T-Day, Minus 3

The hubbub has died down, all that remains of the day is a carcass with shreds of thigh and leg meat, a frozen pecan pie, and a small, plastic container holding cranberry sauce heavily scented with suggestive cloves.  Naturally, work took a back seat to long spells of monologues before a fire.  I did manage to squeeze in an interview on Friday morning, however, with a man who has a small I.Q. and a big drinking problem.

The huge bonus: Leftover turkey, of course.  It began with a sandwich for breakfast on Friday, a sandwich for lunch on Friday, and a sandwich for dinner on Friday.  It ended with a turkey salad sandwich on Saturday.  Mayonnaise lathered on all the bread.

Soon it will be time to drive the few miles to the airport.  Throngs, etc.  Yesterday it was the bus station.

Thanksgiving: The Holiday, Live Feed

Action packed: Up at 7:15 A.M.  walked dog to bakery.  Doors opened @ 8 A.M., first in, first on line, $4.25 later I have a fresh loaf of challah.

Back home: Batch of Challah French toast, Nueske’s bacon, Vermont maple syrup.

Stuffing: Two onions, two celery stalks, a pan of freshly baked corn bread, two packages of peeled chestnut’s from T.J.’s, lots of chicken stock, salt, and pepper.  Last minute decision: No sausage as the stuffing has a new secret ingredient now revealed: Turkey blood, nearly half a cup.  Bake the stuffing with the blood in the turkey cavity, uh huh.  Oven pre-heated to 350 F.  Birds in oven at 9:30 A.M.

Break in action: Now I can return to “Decoded,” Jay-Z’s thriller.

10:26 A.M.: Stuffing update.  First tasting of the overflow, in a roasting pan reveals depths of flavor and a fluffy and yet dense texture that seems contradictory, but isn’t.  Amazing stuff.  The blood did it!

11:25 A.M.: Just over an hour to kick-off and the roasting pan stuffing is out of the oven.  O-Mi-God, as they say in Japan, is this the best stuffing on earth?  It is.  Birds still roasting.  Just basted with chicken stock.  Sides crew is lolly gagging, but plenty of tine for Brussels sprouts, Japanese pumpkin, squash, etc.

12: 23 P.M.: Minutes away from Patriots-Lions.  Birds roasting.  Kanye’s latest bucking the speakers.

2:29 P.M.  Heat lowered to 300 F on birds.  App’s arrive: Chorizo; Stilton-mango cheese (whatever); and, avocado rolls (huh).  ‘rents as well via Peter Pan.  First Bloody Mary’s & Iggy on the stereo.  Perfect or what?

5:47 P.M.: Great success.  Two birds eaten, great sides, two bottles of wine for 12, etc.  Gabbing to aid digestion.  Pies await.

7:11 P.M.  Great pies, fire blazing, John Mayall, game over.  Hard to believed it is this clearly, feels like midnight.

Thanksgiving Day Tips: Turkey, Pies, Drinks, & Guests

With less than 24 hours to go before the locusts descend, how best to protect the crops?  Prayer is always an option for some: “Oh, Great One, smite mine enemy!”  Lacking the religion gene, however, my calls sound hollow and I am left with other plans.  You pray, go ahead, see what it gets you.  Talk about gods, talk about underachievers.  Or maybe He has ADHD and is simply too distracted to follow through.

Anyhow, The Big Holiday: Tips, plans, remedies.

First: Get up early and take a long walk, preferably with a dog, and think of all the things you have to be thankful for.  That ought to get you down the first few steps.  If need be, think of all the things you don’t have: Like incurable disease, etc.

Back after a loop around the block, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Heat up a big pot under high flame and put in as much butter as you can stand.  Pretend you’re on Death Row and this is your last meal as you add the butter.  That should loosen things up.  Chop a couple of red onions.  Throw them in the pot. Chop up three celery sticks.  Throw them in, too.  Did I mention making corn bread the night before?  Make corn bread the night before.  Crumble up about a ton  of that and toss it in the pot.  Add six raw eggs, lots of salt and black pepper, mix.  Stand back and let it cool.

