Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Sound of Music: The Classics - The Nutcracker

When the seasons change, nature makes a transition to signal the passage of time. Leaves change colors from glorious green to rich gold and fiery shades of red, before falling off with the coming of winter. In other places, it is the migration of birds and herds that heralds the changing conditions. It is a shift in the winds, the turning of the weather, and the movement of the stars in the heavens that proclaim and exemplify the march of time and the evolution of life. The cosmos plays the music, and life dances to the tune.

There are certain specific activities and traditions that mark the arrival of the holiday season: Decorating Xmas trees, homes, and avenues with colorful garlands, ornate ornaments, and sparkling lights; hanging wreaths and mistletoes; exchanging gifts; making and sharing sweet treats and hot drinks; and the singing and performance of holiday songs and plays. And among all the many cheerful and festive acts that commemorate the holiday season, Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker stands out as a sophisticated, exquisite, and elegant celebration of the holidays.

I have to point out here that I've never seen a full, professional production of The Nutcracker. I've seen bits and pieces performed, but never the whole ballet. Of the performances I've seen, a few were done by professionals; but most were done by amateurs. All were entertaining. I don't know the whole story. I gather that it involves Toy soldiers, a Nutcracker, a Rat King, and a Fairy, and some children. And there seems to be a few numbers that are all about treats, as in sweets and drinks. I've no clue about the plot and characters. And I don't want to know until I've seen the whole ballet myself. No spoilers, please. I want to be surprised when I see the whole performance myself.

And while I have not seen the entire Nutcracker ballet, I am familiar with its music. And the music is amazing and gorgeous. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky created a sublime masterpiece with The Nutcracker Suite. In a majestic class of its own, the music is scintillating and enchanting and has become iconic. These selections have become recognized and familiar all over the world for their beauty and charm and grace.

I recognize many of these songs from their prolific use in many places, across all media and means of communication. I've heard them on the radio and from live performances. I've seen them on tv, and films, and various stage productions, and festivals. But I've never seen a full production of The Nutcracker, though I hope to someday. But until I see a genuine performance of the Nutcracker ballet, I will have to content myself with the music.

Until I sat down and researched the Classics for this post, I was surprised by just how familiar I am with many of Tchaikovsky's works. And I have been listening to many of them all my life. The same may hold true for you. I may not have known their proper names or who created them, but the songs stood out, because they are beautiful, timeless, evocative, and fantastic.

The Nutcracker's appeal is boundless and universal. In the realm of holiday classics, The Nutcracker stand alone in its majesty and richness. The wondrous sounds make these precious songs welcomed and cherished year round. I love listening to the fantastic and charming sounds of The Nutcracker any time, anywhere, because it is an extraordinary creation, a treasured work of art. And I hope that you, too, enjoy listening to the scintillating sounds of The Nutcracker.

If the music clip won't load or play correctly, then click on the song name to open or download the piece. Ordinarily, I would make the link in the artist name, but since it's the same artist who created all these works, I thought it would make more sense to click on the song name to open or download it, in case the clip does not load or play properly. And as always, please let me know your thoughts, and tell me if you come across any problems that need my attention. Your feedback helps me improve this site and has an impact on my experimenting with adding music to the site. Thank you. And have a very Happy Holidays to y'all.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a: Overture



The Overture is an inviting warm up, like hot chocolate on a cold, snowy day. This piece lulls you in, and covers you with comfort, and promises good times and cheer to come. It is the perfect way to set the mood and welcome listeners.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a: III. March



The March is a triumphant and grand creation. It has all the hallmarks that define and exemplify an extraordinary ballet. It is a sophisticated, finely crafted work of art that enchants and stirs up passion. I love this song. It's fun, it's lively, and thrilling. It's festive and inviting and sensational.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a: Waltz of the Snowflakes



The Waltz of the Snowflakes starts off slow, sweet, and enchanting, with an angelic chorus serenading you to serenity before it suddenly sweeps you off your feet and takes you off to a grand, exciting adventure. What started as gentle snowflakes falling lightly from the heavens turns into a full on blizzard that overwhelms all else, capturing your full attention, drowning out everything else. And after several surprise turns, it finally eases up, leaving behind a world transformed and changed in its wake.

The Waltz of the Snowflakes is different from the other works, because it incorporates voices, and it makes for a heavenly, magical sound. And I like it, and I am surprised that such a modern sound is actually very old. The Waltz of the Snowflakes is alluring, timeless, and graceful.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a: Chocolate (Spanish Dance)



I love the lively sounds of the trumpets and feisty castanets that make the Spanish Dance such a festive and vivacious piece. It sets the mood for a great party. This work is also known as Chocolate. I'm guessing the Spanish connection is for the Spaniards who took chocolate from the Americas and introduced it to the world.

I would like to thank the Swiss for transforming chocolate from a bitter drink to the sweet, decadent icon of indulgence and a divine treat that's treasured the world over. Chocolate is a welcomed treat all year round. But for winter, the beverage of choice is hot chocolate. I love having hot chocolate during the holidays. It warms up the body and soothes the soul. It is a wonderful holiday treat, made more special when shared with friends and loved ones.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker, Op. 71a: Candy Canes (Russian Dance) also known as Trepak



The Russian Dance is one of my fave pieces! And chances are, it's one of your favorites, too. So full of life and joy and energy! It is a fun and festive song, delightful and cheerful and a spirited celebration of life.

This piece is also known as Candy Canes. I don't usually eat candy canes, except for this time of year when they are everywhere. But I do load up on them when they go on sale, at deep discount, right after the holidays. They're not really sweet, but they contain that hint of peppermint that's just subtle enough to be cool and tingly, without reminding me of toothpaste. That little bit of peppermint essence adds a zing, an extra layer of flavor that makes hot chocolate and coffee taste a bit more zesty, refreshing, and pleasant.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a: Coffee (Arabian Dance)



The Arabian Dance is a haunting and exotic piece, very mysterious and different. This piece is also known as the Coffee Dance. It makes sense since the Arabs discovered and introduced and spread coffee to the rest of the world.

And coffee, I like to drown in milk and sugar, and for the holidays, sprinkled with crushed candy canes and stirred with a candy cane swizzle. I even like to mix my coffee with eggnog during the holidays. I'll drink coffee hot, warm, or cold, so long as it's sweet. My fave topping for coffee is vanilla ice cream. I don't know how people can drink coffee black. Black coffee just tastes terrible and awful to me! Just black coffee, unsweetened, is harsh! I need sugar to enjoy coffee, some sweetness to balance out the bitterness.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a: Tea (Chinese Dance)



The Chinese Dance is a lively, celebratory work, upbeat and inviting. This piece is also known as the Tea Dance. Tea was discovered in China, and from China, it spread to the rest of the world. I like my tea sweet, hot or cold. I like it with or without milk. And for the holidays, I like it with crushed candy canes. And for a special treat, I especially love mixing tea with raspberries. Mix the muddled raspberries, juice, and sugar with sweet iced tea. Add mint if you want, and enjoy. I also like it hot. The flavor of raspberry tea is fantastic and divine!

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a: Polichinelle (Mother Ginger and the Clowns Dance)



What a festive and vibrant piece the Clowns Dance is! This is such a joyous, wild, and celebratory song. It's a party song, a carnival song, full of holiday revelry and frivolities, reminding us to dance and have a good time. Eat, drink, and be merry! Put the Happy into the Holidays! Don't miss out on all the wonderful people and good things that you have in your life. Live life with love, and love the life you live.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a: Dance of the Reed-Flutes (Danse des Mirlitons)



The Dance of the Reed-Flutes is a splendid, supreme, and spectacular standard in ballet and music. It is a stunning, masterful creation, so eloquent and light and delicate, flitting like a vibrant butterfly, floating from flower to flower.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a: Pas de Deux



The Pas de Deux is a grand and resplendent masterpiece, sweeping all in its regal scale.
It is a reminder that though life is complex and often encompasses large portions of time, it is best appreciated on a smaller scale, in the moments when we stop, look, listen, and appreciate where we are, how far we've come, and who we are with. It's important to be aware of the present, to cherish the time and people that you have now at this very moment in life.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a: Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy



One of the most recognizable and iconic pieces of music, the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is the standard for ballet. This song always makes me think of dreams, dancing, and dessert. It calls to mind the wonders of the holidays, along with snow and fireplaces and the magic of the seasons.

On a side note, when I first heard of the name Sugar Plum Fairy, I was confused. I like sugar, and I had an idea that a fairy was a magical creature. But plum? I did not like plums. I was six years old and just learned the hard way that plums have pits in the middle, and they are hard! One of my older sisters had gotten some plums, and she shared them with us. My two brothers and I had never had plums before. It looked funny, smelled different, but it felt like a fruit. Feeling brave, I was the first of us to take a bite.

