How was your Thanksgiving? I hope it was full of love and laughter and delicious food! And although the big holidays tend to "steal" writing time, there's lots of fertile material in those gatherings. The funny things that go wrong, the quirky relatives, the cute kid stories, and the warmth of the day - all provide good fodder for your writing, don't they?
I made the meal again this year, for thirteen, including baby Isabella, who didn't actually eat turkey, of course, but who was passed around the table to cuddle while we took turns eating. The turkey came out the best ever, in spite of my early morning glitches. I scanned some recipes and emailed friends for inspiration earlier in the week, wanting to try something new. Frankly, although I've made the dinner for twenty-seven years, I felt like I couldn't remember squat about roasting the bird this year, and needed inspiration. Early Alzheimers? Sometimes I wonder.
Anyway, some of the new tricks I picked up included adding a few inches of turkey broth to the roasting pan, setting the turkey on a "rack" of whole carrots, and adding sprigs of thyme and sage and leftover raw onions to the cooking giblets. They all helped to provide the juiciest bird every, with one helluva savory gravy.
But I had a few glitches, as one would expect. More than a few, I guess. The blasted turkey neck was a super-sized version. The bird was twenty-two pounds, but I think they got the neck from a fifty pound monster. It was so gigantic, it was wedged and iced into the darned cavity, with one end stuck so hard I thought I'd never get it out! It took me twenty minutes of struggling, warm water, and a giant screwdriver to remove it.
The first roasting pan I chose was one millimeter too small, and no matter how I struggled wth that bird, I couldn't get the darned thing into the pan. So I had to switch to the larger banged up ancient pan, which of course was all dusty and buried beneath a ton of stuff in the cabinet.
The fridge was making a loud whirring noise, as if the fan had a bearing that was going bad, and this was on top of a gazillion other appliances that decided to break because, of course, it was Thanksgiving week. I couldn't stop the faucet from trickling water - no matter how I positioned the lever. It's still dripping as I write this. The microwave died a few days earlier. Not that I couldn't survive without it, but it is handy for melting butter, keeping dishes warm, and I actually make my home made cranberry sauce in there. We dug Alli's old one out of the basement, thankful once again for her moving home.
I think one of the reasons my brain felt so fried before the holiday was my fear that our woodstove wasn't going to work out. After paying $800.00 per tank of oil last season, we knew we couldn't survive this winter using the furnace. So last spring, we invested in a great stove from Lopi, the "Leyden." We used our economic stimulus cash for firewood and thought we were set for the season. But for the past two weeks, my daughter Allison and I struggled to get a hot fire going. It was so insidious, so gradual, and it coincided so perfectly with the unusual cold snap, that I thought I was going crazy. I questioned my year-old dry wood, scrutinizing each log as if it were the culprit. Alas, to no avail.
No matter how carefully I used my special method of fat wood sticks arranged on a nice handy firestarter block, no matter how I stood over the darned thing and prayed, no matter how I stared at it, more and more smoke kept coming out of the top loader each time I opened it, more soot built up in a shorter time, and I could NOT get it started or hot enough each day.
And of course each time this happened, someone would walk by and casually mention how cold the house was, or how the stove just wasn't going to cut it in the cold weather. I thought I'd explode, because of course those same thoughts kept rolling through my frenzied brain. Esepcially on last Saturday night, when my daughter Jenn was due to join us for a spaghetti dinner and the whole living room filled with smoke. It poured out of the smokestack over the stove - seeping out of every little crack and hole it could find. I shut the thing down, called my chimney sweep who sold me the stove, and did something that went against every fiber in my body.
I turned on the furnace.
At that point (duh), I knew something was dreadfully wrong, and realized that the draw must be compromised. Not enough oxygen. But how could it be blocked in a few short months of using it? Thank God, our chimney sweep - a wonderfully reliable and intelligent man - came last Monday to investigate. Sure enough, a screen he'd placed for us over the chimney years ago to keep animals out, had plugged with creosote. He removed the screen and cleaned the whole chimney for a well spent $118.00, about 1/8 the cost of a tank of oil, even now with the prices down. We now have our reliable, easy to start, phenomenally warm woodstove back. And we're opening windows to regulate heat again. That blessed, amazing, comforting heat is back!
One more thing happened, but it was yesterday. I guess I should be thankful for the fact that it didn't happen on the holiday. It's the reason why I'm frantically writing this column at the crack of dawn on Sunday, my posting day.