Thanksgiving upon us...
Notes on preparing the meal, cocktails for the day, plus movie and book recs, and great links!
In November 2021 we rejoiced in having a crowd for Thanksgiving, rather than the Thanksgiving for three, the Covid Thanksgiving the year before. Let us not forget to be thankful for the fact that we can travel and gather safely once again.
I’ll be spending the holiday this year with Mom in West Palm Beach and the first item on the shopping list I have for her are turkey wings and drumsticks. Happily I’ll have a few days to make stock.
The importance of stock…
Thanksgiving is a lot of work, even if you buy things pre-made (as Ina does this year for The Times). Here are my four general Thanksgiving meal rules:
Number 1, enlist help.
Number 2, make everything that holds well a day or two ahead (like cranberry sauce, blanching and shocking green vegetables, and so on).
Number 3, determine how you want to spend your cooking time.
Number 4, remember that it always works out in the end.
To address rule number three. Turkey stock and gravy are the backbone of the entire meal. Gravy moistens and flavors at least three courses of a traditional meal: the turkey, the dressing, and the mashed potatoes, and well, whatever else happens to be on your plate.
If the gravy isn’t stellar, I don’t think the turkey-dressing-potatoes can be better than the gravy. Gravy ties everything together. And for the best gravy, there is nothing that matches homemade turkey stock.
Remember, all gravy is, is good turkey stock thickened (I prefer to use flour and butter or flour and rendered turkey fat to thicken it). This base, excellent on its own, can be tailored to your tastes, with wine, herbs, vegetables, giblets. But it’s great just with some minced shallots. Ultimately, the quality of the gravy is in direct proportion to the quality of the stock.
Happily, turkey stock is easy to make. Here’s how.
Turkey stock is useful beyond gravy. It’s excellent added to your dressing, as above. Turkey stock is an excellent way to ensure you serve hot, moist breast meat. I layer sliced breast meat in a deep platter and pour boiling stock over it before serving. Cold white meat is for sandwiches the next day, not Thanksgiving dinner. (My absolute fave post-Thanksgiving sandwich: turkey on Wonder bread with mayo and iceberg lettuce). And if you have extra turkey stock you can make more gravy or freeze it or use in a turkey leftover dish, such as a turkey tetrazzini.
Recipes for cranberry sauce, gravy and the like, as well as links, and more thorough thoughts on preparation, are in last November’s newsletter.
What is up with Kenji’s mayonnaise slathered turkey…?
Both my mom and my wife were quick to bring up wunderkind Kenji Lopez-Alt’s NYTimes article advocating slathering your turkey with an herbed mayo. I’ve long known that using mayonnaise rather than butter when making a grilled cheese results in delicious, crisp, golden brown sandwiches.
So why not on turkey, which chefs often tell you to baste with butter? The idea made such immediate sense to me (and Ann): herbed mayo, a flavored fat that will adhere to the bird to keep it uniformly seasoned and moist.
But I’m not sure I’m willing to gamble on a whole big bird, the centerpiece of the meal. I’d love to hear from anyone who has tried it.
What to drink on Thanksgiving…
Hands-down, the Campari-sweet-vermouth pairing can’t be beat for the holiday, and if you’re the host having these two components on hand (along with a standard bar) allows you to offer anyone three different cocktails of varying strengths, all of them delicious, all festive in appearance:
The Americano, the least alcoholic of the three, is a refreshing delight, and a cocktail that you can drink all afternoon with minimal effects—especially good if you’re one of the cooks. Equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth, topped with seltzer to taste.
The Spagliato. This one became one of the most ridiculous of this season’s memes: The Negroni Spagliato with Prosecco, sparked by actors Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke’s video promoting House of the Dragon. For anyone who knows what a Spagliato is, calling it a “Negroni Spagliato with Prosecco” is kind of like calling the summertime cocktail a “Gin Gin-and-Tonic with Tonic.” A Spagliato is equal parts sweet vermouth, campari and Prosecco. Spagliato is mistake in Italian, and so is calling it a “Negroni Spagliato.”
And, of course, there is the classic Negroni, which is a Spagliato that uses gin instead of Prosecco.
1 ounce gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce Campari
Orange twist for garnish
These cocktails are all delicious and festive. And if you have a guest who doesn’t like gin, swap it out for whiskey and you have a Boulevardier.