Take two birds out of the fridge.  Don’t wash away the blood.  The blood adds flavor.  Ask Jason Stackhouse.  Anyway, stuff the birds.  If you want sausage stuffing, too, you’ll have fried some up by now.  Take half of the cornbread stuffing and add to the ground sausage meat.  Once birds are stuffed, take a stick of butter per bird and place squares of it all over: Between wing and breast, under skin, you get the idea.  Salt and pepper the suckers.  Cover birds with cheesecloth and throw them in the oven.

Sides: Baby Brussel sprouts, squash, Japanese pumpkins, eggplant, etc.  Cook them like this, respectively: Poach in butter; roast with olive oil; roast with olive oil; and, roast and then chop up with mustard, olive oil, and garlic.

About four hours later, besotted, remove cheesecloth and crank the heat up to about 475 or so.  Skin will crisp.  In 35-45 minutes, remove birds from oven and cool before slicing.  Add salt to taste.  Chop up fresh sage and rosemary and sprinkle over the birds so that it looks pretty.  Let’s hope, too, that your spouse has made gravy.  Serve the gravy on the side.

The whole thing, except for the time in the oven, should take no more than 30 minutes.  If it takes more time than that, you are doing something wrong.  Dreadfully wrong.  Seriously.  And you know what?  That is really sad.

Frankly?  Frankly, it takes more time to set up and clean up than it does to cook a Thanksgiving meal.  The reason this meal is so popular across this great country of ours is–here’s the secret–it takes no time or skill whatsoever.  Hey, it’s harder to make a good pasta dish, a good fish dish, or a great salad than it is to roast a couple of turkeys with stuffing.  This meal started at least as early as 1621, maybe even earlier.  In terms of technique, we’re talking The Dark Ages.  A caveman could do it.

And another thing: It brings out the kitsch in so many.  The sermonizing, the faux introspection, the cues to be real.  Why not just eat?

About besotting: Blood Mary’s, any wine under $10, and gin for the hardcore folks.  The trick here is titration:  Serving precisely the right amount needed to numb and silence the whack job’s in the group, but not enough to push them over the edge.  You’ll know you’ve scored a home run when everyone over 40 is asleep in front of the fire and the wise crackers who are younger have slipped out the door to find the parties, but not before cleaning up.  I mean, hello, does this look like a hotel?

After we get to hear:

Guest X’s philosophy of music and hypnosis…and all other tales of books, the weather, sports, and pets…the spell will have to be broken in time for pies.

Pecan, pumpkin, sour cherry.

Is this a great holiday or what?

Now as for remedies: Chinatown is a surefire option.  I’m not saying you should go, but it’s there if you need it.

Thanksgiving: Will Wonders Never Cease?

For sure this is my favorite holiday.  Having grown up in a household where the big day wasn’t so big, it wasn’t until I met my ex-wife that I saw what Thanksgiving is all about.  Our day there, in rural Connecticut, began with me and the old man in the kitchen nook shooting the shit.  Just past dawn, he let the dog out in the yard and poured himself eight ounces of whatever was on hand and lit up a smoke.  Talk about carefree living!  I didn’t drink, nor was the alcohol flowing over what the family called supper, but dad’s haze had that sting of contagion: A real contact high.

At the table, we all held hands and the scion of the family closed his eyes and said a prayer of thanks.  I thought at the time that he was goofing around, but, no, of course not, he was genuine and respectful and very well meaning.  Lots of laughter, the clatter of flatware, and for sure the most delicious bird and sides I’d ever had followed.

Pies, coffee, and even a sing-a-long with a moptop Momma in the living room followed.

