Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

:::Blowing dust off blog:::: Anyone out there? A rough year for me. Rough. A rough decade. A rough 15 years. I just finished reading a mystery by Dick Francis (a friend had recommended him to me, and I thought, "nah," but then I thought, "She has good taste," and I've been enjoying the books,) in between reading about Merv Griffin and his hustler boy pool parties with Liberace, or books about how we become autonomous and why. In this particular Francis mystery, Rat Race, the protagonist, a pilot, befriends a jockey and his twin sisters, one of whom has leukemia. They are a united family and enjoy each other's company. The pilot sees the healthy sister, reflecting on her sick twin, and he thinks, "I knew she was thinking of Midge. Face something big enough and you always have to grow up."

That sentence stuck with me all day, "Face something big enough and you have to grow up." I've had to face a lot of big somethings in the last decade, foremost the loss of my parents, but other things. The school of hard knocks. I was trying to decide what to do about Thanksgiving this year. In my early youth, Thanksgiving was just our immediate family, plus my aunt and uncle, but she died when I was seven, and that ended until my parents, with two other church families decided to do this trade-off: where the families would rotate Thanksgiving between the three, theoretically to give the women every two years off. Reflecting back, I don't see how this was "better," per se in that "yes" you got time off, but when it was your turn, you were cooking for 20.

My mother was a masterful cook, and everyone always said, "This is her favorite holiday, where her cooking skills shine," but thinking today of how it would be: my father screaming at me the night before to set the formal table, having the crystal washed and the silver polished, and just the sheer tension the whole next day; which was odd, because my parents constantly entertained, and a level most people wouldn't believe. Once I started doing Thanksgiving myself, it struck me as more odd (the stress,) because you can cook everything (theoretically) the day before. I'm still pondering that one. One friend speculated that maybe my mother saw this as some test of her womanhood, or just testing in general, and performance anxiety set in. Maybe. I'm not sure.

Yesterday, I took off early and hit Whole Foods to pick up my "on order" free range turkey. It was horrible in there. Just horrible. I stopped counting how many times I had a cart slammed into my body after 20. And yet. The woman who works in the vitamins section that I've befriended came up and gave me a big hug, and we stood in the swirling aisle chatting and ignoring the hubbub. She even walked with me to my checkout lane, while we continued chatting. More hugs. Nice.

While I was in there, I was studying the pies. They had them on a large baker's rack. The pumpkin looked...bleh. Pale undercooked crusts with overcooked fillings. Sweating. The cherry and apple held portent of sour fruit and cardboard crust. A German man was standing next to me and he saw me rejecting pie after pie, and I guess I mumbled, "That's not even cooked," and he said, "Zees pies are not kooked?" I reassured him that they were, but how do you translate, "They are both overcooked and undercooked?" I went over to the dessert section and studied the cakes. Better. This woman next to me: a tiny little thing who looked like Andy Warhol's Sylvia Miles in the face (and voice,) but had on weird apr├Ęs-ski wear: Fair Isle knits and furry boots and a cluster of diamond rings on every single finger. She kept screaming (to this very well dressed mature man,) "ALLEN (pure New York.) ALLEN!!! I'VE SCORED!!! Beaming. A peach cake. I thought, "If I were Allen, my peach pits would be shriveling right now at hearing my name screeched that way.

Later that night, I took a picture of the turkey in my refrigerator and sent it to friends. My buddy Drew emailed back, "I can't believe how tidy your refrigerator is compared to mine!" I wrote back, "I was just thinking it doesn't look tidy at all." I was also studying that bottle of Veuve Clicquot that's been sitting in there since last New Year's.

When my mother took sick, we tried to sustain Thanksgiving, but it was such sadness. You would hand her a potato and potato peeler, and she would have this sad little smile on her face. So much wanting to be part of things, but no longer remembering. My San Francisco friend Lisa instant messaged me last night. Her mother, widowed and living in their home town 90 miles out of San Francisco, fell and broke her hip and had to have emergency hip replacement surgery. I told Lisa that for a stretch (in this lost period of my life,) I spent close to eight Thanksgivings between two parents, always in the hospital, either missing Thanksgiving totally, or eating it in a hospital cafeteria at noon so they could close early, or not having it at all: Chinese in an underheated house with my mother saying "Why isn't Papa here?" To quote John Lee Hooker, "Don't Look Back." I felt for Lisa. She has a lot of difficult choices facing her in the next months. "Something big enough and you have to grow up."

