November 18, 2014
Thanksgiving on the Islands:
An ode to meat and football


By JOY CRIST




 On Nov. 27, millions of Americans will put on their stretch pants, pull out the remote control, and settle into eight hours of couch time and football until it’s time to dive headfirst into a pile of heart-attack inducing fare that only a glutton can appreciate.

In other words, it’s Thanksgiving, and it’s the greatest holiday in the universe.

And as much as I adore our little mountain chateau -- which is my new fancy word for trailer -- I truly miss Thanksgiving on the beach, where it’s often warm enough to barbecue and every family’s traditional meal has some sort of oyster involved.

When I lived in Avon, I got into the habit of cooking Thanksgiving every year. It was an ideal excuse to start drinking and “tasting” (i.e., eating like the pig that I am) at 11 in the morning, and during my tenure as a gracious -- albeit slightly intoxicated -- host, I picked up a few lessons on how this holiday, like most common events, is just a little skewed on Hatteras Island.

You hear a lot of hunting stories at the dinner table that will likely affect your appetite. You know who the local Cowboys fans are, and you try your best to hide your Redskins ball cap collection to avoid the inevitable RG III argument. And you understand that dinner may be unavoidably postponed by five hours or more, if the fishing and/or surfing is good.

And while I’ll be enjoying my Thanksgiving in the mountains this year, I still feel like I should pass along these local variances, so that newcomers will know what to expect when islanders tout the turkey with oyster stuffing.

Of course, of all the advice that I can share, the most important is that like other holidays, such as Halloween, Christmas, and birthdays, Thanksgiving is best celebrated when the eating, beer, and football-watching continues for days upon days on end. After all, no sense in wasting all that holiday spirit.

SHOP EARLY AND BE AFRAID

Do your shopping early. And be afraid. Be very afraid.

You would think that the best time to go shopping for Thanksgiving ingredients would be the same as during any busy summer week – the Friday night before the weekend check-in. Right?

Well, this used to be the case, but somehow the secret got out, and, as more and more locals realized this, they started going even earlier, and so now the new rule is that the best time to go Thanksgiving shopping is the Tuesday after Labor Day weekend.

But, regardless of when you pick up your T-Day groceries, the fact remains that you’ll forget something -- sorry, but you will --and you’ll have to make a run to the grocery store on the absolutely dreaded Wednesday Before Thanksgiving. [Cue horror movie “DUM, DUM, DUM!” music.]

The trick is to treat your local grocery store like a war zone. Put your game face on, get in and out as soon as possible, and try to keep the bystander casualties to a minimum. But don’t feel bad if you have to take someone out for that last can of cranberry Jello-y slime stuff that no one ever eats.

Am I exaggerating? You betcha. But, nevertheless, be prepared, because after several weeks of a quiet empty island, it’s a bit jarring when it’s completely filled up again, and every single person is at the local grocery store, asking poor unsuspecting employees if French fried onions are gluten free. (They’re not.)

Granted, islanders and visitors will have one less grumpy, greedy and completely annoying patron to deal with this year – namely me – but still, at the very least, try to get your shopping done as early as possible. In fact, if you’re reading this and haven’t scored your potatoes and turkey yet, then I’m truly sorry, but I have to leave you behind in the trenches.

MAKE EVERYTHING FATTENING

Like any normal woman on a perpetual quest to someday fit into those college-era jeans when I don’t think I can even squeeze my arm into them anymore, I have a horrible tendency to try to make things healthy. It starts out slowly at first – substituting two percent milk for whole milk in a recipe, for example – and then it morphs into an obsession to create the most low-cal dish ever, until my finished mac and cheese is just a pile of overcooked quinoa and spinach.

Needless to say, my husband is not a fan of this habit.

But Thanksgiving is not the time to try out your agave nectars and vegan cashew cheese. Oh no. It’s the time to go full-blown Paula Deen, and add butter, cream, and especially Crisco, to absolutely everything.

And truth be told, the women in the South do this better than absolutely anyone I know.

Just examine virtually any vegetable side dish in a traditional southern Thanksgiving meal. Collards are flavored with ham hocks, carrots are glazed with brown sugar, green beans are soaked in cream and mushrooms and topped with fried onions, and sweet potatoes? Don’t even get me started on sweet potatoes, but just know that marshmallows are generally involved.

Those are just the side dishes! I haven’t even touched on the turkey fryer yet.

And guess what? People absolutely eat it up. One of the magical aspects of Thanksgiving is that calories somehow do not count for a full 24-hour period -- don’t bother fact-checking that -- so feel free to rock out with your ham hock, and liberally add butter, cheese, and sugar to absolutely everything.

Your southern guests, which, in my case, includes a husband who has suddenly developed a weird quinoa and agave nectar allergy, will absolutely thank you.

ALL HAIL THE JOYS OF TURKEY FRYERS AND TURDUCKEN

Remember the aforementioned rule about making everything fattening? Enter the turkey fryer.

