We take Thanksgiving seriously at Cowlick Cottage Farm. The table is set with crisp white linens that are embroidered with a big ass “B”, and we lay out our wedding china, the old family sterling and the antique crystal that belonged to Eric’s grandmother. Candles and whatever is pretty from the garden make the centerpiece. The food is very important, and I am not given a lot of leeway with regards to the menu, because everyone wants exactly the same thing that we have each Thanksgiving. We serve sweet potatoes from the garden, homemade cranberry jelly, a grownup version of fresh green been casserole with shallots and mushrooms, garlic mashed potatoes with cream, gravy made from the turkey juices, oyster stuffing, and creamed pearl onions–the family favorite. I make a double batch of onions every year, thick with heavy cream and spiced with a hint of nutmeg and fresh ground pepper. We always run out. It seems outlandish to me to make a triple batch, but I just might have to, especially as the girls keep bringing home hungry young men. More men, more creamed onions! Just…more! These days, the young men might change, but the creamed onions don’t.
But of course, the star of Thanksgiving dinner is always the turkey. It has to be fresh, gorgeous, and cooked to perfection, with a deep, rich mahogany color. It has to make your mouth water. This year, we decided to do a trial run of three or so different turkey recipes, so that by Thanksgiving, we would reach Turkey Nirvana. So today is our first weekend of The Turkey Trials. Today’s turkey has been soaking in a brine of water, sea salt, raw sugar, orange, clove and cinnamon since last night. And it just went on the Big Green Egg to smoke for a few hours, with applewood and mesquite to give it a little kick of extra smoky flavor. Just before it’s done, we’ll douse it with a mop of melted butter. Since it’s just another Sunday here, and we are in the midst of yet another renovation project, we will serve it simply, sliced thin on fresh toasted rye bread with an orange-Dijon mayonnaise. The turkey will feed us well for the next few days…maybe a soup, or turkey spaghetti, along with sandwiches for lunch. After we try it this evening, we’ll give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down! Next weekend, we’ll be trying another recipe.
Meanwhile, we are renovating one of the three fireplaces in the cottage. The fireplaces are one of the many romantic touches that made us fall in love with CCF, but they were in rough shape. When we first moved in, we did the hard work of having the chimneys cleaned. Unused for generations, they had years worth of squirrel nests and debris in them. It was a job for professionals. Once they were cleaned out, we had them sealed and piped for gas logs. While this was an expensive investment, it cost far less than repairing them all to burn wood, plus it was more energy efficient and provided extra heat. Even though we live in north Florida, it still gets pretty chilly in the wintertime, and the warmth is welcome. But, we hadn’t attended to the cosmetics. The poor old fireplaces had been “renovated” with cheap red tile and surrounded with pine trim. The surrounds are cracked, and nothing is square, which drives my husband crazy. The 1970s trailer park is NOT the look we‘re going for. Our goal is to bring the old fireplaces back to life and to give them a facelift with rustic slate tiles that fit our cottage motif and the country feel of our old house. The slates are rich with the colors that we have throughout the cottage, soft greens, rich golds and mellow wines. While my husband pulls out the old diamond saw, I seal the tiles to enhance the colors and protect them. Now the tiles remind me of the stones I used to gather in the crystal clear lakes and streams in New Hampshire, and I love them even more. Today, we are working on the fireplace in the master bedroom. I open the windows to let the smoky, citrus scent of the turkey waft in. Mmmmmm.
I’ll be back in awhile, I’ve gotta help lay some tile!
A little while later…
My husband is a consummate professional. He can smoke a turkey, train a dog, lead me through a waltz, set in windows, write a thesis, design a web site, lift up a car, and lay down some tile. But he cannot find his tools. So it takes us about two hours to find all the tools we need and one long chat on the front porch to get ourselves together. I have learned to enjoy the process. After that, it only takes us about an hour and a half to hand cut and lay the tiles. It’s the way we do things around here.
We finish what we can get done today, and the turkey is ready! We give it a mixed thumbs up. It’s very moist and a beautiful color. The flavor is great, with just a hint of citrus, and the orange Dijon mustard complements it nicely. But the family consensus was that while we would definitely cook it this way again, it doesn’t have the rich, aromatic holiday flavor that we are searching for. It’s a great recipe for a non-holiday turkey, but we won’t use this one for Thanksgiving.
Turkey Trial number two is coming up soon!