Friday, November 24, 2006

#156 - Tag Team Thanksgiving

The kitchen at Hacienda Woody is a nice-sized kitchen. Its primary charm is that it is nearly twice as large as was our kitchen in our old townhouse, which really isn't saying much. The townhouse kitchen was about the size of a large bathroom which meant if you turned around quickly you were likely to bump into something, like the fridge. So relatively speaking, our current kitchen is actually quite roomy.

I spend a lot of time in this kitchen. Since I have two young daughters who have entered that "I wanna help" stage of life, I frequently find myself sharing kitchen space with them. This can be both good and not quite so good. It's good from the perspective of having two little helpers in the kitchen. It can be not quite so good when they both wanna help, and they're dealing with poor ol' Dad who is, let's face it, NOT a multi-tasker of the higher order. My idea of multi-tasking is having TWO (count 'em: 2) things cooking simultaneously. When you add two Woodyettes both asking if they can do something, my hard-wired simplex brain explodes into bits of gray goo that probably wind up in the chowder. Yum.

Oddly enough, Thanksgiving was the exception this year. I believe this is because a) they were too excited about the Feast to be worrying Dad with constant requests to assist, and b) Mrs. Woody was sharing the kitchen with Daddy. When Mrs. Woody is on staff at La Cocina Woody, Woodyettes are given every chance they want to help. Mrs. Woody, that is. On stressful days like Thanksgiving where Woody was watching over THREE (Aaaargh! 3!) courses, the Woodyettes seemed to instinctively know that Daddy was best left to his own cooking stations.

Mrs. Woody and I cook together all the time. The truth is that we complement each other as chefs. It's not even really a matter of one being a sous (or, if Woody is sufficiently stressed, soused) chef to the other. It's more a matter of each being a specialist. Mrs. Woody, for example, is our menu planner and food preparer. That is, she decides what we'll be eating at any given meal, then helps by peeling, dicing, slicing, and is only available through this TV offer from RONCO! (Sorry. Got carried away.) In other words, she does the things Woody dislikes doing so that Woody is free to play with fire.

(Note: Isn't this the way it is in life? Women do all the work so men can play. Sometimes it's good to be me.)

For a huge feast like Thanksgiving, however, both of us must spend time in the kitchen if we desire to eat before National Shopping Day commences. This is where we discover that our kitchen is not quite as large as we'd really like. We have a stove/oven combination that sits uncomfortably close to a narrow corridor leading into the service porch. Unfortunately, we have key cooking paraphernalia stored in that corridor so that if one of us is manning the stove, that person needs to move any time the other one needs something like salt or vinegar or any kind of pan.

However, Mrs. Woody and I have developed a nearly instinctive ability to anticipate each other's needs, so it's never quite the logistical nightmare that one might envision.

Our feast yesterday was basic. Daddy was responsible for the turkey. Daddy - a devout Christian - bows to the demi-god of American male cuisine and uses Alton Brown's approach to roast turkey, except for the brining. Brining is waaay more work than Woody is willing to put into any bird as incredibly dull-witted as the turkey. Woody dealt with turkeys in Guatemala, and Woody is impressed with the idea that any creature can be this brainless and still walk on only two legs. So brining is out. Woody has, however, become a HUGE fan of aromatics rather than stuffing when cooking the bird. We love Alton's apple-cinnamon blend. It gives the bird a very nice flavor all the way through its tenth and eleventh lives as leftovers.

Daddy also did the candied yams and the mashed potatoes. Daddy always does the mashed potatoes. It's a kind of compulsion that Daddy has. This is probably because Grandpa always did the mashed potatoes, and Woody always wanted to do everything Grandpa did (including wearing glasses!). So I've become a pretty decent potato masher.

Mrs. Woody concentrated on the pumpkin pies, the cranberry sauce, the rolls, the gravy, and the stuffing. For the stuffing, Mrs. Woody bowed to the Rachael Ray Franchise, Inc.™© and did her "Stuffin' Muffins" recipe. We both thought this was extremely clever when we saw it on her "Thankgiving Dinner in 60 Minutes" show the other day, and Mrs. Woody pulled it off beautifully. They came out with just the right amount of crunchiness to please Mrs. Woody and yet were soft enough in the middle to satisfy Woody's traditionalist heart. The pumpkin pies were scrumptious, and the sauce (Woody let it overcook a bit on his watch. Woody is extremly penitent about it) had just the right amount of tartness and sweetness.

Mrs. Woody does the gravy because Woody still doesn't trust himself to do a decent roux. This is at least partly because Woody still cracks up every time he hears the word "roux," and envisions stirring small stuffed kangaroos into the gravy. ("Help me, Christopher Robin!")

The pies and stuffing were of course assisted by the Woodyettes. Or, probably more accurately, the Doodle Woodyette. Time has proven that when a Significantly Exciting Event is nigh, Jelly just can't seem to settle down to any one task. She has to bounce. She no longer uses a huge rubber ball to do her bouncing, either. She just bounces, generally on the balls of her feet, all over the house. So we can't really rely on Jelly for any real help in the kitchen. This is probably a good thing, given our kitchen's relative size.

All in all, we had a marvelous feast yesterday. There are, by my conservative reckoning, enough leftovers to feed two or three developing nations for at least a week, but which Woody will probably consume in two or three work lunches. Plus all the soups, stews, and kebobs that Mrs. Woody is planning for the rest of this week. Did I mention a vat or two of Turkey Noodle soup? Gotta have that.

So the Woody household was very well-fed yesterday, and therefore also extremely grateful. We had Mrs. Woody's mom visiting with us, which by itself is a mini-miracle. We really did spend time to enumerate many things for which our family can be thankful this year, none the least of which is the very real possibility that we have at least one ancestor that was present at that very first thanksgiving feast so many years ago.

I'll bet he would have loved our kitchen.

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