When I was planning my first Christmas dinner after my arrival over here in 2010, I found to my surprise that there are obviously just two options promoted by supermarkets all over the country – you either have turkey, or you have ham. Not like back home where different regions have different traditions. There’s Christmas goose and Christmas carp, Christmas sauerbraten, Christmas fondue, and Christmas raclette. My family used to enjoy a beef roast that was threaded with bacon strips. My new family seems to belong to the turkey fraction with a lot of leeway as to how it is prepared.
Thanksgiving dinner in the Bacon family is definitely a turkey meal. As it was only my husband and I that very first Thanksgiving we celebrated together in our first home in Steilacoom, we made a turkey roll. I cannot remember where my husband bought it. It even came with a package of gravy (much to my distrust, as I prefer to make my gravies from scratch, as you know by now). But it was admittedly very delightful, and we cut down on the sides – no stuffing, no pumpkin pie, no sweet potato casserole. Just beans, gravy, and mashers. Then came the Christmas parties on base – more turkey meals. And the Steilacoom Historical Museum Association’s Annual Dinner – more turkey. By Christmas, I was turkeyed out and decided, I’d go beef. Not the incredibly work-intense larded beef-roast my mother used to make, but something similar.
Of course, when we have guests, I always play it way more traditionally with turkey meals. Cranberry sauce (which I love) and bread stuffing (which I hate) will sit on the table as expected. I make a mean bean casserole these days. And my very own dressing of apples, onions, chestnuts, thyme, sage, rosemary, salt, and pepper comes as another side. But after that one meal, I’m stuck with the rest of the turkey. And there were years when I didn’t think that funny. Remember – all these turkey meals elsewhere …
These days, I see it as a challenge to come up with as many turkey dishes as possible that don’t spell “left-overs”. For one, I make my own bone broth from the turkey carcass. Part of it goes into the gravy. Part of it is frozen to become the basis of a delicious turkey soup with carrots, leeks, and celery. I make turkey ragout fin, i. e. a tarragon white wine sauce with fine veggies (traditionally it would be with white asparagus and mushrooms but not everybody likes these, so carrots will do). Or I create an Asian style curry. Or a spicy turkey and rice salad with pineapple. By the time I’m through with four or five recipes, the turkey is also gone. And Christmas is about to arrive – and no turkey for us! Definitely not!
My husband likes anything duck. So, I have made canard à l’orange or duck breast with a Garam Masal sauce; I have made filets mignons and German roulade, too, to please my palate for beef. Anything but turkey, and my husband plays along.
Well, this year found me with a new Thanksgiving challenge, as we were just by ourselves and didn’t want too much food on the table. The turkey rolls we once got have long vanished, and the turkey roasts that we used to get instead have sorely deteriorated in quality. Last year’s contained so much nasty fat and wrapped-in skin that never got crisp that I decided to create a turkey roll of my very own this year. I found a recipe that calls for garlic, sage, and rosemary, mashed up to a paste with olive oil. I added some thyme, salt, and pepper. I had ordered a fresh turkey breast (as expensive as an entire turkey elsewhere but well worth it for the freshness and flavor). And the left-overs are just another meal or two. Plus what I froze. But that’s still not as much as an entire turkey. So, here we go – another turkey season in the rolling. And what I formerly feared has become somewhat fun and a tradition.
Did I say we haven’t made up our minds as to what our Christmas Day dinner will be this year? We are still debating what we are going to have. But we agree over one thing: surely not turkey. Something that doesn’t render left-overs. Just a nice one-time festive Christmas dinner.