Mocksgiving Prep: version 18

This is the 18th time I’ve prepared to host my friends for the Mocksgiving meal. I’m perilously close to having had as many years of life with Mocksgiving as without it. Adam and I were married in August of 2000, and moved into a cute little apartment in Roslindale, which I saw for the first time in the 5 hour layover between returning from our wedding in Washington and leaving for our honeymoon in Greece. I worked from home that first year of married life, and I got really bored. Bored enough, it turns out, to try to learn how to cook. Adam’s family had lately been going to restaurants for Thanksgiving. I decided to give them the treat of a “real homecooked meal” instead… just as soon as I learned how to cook.

I was young, but I was no fool. So two weeks before Thanksgiving, I decided to give it a trial run. So I did a “mock” Thanksgiving. But I knew that two people couldn’t eat a turkey (not and repeat the performance a scant few weeks later!) so I invited some of our best friends (and all of our wedding party). That year 13 of us sat around a table and shared a meal and it was FANTASTIC. Also, that year, it just didn’t work out with the inlaws and Thanksgiving. We had such a good time that I repeated the performance the next year. And the next. The Mocksgiving that was most likely to not happen was the one that happened a scant two and a half weeks after Thane was born. But that one happened too, although I barely remember it.

Just as a caveat, I always feel somewhat self-conscious about Mocksgiving. We have long since hit the physical limit of how many people it’s possible to invite. I can say with relative confidence that no more than 30 adults can be seated simultaneously. Even though my circle of friends and welcome faces has continued to grow, my dining room as not. So I cannot invite many people I would wish to invite. If you’re feeling a little wistful about not being able to come, I likely feel a little wistful about not being able to invite you. Please don’t use this as a litmus test of friendship!

Anyway, one of the things about this particular day in my year is that I always spend it talking to you in my head. I’m not sure why. I think there’s something about the continuity. On this day I practice skills and revive recipes that go back in time. My bread recipe, for example, is a simple one. But my mother used to make it as both a therapy for her aching carpal tunnel hands, and as our primary source of bread. My grandmother made it, and served it in neat slices at lunch. My great grandmother, sharp blue eyes and wry smile, made it before her. I can see generations of capable hands making the same mysterious, practiced gestures. As my hands gnarl out of their childish softness, long having left maiden behind and well into matron (on my way to crone), I see the hands of my maternal line. And these recipes are really throwbacks. Adam’s bread, which he makes year round and which is our “normal” bread, is a healthy, whole-wheat, no-knead recipe he’s improved over years. My bread bears all the hallmarks of the fifties – white flour, butter (or margarine, as the recipe calls for) and the Crisco which lays unused in every other recipe but my high holy day recipes.

So, with no further ado, here are the notes I’ve saved for you so far. I’ll likely continue to add as breaks in cooking allow!

Step 1: Get the kids out of the house

There’s pretty much never school on my prep day, due to Veteran’s Day. Mocksgiving and Veteran’s day almost always line up. I probably could do this with them home. It actually would probably be great if I taught them in this long line of heritage. But man, that sounds exhausting. I find it very relaxing and centering to just do this one thing – readying everything – on Mocksgiving day. This year I found out a few days too late that their regular afterschool and vacation program, the Boys and Girls Club, actually had an offering. Oh well, enjoy your LARP lads!

One of the great quests of Mocksgiving is the procurement of the turkey. It falls *right around* the time that stores start getting their fresh turkeys, or rather usually a day or two before. That’s what makes it exciting. I’ve noticed even the fresh turkeys tend to be rather frozenish for Mocksgiving. I went to Wegman’s first (figuring that any place that has an open bin of oyster mushrooms would have, you know, turkey). I was wrong, so then I went to Stop and Shop which had just gotten their shipment. I selected the largest turkey I could find, clocking in at 24 pounds. I once got an artesenal farm-raised, locally grown and ethically sourced turkey. It was terrible. It turns out that places like Butterball inject brine into the birds. I’m here to tell you that’s what makes them DELICIOUS. So I cheerfully buy Butterball turkeys and they always turn out amazing. Unfortunately this year, the Butterballs were all still frozen, so I went with an organic turkey that was marked as fresh. (Although is still rather suspiciously rock-like.) I trust that brine is organic, and I won’t miss out on any deliciousness due to upgrading.

