Mocksgiving preparation

Today is the day before Mocksgiving which is, while not a national holiday, a Brenda holiday. So I’m off work and in the midst of a marathon cooking session.

It’s quiet in the house on Mocksgiving prep day – which is a vast rarity. But it’s always noisy in my head. Mostly, while I cook, I talk to you. I observe, make jokes, give you updates and bask in your admiration. It always seems wrong that you and I should have such a nice conversation while you don’t get to take part, so I figured I’d clue you in.

Here are some of the things we talked about this morning, you and I.

You asked, “What’s Mocksgiving?” and I told you all about it. Basically, it’s Thanksgiving with friends. This one will be my 12th. I’ve been hosting this every year since I got married. Yes, I hosted it the year Grey was born, when he was barely a month old. Yes, I hosted it the year Thane was born, when he was a fortnight old. Yes, I hosted it last year, when I had massive knee surgery in September. (I actually don’t remember anything about my knee and the cooking last year.) I love it.

Every year, I panic that I will have more people attend than I can physically fit in my house. This year I was relieved when the count 25 adults and 10 kids (of whom six are old enough to, you know, sit). I thought my total count started at like 35 adults.

I always, always, always feel badly that I can’t simply invite the whole world and everyone I know and everyone I’ve ever met. If you and I have met and you thought, “But I thought she liked me! Why didn’t she invite me?!”, the answer is because we all actually sit down to eat. In my house. All 30+ of us. And so it must be a finite universe of people.

My day began at almost normal work time. I ran some errands this morning: dropped the kids off, went to the podiatrist (I know – so exciting!), got a flu shot, bought Mocksgiving specific groceries (the ‘fridge isn’t big enough – several things are staying slightly cooler on the porch) and gassed up the car. Then I started in on my list.

So far:
– Turkey has been in the ‘fridge since Tuesday, defrosting. Only 20 lbs this year. Hope it’s enough.
– Pie shell for lemon merangue pie is done
– Bread is on its first rise (need to punch it down in about five minutes)
– Pecan pie is beeping at me in the oven
– Pie starter is made and chilling in the fridge
– Pomegranate molasses is simmering in prep for the cranberry sauce

Next up:
– Run the first of about 4 dishwasher loads I’ll do today, including cans for the cranberry sauce. Because, of course, in my inexorable brilliance I’ve decided to make a quadruple batch and can it. Yes, it’s stupid. But, well, it’s my stupidity and optimism that make me so charming, right?
– Run a first clean of the house (many things need to be moved)
– Bring the spare dishes upstairs (2 & 3 dishwasher loads)
– Figure out how many chairs we’re short
– Peach pie
– Blueberry pie
– Lemon merangue pie

OK, I’ll keep you updated. Check back!

2:15 pm – Mocksgiving Eve

Mocksgiving Brenda is very grateful to summer Brenda for her hard work. I have complete blueberry pie and peach pie fillings put away in the freezer. The peach pie is especially precious, costing great labor. Peach pie is my second favorite pie, next to lemon merangue. Farm share, succulently perfectly ripe peaches caught at their height and put away for November is a great gift.

I was thinking how nice it was to have a day away from work. No project planning, no technical specifications, no time estimates, no deadlines.

Then I realized I had carefully mapped out the next two days practically by the hour. I had drawn up a detailed list of recipes, and figured out the optimal order to make sure they all got done on time and considering the dependencies between them (stove use, refridgeration, rising time, etc.). And for each of these, I had an excellent estimate on how long it would take me to prep, how long to cook, etc. Furthermore, I have deadlines almost every hour for most of the day to ensure some task gets done in order to meet the next task in line.

Ah well. At least I don’t have to get client signoff?

2:35 pm Mocksgiving Eve

Time to form the loaves and leave the bread for the third rising. Adam’s been using my loaf pans for his bread, which is cooked in parchment paper. Parchment paper leaves sticky residue, so I just spent 20 minutes scrubbing my loaf pans. Maybe I should ask for some new loaf pans for Christmas.

Speaking of gear, I have three awesome pie pans and a gazillion boring pie pans. I think I need to focus on procuring more awesome pie pans. I mean, if you’re going to make pie, shouldn’t it be in an awesome pie pan? And I make between 4 – 6 pies at one go more than once a year.

So loaf pans and pie pans. Yup.

2:45 Mocksgiving Eve

Second time through Mumford and Sons’ collected words. I’m convinced “Broken Crown” is from the point of view of Satan in the garden.