I was supposed to have Thanksgiving today out in Eldersburg at a former neighbor (and friend's) sister's house. I had even met with all involved, and we had talked about the day, what to eat, etc. Then by the time last week rolled around, and no proper invitation was forthcoming, I realized I didn't want to be an afterthought, nor ignored for whatever reasoning, and I was going to have to make up my mind what to do. In those years after my parents, I tried it all: going to the ocean, eating at a fancy restaurant, eating buffet at a restaurant, not eating turkey food at all (Chinese, Indian,) going to the movies all day. Nothing seemed to satisfy. Then I started cooking for older people I knew, and that entailed a new set of skills: cooking for the elderly. I've blogged on that topic before. The last of the women died last fall, and I took on the responsibility of her estate--something I have sworn I will never do again (and I've done it a lot.)

I thought I finally had her house sold. It was on the market since February. I had restored it without going insane in expenditure, and there it sat with nary a nibble until recently. A D.C. schoolteacher was going to buy it. Settlement date was the 24th (this week,) and then on Monday, (thank you Michelle Rhee,) her work hours were cut back, the bank said, "Nope!" and the deal fell through. Back to square one. Plus I had been putting pressure on myself for weeks to be over there in filthy packrat conditions (have you see A&E's Hoarders? Then you know.) In garden sheds, in the attic, in the basement. Vermin droppings, untouched decades of dust. Hello Miss Haversham. So that bad news.

This was the first Thanksgiving I truly had no responsibility to honor the holiday other than for myself. I thought I could easily ignore it, but I thought, "Why?" Why not do it and use the time to remember, to think of my future, to be thankful for the blessings of simple things. And so I got up this morning and began (and this photo blog is mainly for the amusement of my friends, so if it bores you, come back later and I'll be writing about what a total loser Lord Byron was or the Romanov jewels or magical thinking and luck.) I am getting ready to write again on a more regular basis.

The first thing I made was crinkle carrots in a curry-butter-brown sugar glaze. Easy peezy and put them in the fridge for later.

A friend told me just this week how his mother always put roasted chestnuts in her dressing. I've always made what my mother made: old-fashioned cornbread-white bread sage stuffing. But I thought, "Chestnuts? Sure." They had chestnuts from Italy at Whole Foods. They also came already done and in a jar, but for something like $14.00 for a tiny jar. I thought, "Google!"

I put out peanuts for the squirrels this morning, and they came running. I watched them while they watched me. We call this ritual, "The floor show." One of them said to me, "I hear you have Italian chestnuts roasting in what's with the peanuts?" I went and got him a chestnut.

Scored with the cross mark of Christ's death and resurrection and served at the time of his birth. Memento Mori. In truth? To let the steam out so they don't explode in your oven.

Not a dud in the bunch. I read online this morning. You should put them in cold water to begin. If one floats? Toss it. If they don't pop open? Toss it. Even then, you may peel and find one rotten inside. Not my fancy dancy Italians. They were like Fabio on Top Chef. "We are not purrfict, no?"

Perfezione! Bella!

Now that the oven was free, it was time to start the turkey. Just a peek at turkey porn, and it's not a pay-per-view site:

I never put stuffing in the 'boid. ("ALLEN! It's the poifect boid!") I put in a chopped onion, an apple, an orange, a lemon, and some thyme and rosemary. Actually, while all of this was going on, I was thinking of that movie Avalon, set in Baltimore, and the family that is perpetually late to the family meals. "You cut the toikey without us? You CUT the toikey?"

This was me goofing on taking pictures with one hand, while cooking with the other. Taters. Lots of taters.

Buddah and Organic Cream Cheese. Lots of buddah.

Whisk, whisk.

Whip, whip

There will be no lumps in these taters! Did I ever tell you I went out one rainy Thanksgiving night with my highly stylish friend Mark? We were going to see Leaving Las Vegas where Nicholas Cage basically drinks himself to death. Mark had a briefcase. We were at the Dupont Theatre. Pouring. Torential. We get seated and Mark pops open the briefcase. It was a traveling bar. Rye predominated. Every time Nicholas Cage (a raging alcoholic) had a drink, we had a drink. Mark and I still giggle about that night. I don't remember a thing about the movie. Cage dies at some point, and Elisabeth Shue wore this great bustier by Vivienne Westwood.

I mixed a can of whole berry sauce with some of my own. I had orange zest in it and only left that orange slice on top until I served the food later.