My first task of tomorrow morning is almost always chiseling out the gizzards & neck of the frozen bird, while swearing that next year I’m going to find a turkey that is ACTUALLY not frozen, not one that just claims to not be frozen.

If June Cleaver played D&D

Aprons are most critical when you’re doing stuff that involves a lot of flour. Both making the bread and rolling out pies have this unfortunate tendency to enflour your midriff if you don’t wear an apron. So I wear an apron. I also have learned to seriously sequester my hair while baking.

Checking to see if the yeast is alive

The first step of my ancestral bread recipe is to make sure the yeast is alive. You add the sugar, salt, hot water and yeast and then go clean up the kitchen a bit. If you see this bubbling, your yeast is fine. If you don’t, you might as well stop now or you’ll get unleavened bread. This yeast was particularly vibrant.

Molten dough-flow

I actually really don’t like my KitchenAid mixer, which I know makes me weird. I miss my Sunbeam mixer, but I got one of the “after bankruptcy” models that was poorly manufactured. I find it hard to add ingredients with the KitchenAid, and I can never mix in enough flour. I have to finish off getting the flour in by hand on the kneading table. The dough is warm, and moves like a slow lava-flow. I think the kneading is one of the spots where you need to know what it “should” be like, and where practice makes a big difference. I added almost 3 cups of flour more than the recipe called for to get the bread to the right consistency.

The bread goes through three rises. It doubles in the bowl twice, and then it rises in the loaf pans. While the bread is rising, I clean up the kitchen and get started on the pie starter. I should’ve made it last night, but I was lazy.

Vegetarian pie starter

Once upon a time, I had a perfect pie starter made out of Crisco. Then Crisco took the trans fats out of their shortening. I’ve been complaining about this for like 5 years, and I may complain about it for the rest of my life. Anyway, they’ve improved the recipe, but I still find that the all Crisco recipe doesn’t taste as good as it used to. I really like working with a lard crust. It’s super forgiving. But it’s not vegetarian (which many of my guests are), and the taste also isn’t perfect. The mixed butter-Crisco crust is pretty hard to work (I use a vodka-water mix to help compensate), but has the best taste/flakiness quotient.

It’s possible I have strong pie crust opinions. By my reckoning, I’ve made about 200 pies in my life.

Big crumbs – increases the chance I’ll have to roll out the crust twice which makes it less flaky

I still hate cutting in shortening. I often make Adam do this, but he’s working and I didn’t delegate early enough. The crumb on this isn’t quite small enough (eg the shortening bits should be smaller), but I’m a little lazy and this is good enough for me to work with. Its in the freezer now, getting super cold so I can work it.

Second rise

As I mentioned, my yeast this time was super active. I think it cut nearly an hour off the regular rise time on the bread. (I’ve also learned on particularly cold days – like today – to prewarm my ceramic bowl by filling it with hot water.) This is the second rise on my dough.

Formed and ready for their last rise

My mom does a set of loaf-shaping activities I’ve never quite mastered. I suspect that if you plan on entering your bread in the State Fair they’re an important step. But so far no one at Mocksgiving has complained. I really like forming the loaves – you get to slap the bread with a satisfying “thwack!” that brings me back to being a little girl. I suspect there’s about a half cup of Crisco that ends up in the recipe, from how much I slather my hands with to make the forming possible.

