Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Operation Big Bird
Many of you are gearing up for cooking your turkey for the Thanksgiving Day feast - provided you live in or are from the United States - and you have the whole affair planned out. That was us, too, until we woke up to find out our refrigerator had shut itself off overnight. . . and the pavo - turkey - had lost any semblance of being frozen.
That moment was one that stirred my wife and I into immediate action. Carolyn Anne had some volunteering to do that morning, so I did the bulk of tossing things out that would be spoiled, or had already, like the milk had done. First sour milk we've seen in months. . . hold your nose! We contacted our landlady who lives above us onsite, and she graciously let us use part of her refrigerator for storage of still cold (enough) items. Our pavo was one of the items in the landlady's refrigerated section. . . hopefully it had not gone completely bad (it hadn't).
As a smaller bird of 7.2 kilograms (approximately 16 pounds), it fit on the shelf in its new location - had it been one of the 10 to 15 or even 20 kg birds like I have seen at our Mall del Rio Coral Hipermercado, it never would have had room on the shelf. Good thing I picked one of the smaller sized birds last October before the week of Thanksgiving (as observed in the USA. . . it's not an Ecuadorian holiday or custom here). The current turkey inventory I've seen is of the larger and grande sized pavos. Getting one of those really big birds in our horno - oven - may have been impossible, even with the metal rack lowered all the way. Remember, most everything here in Ecuador is smaller, and that includes conventional ovens, which the average Ecuadorian doesn't have by the way. Rich gringos us. . .
Good thing I hadn't yet done the usual biweekly grocery shopping for foodstuffs, too. The refrigerator was largely bare, and we had no spare bags of milk. The frozen bread loaf had defrosted. . . we would have done that anyway for making the stuffing. Not a lot of monetary loss of food, so we had dodged a bullet, so to speak.
Of course, the big task at hand was to pick a date to cook the now defrosted turkey now located upstairs in our landlady's well appointed penthouse suite. (Think Jennifer Marlow as played by Loni Anderson in WKRP in Cincinnati when you consider what the interior of her living spaces looks like. Warm wood flooring throughout, custom touches everywhere, and clean as the Dickens.) Saturday was coming up, and that is a day off from work for many Ecuadorians (unlike the upcoming Thursday, November 26th which is just a regular weekday here in Ecuador). As we had in fact already contacted some Cuencanas that my wife knows through her volunteer capacity at Clinica Hogar, we likewise scrambled to contact these friends of the new date to come and enjoy a Norteamericana holiday feast. Saturday worked well in that regard, and actually allowed one of our guests to come, as she had to work the entire day - as usual - this coming Thursday. The other, with children, couldn't come on such short notice. Our table is small, as is our condo, and we have just four regular dining chairs here. It worked out well in the end.
To make traditional savory stuffing, one needs poultry seasoning. Turkeys aren't sold in any large quantities here in Ecuador and the ones that become available are ones for sale when the gringos would most likely buy 'em. . . in October and November. Poultry seasoning, it follows, is not available on the grocery shelf like what you'd find back in the States. So. . . you have to do what the Ecuadorians do and make do with what you have. Turns out all six seasonings that make up poultry seasoning are available for sale here in Cuenca. I found via Gringo Post on the 'Net a tienda, Saboress, that had just changed locations from El Centro to within walking distance of the condo here. They had all six of 'em, reasonably priced and labeled in English and Spanish to boot! I let the duen~a - proprietress - of the store know I appreciated that extra unexpected touch and told her I would be back as a customer come Navidad.
Seasoning and spices obtained, groceries gotten, all that was left was to cook everything up for our invited guests of that Saturday afternoon, and us. We took out the bird Friday to ensure it defrosted (it had) and placed it in our own refrigerator once again. Believe it or not, that previous Thursday afternoon our regular housekeeper fiddled with the temperature knobs and - voila! - the motors for the fridge and freezer came back on. They've been running ever since, but as I told our landlady, I don't trust the refrigerator after what happened that Wednesday/Thursday overnight period when it utterly failed. I'd noticed the compartments getting warmer and the cycles of the motors getting longer and longer too. So we're still on track to get a new refrigerator/freezer unit. This being Ecuador, you can't buy and get it delivered the same day it breaks down. We'll have to wait 8 to 10 days from the day of the failure to get it here and all plugged in and running. Patience. . .
Oh, turkey defrosting - our fridge again. On Saturday, we began the process of cooking it all up: not only the big bird, but also the mashed potatoes, the sliced carrots, preparing the salad, getting the rolls ready on its serving plate, and slicing up the postres, which were two: a smaller sized torta - cake - we purchased with our always kind landlady's help in finding a nearby panaderia - bakery, and a larger torta I obtained at Coral after scouring all my usual spots in El Centro for a flaked crust pie. That animal just does not exist in Cuenca or Ecuador to my knowledge, at least not at an Ecuadorian bakery. . . although I've read about available orders of fruit and pumpkin - pumpkin! - pies through reading Gringo Post on the 'Net. Next year, perhaps.
We opened the turkey up Saturday morning and Carolyn Anne just about croaked when she found what else there was besides the usual giblets stuck in the craw of our bird.
"I can't look at it! Get rid of it now, David!" she shrieked.
"They're part of the bird, you know!" I deadpanned back. " Birds have heads and necks, and yes feet. So the Ecuadorians don't waste things like we in the States do, eh? What did you expect from them but this?"
"But I didn't want to see the head and feet!" she animatedly allowed. " Why couldn't they take them away and make it into dog food like everyone else?"
After that surprising discovery, preparation followed the usual way. One small find: a bit of hair on the side of our bird. We lit up our flame starter stick and burned it off. So appetizing to hear, eh? (grin)
I did a bit of researching to find out how long to cook the turkey, as well as what temperature. Wouldn't you know: I learned that Celsius - which is how our oven is calibrated - runs essentially half of Fahrenheit. Divide the Fahrenheit number by two, and you come up with the correct Centigrade cooking level. I had been cooking our chuletas - pork chops - and chicken legs at double the usual temperature for months! No wonder our chuletas were not fat and chewier than we were used to than our time in the States! (I have since baked pork chops at the more appropriate temperatures and the chops are now decidedly softer and easier to cut with a knife.)
Our bird came out soft, not dry, and with the aromatic smell of the stuffing inside. Basting was easy enough. . . and we learned that our oven rack wasn't exactly firmly in place, either! It racheted down a level or two each time we placed the heavy bird (in pan) back in the oven. It all turned out well, though.
Next year, we just might go to a restaurant or hotel for the affair. Who knows what they'll put inside the turkey in 2016 that will drive my wife to the brink of not cooking the thing after all the preparations that have been put into place?