Ta Da! Nine pounds and four hours later...Let me tell you. This bird amazed me. I was dreading carving it. Not my best skill, plus I was tired at this point. But. I did the basic anatomy you do with a turkey: twisted off the wings, then the legs. The meat was so tender it fell right off the bone. I did the same thing with the main torso. Ripped off big hunks for ziploc bags and didn't carve at all. Into the freezer you go. Unlike Claudette Colbert, I could shoot this bird from any angle. It didn't have a bad side. I thought about The Road. I'm going to go see that this week. Isn't there a cannibalism scene in there?

After all that, I sure didn't eat much. That's a salad plate of my everyday and right purdy. And my mother's little quail (one of a pair.) There is so much butter on that plate, call me "Paula Deen, y'all." I chopped the chestnuts coarsely after debating grinding them up in the Cuisinart. They turned out beautifully. Now I want to explore things like chestnut soup.

...and the cake. Allen! The cake! On a pretty piece of Majolica pottery. German Black Forest. They had just put it out at Whole Foods. It tastes very fresh. The cherries are not cloyingly sweet, but have a "very slight" sourness and tasted of pure black cherry--real black cherries, not from a can. They were also between the layers. The cake was a mocha light chocolate (again, not overly sweet,) and the frosting was whipped cream and chocolate chips. It looks heavy and rich. And But mit schlag. Lots of schlag.

Happy Thanksgiving all. Guess what? Thanksgiving doesn't have to be dysfunctional. You can do it solo and have it be fun. Honor your holidays. Corny, yes, but of such things memories made.

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Blogger dara said...

Thank you for writing this. I really like the line about facing something big enough and having to grow up. I think I might co-opt it.

10:26 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...


If you knew what's been going on in my life, I see this discrepancy between what I've experienced, and my friends, and there is this huge gap in knowing and not knowing.

I have one friend who told me her mother would never die. I told her, "....and I thought that, too." Also, it was an odd thing for her to say, given her own mother lost HER mother when she was seven.

I finished that book today. That sentence remains. I was forced to grow up. I guess you were, too.

10:36 PM  
Blogger Cyndy said...

You're back! I was getting worried about you. I hope that all of the stuff you are currently dealing with wraps up soon so that you can get on with YOUR life. You deserve that after all you've been through, and I'm sure I don't even know the half of it.

Your meal looks beautiful and I'll bet it was far more delicious than anything you would have had elsewhere. It also sounds like this may have been the best Thanksgiving you've had in a long time, in spite of the solitude. I hope it is the start of a new trend of increasingly Happier Thanksgivings for you.

5:07 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

I am trying to get back, Cyndy. Today I'll be over at that house either in the attic or out at a garden shed. The consumption and waste of unused things is appalling--bag after bag of it. Seeing it, there's a mixture of revulsion (at the filth and waste and clutter) and sadness at having an illness that makes you clutch for no reason than to clutch. And in the end? And leaving it behind for someone else to deal with? I pray I don't leave my life a mess. After this, you'd better believe I am ripping my life to shreds to discard, discard, discard, and I already have a tendency to do that. I haven't bought a book in years, for example. You're also right in I didn't report "all." There's the publlic blog of how my day went, then the private journal of what really went on or through my head. Cube readers got an honest version, just not the total version. How much can you dump on people, right? Laughing.

9:27 AM  
Blogger WDCD/DRFS/aka Sue said...

that little quail looks like one of a set my mom had in the 70's. it went off to Goodwill at some point. My mother's father hunted quail and my mother is fond of quail...but it's rare to see it in a meat case.
In Parenthood, the Mary Steenburger character compared life to a roller coaster...lots of extreme highs and lows. As I've aged I found this more than true. I hope the Cube experiences more highs than low in 2010. I do so enjoy your musings...

3:04 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

The movie Parenthood makes me cry a lot, only because at the end...aren't "they" just the little happy family? Life doesn't always hold those wonderful finales. Loved the grandma in that movie, though. As for the quail? She probably acquired them sometime during the sixties or seventies. She had a lot of birds around the house. She discovered a man in Cambridge, Maryland that carved brass duck decoys, so she got heavily into that at one point. I gave a pair of her brass cranes to a girlfriend in Seattle. A cardinal sculpture went into her casket. (Her favorite bird...that and the tiny wren.) She waged war against blue jays. I said, "Mom. We don't get to pick and chose in nature." She felt otherwise.

I'm glad you like my musings. I'm spending part of today making up a list of everything I've wanted to write about in the past eight months. I think first up is Lord Byron. Poet as insufferable jerk.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

I'm intrigued with the chestnuts. Next year I want to cook a 9-pound bird and lots of chestnuts.

