Thursday, November 22, 2012

No parade, just pork sausage

Two years ago, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade went right past the BF's bedroom window. The balloons floated past at eye level while we had our morning tea and my mom in Hawaii watched from my laptop on Skype.

I can confidently say that I will never again watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The route has changed and the BF has moved apartments, so I'd have to either watch it on television or stand out in the cold sandwiched between Midwesterners and their sticky, screaming children. Both choices would sully that one perfect Thanksgiving morning when I got to laze around in a comfy bed, waving to Hello Kitty and Spider-Man as they floated past me.
No, Thanksgiving 2012 begins with me sitting in an apartment that has smelled overwhelmingly of pork sausage for the last three days. I don't know what to do about it. I've windexed the stove, the counter, the floor in front of the stove, the top of the fridge and microwave and kitchen cabinets, and the outside of the toaster. I even opened the window one evening and turned on the ceiling fan, 45 degree windchill be buggered, but I woke up this morning, took a whiff, and sure enough--stale pork.

This is why I hate cooking meat.

People sometimes ask me if I'm a vegetarian, especially at work when I warm up my lunch in the microwave. They see the brown rice and steamed broccoli and assume I'm on some sort of moral and nutritional high ground, looking down on the peasants with their take-out meatballs and shredded beef.

But the truth is that I'm just cheap and lazy. I cook all of my own meals because it's cost-effective, and I cook mostly vegetables because clean-up is easier when you don't have to deal with hot grease and bits of animal flesh. If I don't cook meat, I can put off taking out the trash for days before the fruit and vegetable rinds start to stink.

That's not to say that I don't know how to cook. Every time I went home to the Big Island for a summer break in college, I would cook up a storm. I was finally a big enough Big Island Rachel to be trusted with all food gathering and preparation, and since I never had a kitchen the whole time I lived in Honolulu, I tended to go a little nuts in my mother's kitchen.

I experimented. Many batches of hummus and falafel with varying degrees of success; lots of butternut squash soup and fish-and-bacon chowder, I perfected those recipes early on (the secret is half a pound of butter); creme brulee, scones, and a sort of tropical fruit tart that I drizzled with 151 rum and set on fire to impress the neighbors; cold pasta salad loaded with olives and palm hearts; eggs Benedict and Florentine; omelets.

That was just summertime cooking. Coming home for winter breaks meant cooking for the holidays, and say what will you about the New York party scene, nobody parties like the Big Island at Christmas. I cooked a picture-perfect turkey with the lightly browned stuffing spilling out of its ass; lamb roast with rosemary-red wine marinade; filet mignon with wasabi-sesame sauce; deep fried coconut shrimp; dressing with smoked oysters, celery and craisans; deviled eggs; stuffed mushrooms.

All of this to say that I can cook like a 1950s housewife whose only worth is measured in how well she can stuff the cake-holes of her womb-worms. I just choose not to.

When I started working full-time, cooking became more of a chore than a hobby. It has to be done every day without fail, and then I have to clean up without the help of party guests or family members. Because I'm using my own money, or lack thereof, I can't experiment or cook anything I'm not certain will come out perfectly edible. And after being let off the hook from holiday party cooking for four years, I've grown accustomed to sleeping in on Thanksgiving and not walking around with blisters on my fingers, stains down my front, and the smell of cooking oil in my hair.

Which is not to say that my cooking phase was wasted. Although my meals have gotten a lot less elaborate since college, the skills I picked up serve me well in my daily life. Cooking can be very intimidating if you don't know what you're doing. Even a simple meal like baked chicken with green beans and potatoes will undo you if you can't tell when the food is finished cooking but not over-cooked, and you'll quickly lose interest in the few things you know how to prepare if you don't know how to mix it up a little. Mix the leftover chicken with penne pasta and Parmesan cheese; chill the green beans and eat them with salad dressing; put a fried egg on the potatoes.

Once or twice a year, however, the time does come when I'm called on to bring a dish to a party. For this occasion, I have one recipe stashed away in my memory bank that never fails to impress: stuffed mushrooms. I like this recipe because it combines many of my favorite things: not measuring ingredients, doing most of the cooking the night before, easy vegetarian and carnivore versions, and the illusion of something difficult and expensive that is actually neither.

I'm about to give away my secret recipe! Nations will crumble under the weight of these revelations.

Stuffed mushrooms require largish mushrooms; cream cheese; onions; red bell peppers; and hot Italian sausage. (I used to put bleu cheese in the mixture, too, but I don't actually like bleu cheese, and why would I cook something I don't like?) I mince the onion and pepper, saute them over low heat until they soften, mix them with cream cheese, and put a spoonful of that mixture into a mushroom cap. That's my veggie version. For the meat version, I take the sausage meat out of the casings, brown it until it's cooked through, and mix that into cream cheese with more of the onion and pepper. This is all done the night before. The morning of, I put them in the oven for about half an hour to cook the water off the mushrooms, and there you have it. Big Island Rachel's stuffed mushrooms, perfect for the office Thanksgiving party.

And that is why my apartment currently smells of spicy pork.

From all of us at Big Island Rachel and the Rodent Hour, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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