Thanksgiving on the Islands: An ode to meat and football
By JOY CRIST
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Those are just the side dishes! I haven’t even touched on the turkey fryer yet.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.)