26 November 2006

What's wrong with turkey?

The great American tradition of stuffing oneself full of an average of 3,000 calories in the name of giving thanks is over (and that doesn't include the other tradition of snacking before and after. But don't worry, a mere four hour run, five hour swim, or 30-mile walk will burn all that off.)

My Thanksgiving was truly awe-inspiring, especially because my sister and brother-in-law hosted and I didn't have to cook a thing. My donation to the meal - the can-shaped cranberry jelly that makes a satisfying "schlurp" when it is removed from the container and whose first ingredient is "corn syrup" - was well received. My sister's in-laws were in town - and let's not forget her four children - so all told there were a total of 9 people (and one dog) to enjoy the Thanksgiving bounty. And while this is probably not the most dramatic of crowds, the weekend was made even more challenging by the fact that the week before, my sister's dishwasher broke, and (perhaps even more tragically) the oven too. So my sister was facing the challenge of a Thanksgiving dinner with a serious and severe shortage of major kitchen appliances.

She was surprisingly calm about the whole thing. Most likely because she wasn't the one cooking. That fell on the shoulders of her husband.

My brother-in-law was also surprisingly calm in the wake of this lack-of-kitchen-appliances storm, and made an amazing spread that we were all too happy to gorge on. He deep-fried the turkey (which was absolutely delicious, but I still find the idea humorous. Only in the land of deep-fried Mars bars, Oreos, and Twinkies would someone even conceive of the idea of configuring a way to boil an entire 19-pound-turkey in a vat of oil. I challenge each of you to a brief adventure: Search "deep fried" on Google images, and several terrifying experimentations pop up.) The deep-fried turkey is an amazingly culinary feat... and tastes absolutely stunning, is surprisingly moist, and actually gives some flavor to an otherwise fairly tasteless fowl. Perhaps the best part is that it only takes about an hour to fry a 19-pound turkey... a vast improvement over the requirements of my mother's cooking during my youth, which included early rising and multiple bastings during the day which usually ended with a turkey so dry that it actively sucked the moisture from your salivary glands. (I think that's why gravy was actually invented.)

Which brings me to the point: I had turkey for Thanksgiving. But I know of so many people who didn't. The new age of "personalizing" the meal has taken a turn for the bizarre and strange. One friend of mine was graciously invited to a friend's parents home for dinner, and was treated to a lobster dinner. Her host, at multiple points during the day, explained that lobster WAS the traditional meal that the Pilgrims had. I laughed, and scoffed, and vocally doubted that the Pilgrims in their time had lobster dinners. But becoming rather curious about it, I did my due diligence, I looked up what the Pilgrims did, indeed, have for their "Thanksgiving" meal (I put that in quotations, since it wasn't called "Thanksgiving" back then... it was a celebration of the harvest and the colonists' recent victory over the "heathen natives." But I digress...)

It seems that the earliest versions of the harvest meal probably included fish, berries, watercress, lobster, dried fruit, clams, venison, and plums. Yep, lobster. It did *not* include potatoes (considered poisonous by most Europeans at the time), milk (there were no domestic cattle at the time), butter (which I'm guessing seriously compromised the lobster), or pies of any sort (the supplies of flour had been long diminished, thus preventing any sort of baked good from making an appearance until much later.) In fact, the word "turkey" itself applied to any foul, so when the governor sent his men "a-fowling", they would have been lucky to return with wild ducks.

Which means, ladies and gentlemen, that Thanksgiving as we know it - is a farce. But you probably guessed that already, since the holiday is less about the Pilgrims now than it is about turkeys, pumpkin pies, and Christmas sales than anything else.

Needless to say, like the annual craving for candy corns, the human brain has evolved to the point where even a "traditional" Thanksgiving meal of lobster is not quite satisfactory. Two days after the lobster feast, on our weekly trip to the local diner for lunch, my friend had to order mashed potatoes simply to quench the annual craving. Another friend enjoyed the bizarre experience that is "tofurkey." (For the record, I've tried tofurkey, and it's kind of like an oversized excuse for vegetarian sausage combined with a good dose of Silly Putty. Vegetarians swear it tastes great, but let's face it - vegetarians are crazy.) She's been craving stuffing with sausage ever since. And let's not even try to figure out who came up with "turducken," okay? (I admit, the idea of "turducken" and "tofurkey" is more unappetizing than anything else, so I'll take a deep-fried anything over that.)

My brother-in-law deep fried the turkey, made the green beans and pumpkin soup on the stove, purchased a pumpkin pie, and borrowed the neighbor's oven for the must-have stuffing and sweet potatoes. Since then, I've had several people offer stove top-stuffing-recipes (not the boxed "Stovetop", but the actual, physical STOVE. TOP.) I have yet to hear anyone suggest how to make a pumpkin pie on the range, although my suggestion that they make it in the toaster oven was met with a few raised eyebrows... For the record, it was meant as a joke.

I was in charge of the dishes.


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