And I bit right into a hard pit! That was an unpleasant surprise. My siblings laughed. I didn't think it was so funny nearly breaking a tooth on a pit! I ate around the pit, but was soured by my hard pit experience.

A short while later, Mom shared with us some prunes she had gotten. At six years old, I didn't know that prunes are dried plums. So one bite, and I accidentally swallowed a pit! My second experience with plums was also my second bad experience with a pit! I was not happy to almost choke on a hard pit going down my throat. But there was something about the sweet, tangy taste of prunes that made me try a few more.

I'm still not a big fan of plums and prunes. I won't seek them out. But if I come across them, I'll take a bite, only, I'm much wiser now and know to watch out for the pit. And isn't that life? With sweetness, there also lurks a hard pit. The trick is to work around the hard, unpleasant parts and not let it keep you from enjoying the wonderful, sweet aspects of life.

On a related note, when I visited Hawaii, I was surprised to learn that they make a candy out of the plum pit. It's just sugar candied around a plum pit! And even more flabbergasting, the plum pit candy is very popular in Asia! Who the heck wants to suck on a hard pit? I'd much rather have chocolate or caramel or even just regular hard candy! To each their own, I suppose. If it makes you happy, then enjoy your sweets.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a: Waltz of the Flowers



The Waltz of the Flowers is a signature ballet classic and dance treasure; this jewel is serene and gorgeous; it is a truly iconic work of art. It is a wonderful dreamy reward to a most magical adventure; this piece soars and floats and dances like a snowflake upon winter winds--swirling, twirling, spinning high above the snow covered woods. It is a scintillating reminder to seize the day and live fully and joyfully.

Take some time to treat yourself. The holidays are busy and stressful. It's important that you take time to rest, refresh, replenish, and reward yourself. Have a dessert. Have a donut or pudding or a grilled cheese sandwich. Have an entire can of BBQ or ranch flavored chips. Have a delicious cup of hot chocolate or coffee or tea; sprinkle them with crushed candy canes or stir them with a candy cane swizzle. And if you're feeling adventurous, mix a little eggnog into your hot chocolate and coffee. It's important to take a time out from the hustle and bustle and pause to give yourself a break and enjoy life.

The Nutcracker is a great escape. The music is splendid, and it is a reminder that there is beauty and wonder in this world, and I hope that you get to enjoy some of it.

Thank you for your support and friendship. I truly appreciate it. I wish you a Very Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones. May the season bring you joy and peace, and May the New Year bring you serenity, good health, and good experiences. Stay warm, be safe, and have a wonderful Holiday Season. Cheers!

Related Links
The Sound of Music 1: The Classics - Ephemeral
The Sound of Music 2: The Classics - Ethereal

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Turkey Tales

This post turned into a novella. It happens here a lot whenever I'm inspired to write. It's never planned. It just happens. I started with a recent experience, but related events happened as I was working on this piece, and they got incorporated into my writing. My apologies for the long post. But it's also an opportunity to experiment with jump links, to make navigating and reading this site easier and more enjoyable. Your feedback is very much appreciated in improving this site. Thank you. Click on the links below to navigate and make reading the site more enjoyable. Many thanks and much gratitude to 101helper for providing the easiest, simplest, most helpful instructions on creating anchor/jump links.



The Tale of Three Turkeys

I. The Big Bird Problem
A. Gravy
B. Sauce
C. Easy Turkey Recipe
II. The Line
A. 9:00 am to 10:00 am
B. 10:15 am to 11:55 am
C. Noon
D. The Farmers
III. Turkey Tails
A. Ginger Ale Marinade and Turkey


I. The Big Bird Problem


I was faced with a dilemma. Two days before Thanksgiving Thursday, I got a call from a friend who was hoping to stay over at my place. I like my friends. And I love having them over. The problem was, he and his family were coming over Thanksgiving Thursday. And I was going to work that day.

My friends were coming in from the rural country to take advantage of the holidays sales taking place, starting on Thursday evening and running all the way to Monday. It's a sad commentary on American culture that our sacred holiday dedicated to family and thanks for surviving another year has been reduced to the opening days of selling merchandise at discounted prices.

But these are the times that we live in, and we do the best we can. I honestly didn't plan on having people over for Thanksgiving. In fact, other than taking some food to a potluck lunch with my other coworkers who would be working with me on Thursday, I didn't expect a sit down, full Thanksgiving meal.

I was not prepared to have guests. And though my friends understood and knew that I had to work, I still felt guilty when they insisted that they were bringing a Thanksgiving meal, even if they had to set aside a plate in the fridge for me when I came home from work.

Honestly, I thought it would be such a waste and a whole lot of work for them to make a large Thanksgiving meal at their place, then drive two and half hours just to get to my place to eat. So I told them to just show up. I'd have something done. But they insisted on bringing food. So I relented and told them that they could bring the side dishes, maybe even dessert. But I would take care of the turkey, the main dish and symbol of the Thanksgiving meal.

And this is where I ran into a problem. While I honestly was not expecting to have a full, sit down Thanksgiving meal with company, I did have a turkey in the freezer. I didn't buy it. It was a gift from the company. Some businesses reward their employees with bonus cash or little trinkets and gadgets they could use at work or for fun. Our company gives us a frozen turkey as a way of saying thanks.

Not that I'm complaining. It's a free turkey. The problem was, it was a big turkey, a 16 pound turkey. That was more than enough to feed 8 or more people, especially when you consider the numerous side dishes and desserts that are a part of the Thanksgiving feast.

Ordinarily, a 16 pound turkey takes four days to thaw in the fridge. This was now Tuesday. Two days too late to start thawing in the fridge. And if you don't thaw that turkey out in the fridge several days before you're going to cook it, guess what? Your bird will still be too frozen with chunks of ice to cook properly.

There are two recommended alternatives to thawing a frozen turkey approved by the government authorities. One: Use a microwave. Yeah, a 16 pound frozen, rock solid bird is not going to fit in my small microwave, or even a large microwave. Two: Thaw under water. Put the turkey in a sink or large container. Fill with water. Change water every 30 minutes (!) for however long it takes to defrost at 30 minutes a pound. For a 16 pound turkey, that's 8 hours at least! And if that isn't enough work, if your turkey isn't fully submerged, you should rotate it every 30 minutes! Who the heck has that much time to change the sink water and rotate that danged bird every 30 minutes for 8 hours!?!

Not me! That's for sure. But that's okay. I've had to defrost large pieces of frozen meat before overnight. So, I put the turkey in a cooler, filled the cooler with water to cover the turkey, and then left it alone. In 12 hours, that bird will be defrosted enough. I would check halfway through to make sure it was thawing right. And the water was still painfully cold when I checked.

Now that I had figured out how to thaw the turkey on time, time was now my biggest problem. Time and the fact that I was feeling lazy. That turkey would be thawed by Wednesday evening. I suppose I could put it in the fridge til it was time to roast it the next day, Thursday.

Except I didn't want to roast it on Thursday. And I sure as heck didn't have time to make all the necessary preparations, and then sit and wait while the turkey roasted. And following the general rule about roasting the turkey 15 minutes per pound, my 16 pound bird (X 15 minutes, then divided by 60 minutes/1hr) would take 4 hours to roast at 325F! 4 hours! I ain't got time to stay at home and roast for 4 hours!

And never mind the hourly basting! Heck, I didn't even feel like doing the usual half hour prep work that included making an herbed butter to rub and massage under the turkey skin and then make the usual herb bouquet and spice mix to season inside and outside the bird. Dang it, I didn't even feel like making stuffing, even if I could've just gotten the store bought kind. Shoot, I was not looking forward to cranking up the oven at all.

At this point, you're probably wondering, 'What the heck were you thinking when you insisted on making the dang turkey yourself?'. Crazy, right? And it was. But I had a plan. Only, I was missing a very crucial tool.

I haven't made roasted turkey in the oven for years. Mind you, when I make turkey, it still gets roasted to a crispy skin finish, except it stays moist and flavorful without having spent hours in the oven, without me constantly basting the bird, or even doing the whole production that goes into prepping the bird for the oven.

Years ago, I discovered that I could make a perfectly juicy, flavorful, hassle free turkey by cooking it in my slow cooker. Then finishing it off under the broiler for about eight to ten minutes creates that crispy, crunchy brown skin with the turkey staying juicy, flavorful, and tender from being slow cooked. Meanwhile, the oven would be free for other dishes to be made. No more turkey hogging the oven for hours!