Forming loaves always reminds me of my mom. She made this same recipe of bread often growing up. When she had carpal tunnel, she made a lot of bread because she thought it helped. I remember hearing her “spank” the bread and thinking it was hilarious.

6:34 Mocksgiving Eve

90% there for the evening
90% there for the evening

Well, I made much progress since my last update. I got the bread baked, signed up for cable with a great deal (what can I say… I was home… I miss sports…), made the blueberry pie & the peach pie (thereby completing my pie crust complement), and did make and can the cranberry sauce. Also, I did a load of dishes and made it so you could see the floor.

Gee officer, I have no idea how these cans got here!
Gee officer, I have no idea how these cans got here!

Also, I have a lot of canned goods. This is not all of them. And I had enough empty jars in the drawer where I stick empty jars to can a batch of cranberry sauce. As usual, I should have prepared more jars, but I figure two big dishes of cranberry sauce is enough for tomorrow. It’s “take a tablespoon” cranberry sauce, not “fill up a bowl” cranberry sauce.

All I have left to do tonight is help the kids clean their rooms, give them baths and make lemon merangue pie. Just thinking about that pie is making me tired.

9:15 pm Mocksgiving Eve

Things I don’t like about making lemon merangue pie:

– Zesting lemons. I swear my zester has developed a taste for human flesh.
– Four dirty pots
– My solo crust ALWAYS schlumps.
– I can never make peaks like mom does.

Things I like about making lemon merangue pie:

– Watching the corn starch mixture turn. So cool.
– Licking the pot after I’ve made the filling
– I always feel badass for being able to make merangue.

Fun fact: the lemony yellow color of the filling – for all that it contains the juice and zest of three to four lemons – gets its yellow color from egg yolks.

So bonus! I have a document that has most of my critical Mocksgiving recipes! In case YOU need ideas for your Thanksgiving feast, or want a Mocksgiving all your own, here’s what I make every year, including the stuff I don’t use recipes for. (See also, turkey and mashed potatoes.)

Mocksgiving Recipes

Mashed Potatoes
Butternut Squash
Pie Starter
Lemon Meringue Pie
Pecan Pie
Apple Crisp
Bread Pudding
Cranberry Sauce

Mocksgiving Shopping List:
Very large turkey
5 – 6 butternut squash halves
5 lbs yukon gold potatoes
*1 package fresh cranberries
*4 cups pomegranate juice
3 – 4 lemons
**2 boxes butter
**Regular flour
**Corn syrup
**Corn starch
Home Pride Buttertop Wheat
**Bells Poultry Seasoning
Apple cider
Black cherry soda
Whipping cream
Vanilla ice cream

* for optional recipes
** check pantry

Turkey & Mashed Potatoes

Large turkey
1 cup olive oil
2 cups chicken broth

Make about 6 hours before intended serving time
– Purchase largest available turkey
– Defrost in ‘fridge at least 3 – 4 days prior
– Add beverages to the ‘fridge when you take out the turkey
– Remove giblets & neck (so much easier when it is actually thawed) – discard
– Preheat oven to 325
– Massage turkey in ~1 cup olive oil added in increments
– Cover wings and drumsticks with tinfoil
– Stuff turkey (see stuffing recipe)
– Add 2 – 3 cups chicken broth
– Put turkey in oven, covered if possible
– After the first hour and a half, baste every 30 minutes or so
– After turkey hits done temperature (180), remove from oven and pot, and tent (put tinfoil over it) for 30 – 40 minutes
– Carve and serve

Mashed Potatoes
5 lb bag of yukon gold potatoes
½ cup butter
1 – 2 cups milk
Dash paprika

Make about 1 hour before intended serving time
– In very large pot, add about 1 gallon water (1/2 full)
– Wash and quarter potatoes (I do not peel – it is optional if you are feeling bored)
– Put on stove and bring to boil – keep simmering for about ½ hour until potatoes begin to crumble at edges (Within reason you cannot overcook. You can also leave in hot water indefinitely on the same day without harm.)
– Drain potatoes & return to pot
– Add butter and milk
– Mash with either removable mixer or hand masher
– Once in serving bowl, top with a pat of butter in a divot and a dash of paprika

Stuffing & Butternut Squash

Turkey Stuffing
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2 large chopped onions
5 stalks chopped celery
1 loaf wheat bread (traditionally “Home Pride Buttertop Wheat”)
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons Bell’s Poultry Seasoning

Make 7 hours before planned meal (first thing in the morning – while the turkey is defrosting on the counter)
– Chop onions and celery
– Melt butter in largest fry pan (the big steel one – not cast iron – this makes too much)
– Fry onions and celery in butter
– While they’re cooking, cube the bread and add to a very large bowl
– Pour seasonings over bread & mix
– Pour hot butter/onion mixture over bread & stir with spoon (it’s hot!)
– Stuff the turkey as soon as it’s possible to touch the stuffing without burning your hands. You should be able to get most of it in. If you want to make some as a side, or you can’t get it all in, you can use chicken broth and put it in as a side dish after you pull the turkey. I usually get it all into the turkey-pot.

