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.