Slow cooking and then broiling is the easiest and most flavorful way to make a delicious, juicy, tender turkey with a crispy, crunchy skin. It was a lot easier than even BBQing the turkey, which is my second favorite method of cooking a turkey.

And there was enough time to slow cook the turkey, then crisp the skin before I left for work. It would stay in the warm oven long enough for my guests to enjoy. It was a great plan.

Except I didn't have the right slow cooker. A few days before, I had lent a friend my 8 quart slow cooker to use at a charity Thanksgiving dinner event. She was going to use my slow cooker to cook the turkey my way. And since I wasn't planning on making a Thanksgiving meal, I didn't have a problem lending her my big slow cooker for a good cause.

And I was not going to ask for my big slow cooker back. It was needed elsewhere. So what was I to do? Give in and oven roast the turkey the old, hard way? Of course, that meant I'd have to do it all starting at 3 in the morning, so I'd be done and head off to work on time. Of course, that meant I would lose sleep, or not sleep at all, making for a rough work day.

Or I could fire up the grill and make delicious BBQ turkey. The thought of smoky, crispy, flavorful BBQ turkey was almost enough to justify the work. It wasn't as much of a production compared to oven roasted turkey. I'd have to pat the turkey dry, season it with large salt crystals and pepper, then set it on a roasting pan in the fridge overnight. But it would be ready for grilling, and it's much less of a hassle compared to the spa treatment the oven roasted bird usually gets.

But the turkey would still take about three hours to grill, and I'd monitor the fire, adding charcoal hourly. And I'd have to start grilling by 4:30 am, so I'd have time to leave for work. And I'd still be missing some sleep and might be smelling charred and delicious even after showering before heading into work.

Of course, I was debating whether or not to fire up the grill that Thursday morning anyway. I was bringing to work a dish for a workplace potluck, Thanksgiving meal. But it was something that would've been cooked on the stove top, then finished off to crisp and char and smoke nicely over the grill for about 15 minutes. Fast and easy. But it was definitely not a 16 pound turkey.

So what was I going to do? BBQ or oven roast? Either way was going to cost me sleep and cause a lot of work. Then, as I looked across my kitchen, an idea came to me. Ridiculous? Yes. Crazy? Of course.

But there was a possibility it could work. I still had another slow cooker. It was the very first one that I bought over a decade ago. And it has been my fave cooking appliance for well over a decade until I finally bought a newer, bigger model last year.

My first slow cooker was only a five quart cooker. More than enough to feed four to six people. But, how the heck do you fit a 16 pound bird in a five quart space? Is it even possible? By experience and expertise, I know that my five quart slow cooker can handle 10 pounds of chicken leg quarters at the max--all the way up to the rim! So how the heck was I going to fit a big 16 pound bird into the five quart space?

By coming to the realization that I was going to have to butcher that bird. That's right. I was going to have to cut that big bird up into pieces! Mind you, I've never butchered a raw turkey before. Carving up a cooked turkey is a whole lot easier and much different from cutting up a large, raw, still cold bird.

I know how to cut up chicken. It's part of your skill set when you grow up on a farm. I plucked my first bird when I was nine. Killed my first chicken when I was ten. Learned to fry 'em up real good, crispy, and tasty when I was twelve. So, I figured, how hard could a big turkey be to butcher?

Not that hard. Though, I still ran into some difficulties. The legs came off easily enough. But I had a little challenge with the wings. Actually, I had to wrestle and attack that first wing, and all that maneuvering and butchering felt like I was slaughtering that poor bird all over again! Ordinarily, I'd leave the wings on. But they needed to be cut off to fit into the slow cooker. The same goes for the backbone.

Usually, when I butterfly a chicken or halve it to BBQ, I leave the backbone on one side, because it contains a lot of tasty meat on there. And if you've been raised on a farm, you know to never, ever waste perfectly good food. And there's a lot of good meat attached to the backbone. You worked hard to raise that chicken. You worked hard to prep it and cook it. It would be a shame to waste all that delicious meat after all that time and effort you put into it.

Most people toss out the backbone. But there's a lot of meat there that makes for a good snack, especially after using it and the breastbone to make stock. The turkey breastbone was a bit tougher to cut through compared to a chicken's. But I was able to carve the breast meat away from the bone. Some of the smaller ribs got caught up in the breast meat, but they would be easily removed after cooking.

It took me longer than I expected, about half an hour to butcher that cold turkey. A few times, I had to lean heavily on the knife to break through the backbone. The breastbone was too frozen to break through. So I cut around it. My hands hurt a few times from the still frozen interior of the bird. In fact, three chunks of ice cube sized frozen blood and brine popped out as I removed the neck and giblets from the internal cavity. These giblets and turkey neck taste great after slow cooking. Shoot, they taste great when they're pan fried!

But after finally butchering the big bird and separating the breastbone and the backbone--which I had to cut in half to fit into my stock pot--I was done with the hard part. I was able to season the wings first and put them on the bottom, then the turkey breasts, and finally, the split drum sticks and thighs all fit in the five quart slow cooker to the rim, just like my ten pounds of chicken leg quarters.

And like my chicken leg quarters, I added no liquid. None is needed, because the frozen turkey, like the frozen chicken leg quarters, are usually sold brined, and they retain a lot of moisture. And like my chicken legs, I turned the slow cooker on HIGH and let the turkey cook for at least six hours. They'd be done then. But they'd be fall off the bone tender and juicy at eight hours. So I could sleep all night; wake up and turn off the slow cooker by 6:30 a.m. An hour later, I would broil the turkey brown and crispy in the oven.

Instead of firing up the grill, I decided to also broil the food I had made in my smaller three quart slow cooker the night before to take to work. That small three quart slow cooker was a hand me down from a coworker a long time ago. She cleaned out the clutter to make a move to a new home much easier.

It was the first slow cooker that I'd ever had, and I learned how to make delicious food with it. It motivated me to buy my first slow cooker, the five quart model that got plenty of use over the next decade. I got lots of great slow cooker advice, tips, and recipes from other experienced, great cooks. And I've tried to share that knowledge with others.

At 7:30 a.m., I turned on the oven broiler, took the still hot turkey pieces out of the slow cooker, laid them on baking sheets, then put them under the broiler for five to ten minutes. Usually, a whole turkey would take around eight to ten minutes to start browning, and by twelve minutes, have that crispy brown skin. Check your broiler after five minutes, and keep checking, lest you burn and scorch that turkey skin. Every broiler is different.

Since I had butchered the turkey, I needed to use three baking sheets to lay the pieces out. And it took about thirteen minutes to develop a delicious, crispy, crunchy skin that I like, without losing any of the juices or flavor. I removed the browned, crispy turkey from the oven, turned off the broiler, and started working on the sauce. I covered the turkey loosely with a foil tent before returning it in the oven. It would stay warm in the oven while I made the turkey sauce.

Basic Gravy


I should mention that I was making sauce, not gravy. Although gravy is a type of sauce, it requires the use of a roux--equal parts flour and butter/oil/drippings cooked in the pan until the flour turns into the desired brown hue. Then, while constantly stirring to keep the gravy smooth and lump free, slowly add in small amounts of the liquid/broth, a little at a time and keep stirring, until you get the gravy thickness you want.

To make a smoother gravy, strain the drippings and broth. I don't usually strain, because I like the bits of meat in the drippings. They contain a whole lot of flavor!

A basic gravy has these proportions: For every 1 cup of drippings or broth, heat up 1 Tablespoon of fat (butter/oil/drippings) in a sauce pan and mix in 1 Tablespoon of flour.

So, for 2 cups of drippings or broth, heat up 2 Tablespoons of fat and 2 Tablespoons of flour on medium low heat. Thoroughly mix the fat and flour, browning the flour to desired brown shade. Then slowly, a little at a time, add the drippings and broth, just enough to create a thick paste, mixing constantly to smooth out any lumps. Then keep adding small amounts of drippings or broth, stirring constantly to keep the gravy smooth. Once you've reached desired gravy thickness, turn off the heat. Pour/ladle into serving container, ready for the turkey.

Sometimes, lumps will still form. To keep the gravy smooth, strain it into an appropriate sized container.

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Simple Sauce (gluten free)


The sauce I was making was just a simple mix of strained drippings and stock simmered together, then thickened with a cornstarch slurry. Ordinarily, I don't strain, because I don't mind the delicious bits of meat and skin present in the drippings. I actually like it! Especially when I add caramelized onions to the sauce. But since I had guests, I decided to strain the drippings to make for a smoother, prettier looking sauce.

