Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving May Come First, But the Bird Placed

On Thanksgiving we had steaks in a red wine reduction with baked, stuffed potatoes and pan fried brussel sprouts.

It was brilliant and took either a little over an hour or 7/8 ths of a dirty martini to cook, depending on what yardstick you happened to be measuring with. Personally I'll lean towards the latter because if you have to go shaking a second before dinner's on the table you have a problem and better check the oven that your souffle isn't indeed formed of errant Cheerios. On the other hand if you can whip dinner into shape and still have half a glass left, you're eating take out. Admit it. Put the "King Vinnie, Prince of Chinese" cartons on the table and come clean.

This was the first Thanksgiving day since 2005 when the flu grounded me alone at home with grilled cheese sandwiches that I didn't stress in some way about the day's meal. But that is not to say we eschewed tradition nor did we ignore the feast. We just put it off one day to make room for an additional family member.

If food is like war, then the Thanksgiving day meal was sort of like landing in London in 1942. Yes, there's evidence of bombing but you're still at the pub with blackout shades drawn and a pint in hand. Combat can be taxing.

Friday on the other hand found the pub closed and your 101st ass in a Dakota over Normandy praying to Jesus for it to succeed.

In other words, Thanksgiving dinner was going to be prepared. Five dishes and a turkey to be cooked to perfection in just under three hours. Sorry, where was that jump into France assembling again?

The dirty secret about Thanksgiving is that the meal is a rank impossibility to pull of at any level of skill because the freaking American Turkey is well nigh the most impossible thing to cook that has ever inadvertently wandered into an oven. Over the years I have cooked birds that have roasted themselves to a dryness that would pucker the Sahara. Despite basting the little bastard in enough butter to sculpt a 1:1 replica of Mount Rushmore in. There have also been birds that simply refused to cook. That browned nicely outside but when poked with a meat thermometer you'd swear it stuck a wing in to hold the needle to about a hundred degrees for hours. Football games would be played, won or lost, families on the block would set out and return from post meal walks, the evening movie would start to run and this thing was still edging to 112 degrees if you blew your warm breath on it.

Not so this year though. This year we had an overachiever who was supposed to cook breast down for two hours and then be flipped to roast to a golden brown for another 45 minutes, yum yum.

Flip him at two hours and the meat will pull off the bone such that you'd better put on some reggae, get out the cayenne and announce "jerk turkey" in a hurry if the meal is going to look like anything other than a car accident involving fowl.

No dice, this critter was done and the 100 meter dash of vegetables and starch was on. Get it on a plate looking like something other than an amalgam of colors and textures was the challenge.

"HolycrapwillyoucovertheturkeywhileIfinishsteamingtheasparagusdrainthebaconsowecanwrapitnevermindthe smellofroastingfleshIneverfanciedthatpatchofskinanyway!!!"

Next year I'm doing the Chinese buffet thing. That, or grilled cheese sandwiches.

Bunny on.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Thanksgiving Comes First

The first Advent, heralding four weeks until the Christmas day, this year happens on the 27th of November.

Tradition holds that one create an Advent wreath consisting of four candles and decorated in your choice and keep that as a centerpiece until on the fourth Advent, Christmas day, it be fully lit and incorporated into the festivities of the day.

Tellingly, the Advent, the moveable harbinger of Christmas, comes after Thanksgiving. This year and every year.


Shouldn't Thanksgiving come first?

The Other Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

Completely without the aid of halucinogens or any sort of psychotropic drugs I can attest to you there are times when I sit stupidly, looking out at the world with an expression so blank it says "wait until the ringing, after you hit me with the flat of the pan, has stopped", wondering truly if something I just remembered really happened.

Or if I dreamt it.

I'm oft times an insomniac. But there are other nights when I sleep, and dip my brain into the deepest of dreams that I actually remember and replay upon waking.

That's the fun part. I can mentally re-live dreams in images and feelings. The not so fun and quite frankly dumb part is when I insist on describing the damn things to my bed mate. When I was newly single and said mate was an old stuffed bear whom I hung onto because, quite frankly, his carousing was showing my social life up to be the pathetic joke it was, describing dreams was easy. Bear was not possessed of speech, so I would recount mentally the dream, adding a verbal;

"Ain't that something else?"

Bear would get it. And nod.

I've had a lot of dreams in the last few weeks. Some quite vivid at the time but I can't remember details just now. Over the years, I've had dreams that I do remember and can recount. If you're at all Freudian, you'll see certain distinct categories these fall into that pretty much pin me to the nutcase wall. That's why, when anyone degreed in the study of the human mind asks me about a dream, I usually tell them; "I dreamt about my dog."

Its safer that way.