Butternut Squash
– 5 or 6 prepeeled “half squashes” (NOTE: It is totally never worth it to peel and core your own butternut squash. Trust me.)
– 1 cup brown sugar (to taste)
– ¼ to ½ cup butter
– Dash of cinnamon or nutmeg if desired

Make right after you get the mashed potatoes on the stove.
– Using your second biggest pot, fill halfway with salted water.
– Cube the squash and add to pot
– Boil until edges begin to crumble – as with mashed potatoes. Like potatoes, these are hard to overcook and can remain in hot water.
– Drain and return to pot
– Add butter and brown sugar
– Hand mash
– If desired, top with dash of cinnamon or nutmeg once in serving dish

Bread and Pie Starter

Johnstone White Bread
5 loaves
Make 1 – 2 days in advance. Can be frozen once baked. Critical for hot turkey sandwiches afterwards.

Add to electric mixer mixing bowl:
5 cups hot water (110 degrees, or as hot as your tap goes)
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons yeast
2 tablespoons salt
– Let sit until action (bubbles), then add
½ cup (one stick) melted salted butter
– Gradually blend in “enough” regular flour (~10 to 11 cups) until dough begins to pull away from sides of bowl
– Knead on floured surface, adding flour as needed
– Let rise in large ceramic bowl greased with Crisco, covered with cloth, for 1 hour
– Punch down (cover hands in Crisco) and let rise for 45 minutes
– Preheat oven to 335
– Grease bread pans (4 big, 2 small) and form loaves, using Crisco on hands and pans. Place bread inside pans.
– Let rise 30 minutes
– Bake 30 – 40 minutes, until crust is golden brown
– Remove nearly immediately from pans and cool on wire racks. Wipe top of loaves with Crisco.

Pie Crust Starter
Enough for 4 – 5 pies
Make 1 day prior to making first pie. If you don’t have enough time, put in the freezer for as long as you can before using it. This starter must be used COLD.

6 cups regular flour
1 tablespoon salt
Scant 3 cups Crisco
Keep refridgerated and use very cold

One crust = 1.5 cups of pie starter
Roll on well floured pastry cloth
Prick bottom of lone crust
If no other instructions, bake lone crust at 400 degrees
For most single crust pies, cook bottom ahead of time, but don’t for pumpkin.

Lemon Meringue Pie
Make pie crust ahead of time, preferably day before pie. Be sure to prick bottom and get sides tall enough to go over the top of the dish. Make day before. Can be saved on the counter for 1 or 2 days.
4 eggs, yolks and white separated. Keep only 3 yolks.
1 ½ cups sugar
⅓ + 1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 ½ cup water
3 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
½ cups lemon juice

For merangue
½ cup sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
½ cup cold water
Egg whites (above)
⅛ teaspoon salt

1) Mix ½ cup sugar & 4 teaspoons cornstarch in very small saucepan. Stir in water, and cook over medium heat stirring constantly. Once entire pot changes color and consistency to translucent, turn off heat and let cool.
2) Beat egg yolks & set aside. Mix 1.5 cups sugar and ⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon cornstarch in slightly larger saucepan ( 2 qt). Stir in water, cook over medium heat stirring constantly until translucent like the first set.
3) Add some of the hot 2 qt pot to the egg yolks & mix. Add back to the 2 qt pot and stir. Stir in 3 tablespoons butter, lemon peel & lemon juice. Once mixed, put saran wrap over top of contents to keep from forming a tough layer.
4) Beat egg whites and salt in large, very clean mixing bowl until soft peaks just begin to form. Very gradually mix in sugar mixture (1 qt pot) until stiff peaks form.
5) Add lemon filling to pie crust
6) Cover filling with meringue, making sure to “seal” the pie by bringing the meringue right to the crust.
7) Bake 15 minutes until peaks of meringue are brown.

Please note that this recipe does have some salmonella risk, since egg whites are incompletely cooked.

From Betty Crocker

Pecan Pie
Make day before party.

