It’s spring once again in New England. Well, I guess it’s spring everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, but here in New England, it’s of utmost importance that we repeat the fact like a mantra every day, otherwise we might not believe it.
Much of our neighborhood is still under two feet of snow. Temperatures have been bitterly cold and the winds have made it feel even colder. It seems we will never be out from under this icy chill. Still, there are signs of hope; maple tree stands are entwined with plastic tubing, in order to collect every precious drop of light, sweet sap. Farmers are starting cold-hardy seedlings in greenhouses full of the rich, heady scent of moist soil. The air in these greenhouses is vibrant and alive, unlike the air outside their thin plastic walls.
My spirit is slow to thaw this year, as well. Even though the days have gotten visibly longer, and the sun is shining brighter, winter was so abusive this year it left a mark; a bone-deep exhaustion that has been difficult to overcome. The arrival of spring on the calendar is usually a time when I get fired up and start new projects, cook and eat lighter, fresher meals that feel purifying and cleansing, and generally wake up and get inspired. Not this year. Winter’s comfort foods are still what I crave, and my brain still feels like it’s wrapped in a thick woolen scarf, to keep the cold, gray world out.
Even my beloved Boston Bruins cannot escape this winter’s grip; their uninspired hockey has them just out of a playoff spot, and there’s not much hope that they will fight their way back. I invite them to prove me wrong.
Just to make life more fun, The Husband and The Boy have both caught the seasonal respiratory plague currently making its way around the region, and I am trying to aid in their healing, while diligently maintaining my distance, so I am not the next one to fall. Sleeping has not been easy for any of us, adding to my overall fatigue. Simple meals have been on our plates.
Somehow, mid-winter got by without me preparing a big turkey feast. No one felt much like a feast, I suppose. So I unceremoniously thawed it (for a week; it weighed 21 1/2 pounds), cut it into parts (just like a chicken, only a lot bigger), and roasted it, the dark meat in a big roasting pan full of vegetables, the breasts by themselves, nestled in my cast-iron skillet, with thin slices of Meyer lemon under the skin for some bright flavor.
The dark meat ended up in a creamy stew with some of the roasted vegetables and turkey stock made from the carcass of the big bird. Four more quarts of stock are in the freezer awaiting instructions.
The rest of the roasted vegetables (potatoes, carrots, celery root, fennel, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and leek, along with fennel stems and fronds, and rosemary sprigs) were pureed into a deeply satisfying soup.
One of the breasts was sliced, and the other was shredded, for different delectable purposes. After browning some mushrooms and shallots together in butter and stirring in some flour and more turkey stock (from the bones of the dark meat) to make an earthy mushroom gravy, I nestled a few of the breast slices in to warm through, and served them over buttermilk mashed potatoes. The shredded breast met its destiny in a bechamel (white) sauce, as easy to make as it is to eat, and just as comforting as it sounds. The creamed turkey is unapologetically simple homey food, and is just as happy over a thick slice of toast as it is over pasta or tater tots.
The time has come to put the rest of the turkey goodness in the freezer, before the family is tired of it, and before nature takes it from us with spoilage. We will surely welcome it back to our plates a few months from now, perhaps served with some miraculous summer vegetables out on our deck, as we breathe in the moist, living air of a July evening, and almost forget that this winter ever happened.