November 24th, 2005

Thankful for Thanksgiving

I happen to like Thanksgiving. Always have. It’s a holiday for anyone and everyone in this country–except, of course, those who hate turkey. There’s quite a few of these curmudgeonly folks, but I’m happy to report I’m not one of them. Even if the turkey ends up dry and overcooked, it’s nothing a little gravy and cranberry sauce can’t fix. And although the turkey is the centerpiece, it’s the accompaniments that make the meal.

Speaking of making the meal: my turkey is happily roasting in the oven as we speak. Stuffed, despite subtle discouragement from the USDA (“for more even cooking, it is recommended you cook your stuffing outside the bird in a casserole”–yeah, right, that’s for the overflow stuffing, fraidy-cat bureaucrats). The USDA fact sheet on roasting turkeys makes the endeavor sound like the preparations for a space launch, so fraught with technical pitfalls it appear to be.

My theory on turkeys is that they’re like children: you coax them along and just do the best you can, but as long as you don’t utterly ruin or abuse them, they have their own innate characteristics that will manifest in the end. A dry and tough bird will be a dry and tough bird despite all that draping in fat-soaked cheesecloth, a tender and tasty one will withstand a certain amount of overdoing.

One year my brother and I were cooking at my parents house and somehow we set the oven on “broil,” an error that was only discovered about an hour before the turkey was due to be done. It was one of the best turkeys ever. Another time the turkey had turned deep bluish purple on defrosting and was so hideous and dangerous-looking it had to be abandoned. Another terrible time, that has lived in infamy ever since, my mother decided turkey was passe and that we’d have steak on Thanksgiving.

Since I like to eat, I am drawn to the fact that Thanksgiving is a food-oriented holiday with a basic obligatory theme (turkey plus seasonal autumnal food) and almost infinite variations on that theme. Sweet potatoes? Absolutely–but oh, the myriad ways to make them, some revolting, some sublime. Pie? Of course, but what kind? And what to put on it, ice cream, whipped cream, or both?

For me, there are three traditional requirements–besides the turkey, of course. There has to be at least one pecan pie, although eating it in all its sickening sweetness can put an already-sated person right over the top. The cranberry sauce has to be made from fresh cranberries (it’s easy: cranberries, water, and sugar to taste, simmered on top of the stove till mushy and a bright deep red), and lots of it (it’s good on turkey sandwiches the next day, too).

The traditional stuffing in my family is non-traditional: a large quantity of cut-up Granny Smith apples cooked in fair amount of sherry as well as a ton of butter till a bit soft; and then mixed with prunes, almonds, and one Sara Lee poundcake reduced to crumbs by crushing with the hands.

Thanksgiving is one of the few holidays that has a theme that is vaguely religious–giving thanks–but has no direct and specific religious affiliation. So it’s a holiday that unites. It’s one of the least commercial holidays as well, because it involves no presents. It’s a home-based holiday, which is good, too, except for those who don’t have relatives or friends to be with. One drawback is the terribly compressed travel time; I solve that by not usually traveling very far if I can possibly help it.

The main advantage to hosting the day is having the leftovers left over. The main disadvantage to hosting the day is having the leftovers left over.

I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving Day, filled with friends and/or family of your choice, and just the right amount of leftovers!

14 Responses to “Thankful for Thanksgiving”

  1. Richard Aubrey Says:

    There are not enough Native Americans in Jenson’s department.
    He should quit to open up a slot.

  2. PatCA Says:

    It’s also my favorite holiday. Thanks for putting it so well into words!

    And brining is the answer for a perfect moist turkey. The one we did this year was sensational!

  3. TmjUtah Says:

    I give thanks every day. Conscsiously. If there’s anything I need to own up to with either God or my fellow man, I go to great lengths to get that done, too.

    If there were something inherently evil about being descended from Old Dead European White Males (well, except for the Sioux)I might consider atoning for it. There’s not, so I don’t.

    In a different universe, Spain or France might have established Jamestown, and then where would we have been?

    I believe our accomplishments such as citizen sovereignty (however contentious and sometimes frustrating), establishing constitutional republicanism that works, our history in the ongoing march toward embracing “all men (and women) are created equal”, and not least the several hundred thousand dead Americans planted in fields across the planet in payment for our and other’s freedoms moot any need for some sort of hair shirted existence.

    I hope everyone had reason to give thanks yesterday. I know I did.

  4. Nikolaides Says:

    It’s a fine idea for everyone to observe a day of atonement– but such a day ought to consist of genuine reflection and self-searching. Properly observed, Thanksgiving could almost be that day. There is something about sincerely reminding ourselves to recognize the blessings in our lives that inspires an appreciative humility.

    But to strip Thanksgiving of that grace and turn it into just another opportunity for reflexive, nasty bashing of political opponents betrays such a crabbed, wretched, bitter, and sad attitude that I could hardly bear to read to the end of the description of this Jenson’s idea — let alone go look it up on his site.

    Pound cake and granny-smith-apple stuffing, on the other hand . . . now that’s a good idea!

  5. Paul Says:

    Thanksgiving was always my mother’s favorite holiday. She cooked and prepared copious amounts of delicious food and we fed everyone. Now that she is gone I have some wonderfull memories of her that are revisited each Thanksgiving. As for a day of atonement every person on the face of the earth should celebrate a day of atonement – Native Americans included. No one is without sin.

  6. strcpy Says:

    What do I have to attone for? There are a handfull of things I regret doing to some individuals but I haven’t supported or done anything on a national level that needs atonement.