⅔ cup sugar
⅓ cup butter melted
1 cup light corn syrup
½ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 generous cup pecan halves

1) Heat oven to 375. Roll out pastry.
2) Beat sugar, butter, corn syrup, salt & eggs until well blended. Stir in pecans. Pour into pastry lined pie plate.
3) Bake 40 to 50 minutes until center is set

From Betty Crocker

Apple Crisp
Stick into oven while dinner is being eaten.

5+ cups peeled, cored apple slices
Sprinkle these with
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup water

Rub together:
¾ cup flour
1 cup sugar
⅓ cup butter

Drop over apples. Bake at 350 for 1 hour.

Optionals: Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Chocolate Chip-Peanut Butter Bread Pudding
Bake during or after dinner

3 cup dry white bread cubes
½ cup semisweet chocolate pieces
⅔ cup sugar
½ cup peanut butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Dash salt
2 cups milk

1) Preheat oven to 350
2) Grease a 2 qt baking dish. Place bread cubes in dish. Sprinkle with chocolate pieces.
3) Beat together sugar, peanut butter. Add eggs, vanilla and salt. Gradually stir in milk. Pour over bread, pressing down to make sure all bread is moistened.
4) Bake 40 – 45 minutes.

From Better Homes and Garden Prizewinning Recipes

Cranberry Sauce
Pomegranate Molasses
4 cups pomegranate juice
½ cup sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
Heat mixture until dissolved. Simmer for about an hour, until syrupy. Consider canning in smallest canning jars.

Cranberry Sauce
1 ⅓ cup sugar
1 ⅓ cups red wine
1 12 oz package fresh cranberries
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
¼ teaspoon dried basil
2 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Stir sugar and wine in heavy saucepan until liquid. Boil about 8 minutes. Add cranberries and boil until they pop. Stir in pomegranate molasses & basil. Cover and chill. Add cilantro before serving.

Mocksgiving 2011

So. I’ll admit I find it flattering that one or two of you have commented that I am remiss in my updating. It’s true. One day this month is not up to even my appalling standards. So let me give you the quick answer to your many questions.

First, I was treated for pneumonia last Friday and sent home with an actual written doctor’s note saying not to go to work until Wednesday. I took the weekend “off” (no church, not much childcare), but had training that could not be repeated Monday and Tuesday. Also no sick leave left. I love antibiotics and am feeling mostly better, but still am tired and lack stamina.

This weekend was Mocksgiving 2011. My tally was two pies, two other desserts, one 22 pound turkey that took an hour and a half longer than it should have but was perfect, five pounds mashed potatoes, 4 large butternut squash halves, five loaves of bread, one canned batch of cranberry sauce (particularly good) and stuffing. 28 adults, 4 children and 2 babies partook of the feast. The furthest visitors came from California this year.

I was explaining Mocksgiving to someone this week, and they said, “Oh, it’s like a feast!” And I had an epiphany. It is a feast! That is why I do it, because to serve a feast to the ones you love is a great gift. It is an abundance and overabundance of good things, a cornucopia of friendship, an overflowing of plenty and dishes that include butter. It’s funny that I never thought of it quite that way, but it is an apt description of what I was doing, and of why I do it every year.

Also, the friends I always borrow plates and silverware from actually brought us eight brand new settings all our own this year. Heh. Yeah, I guess that does make sense. But it was TRADITIONAL, darn it!

I probably say this every year, but this was one of the loveliest Mocksgivings yet. Other than the stress of a tardy turkey, it seemed much mellower than than some have been. There were more board games than usual. The night ended in a fantastic series of Werewolf games. There were more new faces than usual, but also a delightful balanced of the familiar Mocksgiving faces. The weather cooperated. It was great.

So now I’m through the five parties in two months section of my year. Phew! Better yet, I’ve posted my photos of this weekend! The random black dog was an assignment for Grey’s classroom – Dudley visits the around the class and we journal his adventures with our Kindergartners.*

Anyway, happy Mocksgiving!

*No one warned me how much homework *I* would have once school started! Also, I would like to protest that it is unfair to go after my neighbor the graphic designer and her “Dudley at the MFA” spread.

Mocksgiving Recipes

Mocksgiving has come and gone, leaving in its wake only memories, dirty dishes and two inexplicable pounds. Mmmm… I love Mocksgiving.

