Wowie-wow-wow. December already?
I'm sorry for not posting a blip in over two weeks. Wanna hear a story?
Way too long ago I took a deposition, probably one of my longest ever, involving liability issues surrounding a piece of decades-old industrial equipment that had the audacity to mangle somebody's limb. The actual subject matter was kind of dry, but the lawsuit surrounding the incident intrigues me. Who's to blame? The buyer, the seller, the used-equipment broker, or the employee for sticking an extremity where it doesn't belong?
I digress. This case came with the lovely sound of "cha-CHING!" because it was a nice job for this freelance court-reporter, an hours-long deposition with several bickering attorneys present and ordering. (Wheeeee!!!)
(Why, yes, I DO hate bickering attorneys, but bickering attorneys are generally not inclined to help each other by engaging in the unethical practice of sharing transcripts among themselves. This puts the copy sale where it belongs - in my kids' bellies.)
Of course, bickering means the job was awful to scope, and it took me much longer than it should have. Have you ever noticed that when a deadline looms, it seems like everything suddenly needs your attention? The kids brought home some horrible germ which infected me and Kryptonite. And Thanksgiving was coming, of course.
I had to get the job turned in, however, if I wanted to get paid. I was determined to get the thing done before Thanksgiving so I could stuff myself silly without unfinished business hanging over my head. After three sleepless nights, I finished that job and two other small transcripts by the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Phew!
Now I could handle Thanksgiving preparations without guilt. Our plans this year shifted from cooking for my in-laws to dinner with E. and her family, a shift that left me feeling rather guilty. I'd asked my FIL if he'd like to have dinner with us, and he accepted. It was the first time in ten years that we'd have Thanksgiving dinner with my in-laws. My in-laws have made it an annual tradition of dining at their favorite restaurant with a group of friends, so I was pretty excited when they decided to join us instead.
Last year, we had dinner with E., and we had a terrific time. She invited us again this year. I told her that I'd already offered to cook for my in-laws, and she generously offered to serve them as well at her house. I told her my FIL probably wouldn't go for it, but I promised I'd ask.
I asked and got a bit of a shock in return. Not only did my FIL decline E's offer, he bowed out of my initial offer as well. I was stunned. I fully expected and anticipated cooking a turkey dinner for my in-laws. I was actually pretty excited about it despite the work involved, so I was floored. I feel rather guilty too. I finally got my in-laws to come to Thanksgiving dinner, and I sent them running the other way because I extended an invitation that I didn't expect them to accept. Aaagh.
Hmmm... That previous bit makes it sound like my in-laws and I don't get along or something. That's not the case at all. As in-laws go, I got a set that I not only love but genuinely like and get along with, and if they don't feel the same way they've done a wonderful job of keeping it to themselves for 20 years.
Getting back to my Turkey-Day "tail," we may have been traveling to E's for dinner, but that doesn't mean I get to rest on my laurels. Every person afflicted with Thanksgiving nostalgia has certain things that, if done without, will invalidate the most lovely dinner laid on a table. For The Oracle, these dishes include my mother's turkey stuffing and the sweet-potato casserole we discovered in Cooks Illustrated magazine in 2005.
(If you haven't heard of it, I highly recommend the Cooks Illustrated website. CI offers a two-week online-membership trial. They take a credit card number up front, though, so make sure you cancel if you don't want it or you're automatically charged the annual fee when the trial period is up. The message board is always free. I'm a huge CI junkie for their recipes as well as product reviews that are truly unbiased. CI magazine contains NO advertising except for their own publications.)
In addition to The Oracle's favorites, he wanted what we call "corn thing," which is a baked casserole made from dried corn. We were also bringing rice pudding and a cake for dessert.
I assembled the basic ingredients for stuffing and started preparing the bird. The Oracle suggested, because of sleep deprivation, that I wait until morning to roast the turkey (the only way to get good stuffing is to cook it in the bird), but I felt we were going to need the oven in the morning, so getting the turkey out of the way would be a better idea. I also knew that letting the turkey cool completely would help it retain more moisture than carving it warm.
