Folks, I need to say that there is one meal I truly love, a meal that is so rich, that if I starved myself for a week, I would still consume 10,000 more calories than I lost that week, a meal so wonderful that deviations are not in the least bit tolerated. A meal so filled with tradition that I anticipate it like Christmas morning. There are a million placed to go and have turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and grave. I personally know of 4 such places within 10 minutes or so from my home. I have sampled their efforts, and sadly none come close to those served here.
This post is about the meal, not the concept of it, not our countries rich history of celebration, not the Macy’s parade, not the endless football games (the games are of interest only because they give you an excuse to nap), but the meal, the effort, the consumption, and the enjoyment.
The post is also about; food babies, it’s about being so stuffed that not only do you open your belt, you unzip your fly, it’s about sharing the feast with family and friends, it’s about staying true to family traditions, it’s about cranberry sauce (the jello type in a can) not any other kind of cranberries, it’s about stuffing (even stove top stuffing will do), it’s about the 5 hours of preparation for a meal that takes no more than 30 minutes consume, it’s about cleaning up the mess, it’s about football but only in the sense it gives you an excuse to take a nap, and finally this post is about coordinating everything needing to be hot at the same time from a single oven (my wife constantly amazes me how she does it).
My 1st Thanksgiving with my wife was the traditional meal, with all the trimming, we shared the meal with close friends, I was just shy of 28 at the time, and had been having Thanksgiving on board ships or navy facilities for the prior 7 years. Before that Mom had always prepared the feast, but I will say without reservation that the meal Steph put together was by far one of the best, if not the best I had ever experienced, and it was clearly a case that I almost ate myself into a coma. It was clearly a time when not only did I have to unbutton but I had to let the zip down just a bit.
One of the endearing comments I have ever heard showing appreciation for the Feast, came from my daughter Allison. Allison was either 5 or 6 at the time she made the soon to be famous remark. To continue the tease, the three of us had consumed another fantastic Thanksgiving meal, we had completed all of the courses, the appetizer, the salad, the main event, and finally dessert, we sat at the table to stuffed to move (another unbutton moment), with no one having the energy to get up from the table. Allison slowly pushed back from the table, gazed down at her belly and announced “I think I am going to have a food baby.” Steph and I both lost it, we were laughing so hard it seemed like food was coming from our noses. To this day whenever anyone of us (or Allison’s family) talks about having too much to eat, we all smile and say they are having “a food baby.”
We have lived in Florida now for almost 12 years and this will be only be the second time we have not shared Thanksgiving with our neighborhood family. Laura has always hosted Thanksgiving, and has had as many as 13 for that meal, she has taken complete responsibility for it, only requesting that her guess’s bring their appetite’s and an appetizer. Laura puts on a wonderful meal and does so with a great deal of love, but Steph’s is better. But the meal at Laura’s was and will always be all about the gathering of friends. Mike, Laura’s husband was a giant part of the festivities, carving the turkey, story-telling, and being a great host. Allison and her family were always invited to the gathering, but choose to start their own family traditions. In recent years, Allison and her family have shared Thanksgiving with us. Only it’s an early Thanksgiving feast, they come spend the night, Allison helps with the preparation, Stu and I have clean up duty, and Allison and Stu put up and decorate our large Christmas tree. We always watch White Christmas (Stu naps), and Christmas music is playing in the background. Before moving to Florida Steph, Allison and I travelled to KY for Thanksgiving. In the later years Mom would sit in her chair and coordinate the ongoing. There had been up to as many as 23 folks coming to her house for the Feast. Everyone would bring something, and it was served at 2pm. This allowed nappers to nap and those that had other feasts to go to time to relax a few before moving on the next feast. I always felt sorry the ones that had other meals to consume that day, I wouldn’t know how to pace myself. I most likely would have had a food litter. But these were the traditions that they had to uphold.
