Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I’m not sure where I’ve been hiding, but did you know that the President of the United States officially pardons a turkey for Thanksgiving every year? That it’s been a holiday tradition since Truman?

I did not know that. The lucky bird, this year his name is ‘Courage’ (seriously!?! I couldn’t make that up), gets officially pardoned and then apparently flown FIRST CLASS to Disneyland to serve as the grand marshal on a Thanksgiving float. Then Courage, who has so recently cheated death, retires to live on some fake ranch at Disneyland. Although personally, if I were a turkey I’m pretty sure I’d opt to end up as dinner over living out the remainder of my days at Disneyland.

According to an article in the Washington Post today that’s worth a read, Butterball turkeys like Courage only live 4 months. They’re bred for breast meat….which explains why Courage weighs in at a whopping 45 pounds. That’s too big, especially for a bird destined for the table. There’s no way to cook a bird that size without seriously under or over cooking portions, but I digress.

I have a number of beefs with this entire process, although overall I find it highly entertaining. First off let’s start with the fact that the POTUS is the one doing the pardoning. Really? He has nothing better to do with his time? I mean come on! I get that it’s tradition. We’re big on tradition in the U.S., especially when it comes to our leaders but seriously.

Second, they fly Courage to Disneyland first class. First class? I’VE never flown first class. Plus Courage has an understudy, Carolina. Just in case he gets stage fright at the parade tomorrow. I’m assuming they both get a first class seat. Although maybe Carolina gets relegated to coach with the hoi polloi until she gets her big break.

And lastly, like most traditions, I’m assuming there’s some symbolism here. But for the life of me I can’t figure out what it is in this case. I suppose on some level the whole thing is very American. Butterball, slaughterer of millions of oversized overweight commercial birds, saves one symbolic bird from the fate of its brethren who will be consumed by millions of Americans who will gorge themselves on far too much food during a holiday that supposedly represents the spirit of cooperation and gratitude. Don’t get me started on the hypocrisy of the “historical” components of Thanksgiving. And to top off this turkey ceremony, insult to injury, Butterball’s lucky bird gets sent to DISNEYLAND. Sigh. American commercialism trumps all again. It’s like having POTUS do commercial spots for Butterball and Disney. Ick.

I will say Obama handled the whole thing with a respectably self-deprecating level of humor. If you care to check it out CSPAN gave the 10 minute ceremony top billing this morning. Sometime around minute 2 or 3 is Obama’s borderline snarky comment about how he feels about the 15 minutes he spent hanging out with Courage today. Otherwise he does his duty pretty willingly all told.

Happy Thanksgiving! I'm off to finish prepping for tomorrow, wish me luck we have a full table and a lot of prepping left to do. There will be no birds pardoned at my house this year. In fact three of them, possibly four if the duck happens, plus a pig will grace our table this year. And I'm very thankful for every last one of them.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Past as Prologue

Mid-search for more Thanksgiving recipes I found a NYT article from 1895 with some entertaining vintage menus in it. We’re midway through planning the Hobart St. Thanksgiving dinner, so our menu is still a moving target. For now I can’t resist the urge to share “ye olde Thanksgiving menus.” The pertinent story is halfway down the page listed under “Thanksgiving Day 1895."

Surprisingly there was one recipe for pumpkin pie included, circa 1656, that actually looks like it had some potential. In addition to your standard nutmeg/cinnamon/allspice/clove pumpkin pie spices this recipe added thyme, rosemary, parsley, pepper and marjoram. I don’t know about that last one, marjoram easily hints of soap to me, but the idea of a savory pumpkin pie is something I could definitely get behind.

It’s sacrilege to admit so close to their big day, but pumpkin pies are my least favorite fall food. I’ll eat it if someone makes it. Out of a sense of decorum on Thanksgiving I try a sliver every year just to make sure my tastes haven’t changed (don’t mock, I find my tastes frequently evolve for the better as I get older). But I might have to give some thought to this rosemary and thyme inclusion. Maybe in the crust? The rest of the pie bears little to no resemblance to modern incarnations, there are slices of real pumpkin laid in the pie and something that seems to closely resemble custard poured over the top if I’m reading my 17th century cooking lingo correctly.

