Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate
November 29, 2012
Just call me Princess Mary Mother Magdalene of God Martha Stewart.
That’s right, kitty cats: I’ve officially been domesticated. I’m like a Desperate Housewife of Basalt goddess. Soon I’m going to start prancing around the burbs in a velour Juicy sweatsuit and Uggs with a visor and a high ponytail, botox-frozen expression plastered on my microdermabrasion-buffed face as I flit around doing errands between my mani/pedi and yoga class.
I am feeling very confident in my homemaking, see, because my first-ever Thanksgiving dinner went off without a hitch.
Of course there was the phone call from my mother the night before, going, “We’re at the hospital. Your brother has been in an accident.”
And then my breathless pause, waiting for the worst of news until I finally mustered the strength to utter, “Is he all right?”
And without any expression in her voice, my mom goes, “Your brother is going to be OK, but the car is totaled.” He’d rung his bell pretty good and was getting X-rays and CAT scans, but he was fine, joking around with the doctors and nurses.
She said the bad news was they might not be able to make it to our house for Thanksgiving.
I had to take a long, slow, deep breath and not freak out and scream, “But this is my first Thanksgiving, damnit! We got a 15-pound turkey! I’ve been cooking for eight hours already! What do you mean you’re not coming?”
Ryan’s parents had already arrived. Let me just tell you about Ryan’s parents.
These two are like the antithesis of nightmare in-laws. Rather than impose on us, they arrive at our house and immediately go straight to work. This visit it was paint the front door, install digital thermostats upstairs and downstairs, clean the gutters, winterize the garden, put away all the patio furniture, clean out the mousetraps in the crawl space and install the new trailer hitch they bought for us on the Jeep.
Ryan’s mom, Mimi, was all about cleaning the house nonstop and buying me stuff. She bought us a ’50s-diner-style porcelain table for the mother-in-law apartment (how appropriate) and a handmade end table for the entryway. She gave me her favorite leggings, the ones she bought at Target but were so cool everyone thought they were from Free People or Oilily. I said I liked them, so she took them off and washed them and said, “Here. I’ll just go buy another pair.” And that was it.
She also loves Whole Foods and will drop hundreds of dollars with unbridled enthusiasm, oohing and aahing over all the food and displays like we were at the Metropolitan Museum admiring some rare piece of art. She literally did 10 laps around the place before I’d even made it out of the produce aisle. She’d call me on her cellphone, going, “Where are you?” and then cackle because more times than not, I was standing within eyeshot.
When I told them about my brother, Ryan’s dad said, “If you can’t bring Muhammad to the mountain, we’ll bring the mountain to Muhammad.” These two are so “Minnesota nice” that they were willing to pack up everything and bring it to Steamboat. But in the end, we told my brother we had some special green medicine that is now legal in our state that could fix his head, and that’s all it took.
In the end, preparing Thanksgiving dinner was hardly a chore with Ryan’s parents around. It was fun. It was awesome. And I totally and completely crushed it.
I also have my mother to thank. See, my mother hates Thanksgiving dinner. This is a woman who lives on Kind bars, toast with cottage cheese and bananas (always half) and then works out all day, only to eat a fat-free dinner that consists of a lean protein (grilled), a vegetable (steamed) and a salad (dressing on the side). She hates things cooked in butter and fat. She hates anything casserole, detests marshmallows on sweet potatoes (I’m with her on that one), thinks turkey is bland and doesn’t like pie.
So I was determined. I agree with her that Thanksgiving tends to be too rich, too savory and sweet. I was going to make a meal that was good enough for my mom to enjoy. What was missing was spice.
Let me be the first to tell you, I am all about spice.
I spent weeks researching recipes and found an adobo turkey with red-chili gravy. I made this adobo sauce from scratch. I went to the Mexican market and bought big bags of dried ancho and guajillo chili, varieties you can’t get at City Market. I bought spices in their original form: cinnamon sticks and cumin seeds and allspice berries and whole cloves. I split them and seeded them and toasted them and soaked them and blended them.
Then I drenched that turkey in brine with so many ingredients that we filled an entire grocery cart with stuff to make a bath for a dead bird. There were oranges and lemons and cilantro and oregano, garlic and onion and jalapeno. We threw it all into a garbage bag and soaked it overnight.
I made blue cornbread from scratch for my shrimp stuffing, going so far as to use a cast-iron skillet that I seasoned and heated before even putting the batter in. I bought fresh shrimp that I shelled and cleaned myself. I deglazed vegetables with bourbon and (don’t tell my mother this) cooked them with the entire stick of butter the recipe called for.
I even put a little spin on the cranberry sauce, adding pineapple and chili peppers. Watching those red berries pop as they heated in the pan was strangely satisfying and oddly beautiful.
Now doesn’t that sound like something Martha would say?