This makes me hungry just looking at it

A post-party call was made for some of the recipes served. It occurs to me this might be particularly useful pre-Thanksgiving information. So, without further ado:

Cranberry Sauce with Pomegranate Molasses
Originally from Bon Apetit
1 1/3 cups sugar
3/4 cup red wine
1 12oz package fresh cranberries
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (recipe below)
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
2 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Stir sugar and wine in heavy saucepan until sugar is dissolved. Boil for about 8 minutes, until syrupy. Add cranberries, and boil until they pop (a minute or two). Off heat, stir in pomegranate molasses and basil. Cover and chill. Add cilantro directly before serving.

Notes: this is a very tasty relish, but a little goes a long way. Most people served themselves 2 – 3 tablespoons of this. I would say this could serve 15 or so people. I doubled it this year — I won’t do that again.

Pomegranate Molasses
2 cups pomegranate juice (1 bottle POM wonderful)
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 cup lemon juice

Heat mixture until dissolved. Simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally, until syrupy. Store refrigerated. (NOTE: I store this in a canning jar. It might be an interesting preserve long term.)

Chocolate Chip/Peanut Butter Bread Pudding
Originally from Better Homes & Gardens Prizewinning Recipes
3 cups white bread cubes (stale is good)
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate pieces
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup peanut butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Dash salt
2 cups milk

1) Place bread cubes in a greased 2 quart baking dish. Sprinkle with chocolate pieces. In with electric mix, beat sugar and peanut butter until well mixed. Beat in eggs, vanilla & salt. Gradually add in milk. Pour over bread, pressing bread down to make sure it’s all moistened.

2) Bake in 350 oven for 40 to 45 minutes.

Serve hot with vanilla ice cream. Feeds about as many as a pie.

I was also asked for my peach pie recipe and my bread recipe. The peach pie filling is Betty Crocker. (What? Betty Crocker is awesome!) The pie crust & bread recipes are light on ingredients and heavy on technique. I’ll share them if you really want, but the best way to learn how to make those things is to come and make them with me.

Thomas ready for carving

Some other notes… this was quite possibly my best turkey ever. It was a Butterball, so no secret in procurement. I think the trick was that we let it rest significantly longer than usual — probably twice as long. And I think that it would be even better yet if I had given it another 15 or so minutes. Don’t be afraid of the turkey getting cold. It won’t. Put tinfoil over it and let it sit for half an hour or 45 minutes before carving and it will reward you.

I also have a secret for making one turkey provide more gravy than turkily possible. I didn’t do it this year, and I now deeply regret it, as I have everything required for hot turkey sandwiches except (SOB!) gravy. When you put the turkey in the oven, add two cups of chicken broth. (Note: this is for a like 22 pound turkey. If you are making a more reasonably sized bird don’t add as much.) It will totally taste like turkey after you’re done basting, and the result will just be 1.5 cups more gravy at the end of the day.

Finally, a question. Hey mom? My lemon merangue pie crust ALWAYS schlumps. I blamed it on the pie pan I liked to use, but I didn’t use it this time and it still schlumped. How do you make an unfilled pie crust stay up on the sides? Oh well, only one thing to do with an imperfectly schlumpy lemon merangue pie. Someone hand me a fork?

My brother indoctrinated my son in Space Duck... as if I hadn't heard enough about Space Duck when my BROTHER was 5!

Thoughts on Mocksgiving morning

This is my 11th Mocksgiving morning. I’ve been thinking lately about how the age I’m entering is the height of power and responsibility, and I feel it this Mocksgiving. An endeaver that seemed unutterably grownup — a usurpation of maturity back when I first did it — now seems comfortable. It’s so much easier, this feeding of the five thousand (ok 30), now than it was 8 or 9 years ago. I know the questions — that’s the hardest part. And now I even know the answers.

As I cook, I think. I think of you. I think of what I want to tell you, so often, while I stand at the sink and gaze out at the autumn leaves falling like first snowflakes. Here are some of my thoughts this morning.

  • I wonder very much what this looks like to my sons. This holiday includes them, but it is not for them. How few holidays we have that do not revolve around “the children”. This is one. I wonder if Grey watches from the corners of the rooms, what he makes of the trope conversations that have been continued year to year since the year his parents were first married. I wonder if when they grow older, they’ll feel proud (or resentful?) that they don’t have a “normal” Thanksgiving, but rather this jubilant, crowded celebration of friendship and food?
  • This was my easiest turkey in years. Usually I end up hacking out the gizzards with tears, numb fingers and great persistence. This turkey was actually (gasp!) THAWED. I’m not sure that’s ever happened to me before, even when I managed to find a fresh 20 pound turkey two weeks before Thanksgiving.
  • I only made 3 pies this year. I didn’t make apple because no one ever eats it. I’m feeling anxious. What if people aren’t rolled out of here? I have a backup recipe in case I actually have time. What are the odds?
    Getting ready to stuff the turkey

