Thanksgiving was a disaster!
This year some friends invited us for the holiday to their new house in Suches, Ga., which is in the northeast part of the state, and which the geography in between makes more onerous to get to than places that look much further away on the map. Accordingly, we set out the Wednesday before, planning to spend the night. I was traveling with my—ahem!--footed trifle dish!
I am hard core enough in the kitchen that I have cooked many a Thanksgiving dinner complete from roasted bird to pecan pie. I am up to it. I do not mess around. There ain’t no flies on me. But I always suffered from performance anxiety about getting it all on the table at the same time and still more or less warm. (I don’t think anyone ever does manage that entirely; what experience mostly teaches is not to give a crap. If eating cold mashed potatoes really killed people there would be no one left to be slaughtered in Black Friday sales.)
But all that is in the past. More recently, as my family has died out or stopped taking my phone calls, what I’ve been most grateful for at Thanksgiving is not having to cook it. I enjoyably make side dishes the years we’re invited somewhere and enjoyably eat restaurant food the years we are not.
This year my side dishes were going to be a cold asparagus salad—salads are a specialty of mine, but the only salads people will eat at TG are the ones that are expensive or bad for them—and a chocolate trifle mighty enough to be worshipped as a god by primitive tribesmen.
In the normal way of things I’m not much one for sweets, but Thanksgiving calls for pomp and there is something majestic about a trifle. It dazzles. It astounds. It puts the Cool Whip crowd firmly in their place. I think the name must have been given to it tongue-in-cheek because there is nothing trifling about it. It is the double back flip of the dessert world, the Grand Slam, the Triple Crown.
A trifle is a dessert in layers, some of which are usually whipped cream, served in a glass container so that one’s audience, er, guests, can admire the various strata before digging in. I was electrified by a trifle somebody brought to a holiday party years ago and forthwith began working on my own game.
The Bowl of the Ball
For a while I did a chocolate version in six layers with a shaved Hershey bar on top, and it made a certain splash I suppose. But to tell the truth I always found it a little church picnicky. Solid, you know, but not brilliant, like a recipe you’d find on the back of sweetened condensed milk.
I finally broke into the majors at a June birthday party in 2014 with a blue, yellow and white trifle that highlighted perfectly ripe blueberries we’d picked the day before. The layers that weren’t blueberries were an insanely rich homemade lemon custard and whipped cream that nearly broke my arm because I was doing it with a hand whisk. It was a hot day and I had to keep putting the bowl, the cream and the whisk back into the freezer between whipping sessions. It took hours but by God did I upstage the birthday cake!
I was not the belle of the ball. It would have been rude, for one thing, to outshine the birthday girl; and for another it would have been impossible--she was blonde, beautiful and only turning 30. Anyway I was even then getting a little long in the tooth to harbor any residual aspirations toward femmefatalehood. Really the best I could hope for from parties was stimulating conversation, followed by a trip home without any conversation at all with the local constabulary.
But at that party I kept hearing, “People are talking about your dessert!” “My God, what is it?” And: “You had better get some while there’s any left!” So I must say, I might be a wallflower myself but my trifle was the “bowl of the ball.”
If you are sensing a little hubris here I will go ahead and plead guilty as charged. I put up a picture on Facebook and everything. I still have it, and have posted it above.
The only fly in my ointment, the only breeze that ruffled my rose bower, really the only thing that kept me from strutting around beating my chest (Look on my works, ye cake mix users, and despair!) was my container. I didn’t have anything fancier to serve my pièce de résistance in than the big Pyrex bowl I used for tossed salads. I yearned for a real trifle dish such as I had seen in the cooking mags. Particularly one with a foot, that would lift it above the pumpkin pies like Ozymandias over the lone and level sands.
But those who run independent newspapers can justify the expense for footed trifle dishes no more than they can electric mixers for cream they whip an average of every two years. So I did without until this October when, while making a quick walk-through of a Salvation Army store, I saw to my delight a splendid gold-rimmed trifle dish complete with pedestal for only a couple of bucks. I snapped it up.
I snapped it up and then last week I packed it up, along with ingredients for a Thanksgiving trifle that would upstage anything around it, including the turkey, hell, including new houses, and my husband and my dog and I set out that Wednesday for Suches.
We never got there.
