A meal that took seven days to prepare and two days to recover from

Thanksgiving 2012 is over. We had nine people (seven adults and two children) crowded around the holiday table and a good time was had by all. It was great, but I’m glad it’s over.

The full bill of fare was:
A smoked 12 pound organic turkey hen with gravy
Cornbread and sausage stuffing from an old Craig Claiborne recipe
Cranberry sauce with pinot noir from Epicurious
Potatoes au gratin
Brussel sprouts with lemon and pancetta
Homemade apple pie made with apples from our tree
Cheesecake and mini-bundt cake cupcakes

We started preparing in earnest for Thanksgiving dinner, about seven days earlier:

  • Friday, 16 November – I was committed to providing the first three items on the menu plus the apple pie, so spent an hour or two going over my archive of Thanksgiving recipes, plus a few new online sources to work up a master shopping list. My goal: to get as much grocery shopping done before the last three days preceding Thanksgiving to avoid the rush.
  • Saturday, 17 November – We have hardwood floors in the living room, dining room, and hallway of our house. They hadn’t been cleaned in far too long. Events early in the day kept me away from cleaning… so I got pretty much everything done between 6pm and 10pm.
  • Sunday, 18 November – What went for the hardwood floors on Saturday, went double for the bathroom floor on Sunday. I got that done by the early afternoon and then went to the local produce market to pick up the bulk of my shopping list with most of the rest coming from a nearby Whole Foods.
  • Monday, 19 November – While at work during the afternoon, I realized that I needed to increase the size of our turkey. The turkey was coming from Whole Foods, so I just called and changed the order from an 8-10lb bird to a 12-14lb bird. I also cooked up some cornbread for the dressing.
  • Tuesday, 20 November – Pick up the turkey day… a 12lb organic hen, that I promptly took home and put in brine for an 18-20 hour rest. I also stopped at a local wine merchant and picked up a couple bottles of Austrian dry Riesling. Some of the guests were bringing red wine, I wanted to have another option.
  • Wednesday, 21 November – After sitting in the brine, the turkey was removed and left to chill in refrigerator covered by a plastic bag overnight. I then picked the last four apples off our apple tree, combined them with one other that previously fell off the tree (a last apple fell off but rotted in the fridge) and a few of the same variety that I purchased on Sunday to make the apple pie.
  • Turkey Day, 22 November – The morning was spent doing some cleaning touch up and getting the table ready — the table was extended with a leaf, the table cloth changed, and the “good” china put out. Around 12:30pm, I started the fire in the smoker and put four quarts of water in the water pan. The smoker was slow to come up to the target temperature of 325 degrees F. It first started at around 225 degrees, perfect pork smoking temperature. I then lit and added additional charcoal, bringing it up to around 250 degrees. Then the turkey went in at around 1:15pm, figuring that if it went into the smoke for 60-90 minutes at lower temperature, I could finish it in the oven. I added more unlit charcoal, and the temperature climbed to around 295 degrees. After 90 minutes or so, the middle of the breast rose a third to a half the difference between the 45 degree starting temperature and the 165 degree finish. With bird in hand, I prepped the ingredients for the dressing. By around 4pm, the temperature rose to the 325-335 degree range, and the middle of the breast was 155 degrees. I made the cranberry sauce and cooked the dressing, and then saw to last minute details.

As it was, there was a small communications snafu — I told guests to arrive between 4:30 and 5pm, and Mrs. Geek thought I’d set a firm 5pm arrival time. So, husband, wife, and child were not quite as ready as we might have been when the first guests arrived around 4:30pm. That was my fault, entirely.. but it all came out ok in the end.

The turkey came out of the smoker at around 5:15pm and I made gravy. We dined on some cheese and charcuterie, while the last of the guests arrived. With a full compliment and some last minute (re-)heating, we sat down around 6pm and an excellent time was had by all.

A few pictures from the event:

Apples, home grown and store bought

A collection of apples, some from our tree, some professionally raised. The two runts on the ends are easy to spot as home grown, but the others not so much. I look forward to seeing what the tree will do next year!

Pie!!!

The apples (variety: Sierra Beauty) stay rather firm when cooked. I need to keep the apple slices on the thin side. I also used the America’s Test Kitchen “vodka” pie crust recipe — it makes a very soft dough, but I was afraid it would fall apart more than once. It did not. I need to remember to be more careful adding liquid. It made a good looking pie, don’t you think?