  • My friend Corey is up for nomination to sainthood. He’s playing with Thane in Thane’s room — dealing with the barrage of “I need help!” that defines current interactions with my scion. The hardest part of Mocksgiving for me is taking care of the kids.
  • I’m a comfort cook. I make the same turkey and same stuffing every year. I make my mom’s recipes for lemon merangue pie, bread, stuffing. I innovate rarely. I sometimes feel… embarrassed? that I’m not a more ambitious cook. But on the other hand, it is who I am, and perhaps I should embrace it.
    Farmshare peach, pecan & lemon merangue (plus brownies)

  • I think a lot at Mocksgiving about Hospitality. You might not know it from the headlines about Christians, but Hospitality is a fundamental Christian virtue. I only practice pagan hospitality — the welcoming of friends. Christian Hospitality is the welcoming of strangers, of enemies even. But you must begin at the beginning of hospitality, and practice until you become good at it. Our culture does not support Christian Hospitality. It is hard to welcome the unwashed and unwanted into the fullness of your home with your beautiful babies and good china. But I think of it this day. There is also, to me, a holiness to the welcome of guests into my home. I find it profound, meaningful. When you cross my threshold, you are more welcome than you know, friends. It is one of the things I was truly called to do.
  • This call to welcome is perhaps why the one thing I don’t like about Mocksgiving is that I can’t invite everyone. This galls me. Trust me, if you wish you’d gotten an invite and you didn’t — I wish you had too. But every solution takes something fundamental from the venture. It must be my home. We must sit together. The 25 to 30 who come every year are the capacity of my house.
  • It’s a bright, sunny, warm Mocksgiving today. I love those, because the boundaries of the house bulge, and on warm days we can overspill to the yard or porch.
  • The first of my guests have already come (the aforementioned Sainted Corey). For years and years I always had this anxiety “What if no one came?”. I no longer suffer than one, to the same degree. But some of the stalwarts are not able to be here, and I wonder who will appear first at my door.
    My mother's bread recipe. We also have a loaf of Adam's bread.

  • Of course, the tragedy of Mocskgiving is that I have no time to talk in depth with the rooms full of people I love. Irony!

    (Note: if opportunity and thoughts strike, I’ll continue adding pictures and thoughts to this post until the party starts.)

  • Istanbul and Camp Gramp: Final Day

    August 7

    Adam and I are about five hours from the time shown on my little travel alarm clock. So I suppose, against my great desire, I must admit that our sojourn in Istanbul draws to a close.

    After another sleepless night, we dragged our weary carcasses out of bed in time for the free breakfast at the hotel. As an aside, I’m mightily glad we don’t usually watch cable news over breakfast. Anyway, we then went back to the Archaoelogical museum. See, it’s not air-conditioned at all, so last time we only saw about half of it in hundred degree heat before calling “uncle”. We are nothing if not thorough, so we returned for the other half. I was hoping that fourteen centuries of being a beacon of success, art, opulence and learning in Constantine’s fair city might get, oh its own wing or something. Sadly, Constantinople seemed underrepresented in the archaeological museum. We did see about a gagillion first century marble busts, and an ample sufficiency of Terra cotta jars from Troya… As well as a few snide remarks about which European Museum has the good stuff. Still, the marble heads were lovely!

    One of many
    One of many

    After that we took the tram across the Golden Horn. Istanbul has a fine transit system, far more modern and clean than Boston’s. From there we waited by the water for a ferry. I watched a kind Turkish woman give money to a poor looking woman with a little baby. It struck me how few here seem destitute. I think I’ve seen one beggar the entire time (the woman with the baby wasn’t asking for help, but clearly needed it). Then the same kind woman insisted on paying our ferry fare since we were guests in her country. The hospitality and kindness of the Turks has been astonishing. Anyway, we took a brief trip across the Bosphorous to a tiny island on the Asian side called either Maiden’s Tower or Leander’s Tower. It offered a lovely view of the skyline of historic Istanbul. We climbed to the top and then back down for lunch. While there I picked up a pebble for Grey. He’s very interested in Asia, so I thought he might enjoy a tiny piece of it.
    The same kind lady took this picture of us at Maiden's Tower
    The same kind lady took this picture of us at Maiden's Tower

    On our return to Europe, we went to find the remaining columns of the Hippodrome. The Million we’d passed daily, but we never gone the extra block to see the Obelisk, which is either a reconstruction or shockingly well preserved, the serpentine column, or the brazen column. Then we got dessert. Have I mentioned how much I will miss Turkish food?
    The Serpentine Pillar. It used to have three snakes' heads on the top.
    The Serpentine Pillar. It used to have three snakes' heads on the top.