The Miami Book Fair…
Ann and I are at the Miami Book Fair today. Ann continues to promote her memoir, Fly Girl, about her years as a TWA flight attendant. Far from being a demeaning job in a rampantly sexist environment, the work was, in many ways, the making of her. It turned the bookish, introverted, college graduate into a world traveler who could evacuate numerous aircrafts, deliver CPR and mouth-to-mouth on a passenger having a heart attack (which she describes in the book), and carve Chateaubriand in the aisle at 30,000 feet. It’s a fabulous book. See Confessions of a 1980s Flight Attendant, from CNN Travel, if only for the pleasure of seeing my 20-something wife’s totally 80s hairstyle!
She will be in conversation (today at 1:30 if you’re in the neighborhood) with first time author Jessi Hempel, a journalist who has written a memoir called The Family Outing, in which, well, everyone in her family comes out as gay, bi, or trans. Except for her mom (for her there’s the serial killer story).
Ann and Jessi were put together by the fair organizers randomly—they had no idea that long ago, Jessi was babysitter to Ann’s kids in Providence!
What we’re reading …
I finished Stewart O’Nan’s Ocean State—outstanding. The short novel explores the murder of a teenaged girl by a classmate (based on a true story), told from the points of view of several of the female characters, a daring choice at this moment in our culture. “When I was in eighth grade,” the novel begins, “my sister helped kill another girl.” The novel is every bit as good as, if not better than, my previous O’Nan favorite, Last Night At the Lobster.
Ann has several excellent endorsements today:
FOSTER by Claire Keegan is 128 pages of brilliance. Told from the POV of an 11-year-old girl in rural Ireland during the summer she is sent to live on a farm with a loving, kind couple who have their own heartbreaking secret.
I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read the stunning novel HALF OF A YELLOW SUN by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Through the stories of five characters, we see Biafra’s struggle for independence from Nigeria in the late 1960s. Love, betrayal, war, violence. Adichie doesn’t hold back on any of it.
In the quirky NINA SIMONE’S GUM, Warren Ellis, band mate and collaborator of Nick Cave, tells the true story of how he took Nina Simone’s gum off the piano at her rare 1990 concert in Britain and the journey of that piece of gum. Pictures included!
This last one is quirky to the nth degree—it’s astonishing.
What we’re watching…
One our go-to movie house in the Village is The Angelica, which Ann has been going to since her TWA bachelorette days on Bleecker Street. It was where we saw the Banshees of Inisherin, God’s Creatures, and Argentina 1985—each of them excellent. And most recently Aftersun.
This is the story of a father and young daughter on vacation in Turkey. Tension perfuses the entire film, but we never understand where it’s coming from. Why is the father so troubled; why is the adult daughter looking back on these few days where nothing, other than some odd behavior by the loving father, happens? Everything is hidden and you can only leave the theater dissatisfied and scratching your head. (The young actress Frankie Corio, though, is stellar.)
We turned next to The Black Phone on Netflix, a supernatural tale of a serial killer played by Ethan Hawke. Now, here is an actual movie, where something happens. After Aftersun, it was a pleasure to see what good story-telling can do. And I don’t usually care for horror or supernatural stories.
On the advice of the sages on Slate’s Culture Gabfest podcast (always excellent) we were eager to watch Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, which all three hosts gushed about. It’s a spoof on rock documentaries and the first half is indeed hilarious, with Daniel Radcliffe playing Weird Al. But like so many spoofs, the gags have to get more and more ridiculous, and the movie devolves into a silly mess. Good for very light entertainment if you’re in the mood for that kind of thing. Nothing, to my mind, can top This Is Spinal Tap.
We gave the season 2 opener of The White Lotus, which takes place in Sicily this time, a shot but like season 1, it’s weirdly repellent. Instead, I urge you to listen to Ann on this next recommendation:
I’m knitting baby hats and watching INSIDE MAN with Stanley Tucci as a murderous criminologist, David Tennant as a crazed vicar, and the wonderful Lydia West (from Its A Sin and Years and Years) as an ambitious journalist.
Definitely one I need to see. Tucci is all over the place these days!
