Half and Half

Here I sit at my house on Lummi Island, exactly one week post-op.  Last week was a bit of a blur, the edges filtered through narcotics.  It hurt, yes ma’m.  I think the uterus fairies had a prior booking that day and all that were available were Thing 1 and Thing 2.  They banged around and generally bruised everything, but the job was done, in the end.  For a few days following, there was no keeping ahead of the pain.  It showed up every three hours on the dot and demanded a handful of pills as ransom.  I complied and then watched life happen around me in dreamy snippets, half in and half out.  Standout images were of Gabe rustling up a massive Thanksgiving dinner:  20something lb. turkey, two dressings, two kinds of potatoes, gravy,  and cranberries.  Anton playing his bass.  The boys taking Giest in and out for little diversion adventures:  fake hunting in the field, swimming and fetching practice in the strait.  We also became obsessed with this Mansonish hippy band/cult and watched everything they had on the internet.  Yes, our interests range in odd directions.

Then, some Jehovah’s Witnesses actually knocked on my door on Saturday morning.  They were dressed in professional clothing, including panty hose, and I truly admired their dedication to canvas the island on a rain-spitting Saturday morning.  This, and the Pilgrims, and Edward Sharpe tumbled around in my mind and reminded me of myself at one of my most zealous times of life.  I was raised in a small, country,  evangelical community, which if you define cult as “of forming its own culture”, then it was a cult for sure, with its own practices and expectations within a closed membership.  When I was of high school age, I didn’t want to abandon my Christian beliefs, but I became interested in the allowable counter-culture expressions, largely derived from the Jesus Movement.  I was fascinated with communal living and if I had had the connections, would possibly have spent some time doing industrial amounts of cooking and becoming disillusioned in a Christian commune.  These were my first two cookbooks, aside from the Betty Crocker cookbook that was the only one I knew my mom to own.  These books fueled my imagination about the processes behind ingredient driven, formula-based cooking that still interest me today.



My favorite little cafe in Durango, at that time, was called The Warm Flow.  They served food on hand-thrown pottery dishes and had daily postings of their bread, salad, soup, and quiche.  The first thing I cooked from the Tassajara cookbook was a cauliflower and swiss cheese quiche with whole wheat crust.  Proudly presenting this to my family for dinner, it was about as close as I got to seeing my dad cry.  It wasn’t that he was proud of my accomplishment, it was that he couldn’t bear thinking that this was what he had to eat for dinner.

Today is the last day to use up our Thanksgiving turkey and I think I’ll borrow a recipe from my old Tassajara Cooking, making their Half and Half Pie Crust in a pot pie that I think even my dad would love.

Half and Half Pie Crust

Adapted from The Complete Tassajara Cookbook

The half and half title comes from using half white, half whole wheat flour, and half butter, half oil for the fat.

Makes two medium-sized or one large pie crust

  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup oil (I used olive)
  • 5 Tbsp. ice water

Mix together the flours and salt.  Cut in the chilled butter, leaving pea-sized chunks.  Mix in the oil and enough ice water to bind.  Form into one or two disks and chill or freeze until ready to use.  When ready, bake in preheated 400 degree oven until browned.

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Farmers’ Market/Thanksgiving Turkey Pot Pie

This was a delicious use for not only the rest of our shredded turkey, but also the Farmers’ Market vegetables I had optimistically stocked up on two days before my surgery.  They were gracious enough to wait for me in the crisper of the refrigerator until I could come back around.

Cut all vegetables to a similar size.

  • 1 large onion
  • 3 stalks celery and some of the leaves
  • 3 peeled carrots, preferable multi-colored
  • 3 small potatoes, peeled
  • 1 small head of cauliflower
  • 1 small bunch of kale

4 cups shredded meat (preferably turkey)

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup flour

4 cups poultry stock (preferably freshly made turkey stock)

Sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and good quality paprika to taste

In a large,  heavy-bottom pan, saute vegetables in olive oil until beginning to soften, then pour water over them, covering the pot to let them sweat for 5 minutes more.  Add shredded meat.  Sprinkle flour and stir to coat ingredients.  Cook the floured mixture for 2-3 minutes more.  Add poultry stock.  Allow the sauce to thicken a little.  Adjust seasonings.

Pour filling into a deep baking dish.  Roll out pastry and lay over the top.  Place in 400 degree, preheated oven, with a baking sheet underneath to catch drips from boiling over.  Bake until pastry is browned and filling is bubbling.  Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes to cool and allow sauce to thicken.

Turkey Deconstructed

            As I said, we’re not going to be home for Thanksgiving Day this year.  But I’m still sentimental about turkeys, even though I already made an early Thanksgiving dinner with my boys when I was home on Lummi Island in October.  I do highly recommend that butter and wine shrouded turkey we made.

