Cooking, Family

Thanksgiving: Winging it, With No Turkeys In Sight

Well, Thanksgiving Day has come and gone, and as with so much of my life this past year, it didn’t go off exactly as hoped, expected or planned.

I’d already announced, last week, that since Mr. She and I were on our own this year, I’d abandoned the idea of going full-bird, as it were, and would probably be doing my favorite iteration of fresh salmon on a bed of asparagus, with rice and pine nuts, and salsa verde over all. I’d dutifully acquired all the ingredients, driving for what seemed like days into Pittsburgh and back, and it was just after dinner on Wednesday evening. I was happy, ready, settled, watching an old movie on TCM, and nicely relaxed (well, except for the cat), with an adult beverage on the side, knitting a Christmas present for my granddaughter when, Blammo! Out went the lights. I suppose that wasn’t a total surprise, as it had been blowing, what I was taught to judge on the Beaufort Scale, about a Force-8 gale for several hours outside. I daresay a tree took down a line somewhere, and there it went.

Truth be told, it could have been worse. And it has been. But over the summer I finally got the backup generator hooked up, and our 8kW Generac kicked itself on flawlessly, about ten seconds after the power dropped. It doesn’t support the whole house, just the essentials–the water pump, the fridge and freezer, the blower for the heat, and a few strategically placed circuits. So for the first time in 35 years down here, we had water during a power outage. The height of sybaritic luxury. (I don’t want to know if that’s a rhetorical faux-pas or not. It deserves repeating. So I did.) The generator doesn’t run the kitchen stove, though; so it looked as if FirstEnergy was about to put a crimp in our holiday celebration. Especially when I woke up on Thursday with no clear indication of when the power would be restored.

I was undaunted. I had a nice ring of kielbasa from Alberts, the local butcher, and a couple of pounds of raw sauerkraut in the fridge. And I could find them, because when I opened the fridge door, illumination ensued. Fiat lux! Glory be! And I piled a nice lot of the sausage, the cabbage, plenty of onions, some caraway seeds, and a few other (secret) ingredients into the crockpot, figuring that if the lights stayed off, I could plug it into one of the live generator circuits.

But, as luck would have it, the lights came back on (and, more surprisingly stayed on) at about 1:30 PM, so I plugged in my crockpot and got working on homemade pierogies. And a few hours later, we had a lovely feast, and put a nice dish of leftovers in the fridge for later.

Today, it’s on to the salmon at last!

This little episode got me thinking about times things haven’t gone exactly right over various holidays, and I immediately thought of the time we tried to render a turkey edible that we discovered, on the morning of the festivities, was still half-frozen inside (that wasn’t at my house, I hasten to add.)

The first near-catastrophe I can just recall. It must have taken place in 1957 or so, when I, at toddler at the time, woke up the morning of Christmas Day screaming with pain and with blood all over the pillow. We phoned our local GP (family doctor), a personal and lifelong family friend and British Army Officer we knew from Nigeria, and he came to the house and diagnosed a burst eardrum. We were supposed to be having Christmas dinner at Granny and Grandpa’s so we phoned them to explain the dilemma. (This reminded me that, at the time, we had the only telephone in the neighborhood, which we offered to the neighbors, more-or-less on a payphone basis, where for sixpence or so, they could use it themselves. Lest you think it was greedy of us to “charge” them, they didn’t want charity, and the sixpence, or whatever it was, didn’t nearly cover the cost of the connection, which was quite expensive at the time. That was only 62 years ago, in an “advanced” Western country. How soon we’re prone to forget how very far we’ve come in the intervening years, and how very easy, in many ways, our lives are today. But, as usual, I digress.)

Granny and Grandpa bundled everything, including the ham, the mince pies, and the cake, into the back of the 1947 grey Rover, and drove the distance from Birmingham to Droitwich, and we had something on the order of “picnic” Christmas, since we were in the UK on a short leave, and really didn’t have everything unpacked. But it’s a Christmas I remember, and an impression and memory for a lifetime.

Have you had holidays where you had to improvise, perhaps to overcome an unexpected nightmare, or to accommodate an unanticipated, and glorious surprise? It doesn’t have to be food-related. Please share.

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