About 4 p.m., the car engine began overheating. This has been a chronic problem that has cost us at least the equivalent of a car payment each month for so long that financial scales may now at last have fallen from our automotive eyes. So that’s a decision made, which is a good thing. But for the moment we were stuck at a Flying J with steam coming from, but no water in, our radiator, which was not a good thing at all.
There were water spigots beside the gas pumps but they had been disconnected, so I took the dog’s bowl inside and filled it up from the ladies’ room tap while my husband fretted and steamed along with the radiator. He poured the dog bowl water in but it barely registered and he cussed some more. I took the dog for a pee walk to escape the hot air, and when I returned my spouse had gone inside himself. I put the dog back in the car and looked up just in time to see my husband come out of the store triumphantly bearing a bigger load of water—in my footed trifle dish!
So the god damn thing was good for something I suppose but if you thought this tale of woe was leading up to a trifle recipe you will be sadly disappointed.
We were disappointed, too! It was too late to get a rental car and we were too far away from anywhere that rented them. We got the radiator full and the engine cooled, but if we went on toward Suches there was no assurance we would get there without overheating again, this time probably in the dark. And if we did go on, we still had to get home, this time from further away, and we knew the Thanksgiving Day in between would be spent fretting about our return trip. Finally we concluded there was no recourse but to turn around, go home and spend Thanksgiving by ourselves. We felt very bitter. The only consolation, if you can call it that, is the opportunity we were afforded to tell our host and hostess, “Suches life.”
But you know, it didn’t turn out to be a bad weekend. As my age has gone up and my expectations down, I’ve noticed that most time spent not working is happy time. Whether it rains, freezes or floods, hell, it’s still a day off.
And the most surprising thing is that I seem to have spent most of the four-day weekend cooking. And I found that made me happier, too. I wasn't fixin' to make trifle for two people but during the holiday weekend I did make:
Brownies (from a mix--big deal,huh?)
Homemade ice cream to go with the brownies (I made it from the heavy whipping cream I'd bought for the trifle. I feel that that this was enough of a culinary accomplishment to overcome the stigma of the brownie mix.)
Roast turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy (I'd bought the bird when Ingles had 'em on sale for 48 cents a pound and stuck it in the freezer. So I ended up cooking the traditional feast after all, but without the traditional audience.)
French onion soup (Don't worry. This was not the same day as the turkey. Soup does not go with Thanksgiving feasts. If it is not actually against the law at TG, it should be, in that soup lessens people's ability to consume gargantuan portions, which is plainly unAmerican.)
Philly cheese steak sliders (Because the onions caramelizing for the soup looked so delicious that I couldn't resist using some to make sandwiches to go with. Anyway, I had to figure out something to do with the wheat rolls we'd bought to take with us to Suches.)
"Pie," pronounced "peh," which is what, for some reason, we call apple crumble. I think it's got something to do with "South Park." Basically we needed something to go underneath the rest of the ice cream.
Turkey stock. At some point you just have to stop picking the turkey carcass, and the only way not to perish from guilt at the wastefulness of it is to toss it in a pot and make broth.
(At last!) Gobble and Squeak, using the turkey stock as base. This is a favorite soup around here in cold weather and the reason I am writing the column.
Gobble and Squeak
I devote this column to Gobble and Squeak not so much because is the greatest soup that ever simmered comfortingly on the stove. I do so because (a) it is an excellent use for the stock you make from your TG turkey carcass (though if you're not that serious a kitchen person you can use canned chicken broth); and (b) I invented it, and as such publishing the recipe is some sop to my kitchen ego, which fate smacked to the mat when I didn't get to make the trifle.
The name is a play on Bubble and Squeak, a traditional English recipe that combines mashed potatoes (the bubble part) and boiled cabbage (the squeak). I cooked it once because I liked the name, and it was odious. (I also ordered Spotted Dick in an English pub for the same reason. Conclusion: There are lots of reasons to explore the UK but one of them is not the food.) Anyway, in this recipe I left out the bubble, kept the squeak, and added the gobble of ground turkey. I use 85 percent lean, but you can pay a little extra and get it leaner. Or you can throw your diet to the wind and use ground beef.
