Monday, December 14, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

As we continue to come upon our "seconds" of things in Dallas, I can't quite believe how fast the time has gone. As I write this, we are coming up on our second Christmas in Texas, and we've also celebrated my second birthday (well, my 25th birthday actually, but my second one here... you know...)

In October, we celebrated our second Canadian Thanksgiving in Dallas. Last year, if you remember, I roasted a chicken and we ate it at our kitchen counter. This year, I had grandiose plans to convert our bedroom into a temporary dining room and serve turkey and stuffing to eight people on a table which we could borrow from the common room. In the end David, ever the pragmatist, talked me out of this plan, by pointing out a few setbacks, including but not limited to the following:

- Our oven is tiny and could barely fit a turkey, let alone anything else that might need to be in there at the same time.

- We have four of everything, not eight. And certainly not, say, twenty, once you get into using forks for cooking and cutting and serving and all this.

- There are no chairs in the building to go with the table I was thinking of stealing. I said we could steal chairs from the Prothro building. David pointed out that school chairs are not the same height as dining room chairs. This became moot when:

- It turns out that the table I was thinking of disappeared from the common room some time last year.

- We don't have nearly enough cookware to make a Thanksgiving dinner. We have barely enough to make a Wednesday night dinner.

Well, alright. So I gave up on that idea. But our good friends Chelsea and Chris very kindly offered to let us host our Thanksgiving dinner at their lovely apartment. Chelsea even got out all the lovely things they were given for their wedding to make the dinner and serve the guests.

It was a really fun day. Chelsea and I went to Central Market, which is a fabulous grocery store chain that is like Pusateri's meets Ikea. Pusateri's in the sense that it is an upscale, foodie heaven – Ikea in the sense that you are contrived to wander through its carefully laid out displays and are subsequently tempted to buy half the store. This was my first-ever turkey I cooked myself, and Chelsea has never cooked a turkey. So, she was excited to see how it's done and I was hoping I actually knew how it's done. We bought a twelvish-pound fresh turkey. I had bought some groceries previously that were already in the car, so we mostly got some fun things like apple cider, pretty decorative branches, and a container of Love Dip, which is an addictive sour cream dip for corn chips that Chelsea and I both love. Absolutely essential for cooking the dinner. Oh, and we bought the requisite can of cranberry sauce, which Chelsea says her Grandma always serves still perfectly in the shape of the can. I told Chelsea she could handle that part – and she did!

So, we brought the turkey back to their place. Chelsea put Chris to work shining the silverware – what a husband! I washed the turkey and proceeded to take out the giblet bag and neck (the neck for crying out loud – have you had that before??) Chelsea didn't know that this was part of the turkey process, and was mildly perturbed. I probably would have been too - but I had a job to do, people. With the stuffing made, I got ready to stuff the turkey. Now, I am realizing that Texans don't tend to actually stuff their turkeys. They make stuffing, but they bake it in a baking dish and just serve it – hence the term "dressing". So Chelsea had never seen someone stuff a turkey before. By this time, she was telling me I was "fierce".

So, we got the turkey into the oven. I set about making the cabbage salad. This is the purple cabbage coleslaw with dill that my family makes at Thanksgiving and Christmas. My mother and I both have a complex that we have to try and get the cabbage "as fine as Grandma used to do it." Which I'm increasingly convinced is a mythical prospect. However, I can try. The thing about this recipe is you need a good deal of diced cabbage, not to mention onion and celery, and (the catch) you can't use a food processor, because it beats all the water out of the cabbage and the salad is very... well, watery. So you have to use a knife (besides, GRANDMA would never have used a food processor). So, the afternoon went like this – I would stand at the cutting board chopping cabbage. Chelsea would walk in from setting the table and go "this salad is taking you a while." I would keep chopping. Chris walked in from finishing the silverware. "Wow, are you still chopping that cabbage? What is this for, anyway?" "Grandma's salad. Has to be like Grandma did it. Ooh, look at that pretty piece of cabbage – isn't cabbage pretty? Hey, come back..." David arrives, having walked from campus. "Wow, you WALKED here? Hilary has been chopping cabbage ALL DAY!"

You get the idea.