The turkey went into the oven at 10:30 p.m., and I cursed myself for not remembering to buy a cheese cloth or boy's tee shirt to cover the bird the way my mom did. Drat. Instead, I loosely draped a sheet of foil over the breast to keep it from getting too brown. The turkey is roasting, an I'm puttering about with one thing or another, occasionally basting the turkey between tasks.
By 2:30, my feet and calves are sore from all the standing, so I park in The Oracle's chair to channel surf a bit. With my cell phone alarm as backup, I'm up and down every half hour or so to baste the turkey. At 4:30, the house smells divine, and I figure the turkey will be done in a half hour or so. I remove the foil to let the pallid turkey skin brown up a bit, and I return to channel surfing.
At 6:30 I'm jolted from dreams of turkey to wakefulness. I'm not even sure what woke me up. It certainly wasn't my cell phone. I rush to check the turkey, but the light coming in the windows tells me I'm already too late. My once-pallid turkey skin is two shades away from black, the exposed stuffing is burnt to a crisp, and my pan juices are a solid mass of blackened gunk cemented to the bottom of the pan. Damn.
Once again, I should've listened to The Oracle. I don't openly admit this to him, of course, because as soon as he woke up and smelled the now-Cajun turkey, he was compelled to remind me that he told me to wait. Grrrr. Does he not think I know that?
As the turkey cools, the meat pulls away from the breastbone. I can see that the browned breast meat beneath the skin, and I'm reminded of the Griswold turkey in Christmas Vacation. This turkey is inedible. I don't mourn the loss of the turkey meat, really, because I could take or leave turkey. I'm crushed that I'll have no gravy. I love home-made turkey gravy, which is what makes the turkey worthwhile and elevates the stuffing to a whole new level.
The stuffing, once I picked off the burned surface, is heavenly, thank God. I don't think my sleep-deprived, gravy-deprived psyche could have handled the resulting hailstorm of "I told you so" if The Oracle had no stuffing with his turkey dinner. It would've ended badly for one of us. I was suddenly glad that I wasn't feeding my in-laws, because this was my worst turkey ever.
By the time we finish getting our stuff together (including an overpriced convenience-store run for butter), we're an hour late for E's, and once we arrive it takes me almost another hour to shake off the morning's disappointment and aggravation. Here is where E's easygoing nature is a blessing.
E is having her own hassles. Her turkey is running an hour behind schedule. If I look at it sideways, this means we're sort of on time after all.
(Yes, it's flawed logic, but it's the only logic I have.)
E's cooking away: green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, crescent rolls, asparagus, turkey stuffing, pineapple stuffing (yep), gravy, cranberry-fruit mold, and extra turkey legs. I think I'm missing something. All I know is that every square inch of her dining room table was occupied.
E's husband usually handles mashed-potato duty, and he and The Oracle were in a bit of a dither because E decided to try the dreaded something new. On Thanksgiving of all days. Said something was Pioneer Woman's "creamy mashed potatoes" which involve much of the same ingredients as regular mashies with the addition of cream cheese. They were quite good. You would have thought, however, that we were asking our men to eat sauteed grasshoppers when introduced to the idea. Change can be so difficult.
Our kids had a blast playing with one another. Kryptonite was cuddled and coddled as usual, and when dinner was served I THEN reazlied that I forgot the portable high chair, so she had to sit in my lap during dinner. She didn't mind one bit.
By the time we finished dinner, coffee, and desserts (lots of dessert. E made pumpkin and pecan pies on top of all the dishes complementing her turkey), I basked in some much-needed conversation with E. We weren't on our way home until midnight. The kids were all asleep in the car within minutes, and traffic was light. We sailed home in under 50 minutes.
Best of all, when we got home I could sleep. I hadn't really slept in days, and it felt marvelous. I woke a smidge before 9:00 on Friday morning and remembered that we were supposed to meet Aunt J. at the bowling alley at 10:00. Ha. We were an hour late for that too, but the kids had a great time. I'm sorry that The Oracle had to work. It would've been fun to have him along.
And, wow, this post has gone on long enough. I should've broken it up over a few days.
5 Easy BBQ Potluck Sides by Natalie
5 hours ago