I've had a lot of incapable dreams, or Sisyphisian dreams of futility. When I was a kid, I always wanted a snowmobile. I remember one dream where I got one and then had no gasoline for the damned thing. I filled the clear plastic fuel tank bladder with turpentine I finally found in the basement and hoped for the best. Then the alarm went off and I woke up to go off and fail yet another math test.

There was the one about being chased by horsemen until I finally found a primed but unloaded blunderbuss. I scrounged around and stuffed the thing full of rock, broken glass and whatever else I could find, rammed the lot down the barrel and fired.

Everything just dribbled out of the barrel and the horsemen continued to come on. Now I know this is some sort of indicator of sexual incapacity and I'd accept that saving for the fact that when I dreamt it I was of an age where the blunderbuss should have rightly cleared the entire field of enemies and then knocked off a few watching racoons, just for good measure.

I've had the actor's nightmare more times than I care to admit. A few weeks ago I strode onto the stage in a one man show and delivered my opening line perfectly only to forget everything thereafter. I've had versions of the actors nightmare which finds me without pants and/or the ability to find them. That's less of a nightmare for me than it is in mental pictures for you. I've been in public with nothing on my feet other than little girl's patent leather buckle shoes. Now that's not so horrible in that I'm a burly, rough-edged man wearing little girl's shoes but rather I don't have a matching frock to compliment my footwear.

And of course I've had the unrequited love dreams. The girl in class you can't manage the nerve to talk to asks you to dance and you spit Kool-Aid in her face. Or the young woman at the office who you want to have notice you finally does.

She did in my dream. Cheryl, the redhead I had been chasing for a while finally noticed me and wanted to talk. I would have, had I not been obligated to ride a bicycle in small circles interminably.

So much for that one.

What happens when you don't wake up from your dreams? Now there's a bunny for another day. But safe to assume, if that happens, you can always spot me:

I'm the guy who forgot his lines, riding a bike in circles, wearing patent leather shoes.

Bunny on.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Suddenly Last All Souls Day

I guess I didn't realize it was Hallowe'en this year because last year was such a non-event.

So I had spent Sunday trimming and cubing a chuck roast. Chuck is a lesser cut of meat and needs a lot of preparation. There are numerous ways to ruin chuck and very likely my mother has dabbled in all of them.

Learn to distrust a culture who thinks soaking food in vinegar is somehow culinary.

My chuck is cubed, then delicately rubbed down in olive oil which dissolves a lot of the sinueous membranes that are characteristic to the cut. A healthy fresh grind of sea salt and cracked pepper add all the initial spices I need but I like the flavor infusion of fresh cut rosemary.

I use chuck as the base for stew, and stew is extended with meat stock or beer. This time, since I was making a smaller portion I was using meat stock which let me further infuse the chuck with a half or so cup of red wine. All that into a freezer bag and let it set up overnight to correctly marry the flavors.

Monday night was when it would go into a pot with cubed onions, potatoes, some carrots and celery and a touch of Tabasco (which I can't say enough good things about) to simmer for a few hours.

As I say, I can't say enough good things about Tabasco. I've toured Avery Island and if you can envision an entire processing plant smelling of Tabasco, well, you've found someplace special. Now of course, the good folks at McIlhenny aren't shy about calling it a hot sauce and as such if it finds a place other than your dish, well that's just an issue you have to deal with.

Like I did.

It found an ideal splash-back target in my eye.

My bad but frankly I'd rather take a piss after chopping up a few dozen habaneros.

Ok, so I've taken the chuck out of the red wine and oil infusion, dashed a little Tabasco in the pot-and other places-and was chopping vegetables when there was a knock at the door.

If you cook professionally or even as an amateur, you know your first line of offense is your knives. A good knife set kicks the shit out of every kitchen gadget you could knock off the rack at Williams-Sonoma. And I have a pretty good set. At the time I was possessed of a 12 inch chopping knife which I was careful to control as the Tabasco began to burn. I'd have likely set it down if there hadn't been a rap at the door. I normally hate interruptions and won't answer the phone, but we have elderly neighbors and it might have been them.

It wasn't.

It wasn't anyone, though I heard a squeal and the gate being thrown open.

Ok, so I was interrupted and hadn't had time to flush my eyes or wash my hands of the red wine and oil, or put down the knife. I just stumbled to the door as quickly as I could, flipped on the light and tried as best as I could to see who it was.

Sort of a letdown, really.

Last year, when I was ready for trick or treaters, I filled the anxious moments with catching up on chores.

It was going to get colder soon and we needed to stock up the wood stove. Trouble was, the chainsaw wouldn't start.

So I gave it my best shot. Working on the kitchen table in a warm house was better that back in an unheated garage. Lo and behold, I got the thing running and was just letting it warm up as I carried it up the hall to greet the first little goblin.

He didn't stick around for a Snickers. Go figure.

Bunny on.

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