Talking turkey, or not
By DAVE KIFFER
November 27, 2013
But first a disclaimer, I am certainly not a first class “foodie.”
Sure, I like to eat and I like to occasionally eat some interesting stuff (hereby defined as anything NOT in a can or a Kraft box). But I did grow up in Our Fair Salmon City and by definition that means I have a pretty limited “palate” compared to more metropolitan noshers.
Whenever my wife bemoans the fact that our son acts like she “is trying to poison him” whenever she suggests he try something new (especially something outside the general macaroni and cheese color wheel), I always have to pipe up that he “is a Ketchikan boy” as if that explains his generally undeveloped taste buds.
My wife, who is much more finicky foodie than me believes it is because Ketchikan is sorely lacking in Greeks and Italians. There is something to that. After all, if you look at restaurants that are profiled on the Food Network, the vast majority seem to be owned and staffed by Greeks and Italians.
But why should geography matter?
Probably because those Mediterranean cultures have learned to spice up their food. That is important because, really, when you break it down everyone the world over eats the same thing.
We have something vegetablish, we eat a starch (sometimes starchy enough to make your spine sit straight up for a week). And we all eat some sort of meat thingy, sometimes a very mysteriously meaty (Tofurky! Lutefisk! Turducken! Head of Salmon in a Jar!).
Therefore, the key to cuisine is what you do with the basic ingredients. And folks around the Mediterranean just do better things. For example, I have never heard an Italian say anything remote similar to what my Scottish grandmother once must have said.
“There is no such thing as overcooked. If something tastes good at 20 minutes, it will taste twice as good as 40 minutes.”
And after living for a year in the British Isles, I can vouch that she underestimated it.
So, Italians and Greeks (and Spaniards and southern French) don’t over cook and they use plenty of spices. That’s all one needs to know to “spice” up Salmon City cuisine, right?
Unfortunately, in Ketchikan, “spice” seems to begin and end with a fistful of rock salt. Don’t get me wrong, I love rock salt. I used to get in trouble for eating handfuls of it, about three and a half kidneys ago. But unless you are packing salmon to be sent in barrels “Outside,” rock salt is just not that versatile.
But of course, a fistful of salt does sometimes help to make the local cuisine (too many Norwegian and Scottish immigrants hereabouts) more edible. A lot of our natural culinary delights can be a little bland. That’s why our forebears thought everything “went better” with rock salt.
Wow, I really digress. I was supposed to be writing about Thanksgiving and somehow I went all “ala carte” to talk about Greeks and Italians and Southeast Alaskan Rock Salt. My bad.
Though to be honest, I look forward to any Thanksgiving meal that includes souvlaki and spaghetti and meatballs.
Anyway, back to Thanksgiving.
Like you, we sit around the big table and stare at each other while we use the good silver and china to “present” the bland food. Plating is important in Ketchikan, even if taste is not.
We used to talk a lot during the meal, but not so much any more. It seems that in our family, “détente” has been achieved by avoiding sensitive subjects.
Around our table sensitive, of course, means politics and religion. It also means the weather, current events and historic events.
Heckfire, we can’t even talk about food that much because it would upset long held traditions and beliefs.
Like the one that says anyone really wants to eat the canned cranberry Jell-O. Yes, I know that someone must like it because it comes to table every year.
But you notice that most of it stays in the serving dish? And even the person who brought it insists upon leaving it behind. It’s like a fruitcake, only it can’t be re-gifted every year.
There are also a variety of other little oddiments around the table. Deviled eggs, pickled onions, squid balls. It’s as if everyone sees the Thanksgiving potluck as an excuse to clearing the cupboard of all those things that need to be cleared out. Rutabaga flavored mothballs anyone?
Of course, the biggest offender in the Thanksgiving bland-a-thon is the turkey itself.
Every year, I see some new “blandishment” that says that this year’s turkeys are indeed juicer and sweeter than before. Frankly, that would not be a difficult accomplishment given the tasteless ghosts of turkeys past.
But the only real “improvement” is the size and the portion of the genetically enhanced white meat. Now, we can get bigger turkeys (12 pound, 14 pound, 100 ton!) that will ensure we will be eating sans-taste turkey leftovers well past Valentine’s Day if we are lucky.
That reminds me of the old college the dorm joke: The food is terrible, and there is so little of it!
Yes, I know that some families supplement turkey with crab eyes, venison antlers, bear claws, grouse gonads, and other local delicacies, but there still has to be a turkey because it is, well, traditional.
I suppose it could be worse, if it were up to Benjamin Franklin we’d be taking pictures of turkey nests and chewing genetically enhanced bald eagle breasts.
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