Items included in the “old-fashioned” Thanksgiving menu from 1895: oyster soup, breadsticks, olives, celery, chicken pie, creamed macaroni with cheese, radishes, roast turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, onions, squash, cranberry sauce, lettuce salad with French dressing, mince pie, apple pie, pumpkin pie, apples, nuts, raisins, coffee and cheese wafers (high quality crackers with good cheese melted on top in the oven apparently).

The article specifies that ONLY red and yellow apples with chrysanthemums should adorn the room, by the way. None of those fake turkey centerpieces or tablescapes a la that dreadful Sandra Lee person on the Food Network.

The “modern” menu the paper listed, per a famed Delmonico chef included: mortadella, celery, codfish, egg sauce, lamb chops a la Robinson, croquettes of macaroni, curry of chicken a l’Espagnola, mushrooms on toast, punce en surprise (punce?!?), roast turkey, cranberry sauce, celery salad, mince pie, strachino cheese and coffee.
I have to point out, no only did both “old” and “new” recipes in this article include a “macaroni” dish, but they both list celery as a standalone dish without elaborating on a preparation. I’m curious now. Maybe we’re missing out on something exciting to do with celery? I’m skeptical.

PS: There’s a frightening, but ironically placed, article directly following all the talk of menus warning about the effects of unseasonably warm weather on the slaughtered turkeys that year. You might want to skip the finer details, but it references unpleasant odors and “damp” turkeys. Menus might make me nostalgic but I’ll take a life with refrigeration any day.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

This Little Piggy Went to Market

A chance discovery at the Mt.P farmers market last weekend has me dreaming of the myriad uses for pork fat. On the hunt for ingredients for a traditional Italian dinner we discovered that Truck Patch Farm carries guanciale. (This being territory south of the Mason-Dixon line they call it smoked pork jowl, not guanciale, but same same.)

Last weekend was all about Italia. FG was in town visiting. Per usual we started the weekend with wine and cheese. That progressed to delicious homemade muffins with KF and her charming mother. Saturday afternoon rounded things out with a tart fall salad via IAG. But that was all just a warm-up for dinner. Inspired by the guanciale discovery on a trip to the market between muffins and salad, FG made bucatini all’amatriciana.

It never ceases to amaze me how much flavor pork imparts to things it’s cooked with. Had a chat today actually about the flavor possibilities of pork vs. chicken vs. beef. Consensus found chicken to be somewhat lacking. And I had to plug the grassfed beef as being particularly flavorful. Plus I’m a sucker for slow cooked beef as well. And veal. Ok, clearly the girl from the dairy state digs her cows. But I have to admit that pork is rapidly gaining some ground for me as a cook.

Speaking of pigs, the pork shoulder that MN graciously smoked for us over Halloween was every bit as good as you think it was. Awesome. And remarkable to me what depth of flavor wood smoke imparts to food. I have serious smoker envy now. MN’s Is a thing of beauty to behold. Seriously. I’m looking for pictures so you can appreciate, and not having much luck. You’ll have to trust me. It’s gorgeous. And that pork. Oh. My. God. If he’s not careful we might make him smoke everything.

Anyway, back to the pork-tastic meal from last weekend. Truck Patch was also the source of some delicious Italian sausage which was broiled with cheese on crostini. Also finally found the perfect perch for some awesome sardines that JH brought me from Portugal earlier this year atop a baguette with butter. We were almost too full for the bucatini all’amatriciana. Almost.

It was a perfect, mostly local, and almost entirely pig and carb based meal. It was perfect.

If I was feeling more honest I would go back and revise my “Turkey Turkey Pig Turkey” post. It should probably read Turkey, Pig, Pig, Pig, Turkey. Not only was last weekend pork-centric, but we’ve dropped one turkey meal from the lineup. Not from any lack of interest in turkey per se, but more because I clearly have been distracted by other meals. Plus Thanksgiving needs my full attention this year—IAG and I just started planning what looks to be a lovely menu. Very, very excited. Stay tuned.