A good looking turkey

The turkey came out great this time around. A number of our guests had heard from me about smoked turkey and this one did not disappoint. The time in the brine generally made it so juicy that it practically made a mess of the kitchen floor once I started carving it.

Once the festivities were done, I was no good to anyone for about two days. It wasn’t so much as living as existing… but that’s what days off are for, I guess.

the rapture of the school bus people

school bus people

In a further sign of the apocalypse after the looming disappearance of the once nigh-invulernable snack cake “the twinkie”, we are presently dealing with the possibility that a group of seven small individuals were taken into Heaven, held out of harm’s way through the dark days ahead of four horsemen, dragons, and whores, since the Mayans predicted that the world might end next month.

I speak of course of six students and one teacher/driver who came with the Melissa and Doug Whittle World Wooden School Bus set. Various of the students had disappeared before, often placed into detention under the coffee table by Baby G. The reasons why certain of the students found themselves so banished were often murky, but they would be recovered for several days in a row from the same place away from the others. The whole group have now been missing for just over two weeks. They have never all been gone… or for so long. Hence, our concern that they were all taken away by supernatural forces.

They were last seen two weeks ago Sunday. Mrs. Geek and I had just returned from our first overnight trip away from Baby G. since he was born. We picked up Baby G. and brought him home, and Mrs. Geek went out to run some errands. I was camped out on the sofa, dozing slightly, while Baby G. moved from the living room to his room, playing. At one point, he had the school bus with everyone aboard. Later, I heard a toy crash to the floor in the hallway through a door and around a corner from where I lay. Much later, we found the bus but no people… and haven’t seen them since.

For a while we feared that they might have found their way into our floor furnace (we have an old gas heater sunk in the floor near the center of our house.) It was near where Baby G. played after all. Subsequent cleaning of the furnace in preparation for winter revealed no sign of teacher or students there. We also searched the living room, the bathroom, the dining room, and a good part of Baby G.’s bedroom.

The number of places in the house where they could be is getting small. Unless they were placed in a garbage can or diaper pail that was subsequently emptied, rapture seems like the best option… despite its prediction of the end of days.

A year of changes

Though the year 2012 has about six weeks left on the calendar (where did it go?), another anniversary passed a couple weeks ago that marks 12 months of extensive changes in my life.

Halloween 2011 was the moment when I finally put my foot down and decided to make my personal health a priority. My weight was an issue in my late 20’s and all through my 30’s. I weighed somewhere around 204-205 lbs in my early 20s and that started to balloon as grad school progressed in the 1990’s, at one point reaching about 222 lbs before a doctor told me to lose weight to reduce my blood pressure. I did so, dropping to around 212-214 lbs. It started to creep up again after I graduated in 2000, reaching almost 238 lbs by the time I got married in 2004. I made a concerted effort to lose the weight after getting back from my honeymoon, and dropped to back to around 220 lbs about 8 months later. Then the climb began again… slowly… until two years of working like a dog and a first year of being a father had stressed and tested me… and had me leaning two much on food and alcohol for comfort. I’m not exactly sure what my weight was on October 31, 2011 but it was somewhere above 245 lbs. My best estimate is about 246.5 lbs but I can’t be completely sure because I didn’t want to even step on a scale for about 6 weeks after starting to eat right and exercise. I do know what my doctor was telling me, however: my weight was unhealthy and I was showing signs of pre-diabetes.

I now usually weigh in somewhere between 217.5-219.5 lbs depending on how much salty food I’ve had; a few days ago it was 217.5 and it was about 219 this morning. I accomplished this in three ways. First, exercise has a fairly priority in my life. If it comes down to getting to my desk at work an hour later or not exercising (assuming I don’t have, say, a meeting), I get to work an hour later. Second, I changed the kind of workout I do. I used to do a combination of strength training and aerobic exercise. Now, I do low impact aerobic exercise exclusively. Third, I try to practice portion control and limit the amount of snacking I do.

I’d love to lose another 10 pounds, but my weight has stabilized at its present level for about 5 months now. Part of that is because I got tired of religiously watching every damn thing I ate. Part of it is also because I think I need to change up my exercise routine a little bit. I’m looking at adding some strength training back into the mix in the New Year. A fitness trainer friend says that exercising more of the core muscle groups can be very beneficial. I also have friends who are getting good benefits from Cro$$fit. That tempts me… but it seems a little bit cultish.