Nowadays, it’s two 10-12 pound birds slow roasted with tons of butter and salt with sides of cranberries, baby Brussels sprouts, lentils, stuffing, etc.  Plenty of pies, a fire, and even a football game!

The brining controversy promises heated talk: McGee notes that brining is a waste of time and ruins gravy.  Others say salt the meat.  I loved McGee’s view: Keep it simple.

And why not?  Why not keep it simple?

Italian Food: The Devil and the Holy Water

This just in from Venice:

Il Refolo.  Run by the son of the owners of Da Fiore, (the exceptional, but expensive gem), this simple and affordable place won the prize on our first night.  Wow, what wine.  And the pizza of truffles and a raw egg on top?  I mean, c’mon, how could life be any better?

In the days ahead, it was Rialto each morning, of course, where treasure troves were found: Turbot from the northern Adriatric, filets cut from the whole fish, with a texture and flavor inimitable; filets of San Pietro; beautiful, tendril-like radicchio from Treviso; white truffle infused pasta; and, spectacular Parmiagiano, Burrata, and cured ham from Casa di Parmigiano.  Same shop: One amazing white truffle.

As much as I don’t like eating in restaurants, and I don’t, the visit to Venice turned out to be quite sociable what with friends coming down from Switzerland and friends (who own the flat in Venice) stopping nearby from their home in Udine.

So we ate well.

“The Devil and the Holy Water” is an osteria near Rialto where we dined with our Swiss friends: What a wonderful room, a real tavern, and a great seasonal dish of braised lamb.

The White Goose,” in Treviso, offered an amazing trio of dishes: Lamb livers followed by tagliatelle with a duck ragu and then braised bunny.

The winner is…

A plate of pasta with an enormous shaving of white truffles at Alle Testiere: my favorite restaurant in the city.  Died and gone to heaven.  My mouth, I’m told, tasted of truffles for days…

The Ann Arbor Report

Whenever I find myself in Ann Arbor, which is as often as possible, as the town has depths of charm and lassitude, I become hungry.  For good reason: Few places in America can boast of so much good food in so small a place.

It started with Grange: A snout to tail kind of place.  Starters of pig’s head, fried chickpeas, and a croquette of cheese.  All fried, which flattened taste and texture, but all good.  Entrees of chicken, gnocchi, and lake fish followed.  The gnocchi were fluffy and buttery.  The chicken moist with a crispy exterior.  The fish?  No wonder Alan Richman sang its praises.  The waitress had a great sense of humor and was glum in a pleasant way.  Asked how she enjoyed moving back home to Ann Arbor after years spent in Portland, OR–where she worked at the estimable Higgin’s–she said, “You can’t go home again.”  The room was chill.  For sure we’ll return.

Saturday A.M.: Great breakfast and a club sandwich at the remarkable Angelo’s,  If there is a better breakfast or lunch place in the country, show me.

Chinese snack at TK Wu’s: Hot & sour soups, noodles, and a bean pork saute.  Exceptional food and perfect after four hours of triple overtime in The Big House.  Go Blue!

Evening?  Eve’s.  Now here’s a disappointment.  It was as if they handed the joint over to kids for the night: “Hey, let’s open a restaurant!”  Snooty, absent service.  Overpriced and busy menu.  $36 for trout?  You’re kidding me, right?  Tunisian brik buried under fat greens.  Fried Thai dumplings that tasted like Nona’s fried ravioli.  What a silly, silly restaurant.

We ended the weekend at Zingerman’s: Sixty minutes on line, thirty minutes for the order, twenty minutes to eat.  The bonus?  Great sandwiches.  The store itself was the epitome of hubris with many products known to this writer priced easily two to three times the amount one pays at comparable, upscale places.  But why not?  It’s the only show in town.  No competition means high prices.  You want to pay $19 for a pound of olives?  Be my guest.  $9 for the same pasta at Whole Foods priced at $5?  Fine and dandy.  Me?  I’m corned beef and pastrami on seeded rye with two Cel Ray’s.