Welcome to the annual Thanksgiving edition of Eat and Critique! No restaurants, no menus or tipping, just simple family fare.
Over the River, etc. :
On Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, I got my butt out of bed around seven-thirty. I walked a dog, packed an overnight bag, guzzled down some orange/grapefruit juice and a sausage biscuit and hit the road. It takes four hours and a few minutes to get to my parent’s house in Cerulean KY. With the drizzle it was probably going to take longer. I stopped at the Circle-K to fill up the tank, grab some dark roast coffee and put a little air in the left front tire. By eight-thirty I was on the interstate, heading south. Two hours on I-55, then a half hour on I57/Highway 60 east and over the tall skinny bridges crossing the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. From there a 2-lane curvy half hour up 60 to Paducah, then to I-24. Less than an hour later off on the highway 139 exit, then to 276/128 through Wallonia, to Highway 124 and a couple of miles into Cerulean. All was drizzly but speedy on I-55 till I hit Cape Girardeau, Mo. There the gods let loose with an unseasonal but intense thunderstorm. I lost about twenty minutes slowing down to thirty MPH and dodging lightening and fools trying to outrun it. As I hit the flats near the river the wind was intense shoving the mighty Alero all over the wet road. By the time I reached I-57, the rain had all but stopped and things picked back up. The rest of the drive was dreary but otherwise uneventful. I made it to Cerulean about twelve-forty-five.
My dear, sweet, elderly sister was there, her husband Jack was puny and did not make it. My younger brother Jeff and his adorable and powerful wife Dina were there, Jeff was putting the finishing touches on the grand meal. He’d cooked everything from scratch. My saintly and elderly parents were in high spirits, teasing and prodding Jeff unmercifully. I said my hello’s, hugged my parents, then stood in the kitchen and called the cat in a slow, loud baritone. “Here kitty, kitty, kitty!” This shocked the entire family since we all knew the long-suffering cat had died a month or so before (see blog entry). The shock wore off as they all remembered what an insensitive ass I can be and that such rude and cruel things like this were simply par for the course. It took Jeff about a half-hour to finish everything; the rolls took longer than they should have. They of course were made from scratch as well. Nothing fancy, turkey, rolls, dressing, mashed potatoes, corn (locally grown) and gravy. We filled our plates buffet-style and sat at somewhat-appointed places at the big table in the back room. The turkey was exceptional, moist and smoky, the rolls were perfect, the potatoes pleasantly buttery and lumpy. The dressing was the talk of the table. It was smooth and savory, Jeff had made the bread and cornbread from scratch days before, and had spiced it all perfectly. Jeff can cook, loves to cook, and is proud to show off his skills. My folks are teetotalers, always have been, but dad can make a bowl of punch that will make your ears buzz. I make a version as well, more on that later. Jeff had also made dessert, from scratch. A coconut cream cake and a pumpkin pie. Since I don’t care for either I skipped those and opted for seconds on the turkey. The meal was scarfed down, Dina left for work. Kathy eyed the sky and became concerned about the weather. She had good reason, the storm I had hit in Cape G had followed me east and according to the folks’ weather alert radio was about to cross the county. She decided to wait it out rather than attempt the hour-long drive to her humble, elderly home in Murray. Jeff split up the leftovers, not leaving much, and skedaddled. Even though he lives only a block away in Cerulean, I knew he was gone for the day. He spends a lot of time helping out the folks and did not need to stay long when there was a perfectly nap waiting for him across the street. The main force of the storm passed to the north which seemed to concern my dad, who kept insisting that Kathy lived to the north, which of course, she does not. But once dad gets something into his head that makes those around him chuckle, regardless of how wrong it is, it sticks for at least the entire day. This qualifies as and defines the core of his sense of humor. By three, Kathy was gone and the house was empty except for my parents and myself. The day was turning into a dreary, drippy and rapidly cooling November day. Perfect for sitting around and reminiscing about things I don’t recall ever happening and about people I’m pretty sure I’d never actually met, which was okay since dad seldom remembered their names correctly anyhow. We talked a bit about my older brother, Steve, and how he spends every thanksgiving with his lovely wife Donna in their condo in Destin, Florida. Earlier as part of the blessing Kathy, Jeff and I had mumbled that we hoped the coming storm would turn into a blizzard in the Florida panhandle, just this once. Dad and I settled in to a marathon of early 60’s westerns, his daily dose of TV drama. He said he follows “Have Gun, Will Travel”, “Cheyenne” and “Gunsmoke” like they were a woman’s soap operas.