Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

What’s All the Fuss?

19 Nov

Each year, we come to the time when all matters of true importance get placed on the back burner and only one topic is to consume us for an entire week.

The overriding question of questions is this: How to cook a turkey? Not just cook, but cook purrrfectly. Because, only in America, land of the obssessive-compulsive need to be the best, do we spend countless hours watching, talking, and listening to professional cooks lending their expertise with regards to roasting, turning, basting, stuffing, and bird carving, which is rarely thought of once November (and sometimes December) passes.

Surely, the original pilgrims didn’t partake in such mind-numbing quibble. They had more urgent matters to consider, like survival. Once the first year passed, those who remained understood the true meaning of Thanksgiving. Decisions to stuff or not to stuff; cover or uncover; low and slow or high then low just weren’t of issue.

This daughter of a more recent pilgrim had watched Kaukab get up quite early each Thanksgiving Day to prep the turkey and get it in the oven so that her little turkeys could have their Thanksgiving meal mid-day. This was so the family could finish up and digest in time to make the two-block drive to the cousins’ house, where other aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings could get together and brag, pick on, and generally compete for the most annoying relative  award, most frequently split between a certain aunt and uncle (brother-sister duo), the two clueless to their winnings.

But I digress.

As for turkeys, the morning news shows and various foodie networks would have us think that the most important matter of the week leading to the big day would be the cooking of the turkey. No other country (other than, perhaps, Canada) celebrates a turkey as much as we do. And for what good reason? To blow the minds of women.

No matter how much the world will tell us we can achieve, every Thanksgiving is a reminder of how little all that matters. The most important measure of a woman’s honor is how good her turkey is. Not only must it be moist and delicious, it must also be pretty. Tables must be made up to look extra special, even if no one special is coming to feast at it.

So, this Thanksgiving will be no different. Out will come the beautiful brown turkey with all the trimmings, and all will be impressed. You will have done your jobs, and done them well. You can rest on your turkey laurels for another full year.

Until the next one comes.

For now, try not to worry. It’s just a turkey. What could possibly go wrong?

Now go eat some pie and just be thankful.

Where’s My Turkey?!

1 Dec

I realize Thanksgiving has come and gone, but I want my turkey! Allow me to explain: You see, for the past few years, we’ve traveled over the fields and through the woods (yes, for real) to sister-in-law’s house to eat turkey (this year, only turkey breast was served?), marvel at grandbabies, catch up on the year’s big (and small) announcements, and generally act be cordial and full of self-denial while engaging in the family’s ritual of small-talk. Something Kaukab never role-played with her own.

In order to prepare for no possibility of having leftover turkey sandwiches over the next several days, Kaukab’s daughter always made sure to purchase a Thanksgiving turkey to make later that week, or at least to have ready for Christmas dinner.

This year, no turkey. Kaukab’s daughter contracted a very, very bad cold. Held up for three weeks, with only one working ear at this time. And, while two working ears aren’t required for preparing a turkey (timers are cooking crutches), it helps to have a sense of balance when cooking upright and doing heavy lifting, as is required for handling Thanksgiving foodstuffs.

I managed to scout out a few at Aldi, but didn’t have the urge, as I had just prior to Thanksgiving. I decided I’d take the chance and wait until closer to Christmas. Or, until my second ear felt better. Lucky for me, the drugs have started to kick in. I can actually begin to feel my eardrum fighting to move.

When I do manage to find me a turkey, I’ll make sure to get the whole bird. There’s something un-Thanksgiving about cooking a breast-only turkey. The flavors are off.

Besides, have you ever seen a turkey waddling around without its appendages? It’s all commercial make-believe, people.

I hope your Thanksgiving was a lovely one.

P.S. If you’ve got any leftover turkey, please email me some. I’d be most thankful.

 

Cranberry Hangover

29 Nov

Now that Thanksgivings # 1 & 2 are officially over, and Friday’s Black cloud has cleared out, it’s time to throw away the leftovers. Given that I had no turkey cooking at my home–at least, not until Christmas Day–the most I had to consider tossing was the bottomless bowl of cranberry sauce I had made for Thanksgiving #2.

