Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Crawling Out of the Weeds

Before I start here, I want to thank everyone for the kind wishes and thoughts in my earlier post. I really appreciate it.

Now, on with the inanity . . .

Christmas crept up on us this year, and by Sunday I was starting to sweat it. Sure, the shopping was finished, but there was the little matter of the seven people we were having over for dinner. The house was a wreck and the fridge was bursting at the seams with provisions. Fortunately, we had a plan.

As Darcy made a pie Monday night, I brined the turkey (If you ever do anything with a turkey, you should brine it - I'm not kidding I brine most pork or poultry these days, and it's well worth the time and effort). And for a brief moment on Tuesday, it looked as if the plan would hold together.

Now, I'm going to let you in on a little secret. I've never cooked a turkey before. Chicken? Yes, I've baked, fried, stuffed, sauteed, and broiled many a chicken, but their larger cousins somehow eluded me all these years. So with a hearty laugh of bravado and a healthy belt of cheap whiskey, I prepared to cook the best damned turkey that ever graced a Christmas dinner.

First, I lugged the cooler containing the brining bird out of the sunroom, where it spent the night. I pulled it out along with the lemon halves, cinnamon sticks and bay leaves - I stuffed those into the bird itself. Then taking advantage of a little trick we'd learned - flip the turkey over and cook it breast-side down - all the juices flow into the turkey breast, making it that much more moist and juicy.

Yes, it looks ugly, but let's be realistic - who carves a turkey at the table? If I tried that, my guests would be covered in grease, skin and scraps of meat. Plus, if I'm using an electric carving knife, someone's going home without a nose or a finger or two. And when they leave the house, covered in turkey trimmings and bleeding from various cuts, all the stray dogs within a five-mile radius will descend upon them.

And folks, that just wouldn't be pretty. Not at all.

So after inserting the thermometer into the thigh, and inserting a second one into another part of the bird (I don't trust my remote thermometer. It tried to kill me earlier this year, and things just haven't been the same since), and dropped it straight into the oven.

A few hours later, I checked my lying-ass thermometer, which said the bird was a good 155 degrees, meaning it had to come out soon. The backup said it was 180 degrees. That was bad. That meant I'd overcooked it, and I would be serving my guests Jack-in-the-Box. So we took it out, and after poking and prodding it with both thermometers, we decided our 18 pound turkey was finished cooking.

In three hours. Three short hours.

An hour before everyone was slated to arrive, I started carving the turkey. I became a little concerned when I flipped it over and discovered the temperature-popper-thing hadn't popped out. I became more concerned when I cut into the turkey and found the meat had a nice pinkish-red look to it the deeper I cut into the bird.

Last time I checked, raw turkey is probably not high on most people's delicacy list. And unfortunately, stuffing it into the oven wasn't an option - I was trying to turn cornbread soup into cornbread stuffing.

We decided a little cornbread stuffing would be a great accompaniment to dinner. After a little poking on the internets, I found a recipe, which I doubled, only to find the contents of the bowl didn't resemble stuffing so much as it resembled a bowl of runny scrambled eggs.

Fuck it, I thought, and chucked that bad boy into the oven. I checked it 30 minutes later, only to find I had a nice cornbread soup going. So I did what any smart cook would do . . . I turned up the oven and hoped some of that liquid would find its way out of my stuffing.

Unfortunately, this pan took up valuable real estate in my smallish oven, and if I didn't want to poison our guests, I had to do something with the turkey.

After poking around the kitchen, I found some baking pans. I carved up the bird, and dropped the pieces into the baking pans along with some pan drippings and I covered it with aluminum foil. An hour later, I took them out of the oven.

And I'll be damned if it didn't work. The turkey was edible (and quite tasty if I say so myself), the stuffing, while still a touch moist, was pretty good, and everyone seemed to have a good time.

Most importantly, no one complained of stomach pains or other food poisoning symptoms.

So after eating a fine meal, exchanging gifts, and scaring a poor innocent family as they watched me play Scrabble, Darcy and I flopped down on the couch together, and enjoyed a successful, if somewhat stressful Christmas dinner - hopefully the first of many.

Unfortunately, the magic Christmas elves didn't find their way into the kitchen, which looked as if someone ransacked it during a tornado. And even though I swore we'd be ringing in the new year before we'd see the kitchen counters again, we were able to shovel our way through the mess, returning things to the status quo.

Friday, December 21, 2007


I'm not sure whether to laugh, groan, or write the newspaper (granted, it's the New York Post - I doubt they'd care, especially considering that most New Yorkers probably don't even realize that there actually is a state called Missouri - it's one of those 49 other states that isn't New York, and someone writing a letter from there isn't high on their list of concerns) at this headline.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Another Goodbye

There are moments you hope never end; moments that are so perfect you want them to last on forever. Take this picture - it was taken about a month ago. It's my grandmother, Mimi, playing with her newest great-grandson. Three days earlier, he'd arrived in the United States in the arms of my brother and sister-in-law. Aiden was meeting his new great-grandmother for the first time.

Unfortunately, all perfect moments come to an end.

Two weeks ago, my phone rang at work. It was my mother, telling me that she was following an ambulance to the hospital. My grandmother had apparently suffered a stroke sometime that morning, and she had most likely been alone several hours before anyone knew there was a problem.

A week ago, I stood in a sweltering, institutionalized room in the hospice wing of a nursing home, watching her slowly fade. The stroke had been massive, and at 93 there was little hope of recovery. She was only able to communicate intermittently at best, so we gathered, we watched and waited.

It's hard watching anyone go through something like this, let alone a loved one. You don't know how aware she is; whether she knows that she's surrounded by family; how much of her survived the stroke.

And I think that's the cruelest part of it all. She was fiercely independent. She lived alone up until the stroke, and she fought like hell for three years against even a cleaning lady coming in once or twice a week. (Incidentally, she fired her cleaning lady the day before the stroke). She despised the cane and later the walker, but she realized that they had become necessary. Her mind, while still sharp, was trapped within her slowly failing body.

She raised her two children alone after my grandfather died in 1950. She was 36. She didn't have her GED until 1966; she worked until she was 82. She carried a picture of my grandfather in her wallet until the day she died.

Seeing her lying in a hospice bed, unable to move, unable to speak, unable to laugh was nearly unbearable. I only hope that our presence there made it a little easier on her.

We buried Mimi on Sunday. Family, friends and loved ones trudged through the snow and ice to say farewell. We miss her, and we always will.