(his words ladies, not mine) He likes them especially since there’s no swearing or actual blood when bullets hit, and the good guys only ever get rapidly healing flesh wounds anyhow. Later I joined mom in the other room for her Wheel of Fortune fix. She’s pretty good at it but admits, like me, that it would be completely different in front of the TV cameras rather than just sitting on a cozy couch. They insisted I was still hungry around six or seven, I hadn’t overdone it at the big meal, so I went in search of leftovers. I couldn’t find any, Mom said that Jeff took everything since they already had plenty of food in the house. Which they did, if by that you understand that my folks are pretty simple eaters and that a pound of fresh, thick-sliced bologna is ‘plenty of food’. To be fair the local store, which is only open when the owner feels like opening it, has the best bologna on the planet. This isn’t pre-packaged lard-laden animal ugly–bits, this is hand sliced, fresh, lard-laden animal ugly-bits. It really is that much better. A little Miracle Whip, two slices of white bread, and a couple of dill pickle slices, and you have an excellent thanksgiving post-meal snack. We finished off the evening lazily, watching TV and occasionally drifting into small conversations. “Do you know how to skip stones across a pond?” My mom asked at one point after a commercial that had shown a kid doing that very thing., I assured her, like a proud son, that yes indeed I did, and not only that, I had actually passed the skill down to some of my own children. Friday morning I woke up before seven, they were already up and about. There was a dusting of snow, about a half inch on the ground. The sky was clearing though and the sun came out for the first time in a few days. Mom whipped up some breakfast, a pretty good one. A can of biscuits, a sliced banana, mashed-potato pancakes, and fried bologna. It’s actually a LOT better than it probably sounds. We sat and talked for a bit, I had fixed mom’s Facebook account so she busied herself replying to the dozen or so backed-up messages. Dad caught me up on all his recent medical experiences, and there were many. At about nine I gathered my stuff and bid farewell. Hugs were exchanged, promises to return soon were made, and I drove into the morning brightness and cold air back the way I came, stopping only once to fuel up.
Angel and Adam had stayed at home, Adam’s new job in retail demanded his presence, Angel was boarding five dogs. We often have to split our family visits because of these things. Our boarders this time included Niebuhr, a timid, small brown mutt and frequent guest., Gus, a new client and a very friendly and active Great Dane. Then there were the three brothers, Otis the curly haired and constantly curious labradoodle (Lab/Poodle), Chachi, an energetic cattle dog, and Mr. Foo, a chunky, attitude-filled, self-absorbed Pug. They had all graduated Angel’s puppy course during the summer. The owner had decided his family was ready for dogs, they decided on the kinds they wanted and came up with these three, in some cases driving a few hundred miles to pick up one of them. They’re immensely fun to watch, three totally different dog types, all unaware of that fact. They are simply close-knit brothers that don’t look much alike. During breaks in the doggy-action on Thursday, Angel cooked a twenty two pound turkey, made the traditional stuffing and pre-prepared a few other favorites. We as a family would not be having our big sit-down meal until Saturday lunchtime due to my absence and Adam’s work schedule. She deliberately made a lot of everything so we could graze on leftovers for a week or more. She started dining on pre-leftovers on Thursday, and I did the same once I got home on Friday. This worked out exceptionally well, the Saturday feast was not at all diminished by the fact that we’d been already been eating turkey sandwiches for a couple of days beforehand. Saturday morning Angel tended to the livestock, the yard and pens were muddy, and some of the dogs were super-absorbent. I offered to finish up the final touches for the big meal. I boiled about two pounds of peeled and chopped potatoes, opened four cans of Green Giant brand ‘Niblets’ corn (we only splurge on name brand veggies on very special occasions), set the oven to medium to reheat some of the stuffing and turkey. The dinner rolls fell right out of the bag and onto the pizza pan, the last thing to be prepared. I finished off the mashed potatoes with a quarter pound of butter, a pinch of salt and beat in the milk until they were creamy and light, the way Adam prefers them. I cranked up the oven to 400, and let the meat/stuffing sizzle, popped in the dinner rolls and watched them carefully as Angel boiled some dumpling-noodle chunks in broth (blech), reheated her asparagus casserole (yuck) and made some giblet gravy. Once the rolls were done we announced and Adam came out of his room, still in his fashionable pajamas. I had made a supply run earlier and made the punch.
