Thanksgiving Recipes I Liked

“When you cook from a recipe book… That’s Mathematics!”
                                                                                 – Tom Lehrer

The trouble with making a particular meal only once a year is that by the next time you make it, you forget everything you did and have to plan from scratch all over again. I fell into that trap this year and never want to again, so I’m writing down this year’s recipes while they’re still fresh in my mind. These have elements of a few different recipes I saw in the Times and in Mark Bittman’s book. The gravy recipe, which we pretty much made up on the fly, is the real winner here.

If you didn’t come here for recipes, the next one will come with a math problem, I promise.

Roasted Turkey

Ingredients

1 turkey, 12-14 lb.
3 onions
4-5 carrots
4-5 sticks of celery
Garlic
Olive oil (for seasoning)
1 oz fresh sage (amount approximate, usually sold as a package)
1 oz fresh rosemary
1 oz fresh tarragon
1 oz fresh thyme
1 pint of hard apple cider
Salt
Pepper (to be freshly ground)

Seasoning

Take half of the fresh herbs you have, rinse, and mince finely. In a bowl, mix 4-5 tbsp of olive oil with the minced herbs. Chop several cloves of garlic very finely and add to the bowl. Add about 1 tbsp salt and 1 tbsp freshly ground pepper. Mix well.

Turkey

Remove innards and wash turkey inside and out. Starting from the breast, reach under the skin with your fingers to loosen it away from the meat. Reach your hands under the skin all the way around the turkey, including the underside, as well as under the thighs and down the legs. You should be able to separate all the skin away from the meat except around the wings. (It’s OK if you have a few holes in the skin.) Then rub seasoning under the skin, all through the turkey meat. Rub any leftover seasoning over the outside of the breast.

Chop about 5 cloves of garlic coarsely and rub in the bowl in which you made your seasoning, so it gets covered with olive oil and any remaining herbs. With a sharp knife, poke holes through the turkey meat and stick a piece of oiled garlic in each hole, so it goes inside the meat.

Place the remaining fresh herbs, and an onion cut up into coarse pieces (4-8) into the turkey cavity.

Place the turkey breast up in a large roasting pan. Sprinkle liberally with salt and freshly ground pepper. Pour the hard cider into the bottom of the pan. Add water so the liquid is about 1/3 inch deep. Add the (washed) turkey innards to the bottom of the pan. Chop the two remaining onions, carrots, and celery coarsely and add to the bottom of the pan. Place a carrot chunk or two in the neck cavity to close it up.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Put in turkey, legs first. After 20 minutes or so, or once breast is brown, reduce to 350 degrees. Baste with liquid from the bottom of the pan every half hour or so. Roast until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 155-165 degrees (likely 2-3 hours total if your stove is like mine). Remove from oven, remove from roasting pan, and cool.

Turkey-Vegetable Gravy

Remove vegetables, turkey innards, and any large chunks of turkey goop from the roasting pan. Heat remaining turkey juice/cider/water mixture in the roasting pan over two burners. Depending on how much gravy you want, you can add broth (we were making cream of mushroom soup at the same time and the extra broth from the mushrooms worked well). Once mixture is boiling, add a small amount of flour to thicken, but not too much (it will get a lot thicker when you add the vegetables).

Take the vegetables that were in the bottom of the turkey pan and puree them well in a food processor. Add to gravy and stir.

Cranberry-Apple Sauce

3 packages fresh cranberries
5 Granny Smith apples (peeled)
1½ cups sugar

Fill a large pot with about 5 cups of water, and add the cranberries and water. Bring to a boil. Add sugar and stir. Simmer for about 2 hours. Let cool (it will continue to thicken as it cools).

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Fall Math Notes I: The Area Table

This fall, I’ve been teaching a math workshop for grade school kids (grades 3-6) in my town. Once a week for an hour and a half, covering the typical topics for kids this age: multiplication, division, place value, fractions. We’ve wrapped up now (last week was the last class), so I wanted to note down a few impressions before I forget it all.

