Monday, November 22

A Curmudgeon Thanksgiving

I AM preparing a small Thanksgiving feast. I think I may have done so once before in my life. I am pretty sure I'll have nothing else to think about or write about for the rest of the week. Standard refund policy applies.

In our early years of marital bliss, the holidays found my Poor Wife and I trying to satisfy the moietical demands of our families, further complicated by the fact that my parents were divorced and still bickering at long-range, a situation which continued right up to my mom's funeral. Some years we drove 150 miles or more just to eat two nearly identical meals and beg off the left-overs of a third. My Aunt Margaret, my dad's older sister, was a pretty fair cook with a real touch in dumpling preparation. My mother was not quite as accomplished, but made up for it by working out strenuously. My wife's family's cooking raises the question of how the bloodline survived before the invention of canning.

But whatever the level of competence, these are not people who embrace culinary invention, nor bravely navigate the uncharted waters of exotic ingredients or ethnic ports of call. My last attempt came several decades ago, when I served what I imagined to be a modest suburbanite's plate of roast lamb, spanakopita, and green beans with tomato to a family which looked at me as though I had just expressed a preference for women's apparel or the perineums of young Negro males. I--we--resigned ourselves then and there to a future of letting someone else boil everything to unrecognizability, interspaced with visits to the sort of restaurant which performs the task for you, probably several hours before you arrived. I have occasionally taken some small pleasure, in the case of the latter, of ordering a steak blood rare, then feigning ignorance of the effect on my fellow diners.

My Aunt is now 95 and too feeble for most tasks, let alone a Thanksgiving feast; she became the recipe giver emeritus a few years ago. For a while hosting devolved to my eldest cousin, who is a delightful person, a serial monogamist, and no cook whatsoever; it has since been taken over by her eldest, who is enthusiastic and fairly modern in his culinary tastes, but whose agrarian sense of reproductive obligation renders his house too small for his own brood, let alone the rest of us, so we've decided to stay home.

My Poor Wife declared, however, that the price of her participation was "traditional Thanksgiving fare", not that I was planning on dim sum. So I worked out the menu last night: turkey, brined and roasted, with apple cider gravy; sage stuffing; cranberry sauce, on the grounds that she'll leave me unless there is some; sweet potato soup, unless she reads this and objects, in which case it'll be sweet potatoes, sweetened beyond recognition; couscous with spinach; and a pumpkin-praline roulade, unless I get tired and quit first.

Woman better learn to eat leftovers for once.

These, then, are their stories.

The plan for Day one (today) was Make Potato Bread for Stuffing, shop for ingredients and a new roaster rack during the first rising, grind pork shoulder for sausage which may or may not wind up in the stuffing, and reconsider the whole proposition several times. I jumped up, got the potatoes peeled and boiled by 7:15, then realized at that rate the dough would be risen before Macy's--where I hoped to find a quick roasting rack--was open, so I regrouped.

I was dressed and ready to go when the dough came off the hook and went into the oven to proof. That gave me an hour and a half, tops, for my errands.

So of course Macy's doesn't have any roaster racks without they come attached, for sales purposes, to a roaster. And I don't need a roaster. In fact I don't really need a rack, but I use a couple of metal trivets and they're a pain to clean, plus I was hoping for something that stands a little taller. On to Plan B, which is an early-season trip to the Snootville Mall Williams-Sonoma.

I've mentioned the Snootville Mall a couple times here; it's the one that blasts various perfumes at you at predetermined intervals to enhance the shopping process. It's a Simon Mall; a percentage of each purchase goes to keep Indiana's wealthiest family in bologna sandwiches and internecine squabbling. I always try to go there dressed like a bum, which doesn't take much planning on my part, and today meant the black Levi's shirt with the gray chest-hair accessories, carpenter jeans, and Merrill chameleon ventilated hikers with no socks. I always walk fast, and bump into over-dressed gawkers. I always try to go there and get out as rapidly as possible.

Now Williams-Sonoma employs greeters, much like Wal*Mart, only theirs are ambulatory and reasonably aware. They generally appear to be women beginning to approach a middle-age they were not aware would be somewhat clouded by their having signed a pre-nup without adequate legal advice. Their style and manner says "I'm just doing this between planning Junior League luncheons", but their eyes--if you catch 'em when they ain't looking at you--say something else entirely.

