Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Brooklyn Thanksgiving (Part 2)

Thanksgiving dawned sunny and bright on the Gowannus canal, and thus, on my small apartment. We had, to my dissapointment, decided not to go to the parade (a childhood dream of mine) so that we could get the turkey in on time. The good news was that I got to sleep in. At 10, I yawned, stretched, and thought about what a great day it was going to be.

The first thing I saw when I wandered out of my bedroom was a raw turkey, spread eagle on the counter, with J's face disturbing close to the opening between it's legs. "Come here," he said. I furrowed my eyebrows and shook my head as a wave of nausea rolled over me. I hadn't even had my coffee yet.

"Look in there. Do you think I got everything?" I timidly cocked my head to the side to get a better view from where I was in the doorway.

"Uh, I don't know. Did you get the gizzards?" He reached in and pulled out something that I supposed could be called a gizzard.

"Is this it?" I shrugged. He threw it away and thrust his hand in again. "I don't feel anything else. Come look. Do you see anything else in there?" I didn't want to look, and I couldn't imagine that a small opening like that could really conceal anything else, but I did anyway. It was gross. And looked empty. And I wasn't about to put my hand in there.

Side note: Much, much later, when our friend Mike was picking the turkey clean, he pulled a plastic bag out of some dark recess of the bird and said, "Hey! Why didn't you guys throw out the innards?" Seriously, I have NO IDEA where they came from. And I hope no one gets cancer from us cooking plastic inside a turkey for several hours.

I pulled up Grandma's E-mail Instructions on Cooking a Turkey From a Woman Who's Done it 80 Bazillion Times and Made it Look Easy, and read verbatim to J while he pulled stuff out of it, rubbed stuff on it, flipped it around, put other stuff in it, and then tried to tie it all up with yarn because I don't have kitchen string. I am a helpful, thoughtful woman. Based on Grandma's calculations, we had 6 and 1/3 hours to burn once the turkey was in. The hot water in the apartment wasn't working for the fourth time that week, so I called the landlord and we sat around in our PJs drinking coffee and hoping the hot water would be fixed in time for showers before people started arriving.

It wasn't. And the good news is I believe I broke a world record for shortest shower in the history of showering. It was under a minute, people.

The rest of the day is a happy, warm (the apartment heated up to a balmy 85 degrees or so, despite opening the windows), glowy rush, with friends coming and going, good conversation, many bottles of wine, a turkey that just couldn't wait to be done (several hours early--though I refuse to blame this on Grandma's calculations and instead now believe that my oven is schizo), and a mad rush to make all of the side dishes before the turkey got cold. Granted, the turkey was a tad bit dry, and the green beans may have cooked a few minutes too long, and the football games--don't even get me started on how terrible the football games were--but nothing beats a big meal surrounded by people you love. And PIE.

And when the last couple of people left at 1:30 in the morning, and some (but by no means all) of the dishes had been washed, and the leftovers were put away in the fridge, J put on the soundtrack to "Charlie Brown's Christmas" and we sat in quiet happiness, ruminating on what we decided, on all counts, may have just been the best Thanksgiving ever.

I can't wait to do it all again next year.

A Brooklyn Thanksgiving (Part 1)

It felt like the first in many ways, even though I've been around for 27 of these now...27 Macy's Thanksgiving Day parades, 27 turkeys, 27 burnt fingertips from pulling turkey skin off of a too-hot turkey, complete with pie, football, and family. The number of Thanksgivings I've spent without my immediate family is somewhere around 3. Most often, I am in Pittsburgh. But this year was different. This year was the first Thanksgiving J and I spent together. It was also the first year I hosted.

Five trips to the grocery store, one giant turkey roaster purchase, several meltdowns, and one narrowly avoided fight about the correct way to bind a turkey (trust me, it sounds like more fun than it is) later, and we had one of the best Thanksgivings in recent memory.

It all started several weeks before Thanksgiving, after J and I had decided to have a "quiet Thanksgiving at home" with just the 2 of us. This, of course, turned into "the boys don't have anywhere to go" and I said, "oh, I know a few people who don't have plans either" and before you know it -- POOF! -- I'm hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for 6. No problem. 6 is totally manageable. Until the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, when 6 turned into 8, and the day of, when 8 turned into 10.

A quick note on the layout of my apartment: I have a bedroom and a living room. I have no dining room and no dining room table. I have enough seats for 5. My kitchen is on one wall of my living room. I have maybe 2 square feet of counter space, and that's being generous.

