Happy Reverse-Hoarder Holidays!

A heartwarming tale of Thanksgiving

note: a small amout of poetic license has been taken in the following true-life account.  Namely, that my sister is not actually crazy, just eccentric in sometimes maddening ways.

Fate has a way of knitting together random crap into what becomes our lives.  Example: The day before Thanksgiving, I roasted a duck.  I was in South Carolina, where my parents now live.   Also: my sister Lisa is crazy, a fact that I often forget.   This is the story of how the Crochet Hook of Fate got busy on my sister Lisa and the duck.

As far as I can tell, there is no object or substance on planet earth that my sister Lisa isn’t happy to throw right in the garbage.  She’s like those people on hoarders, whose collections of empty cat food cans form miniature housing projects in the living room, next to the prized head of rotten cabbage from the Clinton years.  Except my sister Lisa is the total opposite of that.  She lives for the pristine, empty space which hosts only, well, a kind of romanticized possibility of living.  If my sister were say…a suicide bomber…the paradise awaiting her after blowing up the school bus would be an infinite supply of cluttered refrigerators, which she could obsessively empty and clean.  In her McMansion’s soccer-field sized kitchen, the array of high-end appliances gleam across great vistas of bare granite countertop; the couch cushions in her hanger-like ‘great room’ have never been marred by a human ass print.  On the mantle, the immaculately antiqued ‘welcome friends’ duck in Williamsburg blue has never actually been disturbed by mingling, chattering, welcomed friends.  Oh my sister entertained—once, under great pressure from her now ex-husband, who had some crazy notion of using the many acres of their expensively-furnished home to socialize with other humans.  She regaled us later with wide-eyed tales of having to watch in horror as cocktail napkins and brownie crumbs fell to the carpet, “and I couldn’t vacuum them for hours! I had to just STAND there and watch!”  Except for the kitchen and adjacent small family room, which occasionally get used due to absolute necessity, the majority of my sister’s McMansion appears to be theoretical.  My sister Lisa, you see, is a reverse hoarder.

So I bought this duck, which I cooked the day before Thanksgiving.  I know it seems redundant to have duck right before Thanksgiving, but I was going to make this sweet potato hash by cooking the potatoes in duck fat, as a kind of ultimate designer side dish for Thanksgiving.  Not that anyone in my family would notice.  To those with whom I share a genetic bond, primary sources of culinary inspiration include Parade magazine  and Campbell’s soup labels.  Rachael Ray could be Joel Robuchon to my family, so technically demanding and exotic are her dishes.  “I prefer canned” is an oft-used phrase at our Thanksgivings.  I persist in making the yams and cranberry sauce from scratch, even though I’m the only one that goes near them.  Remembering my grandmother’s deep brown turkey gravy, and some alchemy of pan drippings and flour, I asked my mom “how do you get that really rich brown turkey gravy grandma used to make?”  “Oh,” began her earnest reply, “I cut open the envelope, then add a cup of water.”

I’m reminded that it was The Gravy Incident of 2005 that first set off alarm bells about my sister Lisa’s reverse hoarder syndrome.  I cooked at her house that year—I know—and she looked on with a kind of stressful, rapt fascination as I showed her how the $400 mixer and Viking stove could be successfully employed to prepare food for human consumption.   I had succeeded in negotiating Brining—the process of soaking the turkey overnight to ensure the meat stays moist.  “You soak the turkey—raw??” my sister was horrified.  “Yes, like most food, that is the state it is found in, prior to the cooking process,” I spoke in the measured tones of a UN translator explaining controversial sanctions.  “But…where will you put it???” “There’s room in the garage—it will sit in a cooler, with ice in the brine…” “But…why do you have to do that?” she protested wrinkling her nose, “what if you get—turkey juice on the floor?” “Well, it’s a garage Lisa, the floor is cement—are you afraid the car tires might get salmonilla?” We went back and forth like that for an hour.

What torture it must have been for Lisa to have to sleep all night with what that bacteria spa right there in her garage.  The next morning she’d put on those  industrial rubber  gloves, got that turkey out, cleaned and disinfected the cooler, and for all I know power washed the garage floor before I even woke up.

“Um where are the giblets?”  I’m cutting celery for the stock, while Lisa is following me around the kitchen with a sponge and 409.   “What?” she asks innocently, spraying and wiping. “You know, the parts from the turkey I put in the fridge yesterday?”  “You mean the NECK?” “Yes, the neck and—they were all in butcher paper, in the fridge? “ I rinse 409 from the surface of a stray celery stalk.  “I threw those away.” “Um—what?” “I threw them away.  Michael—we don’t EAT the NECK.”  I was dumb with shock—but I have to keep it together:  I won’t let her see me cry.  Was she kidding? Did she really not pay attention to the other 40 or so Thanksgivings she’d lived through?  Or was this payback for my winning the brining war?  “they were for the stock and gravy—Lisa, how am I going to make stock now?”  “Well I have BOULLION CUBES right in the cupboard,” as if there were no difference at all between homemade turkey stock and a pair of dice fashioned from salt and monosodium glutamate.

