I know you’re probably thinking American Thanksgiving must have broken me. But it didn’t! I’m still here! I enjoyed a very leisurely Christmas break and it was hard to get back into the swing of things. One I stopped moving, it was very easy to stay that way. Something about that law of inertia. Plus I endured a very blue January. I didn’t see it coming. I should have – I know by now I always need something to look toward, to work toward every month. In brighter news, I’ve got plans now for each month up to August to keep me from getting so down and so bored. Big Plans. Still working out some of the details, but Laurida will be going international this spring. Enter Lauretnam and Laurain.
But can I just boast? I did not merely survive American Thanksgiving, I NAILED American Thanksgiving. (No casualties!) Martha who? Move over, Martha! I still can’t believe the menu and the evening turned out to be the successes that they all were, but it’s true. I have my husband remind me often. It’s my biggest accomplishment so far in housewife life.
To my Newfoundland and Canadian family & friends: American turkey dinner is WAY harder than ours! Each vegetable is its own dish. So you must own enough dishes and have enough ovens to cook it all. American stuffing is DELICIOUS and I used sage, no savoury. Would I do it all again? Probably, with a few tweaks, because I had a whole week to devote to it. But all I can figure is that American Thanksgiving is a meal best shared between family and friends – and shared in the sense that everyone contributes to the meal, not just everyone shows up to eat. Bringing one casserole dish to a dinner is something I can get behind. Holiday cooking should not fall to one person all the time. It is no longer then a holiday for that person.
Thanksgiving Day (hereby referred to as T-Day) began after a fairly sleepless night where I dreamed about my mashed potato methodology. I didn’t need to be up early, but I couldn’t sleep late if I tried. The news in Daytona that morning was: STORM WARNING. Yeah, I’ll say.
I didn’t need to start in the kitchen until 12:30pm, so to pass the time once out of bed, I started to sweep, vacuum and then wash the linoleum flooring of my front entrance. Once the floors were shining, I realized the walls of the front entrance also looked quite grubby and needed washing. I worked my way back through the whole apartment, tackling all of the floors and baseboards, and the guest bathroom. Upon reflection, it was not the best use of my energy. I would have done well to chill out and save myself for the 6 hour marathon in the kitchen approaching. Then, like my grandmother would have done the day before, I set the table. I sadly do not have a picture, but it picture it with a silver sparkly table cloth from Target and an aqua lantern centrepiece I (soberly) stole from my girlfriend’s wedding.
My husband did look worried when he woke up later and saw me with the A/C vent unscrewed from the wall, attacking the grime with vigour. I assured him that it was a totally normal thing to be doing. I also filled in the nicks and scratches of my Mainstays coffee table with black Sharpie marker. Again, all totally normal. The smell of it made me a bit woozy and I realized I hadn’t yet had breakfast. I don’t remember this part fully (possibly high on the Sharpie), but at some point I also decided to wash the couch pillow covers. The only part I really remember is 15 minutes before guests arriving, having to hustle my husband to grab them from the dryer and stuff the pillows back in, and then hearing him tear the first cover.
To answer some popular questions:
YES – I did cut myself. My first step the day before was to cut cold butter into flour for my pie crusts. I keep my food processor’s blade and discs in a container out of harm’s way (read: husband’s reach) so that he doesn’t ever cut himself grabbing something out of a drawer. So naturally in between crusts, I grab the blade and slice my index finger to draw blood. Off to a good start. In fact, the whole pie process was a bit of a pain.
I carefully chose my recipes so that they avoided pie weights. Because WTF are pie weights? They look like a terribly uncomfortable 50 Shades sex toy, so I avoided them at all costs (see proof here). Martha did, though, suggest fashioning your own pie shields out of tinfoil, should you suspect your crust is browning too far ahead of the rest of your pie. What Martha doesn’t tell you is that you will risk burning your fingerprints off trying to get stupid f**king strips of tinfoil to hang warily balanced around the perimeter of your pie plate. And you will curse often, as you negotiate laying the tinfoil with the oven racks pulled out, only to all topple off as you gently try to slide the rack back in, or as you bend your body like Hansel or Gretel to fit your torso slightly inside the oven entrance to carefully balance those f**king strips without any rack movement. (I now own proper pie shields.)
YES – I did burn myself. No, not with my crap pie shields. Better. While making the easiest dish on my list on T-Day, the gluten-free stuffing for my one gluten-free guest, from A BOX. I don’t even remember how, but I did burn the fleshly part at the base of my thumb. I tried to press on.
YES – I did have one mental breakdown. I rushed my burned hand to cold water, fearful that I may now have to do this all (channel Rob Lowe here) literally with one hand behind my back. I did not build time into my schedule of 5-minute intervals for treating first degree burns, but I was in tears faster than the blister bubbled on my skin. I had a few “I can’t do this” cries and “now it’s all ruined” sobs for dramatic effect. My husband took his cue and bravely entered the kitchen to comfort to me, commiserate with me, and then let me kick him out again like a martyr because THE SHOW MUST GO ON.
YES – I did set off the smoke alarm. But just once! I was a little heavy handed with the heat when frying my cornstarch-dipped shallot rings, to serve as a homemade alternative to the American classic, French’s Crispy Fried Onions, popular for green bean casseroles. The rings actually look like little octopi and lost any appeal after I charred them black.
