My oldest daughter nailed Thanksgiving this year.
She made the trip in from Brooklyn and was begrudgingly prepared for a crockpot buffet at my brother’s house, but when I told her she was cooking for everyone, she was all in.
I told her I would buy the groceries including the turkey, a 21 lb. Butterball beast that took all of six days to thaw.
I typically bucket brine my birds with aromatics like oranges, lemons, peppercorns, coriander, salt, pepper, bay leaves, whole garlic, and a few things I’ll just keep secret, if you don’t mind. If you don’t have a spare fridge to put that bird in, make sure you keep it iced down so you don’t get campylobacter jejuni or clostridium perfringes. Yeah, those are real words.
Anyway, I bought the bird and pulled it out of the freezer six days before the holiday. On day four, Tuesday, I was firmly instructed via text to rinse the bird, dry it with a papertowel, which ended up being a roll of Brawny, and rub the bird with a ½ tablespoon of salt per pound.
“THAT’S IT!” she texted me beforehand.
She knows that I work without a net, or a recipe, if you will, so she was very nervous that I would incorporate some thyme and celery salt, or overpepper it, or some other concoction and salve of seasonings and coatings.
But this time I did what I was told and I dried the bird and rubbed it with salt over and under the skin, in the cavities, around the legs, everywhere. Then I just left it in the pan and stuck it back in the fridge for 48 hours.
Tay flew in to St. Louis on Wednesday and we hit Denny’s on the way home. It’s our holiday tradition and frankly, “it’s an American institution”. No, our waitress' name was not Judy….I don’t think it was anyway. I didn’t ask.
I had a veggie omelet and our kid ate a stack of banana caramel pancakes. I had decaf and she had water. We each had a bowl of fruit.
Then we headed up the very familiar route of Hwy. 61 through Wentzville, Troy, Hannibal, Palmyra, and to the turn toward Quincy and Keokuk. That turn always screams at me that I’m going too fast, but I make the turn just fine. That machine’s a little cocky and entirely annoying.
Anyway, we got home about two hours after our brunch and then headed straight to Fareway for groceries for the rest of the meal.
The usuals from her mom’s recipes. Sweet Potatoes, marshmallows, potatoes, sweet corn, wild rice, stuffing, crescent rolls, and then the other things we need on the shelf. That always includes some holiday sweet thing that I don’t want in the house, but love when they are.
The boxes usually have Lil’ Debbie on them and the snacks are individually wrapped. Now I have four boxes of gingerbread frosted cake cookies, Christmas Tree-shaped snack cakes, and cherry/chocolate moon pies or something like that.
Taylor eats one or two and then puts them back into the pantry to await Christmas. That’s my excuse for not eating them.
This year she stopped at refrigerated endcap that had pumpkin flavored egg nog.
“Ewwwww. Yuck,” she said pointing at it and picking it up.
“I have to get some of this.”
I laughed. “Whaaaat? You don’t like egg nog.”
“Yeah, but when I see something that looks that bad, I just have to try it.”
It made the grocery sack and now sits on its side in my refrigerator. Nope, not me.
It sits above the Busch Lite. Okay.
On Thanksgiving morning, this girl was out of her room and dressed before I got downstairs. She was in high-heeled black boots, a skirt and a holiday sweater.
“You’re cooking in that?”
And she did. We made the trip to West Burlington to my brother’s house and this girl went to work looking like someone with her own cooking show. She created some dressing that she coated the bird in and then lightly tented it with foil and stuck it in the oven. No bag, no basting, no checking on the bird every 30 minutes. My instincts were to look at what smelled so good – quite often.
“You know, you keep opening that oven and it's never going to cook.”
I made the potatoes for 20 people, she made everything else. My potatoes experienced heavy leftovers, whereas the turkey was obliterated. She stood by the kitchen sink as one of my brother’s nephews carved it. I’m not sure he used a knife, but I saw a lot of twisted bone and juice-covered hands.
Taylor looked on with a smile. “My work is done here.”
We all wolfed down food in three or four trips to the kitchen counter and everyone raved at this well-dressed bird and even better-dressed young woman.
My mom insists on turkey now for Christmas this year. Not sure where Taylor sits on that, but I know we’re doing it at my house for the first time ever as a full family. I’m fine with that, but she’s cooking. I’ll clean.
The food wasn’t what I gave thanks for that day, it was having her home and watching her do amazing things that I never taught her. Her independence is staggering - and her turkey now has its own legacy. Life is blessed and good.
Unless you got one of those trees that has the praying mantis egg sac in it and it hatches and they invade your home like zombies from World War Z. Not sure why, but that really makes me laugh – but that’s Beside the Point.
Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at Charles.V@PenCityCurrent.com.
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