How to Phone It In
I'm not the kind of person who'd serve a pre-made holiday meal--too picky, too poor, and too morbidly curious about what'll happen in the cooking. I first made a Thanksgiving dinner in college with my beautifully named friend Kellie Diamond; we listened to old records, called our mothers for instructions repeatedly, and drank wine from a jug all day, with far better results than anyone expected. I went to lie down postprandially--just for a minute--and woke up the next morning atop the bedclothes, still wearing my shoes. Then there was an underemployed, hypercrafty period in San Francisco where I got it in my head that I was going to start Thanksgiving with puréed butternut squash soup served out of a hollowed-out pumpkin. Pumpkins aren't easy to locate post-Halloween, and a thoroughgoing tour of the city was made in pursuit of one. In preparing the soup, my hands became weirdly swollen and taut from contact with the seemingly innocent peeled squash--nothing that required hospitalization, but freaky nonetheless, especially for the people who were hanging out doing bong hits. The soup-within-pumpkin went over big. On another turkey day I cut myself rather deeply with a big knife. Though I'm not squeamish, I fainted dramatically from the sight of the blood pulsing out of my hand. Later, in a tryptophan stupor, we watched The Godfather.
Precious memories, one and all, but then so are the many holidays when dear Mom has turned out a series of perfect turkeys and sides and pumpkin pies, all without rashes, bloodletting, or other incident of note (except at one predictable moment--the making of the gravy--when the vulturing mass of family is screamed at to get the hell out of the kitchen). But maybe your mom lives in a red state and a little healthy separation is in order. Maybe the kinds of culinary excitement described above make you feel fearful rather than inspired (and understandably so). Maybe you need a little help. Here--take my hand.
Drinks, of course, can go a long, long way toward making whatever follows a vague, pleasant memory, so you'll want to put your best foot forward in this regard. If you're running with a highball crowd, you know where your local liquor store is. A pilgrimage to Esquin Wine Merchants (2700 Fourth Ave S, 682-7374) is in order regardless. Timing is everything; go on a Thursday between 5:00-6:30 or Saturdays 1:00-4:00, and let the free samples ease you gently into the otherwise overwhelming experience of the store. Don't be shy, either; they are accustomed to non-wine geeks and promise to be nice about helping you find a turkey-compatible pinot noir for under $10 a bottle.
If you want quality for your wine buck but have no desire for a capital-e wine-buying Experience, get thee to Trader Joe's (three Seattle stores, 800-746-7857). The new Capitol Hill store is more spacious than the others, has a whole display of "Turkey Wines" (not actually made of pressed turkey) at a variety of prices, and for some reason is crawling with sexy people, shoppers and employees alike. For the purposes of filling up your guests whilst they're getting tipsy before dinner, Joe's also has a pretty damn good selection of cheeses, as well as nuts galore and many kinds of olives and pickled mushrooms and cute little cornichons and so forth--all at far less daunting prices than elsewhere. Many people also swear by the various dips (like sun-dried tomato pesto torta) and frozen hors d'oeuvres (mini quiches, crab cakes, etc.). Pick up some fresh cranberry sauce here too (the corrugations from the can are a dead giveaway that you didn't make it yourself).
If Trader Joe were actually still a trader, sailing the high seas and making incredible deals on the docks in Palermo, he would be Big John. I have a crush on Trader Joe; I want to marry Big John. Obscurely located behind the immigration building, Big John's (1001 Sixth Ave S, level B, 682-2022) offers snacks of many provenances--jars of peppery spreads from Eastern Europe, crackly Italian bread sticks--in a real-deal warehouse setting where, for example, the floor of the olive oil aisle is notably slicker than elsewhere. A platter or two of the glorious cheeses, cured meats, and olives (ask for samples) available at the awe-inspiring counter renders the rest of your holiday meal somewhat irrelevant.
Relevance aside, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend pre-cooked turkey. Forget about brining or turning or other fancy techniques, use a cheapo aluminum pan, build a roasting rack from bent forks if you need to (I have), whatever, just shove your own bird into your own oven (cook a 12-14 pound bird for 3 to 3 3/4 hours at 325 degrees, until the legs wiggle nicely in their sockets). A free-range turkey is worth every extra penny, but you can also achieve very decent results with an artificial hormone-riddled specimen on special from Slaveway (important note: if you buy a frozen bird, be sure to allow adequate thawing time in the fridge, like several days). Though not necessary, basting gives you an air of authority (plus turkey basters are inherently fun). You can't help but look like a culinary genius when you pull that golden baby out, even if the kitchen is littered with takeout containers.
Ballard's Dish Urban Market, the lazy gourmet's standby, has closed, but there's always fancy sides (confetti garlic whipped potatoes, sticky maple glazed yams) as interpreted by Seattle's own Emeril, Kathy Casey, which may be procured at the terribly named Dish D'lish in the Pike Place Market (1505 Pike Place, 223-1848). Metropolitan Market (various locations), known for its lavishness, also has all the fixings available by the pound in the deli, as does the redoubtable high-end chain Whole Foods (1026 NE 64th St, 985-1500), which also offers vegan options for those poor beleaguered souls. If you really don't want to cook a bird, fear not, for all these places can hook you up poultrywise as well, as can Larry's Markets (two locations, locally and family owned since 1945) and PCC (several locations, www.pccnaturalmarkets.com). To get all extra-deluxe, you may order a fresh, free-range turkey that's been brined and smoked especially for you from the Frontier Room (2203 First Ave, 956-7427).
So, to pie. You'd be lucky to get a pie from Cafe Besalu (5909 24th Ave NW, 789-1463)--they're the best in the city and the bakery's just a two-person show, so they can only take so many orders. For the fake-homemade touch, owner James recom- mends sticking the pie in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes (and 10 minutes only, as it's important, quoth he, to distinguish between warming and rebaking), though no one will ever believe you made his pie anyway. Macrina (2408 First Ave, 448-4032 and 615 W McGraw St, 283-5900) will also provide you with pies and tarts of crazy-making goodness, given a little advance warning. And don't overlook the beauty of Ezell's (501 23rd Ave, 324-4141) sweet potato pie.
Advance warning is key in general here; call ahead and ascertain exactly when you can pick your stuff up. And don't be afraid to ask for more handholding regarding reheating and so forth. You'll be thankful you did.