            But when you live overseas, your options are limited both by the availability of turkey and by the size of your oven.  We are fortunate in Tunisia that turkeys were introduced here as a Peace Corps initiative decades ago and they are available year-around.
            For preparation methods, this is a good time to consult the wisdom of American star chefs who live abroad and one of my favorites is David Tanis.  He is the head chef for six months of the year at Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, and then lives a French life for the other six.
I don’t have a small oven here.  I was fortunate to inherit an imported GE Profile, regulation American size.  It is a completely common oven in the US, but here, it is a prize and I do love it.  More the norm, though, is a small oven that can’t hold anything of much breadth.
            David Tanis had this problem and writes about a fortuitous French communication error that ended up leading to one of his best Thanksgiving meals ever.
Americans Abroad
            One year, I was the one making Thanksgiving dinner in Paris, and for this particular meal, it seemed as if we had every expat in town descend on our little Paris apartment on the rue St. Jacques.  There were going to be about forty-five of us in all.  So I went to my neighborhood butcher, Charcellet, to get my turkey.  They have really good turkeys in France—small but tasty—and Parisians know about la fete americaine.  I told the butcher that I wanted him to take the breasts off, take the legs off, and save me all the bones.  I told him I needed three birds, see you tomorrow, au revoir.
            I came back the next day and he showed me what he’d done; instead of cutting off the legs and breasts, he had deboned the whole turkeys, as only a master butcher can do.  I marveled.  It turned out to be a brilliant solution because we have the tiniest oven in the world.  At first the birds were flat as roadkill, but I put salt and pepper all over them, smeared the insides with garlic and thyme and sage in great quantity, molded them back into a bird shape, and tied them with string to keep them compact.
            Long story short, I found that three compact little re-formed turkeys would fit side by side in one roasting pan.  When they came out of the oven, I had perfectly cooked roast turkeys with not a speck of unusable anything!  And the cooking time was only an hour and a half.
            Our friends said it was the best turkey they’d ever had in their lives.  You could slice through the body as if it were a galantine—all meat and no stuffing.  And this technique applies to every bird in the world.  All you need is a good butcher or a lot of patience.  Simpler by far is the recipe for the deconstructed bird that follows.
Roasted and Braised Turkey with Gravy
            I always prefer to cook a smaller turkey.  The secret to great flavor is to season the turkey overnight so begin this process the day before.  You can make the broth a day ahead, too.
            Have the butcher remove the legs with the thighs attached, cut off the wings, and cut the boneless breast in 2 pieces.  While you’re at it, ask him to chop up the carcass for your stock.  You’ll be going home with 2 whole legs with thighs, 2 wings, the skin-on breast in 2 pieces and a bag of bones.  Make sure to get the giblets, too.
For the turkey
One 12- to 14-pound turkey, cut into six parts (as above)
Salt and pepper
1 bunch sage leaves, chopped
1 small bunch thyme, leaves stripped and chopped
6 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste with a little salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
For the broth
3 pounds turkey carcass and bones (or other poultry bones)
1 large onion, peeled, halved, and stuck with 1 clove
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 or 3 slices dried porcini mushroom
About 6 quarts water
For the braise
3 tablespoons butter
2 large onions, chopped
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
Parsley or watercress sprigs
Put all the turkey pieces out on a big cutting board and season well on both sides with salt and pepper.
            Mix the sage, thyme, and garlic in a small bowl and add the olive oil.  Spoon the seasoning mixture over the meat and smear it in well.  Put the legs and wings in a container, cover, and refrigerate.  Wrap the breasts in plastic and refrigerate.
            To make the broth, preheat the oven to 400’F.  Put the turkey carcass and bones, onion, carrot, celery, and bay leaves in a roasting pan and into the oven.  Roast for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until everything is nicely browned.
            Transfer the browned vegetables and bones to a big soup pot.  Splash a little water into the roasting pan to dissolve any tasty bits left in the pan, and put into the pot.  Add the dried mushroom and water and bring to a boil.  Skim off the scum, turn the heat down to a simmer, and let it cook slowly for 1 ½ to 2 hours.
            Strain the broth through a sieve.  You should have about 5 quarts of turkey broth.  Cool, then refrigerate; when ready to use, skim off the fat that has risen to the surface.
            To make the braise, preheat the oven to 400’ F.  Put the legs and wings in a large roasting pan, with enough room so they’re not crowded.  Put the pan in the oven and let the parts roast while you prepare the braising liquid. 
            In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the onions and season them with salt and pepper.  Let them cook gently, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes.  Turn up the heat and let the onions color a little bit.
            With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour and tomato paste and mix well.  Add the red wine and 2 cups of the turkey broth and bring to a simmer, stirring as the sauce thickens.  Gradually stir in 2 more cups of broth.
            Remove the pan of legs and wings from the oven.  They should be nicely golden, but not too dark.  Pour the braising liquid over the legs.  Cover the pan tightly with foil and return to the oven.  Reduce the heat to 350’ F and let it go for about 1 ½ hours, or until the legs are tender when tested with a fork.  Transfer the legs and wings to a cutting board and let them cool slightly.
            Strain the braising liquid through a fine-mesh sieve into a saucepan, skimming off any fat tat rises.  This will be your gravy.  Taste the sauce for seasonings and texture.  If it’s too thin, reduce it a bit over medium heat until it reaches a consistency you like.  Set aside.  (The braise can be done hours ahead or the day before and refrigerated.)
            When the turkey parts are cool enough to handle, remove the let meat from the bones in large pieces and tear the meat from the wings.  Cut the meat into rough slices and put in a baking dish.  Cover and hold at cool room temperature.
            Remove the breasts from the refrigerator and let them come to room temperature.  The breasts will take only about a half hour to roast, so they can be started up to an hour before dinner in a 375’ F oven.  Put them in a shallow roasting pan, skin side up, and into the over.  Check at 30 minutes—you want an internal temperature of 140’F (The temperature will continue to rise as they rest.)  Let them rest on a platter, loosely covered, for 15 to 30 minutes before carving.
            Shortly before serving, reheat the dark meat in the oven for 10 to 15 minute, until heated through.  Reheat the gravy and put it in a serving bowl.
            Slice the turkey breasts on an angle, not too thickly.  Arrange the turkey on a warm platter and garnish with parsley or watercress.
(Tanis, David.  2010.  Heart of the Artichoke.  New York, Artisan.)
This is going out to all of my expatriate friends all over the world.  Happy Thanksgiving with the families you’ve pulled around you.