    Finally, we went back to the Bosphorous near our hotel and sat by the water with sea breezes in our face and joked with each other while the sun set behind us. Lovely.
    I loved that stretch of water
    I loved that stretch of water

    Tomorrow’s journey comes too soon. but I must confess, I miss my boys sorely. I think that this trip has been everything I hoped for, in terms of food for the mind and soul, and nurture for a marriage we plan to make go the distance.

    I will see you all soon!


    Meanwhile, back in the States
    It is a bit early for the report of the final full day for Camp Gramp, but I am planning to be busy this evening. There is a rumor out there that the Flynns are returning to the castle and right now it looks like — well I don’t want them to see it this way. So the evening is devoted to restoration. The cars will be returned to their customary place. The Legos returned to their box, the books re-shelved. A good time as been had by all — The grandparents are still alive!

    Today we went to the Science Museum to see if we could find the camera. As Don points out, it may also be here. After that we headed north by our family’s navigation and found Bunker Hill where Grey and I climbed to the very top. There was rolling down the hill. And there was running down like mad. There was no ice cream eating — we are soooooo mean. Then by the same aforementioned navigation, we headed north. Cape Ann is lovely! We followed the perimeter road around the very end. We went to the state park where we saw a presentation on bats and visited the quarries. We also saw lobster pots — many of them.

    Home was much closer than I thought. We are here now and Baz is making dinner. Hot dogs and Quesedillas. Sounds good to me.

    Thanks for lending us your children.

    Love Gramama and PAPAPA

    What I found waiting for me at home
    What I found waiting for me at home

    Cousins saying goodbye
    Cousins saying goodbye


    Istanbul & Camp Gramp: Day 3

    We asked where we could get a cup of coffee... and ended up here.
    We asked where we could get a cup of coffee... and ended up here.

    August 3

    Following fine Byzantine tradition, our feet are launching a palace coup against the work being asked of them. Istanbul is a city, like Rome, built on seven hills. I think we walked all of them today. Notably, we saw the Blue Mosque (it was blue), half of the Museum of Archaeology (it was not air conditioned and today got up to 38c), and walked to the Spice Bazaar where we bought very expensive tea and peanuts. Then we walked back by way of the city walls.

    The Blue Mosque - one big room
    The Blue Mosque - one big room

    We had to scrap plans to visit Ephesus as too expensive, so tomorrow’s itinerary is as yet undetermined. My feet are voting for sleeping in and lounging, but I never listen to the proletariat. How can it be Wednesday tomorrow? We just got here!

    It was great to talk to the boys today. We see so many Turkish families wandering around, it makes us miss them even more fiercely. Adam has had to restrain me from buying balloon pants, an embroidered vest and a fez for Grey…. I think he’d look dashing!

    Marble sarcophagi at the Archaological Museum
    Marble sarcophagi at the Archaological Museum

    Keep the updates coming mom. I’ve already heard from my blog reading faithful that Camp Gramp updates are obligatory.

    Love to you all,


    Meanwhile, back in the states…

    Today we stayed home until after afternoon naps. Actually, only the Boston boys napped, and the older ones under strong objections, but we all had a rest. The early part of the evening was spent trying to find Chuck E Cheese. My map reading capabilities again failed me. Chuck E Cheese lives NE of the 95-3 intersection, not SW. There is a difference. I finally stopped and asked.

    I can’t decided if I think Chuck E Cheese is brilliant or evil. The incredible excitement displayed in winning those miserable tickets . 60 tickets for a little candy bar. Yet they love it. Even Thane enjoyed himself. He likes to put the coins in the slots but isn’t interested in the rides themselves. And boy is he fast! He bolts and you better be wearing your running shoes. Kay had two horse rides and got a CSI identification ID. Grey got 40 tickets and loved them. He ran all over the store looking for members of the family with a long string of tickets flying out behind him. Baz is the air hockey champion. He beat everyone but me — we had a headed battle in which I pulled out a narrow victory. They seemed to really enjoy themselves. The food, on the other hand …. they should be ashamed of themselves for serving such food!

    After Chuck E Cheese, bedtime snack was at the Dairy cone place in Stoneham. Thane was like a little bird — mouth raised and open – I ceam.