Everything appeared to be cooked to perfection. Wish I could say my track record was equally good, but I did make it through the prep, meal, and clean-up with out killing a family member or a guest and that was a real accomplishment.

I don't think I could bring myself to see The Road, having read the book and formed my own mental pictures of what I hope will never come to be reality.

Welcome back to the world of Blogging! We've missed you.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...


This meal may look like perfection, but it's deadly to me on so many levels.

This morning I was staring down these huge ziploc bags of turkey (I just shoved it in,) and I have to put it into smaller bags to freeze, and I have no one to give it to, and I don't even want it, nor do I even eat meat that often (went for a loooog stretch as a vegetarian.) I'm not anti meat or fish, but my tastes have changed.

Do you remember that soup you made a few weeks back? Now that was something I would want to eat, and it's still on my list of things to try.

I used to cook a much bigger bird, as well, but it was all going out to other people, and I would keep just the tiniest portion for myself....and that was fine. I enjoyed the process of "doing" Thanksgiving, but I didn't have to eat it.

I had a lot of fun with the chestnuts. After I bought them (and had passed the clean ones in jars,) I got a little panicky after reading Google and all the warnings of failures--and read all the comments too. "I bought 18 and 11 were duds," etc. I thought, "Nonetheless, this is a learning curve, and I want to learn even if only one comes up right." They are labor intensive, but I was enjoying the labor, yes? I do want to try a chestnut soup (which sounds nice and Dickenian.) Zsa Zsa Gabor (Hungarian)loved this dessert called Mont Blanc (white mountain,) and it involved a lot of whipped cream as the base (snow,) with pureed chestnuts on top (mountain.) Also, I think they eat a lot of chesnuts in Hungary. I need to research that. I'll bet they have them in some German and French foods, too. I have a pasta dish using fennel and walnuts in a saffron cream sauce, and I'll bet I could substitute chesnuts for the walnuts in that.

As for your killing family members? For me, the most important thing of all would be to have people around while doing the cooking. That would make it more fun. Lumpy potatoes? So what. You were singing old songs and trying to remember the lyrics...or not. My struggle yesterday was not food perfection, but not to cave in the absence of family. I made it, but I had to keep thinking I was going to make it, and I had some slides on the slippery slope.

And The Road? Yeah. I have very serious issues about seeing it (having read the book.) I love his writing and character insight, but McCarthy can make you suicidal after you read him. His writing is bleak. I'll bet he's the one with Whoopee cushions at parties.Maybe not. Can't quite see him playing chin oranges. I know at some point during reading The Road, it became a real labor of love to finish it, because it just never lets up.

We need a new soup recipe in our arsenal.

6:16 PM  
Blogger Ronda Laveen said...

Missed ya but back with a vengence, you are. Beautiful post and and pictures. Your bird does look beautiful and I'm sure it didn't have a bad side.

Did your mother have Alzheimer's? Kinda sounded like it when you gave her the potatoe and peeler and she didn't remember what to do with it.

6:41 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Ronda: I'm going to be writing to write. One problem during "all of this" is that I have five blogs? Five? I think five. Most had to go by the wayside, minus the personal one. During my varied absences, so many of the D.C. bloggers (and others) I knew all gave up the ghost; the latest, my buddy Throwing Hammers. I'm glad there are still a few of you around.

My mother had what they call "Early Onset Rapid Progression" Alzheimers, and it is what it sounds to be. You get it when you are younger, and it progresses really drawn out Ronald Reagan thing. I don't know if the speed is a blessing, or not. You certainly chart the losses more quickly, and the more ground lost, the more your heart breaks. Her death, and witnessing what happened to her, completely unmoored my father. He never recovered from what he saw in his beloved, strong, creative, independent wife. We all thought Mom would go out like her whole family, but especially her mother...tackling the impossible into old age, and then, gone at a ripe old age. One of God's "ah ha" don't second guess me moments.

7:05 PM  
Blogger Phil said...


That is a good looking bird.

While my thanksgiving was far from 'solo', we did have the first "scaled-back" thanksgiving we've had in forever, which was kind of nice.

I have found in recent years the simpler the holiday, the more enjoyable. Last year was Christmas with no presents (except for the kids). It was one of the best ever.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

I agree, Phil, and I've done it many ways: with tensions, with crowds, with travel, with expenditure. I think when you keep it simple and small, so many of those negations disappear. I've reduced my Christmas, as well. Pretty trees. I make wreaths for friends. I decorate my own cards. I give or receive very few gifts, so not a lot of hustle bustle shopping. Much happier.

