Sunday, November 11, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 11-18-07
Jeff Gill

What Goes In First Comes Out Last

Basic to the challenge of making a traditional Thanksgiving feast is timing.

Each dish has its own demands on the stove or fridge or freezer, and the varying times and stages are the real trick of an all the trimmings dinner.

Truth be told, roasting a turkey is fairly simple – take the bag o’ stuff out of the body cavity, and the rest is easy.

Unless you leave it in the freezer until Wednesday night. That’s fine if you were serving steak, or an eight pound shoebox bird, but a twenty pound classic fowl needs a step-by-step plan for thawing, prepping, roasting, finishing, and carving, and that can be a two or three day sequence.

In between the occupancy of the oven by big bird, your other side dishes and baked goods weave in and out, with the rolls zipping through last. Meanwhile, the stove-top is bubbling on all four burners for many of us, with green beans and quartered potatoes and gravy and stuffing and noodles and a small saucepan of peas for we happy few.

But that’s more than four, which means some dishes have to rotate on and off the stove – no one gets to be too at home on the range, if you know what I mean.

Then there’s shuffling the refrigerator space, for jellos and relish trays and icebox pies and suchlike.

That’s the true art of a calm, happy Thanksgiving: to do all this and still smile, get the table set, and not bite the head off the first person coming in the kitchen to look for some ice for their soda.

I’ve done a few Thanksgiving feasts, but I have to admit that my overall affect of peace and tranquility was lacking. Gravy I can do, even pie crusts while roasting tom turkey I can do, but doing it all and not getting testy, not so much.

One piece of paper, with a rough sketch of an action plan, a timeline, would have done me and my loved ones a world of good. As it was, my sequence was largely in my head, which did no one any good who wanted to help, or even figure out how to get out of the way. (Dad wanting to know why there was no creamed corn -- he was lucky not to end up wearing some vegetables, but that wasn’t really his fault.)

Working with the Homer Curry family Christmas dinner years ago at St. Francis de Sales, my real joy in that was not feeding the lonely and hungry as much as it was having responsibility for gravy . . . nothing but gravy, about thirty gallons of it. Finish the gravy, and step onto the serving line and ladle your wares onto waiting plates, and life is good.

For Christmas, my dad has had the good idea of focusing the mealtime part of the day onto a massive pair of lasagna pans. You want starch, meat, dairy, seasonings, vegetables – they’re all there. Have seconds. Garlic bread on the side, and then back to sorting the stuff out of the stockings.

None of which helps us on Thanksgiving Day. Even Italians (which we’re not) don’t have lasagna on the fourth Thursday of November. Bird and beans and berries and bread must be served, whether at home or at some separate venue. Eight hours for the turkey, three stages of boiling and mashing and mixing with garlic cloves and butter for the mashed potatoes, and a hearty pan full of stuffing to stand-in for the former output of the interior, woven in with the boil and simmer of saucepans you’d forgotten you had from the back of the cabinets.

Here’s the good news, though; we will all forget to put something on, or out, or mix it up, and that thing will be found about when the pies get cut. And no one will care. We will be stuffed ourselves, not willing to even entertain the possibility of having wanted any more than we’ve had, and the missing item will go into the rondelay of leftovers for the next week. Our excess of cooking, to make up for the general lack of culinary effort from the preceding year, is enough for a a platoon of gluttons even when shy a pan of sautéed Brussels sprouts or some such.

Your gathering is thankful for whatever’s on the table, and that’s the truth. Me, I actually like green peas, especially with the last of the gravy. Enjoy the company first, the food second, and worry about the cuisine last, if at all. And give thanks.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him your gravy-related misadventures at

No comments:

Post a Comment