“All the successful parents I have observed seem to possess one common quality: that of being able to visit with their children.” — Marcelene Cox
The week before Thanksgiving, we pre-ordered our organic, free-range, successfully psychoanalyzed, thrice-blessed, kosher, Pulitzer-Prize-winning turkey from Harvest Market and then drove to Santa Rosa to spend a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving with Marcia’s mother Opal at Spring Lake Village, a groovy retirement community where Opal has lived for many years.
Weary of institutional food, no matter how good the cooks, Opal was raring to go out to eat, so for supper we went to an excellent Thai restaurant and for lunch the next day, after a hearty breakfast in the Spring Lake Village bistro, we went to Opal’s favorite Chinese restaurant. You see the pattern: one meal leading to the next, with brief intermissions for billiards and sleep.
We are thankful for Opal, who is just a kick.
Upon bidding Opal adieu after twenty-four hours of fun, we timed our drive back to Mendocino so we arrived at Libby’s in Philo for a supper of the best Mexican food this side of anywhere. The joint was jumping and we marveled at the equipoise of Libby and her staff of tulkus reincarnated as unflappable bi-lingual waitresses. I had the carnitas—divine—and Marcia had the chile relleno. Yum city.
We are grateful for Libby and her fabulous restaurant and only wish she would open a second Libby’s in Mendocino so that we might grow fat on her beans and rice and chips and salsa.
“There are only two questions to ask about food. Is it good? And is it authentic?” — Giuliano Bugialli
We arrived home to an invitation to join three friends for a vegan Thanksgiving feast at which our aforementioned turkey would not be welcome. Thinking fast, Marcia came up with the brilliant idea of attending the vegan feast, cooking our turkey the day after the official day of Thanksgiving, and feasting on tryptophan-rich flesh for days thereafter.
The vegan feast featured borscht, roasted chunklets of potatoes and yams, Marcia’s delicious lentil nut loaf, a big green salad, Brussels sprouts, something with cheese I couldn’t eat because dairy gives me flu-like symptoms, and a wild mushroom dish I couldn’t eat because chanterelles and hedgehogs make me violently ill.
Implausible but true: Because I am allergic to chanterelles, Nature reveals them to me in enormous quantities (both black and gold) whenever I venture into the woods. In related digestive news, eating gluten-rich food causes me to swell up like a stuffed turkey. I am also severely allergic to alcohol—a serious bummer because I love the taste of good wine and fine whiskey and that first long gulp of ice-cold beer.
“To be a good cook you have to have a love of the good, a love of hand work, and a love of creating.” — Julia Child
I was to bake the turkey and make mashed potatoes for our more traditional Thanksgiving feast, and Marcia was to concoct her delectable cranberry sauce and one of her legendary green salads. So on the day following the vegan feast, I dug up one of my late-planted potato plants and found two small potatoes thereupon. Based on that output, I calculated the twenty remaining potato plants would provide enough spuds for a big batch of mashed potatoes. But after digging up a second plant and finding zero potatoes, I sped to the village and found spectacular Yukon Gold potatoes selling at Corners for a mere dollar-a-pound.
There would be no stuffing (dressing) this year because…well, here’s the story. We’re not sure why, but several months ago we began to receive the magazine Bon Appëtit, a food magazine for rich people and for those who enjoy fantasizing about eating like rich people. Bon Appëtit is obese with ads for staggeringly expensive cooking tools including a diminutive knife made in Switzerland that sells for a mere seven-hundred-dollars and should go nicely with your thousand-dollar crock pot and your forty-thousand-dollar artificially intelligent polar vortex oven.
Marcia and I do not subscribe to any magazines (other than the Anderson Valley Advertiser, which is technically a newspaper), yet we receive Bon Appëtit, National Geographic (more ads than articles), Mother Earth News (virtually unchanged in thirty years) and Sierra (the magazine of the Sierra Club featuring ads for automobiles and expensive foreign travel). We theorize these magazines come to us because of clerical errors caused by mutant logarithms.
In any case, when Bon Appétit arrives, we give it a skim, feel mildly deprived for a minute or two, and then recycle the glossy thing. However, in this year’s Thanksgiving issue—featuring mashed potatoes made with more butter than potatoes, and turkey stuffing (dressing) that sounds suspiciously like paella combined with duck liver chow mein—there was an article about the best (their words) way to cook a turkey, a way resulting in meat so delicious that those who eat such meat become instantly enlightened yet still feel fine about owning seven sterling silver omelet pans of various sizes and personalities.
The Bon Appëtit way to cook a turkey is called spatchcocking, a process involving the removal of the turkey’s backbone. This absence of a backbone allows the chef to flatten the entire turkey for baking in a big (platinum highly recommended) pan thing, which flattening allows all the flesh of the bird to rest (be) at the same altitude, or something. This flattening also allows for much faster cooking of the totality of the bird, and much faster cooking, according to Bon Appëtit, results in super tender flesh.
So I tried spatchcocking. I felt brave and daring wielding my cleaver and cutting out the backbone. I felt suave and sophisticated as I baked the flattened bird on a bed of vegetables, basting frequently with a medium of my own invention composed of water, wine, and things I can’t remember that synergized with the inevitable juices of the simmering bird. And the result? Well, as with traditionally baked unspatchcocked turkeys (breast down), the white meat was perfectly cooked long before the dark meat was done, the total cooking time was twenty minutes longer than advertised, and the meat was tender and delicious, though not discernibly more tender and delicious than turkey meat from unspatchcocked turkeys crammed with stuffing (more delicately known as dressing) and cooked for many hours.
Even so, this spatchcocking experience inspires me to cook our next turkey in the way we cook chicken, in pieces simmering in a superlative basting medium. As of this writing, we are enjoying a monumental soup made from the carcass of the highly evolved eleven-pound being who lived and died so we may live.
(Please come holiday shopping at Todd Walton’s website Underthetablebooks.com.)