There’s a story behind this concoction, I’ll get to that later. ½ Gallon pineapple juice 2 liter bottle of Diet Sprite Grape Juice (for depth) Grapefruit Juice Lemon Juice (for tartness) Orange Juice (somewhere in between) 2 packets of Strawberry Kool-Aid (because I can’t find strawberry juice) 1 lime, sliced. (or whatever citrus you have on hand, this is mainly for looks) Start by pouring almost all of the pop and pineapple juice into your punch bowl. This sets the sweet standard. Add some grape juice and orange juice, a cup or so, the Kool-Aid, then taste. It’ll be very sweet. Start adding the tarts, grapefruit and lemon juice, stir, taste. At the point where your cheeks buckle inward and your ears start buzzing back off and pour the rest of the pop and pineapple juice in. The stuff should be deep lavender in color and sweet, but with a definite tart kick to the face. Throw in a tray of ice cubes and the lime slices, let simmer for the entire day as you frequently, addictively, dip into it. My dad started making this with some minor variations a few decades ago. He was diagnosed with controlled-by-diet diabetes very early on, he could have no sugar. This punch recipe reflects that fact and makes it child-friendly and guilt-free. There is no processed sugar, whatsoever. It’s all fruit juices with a little diet pop to add a slight fizz. A few glasses worth will make any sores in your mouth light up, and the healthy-stuff kick will actually give you a buzz. I hear from very reliable sources that sinners enjoy adding a small amount of vodka, for medicinal purposes. This punch, by itself, will clear your complexion and make your nap-dreams very vivid.
The Big Meal:
With everything complete we served ourselves buffet style, then we did something we only occasionally do, we sat at the dining room table together and treated it like a family meal, like those you sometimes see on TV. We actually chatted some. Angel complained that the rolls weren’t done, I took exception. She added that her mom always burned the bottoms, and I hadn’t. I promised to try harder next time. The stuffing was made with large, dried chunks of a baguette, an entire bottle of sage and a few other spices along with turkey broth and a few bird-chunks, and cooked until almost dry. I actually prefer this more traditional stuffing over Jeff’s but only because my taste buds are not very sophisticated. Jeff’s was very good, almost as good as Stove-Top brand stuffing. The Turkey was already carved up, I chose chunks of both dark and white, I prefer dark. The gravy was smooth, yet chunky, the corn, to which I had added a half-stick of butter, was sweet and firm. The mashed potatoes were creamy and worked well as glue to hold together the corn and other small chunks of food. I held off stuffing myself completely, because Angel had pleased me greatly by pre-baking some name-brand pies. Apple for me, pumpkin for them. Pre-baking is essential as I like my pie cold, refrigerator cold, no ice cream. I cannot recommend having punch with the pie, you can actually overdose on vitamins. Cleanup was a cinch since most of the stuff was pre-made. The refrigerator was stuffed with leftovers of everything. There would be no prepared or planned meals for the next several days.
Angel likes turkey cooked into her scrambled eggs, I like to glaze turkey with onions in barbecue sauce. I also made up a batch of turkey-fried rice, as well as some of my own turkey, stuffing, corn and mashed potato pancakes:
Sautee some onions while mixing together some stuffing, mashed potatoes and corn. Chop up and add some turkey, a handful of shredded cheese, and one or two eggs until batter-like. Throw in the onions and then add some crushed Corn Flakes or Ritz Crackers as a binder. Fry pancake-sized portions, flattened, in a skillet in a small amount of oil until browned on both sides. Goes well with punch and a side of Beanie Weenies.
This stuff will help you find a soul-mate, assuming that you’d consider someone like me a potential soul-mate.
All in all, a wonderful, calm, and low-drama Holiday. Awesome family and food and plenty of time to enjoy them.