I made sauce easily enough. For every cup of (strained) liquid/drippings/stock, I dissolve 1 Tablespoon of cornstarch with a little bit of cool water. Once you simmer the liquid, slowly mix in the slurry. Keep it at a simmer, do not boil. It doesn't take long nor much more heat to thicken the sauce. The sauce tasted great; it didn't need any added seasoning. And there was still more than enough drippings in the slow cooker for my friends to make a gravy if they wanted.

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I had given my friends a spare set of keys the last time they visited, so they could let themselves in. Then I went to work, armed with my own dish, also broiled to a crisp, to share at the work Thanksgiving potluck. I was content and proud of how my turkey (and my dish for work) turned out. And when I got home that evening, my friends and their two kids raved at how delicious, juicy, and crispy the turkey was. And they were surprised and convinced that a slow cooker turkey is an excellent and easy way to make a great turkey for Thanksgiving.

That big bird was delicious. And it tasted great with the potato salad, cornbread, ham, corn, cranberry sauce, gravy, and pecan pies that my friends made. As a bonus, we enjoyed some turkey tails that I made for work, along with some cupcakes I'd made the night before as a treat for the kids (and us adults). Though I wasn't expecting to share the holiday with anyone, I was quite happy that things turned out the way they did. It may have been a little stressful, but the holidays usually are.

But for me, it's worth a little trouble to spend a little time with friends. Now we can eat, shop, and hang out together. And that's something that I'm thankful for, for having good people to share my time and company with. I'm thankful that I have been blessed with good friends, good food, and good times. That's what makes life worth living. Being around good people makes me happy. And I hope good people surround you, too.

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Slow Cooker Turkey


Ingredients
Turkey, defrosted, and appropriate size slow cooker
(10 lbs or less can fit in a five quart slow cooker)
(10+ lbs to 16 lbs can fit in an eight quart slow cooker)
You may have to butcher turkey to fit into slow cooker.
Salt and Pepper
Plus optional spices

Directions

Season the defrosted turkey liberally with salt and pepper. Make sure you cover the whole turkey. It's okay to use less seasonings if you are not sure. You can always add more later. Place the turkey in the appropriate sized slow cooker. Do NOT add any additional liquid. The turkey contains more than enough moisture and liquid to make a lot of drippings and broth. The slow cooker prevents major evaporation, so the turkey marinates and cooks in its own juices. Turn the slow cooker on HIGH to cook the turkey in six to eight hours. If cooking on LOW, the turkey will take ten to twelve hours to cook. The longer you slow cook the turkey, the more juicy, fall off the bone tender the turkey meat will be.

To brown and crisp the turkey, use the oven broiler. Be careful! The turkey is hot! You may turn off the slow cooker and wait one hour for the turkey to cool down sufficiently to safely remove from slow cooker. Turn on oven broiler. Carefully remove the turkey from the slow cooker. I use tongs to grab the bird from the bottom end, through the cavity. And I use another set of tongs or a thick wooden spoon to hold the turkey from the neck cavity end. You may use heat resistant BBQ/culinary gloves to grab and lift the turkey. Carefully lift the hot turkey and place it in a roasting pan or large baking sheet.

Place roast pan/large baking sheet under the broiler. Keep watch carefully. It may take from five to twelve minutes to brown the turkey to a crispy, delicious skin. Your broiler temperature may be different from other ovens. Watch to make sure the turkey doesn't burn.

Once the turkey has crisped and browned enough to your liking, turn off broiler. Carefully remove the hot roasting/baking pan from stove. Loosely tent foil over turkey. Let turkey rest for half an hour to an hour. Use this time to make gravy or sauce from drippings in slow cooker. Slice turkey and serve when ready.



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II. The Line


The weekend before Thanksgiving...

Driving around downtown at four thirty in the morning, lost and confused, was not the way I usually spent a Saturday morning. Heck, it was Saturday darkness, not even dawn yet. Though armed with a map and directions, the detours and construction made the directions ineffective. As soon as I got close to my destination, I'd find a road block, and I'd have to turn around and find another way. After circling my destination three times, I figured I'd just find parking and walk to the place. And that's what I did.

I was a little anxious at leaving my car parked in this part of downtown. It's undergoing a revival, but there were still a few empty, abandoned buildings and some sketchy characters stalking in the dark that made me nervous. Luckily, I found a space with well lit street lights and operating businesses. And it made for a short walk to my destination.

At least I hoped it was my destination. I saw balloons and a tent set up. Along with some people and a news camera crew. But it wasn't until I made my way over and asked an older man that he confirmed that I was in the right place. By now, it was five twenty. I'd wasted twenty minutes maneuvering downtown. But at least I had arrived. And it looked like I was in the first thirty or so group of people standing in line. And that was a good thing, according to the older man.

A less older fella in a beanie arrived soon after. He, too, confirmed that we were in a good position. About ten minutes after that, a family of two older women with a teen daughter and two small sons showed up and took their place behind us in line. They came prepared with lawn chairs and snacks and videogames and computer pads to entertain themselves.

Looking ahead and behind me, I realized that a lot of these people had come with their own seats and snacks. They'd done this before, while this was my first time. It was obvious, according to the older man, that I seemed nervous. He told me not to worry and briefed me on what to expect. This event was open to the public; everyone's invited. Beanie man behind me confirmed. He'd done this before, too. Yet like the older man and me, he didn't have a chair with him. So we all sat down on the hard pavement, and began the long wait.

It was five thirty in the morning, still dark, a little chilly, and I was glad that I had brought my jacket and backpack with some water, a hat, and some shades for when the sun would rise up. I knew that the event would start at noon. And I was told that to get the best place in line, some people started showing up at two in the morning! Two in the morning!?! Oh, heck no! I wasn't going to be out here at two in the morning!

Still, I made an effort to show up by at least five. I was a little late because of the detours and construction, but I was still early enough to beat out the crowds. The chilly air kept us huddled to ourselves. Around us, the people in their chairs held their own conversations. Then there was a short wave of excitement that rippled through the small crowd when the morning news reporter did a quick live broadcast, and the camera did a sweep of the line. I was on the ground, so the camera missed me. And I was kind of glad and relieved.

Honestly, I felt out of place here. But I was here now. And I was determined to make the best of it. But I still felt a little guilty. Because I didn't think that I belonged here. No, not me. But I kept those thoughts to myself as I scanned the crowd.

By six in the morning, more people showed up. By now, I could recognize those who've done this before. They came prepared with chairs and snacks and seem at ease talking to other strangers as if they were life long friends.

The beanie man offered me a smoke, which I politely declined. Soon after, he got done with his cigarette, hunkered down, and went to sleep. It was still dark. The sun wouldn't rise for another hour or so. The old man in front of me was having a hard time deciding whether to sit or stand. He explained that with age, the body just wears down. And it's just as hard to sit down on the hard pavement as it is to stand. I felt bad for him. I wish that I had a chair to offer him. A pair of officers walked the beat. They made me realize that this was a big event, and the city was keeping watch.

The family behind us had their breakfast. Then there was a little kerfuffle as the teen girl, whom one of the women identified as her granddaughter, seemed to have misplaced  her grandmother's electronic pad's pen. But it was too dark to see if the item had fallen on the ground. They'd have to wait for daylight to do a better search. We tried looking, but it was just too dark.

In the meantime, the older, heavy weight couple ahead of us were starting to make conversation with the other older, heavy weight couples ahead of them, plus a very elderly man and his wife. They all had lawn chairs. They all brought snacks. And they were as comfortable as can be, as if this was just perfectly normal. And for them, I suppose it was normal. But for me, I still felt uneasy, though I wasn't showing it.

Meanwhile, the old man in front of me had made an acquaintance with another older gentleman ahead of us in line. He, too, didn't bring a chair, so he made himself as comfortable as he could on the pavement. For some reason, he wore dark shades, when it was still so dark in the predawn hours. Shades asked for a light, and the older man in front of me got a light from beanie man.

More people had shown up, and the line was starting to curve around the block. Now the light was peeking over the horizon, and with it, the excitement had come. People were starting to feel friendly, giddy. I blame it on the rising sun bringing us new energy. Three plus sized, college aged girls, sitting after the family behind after us, began singing. They sounded nice in the early morning light. The song birds put a smile on people's faces. There was a feeling of optimism in the air.

There was now enough light to help the family search for the missing pad pen. But we still couldn't find it. Soon, the kids got restless, and with enough light, the women let the two boys and the girl do a little exploring.

In the meantime, some cops on bikes showed up, much to the excitement of the youngest boy who greeted the cops enthusiastically. The cops were nice enough to return his greeting. And that made me smile.

In a few hours, this place was going to be stressful and busy and borderline chaotic. And by then, the cops (and the crowd) would have less to smile about. The beat cops and the three bike cops started discussing an incident that happened an hour before. Apparently, a fight had broken out at a nearby bar. It spilled out into the street. Some people got arrested.

