Good morning everyone! Happy black Friday, if that even is a real holiday. And speaking of which, I’m even starting to wonder if Black Friday is even still a think. Watching from the sidelines as Marissa hunted for online deals last night, I didn’t notice anything special. I’m not one to hunt for discounts and hoard coupons, but from what I observed, Black Friday is nothing to make a fuss about.
This morning I’m coming to you again from Rochester Minnesota at my official, unofficial morning writing spot at the kitchen bar. Megan has a baking sheet lined with Christmas cookies on the counter, the family is watching TV in the sun room, and Marissa is slowly winding up for the day downstairs in our bedroom. I’m rocking a low roar of a headache, but a fresh pot of coffee is inbound.
Yesterday was a wonderful day. We rolled out of bed sometime around eight. I had about an hour to kill before we needed to start preparing to make turkey. The house was already buzzing with anticipation and nervous energy. Everyone was due to arrive at noon, and dinner on the table at 2. Marissa and I sleepily pulled the turkeys out of the brine, rinsed them in the basement sink, and padded the birds dry with wads of paper towels in between sips of coffee. We laughed like school kids each time the legs flopped open, or one of the birds happened to rest in an awkward position.
After we dried the birds, we carefully walked them upstairs and cleared space on the kitchen counter. We seasoned them, and delicately spread butter under the skin. When you take a step back from tradition and look at the activity of preparing a turkey on its own merit, it’s kind of a bizarre ritual, isn’t it? Spreading butter underneath the skin is certainly a weird sensation. “Nobody look me in the eye,” I announced in the kitchen.
We tied the birds and got them respectively in the grill and oven at 11:02 AM. Still on track. Marissa started her bird in the oven hot, but my grill was taking some time to warm up. To solve the uneven burning problem I encountered in this year’s practice run, I counted the number of charcoals in each chamber. Forty on the left and forty on the right - sounds like something out of the Old Testament, doesn’t it?
As Marissa and I monitored the temperature, people started to trickle in. I’m not going to lie, reader, I’m not a great multi-tasker, and Thanksgiving prep this year was a challenge. I had a turkey on the grill (which despite carefully counting the charcoal, was still suffering wild heat swings), a turkey in the oven, and to top it off, the Bears were playing the Lions, and they were losing. As the football game flickered on the small kitchen TV in the corner, somehow our struggle in getting dinner prepared and the Chicago’s struggle in beating the incredibly beatable Lions felt the same.
While watching the turkeys, there was about ten minutes of peace where I was able to forget about everything, and that was when Sister Marlene gave me a tour of her fantasy football team. “Back when I was a Math teacher, I was the only woman on the faculty,” Sister Marlene explained. “So all the men made a big deal about fantasy football, and I got into it with them.” Her eyes lit up as she went on, “but Alex, we didn’t have computers to do this for us. I had to gather the stats myself, copying them from a newspaper. But now look what they do!” Marlene pulled out her phone and showed me her team, the people she was competing with, and her league’s standings. Her gratitude for the convenience of a modern fantasy football app was palpable. “But aren’t you a Vikings fan? What about Kirk Cousins, is he on your team?” Sister Marlene paused and looked at me, silently shaking her head. I could respect that. You root for your team when they play, but at the end of the day, numbers don’t lie.
Marissa’s turkey came to temperature first. It was much sooner than we expected, and looking back at the recipe we were supposed to drop the temperature, which we forgot. But we improvised. Like Mitch Trubisky throwing on the run, we simply took the bird out and padded it in tinfoil. Meanwhile, my turkey was running out of heat. I excused myself outside to stoke the fire. Finally, the temperature hit 350F again. After a quick baste, I shut the lid snug, resolved to not touch it again for a full hour. As the bird on the grill finished, I started to prep the gravy. As I strained the turkey stock and melted the butter, I suddenly remembered I never googled if buckwheat gravy was even possible. I did enough research to confirm it was gluten free, and aside from a distant memory of trying buckwheat pancakes at a diner, I assumed it would behave exactly like flour. “I guess we’ll find out if it’s possible,” I thought to myself.
The butter cracked and spurted in the pan. I dumped in half the flour and stirred. The mixture fizzled, and the distant familiar scent of buckwheat pancakes filled the air. I let the roux cook for a few minutes, but as buckwheat was a little darker than regular flour, I figured it would be a bad idea to go by color alone. I dipped a finger into the hot roux and tasted it. It burned my finger like a hot needle, but the mixture tasted toasty, comforting, and pleasant. I whisked in the turkey stock, added salt and pepper, and went in for a final taste, offering Marissa a spoonful as well. “It tastes like gravy!”
The Bears took the lead in the third quarter. My turkey had about ten degrees to go. We were in the endgame now. The gravy had reduced a bit and Marissa and I moved it to a hot gravy boat. At 2:01, we moved both turkeys to the table. The family gathered for the big reveal. They sounded like a sitcom studio audience as we removed the foil and cut the string. The birds turned out really well. Despite heat issues, mine was not undercooked, and Marissa’s was not overcooked. By a hair, both the Chicago Bears and the Recker family had victory.
We sat at the table, prayed, and dug into our feast of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, creamed corn, and cranberry fruit salad. The rest of the day was a blur of snacking, napping, and family time. After cleaning up from dinner, Marissa’s family crashed on the couches in the sun room to watch a movie. “How about Jingle All the Way?” I suggested. The Redalen family gave me blank looks, and suddenly I felt lucky to introduce them to one of the silliest, most unique Christmas movies ever made - and a big talking point for Minnesota pride!
It was a great day, and I have plenty to be thankful for. Whether we’re talking about my family in Minnesota, my family at home in Chicago, my immediate family that can all still fit on our blue three seat sofa at home in Madison, or my distant family flung all over the country perhaps reading this entry right now, I’m thankful for family.
Hope you all have a wonderful day today. As for us - and speaking of family - we’re about to pack the car and go pick up our furry four-legged family. Hope you all have a great, relaxing weekend.