A Day or so after Thanksgiving

It’s the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I want jalapeños. I regret wanting jalapeños as I pull into the full parking lot. The carts are in chaos. The vibe inside the grocery store is hurried, the aisles crowded. In produce, there’s the woman in front of the apples who’s pulling down her mask to answer her phone. The bananas are unreachable. I can’t find the honey, and have to ask, and there’s an old guy standing like the guard of jams and he’s got no mask at all. I skip the aisle with pet food and TP because there’s too dang many people. I ask the fish counter guy about clams for chowder and he’s all, I just minced these, so I get a pint container of minced clams and just enough whole clams to make it Instagrammable. I pay the grumpy checker, who is nicer now that plague death doesn’t seem so imminent, and I zip my wallet into the chest pocket of my parka, drive home, hang the jacket on an actual hanger in the front hall closet like a tidy adult, and get to work cleaning house. The sun goes down and I make clam chowder and it’s delicious. 

The next day I make chili using some beans we grew in the backyard; it’s what I make the night before Thanksgiving since I have to make stuffing with some stale cornbread. I make a pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, and dry brine the bird.

Then it’s Thanksgivng, the second since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. I go back and look at the coronavirus data from a year ago; so many cases a day. So many people yet to die. I don’t have flowers so I gather some grass and twigs from the yard and shove them in a vase.

We have the same, small group for dinner.  Grackle’s never seen the dining room table with a tablecloth and dishes on it. Everyone makes something. Everything is delicious. We have a fire in the fireplace.

After dinner we go for a walk in the dark in the woods with flashlights and dogs. Then we come back inside and have pie. Grackle discovers the flowers on the table. Two days later, he is still barfing. 

Friday we sleep a little bit late, and go ride our horses. The capricious owners of the old barn threw out all the paying clients on short notice this summer. We have moved to a decent place, but the drive is twice as long. As we pull into the barn parking lot, I realize I don’t have my wallet, and I don’t know where it is. I envision it in the chest pocket of my plaid vest, and try to make a mental note to find it later. Did making a mental note use to work, in pre-pandemic times? It doesn’t work for me. The next day I remember, but not in time to look for it anyplace beyond the pocket of the vest, where it isn’t. Later, when I do find it, it is after I completely recreate Tuesday, down to what I wore, when, and it is this that gets me to remember the coat, hung in the closet with the wallet zipped in its pocket. Like the tidy adult that I was, for a bit, on Tuesday.

Now, I am not sure what day it is. Ok, no, it’s Sunday.

I am suddenly thinking about Xmas gifts. What do you want? One of my children gave me a short, detailed list. I think about my mother a lot during December, both because she loved Xmas and because her birthday is mid-month.  If she were alive, I would be sending her a copy of Louise Erdrich’s new book, The Sentence, which came out last week. I read it immediately, and loved it.

It has been windy and a cold front arrived.

We wake up to a dusting of snow today. There is news of another coronavirus variant, B.1.1.529, known as Omicron. I can’t even care about your nit-wit sister who won’t get vaccinated anymore because we are just screwed. We put jackets on all the dogs. The leaves are off the trees and thick and crisp on the ground. The path I call the short loop is buried in leaves, but I know the way. We run into the trails maintenance guy, putting up signs, and he asks us if we saw many riders. We say we used to see a couple of people, maybe once a week, but come to think of it we haven’t seen any riders in a while.  

I went through the motions

What I did: Thanksgiving dinner for 9, with 5 sleep-over guests and 2 extra dogs

What I did beforehand: my Thanksgiving independence began as a college freshman. I went back east to school and my mother told me she wouldn’t pay for my to come home for it. I was told to get myself invited to other people’s houses. By junior year I was cooking in the empty dorm with a disposable roasting pan and purloined cafeteria dishes and silverware. I spent a month’s grocery money on a heavy Calphalon roasting pan in grad school, and could do a serviceable turkey gravy before I had my first kid. 

The rare years that we have traveled over Thanksgiving week, we’ve sworn, “Never again.”

Bacon Provider practicing selfies

For many years we have invited friends who don’t have family in the U.S. or can’t afford to get home or wouldn’t go home even if they could afford to. This practice put an end to an older tradition, where every Thanksgiving my husband and I would have a shouting fight over which wine to de-glaze the pan with or which dishes to use or whether we need water glasses on the table. 