    Tomorrow, pictures and then a return trip to the ocean sans the littlest lemming. Brenda and Adam, you are right. I have never seen a child so gleeful about water and the way he throws himself in the surf is terrifying! The next day is supposed to be hot. It has been growing steadily warmer — so we are not looking forward to hot. We are thinking Science Museum. That sounds air conditioned.

    We are all well. I am off to bed — just one more check of the troops.

    Love, Gramama

    The turkey mocks back

    On November 6th, I made this wise statement: After years of panicking about cooking, I’m now confident that a) there will be enough food b) I know how to cook a turkey.

    Ah, hubris!

    Also, this might be a good time to mention that I try very hard not to be superstitious because I do not believe in superstition. It’s totally a load of crock, in my humble opinion. Also, I TOTALLY JINXED MYSELF WITH THIS STATEMENT. That was nearly as bad as talking about a no-hitter, people.

    I changed two things about how I cooked my turkey this year.

    1) I bought a new pan. My old pan always stuck to the top of the turkey, and pulled flesh off when I went to baste it, and was really too small for the behemoth birds that occupy my oven on Mocksgiving day. So I saw a new, bigger pan that didn’t have a lid but did have a cool little rack thingy and I went for it.
    2) I read Cook’s Illustrated. Their November edition had some neat ideas on roasting turkeys. I didn’t do the pork one only because I couldn’t find the pork. I didn’t do the brining because I’m really lazy. I didn’t do the baking powder crispy skin bit because I have a hunch that the extra oil I add is needed to make the amount of gravy I produce.

    But I did try the temperature thingy. I cooked the bird at 325.

    And here are the results. Glorious, no?

    Quite possibly the finest-looking bird I've ever cooked
    Quite possibly the finest-looking bird I've ever cooked

    And completely underdone. The breast was done, mind. The popper thingy popped out. The temperature was right for that breast meat. But the bottom of the bird — the dark meat and thighs, etc? Totally undone. Completely.

    I hadn’t flipped the bird. I’d cooked it right side up. And since the skin looked so amazing, I didn’t crank the heat up (note: I actually think that was the right call).

    We had let the bird set for half an hour, as recommended, and everything was on the table when my husband started carving and we realized that we had a turkey-disaster on our hands. Thinking fast, we pulled out cookie sheets and put turkey parts on the sheets to cook that way. It actually worked out ok. And frankly, I’m not sure that anyone would’ve even noticed if I just failed to put the turkey on the table period. There were so many fantastic options that the turkey was, well, gravy. Mocksgiving was by no means ruined by the total turkey FAIL.

    Additionally my gravy was also a fail. I’m good at gravy. I make gravy all the time. But the open-topped pan allowed for much greater evaporation of delicious turkey-juices, so I kept adding water to the drippings. I added too much, and it came out as weak sauce. I actually usually (shhhh) add chicken boiullion (however you spell it) to my turkey drippings when they start to percolate to increase the volume of gravy. Since it cooks with the turkey for several hours, it ends up tasting like turkey gravy. But this time, it just tasted weird. If I want to use the open pot, I’m going to need to come up with a better plan for gravy. Of course, the fact that the turkey wasn’t COOKED might also have led to a diminution in drippings and subsequence chickenosity of the gravy.

    Lessons learned:
    1) It’s probably a good idea to start the turkey wrong-side up and flip it halfway through
    2) Wrap the entire pot in tinfoil before cooking, not just turkey, to prevent evaporation
    3) Maybe cook a larger turkey at 350 instead of 325.

    I’m actually half-tempted to make a turkey on Thanksgiving just to tinker and figure out what I did wrong. (I can hear you saying “WHAT? Thanksgiving IS turkey day!” Not for me. If I can’t cadge an invite to a Thanksgiving dinner someone else cooked, Thanksgiving is likely to be a pizza night.) Also, the turkey and gravy didn’t come out well. This means NO HOT TURKEY SANDWICHES FOR ME. This, friends, is completely unacceptable.

    As an additional Mocksgiving note, I made this Cranberry sauce ahead of time. More than 50% of my motivation was that I’d previously made pomegranate molasses for a recipe I didn’t end up making and it was lurking in the ‘fridge making me feel guilty. This was a fantastic make-ahead dish. It tasted excellent and looked amazing. If you need to bring a dish to a Thanksgiving, I’d heartily recommend this one. I doubled this recipe, and really. Don’t double it. All 28 of us having a serving barely made a dent in it.