04 December 2011

LIFE: Doin' the Turkey Trot

SARONNO,  Italy – A week or so ago I decided that I wanted to have Thanksgiving this year. Seeing as it is not a holiday that is celebrated in Italy, it’s easy to kind of let it slip by and next thing you know it’s Christmas. 

But I like Thanksgiving, especially the food, roast turkey and dressing, candied sweet potatoes, veggies, salad, cranberry sauce, hmmmm, makes my mouth water just thinking about it.  And because I wanted to invite a few Italians around for a taste of real American food, but I also wanted them to be happy, I added pumpkin ravioli with butter and sage as a first course. 
It’s a little difficult to find some traditional Thanksgiving foods here in Italy, especially cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes and in other years I’ve gone up to Lugano, Switzerland to buy those items. I didn’t make it up to Lugano this year so scratch the sweet potatoes and the cranberry sauce. No problem. I decided to substitute Italian mostarda for the cranberries – mostarda is small whole fruits that have been preserved in a spicy syrup, and as for the candied sweets, well, even if I had found real sweet potatoes they don’t sell the type of brown sugar I need to candy them anyway. 

So what’s left. Pumpkin ravioli, roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, some kind of vegetable, salad, pumpkin pie, that sounds ok. Actually it sounds pretty good. Mashed potatoes, no problem. Vegetables, those we have by the bushel full, salad too. Pumpkin pie? 

Ooops, no pumpkins in the markets. Fortunately Silvia offered to bring her Tiramisu  so I settled on pears poached in sparkling white wine with a dark chocolate sauce. As you can see, the menu is evolving. Now I have ravioli, roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, zucchini and carrots, salad, Sara’s potato and prosciutto torte, Silvia’s Tiramisu and poached pears with dark chocolate sauce. 
 Can you UPS Pumpkins?
I spent most of Monday and Tuesday going around to the grocery stores in Saronno trying to order a turkey. My oven is small so I wanted one that weighed no more than 10lbs. The first stop was the grocery store where I do most of my shopping. 

“I think that’ll work,” the butcher told me, “but come back tomorrow and I’ll let you know for sure.”

No problem. I’ve ordered turkeys from them before and they always delivered. Next day I went back to find that the butcher I had spoken to was not there, there was another guy. I told him my conversation with butcher No. 1 and asked about my turkey.

“Oh, I don’t know anything about that,” he said. “There’s no way I can get you a whole turkey this week, it’s too early. Whole birds are not available until the week after next.”

“But how much of a problem can it be,” I asked. “Just pick up the phone, call the distributor, tell them you need one now.”
Wanna Mean There's No Turkey?
He just shook his head. No can do.

Fine. I then went to Walter’s Poultry Store, a little hole in the wall shop that only sells poultry. For sure Walter can get me a whole turkey, right? 

“I’m not sure,” he said. “Let me call my supplier, hang on a minute.” He picked up his cell phone and dialed a number and explained to whoever answered what he wanted. Then came a series of “ahha, ok, I see, hmmm, va bene, etc.”

He put his hand over the his phone and said, “he’s checking, but it’s going to cost you 20€ a kilo.”

What? 20 euro a kilo. That’s about $14 a pound. What in hell did they feed this bird? Truffles and caviar? We're talking turkey here, not some exotic creature. 

“Ah, hold on a second,” I said. “Let me think about this for a minute before I commit to spending $140 for a turkey.” 

He shook his head as he put the phone down. “He can’t get it,” he said, “sorry.”
Don't Look at Me, I Ain't No Turkey
So even if I had agreed to pay $140 for a turkey it’s not available. That stinks. Alright now, there are other grocery stores, let me shop around a little. At Grocery Store No. 2 the butcher shook his head and said, “not possible, sorry.” 

I trot up to Grocery Store No. 3, now I’m getting worried. Just where in hell do I have to go to get a turkey in this town? 

The butchers in Grocery Store No. 3 are glassed in behind a tall counter I can hardly see over, and they certainly cannot see me. Not being one that is easily deterred, I walk into the back of the store – entering absolutely forbidden territory - and signal to the butcher that I need to talk to him. 

He seemed like a nice guy, and he was. I explain what I want and he says he will order a turkey for me, maybe not quite 10 lbs, but at least 8 lbs. “OK, fine,” I say.  

“Just one thing,” he says, “ you have to pick it up on Thursday because that’s when the poultry come in.”

No problem.

Now I felt better and got on with the rest of the things I had to do. Thursday morning I hike up to Grocery Store No. 3 – which is without exaggeration at least a mile from my apartment. However, I have to say the thrill of going to pick up my Thanksgiving turkey outweighed any and all inconveniences. 

When the butcher saw me, his face fell. “I’m sorry,” he said, “they didn’t send it. Maybe they didn’t have one ready for today, can you come back tomorrow?”
I was disappointed, he seemed disappointed but it didn’t matter how disappointed we were, there was no turkey to be had that day. Next day I went back, a little annoyed at having to trudge up there again, but …… Thanksgiving only comes once a year. 

When I saw the hound dog look on his face I knew there was not going to be a turkey in my future. No roasted turkey, no candied sweet potatoes, no cranberry sauce, no green bean casserole (did I mention there is no Campbell soup here?), no pumpkin pie. 

Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce
New menu. Pumpkin ravioli, two capons with dressing and gravy, mashed potatoes and gravy, zucchini and carrots (my secret recipe), Sara’s potato and prosciutto torte, mostarda, Silvia’s Tiramisu and poached pears. Hummphf, that doesn’t sound very Thanksgiving like to me. My first reaction was was to make up a bunch of signs and protest the Industrial Alimentary Complex that controls what I eat and when I eat it, my second reaction was to roast up the capons, mash the potatoes, make the gravy and the rest of the stuff, put it on the table, break open a couple of bottles of wine and enjoy sharing a meal with people I like. Still makes me mad though.

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