What I wore: jeans and a favorite black shirt and Birkenstock clogs and an apron.


Who came to dinner: the Bacon Provider, 19, The Graduate, his roommate, B. who I befriended on Twitter, W. and her dog, P. and her girlfriend J. and dog

How I got the turkey: I pre-ordered an organic turkey from a local grocer. They asked 19 about his long hair, and offered to brine the turkey. 
Why I saw this show: I look forward to the day when our Thanksgiving celebrations include acknowledgement of the genocide of the indigenous peoples of North America. In the meantime, Thanksgiving is one of those sort of easy, happy little holidays that’s just about one, do-able thing (a meal), isn’t entangled with anything religious, and requires housecleaning but no significant decorating.


Where I sat: the Bacon Provider and I have a lot of dining room chairs, but only 8 that don’t wobble and feel a little bit broken. It took a number of rearrangements to make sure that the worst chairs would be ours, on the opposite ends.

Things that were sad: my middle child was not here. She texted me a picture of her homemade challah and made her own first turkey in Seattle. I ran out of time and didn’t call my older brother. One of the guest dogs chased and barked at Schwartz, so he spent the day hiding. 

I know how he feels.

Nothing has felt the same since the “election” of the Russian-sponsored pussy-grabber and his appointments parade of America’s Most Deplorable to positions of power. It’s clear he doesn’t know what a president does, but at least he’s surrounding himself with an expert panel of white supremacists, wife-beaters, homophobes, school-destroyers, war-mongers, xenophobes, and anti-Semites. I think we’re fucked.

I glumly readied the dining room for the holiday the weekend before, and finally moved the furniture around so someone could sleep on the sofa bed in there, but didn’t set the table in advance because I worried the cat would jump on it.


Things that were funny: P. and I substituted a homemade spice mixture in all recipes involving cinnamon because J. is allergic. We used allspice, cardamom, anise, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and white pepper. We had to make it over and over again. It was fine.


Things that were not funny: the day before the Bacon Provider tired to show me an article about spatchcocking a turkey. Like we were going to wake up on Thanksgiving morning, abandon our thirty years’ experience with roasting and basting, and carve up the raw turkey carcass just because of something he saw online. Also, he disagreed with me about putting water glasses on the table again. 


The brining done by the fancy store where I got the turkey wasn’t as strong or effective as my own and so the turkey turned out a lot less juicy and perfect this year. 


Our old dog had a lot of accidents in the busy kitchen.


Something I ate: before dinner we had raw carrots and homemade spelt and wheat sourdough crackers with sesame and fennel seeds with La Tur, Point Reyes blue, and an aged cheddar. At dinner we had roast turkey, traditional bread-cube stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, brussels sprouts cooked with leeks and butter, beet salad with shallots and walnuts, maple-syrup-sweetened mashed sweet potatoes with jalapeños, sourdough millet porridge rolls, and creamed spinach. For dessert, pumpkin cheesecake, apple-cranberry-pomegranate pie, crumble-topped apple-cranberry-pomegranate pie  and pumpkin pie. We also had a lot of wine.


What it is: I am one of the extraordinarily lucky people whose Friendsgiving Dinner coincides with Thanksgiving.

Who should invite old friends and new to Thanksgiving: anyone with room at their table. 

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What I saw on the way home: W. and I took B. to his train back to the city around 9:30. I had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting a toad. It was walking, not hopping. Stupid toad. 

