Thanx*10

I was searching high and low for turkey drumsticks. They’re normally available in most local stores, but suddenly, the weekend before the holiday, we couldn’t find them anywhere. We visited seven groceries. Plenty of whole turkeys, turkey breasts, turkey thighs, ground turkey — but no drumsticks. Finally we found them at Rouse’s on the second visit. They were buried under a mountain of turkey necks.

I bought two packages, ten legs, and marinated them in two bottles of mojo criollo for a couple days. I drove all the way out to Kenner to pick up some pecan wood chunks, but I forgot that Bassil’s Ace is closed on Sundays. Fortunately Michael picked some up for me the next day, and so on Thanksgiving I was able to smoke the turkey over a pecan wood and charcoal fire for about three hours.

After

I’d never had turkey mojo before, and I was very happy with the result. I’ve tried several different ways with turkey legs; this had the advantage of being supremely easy as well as delicious. The skin was a little tough. That’s the only thing that might bear improving, though I’m not sure how. Other than that they were just about perfect. Even Persephone liked them.

Eating

More is merrier for Thanksgiving. My parents came to visit, and we were joined by our friend James as well. At the last minute I also invited my old friend and guitar hero Jeff Lee whom I’d only recently learned was here in town, but he couldn’t make it.

Of course we had plenty of other items on the menu besides just turkey, a vast array in fact, prepared mostly by Xy and my mother, everything from sweet potatoes to turnip greens to cranberry salad.

I’d found a pamphlet full of “Inclusive Mealtime Prayers of Thanksgiving” online, and before the meal I asked my father (as the eldest present) to pick one out and read it before the meal. This is the one he chose:

We thank you for this earth, our home; for the wide sky and the blessed sun, for the ocean and streams, for the towering hills and the whispering wind, for the trees and green grass.

 We thank you for our senses by which we hear the songs of birds, and see the splendor of fields of golden wheat, and taste autumn’s fruit, rejoice in the feel of snow, and smell the breath of spring flowers.

 Grant us a heart opened wide to all this beauty; and save us from being so blind that we pass unseeing when even the common thornbush is aflame with glory.
 For each new dawn is filled with infinite possibilities for new beginnings and new discoveries. Life is constantly changing and renewing itself. In this new day of new beginnings, all things are possible. We are restored and renewed in a joyous awakening to the wonder that our lives are and, yet, can be. Amen.

For desert we had pumpkin pie, which Mom made from scratch, from a real pumpkin — not canned. I didn’t think that was done anymore, and I seem to remember a gourmet chef actually recommending canned over fresh, but Mom’s pie certainly made a powerful case in the opposite direction.

After the game we watched the Big Game. Dad and James and I all caught a nap during the second quarter, but we made our way down to Michael and Therese’s house for the second half.

Of course, my parents came down for more than just a meal. Wednesday morning I took them to campus and we toured the new Qatar Pharmacy Pavilion. Then we went to City Park and wandered through the Besthoff Sculpture Garden for an hour while we waited for the New Orleans Museum of Art to open. Amongst all the paintings, we made a special point to visit the life-size portrait of Marie Antoinette, as recent genetic test results indicate she’s a relative on my father’s side of the family.

My parents are really amazingly active — I was about to add, “for their age,” but the truth is I’d be just as amazed if they were in their twenties instead of their seventies. They were constantly going out for walks and exercise, and they made their way back to City Park at least once to enjoy the loop around Big Lake. A neighbor expressed concern over my father’s safety as he roamed the blocks around our house. I just shrugged and said, “He’s lived a long full life.”

Dad was in the midst of a book about the notorious Skull and Bones Club, and he kept making dark conspiratorial comments about the various skull logos emblazoned on my shirt, scarf and bandanna. Eventually I hinted that he should check out the Illuminati. I shudder to think what might happen to him if he investigates too deeply.

And no visit from my parents would be complete without putting Dad to work on some house projects.

Sanding

Friday night we headed back to City Park for the first night of Celebration in the Oaks. The crowds were surprisingly thin, perhaps because of the sudden turn in the weather from unseasonably warm to unseasonably cold — or maybe people don’t really turn out in great numbers until later in December.

Gators

It was a good visit, and a good holiday. I’m also happy to say Thanksgiving no longer vexes and perplexes me. I now understand it as a time to celebrate a particular sentiment — namely, that sense of gratitude we all feel, at least occasionally. Last year I posted a list of people to whom I’m thankful, and that remains pretty accurate. If I wrote such a list now, the main thing I’d want to do is expand the scope, to include the Earth and cosmos.

But Thanksgiving is over, and I’ve got to get back to work on other things.

