I’ve done it now. Gotten myself in too deep and forgotten a step- now it’s too late! Will my guests realize the cream cheese is store-bought? Should I feign illness and beg-off when it’s really that I’m ashamed of serving something that is not homemade, even if it’s only a condiment?
A few days ago I read this article and it made me think long and hard about my approach to holiday cooking.
In life I’m spontaneous and a little loco.
In the kitchen, I’m type AAAAAA.
Sure, I can cook off the cuff, often tossing three random ingredients together to make an accidental masterpiece (or failure), but for the most part I plan. I am a firm believer in mise en place. I study. I approach food anthropologically and draft heat maps based on predilections for certain spices. I generally don’t cook from recipes, so planning and research are essential in order to understand the fundamentals and science behind what makes things work.
I realize this makes me part of the 1% (please don’t occupy my kitchen though- I’ll serve you excellent wine if you just stay the eff in the living room), but you know what? I’m ok with that when it comes to cooking. It’s my craft. Everyone should be allowed to be a geek about something, and food is my chosen medium. You know what you can call me without me going all Pulp Fiction on your ass like many of my peers? A Foodie.
I was recently in the kitchen of a friend whose cooking chops I respect and admire, and he pulled out a jar of pre-peeled garlic. In my world, this is tantamount to raping one’s own mother. Luckily he is thick-skinned enough that he shrugged off my jeers and kept the drinks flowing freely for the rest of the afternoon, during which we dismembered a pig head and made noodles from scratch.
Was my derision justified or am I a big ol’ bitch? It’s ok to choose the latter; I’m comfortable with that title. Should I be experiencing gut-wrangling throes of guilt over not making the cream cheese for Thanksgiving dinner? Is someone going to take away my Foodie ID?
On that note, what is homemade? Can someone go to their neighborhood Safeway, pick up a gallon of Lucerne whipping cream, whizz it in the food processor until it separates and really call that homemade butter? Personally I don’t think so because it’s homogenized, ultra-pasteurized cream that came from some mechanical cow who shuddered it out of her udder three months ago and it reached the supermarket shelf via a long journey from Iowa to Idaho. But is mine that much better just because I sought out raw cream from a local farm, cultured it first with homemade yogurt, and preciously finger-kneaded it into butter as soft as a Babylonian’s breast?
On the one hand I have guilt that the cream is not from my own cow whose teats I would have lovingly massaged with Crème de La Mer at the crack of dawn every morning and who I would have fed acorns and basil at mealtime to make both her milk and her life sweeter. On the other, I recognize the inherent lack of sustainability and sheer ridiculousness in the concept of every one of us urbanites raising the bar from backyard chickens to backyard barns.
I’m still going to call my butter homemade. I plan to swath my sourdough-leavened lye bagels in a slick of it, as well as to dapple the French Onion Soup stuffing with it once it emerges from the oven. In order to arrive at French Onion Soup stuffing, I’ve had beef bones simmering for days. I also made sourdough-gruyere bread Monday and swatted away the greedy fingers of my family when they wanted to eat it fresh from the hearth. In other words, I baked bread for the sole purpose of turning it into stale, dry crumbs. But I didn’t grow the grain for the flour in the bread. Nor did I mill even store-bought grain into flour. I did import the flour from France and Italy because I like the way they mill it there better, which I realize makes me a non-locavore at best and an extreme snob at worst, but this is my lot in life and I’m embracing it.
On Thanksgiving I will single-handedly make 15 courses, as will many of you. This does not include the staples that precede those courses, such as the homemade salt, buttermilk, butter, pumpkin puree and sourdough starter. I cannot fathom purchasing a pre-cooked or half-done item, such as rolls in a can, stuffing in a box (I just learned this existed and I’m appalled), or even jarred pumpkin. I realize I have the luxury of time, although I carve it out gingerly and I am prone to neglect when it comes to looming deadlines and bills that need paying. But even when I’ve worked at a job I loathed 60 hours a week for little pay, I prioritized cooking. It makes me happy and clears my head. When I travel too much and my hands start to lose the sense memory of chopping an onion, I feel like a junkie sans heroin.
Ultimately what I’m saying is that it’s ok to over-foodie Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims had to do it that way- there was no Whole Foods to sell them a holiday in a box. By embracing our inner foodies, we are truly giving thanks.
Thanksgiving is the biggest cooking holiday in America and if you want to fling your balls to the wall, do it the way a horse would- with his head held high and his you-know-what hung out and proud.
My turkey is brined and ready to be spatchcocked so I can better fit it into the bag in which it will be sous vided. Afterward it will be sprayed with CO2-charged batter and dipped in a molten vat of duck fat to crisp its skin. Nobody is going to get hurt, dinner will be served on time, there will be plenty of wine, and all in all I’ll have created an idyllic holiday. Except for the mortification of the store-bought cream cheese.