The other big change in the last year was a transition from Company O. to Company A. I’ve wrote about what precipitated the change elsewhere, but it was a long time coming. Thoughts about changing jobs were rattling around in my head for years, with varying levels of intensity. That level jumped up a notch or two last March. I don’t remember exactly what happened at work, but something in me said “there’s got to be something out there better than this.”

Part of it was a realization that I have probably another 20 years (or more — probably more) left on my career and I couldn’t see myself doing what I was doing at Company O. for all that time. Part of it also was that part of me was dying. Work that I genuinely enjoyed at one point had become a tangled knot of frustrations that seemed to be getting me nowhere.

At that point, I decided to try to take stock of my previous attempts to get another job — none of which were successful. My skills had grown stale; I’d lived so long in the Company O. technical cocoon that technologies in the wide world had moved on. I was also unsure how to even describe the kind of position I was doing, making it difficult to know what kind of job to look for. Finally, I needed to mature a little in my thinking about how to sell myself and my skills — I was no longer the the “new” professional just a few years out of college.

Of course, all that turned out to be moot… because I was hired at Company A. by one of my former managers. Still, I think the effort was not wasted. But let us hope that my time at Company A. lasts a few more years, at least.

The holidays we want

I love Thanksgiving and Christmas. I have many fond memories of the Autumn/Winter holidays both in the Land of My Birth and the twenty-odd years I’ve lived in the general area where I am now. It’s a time for family and/or friends to gather and a moment to pause and reflect on the blessings in life.

Yet somehow, November and December brought a lot stressful baggage along for the ride in the last few years. Mrs. Geek and I were never sure where we would be invited, and what kind of negotiations would be required to find out if an invitation was forthcoming. We felt like we were on the outside looking in, and never sure that we would literally be granted a “seat at the table.” This was because we always felt that certain members of the extended family deserved a right of first refusal when it came to our holiday plans. This explicitly made us vulnerable to the choices of others… and we paid a little for it in the process.

Well, I say “no more” to that this year. Rather than worry about the acceptance or rejection of others, I want this year to be more drama-free. I don’t care if it’s just Mrs. Geek, Baby G., and me. It’s been a year of big changes for me, and I feel like I finally jettisoned a lot of emotional baggage that I’d been carrying for year compared to where I was twelve months ago. With that comes the real ability to enjoy the moment.. and I want to enjoy the moment.

Our planning for the holidays this year was a little disorganized, but I think it will come out well. We’ll be having Turkey Day at our place, and I will be smoking another bird. October turned out to be very busy for all of us, and we all felt a little “Oh my God! Thanksgiving is next week” as the week started. We’d put out a few feelers to people, but had made no real plans. As of Monday morning of this week, the guest list consisted exactly of just Mrs. Geek, Baby G., and me…. which was fine. Six other people suddenly accepted our invite in the last 48-72 hours… so it’s going to be a fairly full table at our place next week.

Let’s hope Christmas goes as well.

The lights are on, time to go home.

If you ask my mother what my first words were as a child, she is not terribly exact in her answer. My baby book records my first sentence as “what’s Daddy doing?”. Along with that, she likes to recall an incident when I was two and a half (I was a late talker): while talking a walk around the neighborhood with me in a stroller, I looked up at the streetlight and said “streetlights are on. time to go to home. he has to go to bed.” Like a lot of kids, I evidently used to mix up my pronouns and referred to myself in the third person.

In light of this story, my Mom was rather tickled to hear what Baby G. did last night:

Mrs. Geek and Baby G. were playing in the back yard, right around five o’clock. Being the time of year that it is, it was getting dark. We have a back porch light on an infrared sensor, and naturally it turned on. Mrs. Geek says it was not absolutely immediate, but Baby G. eventually noticed that the light was on. As soon as he did, he took Mrs. Geek by the hand and almost dragged her to the back door to go inside.

I need to write more.

A friend had a link on Faceb00k a while back by to a post by Michael Nesmith, in which the aging Monkee talked about how he needed to be out in the world. The act of bringing himself out to tour with the Monkees or his other projects lent perspective that prevented the small and the mundane from acquiring the undue appearance of drama.

Writing here in some ways does the same for me… but I haven’t found the time recently.
I have a few ideas saved up. I need to write more… before I forget them.