PS: I finally caught up with Jeff on Friday evening, and we had a blast jabbering into the night for hours on end.

Collaborative Story Assignment

A photo I took in 2005 was recently used to spur a collaborative writing assignment.

Thanksgiving in Hollygrove

I have no idea where the class was even located. I only found this through Flickr’s referrer logs. The students used EtherPad to collaborate, allowing me to see the final product.

Here are their instructions.

  • As a group pick one image from this   Flickr Creative Commons Search: http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=thanksgiving&l=4 then copy and paste the link to the   image on your group’s etherpad.
  • Next, take 1-2 minutes to   collaboratively compose a story here on your etherpad.  Don’t forget to   give your story a title and think about the elements of a good story   (e.g. character, setting, tension, drama, humor, change…)

Apparently my photo was picked by not one but two groups. Here are the results:

The Reunion

10 years has passed, and it is that time of the year: Thanksgiving! When family members, friends, colleagues and counterparts come together in thanks. But this Thanksgiving is special…this is the 10 year reunion! (Meaning High School reunion).

It is the first time that Peter, Bob and Sarah have seen each other in the past 10 years and the conversation began in an uninspired manner. But then the Corona was introduced and the truth came out.

Peter shocked the group by announcing that he had renounced his ways as a buddist priest in Tibet for enlightenment in language classrooms. Bob…was inspired by Peter and he followed his path. What about Sarah? Sarah was mad because she doesnt want Bob to go with Peter. Why? Because Bob was her experiemental android. However, Sarah had not gotten around to telling Bob that he was an android. She meant to, but she never got around to it. Now, she wouldn’t be able to break the news because Bob looooooved the holidays and January was his birthday and Valentine’s Day… forget it! Not the time to break the android news! If only Sarah could prevent Bob from working with Peter for another year. Fortunately, bob spoke no human languages. Once Peter found out, Sarah’s job would be easy. Assuming Peter’s intentions in hiring Bob were purely professional…

Hipster-Giving

Once upon a time there was a hipster-giving. Two hipster dads, Milo and Otis welcomed their hipster daughtghter Fiona from her Humbolt adobe. After finishing their free-range steroid free turkey basted in corona, they were met by the officer from the dump who accused Otis of causing a ruckus. Turning off sixteen candles, Fiona makes a wish: ” I want a hipster boyfriend this year!  I’m sick of my two dads. I wish he would take me away”  But one should always be careful of what one wishes for . . . 

Because . . . the hipster rules of “hooking up” dictate that only hipsters may be with other hipsters! The hipster daughter realized that she would not be perfect for this hipster boyfriend and she would never be able to escape her hipster roots!  ARmed with a corona in one hand and organic carrots in the other, clad in organic plaid hemp pants, the hipster boyfriend, Sunshine, appeared and whisked her away to magical hipster land!!!!

why wouldnt she be perfect for him?

Giving Thanx

Today I’m giving thanks to so many people who have given me so much over the past year.

  • To all of my co-workers, for helping me develop professionally to better accomplish our mission.
  • To my fellow FOLC board members, for tirelessly pursuing our shared vision for a new greenway in New Orleans.
  • To our neighbors for providing wisdom and sweat in our efforts to rebuild a better neighborhood, and also giving us so much help personally.
  • To our friends for commiserating through hard times and celebrating the good.
  • To my family for boundless love and support.
  • To my book club because the books y’all choose are sometimes great, and the discussion always are.
  • To my fellow New Orleans bloggers, especially those folks who participated in the Beyond Jena forum or who work so hard to make Rising Tide happen every year.
  • To the music bloggers who turn me on to so much music I’d never hear otherwise.
  • To our Realtor, and the people who bought our old home, and the people who sold us this new one, for helping us make our recent transition. And of course all the people who helped us move.

Am I missing anyone? Lots of people probably. Thank you everyone.

Thanxgiving Premix

If you’re in range of WTUL you will of course want to listen to Big Al’s “Ballads to Baste Your Bird By” tonight from 6-8 PM. It’s a New Orleans tradition going on ten years now. You can listen online too.

In the same spirit I offer the following mix to get you in the spirit of the holiday.

Let’s see what else? Oh yes, I just re-discovered this daycare artwork from one year ago, which for some reason I never got around to scanning until now.

Happy Thanksgiving 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving

Today we gathered with friends and family — well, really it was just our little minimalist nuclear family and our friend James.

thanksgiving.jpg

We thanked Dame Fortune for the health of our new child, for all our friends, and for gainful employment in these grim economic times.

