Happy Turkey Day!

In keeping with a national tradition going back to–depending on what legend you care to believe–1989, 1963, 1947, or 1865, President Obama has pardoned a turkey. Or maybe two. The official pardon was given to a nearly fifty pound bird by the name of “Cheese”. However, it appears that his “alternate,” a bird named “Mac” has also been pardoned.

Clearly, this is some strange new use of the word “alternate” I haven’t previously encountered. I would have expected it to refer to the bird that would take Cheese’s place on somebody’s dinner table.

Obama is puzzled by the concept of pardoning a turkey. Back in 2009, the first time he perpetuated the tradition, he said “There are certain days when I remember why I ran for this office. And then there are moments like this.” He still hasn’t figured it out; saying yesterday “It’s a little puzzling that I do this every year.”

As Gawker reported, the first and second teenagers participated in a tradition that goes back to the first time a parent said anything in public. Sasha and Malia clearly felt they had far better things to do with their Wednesday than hang out with a turkey. Even if said turkey is president of the United States and their father.

Seriously, though, I do President Obama an injustice. He may not know why he’s pardoning a turkey, and his daughters may not respect him for being a tool of the Poultry and Egg Board, but at least he’s clear on the concepts of “turkey” and “pardon”.

Unlike President Obama, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray missed those lessons. Last week, he issue a mayoral pardon to a Tofurky. Yes, you read that correctly. He “pardoned” a box of soybeans. It was one of the shortest reprieves on record: the AP reports that after the ceremony, the relieved hunk of plant life was sent to the Rainier Valley Food Bank.

Mac and Cheese will live out a full turkey lifespan, but poor Tom Tofurky isn’t even going to make it to his “Best Before” date.

Meanwhile, our turkey–not one of the local wild birds–is in the oven. No pardons here, though we did make a donation to the needy: the turkey’s liver has been distributed to the Backyard Bunch.

Whether you’re eating turkey today or not, happy Turkey Day to you all.

Meet the Neighbors 06

I’ve mentioned our local flock of wild turkeys before, most notably in the Thanksgiving post.

t1They don’t come into our yard very often, and I’ve never seen them at the community food bowl, but I suspect that’s mainly lack of opportunity. We generally fill the bowl around sunset, and the turkeys usually call it a night before then.

t2But they do keep an eye on the joint. The whole flock came by earlier this week to do an inspection. A couple of them flew up onto the fence and made sure there wasn’t anything worth eating in the yard, while the rest milled around the common area, scooping up snacks and intimidating the dog next door.

t3They’re a rowdy bunch. I’ve seen the flock face down an SUV and force it to wait until they were damn good and ready to get out of the street. A couple of days ago, they were giving a neighbor’s pickup truck a careful inspection. I fully expected them to hotwire it and go for a joyride–come to think of it, that might explain some of the car thefts we’ve had around here recently–but apparently they decided against it. Not that I would have reported them. That truck has a particularly loud and annoying engine, far more powerful than any vehicle in this suburban area really needs, and I wouldn’t have been at all sorry to see it cruising down towards the freeway with a bunch of Good Ol’ Birds whooping it up in the back.

Leftover Turkey

If you haven’t taken the turkey sandwich poll, please do so before you read this post.

You back? Good. As of this writing, we’re up to eight votes on the proper condiment for a turkey sandwich. That’s enough to let me get a proper rant going, so put on your crash helmets.

“I wouldn’t eat a turkey sandwich if you paid me.” One vote. OK, I can respect that, as long as it’s part of a general unwillingness to eat meat. If you’re not a vegetarian, but won’t eat turkey, then you are officially dead to me. No toleration for disrespecting the Noble Bird!

We’ve got one vote for cranberry sauce, thousand island dressing, gravy, and coleslaw. Really? That’s not a sandwich, that’s an entire sandwich shop. Put all that on and you might just discover you’ve forgotten the turkey. Not that you’ll ever know unless you look inside the sandwich, because you sure won’t be able to taste it. Besides, slaw is an ingredient, not a condiment. The point of a turkey sandwich is to showcase the bird, not bury it. Simplicity, folks. One or two ingredients to help highlight the bird’s flavor. Got it? Good.

Nobody voted for gravy. Good call. There’s a place for gravy on a turkey sandwich. That’s when it’s an open-faced, hot turkey sandwich, which is not what we’re talking about here. On an OFHTS, the gravy can soak right into the bread and turn it into a pretty decent replacement for stuffing. That’s not what you want from a sandwich you’re eating with your bare hands.