At this time, I have enough for Thanksgiving #3, if anyone should want to have one.  Apparently, few at Thanksgiving #2 like cranberries. Unlike me, they don’t seem to want for the traditional berry compote, even with its zing of orange peel.

I must confess, I haven’t the heart to throw it out. It’s perfectly edible at this point and I’ve made a good dent in what remains. I’m just having trouble finding things other than turkey to pair it with. Last night’s sloppy joes just didn’t seem right.

That's a lotta cranberries.

Talkin’ Turkey

25 Nov

Called Kaukab a bit ago. Wanted to wish her a ‘Happy Thanksgiving,’ but, more importantly, I wanted to find out what she had cooked.

It’s always an interesting dialogue between us, particularly when the holdiays come around. Here’s a snippet:

KD: “Hi, ‘Happy Thanksgiving!’, What are you cooking?”

K: “Eh, You cookin’ turkey?” (Surprised tone in that her daughter had made the first call.)

KD: “Well, no, but I ha…” (Dialing up the speech-o-meter, trying to get in all the justifications of non-turkey making)

K: “Oh, I cook turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, corn, salad…”

KD: “Who’s all com…?”

K: “No, no one comin’; just me and Joanne (my younger sister, who lives with her–long, long story; you don’t want to know). I don know why everybody cookin’? I…

KD: “Did you make any tabouleh?” (trying, desperately, to deflect holiday cynicism reeking from the telephone)

K: “Robert (her neighbor, a chef,who lives across the street from her) give me some parsley, but it not too good…”

KD: “I made tabouleh, hummous, and your green beans on Sunday for friends…” (Somehow hoping to gain favor with Kaukab–a Herculean feat)

K: “Eh, dat good; no one eat the dark meat; I cook only da white meat…” (Answering to earlier questions, like an Oprah viewer talking from her suburban living room, fidgeting with her delayed feedback earpiece)

At this point, my phone, nearly broken and simulating a pay phone, begins beeping. I am usually annoyed by these, in that I have to quickly run upstairs to violin girl’s room to grab the old, working phone when I want to continue talking with others. But, in this case, I am pleased. Pleased, because I will have approximately one more minute in which to wrap up my holiday call, thus permitting Kaukab only a few last Thanksgiving jabs at her daughter’s failings…beginning with the opting out of turkey cooking and ending with her disapproval over my lack of making sure that violin girl had followed through on calling her grandmother to thank her for the birthday card/money sent in early November. “She meant to, but she’s been really busy…” proved unacceptable.

And, so, today…I am thankful. Thankful, for hubby and kids to remind me of what is most important. Love. Everything else is just turkey talk.

Wishing You A Blessed Thanksgiving

Kaukab’s Daughter

Real Gravy

22 Nov

My dear friend, Agnes, asked me how I made gravy; so, I thought I’d appease her, and anyone out there with gravy-avoidance syndrome.

Which reminds me of the time, years ago, when I had Thanksgiving dinner at our house. Hubby’s mom was known around them parts as the gravy-making queen. Somehow, she had developed a reputation for it, which held for a couple of generations. Until I saw her, up close and personal, start to make it.

She had prepared it using the known steps: using the turkey juice renderings; using a thickening agent; and heat. But, something foreign-looking to me appeared from her satchel. Yes, really. A satchel. A small bottle of dark liquid was uncapped and slowly poured into the nearly white, flour-y “gravy,” bubbling rapidly on my stove, like a witch’s brew. There were “oohs” and “aahs” from the daughters-in-law onlookers, as if some magic potion had turned the anemic gravy into a rising star.

This “magic potion” was none other than a liquid corn syrup with artificial everything. I had heard about it, but Kaukab never used it. Her gravy always looked like the pre-potion version.

After that, I decided I’d make my own. From that moment on, I made it using the traditional method. No artificial anything in my gravy.

