Thursday, November 11, 2010

Let's Get It Out Of The Way, The Thanksgiving Rant

  I'm going to write about Thanksgiving and wine, but that's a tricky subject, and I'll actually have to put some thought into it, which requires some working up to. Thinking isn't easy you know. Ask anybody who thinks about stuff and they'll tell you it's hard. Food is easier to write about.

  Ignoring the absurd, absolutely wrong pilgrim-indian nicey nice story we seem to STILL teach our children, Thanksgiving is still a valid holiday. It's all about being thankful and counting our blessings and spending the day with loved ones. What better reason for a holiday? Well, there IS the food. It's a memory kind of holiday, mostly about remembered tastes and smells of special foods from our childhood.

 Curiously, instead of honoring these foods by carefully and lovingly preparing them in a way that preserves the essence of each of the key dishes in a Thanksgiving feast, today they're mostly done like an elaborate fast food buffet, with lots of short cuts and ready made ingredients. Here are my rules for Thanksgiving dinner. There aren't many, but they are inviolable.
Non-food Rules:
1. There is only one non-food rule. The television should be off. All day, until everybody goes home. Tivo is your friend.

Food Rules:
1. Regarding sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes or yams, take your pick, are tasty and healthful and need minimal preparation. What's done to them on Thanksgiving should be at least a misdemeanor offense. Marshmallows do not belong on real food. The best thing to do with a marshmallow is throw it INTO the campfire. The little ones make amusing cat toys. Canned pineapple rings are useful for making upside down cake and NOTHING else. Sweet taters should be fresh, not canned, and steamed and skinned, then mashed or sliced and dressed minimally with a bit of brown sugar, salt and pepper, butter and a splash of orange juice and baked. Toasted pecans or a few ounces of bourbon can dress them up a bit but are not required.

2. Regarding green beans. "Green bean casserole" reminds me of tuna surprise. You're surprised you're actually eating it. It's like people want to fix green beans so they don't actually taste like green beans. Canned mushroom soup tastes like school glue, don't ask me how I know. Open a can of those nasty fried onions people put on top of their casseroles and taste one by itself, essence of stale, salty grease vaguely onion flavored. Buy real green beans, string them. Fry good cut up bacon and diced onion in the bottom of the pan. Add the beans, cook until done. Add fresh ground pepper during cooking. Tiny redskin potatoes can be added but are not necessary.

3. Regarding cranberries. Use real cranberries, please. It's not hard. Ever go to somebody's house for Thanksgiving and have a CAN SHAPED lump of "cranberries" passed to you? mmmmmm!

4. On bread. Real bread should be served at Thanksgiving. The best thing to do with Parker House Rolls is save them for the post-prandial food fight if your family still practices that ancient custom. Hoarding them in your lap is allowed.

5. On gravy. Making gravy is not rocket science and I'm not going to give lessons here. Ersatz gravy mixes and jarred gravy concentrates might save 10 minutes on the day's food prep, but they are nasty tasting, expensive and contain unpronounceable ingredients. No thanks.

6. On dessert. Real pie is made by real people, not machines. Real pie does not come from a box. Pumpkin pie made from real pumpkins is best, but is not for the faint of heart and leaves much room for failure. Canned pumpkin, believe it or not, is consistently good and simple to use. Buy the unseasoned kind and be creative. It's pure pumpkin, nothing else added. Most pre-made crusts come out of the oven like cardboard. Marie Callender's is one possible exception if you don't overcook it, but even those crusts don't hold up to the long baking time required for pumpkin pie. Make your own crust. Use lard. If you hadn't noticed, lard is now officially good for you, or at least it's not officially bad for you. The noble pig is redeemed. And there was much rejoicing....
Sub Rule 6a: On whipped cream. Whipped cream is made by putting very cold cream, sugar, vanilla and a slop of bourbon or brandy into a bowl that's been in the freezer and whipping it with a hand mixer to a desired firmness. It does NOT come from cans, or worse: axle grease tubs of "non dairy whipped topping". The inventor of Cool Whip should be tied to a chair and force-fed his nasty grease like a goose is force-fed corn to make it's liver nice and fat. After that, we'll go get the guys who invented spray can "cheese" and Miracle Whip.....

7. Regarding turkey. There are two reasons why turkey is hard to cook without drying out. First, modern turkeys have been bred to have enormous breasts. It was discovered that we couldn't legally do that for our women folks, and so we decided to do it to our turkeys instead. If you think for one second that I used the phrase "enormous breasts" hoping to attract web searchers to this blog you're absolutely right, er, wrong.

 Somewhere along the line the factory meat producers got the notion that Americans wanted mostly white meat, and so they started developing mutant birds that have now become what most people picture when they think of turkeys. White meat is naturally lower in fat than the dark portions, so it dries out quicker.

  This changes the cooking paradigm. There are many ways to correctly cook a turkey. Dunking it in boiling oil "cajun" style is not one of those. It comes out tasting like gigantic fried chicken. Why not just fry chicken and reduce the risk of setting your garage or children on fire when the grease boils over or explodes?
  The best way to keep modern poultry moist is to avoid overcooking it, use a good digital thermometer with a temperature alarm on it, and brine it overnight first. Brining a big turkey requires a giant pot, lots of ice or a spare refrigerator and 12-18 hours. No big deal. There are lots of instructions out there. Google is your friend. It's worth the trouble.

  The second reason it's hard to end up with moist turkey is for some unfathomable reason, Americans don't mind spending hundreds of dollars on Thanksgiving side dishes, but want to get their main course FREE. We've all fallen for the grocery store ads; "Spend a hundred bucks and get your turkey for 49 cents a pound! Spend TWO hundred and get one FREE!!" Don't people realize that all the sides they're buying are overpriced, and ultimately they're paying for a "free" turkey that was slaughtered over a year ago?

  "They want almost three dollars a pound for fresh turkeys, IMAGINE!!" You've heard this, you may have even said it yourself. Admit it. Every day of the year, people pay 2 bucks a pound for ground "beef" that comes in 10 pound sausage shaped chubbies that you can't see through. They happily feed this fetid slurry to their kids, patting themselves on the back for the bargain they got. Meat made from worn out dairy cows who can't stand up anymore. Meat that has from time to time poisoned hundreds. Come on, it's Thanksgiving, get a good, fresh turkey that hasn't been frozen since last year. Look for a local producer, maybe someone who raises heirloom breeds. You'll still spend enough and get the free one, which you can use for interesting science experiments at home.

8. Regarding vegans, dieters, the "lactose intolerant" and those with "food allergies". These people are often petulant and self-absorbed. Unless they are beloved friends and relatives whose absence will seriously detract from your day, they should eat someplace else. Happy Thanksgiving!!

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