Overhearing this, the two ladies behind us began to confirm to the rest of us that as they and their kids were making their way to the line, they saw someone getting arrested. He was a rough looking and shirtless. That just confirmed to me that this was still a sketchy part of town, even with all the recent revival. So I was thankful that the cops were here and out in force, especially when this event promised a carnival for the kids. I'd rather the cops keep the kids safe.

More people soon arrived as the sun rose up. The people in front of the line were hit by the sun. It was welcoming at first, to shake off the dawn chill. It was eight o'clock now. But I knew that by nine, it would get hot. Lucky for us, we had a building shading us from the sun. At least for another hour or so.

And soon enough, by nine, the sun peeked over the building, and it was hot enough to remove our jackets. Eventually, we went across the street to seek the shelter under the shade of the building. We left a bag to mark our place in line. But allowed the family behind us to scoot up closer.

I then noticed something strange. As if under some signal that I had missed, everyone turned their chairs and started facing forward, towards the balloon festooned tent. Now I knew that most of these people had done this before. And soon enough, my own feelings of guilt went away. Like the old man had told me earlier that morning, everyone is invited. Why shouldn't we all be here?  Why shouldn't we, indeed? I thought to myself.

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9:00 am to 10:00 am


At nine that morning, the event staff and volunteers arrived. They began to set up the space for the kids carnival. The event wouldn't start until noon. But all ready the line had gone up and around three blocks. I was definitely grateful that I had arrived early. Soon enough, by nine thirty, the staff started the sound system and blasted out tunes. It was welcomed at first, as the songs got everyone jazzed up.

But then I realized that no one had bothered to screen the playlist. Because the songs, while fun and popular, were club songs, and some were graphic and mature. Thankfully, someone caught on, one of the older staff members. I was just surprised that the DJ wasn't aware of his audience. It made me think this was his first time at the event. Or at least he didn't take into account that a lot of kids were present. But soon enough, he put out an appropriate but still fun playlist. So the festive mood continued.

Then it was ten o'clock. And it was hot. It was crowded. And people were tired, thirsty, overheating, and restless. The songbirds who sang like angels at sunrise turned into seasoned sailors with their colorful cussing and loud complaints. I shuddered that the small children ahead of them were exposed to foul language. I debated whether or not to say something, but thankfully, one look around them made them realize that while their complaints about the heat and hard pavement were legit, they didn't need to cuss about it. And they got their foul language under control.

I blamed it on low blood sugar. The songbirds were in a much better mood after an enterprising group of young preteens and teens, accompanied by an adult female, sold them some water and chips and cookies. These kids were hustling the crowd and making a good profit, making their way up and down the line, selling their snack products.

At this time, I noticed an older lady wearing a wig. I know it was a wig because it slipped off her head while she was sleeping earlier in her chair. The wig was a cover for her gray, stringy hair. She was quiet all morning, having only awoken when the DJ started playing music at nine thirty. And she took one look around and complained there were too many children about.

I was like, there's a kids carnival going on soon. Of course there'd be children around. But it was her filthy littering that really made me disgusted with her. There was a trash can about fifty feet ahead of us. Everyone else disposed of their trash properly, but this filthy hag just dumped her napkins and sandwich and snack bags on the ground, where the breeze started blowing it all over the place. She was just filthy and nasty.

Speaking of nasty, I noticed more people heading off to the provided portable johns--those awful, mobile, plastic toilet stalls present at festivals and public events everywhere. If you're going to use one, you better be among the first. Because in an hour or so, those things start smelling and looking rank. And what's worse, there's no hand washing station. What's up with that?

Luckily, I had used the restroom at home before leaving. And I had a snack before hand. I was well hydrated, and I still had my water bottle. In the meantime, the heavy couples ahead of me were sending out one of their kids to grab an order of breakfast from the nearby opened restaurants--breakfast tacos. I was surprised that they were still hungry, seeing as they had eaten tamales and candies and donuts just two hours before. And they were eating some sandwiches before dawn just four hours before that. Well, if you're hungry, you've got to eat.

Meanwhile, the two ladies and their kids were soon joined by the grandmother's husband. By now, we learned that the two women were sisters. The teen girl was one sister's granddaughter. The two boys were the other sister's youngest children. And good news, during the reshuffling of their belongings, the older son was able to locate the missing pad pen that was misplaced into one of the snack bags. Good for them, especially since the grandmother explained that she had just gotten the pad as a present from her husband the day before.

In the light of day, the family behind us, beanie man, the old man, and the heavy weight couple in front of us had began to develop a sense of camaraderie. It was a spirit of cooperation, born of having been stuck together in the same space under antagonistic conditions for hours on end. We made small talk; they shared their previous experiences of the annual event along with some tips; and we joked and laughed, putting each other at ease. In the midst of this growing crowd, we had somehow managed to form a sense of community, and that amazed me.

We were strangers, yet, we had all chosen to come here for the same reason. And in the space of a few hours, we managed to stay polite and courteous, and started looking out for each others belongings if one had to leave the line for one reason or another.

Line mentality is unpredictable. It's usually chaotic, and more often than not, I've seen it deteriorate when the event starts and people start pushing, then mob mentality takes over. It's sad, but it happens. And I'm glad there were so many cops out to help keep order. At the same time, our little group was making a stand to keep other people from trying to edge closer, to cut in front of us. This shared sense of duty and mutual protection somehow made us into a community, if only for a little while. And I was surprised by how natural it felt to look out for each other.

I noticed that ahead of us, the old man was watching Shades' stuff as Shades went to use the portable johns. Upon his return, old Shades tried to convince the old man to stay with him at the line. I think Shades wanted the company. He was next to the rude wig lady. But the old man said that he didn't want to be accused of cutting line and lose his place. I understood that. All ready the temperature was soaring and tempers went along with it. I left my bag to mark my spot as I sought out the shadows of a nearby building to cool off from the heat.

A few yards down on the sunny sidewalk, near my shady spot in the building's shadow, I noticed an older, skinny man in a tank top talking to himself. I wasn't sure if he was crazy, or maybe it was the sun. But when an older, thicker lady with a rose tattoo helped him up and brought him over to the shade, I smelled alcohol, so that explained why he was acting that way. I just wasn't sure if it was the right thing to do, to be drunk in the hot sun on a street full of strangers. But so long as he doesn't bother anyone, who cares?

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10:15 am to 11:55 am


By now, time was crawling. Ten fifteen, and suddenly, there was a surge in the crowd. I had to squeeze back into my spot. The people in the back started inching forward, and we soon found ourselves being propelled a few feet ahead. Behind us, the crowd was no longer in the organized line it was just a few minutes before. The cops were now coming out in full force, having to tame the crowd. People were getting loud now.

The presence of the cops and the threat of being ejected from the line after standing there for hours kept most people on their best behavior. The sight of a line cutter, pretending he was a lost visitor, getting ejected by the cops after a scolding did much to keep the crowd under control.

By now, any sense of guilt I had was gone. Rather, after studying the crowd and observing them, I realized that I had as much a right to be here like anyone else. Whatever sense of anxiety I had was replaced by a sense of wariness, to be alert for dangers and hazards often accompanying crowds.

I noticed a pregnant woman pushing a toddler in a stroller head towards our place in line. She was delivering the breakfast order of the heavy weight couples ahead of us. She was the daughter of the heavy weight couple right in front of us. The toddler started crying to be carried. The pregnant woman just looked tired. I felt bad for her and the little toddler. They've been out here in the heat for hours, having braved the cold, dark morning to have a place in line like the rest of us.

The wig lady made a rude comment about crying babies. But we ignored her. Babies cry, lady. Get over it. The heavy weight older woman picked up the toddler and stood to let her pregnant daughter take the chair to rest. The pregnant lady wasn't hungry, and she had bought more breakfast tacos than they could eat. So they offered it to us, and it was given to the two boys behind us. They thanked the lady. And I was glad to see the kids had manners. I hoped that they would stay courteous and respectful, even after being exposed to the rude wretches in line.

Soon, an event staffer started passing out a bucket of candies. She asked that everyone please just take one, so we could all get a piece. And everyone complied, until she got to the wig lady, who took two handfuls and stuffed them in her purse! She didn't even say thanks! How rude! The rest of us were just shaking our heads. We were even more disgusted when she started littering the street with her empty candy wrappers.

The rest of us took a candy a piece and thanked the flustered staffer. She was a volunteer, like the rest of the staffers, trying to make the event successful and safe and enjoyable.

Eleven o'clock. Time was really crawling now. Soon, the crowd regulars started whispering to be on the lookout for the arrival of the benefactor, the patron who was responsible for the event. He would arrive in style, in a big white, expensive car, accompanied by police and news crews.