One thing that worked pretty well was identifying multiplication and area. I started one of the first classes with the following exercise: take a grid (say 10 by 10). Pick a box in the grid, count the number of boxes that are above and/or to the left of that box, and write that number in your box. (Alternately, draw a rectangle extending from the top left of the grid to the box you picked, and count the number of boxes in that rectangle.) For example, if you pick the box in the 4th row (counting from the top) and 5th column (counting from the left) of your grid, then the boxes above and to the left are marked in green in the picture below, and there are 20 of them:

original-937559-1

You don’t need to do anything more here than count boxes, but of course the point is that 20 boxes = 4 rows × 5 columns and also that 20 is the area of the green rectangle (each 1 by 1 box has an area of 1 square unit, so 20 boxes is 20 square units of area).

I had the kids repeat this for every box in the grid. The number you write down in each box is the product of the corresponding row and column, and you end up with the good old multiplication table. I liked how this worked out for a few reasons:

  1. It was a way for the kids to figure out the multiplication table themselves, and get it right. No memorization, and little required in the way of prerequisites or arithmetic skills. (When you’re working with kids with different backgrounds, that’s a very important advantage.) The kids were pretty enthusiastic about doing it.
  2. It was a big enough table that counting boxes over and over got tedious, so the kids started to look for shortcuts. They noticed right away that the numbers in each row increase by the index of that row (e.g., 5th row = counting by 5’s). That helped them fill the table out pretty quickly. It also gave us an excuse to talk about why that worked (each time you take a step to the right in the 5th row, you add 5 boxes).
  3. When we were done, we didn’t just have a multiplication table, we had good geometric intuition to go with it. Meaning, we knew how to think of the table as a family of overlapping rectangles, and every number in the table as an area! (I almost wanted to call the thing the area table instead of the multiplication table, but decided I shouldn’t saddle the kids with made up terminology.) Then we could find more patterns in the table, and try to explain those patterns geometrically. For example, a 5 × 5 square has one more box than a 6 × 4 rectangle (25 = 24 + 1), a 7 × 7 square has one more box than an 8 × 6 rectangle (49 = 48 + 1), etc., and we could explain that by moving boxes around. For another example, if you just stick to the nested squares, the number of boxes you need to add to each square to get the next square grows in a linear way (4 = 1 + 3, 9 = 4 + 5, 16 = 9 + 7, 25 = 16 + 9, 36 = 25 + 11, and so on), and you can see and count the extra boxes explicitly. There are hints here of algebra (x2 – 1 = (x + 1) (x – 1)) and even calculus (derivative of x2 is 2x), and you can get at them just by counting and moving boxes.

More to come (Division! Fractions! Place value!). You can’t wait, can you? Meanwhile, happy Thanksgiving.

Everybody Knows

Has football left us mute? The facts are right in front of your nose; here are a few:

Junior Seau, All-Pro linebacker, Chargers/Dolphins/Patriots. 1969-2012.
Dave Duerson, All-Pro safety, Bears/Giants/Cardinals. 1960-2011.
Mike Webster, All-Pro center, Steelers/Chiefs. 1952-2002.

They are just some of the most famous ones. There are others, and there will be more. The evidence piles up, more long articles appear, here, there, the New York Times, ESPN. We watch, we see the hits, we know what they mean, and yet most of us are unable to speak. Watch the game video below, all the way through. Listen to the announcers; what’s not said is terrifying.

“Everybody Knows” is a song by Leonard Cohen, in which the singer manages to speak plainly about our inability to speak plainly. Cohen was not writing about football, but he may as well have been:

Everybody knows the dice are loaded,
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed.
Everybody knows the war is over,
Everybody knows the good guys lost.
Everybody knows the fight was fixed,
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich,
That’s how it goes, everybody knows.

Everybody knows the boat is leaking,
Everybody knows the captain lied.
Everybody’s got this broken feeling,
Like their father or their dog just died.
Everybody talking to their pockets,
Everybody wants a box of chocolates,
And a long-stemmed rose. Everybody knows.