Only this time the greeter wasn't a woman, but a Gay-American who took a quick glance at me as I entered and decided I'd been sent on a mission by someone smarter to buy some inexpensive gadget whose name was probably written on my palm. He might have muttered "Truck Nuts" under his breath. He immediately went back to talking to the geezer he'd been helping, the one who truly had no idea why he was there, without so much as an acknowledging nod. I cased the joint. No roasting racks that didn't come attached to roasters here, either, the main difference being that these roasters ran $250 and up.

And let me just state for the record that I am 100% behind the Gay Agenda to Corrupt America in a Better Organized Fashion than Her Current Corrupters Do, save for one area: retail sales. I do not want to be waited on by someone who introduces him or herself at the beginning of my dining experience. I do not want expert merchandise advice from someone who seems damned tickled to be almost shopping for a living. I am not here for the cheerfulness, whether or not it's free. It makes me think I'm shopping with Amway. No normal person can deal with the public for ten minutes and remain cheerful. Or even recover a previous level of cheerful. I hate the person who employs you, and who marks this shit up double what's justified just so he can afford to spray me with random perfumes. I want you to acknowledge that you do, too. Else I don't want you to make a commission on me.

What he acknowledged, instead, was that they had no roaster racks without roasters attached. I felt like pointing out that they have madeleine pans, cannel knives, three-headed timers, and grapefruit spoons, so maybe a simple fucking rack would not be out of the question, but I had bread rising.

Off as quickly as possible to the grocery, where there are no organic turkeys, but the steroided by minimally-invasive means ones are just over a buck a pound. Place is already a zoo. Grab eight items, head for the Express Check Out Line, aka Why Don't I Know Better By Now? Behind the woman with the screaming infant, who is actually a diversion from the elderly woman who apparently won a lifetime supply of rouge in a radio contest ("That, or she had some bad rug burns"--Kevin Nealon), and who, I swear, takes ten minutes to complete her six-item transaction. From its impatience I'm guessing the baby has dough rising too. Next up, finally, is a middle-aged woman with a dozen items which include two bottles of wine--actually, pink goop with alcohol in it--and who has no ID. So that's a five-minute argument with the clerk, followed by a quick cellphone call (of course) to her husband, who's apparently in the parking lot, waiting for someone to feed him, so he can come in and certify they're old enough to know better.

Good Christ, I hope you people don't fly. Or else I do. At least the bread turned out okay.


mndean said...

I also prefer surly, taciturn help over chirpy. Over here in CA, you get a lot of chirpy, overly friendly help, full of sunny desperation. Must be why I don't enter malls or restaurants except under duress.

Anonymous said...

Dude... roaster racks are in the spatula/salt-shaker/egg-timer section of the supermarket, same aisle as the mops. $2.98.

bjkeefe said...

... the holidays found my Poor Wife and I trying to satisfy the moietical demands of our families ...

How can you bring a word like moietical and not get I/me right?

Sorry. Couldn't resist. Happy Thanksgiving, and if you did nothing but blog about your understanding of food and drink for the next week, I'd be a happy camper. (I still think all the time about that post where you told Rod Dreher (and me) a thing or two about wine.)

Rugosa said...

I thought the my-wife-and-I was on the order of leave-us-verb humor.

Anyway, you have my admiration for actually making bread for the stuffing. I'm going with mom's method - old dried up crusts from the past three months. Homemade stock, though, and plenty of Bell's seasoning, so you'll never notice the difference.

M. Krebs said...

Best Thanksgiving story ever.

Enjoy the holiday at home. That's the best kind.


isabelita said...

Got us an organic turkey breast; been saving the butt ends of my home made bread for stuffing; got cranberries, brusselled sprouts, a few other side items. Not sure what's for dessert.
Just me and the beloved spouse, and it will be fun.
Hope you have a pleasant feed!

Augustus Mulliner said...

We'll be doing the usual at our place: A turkey stuffed with Mitt Romney position papers.
Can't wait for your account of your Black Friday trip to the mall.