Another Landlord Story: Appliances

While the stacked washer/dryer unit—which never manages to empty itself of water and has ominous signs of mold in its interior—seemed certain to be the first to fail, it was the ice-maker which had to be replaced not long after we moved in. Its replacement was necessitated by the formation of a glacier in the freezer, and if ever I find a glacier has formed inside my freezer again, I will know not to try to pry the thing open. The oven quit the Monday of Thanksgiving week, requiring a new burner unit, and creating the kind of household emergency so mundane it would barely be worthy of a sit-com, though it was pretty scary for me. In general the hot water situation is like an ancient polytheist religion: quaint, unnecessarily complex, incomprehensible, and frustrating. There is a toilet that flushes with a startling violence.  The room above the furnace/hot-water heater is a consistent 82˚F, perfect for rising bread dough. Most showers are equipped with two separate shower heads, controlled by individual levers, capable of spraying at the same time without overlapping the same sprayed body (unless the person is triple the width of any person in this family).  It’s a rental. It’s fine.
New dishwasher is
different from old
in one respect:
red light on floor
shows it’s on
Before it stopped pumping water out, the dishwasher had been making loud, unhappy-pump noises for a few weeks. Its demise was not unexpected from our point of view. I called the Landlords and She and I discovered that the unit would need replacing since it was not worth a repair.  She and I had two separate conversations where I assured her that ten years is a reasonable life-span for a dishwasher.  A replacement was arranged for, and being an updated version of the same model it would fit perfectly, as would the decorative front panel.
The following Monday we had an appointment for a new unit to be delivered and installed. The Landlord had paid in advance. Two guys arrived and got to work, and I did the sensible thing and stayed the hell out of their way.  It was at this point that I heard vigorous, fast-tempo, insistent knocking on the front door, and though I was only a few feet away I was unable to open the door before it burst open.
There is a sit-com scene where the landlord walks in to the apartment right after delivering his quick, signature knock, and the studio audience (or laugh-track) lets you know that he does it all the time. In the sit-com, this drop-in character will be wacky, and a reliable source for laughs.  While our Landlord is wacky, you do not really laugh at him; you might miss something.
First, he wanted to know if everything was going to be okay. He had to shout to get the attention of the two guys, and they did not really understand his question. Next, he asked if ten years was a reasonable life-span for a dishwasher. Again, he had to shout and ask the question several times. The two guys assured the Landlord that ten years was a reasonable life-span for a dishwasher, and got back to work. Lastly, he asked them if there were spare parts that we should keep from the old unit.  At this point the two guys did not answer even after being shouted at.
The Landlord turned to me and with a twinkle in his eye informed me that his dishwasher is 81 years old. He continued and said that he heats the water for dishes on his wood stove and washes everything by hand, because he has an abhorrence of chipping dishes. He may have actually gone on to tell me about brain scans, the strength of his fingernails, and how he had been a sharpshooter as a lad, but I was in such a hurry to have something else to do that I might have stopped listening.  When you don’t like the wacky landlord character on TV, you just change the channel.

Gluten-free Thanksgiving Desserts

Dessert is a pretty important part of the Thanksgiving meal, even if you are usually too full to really enjoy it.  Because our guest maintains a gluten-free diet, I made it my goal to have most of the meal be gluten-free.  Pies present a real challenge, since it is the gluten in wheat flour which makes the dough stick to itself and be able to be flaky instead of crumbly. The freezer case at our supermarket had a frozen pie shell, and it would have to do for pumpkin pie.
For a second dessert, I made a gluten-free cheesecake.  No, plain cheesecake is not necessarily a traditional Thanksgiving dessert, but it is my husband’s favorite.  Since this is a rental house, we do not have access to my inventory of too many cake pans and are forced to make do with an inexpensive electric mixer and inadequate mixing bowls. We can report with conviction that it is even possible to make pies in cast-iron frying pans and they will be delicious.  
Our cheesecake cracked while it cooled.
I’m pretty sure a proper pan would have prevented it.
Gluten-Free Cheesecake
Cheesecake is pretty easy if you have an electric mixer of some kind, and the foresight to allow all ingredients to come to room temperature. While the 325°F oven preheats,  I put ½ a box of gluten-free graham crackers(about 6 oz.) in a re-sealable plastic (ok, Ziploc) bag and crushed them with a wooden spoon until I got bored. For future reference, I really should have crushed them completely.  To the crushed crackers I added 4 T melted butter and 2 T sugar.  I was supposed to also add ¼ t nutmeg, but I didn’t have any. This mess was pressed into the bottom of the cake pan. Well, ok, actually, we don’t have a cake pan right now, so we used a round 9”ceramic oven-proof dish with high sides.  I think we were supposed to refrigerate this while we made the cake filling, but we forgot to and it didn’t matter.
To make the filling, unwrap 2 lbs. softened cream cheese into a large mixing bowl (yes, Virginia, this is 4 8-oz. packages). Mix in 1 c. sugar. When combined, beat in 4 eggs, one at a time. (At this point there was cheesecake batter all over my shirt and face.)  Next, beat in 1 c. sour cream, 2 T cornstarch, and 1 t vanilla extract.
When smooth, pour into cake pan and bake for 45 minutes.
Make the sour cream topping by whisking together 1 c. sour cream, ¼ c. sugar and 1 t vanilla. At the 45 minute mark, take out the cake and gently spread as much of the topping onto it as you can.  Return the cake to the oven and bake for an additional15 minutes. Turn off oven and leave cheesecake in the oven for 1 hour before removing.