Here, I felt a twinge uncomfortable. The truth is, I don't know the benefactor. No one here really does. But he is the reason why we're out here. This was a community event as well as a public relations event for the benefactor. And honestly, the benefactor had a shady reputation, making his money in questionable ways. Yet, he took a good portion of his gains and held large events like this to paint himself in a favorable light. People come to the events because they get things. That's why we were here. That's why we've been in line for hours. Because he was giving stuff away, and we were going to take it.

Eleven fifteen felt like an hour had dragged by. The sun got hotter, the crowd was getting louder, and the cops were getting stricter. We cheered as several people tried to cut but were caught and ejected. Hey, if you want to be in the front of the line, then you need to get here early like the rest of us.

At one point, some lady in a motorized wheelchair tried to make her way to the front. We were glad the cops made her go back. Sorry lady. There's no special needs line. And other people in motorized wheelchairs also got here early in the dark night to get a spot at the front. In fact, five of them were at the head of the line.

I suppose I should've felt sorry for this motorized wheelchair rider, but then I realized, after standing in line and sitting on the hard pavement, in cold darkness and searing heat for hours, my compassion was gone. She should've gotten here early like the rest of us. I wondered, Geeze man, where is your compassion? But the restless crowd pushed my compassion out and replaced it with a strong sense wariness and alertness.

Eleven thirty, the news people were back. I had on my shades and my hat. The heavy weight couples in front of us would block me from camera view. And thank goodness for small (well, large, plus sized) mercies. I didn't want to be on tv. Though the couples ahead had no problem mugging the camera, waving and smiling.

Eleven forty five. Just fifteen minutes til noon. All ready the crowd was on its feet. The people started packing up their lawn chairs and belongings. It won't be long now, the regulars said, as if they were anticipating the coming of Santa Claus. My excitement was overridden by my sense of awareness, as I realized that the fears and guilt that I felt that morning meant nothing. I had nothing to feel guilty about. These people were here for the same reason I was.

The old man in front of me explained that we would soon be split into two lines going in, to speed things up. I was starting to get excited now. Then my enthusiasm was dampened upon the sight of wig lady, picking up her chair, moving forward, and leaving a huge pile of trash behind her, pretending it wasn't her mess. We all shook our heads at the sorry sight.

Eleven fifty five. There was a cheer in the crowd. The benefactor had arrived, and with him came an entourage of other well dressed characters, cops, cameramen, and staffers trailing, with security clearing the path. He was a lot shorter than I had expected. But he exuded an aura of authority and confidence, and his entourage clearly circled around his sphere of influence, the way planets and moons circled around the sun.

The DJ stopped the songs, made an introductory announcement, and the benefactor stepped up to the mike to speak. The crowd cheered. He waved. He spoke a few words about this being a community event and how he was proud to be a part of the community. He talked about the spirit of the event, and he wished us a good holiday and to have a good time at the carnival.

If he had any other words, they were left out. He seemed tired, like he'd been up all night, and he probably had been, to pull this off. And he just wanted the event to start. He made his way towards us, to greet and shake our hands. The line surged forward.

Suddenly, we noticed a commotion on the side. Wig lady was explaining to the cops that the older man who was now standing next to her wasn't a line cutter. She was holding their place while he had gone to check on the car. She looked over at us for confirmation. But none of us had see the man before. And the line was moving, the benefactor was shaking hands, so we all just ignored her. So the cops removed her and the man from the line! Ha! Karma! The look of shock on her face was priceless! If you act like trash, you get tossed out like garbage!

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Noon


Twelve o'clock, noon. The festivities began. It went by quickly then. We were sorted into two lines. Most of the people in front of me went right; I kept left. And soon, I passed up the old man, the heavy weight couples, and beanie man and the family were right behind me. A staffer told us to hold out our right fist so the back of our hand could be stamped. In less than a minute, I got stamped, passed ahead, and picked up what I came for, and exited the tent. The kids and their family headed for the carnival. I was one of the first few who started walking back to where I parked my car, just down the next street.

By now, the line had been extended over six blocks, over a mile long now! And still, people were just showing up. I was really glad that I came early. Along the short walk, I passed by the sounds of the snack sellers, still selling chips, and cookies, and water to the hungry and thirsty crowd. I smiled at those kids enterprising spirit.

By now, I lost sight of everyone else that I had stood in line with. And just like that, we went our separate ways, just as we arrived our separate ways. Only, we had gotten what we had came for, and after all that waiting and hassle, it was worth it. And I felt so much better.

I started the car and maneuvered my way out of the maze of downtown. After being up and about since four in the morning, having had only three hours of sleep, getting lost downtown, standing in the cold then heat for hours, I had one more stop to make, just a few doors down from home.

I knocked on the door. The old lady opened and greeted me warmly. I could smell her rosewater perfume. It's an old lady perfume--classic among her generation. She invited me in for some tea and lunch. But I had to refuse politely. I explained to her why I had stopped by. I had a delivery for her.

A delivery? She asked, confused. I then presented her with my find, my take, the whole reason why I had gotten up early after only three hours of sleep and stood in the cold dark and hot day for hours among strangers. Why I braved getting lost in the sketchy parts of downtown. Why I was sweating and lightly singed from the heat of the sun. Why I forced myself to swallow my pride and sense of guilt.

All that work. All that effort to get there early in the dark of night. All those hours among strangers. All that so I could be near the front of the line, guaranteed to pick up this prize, the giveaway, the reason we all went in there in the dark and stood so long in the heat of the day. All that work and time to get a free, frozen, 15 pound turkey!

That's right. I got up early at 3:45 in the morning, on my Saturday off from work, to go downtown and stand in line for hours on end, just so I could secure a free, frozen turkey, and it wasn't even for me!

I didn't need a turkey, much less a free one that was designed to be given out to families in need. Now you understand my guilt and uneasiness that morning. I felt like I was taking a turkey that could be otherwise given to feed a family who truly was in need. The whole turkey giveaway and kids carnival was a charity event to give needy families a turkey for Thanksgiving and for the children to have a fun day.

So I felt bad standing in line for a free turkey that I didn't need nor want. I felt like I was stealing from those in need. And honestly, it felt wrong to be on the receiving end of charity. Especially when I'm usually on the other side, doing the giving and helping. It felt wrong, like I was taking advantage of the situation. Truthfully, it's a lot easier to give than it is to receive. And that was a hard truth for me to admit.

But as I stood there that morning, having looked around at the crowd, I realized that what the old man had said was true. This event was open to anyone who wanted a free turkey. And most of the people that I saw there could probably afford to get their own turkeys. So why were they there? For the free turkey and carnival? Yes, but also another reason that I didn't realize, and I never would've understood until I had stood in line for the free turkey. And that reason had everything to do with my neighbor, Mrs. Rosewater.

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The Farmers


Mrs. Rosewater and her husband had been in this neighborhood for a long time, longer than anyone else still alive. Once, there was a small cooperative of farmers who worked this land. They grew cotton, corn, and other crops. I remember the cornfields when I first moved here over a decade ago.

And in that decade, the other farmers had grown old, retired, or passed on. Their children and families no longer relied on nor wanted to live on the farms anymore. So one by one, the farms were sold off to developers. In time, new neighborhoods and a golf course replaced the cornfields. By the decade's end, only Mrs. Rosewater and her husband were left out of the old farmers. And given their advanced age, they could no longer work the farm. So they sold most of it.

All that is left is two acres and a small, old farmhouse. All their children had grown up and left to live their lives elsewhere. Except for one daughter who recently relocated back to the city earlier this year, after living on the East Coast for decades. For the past five years, all their kids had tried to convince the old couple to move in with them. The grown, adult children wanted to take care of their now elderly parents. It was part of the reason why their oldest daughter had returned to the city, to be near her elderly parents, ready to assist and help them in any way she could.

But giving up a lifestyle and a lifetime of independence is a hard change to make. And the couple wasn't ready for that yet. I recognized and first met them years ago as I went running in the mornings before the sun came up. And the only people up before dawn are farmers and bakers. So, naturally, I'd greet Mr. & Mrs. Rosewater after a long run.

Over time, we developed a familiarity, a sense of neighborliness. And soon, we started chatting for a few minutes, getting to know a bit about each other. I was awed by their hardworking character and kindness. Even without a big farm anymore, they still had a vegetable garden, one of my fave places to buy delicious veggies at great prices. They even gave me free, delicious veggies whenever there was a bumper crop and second harvest.

I was amazed that they had been together for over fifty years. And I was fascinated by the great changes they had witnessed and lived through. I marveled at their independence; their minds were still sharp; and their bodies were still strong and active from years of hard work.