I was with my manicurist today (after being on the lam for weeks.) She's a very....cranky, blunt person. I could tell stories....anyway...she asked about my Thanksgiving and I told her I had blogged it..WITH pictures! I was telling her the story about the chestnuts I unearthed when researching chestnuts: about the X and Christ (but really to let out steam.) She snapped at that story and called it utter nonsense and that it sounded "Catholic" to her, and I said, "I would imagine it is a mindset stemming from Catholicism, but I like traditions. Heck, you could have told me on Google that chestnuts are "X'd" to release the infidel in the name of Allah, and I'd least they believe in "something." She also thought the "blow up in the oven" thing was bunk, too. Maybe I got her on a "bad" day...tippy toeing away.

5:41 PM  
Blogger m.a. said...

I've missed you, Cube. Your food is beautiful--much like you and your writing. :)

1:08 PM  
Blogger Ryane said...

I can completely understand a year...two...even a decade of things changing, and it changing how you interact with your life and memories. That, to me, is the hardest part of any holiday, interacting with my memory of it as a child or at some other point in my adult life when things may have seemed easier or 'better'. What a wonderful post. Thank you so much for are so right. we should celebrate our holidays, alone or not.

9:19 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Reya: As I told the others, this piece was the truth, but in part. There was a lot I left out.

I was going to write this week about London and Highgate Cemetery, and I thought, "Cemeteries? Cube? Enough?) It was a book I read and the trigger point. Tonight though I am going to write about dead Greeks, shoe repair and red shoe polish...later. Love you Reya. Hugs, hugs, hugs.

9:44 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

What a sad and sweet and salty post, Cube. Glad you got in there and cooked. The chestnus are gorgeous and your description of the turkey made me want a bite, and I don't like turkey.

The holidays are always bizarre for me, so I can relate.

This hideous year, this decade, is almost over. Thank god!

8:48 PM  
Blogger home before dark said...

Just saw your comment on AAL's blog and it reminded me to return to your again. I think you may have stumbled upon the line of the decade. Truly, what doesn't kill us makes us...I'm not sure stronger is the word, but I think it defines us. After decades of doing Thanksgiving for a larger family, we are now down to two. Many we lost through death. A few very sad losses came from the reality that we may be family, but we really don't like each other very much. I now cook a capon rather than turkey. We call him Tommy Soprano. We started a new tradition of eating in our little library. We had great food, music and wine. I salute you for the courage to go solo. I hope I have your grace and fortitude if I am the one left behind. I hope this new year brings you a new adventure.

5:59 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Reya: After eating turkey for ten days, I am thoroughly sick of it, and, like you, I don't like it that much. It was the ritual, I suppose. If you read the comment below yours, "a small capon," is a better solution, I think. This was a horrible year for me, and I kept thinking, "2000 had to be the worst ever....or 2006...or 1996." I haven't had what I would call a good year in a long time. I am longing for one. LONGING for it.

Home: I love the AAL blog. All of my favorite things. I am definitely seeking out that Milne bio. I truly believe these hardships define us. My worry is, and it's a legitimate one, if you keep having hardships, where is the breaking point leaving you sour and imbittered...and Oh God, I don't want to wind up like that.

I am loving "Tommy Soprano." I have a library. I have candles. I think sitting in here eating, in candlelight, would be perfect. Thank you SO much for the idea. Now I'm over to your site to see what you are writing, before I write about a Greek widow..and red shoe polish.

6:36 PM

6:38 PM  
Blogger home before dark said...

WC: I don't have a blog. I know. I know. It seems like it's the worst thing of every job I ever had: deadlines, having to do my own desktop publishing, having to do scans (dare I say I still don't know how to use my new digital camera? That's after a career in public relations where I often did my own photography!). Glad you liked the idea of the library. Mine little one is a folly, really. It's tribute to husband's grandmother who was a poet. She loved the grand gesture. Going in there is like time travel!

Regarding too much of a bad thing: I do understand. I understand that bone-gripping grief is a country unto its own. I have lost years in tears.
I have gotten all manner of advice from people who cannot fathom what I have chosen to do. The best, however, came from memory of my dad. He was repairing my faucet, and it was bitter cold. He told me I'd should keep the water on slightly to keep the pipes from freezing. "If it's moving, it can't freeze up." And that's what I did. And that's what I do. Like you, I just keep moving. You have great courage!

10:31 AM  

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