Monday, November 29, 2010

How Bacon Saved Thanksgiving

For as long as I can remember, Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday.

It might be oversimplified to make the correlation between my love of a food-centric celebration and my morbidly-obese adolescence but, this explanation isn't entirely inaccurate. More to the point, however, Thanksgiving has always been the closest thing to a family reunion that I've ever known.

For one day, my Marine Corps father wasn't working the second or third shift and could eat dinner with us. My grandparents could devotedly spoil their grandkids and my always-dialed-in aunt could stealthily share the latest inappropriate jokes for dissemination on the fourth-grade playground.*

* -- "Did you know there were computers in the Garden of Eden? Eve had an Apple and Adam had a Wang!" (I remember laughing uproariously at this in 1984, even though the only word in the punchline that I remotely recognized was "wang" – and not in an electronic sense.)

My most memorable Thanksgiving was in 1995.

I came home from my first semester at San Diego State University. After spending three months trying to feed myself with a no-frills, bare-minimum meal plan; I carried just 155 lbs. on my six-foot frame. The colossal holiday spread remains – 15 years later – the greatest meal I've ever eaten. Everyone from my endearingly dysfunctional family met at my parents' house and I clearly remember regaling them with tales of my new girlfriend.

My grandmother passed away in December 2001, my parents divorced around the same time and – in the blink of an eye – Mrs. Bootleg and I were spending our first Thanksgiving as a married couple alone on a rainy San Diego turkey day in 2002. Believe it or not, this wasn't nearly as depressing as it sounds. We'd barely been married for two weeks, so Mrs. Bootleg broke out some of our wedding china and turned our claustrophobic condo into a romantic nook.

For the past few years, we've hosted Thanksgiving at Stately Bootleg Manor. Since most of you are familiar with
the guest list, let's get right into the events of last Thursday.

12:30 AM -- Thanksgiving cannot officially begin until Mrs. Bootleg pulls a pair of sweet potato pies from the oven. In keeping with both family tradition AND traditional black woman tendencies; she makes as much noise as possible during the late Wednesday night/early Thursday morning mixing, baking and unnecessarily exaggerated oven door opening/closing process. This is her not-so-subtle reminder of my minimal contribution to the preparation process. And, if every Thanksgiving from the previous decade is any indication, Mrs. Bootleg will SWEAR this is her last holiday as head chef before the day is over. It's as predictable as cranberry sauce, y'all.

8:30 AM -- Mrs. Bootleg is baking a small batch of cornbread as part of her homemade dressing.** Several weeks ago, she ruined -- beyond recognition -- a sheet of cornbread that was supposed to be the accompaniment with her secret recipe chili. She found a way to over AND undercook it before the cornbread collapsed on itself like a gritty, gooey shanty. My wife pulled her Thanksgiving batch from the oven and, amazingly, had achieved an identical "black on the outside, batter on the inside" consistency. Turns out she set the oven for 500 degrees, instead of 400 -- no small feat, considering our stove has a digital temperature display. Of course, I took my disappointment
to Twitter.

** -- African-American Fun Fact: We always call it "dressing", never "stuffing". I'm sure there's an explanation for this that dates back to slave days...or at least back to when Big L was still alive.

8:45 AM -- I was genuinely worried that my 15-year streak of making unplanned trips to the supermarket on Thanksgiving morning was in jeopardy. Thanks to Mrs. Bootleg's oven escapades, here I was with all the other unwashed, unshaven men standing a dozen deep in the "15 items or less" line. It was 42 degrees when I left the house and I was forced to brave the cruel, cloudless elements with only a pair of shorts and a long-sleeve t-shirt. Enough already, autumn!

9:45 AM -- Not long after I return, Mrs. Bootleg solemnly shows me the expiration date on a bottle of paprika that's been resting comfortably in our pantry. Since, I'm familiar with the outrageous suggested retail price of spices and have no desire for a one-hour reunion with the supermarket cashier, we agree to use the old exceptionally aged seasoning.

12:15 PM -- My family arrives. My grandfather presents Jalen with two $50 bills that have been bent and folded into a pair of exotic shapes ("Negr-origami"?) and a handful of the shiniest silver dollars I've ever seen. (Thirty years ago, I was happy to get one of those "drummer boy" quarters from him so I could buy a Chunky Bar at the liquor store down the street. I'm just sayin', Grandpa.) Meanwhile, my mother is wheeling a cooler that's roughly the size of our refrigerator.