Two votes for mayo. No. Sorry, there’s a reason that mayo wasn’t on the list in the first place. Repeat after me: “Mayo is the devil’s condiment.” Louder: “MAYO IS THE DEVIL’S CONDIMENT.” I still can’t hear you! “MAYO IS THE DEVIL’S CONDIMENT!” OK, good. Don’t forget it. Mayo is a slimy, disgusting goop that doesn’t do a thing to enhance the taste of anything. You might as well use KY Jelly. It’ll do just as much for the flavor of the sandwich and you won’t have to worry about it going bad before lunch.

Two votes for butter. OK, Butter has some flavor, it generally works to enhance the taste of whatever it’s paired with, it’s well-known for its ability to keep bread from getting soggy. We’ve certainly spent enough time talking about butter on this blog that you should all know I give l33t m4D props to butter. But it’s just not right in this application. Turkeys are aggressive birds, and the gentle subtleties of butter are wasted on them.

Finally, two votes for cranberry sauce. I see where you’re going with that: it’s a flashback to Thanksgiving dinner. Unfortunately, repeating the same Thanksgiving meal over and over again is why people decide they’re sick and tired of turkey. Mix things up a little and you’ll keep their enthusiasm higher. Also, don’t forget that the choice of cranberry sauce can make a big difference in your sandwich. Jellied cranberry sauce out of a can be OK on Thanksgiving if that’s your family’s tradition. But it tends to be pretty wimpy stuff; it needs to hide its flavor gaps behind the stuffing, gravy, and all of the other traditional foods. A good whole-berry sauce, on the other hand, can hold its own on the table, but it starts to run the risk of overwhelming the turkey if it’s one-on-one in a sandwich–and a really good one is starting to move into the same “ingredient, not condiment” category as slaw.

No, for a really good, classic turkey sandwich you want Thousand Island dressing. The slight tartness of the dressing counterpoints the turkey’s smooth flavor, while the slight crunchiness of the vegetables adds a tactile interest that none of the other candidates can match. “But wait,” I hear you cry, “isn’t Thousand Island just a doctored mayo?” To the uninitiated, perhaps. But just as a sinner can redeem himself through repentance and good works, so too can the devil’s condiment be redeemed through the addition of good spices and vegetables.

OK, maybe that was a little excessive, but you get my point. A proper turkey sandwich is a thing of subtle and simple beauty.

Start with a Kaiser roll. Not a Hoagie roll, and certainly not mere bread.

Slice the roll and add a thin coating of Thousand Island dressing to both sides. No, you don’t toast it! What kind of a heathen are you?

Now add your turkey. Be generous: the layer of bird should be somewhere between half and two-thirds as thick as the roll.

You could stop there and have a perfectly delightful sandwich, but if you insist on a more complex culinary delight, this is the point at which you should add either coleslaw or cranberry sauce. The quantity will depend on the ingredient: keep the cranberries thin so they don’t overwhelm your taste buds, but you can add almost as much slaw as you did turkey.

Put the top half of the roll on, squash the sandwich down to compact the roll a little and force the ingredients to mingle. That the squash also makes it easier to get your mouth around it is a bonus.

Rant over. Slice the sandwich in half and enjoy.

I promised you our recipe for “No Effort Crock Pot Turkey Soup”. How “no effort” is it? So much so that there isn’t even any measuring involved. Ready? Here we go!

Start the night before you intend to eat the soup. It needs some time in the fridge for the flavors to blend and develop.

This recipe assumes your turkey was originally in the 12-14 pound range and should work with a 3 1/2 quart crock pot. If you had a larger bird, adjust accordingly.

