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This blog tends to wander from its main purpose -- updates on my fiction. I do have updates and excerpts of my work. But I also write about my obsessions -- food, friends and pop culture and my weird life in Los Angeles. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Sense Memory and No Brine Roast Beasts

I was derailed this past weekend by my ambitions and by distractions. The ambitions involved food. The distractions were creative and appear in the blog below. The earthquake gave me pause, but had no impact on the weekend (for which I am very thankful). First, I'll speak about the ambition that occupied my time.

Sense Memory

I think holidays are important to me because they were so important to my Mother. She always went that extra mile to put on a proper celebration for whatever the holiday. If there wasn't a lot of money for anything else, we always had a proper holiday table. Luckily, in my culture, a holiday feast did not require expensive foods – just time and a little bit of skill. As I grew up, holidays came to mean feasts built around some big roast beast (a gargantuan turkey or an enormous ham or both). I used to think that we had those kinds of meats because they were only for holiday meats. I later learned that they happened to go on deep sale during various holidays, so they could be the anchor of a buffet for many. Though both sides of our family can credibly claim to have Irish blood (we have the redheads to prove that), and St. Patrick's Day is my mother's feast day, I am certain the real reason we fell into the habit of having corned beef and cabbage was both items were always deeply discounted near that holiday – and they were danged tasty, too.

My ambitions with the Easter feast were hyped up by a pair of sales. Three of the chain grocery stores had hams on sale for about 80 cent a pound. One independent, discount market had frozen turkeys on sale for that much as well. While ham is my family's traditional roast beast, I can't resist a turkey no matter what. They make such great sandwiches hot or cold. And I adore turkey with dressing and gravy. Which brings up the problem with having both a turkey and a ham. I have to have dressing and stuffing along with the turkey. Just to have the turkey would be too weird for me. Thus, I have to make stock for the gravy, because I'm insane over having that singular richness to my gravy and I love turkey soup after the turkey is gone. And I have to dry some good hunks of bread and prep herbs for proper dressing. I've added almost another whole holiday feast on top of the usual Easter feast because of a reflex reaction to a supermarket circular. Oy! I also must make ham stock after carving up the ham as I have discovered the joy of split pea and ham soup. I have mentioned that I'm not having company, and we have a tiny kitchen. This a totally crazy amount of work for my circumstances and my physical state, but I am compelled by my inner Patty Warner and perhaps Martha Stewart. Mother often admitted to a touch of the crazies where holidays are concerned. Jon knows not to interfere. He knows he can't stop me, for one. And for two, he really digs turkey sandwiches and a nice slice of ham.

A Word on Brining Turkey

Don't. Just don't. With all due respect for Alton Brown that I have as well as the other Food Network chefs that engage in brining, I find the practice far too much trouble than it's worth, taste wise. Besides, there are almost as many chefs on Food Network that abstain. Despite the huge chance of cross contamination that dunking a large mass of raw poultry into a big container full of brine and ice for a few days can be, I tried it one year at Thanksgiving. We were entertaining a large crowd then, so we typically roasted two turkeys. I brined one, the other I simply cleaned and roasted the way I always have (a combination of Black southern style and French). In brief, rinse and fry the bird inside and out, put it in a roasting pan lined with carrots, onions, and celery. Season the bird inside with salt and pepper then stuff it with herbs (sage, rosemary and thyme), a head of garlic cut in half and a lemon cut in half (that's optional). I truss the legs then coat the birn with a mixture of olive oil and melted butter that may or may not be steeped with Herb de Provence. I salt and pepper the outside of the bird. I put a cup of wine into the bottom of the pan, cover the bird loosely with foil and roast it. An hour before it's done, I remove the foil and let it brown. Voila. Anyway, I did a taste test with the brined and non-brined turkeys. No one tasted a difference. They found both equally delicious. I never bothered brining again.

Where was I? Oh yes, I had a lot of cooking to do. I started on Friday by roasting the ham, carving it up then making stock from the bone while the turkey was roasting. I carved it up then made stock from those bones. Since I had no presentation of either meat to make for guests, that was easy. Alas, I have no photos of the meals either. We were too busy devouring them to shoot them. All day Saturday and most of Sunday went to the side dishes and the dessert. Yes, there must be holiday pie. In this case, sweet potato pie with homemade crust. What part of the crazies did you miss? And I was also compelled to dye Easter eggs. Luckily, Jon makes a fine sous chef and am excellent dishwasher. Getting all of this done would be impossible without him. I also had the company of the Ten Commandments to keep us company. Watching that film during Easter became a tradition. We watch it Mystery Science Theater 3000 style (basically, comically complaining during the entire film). Each year finds something new to say. For example, during the golden calf 'orgy' scene (no one was naked), the narrator intones that 'they doth ate the fruit of wickedness and drank the wine of something else, Jon said 'and they doth had the after dinner mints of debauchery.' I can't tall you what Craig was saying during the film. I really can't – it's bad. I can say it got him exiled from his house until dinner was ready. Hours of that frivolity makes chores pass pleasantly.

We had a wonderful turkey sandwich for lunch on Sunday, and dinner was ready at our usual hour despite all the fuss. I'll be packing away the leftovers to friends and the freezer including the soups. This will serve us well when I'm back from the hospital stay. Thus it was worth all the effort. And as I ate the lovely meals, I know that Miss Patty would be pleased that I had set up a proper holiday table. That's the best thing about sense memory. It brings loved ones close for a while.

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