After she went off to vacuum something or compulsively scrub a surface, I snuck out to the garage, where I went trash-diving for turkey parts.   If she thought I was going to spend all damn day cooking with no turkey stock—well, I’d show her.

Perhaps because it was laced with the bitter herbs of smug satisfaction, my giblet gravy that year was the best ever.  In addition to sneaking in spices and herbs, I deglazed the pan with a splash of apple cider.  My family is suspicious of the DNA of actual food flavor: herbs, aromatics, spices.  If they’d known I shoved a bunch of herbs in the birds ass, they would have accused me of some sort of kitchen treason.  So I have become a kind of dysfunctionally secretive cook, sneaking sprigs of parsley and thyme like an alcoholic sneaking shots of cheap vodka.

“Um…where is the gravy?” The next morning I’m ferreting around the neatly packed leftovers, a skyline of Jenga-like Tupperware tower in my sister’s impeccable refrigerator.  I was making a care package for myself to take back home.  “Keep looking, it’s in there somewhere,” said my mother, clearly an enabler.  “Lisa? Do you know where you put Michael’s gravy?” she called helpfully to my sister, who was off disinfecting  a surface somewhere in her lab-like, germ- free home.  Note, she said Michael’s gravy.  My sister Shelley’s gravy, the family favorite, was of course sitting right there in the fridge.  Shelley’s gravy is the color of camel fur and performs all the functions of gravy except the delivery of taste or flavor.  “The gravy?  From the pan that I made yesterday?” I said when Lisa showed up, brandishing  a toilet brush like a mace in her  gloved hand.  “Was it in the pan?” “yes—it may shock you to know that the pan is pretty much the Ground Zero of gravy, for people who have a palette?” I can feel a panic begin. “Oh.  Well I WASHED  the pan.”  “You washed—ok, but what did you do with the gravy?” “Was it still in the PAN?” “Yes yes the gravy from the pan! Jesus Mary and Rhoda— “I stopped to breathe and count to ten.  “Oh.  I threw that AWAY.”

A year later my parents sold their house in Maryland and moved to South Carolina. Lisa was delighted to ‘help’ them.  Moving is like Christmas to a reverse hoarder.  Here was 30 years of accumulated history and personal belongings from our family of six, all begging to be thrown right in the dumpster.  “Now do you need these?  They’re just pictures,” I imagine her saying, balancing my box of photos—from a high school tour of Europe— on the lip of an industrial-sized Rubbermaid.  Even now I have no idea how much of my own personal history fell victim to Lisa’s compulsion to 86 everything of value in sight.

“You know,” my mom whispers conspiratorially, handing me the box of photos, “Lisa wanted to throw these away, but I rescued them.  And look!  I saved this just for you!”   She points to a favorite of mine, an antique toy from India that belonged to my grandfather, sitting on a side table.  I don’t know how they survived the move, my parents.  There was plenty of room in the new house.  It wasn’t so much moving as going into hiding, like the families in “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

“Duck fat provides inimitable flavor and texture to foods when used for frying roasting and sautéing.” Informs the Williams-Sonoma website, where duck fat can be purchased for roughly one dollar per ounce.  The duck this year was my first effort.  As ducks go, it was ok—the skin wasn’t as crisp as I’d like, the meat was a little too well-done.  But mission completed: I had at least least 25 dollars worth of duck fat to work with.  I was excited—tomorrow I’d  make this awesome sweet potato hash…I’d never cooked with duck fat, but everyone knows it’s amazing, especially for frying.   Almost everyone knows this.

“Do you want to save this?” Lisa asks, holding up a parsley stem while cleaning the kitchen.  “Lisa, that’s a stem. No—I don’t want to keep that.”  She’s overcompensating now, feeling guilty for the crime she’s just committed.  But it’s too late.   “Well what about this?” She points to a husk of onion I’d peeled earlier.  “No.”  I can’t tell if she’s being sarcastic or truly ignorant. “Can I throw this away?” She indicates the butt of a carrot. “Just, just don’t talk to me right now.”  By ‘right now’ I mean a span of time which I hope stretches to infinity.  You see 5 minutes earlier, we finished our meal of duck.  Two minutes after that, I got up from the table and walked into the kitchen, where I watched my sister pour the final three Williams-Sonoma dollars’ worth of duck fat right into the garbage can.  She reads on my face the expression of one watching a baby being tossed onto a bonfire.  “Oh—did you want to keep that?”


The End

Published in: on January 2, 2011 at 1:49 am  Leave a Comment  

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