool, dude.”

            “It’s like trying to tie someone else’s tie,” A-R explained. “You pretty much have to be standing behind him.”

            Haider frowned.

            “But,” A-R said, “you are enormous, like a furless Chewbacca. So I can’t reach around you from behind and still see what I’m doing. But I can kind of get beside you.” A-R sidled close to Haider, extended an arm in front on him and grasped his knife hand. He took Haider’s other hand with his own left and moved it into place, fingertips against the onion. “Here is where you make the first cut,” he said, carefully positioning Haider’s right hand with his own. “And now. Slice.” Slowly, they did it together.

            Lastain leaned forward, opposite them. “You boys are so fuckin’ sexy right now,” she said. “If you accidentally start making out, I may just wet myself.”

            “Silence, Satan!” A-R hissed. He and Haider made four more cuts together and then A-R released his grip. “Continue, just like that. Try to make each cut as close as you can to the last.”

            Once the final slice was complete, A-R told him to turn the onion half so that he could slice it again, this time perpendicular to the previous set of cuts. “As if you had sliced a zombie from head to toe and then needed to do it again from shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip, just to make sure it was good and really dead.”

            Suddenly confident, Haider did as directed and laid the onion out in fine dice.

           

            The turkey:

            “Doesn’t that turkey,” said Lastain, “take like a thousand hours to bake?”

            “Don't you just stick it in the oven and wait forever?” said Haider.

            “No,” said A-R to Lastain. “Because we’re going to spatchcock it. And no,” he said to Haider, “because we're going to spatchcock it.”

            That’s a preparation, A-R explained, where you cut the bird from throat to ass along its backbone and then pull out the backbone completely, and then flatten the beast for roasting. “But I take it a step further,” he said, tearing through that backbone with a great crunching, once and then again. He cast the long chunk of bony carcass into a steel bowl next to his cutting board. “Because I am also going to completely detach the leg quarters from the breast section.”

            Haider gazed at the bird. Lastain refilled her wine glass.

            “That’s the dark meat,” A-R clarified. “The part that Americans have been conditioned to despise but which is actually the best part, as soon you will learn.” He flipped the breast chunk over, cavity up. “I am also going to knock off these wing tips—” more crunching—“and very carefully take out the rib cage and the entire keel bone.” Haider leaned in closer, more interested.

            “It's like busting down a zombie, isn’t it?”

            “Actually,” Haider said, “it kind of is!” He looked more closely, watching A-R carefully pare the breast meat loose from its bony superstructure. “Except I’d just take that knife and whack the fucker straight through the middle of that sternum or whatever it is.”

            “Perhaps, but in this case I am trying to keep the whole breast-slash-wing section in one piece, just minus most if its skeleton.”

            Lastain wondered why.

            “So that we can still have a brief Norman Rockwell moment,” said A-R, “with something that vaguely looks like a classic intact Thanksgiving turkey out of a vintage Good Housekeeping mag. Before we eat the fuck out of it.”

            This explanation struck everyone as very funny for some reason, and they paused in the food prep for a bout of laughing, followed by a cigarette break. After a few minutes, after Lastain had stubbed out her smoke, she grasped A-R’s shoulder and said, “Though I have been giving you a hard time ever since you suggested this, I think I actually get what you are doing. What you really mean with your cornball spirit of Thanksgiving nonsense.” She leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead. “So, really, thank you for doing this with us today. It is actually, somehow, fun.”

            Gently stunned, Arthur-Rimbaud stepped back. “But we have barely started cooking. And we have not eaten yet.”

            “But that’s not really the point, is it?” she said.

            A-R gazed at Lastain, not sure how to answer.

            Behind him, Haider examined the dissected turkey. “So what’s next?” he said.