Links we’re loving…
The absurd by definition is meaningless. Then why do we find meaning in it. Are Homo sapiens wired to look for meaning when there is none? Have a glance at bread stapled to trees, a baffling meme. Why is this a pleasure? To me anyway. I have no idea. But I encourage you to get out your stapler and the bag of Wonder bread, or a profiterole or croissant or shaobing, and take them to a big, old maple or oak.
Ann mentioned Claire Keegan above. Read this NYTimes profile of why this author with such minimal output (two novellas, two story collections) has such a major reputation in Ireland. We both recommend her last book, Small Things Like These.
We’ve recently lost two writers in the food world. The influential critic, Gael Green, who began her career by bedding Elvis Presley and was for decades New York magazine’s restaurant critic and a founder of NYC’s Meals On Wheels program (her obit here). Julie Powell (obit here), had a smash success with her blog, which she turned into an excellent book, which was turned into an excellent movie, Julie/Julia. The years that followed this success, however, were fraught and she died at 49.
Sharp knifes are really important to me. I’ve been happy to promote a small knife company called Nakano for their excellent knives (love their bread knife, the handles on their steak knives and both their santuko and chef’s knives, as well as their cool magnetic countertop knife holder). They’s opened up their 30% Black Friday discount early for people who use the code RUHLMAN. But what to do when they get dull and you aren’t a practiced sharpener (it takes skill and time)? Here’s a new service that is worth looking in to—knives sharpened by mail from a company called Knife Aid—their youtube description here. I haven’t tried it but am tempted.
This is a long, fine essay in The Smithsonian on an under appreciated fruit, the date (which Ann loves; I find the texture flavor and sweetness too much, but their story is great). This is the kind of piece—leisurely, precise, packed with details both contemporary and historical—that used to fill The New Yorker.
If you haven’t read the outstanding short story, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” by Delmore Schwartz, you should. Or even better, listen to a former Schwartz student, the rocker Lou Reed, read the story.
Are you a fan of Joan Didion? See what’s for sale from her estate in this catalogue.
Excellent story (with video) from The Guardian about a woman diver’s encounter with an enormously affectionate octopus. Couldn’t help remembering the excellent documentary, My Octopus Teacher.
A collection of songs by Barbra Streisand, recorded in 1962 at the Bon Soir in NYC’s Greenwich Village, has just been released. It’s a thrill to hear her in her early days, a powerhouse even at 18 years old. The following is a video recreating the feel of that era, with one of the songs in her act.
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Outstanding article and plan to celebrate “American” Thanksgiving to honour all my wonderful friends who live in the US despite also being an American Canadian and I had a very successful feast in September using lots of your excellent pointers from past years. I spend a lot of time now in Venice, Italy and was there when Stanley Tucci was staying in my hood filming his CNN feature on Venice. He and crew frequented my favourite bar and he had the bar tenders make everyone willing to try his version of a Negroni using balsamic vinegar and I always use it now and just slightly more than a teaspoon. Also “the rage” there is to add a thin sliver of jalapeño pepper to any rosė wine which has won me over. My personal favourite rosė is from the famous vineyard in Burgo at the base of Mt. Etna close to Catania, Sicily which is a foodie paradise and the vineyard is called Murgo run by the Baroness of Murgo and her nine sons but the real boss is her dog. She has an on-site restaurant with Michelin starred chefs that provides free meals to all of her workers, year round but it is available only to her devoted workers. She is in her late nineties and hobbled with arthritis but still very much in charge. Six of the sons and their families live with her in a huge castle she built to house them all. Her castle that has been in her deceased husband’s family for centuries is not used for people visiting for wine tours and the opportunity to live and work in a very successful vineyard. It is a glorious experience. Her dog knows his stuff!
I love that you assure us it will all be okay. That is something I need to hear all too often. I'll be making a vegetarian thanksgiving with my housemate, from the blue apron box. My wife and I started with the service in the pandemic and have found it to be a soul saving life hack. It got her cooking! I've always been the make shit up as I go with some very good specialties kind of cook but after being the sole cook for years and years... glory be. They are quite fond of dates. And date syrup. Anyway, thank you for this lovely missive. The hair and Streisand were wonderful. Also the person with the idea of putting a slice of jalapeño in Rose. Wow. Will buy a pepper on today's trip to the store to try. Happy Thanksgiving.