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November 28, 2009

Robert's Thanksgiving: brisket, stuffing and cranberries with strife

CranberriesWithRings.jpgRobert of Cross Keys' guest post, Free Market Fridays, is a day late. Blame your mayor. I didn't get a laptop for yesterday because the trial is still going on. Oh well, some things get better with age. Here's Robert. EL

I never cook Thanksgiving dinner, and this year wasn’t any different.
A few weeks ago my mom injured her foot, which meant that she would not be able to stand in front of the stove on Thanksgiving.  This development led to a request from my parents that the wife and I help out.  Since both of us like to cook our way, but hate the mess it creates in our home, we welcomed the opportunity to be creative in a kitchen other than own.   
My parents, however, saw the situation playing out a little differently.  They were hoping that we would make their recipes in our house and then bring them up with us on Thanksgiving.  Of course they didn’t come right and say that.  The hint, however, was played out over the last week. ...

The wife called my mom to tell her the dishes we were going to make and to see if she had some of the ingredients that we were missing in her pantry.  We wanted to do a corn bread stuffing, red skin potatoes and a tangerine-cranberry sauce.
The menu and the pantry requests were not met with enthusiasm.
Mom: I don’t know if we have any of those items in the house, and I’m not sure if we’re going to get to the store.
Now, the pantry at my parent’s house is like a store.  There are shelves and shelves of varied and diverse foodstuffs, most of which are stacked three, four and sometimes more deep.
As for not making it to the store before Thanksgiving, I’m not sure where that came from either.  They are always at the grocery store.  Both of their parents owned grocery stores.  There probably hasn’t been a two-week period in which my mom stayed out of grocery store, and you would probably have to go back to the late '60s when my dad was walking the jungles of Vietnam to find the last time he went a couple of weeks without visiting a grocery store.
Mom:  Is this stuffing going to have oysters in it?
No, we’re making a sausage and cornbread stuffing.  About 10 years ago, we made an oyster stuffing, and for whatever reason that led to us being typecast as the people who only make oyster stuffing.  
Mom: The red skin potatoes, are they instead of mashed potatoes? You know Robert loves mashed potatoes.
Many food discussions between Mom and Wife ultimately end up with a debate as to my eating preferences.  One side says that Robert loves such and such, while the other counters that no, he does not, and in fact he hates such and such. 
Actually I’m fairly indifferent to both mashed and red skin potatoes.  In fact, unless potatoes are fried in duck fat, very good, or boiled with cabbage, very bad, it is difficult to muster any passion for the tuber.
Mom: The cranberries you are making, are they whole cranberries?  I don’t think Robert’s father likes those.
A similar argument to what Robert loves/hates is that Robert’s father doesn’t like…  My father is fairly easy going, so this line is normally used by Mom when she doesn’t like something.  In this case, however, Mom is correct.  Dad wants his cranberry sauce straight from the can, and has remarked on several occasions that it is not Thanksgiving unless you can see the rings on the cranberry.
I knew our menu was not being received well, but there was still a question as to whether we would make it.  After all, without us bringing something there seemed to be a possibility that Thanksgiving dinner would end up being a turkey served in isolation.  So, just like when I was 10, I opted to go to Dad when Mom wasn’t telling me what I wanted I hear.
Me:   Do you want us to make all the stuff for Thanksgiving.
Dad: I’m not sure; I need to talk to your mother.
Me:  I’ve already been through that, and I’m not getting any answers.  I tell you what, we’ll make the stuffing and bring a Texas hickory smoked brisket.
Dad: Yeah, your mother said something about the stuffing.  You weren’t planning on putting oysters in it.
Me: I’m not sure where this oyster thing is coming from.  I told her we were making a cornbread stuffing.
We were making cornbread stuffing because our entire freezer, save for some bottles of vodka and Limoncello, has been packed with cornbread for the past year, a result of my wife having too much time and White Lily cornmeal and flour on her hands.
I didn’t have a recipe for cornbread stuffing readily available.  I do have a collection of about 100 cookbooks; however, almost all of my cookbooks are impractical tomes that deal with topics like campsite cooking in the Civil War or railroad dining at the turn of the century.
The wife would eventually find a recipe for cornbread and sausage stuffing from Tennessee Ernie Ford in the Southern wing of my library. Ernie’s recipe was long on colloquial ramblings and short on detail, with the exception of several admonishments he made about being sure to wash your hands.
My role was fairly limited in the preparation. On the instruction of Mr. Ford I got out my two biggest mixing bowls, and on the advice of my wife I then got out of the kitchen.  
Fortunately, the wife was able to decipher the recipe and made a pretty good stuffing, and I was able to get my freezer back.
Unfortunately, I didn’t end up cooking anything.  The stuffing was the wife’s and Tennessee Ernie Ford’s.  The brisket was made by Bret and Buddy, two guys in Lubbock, Texas.

I thought at the very least I would be able to use the can opener on the cranberries, but even that job ended up being taken away by my brother. 

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 6:43 AM | | Comments (13)


Canned cranberry sauce? No wonder you ended up as a Republican, RoCK, after a traumatic childhood involving canned cranberry sauce!

I admit liking canned cranberry sauce, but years ago I found it just as easy to make it fresh and homemade. There are many recipes and the ones on the bags of fresh cranberries work great. Bewarned: make sure you really like the homemade, you may end up eating the major portion. It may take awhile to entice your guests that "yes, this is cranberry" (the way nature intended).

Just another thought - making homemade cranberry sauce can really add visual 'pop' to the table. Serve it in a glass/crystal bowl and it screams 'worked all day!' when in reality it's sooooo easy...

"it is not Thanksgiving unless you can see the rings on the cranberry"

LOL and I'll 2nd that and uh, Lissa?, I'm also a registered Republican. A connection?

I've said it before and I'll say it again, canned cranberry sauce ONLY and mandatory at Thanksgiving!

I'm a liberal Dem, BTW, for those who don't know!

Great posting RoCK.
I too, will sheepishly admit to liking the "cranberry with can rings". Tried many others, but still like it best.
By the way, last time I heard anyone mention Tennessee Ernie Ford was at my grandmother's funeral in 1978. She had pre-planned to have a tape of him singing "Peace In The Valley" played at her funeral, and I must say, it was lovely!

LL: did you ever see Tennessee Ernie Ford on "I Love Lucy?" A classic.

CG: Oh Yes! You mean the "Wild Wicked City Woman" episode, nes pas?

The one place where the canned cranberry sauce works best is on sandwiches.

Oh, my brother ended up bringing mashed potatoes. They were in a microwaveable tray from Weiss.

As for Tennessee Ernie Ford, I think a lot of his country kitsch was put on. He was classically trained at the Cincinnati Conservatory. He really did have a wonderful voice.

That's true about Tennessee Ernuie, RoCK. Early in his career, he sang with the San Francisco Opera. On Thanksgiving Day, in his honor, I ate sixteen tons.

"in his honor, I ate sixteen tons."
That there is funny Michael!
Myself, just got another day older and deeper in debt!

Well atleast St. Peter didn't call us. And come to think of it the company I work for has a company store.

Since my home loan comes out of my paycheck directly to my credit union, I guess I do, in fact, owe my soul to the company store!

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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