We had a fantastic meal. I made the smoked turkey legs in a satsuma-honey glaze — second year in a row for these, and I’m closing in on perfection. They were pretty good, but the skin was almost black in some spots rather than that deep dark golden brown. I think the grill was too hot at first. Also, I think mesquite would be a better choice than hickory. But the glaze was a screaming success: honey, oil and freshly-squeezed satsuma juice, with a dash of cayenne, salt and pepper, fresh rosemary and sage from the garden, and just a dash of Rhum Clément Creole Shrubb liqueur.

I also made dressing for the first time ever. Frankly I’ve never liked dressing. I’ve never even understood dressing. But then I’ve never had oyster dressing. Never even heard of such a thing until we moved down here to New Orleans, though it turns out Xy’s uncle made it every year back in Evansville, Indiana. I found a recipe and gave it a try, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t pretty tasty. James, a native New Orleanian, pronounced it similar to what his Mom used to make, which I consider a high compliment.

Also on the menu: salad in imitation of Venezia, mashed potatoes and yams, and fresh-baked bread.

But the highlight of the day? No doubt. That came early when Xy organized a cleanup of the overgrown vegetation in front of the derelict property next door. Here she is with Josh and Lamar:

Hard Work on Thanksgiving Morning

Smoked Turkey Legs with a Satsuma-Honey Glaze

After the culinary fiasco of 2004, I approached this year’s Thanksgiving with some trepidation. My confidence was not bolstered when Xy finally read the creme bruleé recipe and asked the following immortal question:

What’s an egg yolk?

I couldn’t believe she was serious, but it turns out she’s never separated an egg before and couldn’t remember which part was which. Hint: The white is the part that turns white when you cook it. The yolk is the other part.

My main responsibility was the turkey. Here’s how I did it.

My original idea was to follow a recipe in the paper that called for slow-cooking turkey legs with mandarin oranges. However, as Thanksgiving Day approached we realized that our crockpot was not big enough to accommodate the six large legs Xy had purchased. Also, it seemed like a shame not to use the Big Green Egg for such an occasion. So I decided to change gears.

From Recipe Link I got the idea to brine the legs, something I’d never even heard of before.

Making the brine was easy: a gallon of water, a cup of salt, half a cup of brown sugar, a gallon of veggie stock. (Actually I didn’t use a full cup of salt. I used 3/4 cup and rounded it off with a 1/4 cup Tony Chachere’s creole seasoning.) Bring to a boil. Let it return to room temperature, then combine with a bunch of ice water and immerse the turkey legs. Put it in the fridge overnight.

In the morning I fired up the Big Green Egg, and got it about as hot as I ever have, over 900ºF, I think. Then I took it back down to something like 250º. I had a lot of pecan wood chips intermixed with the charcoal to impart a nice smoky flavor.

I rinsed the brine off the legs and got them on the grill around 9:30 AM. Smoked ’em for a good four hours. More like five probably. After the first two hours, I turned them and thought they looked a little dry, so I decided to concoct a mop. Returning to the mandarin orange idea, we made a glazing sauce out of fresh-squeezed satsuma juice and honey (and lemon and olive oil and butter and maybe some other stuff). I then turned and mopped the legs every half hour or so until it was time to eat.

Smoking the Legs

They turned out well. In fact, they were so appetizing that even my vegetarian friends were tempted into sampling them.

Smoked Turkey Legs with a Satsuma Glaze

But next year I’d like to try making them a little spicier. Maybe some more cayenne in the brine or the glaze.

Also on the menu: raw oysters (plus a few thrown on the grill) and oyster dressing and Xy’s famous cheeseball and herbed mashed potatoes and green bean casserole and cranberry sauce (with the “can lines still visible”) and sweet potato casserole and pumpkin pie and home-made thin mint cookies (even better than the Girl Scout version).

And of course, Xy’s key lime creme bruleé.

Xy's Bruleé

Despite several mishaps, she pulled it together, and it was delicious.

I'm Eating Key Lime Creme Bruleé

But mostly we were happy to enjoy the company of friends: Daisy and DJ and Anna and her daughter Lily and Christina from New York who joined us at the last minute.

Footnote: After the meal we eventually made a pilgrimage to a suburban cineplex to see American Gangster which turns out to be a perfect Thanksgiving flick.

Thankstaining

I’ve gotten the staining done. It took four days of solid work, plus a half-day of touch up this morning, not to mention a day of dicking around prep work, but it’s done.

Next step: varnish. I hope the varnishing doesn’t take as long. I’ll get started on that tomorrow. I’ve got three days before I have to go back to work.

As for the rest of today, it’s Thanksgiving. This time of year always make me think about home. Besides the obvious holiday reasons, it was around this time when Xy and I came back to New Orleans two years ago. We weren’t back in our house yet, but we were here in the city, staying on David’s couch. We shared a Thanksgiving meal with Mike the Electrician who would shortly thereafter wire us up and continues to work on our renovation to this day.