Now I need to spend some time talking seriously about the FEAST itself. With all this talk about tradition I bet you think I insist on having a majestic 20 + lb. bird in the oven, au contraire I don’t need the big bird, I am quite content with the big breasts. KEEP YOUR MIND OUT OF THE GUTTER! My wife serves 2 bone-in breasts, which will feed 5 or 6 and still have a ton of great leftovers. She does this because as good as the dark meat is, everyone really prefers the white meat and it is so much better for post feast sandwiches. My wife makes a great stuffing and cooks it separate from the breasts, but has found a way to stuff the breasts for some great cavity stuffing. And after the meal if the stuffing is in short supply, in our pantry we have a couple extra boxes of STOVE TOP Turkey Stuffing that I can whip up in 5 minutes and I am golden. As long as the gravy is good as far as I am concerned whipped potatoes or instant potatoes are just fine, but my wife and daughter insist on making the mashed potatoes from scratch, and these are worth the effort, and only require a touch of gravy to be complete. I don’t do sweet potatoes at all, but again the wife and daughter slave over them, I believe my son-in-law also likes sweet potatoes, the only smart one is Cari, and she is not a fan of sweet potatoes, that’s my granddaughter she makes me so proud. Allison and I have almost a fetish like for canned cranberry sauce. Open the can from both ends and let the tube of cranberry mass slide out and into the serving bowl and we are good to go, again Cari is coming around and likes her cranberry sauce like me and her mom. LOL LOL. We also serve and wonderful green bean and onion dish, no it’s not the green bean casserole (with the cream of mushroom soup and gurkin onions, which I truly love) but a very nice compliment to the meal. Steph makes some of the finest Thanksgiving gravy one could ever hope for, rich with flavor from the cooked breasts and their drippings. A deep rich brown color which is not over powering visually, but has a taste that I could eat like a soup. I pour (not spoon) this gravy over my turkey breast meat, the mashed potatoes and dressing, and I keep the gravy boat handy in case I need more, yes I am a pig, yes I starve myself in preparation for this meal, and I do it every Thanksgiving. Below is a recap of the Hamilton Family Feast informally known as Thanksgiving.
Turkey Breasts (2)
Gravy (at least a gallon for me)
Apple fruit salad
Pumpkin and Pecan Pies
That folks is a meal worth sitting down to, and the leftovers can be enjoyed for days afterwards. I truly love a good turkey sandwich on white bread, with salt pepper and mayo. Throw some chips on the side and that too is damn fine eating. But my wife will make open face turkey sandwiches with mashed potatoes and dressing at least once generally twice immediately after the feast, generally the next 2 evening meals.
What truly amazes me is how you cooks coordinate such a meal, and to do all of the above using 4 burners and 1 oven. Steph does it year in and year out. This massive Feast takes almost 5 hours to prepare. The multitude of dishes is staggering. The preparation area is so so at best, and yet when everyone sits down at the table, all the hot things are hot, and all the cool things are cool. The entire process of preparing the meal take almost 5 hours, but in almost every case (no matter where I have gone to have the meal) it only takes 30 minutes to eat it, and includes in some of our cases having seconds and thirds. I think anyone that undertakes such an effort is to be commended, and for those that actually pull it off, well they deserve a Medal!!! And most importantly for those of us that consume our unwavering thanks.
I show my gratitude to Steph and Allison for their efforts, but being the chief bottle washer. As soon as they start cooking I start cleaning. Every dish as it’s used to prepare an aspect of the meal is placed in the sink where I attack it with the same vigor the cooks are attacking the making of the meal. In some cases during clean up I have washed and dried the same bowl 4 or 5 times, and this is a continuous process throughout the preparation. By the time the last dish is coming out of the over, all prior used dishes have been washed and put away, the sink is empty awaiting the next phase. Post eating clean up. I must give credit where credit is due. Stu has been great in the cleanup process, and he does so with a smile on his face, and goodness in his heart. I know there has been many a time when I thought I was at my end, when Stu jumped in and took over. After the meal he really steps up and does most of the work. But between the 2 of us we take care of 90 pct of the actual cleaning of the kitchen. By the way I don’t want to leave Cari out; she does a great job of setting the table, and making place holders. She also helps in post meal clean up by carrying things from the dining room back into the kitchen. Cari is also responsible for selecting the Christmas movie or movies we will watch. Each family member has a part in the celebration of the Feast and we all take our responsibility very seriously!
That my friends is how we celebrate the Feast here. Thank you for enjoying it with me. I hope that each of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving surrounded by those that love you and that you love. And I hope you eat until you have a “food baby.” Happy Thanksgiving, please take care Bill.