YES – I did have a total monster moment. A very bitchy 5 minutes that I’m not proud of. In my (weak) defence, I had all four burners going at the time, with two dishes prepping for the oven, when my husband asks “is this okay?” and gestures toward his cheese tray, seeking my approval for the three cheese plating with corresponding purple sticky tabs ripped in half to label each one. “The labels look stupid” was my immediate, ever-gentle reply. And I felt the monster rise within me. I did not stop there. Perhaps it was the fact that his three cheeses cost more than DOUBLE my 14.5 -pound turkey. Perhaps I had worn myself out a bit with the housecleaning earlier in the day. Perhaps I was sweaty, and hungry, and overwhelmed with the work still ahead of me. But I unapologetically snapped a bit more at him with remarks like “does it look like I have time for this?” and “this was your idea, you deal with it,” and “I don’t care, I have more important things to worry about.” In his defence, I loved the cheese and ate most of it myself late that night when finishing the wine after the guests had gone. Back to my defence, none of the guests ate the damn cheese.
NO – there is no video this time of me handling the turkey. I was in warrior-mode once I entered the kitchen, and there was no time to be grossed out. I am very thankful my mom made me practice. Because I handled that thing like I snapped its neck myself – no mercy, no holding back. Except what the JESUS was the extra thing inside his cavity? Neck, check. Bag of gizzards (still not sure why they’re in there, but) check. Then this THING (this organ?) that look almost like a set of dentures. I wish I had a picture of me holding it up next to my mouth, with my teeth bared, before I realized it was likely the heart. Then I dropped it in the sink and carried on. Regretfully, I have no photos of the final turkey product either, and hardly any of the prep along the way. There was simply NO TIME.
Well, okay, except, that ONE time I was checking the turkey at the the 1 hour mark. I took it out to add some carrots and celery around it. Feeling quite pleased with myself, I was snapping a few pics of my bird when my mom texted me at the very same moment. “Don’t open the oven unless absolutely necessary to keep the heat in.” Wise. Timely. That’s my mom. Photoshoot over. I popped the turkey back in sheepishly and decided not to post to Instagram for fear of being found a novice.
If I hadn’t practiced in Newfoundland, I would have severely undercooked my turkey/ served up some Salmonella. I had 4.5 hours to roast it, and not a minute more. The oven was scheduled for use for two more dishes immediately at the 4.5 hr mark. The Butterball instructions said to roast at 325 F. I have learned from experience my oven is not the strongest, so I started at 350. After the first hour, he was still looking quite pale, so I jacked it up to 375. At the 2 hour mark, I began to panic, and jacked it again to 400. Thank. God. My meat thermometer read 165 when time was up, and I could finally exhale deeply.
My all-American Thanksgiving was served to 2 Canadians, 2 Germans, 1 Spaniard, 1 Mongolian, and actually just 1 American. His mom, though, is a Cordon Bleu trained chef, so I grilled him for feedback and hung on to every compliment he gave. That’s right, complimentS! My guests LOVED the food. They all had seconds. My husband said, wait for it, that it was the best turkey dinner he’d ever eaten. I smiled demurely. Modestly accepting their praise. But inside I was Winona Ryder at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Dinner was supposed to be at 6:00, but we actually sat down to eat at 6:30. I (predictably) ran into a snafu trying to make the gravy, and starting running out of clean bowls to sieve it into. i had only ever watched my mom make gravy once, with flour. And I was trying to make it, without her, with cornstarch (remember, gluten-free!). Strangely, unpredictably, my husband swooped in at that moment, and saved the gravy. He calls it his Hans Solo moment…
I was able to manage almost all by myself but thankfully my one female guest generously asked to help upon her arrival. She probably didn’t expect me to thrust so quickly a dutch oven of boiled potatoes in her arms, but I needed them peeled, and had no idea how to do it. I used the opportunity to duck into the master bathroom to compose myself. I was glistening (from sweat). (And perhaps a runny nose.) I stuck washcloths under my armpits to cool down. The temperature in my apartment was boiling, the oven and stove cooking us as well as the food. I wondered if anyone would notice if I didn’t come out. Should have nabbed the wine on my way.
I calmly reappeared to find Tamara bravely finishing up her task. I had read, somewhere along the way, that the trick to the best mashed potatoes was to boil them with the skins on. Something to do with lower water absorption, better starch preservation, all for a tastier, fluffier mash. Good in theory – but poor in practice because then those scalding sons of b*tches have to be carefully held in a hand towel so you don’t burn yourself. I just couldn’t deal. (Thanks, Tamara!)
I’ll do a review of the recipes I used, what worked, and what didn’t, another time. I have to admit that I’m a Martha convert now because her recipes were easy to follow, easy to execute, and delicious. I read dozens of recipes, and hers were consistent the with the American style and flavours I was seeking, with accessible ingredients that I normally use/can easily find in my grocery store.
I’m thankful I had such a kind group of guests for my first go. They pretended not to notice the sink full of dirty dishes draped with hand towels because there was nowhere to hide the mess. They waited until I took up my dinner and sat down before any of them lifted a fork. (Right?!) They toasted to me with their wine glasses at the beginning, and, NOT A WORD OF A LIE, applauded me at the end of the night. It was magical. I should like to receive more applause for doing domestic duties. Perhaps the icing on the cake was someone’s comment that my apartment was “the cleanest apartment they’d ever been in.” (Someone please call my mom to make sure she still has a pulse. She’s probably hit the floor.)
They all left around midnight. Which was GREAT because I polished off the Rioja and cheese tray to muster up the energy to clean the kitchen. That’s when I found those damn homemade fried shallots. I’d accidentally forgotten about them and had stashed them in a cupboard when I ran out of precious countertop space. Whoops (#sonotworthit). Don’t they look gross?
If you can see the time there, my day ended at 1:48 am the next day. That’s when I left the kitchen, with pretty much everything finally back in its place. My deepest moment of thanks was that I could sleep for a solid 12 hours afterward.
I want a button that says “I survived American Thanksgiving!”