Gut Instinct: Pilgrimage and Progress

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:14

      In a feat of marvelous daring, damning narcissism and reckless idiocy, I decided to cook Thanksgiving dinner for a dozen. Included would be four couples (counting my girlfriend and myself) and, to my pants-wetting terror, my family. They’d fly in from Ohio, their expectations higher than the cloud-cutting plane.

    To my food-crazed clan, Hanukkah, Purim, Easter and Christmas are redheadedstepchild holidays. Culinary-centered Thanksgiving is our money shot. We whip up sweet-potato purée, garlicky mashed potatoes, mushroom-carrot stuffing, sour-cream coffee cake and both roasted cauliflower soup and turkey. Our annual menu is an edible antidepressant—eating it rights our mental ship, connecting us like Krazy Glue.And this would be our first Turkey Day away from Dayton.

    “That’s great and all, but how will we seat 12 people?” my girlfriend asked, not unwisely. Like countless New York City apartments, our Brooklyn dwelling lacks amenities such as tables, chairs and, quite often, toilet paper.

    “We’ll buy tables and seats,” I said. Money, you solve everything! “Plates and knives?” “Buy ’em.” “And don’t forget decorations. I want candles that look like Pilgrims.”

    “Please don’t become a Thanksgiving-zilla.” “I’m not a Thanksgiving-zilla. I just like the holidays,” she said, as if it were a sexual position that could provide untold pleasure.

    We outfitted our apartment with Target’s finest furnishings, spending money so wantonly you’d think Thanksgiving was a Scores stripper’s pseudonym. Following the locavore rulebook, I sourced veggies from the Prospect Park Greenmarket and ordered an 18-pound organic, free-range beast from Trenton, New Jersey’s DiPaolo Turkey Farm.  

    “Sure you don’t want a 22-pound turkey?” the saleslady asked. “Plenty of leftovers.”

    “Does Thanksgiving really need more leftovers?” I replied. Besides, when a turkey crosses the 20-pound barrier, it verges uneasily into toddler terrain.And any creature that large deserves a name. Pass me little Billy’s crispy, crispy leg! More of Melissa’s breast meat, please! Days before Thanksgiving, I was fully ready save for my mom’s crme frache recipe—soured, thickened cream that gives our sweet-potato purée a rich depth. Clock ticking, I emailed her for guidance.

    Hey, Mom: I’m making crme frache today. Do you know the proportions? Love, Josh

    Mom’s response came quickly and confoundingly.

    Good afternoon Mr. Bernstein: My name is Steve, and I’m your mom’s human resources manager.Your mother regrets that she is unable to reply due to several meetings, and thus has instructed me to reply.You mother says that she will e-mail you specific measurements later this evening. Please note that some of what you are looking for may be found in specialty grocery stores. Per your mother’s wishes, please have it finished by tomorrow night.

    Thank you, and I wish your family a pleasant Thanksgiving. Had my mom been replaced by a robot? I understand that HR employees are emotionless automatons, terminating employees’ benefits without blinking a hardened eye. But this took the callous, confusing cake: Per your mother’s wishes,please have it finished by tomorrow night. I smacked DELETE and, like thousands of freshly fired New Yorkers, cursed HR. Hours later, my inbox held my mom’s rocket-science recipe: mix equal parts heavy cream and sour cream. Let sit overnight.

    The night before Thanksgiving, I couldn’t sit. Or sleep. To brine my turkey (six hours in salt, brown sugar and bruised thyme and rosemary) in time for our 4 p.m. dinner, I’d have to awaken at 4 a.m. “Turn the alarm off,” my girlfriend sleepmoaned, mistaking my fleshy rump for the clock. I slumped from bed and stumbled into the cold kitchen. Sighing, I rolled up my sweatshirt sleeve and, clutching herb sprigs and carrots, rammed my hand into a turkey’s dark, dank cavity. Following the aromatic fisting, I submerged the bird in a double-ply garbage bag filled with salty brine. Filthy, salmonella-riddled work, but the saline bath worked its plumping, moistening magic.

    The next morning, I slow-roasted the wellgreased bird to a burnished brown.The potatoes and stuffing turned out buttery and decadent. Friends arrived, bearing green beans, pumpkin pies and booze. And then came my parents and two siblings, taking seats at our new table, at a new tradition’s beginning.

    “I love the candles!” my mom said, beaming at the melting Pilgrims. I told you so, my girlfriend’s eyes telegraphed, as everyone said their thanks and feasted until too full.

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