Renegade Turkey Day Memories
I have to admit something to all of you. I really hate this time of the year, and not for the weather. And it is also not because of the family gatherings or social interacting amongst the family members who have traveled to enjoy this meal with us. I have developed a mild distaste for the “redefined” Thanksgiving meal.
It is not the fault of the holiday itself, but the constant commercial pushing of “new” twists on holiday foods,and the subtle interjection of “bold” ideas from high profile cable channels like the Food Network has transformed this traditional family meal into a eating event I would rather skip than be a test dummy to new ideas and unique tastes.
These networks have taken some of the simple pleasures of my childhood Thanksgivings and made them almost unrecognizable today. Some of the changes are welcome. But honestly, just how many different ways can you really spice up sweet potatoes or yams without going overboard? Some of these tantalizing twists have made me take test bites and develop weird smelling rituals for almost every single morsel of food instead of just enjoying the meal.
And who in their right mind would even consider a Brussels sprout cole slaw with basalmic dressing as a condiment to their dinners if not for the pushing of such items by these networks. I guess there are millions of Brussels sprouts all over the world sitting idle on the shelf just rotting way, and someone at a place like the International Brussels Sprouts Board decided that they had to come up with a recipe for them and increase sale two-fold.
My simple holiday meal with extended family has evolved into a culinary tasting menu that might rival a four star restaurant. Because of my significant others wanting to put some “spice” into holiday meals with more unique spices and sassy sauces to produce a visual as well as tasty meal experience that hopefully have even Chef Bobby Flay green with envy.
The advent of these holiday food shows have turned this holiday into a personal eating nightmare for me. It has not been ruined by the foods per se, but by the addition of some of these spices and novel ideas. There is a reason every one of these food networks has a test kitchen. And for some reason, every woman I have been involved with has not made the “new” dish in advance to see if there are possible pratfalls or newbie mistakes that can ruin the dish, or make me sick as a dog. Instead I am left to smile and make nice sounding noises before spitting it into my napkin or hoping the dog will like it and not also get sick and die on me.
And there is not one of you reading this who has not done that before. Be it the new yams or sweet potato recipe or the whole wheat muffins or rolls that could kill someone if you hit them even from 100 yards away. We have all been there, and we have stories. Oh, how we have stories.
Now I do not have food allergies or even a hint of distaste for most foods, but some dishes are better left with the sauces and the methods we grew up with, and throwing a new twist on a dish is a plus, but sometimes even the most subtle change can become a train wreck. Let’s take the turkey last year at my friend’s house.
She has alway envisioned cooking a turkey outside in a scalding vat of peanut oil because it is said it produces one of the most moist bird you have ever had in your entire life. But what the chefs’ on these shows forget to tell you is that you have to fully thaw out the bird and wipe them down like a newborn before you dunk them in that hot oil. That was strike number one last year.
I was not there yet, so I could not interject my opinion into the mess before I pulled up and saw her 10-year old spraying down the side of the house that had caught fire after the still mildly frozen turkey spurting hot oil onto her clinging green vines on the garage wall. The fire did not harm anything but vegetation, but the smell of that burnt peanut oil was worse than any motor oil or gasoline smell I ever encountered at my father’s gas station.
My friend is one of those chefs loves to bark orders to her four kitchen staffers (kids), who do some of the stirring and watching of the pots on the stove. It is her way of getting everyone involved and make them a intricate part of the holiday. She even has the youngest performing the vital job of watching the timer to let her know when the turkey is done.
Might be a meaningless job to us, but he stares at that timer like his life depended on it. Only problem with this is that he tends to lose interest fast and can soon be seen wandering around the yard a bit,or getting involved with the neighborhood kids playing football and will forget the turkey. Hence the fire. But with that minor glitch in the system taken care of, he is again sitting there watching the turkey bubble and spit grease all over the sloped driveway.
What he doesn’t notice is that ever so often this molten pot is taking a small movement down the driveway to make its exit from the party. So when the turkey finally decides to makes its exit by the boiling pot tipping over and tumbling down the driveway with the hot oil, spices and a slightly tanned bird in the lead heading for the curb and its supposed freedom.
The young child is smart enough to not try and stop the bird, but yells for mom, who instinctively comes running, but with no handy utensils in her vicinity to stops its flight towards the gutter. So she watches as the bird begins its trip to the curb picking up grass clippings, the odd soda bottle plastic top and finally resting in a puddle of burnt oil and dirt at the bottom of the driveway. The pot is halfway up the driveway with the propane burner still churning out flames and leaving saturated oil and burn marks on the white concrete driveway.
She scoops up the bird and then take him inside for a quick sink rubdown and a quick glance into his middle cavity to see just how cooked the bird might be at this moment. With the inside of the bird still pink like a baby’s bottom, she knows it is still going to be hours before dinner. So she hits every knob on the stove and reduces the heat on everything to try and bring the days food prep to a standstill while she reviews what needs to be done.
She decides to call in a favor with a nearby neighbor, who has also drowned his turkey into a vat of oil today, and has already converted his bird from a pale flesh mess to a golden brown herb encrusted masterpiece. He is more than willing to help her out, and with the bird at least started, it will take almost no time to finish the bird to also resemble a Florida native out on the beach in August.
But her third strike of the day is a simple mistake in simple culinary judgment. But one that almost produced a small army mutiny at the celebrated meal. She is that consummate cook who idolizes people like Rachel Ray and Paula Deen. And her leadership abilities rival any dictator or despot because she likes to have her fingers in every dish even before it hits the table for consumption. But unlike a real chef, she doe
sn’t taste her dishes as she is making them, and tonight that will be her downfall.
She knows I like Cajun spices and extreme hot sauces, so she found a Jalapeno and Habanero pickling spice mixture for the inside of the turkey mixed within the stuffing to compliment the sausage and rye breading she added to produce a different tasting stuffing this year. Well, I have to admit it did not look too inedible when it hit the table, but she had forgotten to take the veins and some of the seeds out of the chopped up spicy peppers, and once the dish was upon my plate, my eyes instantly began to water.
Of course her 10-year old, who is a bit hefty and the food hoarder of the family began to shovel it into his mouth even as I warned him to taste a spoonful first. The next reaction was instant projectile vomiting into his sister’s lap. Made me almost glad I did not take the first bite, but I felt bad for the kid. I quickly got some milk for him along with some white bread and told him to dunk the bread in the milk and eat in immediately.
Well, after the turkey attempted escape, the oil fire upon her well-greened garage wall, and the pepper stuffing fiasco, the rest of the meal was perfect and only had a few hints of change. Sometimes it is great to establish new ideas and traditions during the holidays, but it should be done with prior experiences and also tried recipes and handed down instructions to make the dishes their best from the first bite.
I actually am looking forward to today’s meal. We have a years experience dunking the turkey, and she has experimented with the stuffing to a point she is confident we will not have the events of last year. But the highlight of the event is always seeing the friends and family sitting there eating, laughing and telling the stories of the past year. Foods can be changed, menus can evolve, but the best thing about the holiday is that the people are the reason for the season.
So with that, I want to wish and pray that everyone of you reading this today gets to have a fully belly and a great Thanksgiving with the people who make up your circle in life. So as I close this blog today, I want to raise a glass to the people busy in our kitchens, to our the kids and relatives in the yard playing football or other games, and the men and woman serving. throughout this big ball of blue. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
And with that, it is time for to go steal my first stuffed mushroom caps from the serving dish and get this holiday officially underway.