Turkey Time (Again)

I don’t usually repost things, but the holidays are about doing the same things over and over again. This one is from 10 years ago:

Oh, you poor ignorant bastard.

That’s what I thought at 7am when I saw the guy behind me at Price Chopper with a huge frozen turkey. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he was sort of screwed, and the turkey sitting in his cart should probably already have been thawing for two days.

Truth is, you can cook a frozen turkey, at least according to the Iowa State University Extension. The problem with this is that dark meat always takes longer than the breast meat — and being frozen will make things worse — so there’s absolutely no way each will be edible. Which do you want to be cooked? It’s sort of like a Thanksgiving version of Sophie’s Choice — but I would probably not describe it that way to my guests while we’re sitting down to eat.

I was not there to buy a turkey, though, I was there for sweet potatoes — because it’s time to make my Albany Eye Sweet Potato Crunch. We’re not hosting Thanksgiving this year, but we’re bringing this to my sister’s. I’m also dropping off a tray of it at a local shelter so some less fortunate folks will enjoy it on Thanksgiving.

This recipe, whose roots are in the deep South, is one of the most decadent things you can get away with serving as a main dish. It’s creamy, fluffy, and sweet — and you should be prepared to fight over the leftovers.

Three notes: don’t ever, ever, ever use canned sweet potatoes. Also, I favor baking the sweet potatoes rather than boiling. Where I’m sitting right now I can smell them in my oven. And of course, double the recipe.

Finally, if you’re frying a turkey please try not to burn your fu**ing house down. Happy Thanksgiving.

Mother’s Day Gift Guide

What do women want for Mother’s Day?

I’m here to tell you that they want a nice ass.

OK, I got that out of my system. When I say they want a nice ass, what I mean is that they want to to adopt a sweet little donkey in Ireland.

Roma, my wife’s donkey.

For a small donation you can go online right now to The Donkey Sanctuary in County Cork and pick an animal you’d like to adopt for a year. It takes about two minutes and 25 Euros (about $26 USD), and in a couple of weeks, Mom will get a lovely packet in the mail from Ireland containing an adoption certificate, a picture, and other goodies. They do a nice job.

Donkeys are wonderful creatures, but unfortunately many people get in over their head with them. Veterinary care and feed are expensive, and neglected donkeys have been a problem in Ireland, the way it is here sometimes for dogs, horses and other domesticated animals. The Sanctuary has cared for more than 5,600 donkeys since their inception, and currently they look after more than 1,800, some of which are housed at private residences, but most of then on their farms in County Cork.

So here’s what you do: get online and pick out a donkey to adopt for the Mom in your life. Fill out the paperwork, pay up, and download a picture of the donkey that you can slip inside her Mother’s Day card. I guarantee, you’ll be the only one to give your Mom a donkey, so get your ass moving and get it done!

The Sled

Over the weekend, the lights came down and the decorations were stored away. This included the beat up sled that my wife brought home from a craft fair several years ago. It’s wrapped in some greenery and battery operated lights, and sits on the front porch to greet visitors during the Christmas season. Well, during every other Christmas season. This year, there were few visitors.

When it first came home, I figured it for another mass produced “antique” that’s peddled to folks wanting something that looks vintage, but is really a modern knockoff. But when I looked at the back, I found something interesting. The name Louise Remley was painted on the back, along with the name of the town, Anamosa, Iowa. Well, I thought, that’s a clever touch. They went through the trouble to make it look like this belonged to an actual person.

Christmases came and went, and we pulled out the sled every December and put it away every January. But this season, when taking the sled out of the shed, I noticed the name again and started to wonder: what if Louse Remley of Anamosa, Iowa was a real person?

It didn’t take long to find the truth. After a little digging on genealogical sites, I discovered records for Louise Remley, born to a family in Anamosa in 1917. This sled was no reproduction, but probably a Christmas present given when she was a little girl. Mind blown.

How does a sled from Anamosa, Iowa end up in Upstate New York? Based on her obituary, Louise Remley, then Louise Remley Scott, died in 1999 here in the Capital Region. After living in several spots around America, she last resided with her husband, Ira Scott, in Niskayuna. Did she keep that sled for the entire time, possibly since the 1920s? That’s a tougher question to answer – but it would be odd if fate brought both her and her sled her independently.

I don’t know much more about Louise Remley, but I like to think she’d be pleased to know that her sled is on display at my home every year. To me, the sled has always been a symbol of the season, but finding out about its history gives it even greater power. When you touch the worn wood and rusted runners, you’re making a connection to the past, and a child’s joy.

Relish Redux

Editor’s note: I rarely re-print stuff, but I heard Susan Stamberg going on about her relish this morning, and felt it was worth dusting off this ten-year-old post.

Yes, it's really that color. If you listen to NPR, you may be familiar with the Thanksgiving tradition of Susan Stamberg sharing her mother-in-law’s cranberry relish recipe. She’s been sharing it and sharing it. Sharing it since 1972, in fact. That’s a long time, even in NPR years. Ira Glass was just 13-years-old when she started in with the relish.

I actually served the crazy pink mess of cranberry, onion, sour cream, sugar, and horseradish one Thanksgiving. While I sort of liked its tart-tangy-sweet flavor, nobody else touched it. Maybe it was the color. Maybe that it looks more like a desert than a side dish. Maybe they were not Morning Edition listeners.

Anyway, I thought I would give it one more shot and taste test it on my family before turkey day. Reviews were mixed.

My 22-year-old son said it was “unique and interesting” and said he’d like to see it on the holiday table. My 15-year-old called it “weird.” My wife said that it was “too oniony.”