What’s the secret, you may ask? It all starts with a great broth. I always rub my turkey with butter and season with garlic salt and cracked black pepper, and dried sage, rubbing it all over. I also cut large pieces of onions, celery, carrots, and 2 or 3 whole garlic cloves and put them in the turkey’s cavity, along with rubbing a little sea salt and more pepper. These will flavor the broth rendered during the roasting period. I also take the giblets and neck bone and cook them in water with salt and pepper.  Once cooked and cooled, I strain the liquid a couple of times, reserving it to use for making the gravy. This will impart additional flavor. You don’t have to, though. It’ll still taste good without this step. You can also use chicken broth (a cup or two).

Making the gravy. You can do it one of two ways:

If you’re making it straight from the same roasting pan then do it this way:

1. Remove the turkey.

2. Skim most of the fat from the broth.

3. Lightly mash the cooked veggies, or some of them into the broth.

4. With roasting pan on the burners, turn heat to high and bring to boil. Meanwhile, in a measuring cup, put in 2 to 2-1/2 Tbs.  of  flour and with a fork, slowly stir while adding cold water, filling it to 3/4 to 1 C. full. (This will depend on how much gravy you’ll be making.)

5. If  you don’t have a lot of broth rendered, then use chicken broth or a little white wine to deglaze the pan, if you’ve not made the giblet water mixture.

6. Slowly add the flour/water mixture to the bubbling turkey broth, using a wisk and stirring quickly and constantly to get it smooth.

7. Taste, and adjust for flavor by adding more salt and pepper.

8. Let cook on med. high for another 10 -15 min. to get the flour taste out and reduce so will thicken a little. Once cooled, will thicken a bit more.

The other version is what I did at our Thanksgiving #1 party. This was because the turkey was cooked in one of those huge roasters, so it not only rendered lots of turkey broth, but the roasting unit wasn’t going to work for the method described above. In this case, I poured the broth into an iron cast skillet (doesn’t have to be; it’s what our cook had and I like them) and brought the broth up to boiling. I then proceeded with the same steps described above.

And, that’s about it.  The thing about gravy is that it’s about preparing the broth for both color and flavor. So, by using veggies in your turkey roasting and seasonings, you’ll never have to resort to the magic-making that SOME do.

In Kaukab’s case, there’s nothing artificial about her.

Dressing Up

21 Nov

It's All About The Bread

 

This is the dressing I made for our Thanksgiving #1 get-together yesterday. It got rave reviews, and I must admit, it was my most favorite attempt, by far. I owe it all to the bread. In years past, I resorted to using those pre-packaged minature bread cubes and my dressing, although passable, lacked a certain texture.

So this year I decided to invest the time in making my own bread cubes, using a lovely hefty wheat bread in the mix, so-to-speak, and the result was well worth the effort. Here’s what I did:

1 loaf of  sliced,white bread (save the empty bread bag to later keep the toasted bread cubes)

1 round artisan wheat bread (the hefty kind)

32 oz. chicken broth

4 -5 celery stalks, finely sliced (I slice through each stalk twice lengthwise and then thinly slice across them.)

1 med. onion, medium chopped

8 – 10 mushrooms, sliced (I used the reg. old button kind)

Cut veggies should look something like this:

poultry seasoning

garlic salt

finely cracked pepper 

1 stick unsalted butter (3/4 of it used to saute veggies; 1/4 to both grease the pan, saving about 4 small pats to place atop dressing)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Cut bread into large cubes, place on baking sheets and lightly toast, but not turning color. You want to just remove the moisture. Set aside. (I prepared the bread cubes the night before, allowed to cool and then put all in the bread bag which had contained the sliced bread, lightly tied. In the morning, I put them on a large baking sheet, spreading them out a bit to lose any leftover moisture.) Then into a large bowl.

In the meantime, heat chicken broth in separate pan and keep hot. During this time, heat a large skillet on medium-high, and melt 3/4 of the butter. Put the veggies in and stir around a few minutes, turning heat to medium after first couple minutes. Add garlic salt, pepper and poultry seasoning to veggies to taste. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until veggies are translucent. Remove from heat and let stand.  At this time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Next, add cooked veggies to the bread cubes. Add about half of heated chicken broth to bread mixture and lightly toss. Add the rest, tossing thoroughly, but gently. (Note: you may not add the entire 32oz., depending upon the amount of bread you end up with. You want a moistened, but not soggy dressing–unless you like it that way.) Add more poultry seasoning, garlic salt and pepper to adjust for taste.

