Belle & fire

[Our nervous dog Belle, temporarily at ease.]

Mom’s turkey & mine, an adorable grandchild & a neurotic dog.

If they leave you once, they’ll leave you twice. If they leave you twice, they’ll leave you thrice.—Belle’s lament

Kathy-Baby that Ate ChicagoX

[Little Kathy gives thanks with a tortilla.]

Two weeks ago Kathy and I fixed Thanksgiving dinner for our daughter Claire, son-in-law David, and adorable 11-month-old granddaughter, Little Kathy, in Virginia. How is it possible that we got the cutest, sweetest, smartest grandchild on earth!?

I actually asked this of the continuing studies students in my memoir-writing class, grossly abusing my teacher’s mantle. Said with a wink, it was, sort of. They laughed, most of them grandparents themselves and getting the joke, even a woman with great-grandchildren.

Over the years, my Mom’s habit of slinging a quick roux of butter and flour over the bird has devolved into my practice. On Mom’s turkeys, little dough blisters erupted here and there on the golden skin. My logic that led to my practice is that roux is a sealant, keeping the meat moist. Thus my rouxing too often and too well. At Claire and David’s, before it was over I’d used 1.5 pounds of butter, with flour as needed, and seasoned with salt, pepper, and sage. I basted every thirty minutes, the crust deepening with each application. Our turkey resembled a crunchy blob. The drippings, plus leftover roux, make killer gravy. Literally. You can feel the arteries in your temples seize.

So baby’s first Thanksgiving was a success.

And as the titular day itself approached earlier this week, text messages flew from the fields of northwestern Ohio and the shores of Lake Tahoe to our residence in suburban Columbus, Ohio. At Tahoe, my sister and her husband were hosting our son Tom and one of their nieces. And Tom was in charge of the turkey—and the gravy. Guess whose example he followed? Whose he tried to outdo? Meanwhile, back at the farm where Big Kathy grew up, it was decided that I’d be in charge of the turkey and gravy.

Early Thanksgiving morning we drove two hours west, toward Ohio’s flatlands that once hosted the Great Black Swamp, and gathered at Sissy and Don’s homestead. They cook their turkeys in plastic bags—no fuss, no mess—but tolerated my preparations. In their new oven. Again, I used 1.5 pounds of butter and flour mixed in, forming a paste, to suit. Recipe alert: that was just it! After the meal, Kathy and I visited brother-in-law Dan’s antique shop. Sissy said while we were gone our dog Belle froze morosely on the couch. In the swirl of so many human bodies, she hadn’t noticed us leave, and soon discovered she’d been abandoned.

VA Turkey

[The Virginia bird, warty with roux.]

To Belle, it must’ve looked like It Finally Happened Again. We adopted her six years ago, at age six, from a shelter. How had no one snapped up this cute dog!? We soon learned of her furtive, neurotic nature. She’d been adopted out twice and brought back, in one case for fighting with another dog, and the second time probably because her separation anxiety had been triggered for all time. She spends her hours with us worrying we’re going to leave her, monitoring our every move. And then running and jumping in a forbidden bed to worry when we do leave for work or whatever.

At the end of the day, photos of Tom’s heavily-basted bird confirmed that he’d laid it on uber thick. It looked kind of like a coconut cruller donut. Ah, the excesses of youth!

Having cooked two turkeys ourselves, today, Friday, Kathy and I enjoyed our own turkey, stuffing, gravy, peas, and cranberries. Well, we cooked a turkey breast. Which I didn’t roux—we were flat out of butter.


  • dclaud says:

    Great post, Richard. We fixed an eye of round and I took it over the top with a Port sauce. As to your turkey, I’d keep and eat the crust, throwing away the bird. One of the most puzzling things to me in life is why people eat turkey.

    • Richard says:

      Thank you. Two reasons, Dclaud. First people eat turkey to put gravy atop. Not quite the gravy delivery system as stuffing, but stll. Second, for leftovers—specifically sandwiches. That’s mostly why we made our own.

  • shirleyhs says:

    I love this post. All of it. It drips with love and irony. Ellen Glasgow said that Southern writing of her time needed “blood and irony.”

    You had killer gravy. We ran out of butter too.

    Never heard of the roux approach to turkeys. Seems like a good idea.

    We missed our family (this is the in-law Thanksgiving year). We’ll have them all with us at Christmas, however.

    This year we had grad students in the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding program at EMU around our table. What a delight!!

    Happy Thanksgiving past and Merry Christmas to come!

    • Richard says:

      Oh, isn’t it great when you can have strangers for Thanksgiving. We took in a whole bunch a few years ago when we were here. Just family this year, but lots of them!

  • Hi, Richard. My goodness, I’d never heard of rouxing a turkey! Yes, my arteries are hardening at the very thought, though my mouth is watering too. We were planning to go with Cornish game hens for the holiday, so that turkey wouldn’t be so repetitive at Christmas, but couldn’t find any! The stores were straight out. So, we went ahead and did a no-muss no-fuss turkey, simple fixings, and had a pleasant dinner. My brother always brines his turkeys, but my mom was in charge this time, and was of course concerned (being Mom) about everyone’s health and too much salt, so she did the cooking and I prepared some of the vegetables for cooking and then washed up later. All-in-all, it was a good and easy day. We’ve certainly had Thanksgivings before which were hectic and full of mishap, so this was a nice change. Now, I’m back to crocheting madly to get my gifts ready for Christmas. I haven’t posted much for the last two months because I’ve been busy with projects, and I’m really hoping to get back to the Internet world in January. I hope you have a great Christmas.

    • Richard Gilbert says:

      Oh, I haven’t had Cornish game hens in ages. In fact, I don’t see them in the stores, either. Anyway, these successive Thanksgiving meals clarified for me the essential elements: turkey, dressing, gravy. I am okay with just them. Then a veggie, and probably mashed potatoes, and I like a “relish tray” with pickles and olives and green onions . . . Merry Christmas to you, too, Victoria.

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