So, lacking the tools and room to roast a full-on brined turkey this year, Vess and I decided to walk across the street to the grocery store and see what our Thanksgiving day options were. As a sign of these hectic times, everything you could possibly need to make a memorable turkey day was available in prepackaged containers with colorful labels and delicious looking pictures – packaged gravy, packaged asparagus with butter sauce, packaged mashed potatoes and last but not least, packaged turkey.
I admit, I felt like I had sold out. Roasting a turkey on Thanksgiving has actually become a point of pride for me. It was a two-day ordeal and a bit of a hassle having to stick my hands in a bucket of iced brine to flip the turkey at 6 AM but I was always very happy with the results. It just didn’t feel right buying one out of a plastic container. Begrudgingly, we put the turkey in our basket.
Back at home we opened the package.
So far, so good. I’ve definitely seen worse raw turkeys. Somewhere under all of that bacon lives a very happy bird. It even is kind of shaped like a turkey despite having no bones. I questioned how well an orange slice would hold up in a 375°F oven for two hours and forty minutes, but it was trussed to the turkey so I left it on. The label said the turkey was organic and never frozen so I started to not feel so bad about taking the easy way out with a convenience food. Into the oven with you, Gobbles McTurkeystein!
Next came the sides. This is where it got fun. Two people working in a kitchen the size of a closet makes for a lot of elbowing and stepping on each other’s feet. I started to snap and steam some green beans while Vess started peeling potatoes. We had some leftover Mexican corn from the corn lady that we decided to just serve at room temp. A couple of tequila shots along with some Mexican AM radio in the background and things started flowing like a well-oiled machine.
In the interim, my mind started to race with ideas for additional dishes.
“You know what is missing?” I questioned, with wide eyes.
“What?” Vess’ interest was piqued.
“Deviled eggs and macaroni and cheese!”
“Let’s do it!”
I put a pot of water on the boil and took five eggs out of the fridge. Vess started to boil water for the pasta. This meal was starting to take on a life of its own. As I was finishing the deviled eggs I noticed we hadn’t brought along any paprika to sprinkle on top. I grabbed some hot Mexican chili powder instead and dusted the yolks. Done with the eggs, I watched as Vess was finishing the roux for her sauce.
“Don’t you need cheese for that?”
Vess went pale, “Oh shit! Shred some quick!”
I spun around, grabbed the grater and shredded like the wind. A mound of cheese was ready just in time as the sauce was coming together. Finally the macaroni and cheese was ready to go in the oven as soon as the turkey came out – which was going to be any minute now. Vess started boiling the potatoes. By this time the house had started to fill with this amazing smell of turkey, bacon and sage.
*DING!* The timer went off. Time to see what this thing that was stinking up the apartment so deliciously looked like.
Well, I was right about the orange. It looked like a hockey puck. There was also this pool of black sludge in the bottom of the pan left by all of the rendered grease – one of those pools that will take multiple soakings and washings to get off of the pan. Still, look at all of that crispy bacon! Even if the turkey sucked, we still had bacon. I tented the turkey and placed it in a corner to rest for twenty minutes. Vess put the macaroni and cheese in the oven and started mashing potatoes. I started sautéing the steamed green beans with garlic, onions and red pepper flake in some of the rendered bacon fat. We took turns working on a pan gravy made from the drippings, white wine, chicken broth, corn starch and spices. We were almost done!
Time to “carve” the turkey. Carving a turkey without a bone is interesting. It’s kind of like carving a huge loaf of Spam. It feels wrong, but you know it will probably be pretty tasty. As any designated carver is obliged to do, I carved off a little smidgen for tasting. It was actually pretty tasty! The bacon had kept the white meat moist and the cranberry-apple stuffing was herby and sweet – but not TOO sweet. It wasn’t as delicious as a homemade turkey of course, but it definitely filled that Thanksgiving turkey role that it was created for.
Plating a Thanksgiving meal has always been difficult to me. You always start off with sort of a game plan that usually gets thrown out the window. Starting out, I always try to keep foods that may run into each other and create weird combinations as far apart from each other as possible – pie and Mashed potatoes with gravy being a good example. As plate real estate starts to run out, that plan usually falls apart and I end up piling shit on top of each other. This was no exception. I finished my beautiful platter by slicing up some canned cranberry sauce and plopping it on top of the most harmless spot I could find – on top of the green beans (Huh?)
It was a glorious and delicious battle. We tore through meat and sides with reckless abandon. There was a whirlwind of gravy and cheese twirling through the air… but it was all for naught. Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs. Halfway through our meal, we had to throw in the napkin. There was a frozen key lime pie in the fridge that never even got touched.
The aftermath was ugly. Kernels of corn and the occasional stray green bean were strewn about. Except for cups, not a single clean dish, pan or utensil remained. The kitchen looked like a war zone.
Waking up the next morning, the apartment still smelled of the delicious foods prepared the night before. It was a common occurrence at our old place that was sorely lacking here. I realized that was one thing that had been missing. The new place finally smelled familiar instead of smelling like a previous tenant. I had spent my first holiday away from home with the love of my life and we had our first big meal at the new place together. It was finally starting to feel and smell like home. It was a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Food can do amazing things.