Cool completely and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.

How to Make Gluten-Free Stuffing

In years past, I made a pretty traditional stuffing. Starting by sauteing onions and celery in butter, adding stale cubes of decent sourdough and home-made corn bread, then chopped parsley, fresh sage, salt and pepper, and moistened before baking with a lot of butter and turkey stock.  Depending on the guests, I have been known to chop the turkey liver and saute it with the onions.  
To turn this dish into a gluten-free substitute, I was pretty stumped. It turns out my local supermarket has a decent selection of gluten-free products, including a French bread.  Yes, the loaves were pale and suspicious-looking in a plastic two-pack, but made very realistic looking cubes. I also made cornbread, and the recipe follows. We opted not to stuff the bird and instead baked the stuffing in a casserole dish at 350F.  The stuffing was unremarkable, and yet perfectly delicious.
Gluten Free Cornbread
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix 2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Corn flour, 4 T sugar, 2 t baking powder, 1 t baking soda, and 1 t salt in a bowl and set aside.
Melt 1 T butter in a 10 inch cast-iron skillet.  In another bowl, beat 2 eggs, then add 1 c buttermilk, and 1/4 c melted butter. Add wet ingredients all at once to the dry and stir until just moistened. Pour batter into the hot skillet. Bake 20 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean. Serve warm with butter and honey.

How to Brine a Turkey

I cooked my first turkey some time in college, when we stayed on campus during Thanksgiving break and used the dorm kitchen. I think I might still own the muffin tin I got in this era.  I really only manage to get excited about the holiday if I have guests, and this year a good friend was driving in from the Mid-west, bringing her dog as well.
As it happens, this friend eats a gluten-free diet. I have known her long enough to know that it is not a choice, like vegetarianism, but a medical necessity.  From my perspective, there were only two big changes I would need to make: stuffing and desserts. I also had to adapt the gravy and creamed spinach; I did not make gravy back in the dorm at Middlebury, but I do have a photo of successful gravy from perhaps 1989. It must have seemed a real achievement.  

How to Brine a Turkey
  1. Become aware that Thanksgiving is tomorrow
  2. Have already bought your turkey (important!)
  3. Realize you should brine your turkey
  4. Go to interwebs to get too many recipes
  5. Look at the weight of your bird compared to the weight of the ideal bird recipe is intended for. Attempt complex reduction of recipe from 20 lbs. to 14.31. Abandon attempt in favor of making the whole recipe.
  6. On Wednesday before Thanksgiving, dissolve 1 cup of salt in 1 quart of water in pot on stove. Heat to simmer, adding 6 bay leaves, 2 T coriander, 2 T black pepper corns, 1 t yellow mustard seeds.  Notice recipe calls for black or brown mustard seeds and wonder what those are. Fleetingly regret not finding fennel seeds and dried juniper berries at your store. Stir until salt dissolves and set aside to cool.
  7. Remove turkey from fridge and commence wrestling the wrapper off. Remove neck, giblets and organs from cavity (you can use them tomorrow in stuffing and/or stock). Wash turkey in sink unless you read something which says this makes an aerosolized spray of bacteria which settles on every surface of your kitchen, in which case you pass a hand of hopeful blessing over the bird.  Place bird in giant stock pot or brining bag.
  8. Add salt mixture to turkey, including an additional 3 quarts of water plus a bottle (minus one glass) of dry Riesling. Make a note to go buy more wine when you’re done.  Toss in 2 thinly sliced onions, 6 cloves of crushed garlic and a bunch of fresh thyme.  Tie bag shut and double bag. Place bag in cooler and cover with ice.
  9. Congratulations. You have now increased the room in your fridge by the size of your turkey. Drink that glass of wine in anticipation of going out and buying more wine.