Single crust for lemon meringue

Here’s another task I should’ve done last night – the lone crust for my favorite pie, lemon meringue. Fun fact: I can’t spell meringue. I’m now at the point in the day where I’m watching the clock about when I need to pick up the kids. I still have three pies + the most difficult pie filling to go before I can rest. Maybe four. I saved some rhubarb this summer and I’m pondering whether I can make a pie of it. (I always think about the “extra pie”. I never make the “extra pie”.)

Why a pastry cloth is a must

All the pie crust recipes I use are high-shortening and hard to work. There’s a few things I keep in mind: all ingredients must be COLD. Handle the dough as little as possible (an opposite from the lovingly worked bread dough). But I don’t know how you’d be able to get the crust in the pan if you used a board instead of a cloth. I fold it with the cloth. Sometimes with a particularly difficult roll, I’ll even drag it over on the cloth. Then I can gently unfold it. I still end up having to reroll after this step half the time.

No reroll this time – possibly because it got stuck and I already had to reroll. That makes it tougher but easier to work.

I usually make lemon meringue, blueberry from farmshare blueberries set aside over the summer, peach ditto, and two pecan pies (which are SO EASY compared to all the rest). I didn’t make peach pie this year because, um, I’m lazy. I was really busy when the peaches were in season. It’s a pity because peach pie is my favorite. My mom can make the dough actually round when she rolls it out. I can’t. Also, my edge-crinkling skills have improved, but they’re not up to her standards.

Lone pie crust

This pie crust gives me fits every year. It always schlumps on me, regardless of crust recipe. I’ve tried different pie pans. My mom pricks the bottom like three times. As you can see, no inch goes unpricked. There’s actually specific gadgets you can get for this, although I’ve never tried it. So I take that as validation my schlumping issue isn’t incompetence. This year it came out ok. My mom’s looks way better. It’ll taste great with lemon meringue in it though!

Meanwhile, the bread’s out of the oven just in time to put the crust in.

Baked bread – the sheen comes from the last use of Crisco in my Mocksgiving prep
First offering on the porch

I like how the bread and the wood of the porch are the same color. I keep all my baking on the porch because my cats are jerks. Ask me about the year that some feline stepped right in the middle of my pie and I had to eat it all by myself. Tragic. The lone crust goes in right after the bread comes out.

The schlump. This one is within acceptable tolerances, so I won’t try again.

It’s amazing how interrupting it is picking up the boys. An hour gone, with nothing in the oven! Dark is falling, and I’m not nearly done! I came back and got started on the two pecan pies. The kitchen is a major disaster area – once I get the blueberry prepped I’ll need to clean it again. Then the last pie of the day is my lemon meringue. I should probably make that before I clean up, but I’ll need the mixer bowl cleaned.

I’m pretty sure there’s other stuff I should be doing too, but I’m momentarily forgetting it.

Pecan pie – sometimes I just dump the pecans in. Sometimes I carefully arrange them. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter.
Two pecan pies

I should really make just over 3 pecan pies in Pi plates for perfect geekery. I tried to trace a pie in pecans on one of them, but I think you’d have to be staring pretty hard to make it out.

I’m starting to flag, energy wise. Now’s the hard part.

5:30 pm –
It occurs to me I should’ve been time stamping this all along. Sorry.

Luscious farm share blueberries

I’m in the home stretch now. The blueberry pie is in the oven. The pecan pies are cooling. I still need to make the lemon meringue filler before I collapse, but that’s not so bad. It could also THEORETICALLY happen tomorrow, but that’s not a good idea. I also made a sad discovery with regard to one of my favorite pie plates. It was a gift from a friend, oh, ten years ago. It’s my “go to” for blueberry pies. Lately it’s been a little porous and leaky. But it has now developed a fatal crack. Farewell favorite pie plate. Sniff sniff.

The crack doesn’t look that bad until you look closely

On the plus side, the pecan pies are looking excellent.