I enjoyed talking to them. The truth is, I felt a kinship towards them, because they were farmers, and I was born and raised on a farm. They reminded me of the life that I had left behind so long ago, a life that I couldn't wait to escape. Yet suddenly, now I find myself longing for those days, for that sense of belonging and home and togetherness that comes from living on and working the land.

Yet, soon enough, that life, that rural sense of community and identity these farmers represented, would be lost and gone forever from my neighborhood. Recently, Mr. Rosewater was admitted to the hospital. Old age had finally caught up to him, and with it came all the infirmities that come with old age.

I found out two weeks ago that Mr. Rosewater had a mild cardiac episode. Heart problems. He was in the hospital for treatment, and would be released in time for Thanksgiving. Their daughter had insisted that her parents move in with her and her family. And after much discussion and deliberation, the old farmers agreed. Only, they decided to fix up the farmhouse and sell it. Soon, the old couple would move to the Southside, less than ten minutes away, but a whole other world entirely.

Once, the Southside was cotton fields country. I know, because that's where I lived when I first moved here, at the edge of the city proper. The paved road stopped by my building, at the time, the official boundary of the city. I remember being amazed when I gazed out the back window and saw miles and miles of a sea of cotton! And when they were ready to be picked, it looked like snow had blanketed the top of the vast fields.

But within five years of my living here, the cotton farmers sold out. The decade long drought had been destroying the crops for years. There was much more profit in selling land to developers to build houses for a growing city. And the city grew, and it has doubled in size since I've lived here.

The cotton sea of the rural Southside was now the well manicured and palatial neighborhood of the upper class. And this is the area Mr. & Mrs. Rosewater were moving to live with their daughter and her family.

During my short visit to see Mr. Rosewater in the hospital, I happened upon a family discussion. The daughter was expressing her exasperation at Mrs. Rosewater's complaint that they wouldn't be able to get their free turkey this year.

For three decades, the couple had been getting their free turkey from the same family who did the turkey giveaway. Back then, the farmers would bring crops to help give away, and in return, they were given a turkey as a thank you for their volunteer efforts and for their crops.

Over time, the farmers sold off their lands and the old benefactor passed on his mantle to his son; the tradition of going to get that free turkey continued. First, the old couple got their turkey as a thank you for being volunteers and contributors. And as they got older and retired, the old couple were now just recipients of the free turkeys, as regular members of the community, who stood waiting in line with everyone else.

The daughter told the mother that they didn't need to worry about a turkey. She all ready had a turkey. But the old couple tried and failed to explain why they felt the need to get that free turkey. Mrs. Rosewater said that she liked making the turkey and serving it to her family. Her daughter told her she could do the same with the turkey all ready at the house; but Mrs. Rosewater commented that it wouldn't be the same without their free turkey. The daughter had to leave for work, still unable to grasp the significance of this free turkey.

And truthfully, I didn't get it either. What was so special about this free turkey? Was it more juicy and tasteful than other turkeys? Was it a special breed? Was it made of gold and silver and granted wishes? The old couple didn't need a free turkey. Their daughter could buy them an extra one if they wanted. Heck, I could buy them one, if they wanted. And I offered to do so. But they refused, saying it wasn't the same as getting their free turkey.

I had to leave. I said goodbye and headed out the door. I looked back to see them holding hands, lost in thought. And only then as they gazed out at the window, reliving memories of the old days, did I finally understand that this was more than just about getting a free turkey. Their inability to go pick up the free turkey was a poignant reminder that they were old now; that the life they knew, and the home they'd live in most of their lives and raised their entire family, would soon be lost. Time was passing them by, and life, lived so long, so sure, had become uncertain, and they were feeling lost and displaced.

As I left the hospital and headed home, I was bothered the sense of loss this elderly couple was feeling. When I met my friends for happy hour drinks and stayed out most of the night, that look of sadness, inevitability--like surrender after a long, storied fight--that sorrow on the old couples' faces came to mind whenever I found myself alone at the table. And suddenly, I felt melancholic, mourning for the old couples' loss, for in way, it was also my own.

When they leave the neighborhood, the soul of the neighborhood leaves with them. And a way of life and a people and culture would be gone forever, and no one, not even me, will fully understand the loss.

At home, as I got ready for bed, I looked at the clock. It was one a.m., an hour past midnight Friday. These were the eerie hours, and they often evoked strange feelings and unusual thoughts. And perhaps it was the magic of the haunted hours that inspired me to take action. I decided then and there to get that danged turkey for the Rosewaters. They may not be able to go get the turkey anymore, but at least for this year, the turkey would come to them.

So at half past one in the morning, I looked up the address of the turkey giveaway event. I set my alarm for 3:45 a.m., so I'd be up early enough to find this place and get a good spot in line. Honestly, I didn't want to get out of bed when the alarm rang much too soon for me. But the memory of the old couples' look of loss compelled me to get up and keep searching when I got lost downtown.

And it was that memory that kept me motivated to stay in line and put up with so much. And it was all worth it to see the look of disbelief and joy on Mrs. Rosewater's face when I explained that I had gotten her the free turkey. She looked like she was going to cry. She thanked me, then hugged me after I set the turkey in the fridge to start defrosting. She invited me over for a meal and for Thanksgiving. I politely declined and explained that I was working all Thanksgiving. She hugged me and thanked me one more time before I left.

I got home, hit the shower, then crawled into bed. And before I dozed off, I realized that for the Rosewaters, the annual turkey giveaway was more than about getting a free turkey. It was about tradition. And I suddenly realized that for some of the families at the turkey giveaway, this was a family tradition. And I knew then why the Rosewaters kept going every year. It was a way not only to continue a tradition, but a way to be a part of the community, to bear witness to all the changes and the growth and development of their community. It was a part of their way of life, how they stayed in touch with the heartbeat of the place they called home and the people they considered their own.

If I hadn't stood there in line, had not gotten up early, had not made an effort to be cordial to my neighbors, I would've missed out on this epiphany: That though life may change, neighborhoods disappear, and a way of life may die out, some things never change. Time moves on but some truths are timeless. And the important things remain, like families doing things together, like at a kids carnival; or children taking care of ailing parents; or mothers sharing their wisdom with daughters now bearing daughters of their own. And the passage of good values and characters like courtesy and respect and hope from one generation to the next.

Cooperation and respect and caring are the cornerstones of civilization. And these are the tools with which we build and repair and strengthen our communities. And everyone who wants to contribute to build a better world is welcomed. Anyone who works hard to make a good home for themselves and their loved ones deserves a chance to live a good life and have a good home. Anyone who is a good neighbor deserves to be a part of a great neighborhood. Good communities welcome and foster good people. And anyone who wants to do their part to make the world a better, kinder, and more beautiful place will always be welcomed.

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III. Turkey Tails


Seven of us were working Thanksgiving Thursday. We decided to have a potluck lunch to commemorate the holiday. We also decided to bring whatever dish we wanted to make. No need to go through the stress of making a big meal. Leave that turkey and ham for family at home. If anything, our potluck would be like a picnic, comprised of easy to make dishes that we could all enjoy.

I was thinking about making sandwiches or tacos or even quesadillas. I've brought them to work potlucks before, and my coworkers always ate everything I brought with gusto. It would be easy. The only thing easier would be to buy chips and dip.

And I would've made chicken quesadillas, a fave and frequent request from coworkers (and friends) whenever I'm asked to bring a dish to share. But fate or chance changed my plans for my dish. I was picking up some salt and seasonings when I happened to pass by the frozen section and made an incredible discovery: Turkey tails, on sale, at $0.50/lb.

I love turkey tails! Baked, roasted, fried, and especially BBQ'd! The first time that I had ever had turkey tails was when my father got some from a friend. Dad BBQ'd them, and they were amazing!!! I was 7, and it was the best thing I had eaten off the BBQ grill up til then.

As I got older, turkey tails were a special treat. And I loved their rich, flavorful taste, in soups, curries, stews, and when fried crisp or roasted tender, but as BBQ, it was a most decadent treat.

And it is a rich, indulgent treat. Too rich, apparently. It wasn't until a few years after I left home did I learn that turkey tails aren't the most healthy of meats. In fact, they're about 75% fat! That's why they grilled so well and tasted so scrumptious! All that fat made the turkey tail taste more tender and more flavorful than a steak filet mignon!

But the most disturbing thing about turkey tails that I learned was that they were directly marketed by the poultry industry to poor, poverty stricken regions that couldn't afford the main parts of the turkey. As a matter of fact, turkey tails are considered a waste by product in the processing of the turkeys. Westerners and industrialized countries do not eat turkey tails. They are considered unhealthy and undesirable in the diet. And I agree.