Here it is two years later and we’re celebrating Thanksgiving in our own home. So you see, we are making progress after all. We’ve got friends coming over, and I’m smoking a mess of turkey legs,and Xy’s trying to make key lime creme bruleé.

Unbusted

Xy picked up this bust at a yard sale around the corner a couple years ago. Recently one of our feline boarders knocked it off the shelf, and it broke into three easy pieces.

Busted Bust

Greek News Neck

We were surprised to find Greek newspaper inside the neck. Did it come all the way from Greece? Don’t know. But over the Thanksgiving holiday, I fixed it with Gorilla Glue, using rubber bands to clamp the pieces together.

Unbusted

At least I feel like I accomplished something, a feeling to be savored no matter how fleeting.

Update: My friend Tall Steve (a.k.a. City Councilchicken Volan) writes in with the following:

It most definitely came from Greece. You can even date it somewhat from the text (which appears to be an obituary section: the large word which looks like “Kndeiai” refers to burial, and I think means “is buried” or “being buried”).

This newspaper uses polytonic orthography, which means it’s no younger than 1982, but it’s probably older than that. I’d guess it’s from the 1960s.

Editor B Gives Thanx

Xy flew up to Indiana to visit her family. I stayed here in New Orleans because, frankly, I had enough of Indiana during my evacuation to last me a while. I think this is the first Thanksgiving Xy and I haven’t spent together in thirteen years or so. Nevertheless it was a festive holiday. I went to Mike Kaplan’s house. Last year I also had Thanksgiving dinner at Mike’s, but Xy was there, and it was just the three of us, in the middle of a ghost town. This year, a dozen or more guests, and the surrounding neighborhood shows some signs of life.

The crowd there ranged from 2 1/2 to 70 years of age, folks from Brooklyn and Mexico and Texas and Spain. Mostly it was Mike’s crew, some of whom have worked on our house already and some who are slated to start on our house Monday (knock wood). These guys came to New Orleans for the work, so they will probably be here for at least a decade.

I give thanks to all the workers who have come to rebuild New Orleans. Sure, they’re in it for the money, not the love, but we sure need the help and they sure work hard. On Thanksgiving morning my neighborhood was ringing with the sound of hammers and saws, just like most days.

But damn, Mike does have a talent for hiring psychopaths.

Worst Ever?

I’ve been skeptical of Thanksgiving for years. There are two conceptions of Thanksgiving which seem to be etched into my mind from early childhood: The idea of giving thanks to God, and the idea of unbridled gluttony. Pilgrims, Indians, the whole historical thing — not so much. To me it’s always been about God and gluttony, and frankly neither concept gets me very motivated.

I thought about giving thanks to people who’ve helped me out over the past year. For example, I am thankful to Mike Leonard, for turning me on to Crystal body deodorant. But somehow that just didn’t seem inspiring enough to carry the holiday.

So this year I made a grab for the gluttony, and I failed. Yesterday’s Thanksgiving dinner was a severe blow to my self-image as a competent cook. Unlike most Americans, I did not stuff myself silly on good food, because there was none. I actually went to bed hungry and had to get up for a bowl of cereal at about 1:00 a.m.

Indeed, when I consider every Thanksgiving holiday I can remember celebrating, this one stands out as the worst on the culinary front. We had friends over (Jaylene, Scott, Erik) and that was fun. But I don’t think a single dish came out as planned. Some things were so bad they ended up in the trash; others were edible, at least, but everything was disappointing, except for the pies, which were store-bought.

My main responsibility was the turkey. We got an organic, free-range bird, about eleven pounds. I slathered it in margarine (because Xy bought it by mistake instead of butter) and Zatarain’s, mounted it on the vertical roaster, and smoked it on the Big Green Egg for about three hours, using pecan wood chips. I had trouble maintaining the Egg at a steady 300 degrees. It spiked to as high as 450 and as low as 250, I think, but eventually I got it stabilized.

Turkey

For whatever reason, the bird was not a delicate golden-brown when I brought it in. It was more black. Not very appetizing. Maybe I should have put some water in the drip pan. The meat was a little dry, perhaps not too bad, but we had no gravy.

Oh well. It’s an indication of how fortunate I am that even my worst Thanksgiving is pretty good.

I still don’t know what to think of this holiday, though.

Xy & Rachel Give Thanx

Rachel & Xy

It’s Rachel taking a smoke break in front of her house in Baltimore. Xy is wearing a scarf Rachel knitted for her. But who took the picture? I don’t think Rachel’s arm can reach that far. Maybe it was Benn. Maybe it was me. I don’t remember.