Tyler, our MSM friend, came over after a while to hang out. He was coming to the dinner, and is a video game buddy of Chris's. They play FIFA soccer together. So, peeling the carrots was punctuated by occasional yelling from the living room. Then Chelsea sent the boys into the kitchen to peel the potatoes for me, and I sat down with Tyler to watch "Big Rigs". Random, I know, but the episode was set in Saskatchewan, so that was kind of appropriate.

Boys helping with the dinner.

Then I went back into the kitchen to keep things going and Ulston arrived. He is our MSM friend from Antigua, an international student like me. At this point, everybody ended up in the kitchen. Why does that happen?? So I kicked everyone out and started basting the turkey. This was another thing that Chelsea and Chris had not experienced before (I even had to remember to bring my own baster) so I made them try basting. Isn't basting a satisfying activity? I think it's my favourite part of making the dinner.

As that chaotic half-hour of the cooking arrived, when everything needs to be in the oven or on the stove or going into a dish all at once, Kristen arrived, who is a first-year MSM. She lives in Hawk Hall with us. As I was looking at the pot of carrots thinking maybe I hadn't made enough, she got a call from T-Wes, another first year MSM, asking what she was doing. Could T-Wes come to the dinner? Oh sure – there's always room for one more at Canadian Thanksgiving. (T-Wes is actually Thomas Wesley, but apparently his friends in undergrad called him T-Wes, and that's what he told us to call him. It really invites things like T-to-the-Wes or T-Dawg, and I had trouble calling him that for about a month. But I got over it).

My next task was to give a pep talk to my turkey wranglers. I asked Chris and Tyler to get the turkey from the pan onto the cutting board, "without flipping it over or it ending up on the floor." This is a bit of a heart attack-inducing moment for me – I mean, turkeys are pretty heavy and kind of awkward! But they did a good job, and Chris carved the bird, a job I was very happy to delegate.

So, finally the whole meal got on the table. We were eight people and I was having silent anxiety that there was not enough food. However, there was of course lots and plenty to spare, and everyone got to enjoy everything.

Here was the menu of my first real Thanksgiving turkey dinner:

Turkey (of course!)

Stuffing (bona fide)


Carrots (we always called these "cooked carrots" when I was growing up. Not "boiled carrots" or "steamed carrots" but "cooked carrots" – is that weird?)

Cabbage Salad (almost as fine as Grandma used to do)

Mashed Potatoes

Gravy (I made gravy! For reals!)

Apple and Turnip Casserole

Cranberry Sauce (can-shaped)

and for dessert:

Pumpkin Pie (Aunt Jane's recipe, but dairy-free for David's benefit. This entails two hours of cooking down plain soy milk to make your own evaporated milk. I'm not a martyr though.)

Add Image

We jokingly started to say that different things in the dinner were outrageous Canadian delicacies, like moose meat and beaver giblets. Only, T-Wes really believed me about the moose meat for a minute. Then we told them a fake history of the founding of Canada, when the first Prime Minister, Seamus McGee, conquered the wilderness with naught but his canoe and a caribou antler... or something. (Minor cultural observation: I notice that people down here pronounce it "THANKSgiving". As in, "so, are you going home for THANKSgiving?")

The really fun thing was, the meal really tasted like home. Somehow, magically, the turkey especially tasted just like my parents make it. It was a wonderful meal and a great evening with friends. We are happy to be where we are.


Karin said...

Firstly, the neck of the turkey is my favourite part of the bird. Everyone at my house always saves it for me.

Secondly, that apron you're wearing is the apron I brought back from my choir trip to England in 1985 when I was in grade 10 and you were only 1...not even actually.

Thirdly, the myth of the magical and strange place of Canada will never be dispelled if we Canadians continue to make up weird and bizarre stories. I am a culprit of it myself.

Fourthly, moose meat is really quite good. A little tought, but good. Never had beaver giblets though.

Meg! said...

I had NO idea there would be a neck in there, either... I did not enjoy that.

Come to think of it... I didn't get to baste my turkey, because I live with someone who grew up with turkey that was cooked with bacon all over it... which creates a self-basting turkey (yep, basting with bacon fat, mmm).

I miss you!