Ready to be mixed

 

Mixed And Ready For Baking Pan

 

Once mixed, place in buttered pan and gently spread out. Dot remaining butter (the 1/4 used to first butter pan and should have about 4 or 5 small pats) atop the mixture. Put into the preheated oven, uncovered. Bake for 30 – 35 min. or until dressing is nicely browned and springy. Remove from oven and let cool a bit before covering with foil; otherwise, it will tend to get somewhat soggy. And we don’t want a soggy dressing. That’s the gravy’s job.

You know, I think even Kaukab might want to try making this. Let’s give her call.

On second thought…

Thanksgiving #1

20 Nov

Today, we will be attending our second annual Thanksgiving get-together. This event came out of several discussions centering on family obligations. Obligations many of us have come to expect but with reluctant acceptance.

Some are blessed with families, all truly happy to come together around a rather large bird.  But for many, the thought of spending festive time with those who share a gene pool, no matter how good the turkey and fixings, can be overwhelming.

Hence, today’s “family” Thanksgiving. All in attendence come with the same baggage. Except my hubby. He likes going to see his family. Not that there aren’t any blood relatives who play unfairly. There are. It’s just that hubby learned from a very young age how to ignore them. Unfortunately, no one at Kaukab’s table did.

Last year, at our first event, we all came together at one of the families’ homes, situated on 10 acres with a lovely creek running through it. We did it ‘Better Homes and Gardens style. Outdoors, with a long row of tables, clothed with fall colors and mis-matched chairs. We all brought various foods. I brought dressing, green beans (not the casserole one), and cranberry sauce (from fresh whole berries that I did not pick from my bog).

This year, I’m bringing more dressing and cranberry sauce. Someone decided to do beans this year, so I’m off the hook. (This same person doesn’t feel comfortable making dressing, so I raised my hand and was approved.)

Kaukab never made cranberry sauce from whole berries. I’m not sure why. We grew up with the canned cranberry with the ring imprints. And, she never made dressing. Her Thanksgiving table held mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, tabouli or salad, and rolls to supplement the turkey, which she’d prepare very early Thanksgiving morning in time to have our holiday meal no later than 1p.m., as opposed to our cousins, who lived two blocks over. They’d have theirs during the dinner hour, generally around 6p.m.; which meant, that we’d have to wait a long time between our meal and theirs before we could pile into the car and visit the several first cousins who’d make their way from numerous other street blocks to this same house.

My Uncle “Jimmy,” (Jamil) who was younger than my father and more “Americanized,” would have the bar set up and all kinds of football blaring from the television and radio. He’d be the one making the drinks and then plunk himself in his chair, t.v. tray positioned and armed with small dishes of olives, nuts, cheeses, and pita bread, and puffing on his large cigar, making sports-talk to anyone who’d listen. Usually, my father would be seated to his right on the nearby sofa, blurting out political-speak, rambling on about taxes, crooked politicians, and the ruin of American society. These two divergent speak-easys would inevitably collide and I’d see them both morph into boyhood figures. Amusing, but not pretty.

The women staked their claim on the kitchen. This is where I learned the fine art of a different politic. The subtlties of verbal one upmanship, which sometimes became not-so-subtle. Over coffee and dessert, these mothers would discuss matters running the gamut from recipes to rendevous of unsuspecting church ladies. Mostly, they’d speak these unspeakables in Arabic, often forgetting that I understood every word-morsel offered. Often, I would hear from Kaukab an indignant, “Whad a madder weet you!” Which, would inevitably cause a verbal rumble around the festive holiday table. At evening’s end, all would kiss-and-make up, wishing one another a final ‘Happy Thanksgiving.’

Every Thanksgiving, we could look forward to the same. Year in, year out. As the cousins got older and had families of their own, the Thanksgivings as we knew them, stopped. Funerals became the new Thanksgiving. Amusing, in a different, morbid sort of way.

So today, I’m looking forward to having Thanksgiving #1. Sharing good times with those who’ve become like family. Minus the crazy.

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