And yet, the poultry industry deliberately targets poor and impoverished regions, like Africa, the Pacific, and Asia to ship this waste product. That's where the majority of leftover turkey tails are sold. It's a great money maker for the poultry industry. They get rid of an undesirable leftover waste product by dumping it on people who are all ready at risk for malnutrition and starvation. Way to make a profit, poultry industry, by selling products that are unhealthy to all ready poor, undernourished, impoverished populations.

It's not surprising then that in an effort to improve the health of their population, several of these impoverished nations have banned or limited the importation of turkey tails. It may taste great, but it's not a healthy choice for a daily meal. And for a lot of these poor populations, it's the only thing they can afford on their meager wages.

It's a terrible dilemma. I'm pretty disgusted with the poultry industry's greed and profiteering off the deaths and destruction of impoverished people. Yet, at the same time, I do think that turkey tails should be available, just not meant for daily consumption. Like all my other favorite eats like bacon, corned beef, junk food, and spam, turkey tails need to be eaten in moderation or as a special treat. It's unhealthy, but it also tastes good. Yet, just because it tastes good isn't a good enough reason to eat it a lot. Butter tastes good, but it's unhealthy to eat a whole stick or three in one sitting. Ice cream is an exception, since it has some good nutritional value.

But since it was the holidays, I thought a special treat was in order. And besides, at $0.50/lb, the turkey tails were a steal! The universe was giving me a sign. Usually, they cost at least $0.90/lb or more. Plus, the fact that they're so unhealthy keeps me from buying turkey tails. There are plenty of other healthier, delicious meat options that cost less. But at almost half off, I couldn't resist buying a lot. I'm guessing the holidays meant the biggest and busiest time at the turkey processing plants, meaning a whole lot more turkey tails than usual. That's why they were on sale now, and I felt justified in buying them.

All that remained was deciding how to cook them for my work Thanksgiving potluck. The best way was to grill them. BBQ turkey tails are an extraordinary delight. Who would've thought that smoke, fire, and hellish heat would create such a decadent, divine, heavenly treat?

The easiest way to BBQ was to simmer them in a marinade over the stove top for half an hour; then finish them over the grill for that smoky flavor and crispy, charred skin. But it was still an investment in time and effort. If I was staying home, I wouldn't mind the work. But it felt like a waste to get a fire started, then only use it for half an hour before putting it out again after grilling a small amount of meat. I'd rather fire up the grill to BBQ more than enough meat to get large leftovers, enough to last me for several days.

The second best option was to pan grill the cooked tails, an alternative when it was raining or I didn't have the time nor inclination to fire up the grill. But that also required time to cut the tails and the need to pan grill them in batches. It was still an endeavor that required more time and effort, though the payoff was scrumptious.

Finally, I decided on the easiest option. I would slow cook the tails overnight. They would be tender and flavorful and tasty. But I'd take it up a notch and make them more awesome by broiling them in the oven to make a crispy, brown skin. The marinade they cooked in would caramelize into a fantastic, amazing glaze on the tails. And it'd take about ten minutes or less to broil the slow cooked tails to make them crispy, and brown, and decadent.

So that's what I did. I slow cooked 8 pounds of tails overnight, then woke up in the morning to place them on foil covered baking sheets to broil before returning them to the small slow cooker that I was taking to work to keep the food warm. I took a bag of rolls to heat in the microwave to accompany the tails. I didn't feel like making mac and cheese that usually accompanied BBQ or broiled tails, and I didn't want to make any rice that morning to take to work. The whole point of the potluck was to make something that was easy.

At the potluck, the others brought several quiches (baked egg pies), pumpkin pies, deviled eggs, and a macaroni salad. They went great with the turkey tails, which were a big hit, and a new crowd favorite. My coworkers had never tried turkey tails before, much less heard of anyone ever eating them. I could easily imagine their reaction had the tails been BBQ'd.

But I know that I'd made the right decision to slow cook and broil the tails. And I told my coworkers that turkey tails were a special treat. I shared my quick recipe, along with the tip that the tails were on sale at the local grocery store. And I looked forward to the rest of the tails that were cooked and waiting in the fridge. I planned on grilling them when I got home.

And that's exactly what I did. I even got to share those amazing BBQ tails with some friends who were visiting. And before the weekend was over, I'd make more. My friends loved the BBQ'd tails. So did I. And I made another trip to buy more tails on sale from the store. I told myself that I was saving some for the holidays, but the temptation is there for me to make them everyday, to cook them in many different ways. I just force myself to make something else. It is an exercise in self discipline, and so far, I'm succeeding. And that's a reward in itself.

I love turkey tails. But I love life even more. Turkey tails are a treat. Not everyone knows about them, and in a way, that is a good thing, because they're not healthy. But they are delicious and make for a tasty treat. And we all deserve a treat every now then, especially as a reward for all our hard work.

During this stressful holiday season, we often find ourselves running ragged at work, trying to meet social and familial obligations. It's rough and it takes a toll on the mind, body, and soul. And it makes us forget that this is suppose to be a happy season. But I hope that you remember to be good to yourself. You can't take care of other people if you can't take care of yourself first. Be kind to yourself and to others. I hope you find the time to reward your self and to give yourself a treat. Whatever treat you give yourself, I hope it makes you smile and brings you comfort, and I hope it fills your days with joy.


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Ginger Ale Marinade and Turkey


The following is my easy Ginger Ale (soda) marinade to flavor meat and poultry. I've used Canada Dry, 7 Up, and Mountain Dew with success. The ginger and lemon lime flavors create a tangy sweetness when mixed with the salty, rich soy sauce. Added sugar ensures the meat caramelizes and creates a crispy, brown, charred skin, especially when BBQ'd, pan grilled, or broiled. The marinade also flavors the raw meat overnight for straight up BBQ or pan grilling. Just remember, all that sugar also causes the meat to burn faster on the direct heat of the BBQ or grill pan. Keep a close eye on the grill.

Turkey Tails Treat

Ingredients
3 lbs to 8 lbs of turkey tails (or other meat)
Ginger Ale Marinade:
1 cup soy/teriyaki/shoyu sauce (Contains salt and flavor)
2 cloves garlic crushed (minimum)
3 cups ginger ale (Substitute up to 1 cup with water)
4 Tablespoons sugar (Add more per taste)
Optional:
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon zest of lemon, lime, or orange

Directions

Stovetop:
Set the tails aside. Make sure you have a pot/cooking vessel large enough to hold the marinade and tails. Mix all the marinade ingredients in a large pot. Taste the marinade. It will be strong with a little hint of sweetness. I add a bit more sugar because I like it sweet. Use less sugar if you prefer. The sugar in the ginger ale and added sugar helps the meat caramelize and create a tangy sweetness. Add tails to pot, cover pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low. Simmer for at least 30 minutes or until fork tender done. Cooking longer will cause the meat to become fall off the bone tender. Serve over rice. Sauce recipe to follow.

Better, easier method, Slow Cook:
Add marinade mix to slow cooker (big enough to hold turkey tails and marinade; up to 8 lbs of tails can fit in a five quart slow cooker). Once marinade is mixed to your taste, add tails. Cover and slow cook on LOW for 8 hours; or slow cook on HIGH for 4 to 6 hours. The longer it cooks, the more the tail meat will likely be fall off the bones, tender. Marinade mix is also good for other meats, like beef, pork, chicken, and lamb.

BBQ:
Finish off the turkey tails by brushing them with oil or laying them in a pan with a thin layer of oil, enough to oil each side. It'll prevent sticking. Grill them on high heat for about seven minutes per side, or until the sides crisp up nice and brown and charred.

Broil:
Remove cooked turkey tails to lay on baking sheet and baste with fave sauce. Let rest for 30 minutes to overnight in the fridge. Or skip the sauce and crisp under broiler. Turn on oven broiler and bake for five to ten minutes until skin is crispy brown. Watch the broiler carefully. It may take shorter than five minutes or longer than ten to crisp the tails. Don't let them burn. Remove from stove once crispy brown. Let rest for fifteen to twenty minutes before serving.

Sauce:
You may strain broth to make a smoother sauce. Simmer, don't boil, the sauce in a pot. Thicken the marinade/broth by dissolving 4 Tablespoons of cornstarch with half a cup of cold water to make a slurry. (For every 1 Cup of broth, Dissolve 1 Tablespoon of cornstarch in a small amount of water, up to half a cup, to make a thickening slurry). Add slurry to the Simmering, NOT Boiling, broth. Stir and simmer for two to three minutes til sauce thickens. Turn off the heat. Season to taste, if needed. Drip sauce over turkey or serve on side.


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