This ingenious device that can be effortlessly set up on a slab of outdoor concrete allows you to pour in 10 gallons of veggie oil and pop in the turkey. Then one to two hours later, you have this super deep-fried and juicy bird that will be a crowd pleaser.

As a former Yankee and a vegetarian, the turkey fryer has always been a bit of a mythic device to me – like a time machine or a cast iron skillet. But I love it for cooking turkeys, because instead of standing in front of a hot oven and waiting for that thumb-tack thingy to move, you get to hang out outside with turkey fans and friends and drink beer. That alone is worth the investment.

The other cool thing I discovered when preparing a Thanksgiving meal is this thing called a turducken. I picked it up one year solely because it said in big letters on the label “EASY TO COOK,” which is a good indication that you should take my cooking advice with a Paula Deen-sized dose of salt. It’s basically a duck that’s stuffed in a chicken, that’s stuffed in a turkey, that’s wrapped in a pizza, and then inserted into a cow – or something like that. Regardless, it’s three to four meats for the price of one, and was always a big hit at Hatteras Island Thanksgivings.

Anyway, the moral of this story is that, in addition to making everything fattening, experiment with your meat. You’ll be all but required to have some sort of seafood on hand, but if you can wow guests with your deep-frying abilities or multi-tiered bird dishes, you’ll fit right in.

OPEN UP THE HOUSE AND LET THE CROWDS FLOW THROUGH

For many Hatteras Island men with deep ties to the community -- in Kinnakeet anyways -- Thanksgiving is like a grown-up version of trick-or-treating, except instead of candy, you get meat. Lots and lots of meat, and oysters, and pie, and beer. Just another reason why Thanksgiving is the greatest holiday ever.  

And one of my favorite aspects of Thanksgiving on Hatteras Island is that friends would swing by, grab a meal, rave about my cooking -- a rare treat indeed -- and then leave for their next destination.

I’ll admit that the first year this happened, I was a little taken aback, but then I realized that a) How wonderful that my friend(s) took time shuffling from their parents or grandparents house to stop by and say hello on this all-important holiday and b) I just cooked enough fattening food to fill up an entire Golden Corral, and somebody needs to eat all this crap before I do.

Once I came to this realization, I was more than happy to welcome folks into my revolving-door Thanksgiving. In fact, my very favorite memory of an Avon Thanksgiving is when my dear friend, who had about eight Thanksgiving dinners planned for the day, rushed into the door and announced, “I HAVE 15 MINUTES!” and promptly went to fixing a plate. I think that’s the only thing he said, because his mouth was full for the rest of his visit, even as he walked out the door.

I was the fifth or sixth stop, and I think he made it to all eight dinners – which I do believe is a Kinnakeet record – but that 15-minute visit remains one of the funniest 15 minutes I’ve ever enjoyed.

RESPECT THE FOOTBALL

If you ask my father when I was born, he will tell you that it was NINE days before the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl. (And, now that I think about it, I’m not sure if he knows the actual date without counting backwards.)

As a result, all of my best family Thanksgiving memories usually have football involved – like that time that the Cowboys and Dolphins battled it out in an unprecedented snowstorm in Dallas that resulted in both 200 fumbles and more gleeful exclamations from my dad than I had ever heard before until that point.

Certainly, there’s something to be said for a quiet meal at the dinner table, with good conversation, good company, and a subdued atmosphere where everyone is respectfully appreciated.

But I assure you that it is way more fun if you can jump up mid-meal and scream “YOU SUCK!” at the token Cowboy fan in the room when there’s a bogus penalty call that goes their way.

I think that part of the joy of including football in the Thanksgiving festivities is that it just assures that everyone can be his or her gregarious, obnoxious, and wonderful selves, and for a holiday that’s all about family and come-as-you-are gatherings, I can’t think of any better way to celebrate than by screaming at a television. And I always do it with gusto, and with my most inventive sailor-talk and ingenious insults. It is, after all, a family tradition.

On the surface, it might seem like the full embracing of fat, meat, and football goes against the humble roots of this holiday, but I assure you this is not the case. Thanksgiving is when you get to see your Hatteras Island buddies who are in the early stages of hibernation, enjoy a little life injected in the otherwise sleepy community, and get to show your friends and loved ones you care by stuffing them with pounds of butter.

It’s a holiday of appreciation, whether it comes in the form of a deep-fried mutant turkey-duck served by a vegetarian, or a sound but good-natured verbal whooping when your football team does badly. And, perhaps, for that reason alone, it’s the perfect holiday to represent Hatteras Island, where everyone can be the weird person he or she truly is, and there’s always plenty of beer and oysters to go around.

(Joy Crist and her husband, John Smith, are living in their chateau on their newly purchased property in the mountains of North Carolina, though she insists she will be back on Hatteras one of these days to enjoy her Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, she may occasionally write about island life from her new perspective.)


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