StringonaStick said...

Try Bed, Bath, and Beyond for racks that aren't attached to over-priced roasters; worked for me. However, I make it a point to avoid any mall-ing experience from the Monday before Thanksgiving until after the January Frenzy sales; it ruins my general outlook on humanity if I don't.

TM said...

The Wal-Mart greeters may not be self-ware or ambulatory, but they at least guard the threshold of a place that actually has roaster racks.

That Wal-Mart roaster rack might have been forged by a child convict out of some lead alloy, but it's there waiting for you.

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

It could be worse, D.R. My family is having lobster tails.

Yeah, there's a story behind it but I'd rather not go into the details.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and you'rn.

Unknown said...

Late to the party, but as far as grammar is concerned, you're all wrong.

Two options:

1. "My Poor Wife and I" is the direct object of the verb "found". Consequently, the objective case of "I" is required. But, the entire "clause" "my Poor Wife and I trying to satisfy the moietical..." is the direct object of the verb "found". "My Poor Wife and I" is the subject of the clause, and therefore requires the nominative case, which DHR provided.

Howsomever, "my Poor Wife and I trying to satisfy the moietical demands of our families.." is not a clause. Standing alone, it makes no sense; it makes no sense because it contains no verb.

2. "Trying" is a gerund, the object of which is the infinitive "to satisfy". Gerunds and their phrases traditionally require that their modifiers, such as "my Poor Wife and I" be in the possessive case. Consequently, the correct form is "my Poor Wife's and my trying to satisfy..." That, however, sounds wildly stilted, elitist (which we all want to avoid), and just plain

So I go with DHR's construction. It's the least offensive in the "real Amurkin" reality in which we are all living "in".

End of being a pedantic.

bjkeefe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bjkeefe said...


I never did learn grammar to that extent, so I have always relied in such cases on a simple test: if you took away the other person ("my Poor Wife" in this case), would it be I or me?

So, here: "... the holidays found me trying to satisfy the moietical demands ..."

CAPTCHA: langl

Narya said...

Where'd you get the recipe for the pumpkin praline roulade? Can I have it please? I'll trade you a recipe for malted milk ball cookies that do not involve chopping up malted milk balls. (I'm trying to come up with cookie recipes that use "beer" ingredients, to take to beer school with me tonight, where we're doing holiday beers, which typically have spices and such in them. So far I've made the malted milk cookies, which have barley flour AND malted barley syrup AND malted milk, and ginger cookies, because I like ginger. Next is some wheat cookies w/ orange icing.)

But I digress--did you make it? Was it good? And may I please have your recipe either way? Or its source?

Unknown said...


Hey, no problem. I was just kinda joking, since you were the one to attempt to correct the inimitable DHR.

Your test is a good one for determining the objective case in relatively simple sentences--that is, compound, complex, or compound-complex sentences. Fortunately for us fans, DHR rarely writes just those.

And the correct form of your test sentence is:

"...the holidays found my trying to satisfy the moietical demands ..."

The holidays didn't find you; they found your trying to satisfy...

And you missed your golden opportunity to rag on me. I typed "End of being a pedantic", when, of course I should have typed "End of being a pedant".

P.S. to DHR: I tried the apple cider gravy (of course I don't know your recipe; I went with what Food Network had) and thought it smacked too much of apple cider. I think I added too much cider.

bjkeefe said...

@map106: Yes, no prob from my end, either. I am never serious when I am in my Grammar Nazi costume, and particularly not when it comes to ragging on Mr. Riley of all people.

Also, you misspelled my name.


I am not sure about the me/my distinction you make. I can only go by ear on this one -- I have no vocabulary for this aspect, and I sure don't know the specific rules. All I can say is I usually use the possessive pronoun in such cases -- I make the decision based on the answer to the question "does this person 'own' this action?" -- and so here, it did not sound to me as though it applied.

If the sentence were slightly different, I'd go with my; e.g., this problem was compounded by my trying to satisfy …

But, as I say, I am very poorly versed in the rules of grammar (I still don't even know the subject/object distinction, fercrissakes), so I wouldn't go to the mat on this one, even if I were serious.