A word on buying ground turkey: Ground turkey must spoil easily because it is easy to get home with it bad even when you check vigilantly for sell-by dates. Make sure the meat is pink and healthy looking, and if it smells funny when you unwrap or cook it for God's sake stop right there. I've noticed around here bad shipments of come in waves, so if you buy two packages at one time and one is bad the other one always is, too. I got so sick of absorbing the cost, I started taking it back to the store. Ingle's refunded apologetically and graciously; Food Outlet coughed up in the end (partially), though it was like pulling teeth. (I haven't bought any at Food City--too steep!)
This isn't a very good recommendation for ground turkey but at my house it's a staple. It's lower in fat than beef and when it's good it's great. I use it for everything from hamburger steaks to chili.
Gobble and Squeak Recipe
1 Tablespoon olive oil
10-12 cups turkey or chicken broth
1 pound ground turkey (I use 85 percent lean)
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
Cabbage--1/3 to 1/2 head, coarsely chopped
2 or more carrots, sliced into rounds
1 or more hot peppers if you have 'em from your garden, and like it hot; or use cayenne powder; or leave it out if you prefer mild soup.
2 cans dark red kidney beans, drained
Splashes of Worcestershire and/or soy sauces, to taste
2 teaspoons, or to taste, cumin
Dash of paprika, or to taste
Heat the olive oil in the bottom of your favorite soup pot (mine is the 6-quart size) and saute the ground turkey with the chopped onion, garlic and peppers if you're using any. Stir in the chopped cabbage and carrots.
When the onions are soft and the turkey cooked through, pour in the drained beans and turkey or chicken broth to comfortably fill the pot. Add seasonings to taste--I go heavy on the cumin, which we love around here, and am also insane about smoked paprika. I am lately also going through a mania for Worcestershire sauce but before that always just tossed in a little soy sauce to color and flavor the broth. Cook until cabbage and carrots are soft and serve as a main course.
That's all for this time, though I will add a few words about that homemade ice cream. Never was it in my dreams to make ice cream! As far as I'm concerned ice cream is like fried chicken-- easier to buy than to make, and in any case wiser. Those who prefer to weigh under 400 pounds would be wise to leave both out of their home reportoire!
But this year Thanksgiving fell, as it does some years, on my husband's birthday. He is a bright and social person, and from plans to spend this doubly special day with dear old friends and good food, what he now had was: me. So I was determined to furnish him at least the good food part.
On the other hand we had been traumatized by our breakdown and nobody felt like getting back into the car. We had the brownie mix on hand and I thought it would do in place of a birthday cake. No icing, though, and no ice cream to go on top. But we did have a freezer, a quart of heavy cream I had bought for the trifle, and the internet. Thus I googled HOW TO MAKE ICE CREAM WITHOUT AN ICE CREAM MAKER.
What did we ever do without that old internet? There are recipes out there using nonfat dry milk, half-and-half, skim milk, whole milk, cream and any combination thereof. I ended up combining several of them. The interesting bit that I wanted to share with you is that the blender méthode is to blend the ingredients with ice cubes. But this can cause the unattractive water crystals that so often make eating others' homemade ice cream less a treat than an exercise in tact. The solution offered in one internet post was to freeze milk in an ice cube tray instead of water.
These blend in with the cream part more smoothly. Then, as the mixture finishes freezing--I put the whole blender in the freezer--you get it back out and reblend it at half-hour intervals while you fix the rest of your dinner, to make it smoother and get rid of any crystallization.
I ended up doing this three times. I used 2 cups of cream, 1 tray of milk cubes, 6 tablespoons of sugar (or so) and a capful of real vanilla extract. The result was surprisingly good. For the brownies it was softset but when we had it the second time, on the "peh," it was as hard as commercial ice cream.
Why am I telling you this? Really making ice cream from heavy cream ends up costing at least as much as storebought and is a lot more trouble. I do not recommend it!
But this Thanksgiving I went from being grateful for not having to cook to being grateful I could. I went from being puffed by pride in my mighty trifle to being stranded at a seedy truck stop, then ironically rescued by my mighty trifle dish. I went from planning to upstage the turkey to being grateful I could provide a little comfort with humble soup.
It struck me that making ice cream from an internet recipe in specific, but really home cooking in general, is a way of taking arms against a great sea of troubles. It is changing a bad time to a good time by a sheer act of will. It is fighting back against the sadness of the human condition.
And that I do heartily recommend!