Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sundays with Steve - Unfinished Business

Since I’ve started writing “Sundays with Steve”, I’ve been thinking about vignettes of my life growing up in North Idaho. I realize the town where I grew up and the life I lived with my family is really a classic, all-American story. Perhaps you will recognize some of your childhood in these writings. And perhaps you will recognize the town you grew up in along with some of the characters you knew. Mrs. Steve has encouraged me to write these attempts of “creative writing” as opposed to the more factual journalistic style I was trained in and practiced in my early career many years ago. So my apologies if I stumble a bit here and there trying to blend the two styles together.

Unfinished Business

Thank you for asking. My first ever win in our annual Turkey cook-off was gratifying. It took ten years, a lot verbal pummeling of the voters, tours of the cooking sites, bribes of beer, wine and homemade eggnog, but finally, a win for the most deserving bird at the Matlock house.

You recall the situation from last week’s whine, I’m sure: In ten years of turkey cook-off competition between Mrs. Steve (Mrs. Jenny) and me, Mrs. Steve’s boring perfectly oven-roasted turkey always won over my delectable bird that had been slow cooked on a rotisserie over a charcoal and cherry wood fire to absolute perfection.

I have to admit the contest this year was closer than ever before: Mrs. Steve had loosely stuffed some fresh herbs from the garden and lemons we picked from the tree out front that morning, into the cavity. She then produced what she said was a magical cheese cloth, soaked it in melted butter, then covered her bird as it went into the oven. I will admit, but never publicly of course, that her oven-roasted bird was one of the best Mrs. Jenny had ever cooked.

I pulled out all stops; I had to after confessing my frustrations of the contest in last week’s story. First I soaked my bird (we went with just a turkey breast for the grill this year) in a salt and sugar brine all night, then I carefully mounted it on the rotisserie for a two and a half hour grilling over the hot charcoals and the cherry wood chips. I had soaked the cherry wood in water over night, so that the smoke flavor would be strongest on the surface of the bird, but then getting lighter as you dug deeper into the sweet and juicy meat. It came out very well.

While I was outside tending to the bird, Mrs. Steve prepared a surprise treat of home-made eggnog for our guests. I think it was a bribe for the upcoming vote on best bird.

To counter those tactics, I had to make sure the judges -- our 25 or so Thanksgiving guests -- understood the seriousness of their decision on the vote for the best bird immediately following dinner, so I entertained them during their meal by reading my story from last week, the one of my whining not only about the unfairness of the ten years of turkey cook-offs, but also described Aunt Eugenia and family friend Coxie from Thanksgivings past. After our meal I thought it was a bit strange that not one person said anything about the story I read to them. I think my entertainment may have been a flop -- it must have been suitably boring, just like the oven-cooked bird. Maybe it was an indicator of why my obviously superior bird had never won in the past ten years, or maybe (this was probably it) Mrs. Steve’s overwhelmingly good eggnog and the rest of the enourmous meal was just too good to over-come.

Photo below: oven roasted on the left, BBQ roasted on the right.

But in the end, I bribed and shamed the judges into voting correctly this year, a first, and a resounding win at 13-7. Three or four guests missed the vote, I think they were out in the kitchen with Mrs. Steve, sampling those amazing pies that were up next.

Next year we are going to ramp it up a notch or two, I think, and I’m sure it will take another year-long planning effort to topple the amazing Mrs. Steve’s cooking, once again.

(c) 2010 Stephen J. Matlock
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Pondside said...

Well, from the side-by-side birds I'd have to say that I'd want to try the one cooked on the rotisserie - something about the look of the skin!....but then I'd return to the oven roasted bird because I like mine with gravy.

Cheryl said...

I'd try yours to be polite, but I'm pretty much a purist. Besides, I don't like smoky meat. I'd be the real test of your superiority. If you could win me over, you could win anyone over.

Cheryl said...

Oh, hey! Congratulations! I hope you're being a proper winner.

Along These Lines ... said...

I've been in the US for many years now and am quite acclimatized to the odd collection of casseroles and dishes that appear on a typical US Thanksgiving Day lunch table. But the first few years were quite a shock: OMG, Jello salad? You put green a casserole? Why does my gravy look like wallpaper paste? Don't ask me about the turkey dressing, I didn't know they came clothed. And what the hell is a yam, anyway?

Bossy Betty said...

I am a vegetarian. Could you work your magic with a Tofurkey?? PLEASE??? I'm really trying to like it but....

Anonymous said...

Congrats! Looks delicious!

Although I have to agree with Pondside - you have to cook it in the oven to get gravy. So, we are a two bird family, too. We do one in the oven and a cajun one on the grill. The cajun one always wins at my house, but that leaves the other for those great turkey leftovers!

Judie said...

Steve, I plan to cook a turkey breast on the grill very soon! I love the idea of the cherry wood smoke.

In our family, I am known as the gravy queen, due to a secret ingredient I use with reckless abandon. I'll bet it would even taste better on a grilled bird!!

JJ said...

Jenny: Sounds like you enjoyed a wonderful day. BTW, Bossy Betty, my wife and I are vegetarians, so we went out to dinner. It beats Tofurkey!

H said...

I think I'd like a slice of each please :)