Though we’ll be without the grandkids we’ll still be doing up Thanksgiving tomorrow in our usual feastly fashion. We came home from the meat market yesterday with a 15 pound bird rather than the 24 pounder we’d ordered. Fifteen pounds is much more suitable for just the three of us, as Miss Autumn doesn’t eat nearly so voraciously as the 15 year old grandson who’s constantly hungry and seems to believe that it’s a sin to let food that’s once reached the table leave it. He’s trim and healthy, but the boy can eat. Anything his younger sisters don’t want he’ll gladly snatch up. Awesome Cat, on the other hand, doesn’t care how much is in her dish and will eat about a teaspoon no matter how much is there. The rest will just lie there and desiccate.
The canned food (and occasional finely minced human food) doesn’t seem to be about hunger or nutrition for Autumn. It seems instead to be about feeling that she’s loved. The first eight weeks of her life were spent in the presence of a three year old whose momma wasn’t inclined to teach him to be gentle with the kittens, and her behavior indicates that she remembers him too well. She’s two years old now, and while she loves to be petted and loved on she usually doesn’t want to see your hand approach from in front of her — the little bastard carried her around by her face. Though that bothers her, and she’s a bit skittish still, she trusts us and except during her long nap times she’s sure to be near one or both of us. During my work day she’s usually found within a few feet of my desk chair, and my days are punctuated by her jumping into my lap about twice an hour for a little lovin’. Apparently no one told her that cats are supposed to be aloof.
Later today I’ll head into the kitchen to start cooking for tomorrow. I’ll make some rolls and cornbread that Amethyst needs to prepare the stuffing from her late grandmother’s recipe, which is a tradition we’re carrying on, and refrigerate the leaven that will become fresh from the oven rolls with our feast tomorrow. Then it’ll be the pumpkin pie without which no Thanksgiving is complete. Amethyst loves my pumpkin pie, but won’t eat any other. She’s odd that way about several dishes. Autumn will be in the kitchen the whole time I’m in there, supervising to ensure that I don’t screw things up. She’s usually on the floor just barely but completely out of the way, but when something deserves extra attention she’ll take up her supervisory station atop the garbage can, a perch from which she can see onto the counter. Someone’s got to keep an eye on her hairy two-leg.
If the grandkids were going to be here, they’d get in on that action, too. It’s a big thing for them, like a rite of passage: No kids whose chins aren’t as high as the countertops are allowed in Grandpa’s kitchen while he’s cooking because of the danger of knives and hot and heavy things above their heads or at eye level and a Grandpa who doesn’t always think to check the floor for curious children, so part of their growing up is reaching that height so they can help with the cooking. For quite some time after attaining the proper height they’ll be sure to remind me, “Look, Grandpa, my chin is higher than the counter! That means I get to help!”. I usually find something for them to do, and sometimes make their mommas a bit nervous by handing them sharp knives and things to chop or slice. The first time with a knife they get some instruction, but the learning doesn’t really take until some time later. The blade isn’t mastered until the cost of carelessness with it is learned.
The smaller kids hover with their toes just at and sometimes over the imaginary line separating the kitchen from the dining area, dreaming of the day when they are grown up enough get in on the fun. In the meantime, they hover there and when they encroach a bit too far into the Big Kids Zone an older sibling will be right there making sure they back up — the best part of being a big kid is rubbing the little kids’ noses in it. I mean, uh, eagerly accepting the responsibilities that increase in proportion to bigness. Yeah, that’s what I meant. It’s a new tradition that began with my kids, one that in addition to being practical I hope will bring them the joy of cooking well and maybe pass it on to their kids, too. But this Thanksgiving, it’ll be the cat instead who hovers at that imaginary line and only enters the kitchen while I’m cooking when she just can’t stand it any more and has just got to get a closer look at whatever is coming out of the oven. Fortunately she’s got sense enough not to burn her little nose on the oven door, and once I’ve got hold of the dish in the oven and before it even comes out she skedaddles back to that imaginary line to resume watching.
When it’s finally time to be seated for our feast tomorrow, because the grandkids won’t be here, Miss Autumn will get onto a chair and sit at the table with us for at least the first few minutes. She’ll sniff at anything that’s near enough to an edge that she can, but she is happy to just inspect and hasn’t ever put a paw on a plate or tried to filch anything. She’ll get excited when she sees me mincing the turkey that will be hers, and barely able to contain herself she’ll pace from one side to the other of the chair she’s in. Though it’s only her third Thanksgiving, she knows about turkey because I’ve cooked several since she came to live with us. When I go to set her dish on the floor I’ll have to hold her back with my free hand so she doesn’t tip the dish in her rush to get to it. And when I turn back to the table, half of the gravy will be on Amethyst’s plate because the woman is a gravy hound.
During the meal our conversation will include how much Amethyst loves my gravy, how nice it is that I don’t candy the sweet potatoes, and that I have never learned the proper technique for drying out turkey meat. Though I might be entirely full of it, I believe that the secrets are to use a real thermometer rather than relying upon the plastic zit which will almost always result in an overcooked bird, to just leave the darn thing alone rather than releasing all of the moisture in the roaster during the incessant basting that so many insist must be done, and to let the bird rest for a minimum of 20 minutes and up to 40 minutes for a really big one after removing it from the oven. The real thermometer is key, and I always remove and discard the plastic zit before the bird goes into the oven anyway. Why poison the meat by heating plastic in it? I use a digital remote thermometer so I don’t have to open the roaster until it’s time for the final browning, and don’t end up stabbing the thing to let the juices out before it’s done. Even before I had the remote thermometer I never managed to dry out a bird, but they’re perceptibly a bit more moist because I’m not in there a few times before the bird is done releasing the juices.
We’ll also discuss what it is that we’re thankful for, of course. It’ll be that we’re together (and have Awesome Cat), living safe and warm in a house, not enduring the interminable bullshit of our families of origin and/or false friends, and our life and lives are filled with contentment. I’ll ask the cat what she’s thankful for, and she’ll either meow back (because we converse that way often), or just look at me as if to say, “I don’t know why that hairy two-legged animal looks at me while vocalizing incomprehensibly”.
And, you know, that’ll be quite enough and just about perfect. I hope that all of you, even those who aren’t celebrating anything, have at least as good a day tomorrow.
A postscript just because I’m really geeked about it: My new sourdough starter that won’t be ready to bake with for several more days is really kicking some serious ass. The little yeasty dudes are very active. I fed the starter about three hours ago and it’s tripled already despite the ambient temperature being well shy of 80 degrees. That’ll never do, as it’s the lactobacilli rather than the yeast that will develop a stable, acidic, long lasting starter able to resist any stray microorganisms that might happen along. My last starter wasn’t acidic enough and after several months was invaded by some critter that tasted like popcorn so had to be thrown away. I’m going to try upping the hydration level above its current 100% in the hope that it will promote lactic acid production. Yeast in abundance I’ve got, now it’s time to focus on lactobacilli so it’ll becomes sour and keep well. So why am I sitting here writing about it when I should be upstairs doing something about it?