    Or do I have a attonement for my race (I’m mostly German and some Cherokee Indian)? So not only do I fail to see why I should try and attone for something I didn’t do or like but neither of my racial backgrounds did anything to you or those groups (the german end moved over before WWII and fought against the Nazi’s). Maybe being born in this country is somehow a sin? Don’t know about that, those “indeginous people” were born here too so are they atoning for thierselfs against thierselfs (and since I am part of them do I get a free pass)? And what about other minorities and emmigrants?

    Eh, maybe if we were all one single race and all thought what our ancestors did was great then I would agree. Otherwise it seems pretty darn racists to believe what you wrote.

  7. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Interesting that whenever someone proposes a new day of atonement or other breast-beating, it’s someone else’s sins they are thinking about. I think the original Jewish model for such exercises is a bit healthier.

    If Jenson wishes to start such a custom, reflecting first on his own sins of injustice, he might persuade some to join him.

    And no, I don’t mean “I’m sorry, I should never have let those others get away with it.” What cheaply-bought sanctimony.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    Day of Atonement, would that include flogging ourselves with Jenson’s ‘die whitey’ whip? Day of Mourning since 1970, do they mark it with a little LSD?

    What fun, can’t wait.

    In the meantime, I’m thankful today for the US Armed Forces comprised of every American make and model who are away from home fighting all so that I may live peacefully in my own.

  9. Brad Says:

    Professor Robert Jenson has a different take on T-day:

    One indication of moral progress in the United States would be the replacement of Thanksgiving Day and its self-indulgent family feasting with a National Day of Atonement accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting.

    In fact, indigenous people have offered such a model; since 1970 they have marked the fourth Thursday of November as a Day of Mourning in a spiritual/political ceremony on Coles Hill overlooking Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, one of the early sites of the European invasion of the Americas.

    Not only is the thought of such a change in this white-supremacist holiday impossible to imagine, but the very mention of the idea sends most Americans into apoplectic fits — which speaks volumes about our historical hypocrisy and its relation to the contemporary politics of empire in the United States.

    A link from MM’s blog

  10. ExPreacherMan Says:

    Great Thanksgiving post.. But all you folks up in Yankee land, look and weep at our typical hot Thanksgiving weather. This is my hidden web page for Thanksgiving, 2002 at:

    WeaverClan

    The last picture shows how to REALLY cook a turkey!!! And we also fried some lettuce leaves for good measure.

    Everyone — have a great Thanksgiving!!! Be thankful we have the freedom to express ourselves as we wish — without Big Brother and/or the UN looking over our shoulder.

  11. strcpy Says:

    If I cook one I usually deep fry the thing – of course being from Tennessee I deep fry everything anyway.

    The thing is to not cook to preset times, cook to internal temperatures. To some extent the quality of the meat will determine how good the bird is (and the cook time, which can vary by quite a bit), and since the things are frozen and wrapped up you can’t tell by just looking at one. But a bad piece of meat cookied to an internal temperature of 170 will always be moist and tender (though it needs to be taken out of the oven/oil at 160-165 – meat continues to cook after removed form the heat). The little pop-up things in the bird pop up between 165-170. If you use a probe make sure it is one that you stick in and leave, you don’t want to poke a hole in it and then pull the thermometer out (see next paragraph).

    It also need to “rest” covered with aluminum foil for at least ten minutes – 15-20 is better, if you use a temperature probe I wait until it stops getting hotter, this allows the juices in the bird to settle down. The heat drives them around inside the animal and if you cut it then they run out the meat (this is probably one of the biggest things people who have consistently dry turkeys does wrong). The same thing applies if you use a temperature probe – only poke the bird once and leave it in until time to carve (it’s not hard to find one that stays in the oven or oil) – the juices will flow out of the hole also. This is probably the most important thing, even a bad piece of meat has juices and violating this will make a juicy turkey dry no matter what.

    Not hard, cook until the litte plastic thing pops up (or use a temperature probe unitl 165 – a decent one costs 25 dollars and will sound an alarm at a temperature you specify – good for lazy people like me) and wait 10-20 minutes before carving. Do that and I assure you that it will always be great regardless of the other stuff.

    Ahh, I love food. Though about being a chef at a few points then see the other things chefs have to do and quickly decide against it. I sometimes cater events (no more than 60 people, after that I don’t have enough kitchen to cook it) though, that’s enough for me.

    I’ve seen very similar stuffings to the one you posted. Even if you didn’t eat the stuffing the stuff you use should lend a nice flavor to the bird and should be in there, though not all stuffings are so. When I roast chicken I regularly fill the body cavity with similar stuff (fruits – apples are always good, nuts, bacon, brown sugar, spices, etc – just whatever I feel like at the time, no particular recipie). For some areas that’s not really unconventional for turkey’s, apples are considered to pair VERY well with turkey.

    The FDA warnings are a bit strong, just that if your stuffing has anything that needs the bacteria cooked to kill (like the meat does in the turkey) it will not get hot enough to ensure it. Like most of the things it dies at 130 or so degrees anyway but they say 160 to be on the safe side, if you get the stuffing to 160 then the turkey is WAY overdone.

    Anyway, happy Thanksgiving. Probably more info than anyone wants on cooking, but hey – I enjoy it and the entry sorta leads into this well :)

  12. rob Says:

    Happy Thanksgiving America!

  13. meander Says:

    I’m fascinated by your unconventional stuffing recipe…I’ve already read it aloud to several people. If my own boring (but yummy to me) kind wasn’t already made and awaiting the festivities, I think I’d go crazy and give yours a try!!!! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family and know that your intelligent discourse is among those things that some of us are thankful for.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    Magnificent! An intellectual female with both feet planted firmly in front of the oven, except of course when one foot is raised for butt-kicking. Love it. Happy Thanksgiving. Mark

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About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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