Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Big Turkey That Couldn't

Almanzo simply ate.

He ate ham and chicken and turkey, and dressing and cranberry jelly; he ate potatoes and gravy, succotash, baked beans and boiled beans and onions, and white bread and rye'n'injun bread, and sweet pickles and jam and preserves. Then he drew a long breath, and he ate pie.

When he began to eat pie, he wished he had eaten nothing else. - Farmer Boy

Damn. I'm feelin' you, Manly.

The major difference between the books about Laura's childhood and Farmer Boy, about Almanzo's childhood, is food and stable housing. Laura's story is about moving from log house to sod house to wood house, and Pa's restless nature (and his tendency to kill). Laura's story is full of corncob dolls, riding across the prairie in wagons, blizzards, men nearly dying in wells, grasshopper plagues, illness, lots of cornbread and johnnycakes and Nellie Oleson (I was spelling it wrong - cardinal Little House sin!)

In Farmer Boy, every third page is about food. Salt pork and potatoes and brown ham-gravy and biscuits and homemade ice cream and pancakes and popcorn with real dairy butter and pies...oh Lord, the pies. Almanzo even gets smacked in the eye with a burning potato that shot out of the fire - they get hurt by the food! This I can wrap my muffin top around.

In the spirit of Farmer Boy, on Friday night we had a dinner party. It's actually generous to call it a dinner party, because that would imply it was nice. We put out a bunch of bulk food items and told about 40 people to show up and fill their paper plates while our dog nosed them in the crotch.

We never do things like this because they make me extremely nervous - it's like opening all of your curtains and turning on all the lights at night and changing your clothes. Everyone can see in, you aren't sure who is looking at what, but they can see it all. I can do family on family, but the larger groups seem to require organization I don't possess. We've eaten at so many dinner parties in our community in the past couple of years and not reciprocated, it was time for us to pay our dues.

I thought, "How bad could it be?" which is funny, because it's the same thing I thought before birthing our three children or buying four different special needs houses or opening a retail store or walking in the front door at 3 a.m. when I was a teenager locked out of the house after sneaking out or having How bad can it be? Bad. Real bad.

We told people it was a White Trash party, but mostly just because it was at our house, hosted by us, and we didn't feel like cleaning. We emphasized our stuffed and mounted squirrel (yes, we have one) and put sheets on the furniture and bought disposable dinnerware. Theme fulfilled.

Menu-wise, I thought I couldn't go wrong with a turkey on the grill. A nice 20-pound bird ought to keep people fed, and what goes better with turkey than mashed potatoes? And a creamed corn/cornbread casserole? Oooh, and some cranberry conserve? And asparagus? And then dinner rolls? Super! Except that I got about 2 hours into the preparation of this meal and had a little Come To Jesus moment:

A) I've never grilled a turkey.

B) I've invited nearly 40 people, and have 6 chairs indoors. And it's 40 degrees and rainy outside.

C) My menu was going to ruin everyone's Thanksgiving.

So it seemed like an appropriate time to open the first bottle of wine.

Since I live in 2009, I consulted the Internet. Everything is on the Internet, right? Three different websites told me to grill the turkey at 300-350 degrees for 15 minutes for every pound. I'm no math genius, but I deduced I should grill my 20-pound turkey for 5 hours. At 11 a.m., I put the bird to flame. The guests were coming at 5 p.m. My turkey was done at 1:30. By 2:30, the popper that tells you the turkey is done had actually propelled out of the turkey and through the foil into the pan. By 2:45, the turkey carcass had literally split in half, with the breast bone cracked in half and meat falling off of it into what turned out to be about 6 cups of butter. My turkey was saying Uncle.

"At least I have potatoes," I thought as I walked to the basement fridge. I took the stockpot holding 15 pounds of potatoes I cleaned, peeled and diced the night before. But when I pulled the potatoes out of the fridge, I realized my error. Cut potatoes oxidize, and my diced white potatoes were all a nice charcoal color. With nowhere else to go, I boiled these gray potatoes, and skimmed the black foam off the top of the pan as they cooked. My youngest daughter squealed, "Oooh! Halloween potatoes!!"

When it was time to mash them, I found white things to put in the pot to lighten them, as one would with paint. Sour cream, salt, milk, half and half, all were added to the pot, but to no avail. The gray roadkill potatoes would be seated next to the broken down turkey on cinder blocks. With the corn playing banjo music next to it. Again, theme fulfilled.

I could go into the other food debacles of the night, like the dry creamed corn, or the shallow church social steamer I used that only kept about 5 servings of food warm at a time, but in times like these, I know people will forgive all of your food faux pas if you have dessert and liquor, and I had those in spades. My pastry chef/gourmand friend made the most amazing pies and homemade cinnamon ice cream, two other friends brought lots of wine to add to our stock, and one guest owns a brewery and brought a keg, so instead of asking "Can I get you more food?" our mantra became "Let me fill your glass".

All of the guests got lightly toasted (and a couple got quite fried), people sat on each other's laps or on their spouses shoulders (and pulled out lighters and yelled "Freebird!") minors were banished to the basement, and the last people left at almost 2 a.m. so it seemed to be a success.

Mother Wilder would have been proud. Or plowed. Because I'm hoping if I filled her glass often enough, she would forget about that busted up turkey and gray potatoes and only dream of pie and wine.


pollyanns said...

Next time I better be invited! I like grey potatoes and "split" turkey breast sounds pretty good to me. You're out of town next weekend, right? I made other plans, but wanted to be sure. The show... remember? Love ya - Pol

The Insatiable Host said...

sounds like a griswald christmas time you do turkey, deepfry the bitch!! its totally worth it and there are youtube videos to explain how its done!!

as long as there is beer, wine and cinimon icecream..the party sounds rockn!!

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