We had, by Tuesday, been to the grocery store twice, and I had successfully purchased an enormous turkey roaster that I had no idea where i was going to store after the holiday. I had forgotten about the last minute crush at work the week before any holiday, and had to abandon my plans to clean the apartment and make yet another necessary grocery store run for more forgotten items. Instead, I worked 14 hours, took a car home, and collapsed into bed with the intention of getting to work early on Wednesday to leave by 2 (when the office "closed" but only if you were done with your work) so I could go home and bake pies.

A note about pies: In my family, pies may just be the most integral part of any Thanksgiving celebration. Turkey? In a pinch, we could do without one. Pie? UNTHINKABLE. Also, pie is a bit of an undertaking. You need time, focus, and an empty oven. Therefore, the pies needed to be done on Wednesday, when all of those things, theoretically, would be in ample supply.

J, thankfully, decided not to work on Wednesday. This was the only way we got everything done. I headed off to work an hour early, leaving a "to do" list a mile long in his possession. We were in good spirits. We were in control. We had a plan! Thanksgiving was going to happen after all!

Until I got to work and watched the extra hour I had given myself vanish while trying to turn on my computer. By the time IT had me up and running, I was back where I would have been if I had just come in when I usually do. Luckily, I had budgeted an extra hour into my work time that meant I could leave at 1 if nothing went wrong, and 2 if one hour's worth of things went wrong. I was now on a tight timeline to get done by 2. Nothing else could go wrong.

Meanwhile, J was ticking things off his list with lightening speed. Buy folding chairs: done! Go to the grocery store--again: done! Clean and mop the apartment--done and done!

Needless to say, my day wasn't going nearly so smoothly. The day before Thanksgiving is either incredibly busy or incredibly slow -- apparently, for all of my chatty coworkers, it was incredibly slow. I put in my headphones and put my head down. I was going to finish by 2. Until 11 am, when I got the news that we had done an entire section wrong and it would need to be rewritten. And I wouldn't get it until 5. Fine, the night editor could take care of it. Crisis averted! Until noon, when I remembered it was my day to buy cheese for our department's Wednesday wine and cheese. Fuck. I ran to the Amish Market, grabbed a Brie and and Gruyere, ran back to work, threw it on the community table, and went back to work. 2 o'clock was growing nearer and nearer. The e-mails were coming at lightening speed. People behind me were chatting louder and louder. The work seemed to be going slower and slower. My strength waned. I forgot about food. I just had to get done so I could go home and bake pies.

Finally, at 2:45, I packed up and walked out the door. I headed for Trader Joe's (grocery store run #4), and, laden with two more big bags of groceries, arrived home a little after 4. I promptly broke down and cried. I hated Thanksgiving, I said. I was never going to host again, I said. I haven't eaten since breakfast, I said. J hugged and consoled me, then heated up some soup. I blew my nose, ate my gumbo, and decided to suck it up. I just had to get through making pies.

By 5:30, I was elbows deep in Crisco and flour, and the stress seemed to melt away with every thrust of my pastry cutter. I took a deep breath. Everything was going to be okay.

Except that I didn't have a big enough cutting board to roll out the dough, and then the wax paper that I put down on the coffee table kept sliding around, and flour was getting all over the freshly mopped floor, and the dough wouldn't roll out and I couldn't figure out why.

Cue meltdown number two. J once again hugged and consoled me before softly suggesting that all the dough might need is a little water. Presto, bingo, why didn't I think of that?! And we're back on track once again.

I realize I don't have everything I need for the pumpkin pie, and J puts on his shoes for the 5th (and I'm hoping last) run to the grocery store. We're learning so much for next year! I'm thinking to myself as he shuts the door behind him. 45 minutes later, he walks back in, looking haggard and spent. A run on spices had occurred sometime since he'd been there that morning, and he narrowly avoided a fistfight with a large black woman over the last jar of powdered ginger. Luckily, he is not afraid of anything, not even large black women, and he prevailed. He is, truly, my hero.

Three pies (a very good looking apple and pecan, and a somewhat not-so-appetizing-looking pumpkin) and several cinnamon doo-bops later, I snuggled into that place under his left arm and looked out over the landscape of pies with exhausted happines. We had done it, and with only two meltdowns on my part. We were ready for Thanksgiving. It felt like a giant victory, all around.