You can see the bubbling

8:51 pm –
It’s done. The last pie has come out of the oven. The meringue came out very nicely this time! I could eat that filling by the spoonful. I’m a little nervous about putting on the porch. The temperature out there is currently 34 degrees, and I don’t think the meringue should freeze. There’s no room in the fridge (I moved the turkey from the front porch to the fridge, because the front porch was too cold to help thaw it). So that leaves the oven. (It doesn’t need to be chilled.) But the real question is … will I remember to remove the pie before I preheat the oven for the turkey?

Tomorrow morning – turkey, stuffing, potatoes & butternut squash! And table settings, cleaning house, and other preparing.

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Planning for a break

I remember the week I was to have my wisdom teeth out. My sister had hers out a few months before. She’d been laid up for a week. I think my parents had taken advantage of her crankiness to send me to live with my cousin for a week (during which time I learned how to make tuna fish casserole and why I should clean my room). When my turn came, I had A Plan. I was, at the time a Very Serious Musician. I liked Wagner, despised Haydn and read music history for fun. (Ok, some things actually don’t change.) During my week of convalescence I laid in a store of books and created a plan for systematically listening through my entire classical music collection. This plan would ensure that my week of recovery would get me through every single CD I owned.

I got my wisdom teeth out. In a fit of deferentialism, I did not fill my pain med prescription. (We learn things as children…) I ended up watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, drinking chocolate milk through a straw and crying for pain when my mother came home. Early. With my ten year old brother. Who had chicken pox.

I may never have forgiven my brother because instead of my meticulously laid out classical music plan, I spent the week babysitting him.

Anyway, this returns to my memory because
a) I’ve never forgiven him
b) I have another week off

I’m older and wiser now, and I know that either I will rest in the week or I will get around to all those things I never have time for – not both. Or at least not both on a particular day. So far I’m getting fillings done (another reason to remember back to that week), volunteering in Thane’s classroom (I NEVER volunteer because I’m always busy at work) and probably going to Costco to lay in a goodly supply of sunscreen. Thus the knowns.

In the unknowns, some of the things I might do include:

  • Organizing the attic
  • Organizing the basement
  • Practicing my guitar
  • Reading books on business (I just bought Lazlo’s Work Rules to prepare me for my first day, and on the advice of my outgoing VP of HR also bought a book on how to win at your first 90 days.)
  • Sharpening up my increasingly non-existent/dull programming skills
  • Reading up on my new industry
  • Video games (Tragically I’ve finished the entire Fable series and I like happy cheerful goodspirited games – a vanishing genre. Also, my best Minecraft worlds are (ahem) on my work computer. My work computer, which I love, and I only have about 18 hours left together. Farewell good tool!)
  • Playing Ingress. (GO RESISTANCE!)
  • Meeting up with people I like who I’m always like “we should have coffee” and never have time to have coffee with
  • Packing for Mexico
  • Sleeping in
  • Reading lots and lots of Facebook
  • Pressure washing the back fence and getting the yard ready for spring
  • Making really, really good dinners
  • Picking the kids up early from school and hosting playdates from parents who invite my kids over on school nights which I can never reciprocate
  • Going on a hike in the Fells
  • Bringing the car in to have the artistic flourishes (scratches) Thane added a few years back removed
  • Finally organizing my music so I can listen to it on my phone
  • Organizing 14 years worth of digital pictures
  • Donating that cat food that makes Tiberius throw up but that is really expensive medical type cat food
  • Writing some decent blog posts
  • The thing is I know better. I know I’ll get like four of those done (sleeping in and too much Facebook are like, locks – chances are looking good for some Ingress too). The whole point of this week is to stop being productive for a week. To rest. To relax. To recharge. To lay down for one deep breath the heavy load I carry every day. But I’m always gobsmacked at just how unproductive I am when I stop being productive. I am a creature of great inertia. When I’m “going” I power through work at a phenomenal rate. But when I stop… you’ve met no one lazier.

    So – we’ll see! I’ll let you know how I do on my list. And hey – if I’ve been meaning to get coffee with you, give me a call!