I am not a fan of the big bird. I don’t care for that oversized breast, find the legs too large and tough, and given a choice would rather roast some good, honest pork belly than turkey for Thanksgiving. But when in Rome…
In the 17 -odd years that I’ve lived in the United States, I’ve roasted my fair share of Thanksgiving turkeys. One year I opted to be different and did duck instead, two lovely teak-hued specimens stuffed with dried mangoes steeped in rum. They were delicious of course, but the next year, the sheer force of peer pressure had me hoisting the usual turkey into the oven.
Thanksgiving is my husband’s favorite holiday, so I do my best to deliver the goods. When we lived in Berkeley, walking distance to our beloved Berkeley Bowl, the planning for Thanksgiving dinner began at least two weeks in advance, beginning with the guest list. Since we do not have an immediate family in California, we tended to gather a motley crew of similarly orphaned colleagues, some newly rediscovered college pals, a foreigner or three.
Those first Thanksgiving feasts were a culinary triathlon: purchasing, cooking and cleaning. I learned quickly that when one was sufficiently energized by alcohol and an obsessive compulsive need to have the kitchen returned to its pre-cooking state of immaculate cleanliness, it was actually possible to prep, cook and clean within one 16 hour span. Since we never had the money for Black Friday sales, the day after tended to be low-key and fraught with leftovers.
And yet despite my earnestness, mistakes were made each year. One November I forgot to turn the oven off. The dozen-odd guests we hosted perspired through all 4 courses until I realized the oven was still blasting 350 degree heat from the kitchen. Another year a Spanish teacher visiting from Madrid insisted we all speak Spanish, until a Spanish graduate student from Berkeley (bless her heart) decreed that only English would be spoken at the table. A third year, I was a tad free-handed with salt and the resulting turkey drippings were worthy of the Dead Sea in their salinity. And last year, what I thought would be disastrous: a party crasher, turned into serendipity. The uninvited guest arrived with three large lobster tails. Not a bad opening act for the inimitable bird.
In spite of these unexpected twists, each time we managed to mount a fabulous dinner of bachanalian proportions. And because we never had relatives to entertain, each party ended drama free and alcohol drenched.
This year I began cooking three days ahead of time, for I have many things for which to be grateful. There is The Mango Bride, whose release date has been moved up a week for a release date on April 30. There is the second novel which is moving along nicely. There is Gloria Steinem, with whom I had the great good fortune to dine for an entire week in August. There is Hedgebrook, which offered both writing retreat and such eminent guests as Gloria Steinem. Finally there are my two most favorite people on earth: my husband John and daughter Sofia.
This year Sofia is helping cook Thanksgiving dinner. Last night we made a spicy cranberry chutney. This afternoon we baked cornbread for the sausage dressing. And this evening I concocted the mother of all turkey gravies: a base of roasted garlic, bacon wrapped turkey neck, and 24 hour chicken broth. Add fennel, butter, and a splash of tawnym Port and it approximates a gustatory come to Mama moment.
This year Big Bird just might have to play second fiddle to its glorious gravy. But that’s okay. After all, even good Joe Biden claimed his moment in the spotlight.