  1. Toss your frozen turkey carcass and any leftover scraps of meat into the crock pot. No need to thaw it in advance. If the whole thing doesn’t fit, a couple of whacks with a solid cleaver will let you rearrange the bones for a better fit or to put half back in the freezer for another batch.
  2. Now throw in the magic mirepoix. For the uninitiated, that’s approximately equal quantities of chopped carrots, celery, and onions. No, don’t get out the cutting board. Remember: “no effort”. Trader Joe’s sells a perfectly good pre-chopped mirepoix. So do many other groceries. Let them do the work.
  3. Add one bottle of hard cider. You want a fairly tart cider for this application, not a sweet one. Angry Orchard apple is good (but be careful not to get one of the spiced varieties). Woodchuck Pear cider is a nice variation.
  4. You’ll may want a bit more liquid, but be conservative. Remember that the vegetables and meat will give up liquid as they cook. If no more than a third of the carcass is above the liquid level, you’re in good shape.
  5. Spices. You want sage and thyme, of course. Basil rarely goes amiss, or if you’re feeling adventurous, try oregano. Of course, since we’re emphasizing “no effort”, you could let someone else figure out the spice mix. We like World Spice Company’s “Poultry Rub” (sage, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, pepper, garlic, onion, and celery). For a very different, non-traditional* flavor, we’ve also sometimes thrown in some of Penzey’s Spices “Zatar” (sumac, thyme, white sesame seeds, and salt). How much should you throw in? Try a generous dusting across the top of the liquid. Look about right? Good, throw in about 10% more: spices never seem to go as far in soups as in dry foods.

    * Just to be clear here: Zatar is a traditional Middle Eastern spice blend. It’s just non-traditional in the context of North American turkey cuisine.

  6. OK, into the fridge with it. Let it sit overnight. The bird will thaw and the flavors will start to meld.
  7. It needs eight to ten hours to cook, so get it started first thing in the morning. Set the cooker on low and ignore it for four hours, then take a peek. Give it a quick stir to settle the ingredients. If there’s still a lot of carcass visible above the surface of the liquid, add water until the bones are almost covered. Give it another four to six hours on low.
  8. Scoop out the larger bones and serve with a good, crusty bread: french or sourdough by preference. No, you don’t have to make bread bowls if you’re using sourdough. You’ll probably want a dish nearby for the smaller bones. They’ll likely be soft enough to eat at this point, but they don’t have enough flavor to be worth it.

Got some leftovers? No problem. It freezes well and works nicely as a starter for the next batch.


Thanksgiving is known for leftovers, so allow me to share a few with you.

Literal leftovers first. The smart celebrator expects to have leftover turkey and plans accordingly. At this point, we have it down to a science. On the day after Thanksgiving, we have cold turkey and use up the leftover gravy, stuffing, and any other sides that didn’t get done in on Thursday. Saturday is turkey sandwiches for dinner. The next week, turkey sandwiches for lunch. Any remaining turkey goes into the freezer with the bones for use in soup.

Those of you who don’t eat meat may not be aware that there is a religious war over the proper semi-liquid for a turkey sandwich. Below is a poll to see how many sides of the war my readership represents. We’ll check in on the poll results next week, and I’ll let you all know just how misguided you are.

Thanksgiving’s post mentioned plans to watch the Mystery Science Theater 3000 marathon. As it turned out, we never quite managed to turn on the marathon, so we fell back on our own collection of shows.

MST3K, for anyone who doesn’t know, was the show that popularized the concept of actors heckling a bad movie for the entertainment of all. Just as The Daily Show carried on under the guidance of Jon Stewart when original host Craig Kilborn left, MST3K had multiple leads. The show began in 1988 with creator Joel Hodgson in the leading role; he left in 1993, and Mike Nelson took over until the show’s end in 1999. Joel/Mike arguments continue to this day. Not to fan the flames of that war, it should be noted that Mike was the head writer for the show, meaning he was responsible for many of the jokes during Joel’s tenure.

We watched two shows, one each from the Joel and Mike eras. “Master Ninja I“, a “movie” created by splicing together two episodes of a short-lived TV show starring Lee Van Cleef, Tim Van Patten, and a gerbil, came from season 3. It’s perhaps best remembered for it’s contribution to musical culture: a stirring rendition of “Master Ninja Theme Song” by Joel and the Bots.

Season 6’s “Girls Town” is a stunning mish-mash of date rape, stalking, bad girls, and nuns starring Mamie Van Doren, Mel Torme, Paul Anka, and The Platters. Unfortunately, the MST3K version isn’t commercially available (the link leads to Amazon’s page for the VHS release of the original film), but if you’re OK with downloading a copy from the Internet, your effort will be rewarded. Mamie’s Van Dorens try to dominate the show, but Gigi Perreau’s crazed stalker Serafina steals the show, clearly scaring the heck out of Paul Anka who struggles in the role of Jimmy, the object of Serafina’s unnatural affection. The MST3K crew is in top form and the jokes fly furiously. This episode ranks high on my list as it even includes a Seattle Mariners joke.

Interestingly enough, Kaja, our own bad girl, seemed fascinated with Girls Town. She sat up with her eyes on the screen for most of the show; the other cats slept through it.