12:30 PM -- An "appetizer table" has appeared out of nowhere. The sheer amount of "not-the-entree" eats would've been embarrassing if America weren't already the king of superfluous food. My mother's deviled eggs never last more than a few minutes and this year she debuted a deviled filling with finely diced bits of bacon. These would've landed the coveted "500 (out of 5)" in a TBG Eats feature. Salty, eggy and awesome.

3:30 PM --
Damn it, Roy Williams! Don't you realize how far back in the pool I am?!

4:00 PM -- I've previously written about my
contempt for Brussels sprouts. It's one of the few foods that I'd completely given up on. But, my mom whipped out the skillet and tried something different: baby Brussels sprouts (which I'd never had) tossed with baby carrots and sautéed in a butter, onions and bacon bath. Glorious. It reminded me of a mildly-sweet fried cabbage with the bacon perfectly comingled with the mild vegetable flavors. Aaron and Brussels sprouts. This is the most shocking turn in years. Or months. Or, at least since this.

5:00 PM -- I finished the evening with a bomber of Shipyard's Smashed Pumpkin Ale. While bacon had saved Thanksgiving, it wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world if it hadn't shown up. Mrs. Bootleg baked her best batch of dressing ever. Her collard greens killed -- as usual -- and won the approval of my Alabama-born grandfather, who knows a thing or three about African-American southern cuisine. And, her turkey died a heroic and delicious death.

Almost on cue, my wife declared that we'd be spending NEXT Thanksgiving with my in-laws in Utah...presumably so Mrs. Bootleg could be free from kitchen duty.

I'll pack your "road jersey apron", m'dear.


that mexican guy said...

Good to have the return of the rambling diary, Cam. Now that you've addressed the dressing v. stuffing issue, it's time to address the "black people don't like mayonnaise" nonsense that was originally perpetuated by "Undercover Brother".

Other Joe said...

In regards to the whole dressing vs stuffing debate, even my wife and her family from AL/GA call it dressing. They looked at me like I was crazy when I was talking about stuffing. Apparently dressing is made from cornbread, stuffing is made by cubing white-bread. Insert your own joke here.

And since I don't have youtube at work, I'm guessing the "most shocking turn" is either Hogan going NWO or Shawn Michaels kicking Marty Jannety through the glass window. I guess I'll have to wait til I get home to find out.

Aaron C. said...

@MEX -- I'm unabashedly pro-mayo, yo. The only condiment that I vehemently oppose is Miracle Whip (which Mrs. Bootleg uses in her macaroni salad). I just don't see how anyone can be anti-mayo and still eat a turkey sandwich. I mean, come ON, America.

@O. Joe -- I never knew the difference. Well, then. Hey, let me know if there are any other aspects of black culture you'd like to ruin for me with your applied knowledge. (Of course, I kid. And, I now see I'm going to have to be a little less predictable when it comes to links. You've won THIS round, Other Joe.)

LaKisha said...

I honestly think TBG turned the oven up to 500 on my cornbread. I swear the temp was only at 400. He was the only other person in the kitchen. Unless that was the spirit of my beloved dead aunt! I'm not sure.

Mrs. Bootleg

Aaron C. said...

I wish I'd included a brief summary of all the ghosts, apparitions, gremlins and Jalens you blamed for setting the oven to 500 degrees.

Mrs. Bootleg: "I know I set it to 400!"

Me: "Then, why is it at 500?"

Mrs. Bootleg: "Maybe it moved to 500 on its own."

This conversation actually happened, kids.

thai said...

pro-mayo but not pro-chipotle mayo? :-D

i can't believe you went negr-origami. that was good. very good. :-D

Other Joe said...

Technically you still won the Youtube battle b/c I didn't guess it was the Lebron James video. My other guess would have been the Montreal Screwjob. I watched too much wrestling growing up.

Speaking of Lebron, have you seen the new Brand Jordan commercial where Michael Jordan has an answer to Lebron's "what should I do" commercial? I haven't seen it on TV yet, but it's on Youtube.