And oniony it was. The trouble with onions is that they can vary wildly in their pungency, so even the small onion called for in this recipe can pack an unexpected wallop. I’d recommend going easy — or even using a sweet onion to temper the effect.

Based on my unscientific sample, maybe half the people might like this stuff — but since it only takes a couple of minutes to prepare, why not? Be prepared, though: the relish will signal you as an NPR geek. Depending on your family, they will either see you as worldly and enlightened or an elitist snob. But as they say, you can choose your radio station, but you can’t choose your family.

Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish Recipe

Patty Wagon

If you want to convince an Irishman that you’re an eejit, call March 17 “St. Patty’s Day.” Let’s be clear: Patty is short for Patricia, and Paddy is the nickname for Patrick.


A quick survey of the news reveals that there are a lot of eejits out there in the media using “St. Patty” — too many to count. To make matters even worse, the misuse of St. Patty is disrespectful to another saint.

St. Patricia was a 7th century noblewoman who gave everything to the poor, took a vow of virginity and devoted her life to the Lord. St. Patty ended up near Naples after being shipwrecked during a voyage to Jerusalem. She later died and is now the city’s patron saint. Her feast day — which one might call St. Patty’s Day — is celebrated on August 25. According to Wikipedia, people believe that the dried remains of her blood turn to liquid on that day — and on “every Tuesday morning.” The Tuesday part seems to make it less special.

So, let’s not mix up our Pattys with our Paddys. Do it once and you can be forgiven as a simple eejit. Do again? Then you’re a feckin eejit.

Big Bird

Maybe I’m just getting old, but this year’s turkey was a gigantic pain in the ass.

Clocking in at more than 25 pounds, it was a huge and unwieldy bird that was challenging every step of the way. Next time, I think I’d be better off cooking two smaller turkeys. It would be more work in some regards, but after wrestling with the mega-brid, it’s worth considering.

Did I mention the stuffing incident?

When I was taking the turkey out of the stove, the roasting pan slipped and dropped onto the oven rack. It didn’t fall more than a couple of inches, but the impact was enough to launch a load of stuffing straight into the air. Some of it ended up in my hair, some on the floor, and some was on the cabinet doors.

My son walked into the kitchen. “What’s that up there?”

Holy crap — several clumps of stuffing were clinging to the ceiling.

Overall, it was not the easiest day, but the trouble was worth it. The turkey was spectacular — probably the best I’ve ever cooked — but more importantly, it was a great crowd of friends and family and everyone had a wonderful time. Spirits were soaring on our all-American holiday, soaring almost as high as the stuffing.

The Week That Was

An Itch for Christmas
A few years ago, there were lots of stories around about ticks in Christmas trees. Well, the good news is that ticks are not really a problem. The bad news? There could be 25,000 other bugs on your tree.

Quote of the Week
“People don’t know what wine tastes like until they taste it.” – Paul Vandenburgh

That’s either a brilliant nugget of wisdom or the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.

Crushing It
I made a lot of news promos, and I’m still impressed when I see something that nails it like this MSNBC spot.

These folks have been portrayed by the idiot in the White house as enemies of the people. Their response: we do this because we love you. Extra points for using R.E.M.’s Orange Crush.

Tie One On This Christmas

So, about the Christmas tree.

On our way home from getting the tree, we passed another car on their way home from the same mission.

The other car’s tree was secured with a cheap piece of frayed twine that looked like it would snap at any moment. I was sure the tree would tumble to the road on the first sharp turn.

I try not to be judgmental, but the ability to tie things down is a fair measure of one’s competence.

My wife wanted me to honk and alert them.

I refused. “No. He needs to learn.”

My tree? There was a ratchet strap across the middle holding it snug to the roof and then a heavy nylon rope to keep it from pivoting. I could roll the car over and that tree would still be attached to the roof.

It wasn’t exactly pretty; no sailor would be impressed with these knots, but they were secure.

People get stressed out at Christmas, but the key to having a nice holiday is to accept that there are some things you can control and some things you can’t.

Accept the things you can’t control, and you’ll be happier — tying a tree to your car is something you can control, so don’t screw it up.

Santa Season

I watched for a few minutes at Bob’s Trees as children lined up to visit with Santa. He had a real beard and a pretty good looking Santa suit. Maybe he was a tad thin, but that’s OK. Good on him for watching his weight.

To a little kid, spotting Santa is a pretty big deal — and seeing those children reminded me of something that still makes me feel bad.

Years ago, I produced a Christmas commercial for a local liquor retailer. The concept was simple: this store has such great prices, it’s where Santa shops for booze. I hired a local actor with experience playing Santa — he even had his own suit — and we spent a morning getting shots of Santa darting gleefully around the store picking out bottles for people on the ‘nice’ list.

All this was going great — but then, a woman came in the store with her young daughter to buy a bottle of wine. While we worked, the little girl kept peeking around the end of the aisle to catch a glimpse of Santa. Our talent played right along and coaxed the girl out from behind a stack of boxes. He was great, launching right into full Santa mode, and it really made that little girl’s day.

OK, that doesn’t sound bad, does it — and the commercial turned out great — so what’s the problem?

Even now when I think about that day — and this was nearly 30 years ago — I get the nagging feeling that it was wrong to put Santa in a liquor store. To that little girl, this was the real Santa, and I was using him to sell hooch.

Santa’s been used to sell so many things, but to see the power he has over children, right before my eyes — in a liquor store, for god’s sake — just made me feel dirty.

I’m probably the only person in the world who remembers all of this, but Santa, please accept my apology for exploiting your image in such a crass way.  I hope you can see fit to forgive me — and if you do, a bottle of Glengoyne 18-year-old Scotch might help ease my mind.