Everybody knows it’s now or never,
Everybody knows it’s me or you.
Everybody knows you live forever,
When you’ve done a line or two.
Everybody knows the deal is rotten,
Old Black Joe’s still picking cotton
For your ribbons and bows. And everybody knows.

Let’s speak plainly. And let’s stop watching snuff films football.

Open Up Doors and Rooms Appear Like Magic

The Mekons are a rock band that a few people really like. Judging by the symptoms — heard all their records, seen them live in multiple time zones, even went to see “Revenge of the Mekons,” Joe Angio’s documentary about the band, when it premiered at DOC NYC last year — I am one of these people. This October, the movie returned to New York for a one-week run at Film Forum, which was occasion for Columbia University to convene a panel about the band’s stance and music, and for me to geek out on yet another kind of Mekons event. (A panel about the Mekons? At Columbia? Why, yes: you are not getting old because you’re hearing things, you’re getting old because Columbia is holding a panel about the Mekons.) After all that, I didn’t exactly need to go back and see the movie one more time, but my older son likes the band too, and sometimes he and I and my wife play their songs together, and DOC NYC and the Columbia panel had been way past his bedtime, so, OK, let’s go?

When you follow a band over many years, you join a community, with the attendant feelings of familiarity and comfort. Which may seem contrary to the punk ethos (quote-unquote) of challenge and rebellion, but most of us find it easier to question the status quo in the company of friends. At the Columbia event, Greil Marcus had read from an essay that set the Mekons up as comforters for society’s exiles, the kind of knowing, good-humored companions you want to have, even as the world crumbles around you. That came back to me now, sitting in the dark with my son, other fans around us, waiting to hear the chiming-at-midnight opening E chords of Where Were You (one of the band’s canonical anthems, or anti-anthems, which opens the movie). Our own version of a cozy barstool on Cheers, waiting for Norm to show up.

But the best music also knocks you off your barstool, even when you’re sure you’ve heard it all before. And so, about two thirds of the way through the movie, peeking out from in between the band’s greatest hits, or what would have been if they ever had any (Now in one place, all your favorite Mekon chart-toppers! Last Dance! Memphis Egypt! Hard to be Human! The Curse!), I caught something much less familiar. Sally Timms’s voice was at the center of it, slow, jaded, yet full of drama. The guitars behind the vocal were simultaneously grand and tense, chords building, and not resolving. There was only a snippet of the song, barely enough to catch your attention, but it was more operatic than anything I had ever heard from the band, and in that moment it made my head spin, and then it was gone.

What had I heard? I figured it out the next day: a song called Love Letter, off an album called I ♥ Mekons, which the band released in the early 90’s after two years of record label limbo, to a remarkably indifferent reception even by Mekons standards. I bought the album when it first came out, fell in love with the dynamite first cut (Millionaire, a gloriously poppy cross between Heart of Glass and Cyndi Lauper’s version of Money Changes Everything), and mostly ignored the rest. I managed to forget the record entirely after my copy vanished a few years later during a move between coasts. Now I found it online and dialed up the song.

It opens with the same majestic guitar I had heard for an instant in the movie, waves crashing against the rocks. Then the music calms a bit and the vocal comes in. Sounding as compromised as she did on Millionaire, but a bit more distant, Sally tells the story of a doomed love affair. A man, out of sorts, likely away from home, is writing to his lost love. He has probably just been with someone else. Having set the scene, Sally becomes the man, expresses his turmoil and contradictions: he loves and hates the woman he is writing to at the same time. The pace is slow, the man conflicted, but then, with no warning whatsoever, there’s a great rush forward, a decision. “When you come back to me!” the singer cries. A boulder rolls down a hill, faster than you could have imagined, and shatters at the bottom.

Then the chorus. “Open up doors and rooms appear like magic,” and the music opens up too. It calls up new worlds to discover, but the singer warns you to be afraid as you walk down the hall: monsters, not prizes, hide behind these doors. Guitars rise up again and now you realize Sally is speaking as the woman, toying with the man: “Oblige me and I’ll scorn you… Offend me and you’ll see how much trouble I can be.” Was this the section I had heard in the film? The turbulence dies down, without resolving. The woman, an exile too, just as compromised as the man, receives his letter, crumples it up. The water roils, the boulder rolls down the hill once more, the waves crash again.