Finally, reports are coming in that this year’s expanded Black Friday was a resounding failure. Purchases were down almost 3% compared to last year. Analysts expect panic sales over the next few weeks as stores try to make up the shortfall.

I’m inclined to regard this as a good sign. Not that I think it will cause retailers to rethink this year’s “Black Thursday” approach that caused so much protest, but I do think it will result in next year’s starting even sooner.

“Wait,” I hear you ask. “Why is that a good thing?”

Simple. History shows us that retailers are blind to the notion of diminishing returns when it comes to advertising. Black Friday will stretch earlier and earlier until it takes over the entire month, smashes into Halloween, and collapses into disorganized mass mess indistinguishable from regular advertising.

And, as a special bonus, advertisers will be so busy pushing “Black November”, that they won’t have time to start the Christmas advertisements until December. Anything that saves us from a whole month of Christmas carols is an enormous win for our sanity.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

No, no, the other Thanksgiving. We’ve already talked about the baseball one.

Note that this post was written a couple of days ahead of time. That means two things: I can’t complain if you wait a couple of days to read it, and I can’t comment on anything wildly topical. If an asteroid hits the Earth this afternoon, causing earthquakes, tidal waves, and the end of civilization, I’ll be sure to post something snarky about it on Friday.

Anyway, I’ll bet you were all expecting me to commemorate the occasion with a long list of things I’m thankful for (“Thanks to Maggie for putting up with the inconveniences caused by my career change,” and so on.)

I could do that, and it would certainly fill my quota of words for the day, but let’s face it: nobody ever reads that sort of list. They either tl;dr it or just Ctrl-F it for their own name. If you’re not going to read it, I’m not going to spend my time writing it. Let’s talk about something else.

Thanksgiving in its modern form is an occasion devoted to laziness and the consumption of one of my favorite foods: turkey! How could it not be one of my favorite holidays? I know many of you reading this aren’t meat eaters, so I’ll spare you most of the potential rhapsodies over the joys of turkey-eating. I’ll also spare you the recipes, since we don’t actually have any. We do a simple roast of the bird without stuffing, most of the leftovers go for sandwiches, and the carcass goes for soup. (I will note that vegetarians — at least the honest ones* — have been known to acknowledge the fact that a roasting turkey smells delicious.)

* You know who you are…

toikeysThose of you who don’t live in the Bay Area may not realize that the wild turkey population has been growing in recent years. There’s a flock near our house, so I’ve been able to keep an eye on them. The wild birds refuse to let The Man push them around. They have definite issues with obeying traffic laws. They’ve figured out that cars will stop for them and create traffic jams by wandering across the road en masse, usually near the freeway on- and off-ramps.

As I was writing this, eleven turkeys strolled out of the parking circle a couple of doors down. They looked around, then set off slowly down the middle of the street in single file. About two minutes later, a group of four more birds came running out of the loop and took off down the street. Obviously they were embarrassed about running late for the expedition. Then, over the next few minutes, another half-dozen turkeys came running out of the loop one at a time. Each of them stopped at the sidewalk, looked around anxiously, and then strolled casually down the street, radiating an aura that said “Oh, I’ve been here the whole time. Just stopped to tie my shoe.”

Why did the turkey cross the road? Because if he stood in the middle, he’d get run over.

Ouch. Talk about your jokes falling flat.

Actually, the local turkeys’ favorite on-ramp is just a few turkey-sized steps away from a synagogue. With Thanksgiving falling in the middle of Hanukkah this year, it’s making for some unusual events. I’m pretty sure I saw a couple of turkeys playing with a dreidel yesterday, no doubt gambling for gold-foil wrapped crickets. This temple holds periodic “jewgrass” services* throughout the year, however there seems to be no truth to the rumor that a turkey will be invited to join the band tomorrow night. Rumors of turkey hams on the dinner table tonight, however, seem well-founded.

* No, I’m not making that up. Honestly. According to the temple’s website, jewgrass is “a lay-led singing Shabbat service [which] features an instrumental band made up of congregants”. There are not any recordings on the website; I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s fortunate or unfortunate.

Speaking of turkey hams… This piece was pre-written to allow me to take the day off. I intend to spend a large part of the day sprawled on the couch, wallowing in the intoxicating scent of roasting turkey, and watching the Mystery Science Theater 3000 marathon.

Oh, and Maggie? Thanks.