Hearing the song again, I couldn’t believe it made no impact on me when I first encountered it. It’s filled with thrills: that mad rush forward, the sense of endless discovery in the chorus. The singer may try to hold you back with her words, but the music pulls you ahead, you can’t help opening one door after another. Walking down the street the next day, fully engaged with the song, hearing it over and over, I still saw those doors, and I couldn’t help thinking that the miracle of the Mekons’ music, over all these years, has been that endless sense of surprise, for both the listeners and the band. And I couldn’t help thinking back to the end of the film, which gives Greil Marcus, music enthusiast and Mekons champion, the last word: “They still play as if they are discovering their music. Talk about capturing the punk ethos!” No quote-unquote needed now.

Open up doors. Away on a business trip a few days later, I called my wife, who told me: “Your son just discovered Hüsker Dü!” He had found their music on an old iPod of mine that he dug up I have no idea where. I don’t remember exactly what was on the Pod, and I don’t know how he decided to put on Hüsker Dü, but he did, listened a bit, turned to his mother, and said: “Mommy! What is this rocking music?” New worlds ahead to discover, always.

Bumgarner

Before winter comes, one more baseball note, a Red Sox fan’s perspective on Bumgarner:

The most imposing pitching performance I saw before this week was Pedro Martinez against the Indians in the deciding game of the 1999 AL Division Series. Pedro got hurt in the first game of the series, done for the year, we feared. The Red Sox lost the first two games, then won the next two to tie it. Instead of a classic for the last game, we appeared to get a farce, wiffle ball in the back yard, 8-8 already after 3½ innings. And all of a sudden Pedro was there, coming in from the bullpen unexpectedly in the bottom of the 4th. He looked fragile at first, feeling around for pitches, but got an out, then another and another. A second scoreless inning, then a third: still 8-8 after 6, a completely different game. Pedro wasn’t the usual kind of overpowering, just magical: the Indians could not touch him. Troy O’Leary put the Sox up with a three run homer in the top of the 7th. Pedro finished the game, six hitless innings in relief, Sox win. A classic after all.

And now Bumgarner. Not injured, but pitching in Game 7 on two days’ rest after a complete game shutout in Game 5. He came into the game in the 5th inning with the Giants having just gone up 3-2: two parts Pedro, one part Derek Lowe (who won Game 7 in 2004 for the Sox against the Yankees on two days rest: 6 innings, 1 run, the Yanks’ bats totally lifeless). Pedro had dazzled the Indians, Lowe somehow smothered the Yanks, Bumgarner was doing both at once to the marvelous Royals. He made a simple change to the terms of the game: you had been allowed to hit balls hard before, and now you weren’t. When he finished the game, having walked that 3-2 tightrope, in full stride, for the last five innings, the official scorers didn’t know what to do with him. Should he get the win, or the save? How about both? And his daddy loves him.

I love my boys too. I took the older one to his first game last year, Red Sox-Royals at Fenway Park. Buying tickets that spring, I didn’t know it would be the first game back after the marathon bombing, or what the two teams would have in store for us over the next two years. My son fell in love with the Royals’ blue uniforms, and wasn’t happy at all when Nava hit a home run to win the game for the Sox in the bottom of the 8th, and the park roared. By last fall, he had warmed to the Red Sox. This year they were all about backyard wiffle ball, in full role play mode, the older one Ortiz, the younger one Pedroia. My younger son got to his first major league game this year, A’s-Angels out on the west coast, and we learned that the boys look great in A’s hats. We came back east at the end of the summer with new terms for our backyard games: they would be the A’s, I would be the Red Sox. Then the playoffs began, and now the boys were the Royals, Gordon and Cain. Watching the last game of the Series, with my older son cheering loudly for Kansas City, and the younger one for both teams, I couldn’t wait to see who they’ll be when we play wiffle ball in the yard next year.