Here Thar Be Monsters!

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Is That A Drumstick In Your Pocket?

Well, here it is Thanksgiving once again.  Here on the Far Side, we're busily preparing for yet another feed of magnificent proportions.  In just a couple of short years, the Far Side Thanksgiving has become the social event of the season.  Folks have started inviting themselves from far and wide, which is an Indonesian national pastime when free food is involved.

This year, we're switching things up a bit for two reasons: 1) turkey is really expensive here (though it's dropped since last year), and 2) I made an unholy mess on the porch last year.

You may recall that last year, reader Teka reminded us of the tried and true frying method, which we had nearly forgotten about.  Well the turkey came out spectacularly good, but the oil drippings on the tile porch took nearly two months to finally clean up.  Not wanting to repeat such a fun and exciting time-waster again this year, we're moving turkey day to Christmas up at the mountain house.  This will protect My Precious from the hordes of freeloaders who stripped last year's bird to the bone and left nothing for turkey sammiches the next day.

It will also allow me to cook outside in the glorious mountain air where oil splatter don't matter, and where the house doesn't arch overhead in the event of an oil fire, which I am expert at causing.  I did, however, buy a good fire extinguisher for both the city and country houses.  Pyromaniacs, oil and fire are a combination best left to the great outdoors.

So this year, we are doing up a massive batch of the world-famous Far Side Spaghetti sauce, with the added bonus of real live meatballs that are such a pain in the butt, it has to be a special occasion for me to take on that task.  The meatballs will include fresh rosemary, onions and bell peppers from the Far Side garden - which is quickly becoming the Far Side edible forest.  The big twist this time will be the handmade pasta shells that I have been working on for nigh on a week now.  Major hassle, but makes for a fun meal.  You have to take pinches of the pasta dough and smash them on your thumb, then roll them on a lightly moistened backside of a cheese grater.  You end up with cute little curly sea shells that really hold the sauce, which is their major advantage over string pasta.

The wife is doing up a big batch of kangkung, a leafy veggie with a mostly inoffensive taste.  She'll also be throwing down some fresh green beans and other vittles.  My veggie contribution will be broccoli and cheese cassarole with a blend of three cheeses (homemade white cheddar, smoked gouda and brie), sour cream, butter, and topped with a layer of bread crumbs.  Of course, there'll be the legendary mash potatoes with chicken gravy and a fresh garden salad.

We'll wrap things up with an apple cobbler made from the brother-in-law's orchard in Tegal and the uncorking or my first batch of mango mead (preliminary tests show great promise with a specific gravity of 5.6).

All in all, it should be a magnificent feed with enough for all the interlopers who inevitably show up, drawn by the smell and the steady stream of folks coming in the door.

As in the past, we'll have an eclectic gathering with local friends and family, and a nefarious group of foreigners from disparate parts of the world.  I'm figuring on using nearly 4 dozen tomatoes, two pounds of butter (real...not margarine), a half dozen bell peppers and onions, two heads of garlic, about a pound of cheese, a quart of sour cream, fifteen potatoes, a handful of hot peppers, nearly a kilo of ground beef, two dozen apples, and a partridge in a pear tree.  We're planning on about 20-30 people.

And it's all halal.

As much hassle as Thanksgiving is in the preparation, serving, and worst of all, the clean up, it remains my favorite tradition.  Taking time out to think about all the good things in life and sharing the wealth with friends and family brings a pleasure that is hard to match...especially when everyone is rolling on the floor in misery wishing they hadn't taken that last helping of apple cobbler.

Thanksgiving is unlike any holiday in Indonesia.  Idul Fitri comes close, but doesn't often come close to the gross amounts of food and libation in a good holiday spread.  Another idosyncracy about Indonesian feasts is that they all sit on thick blankets on the floor.  If I were doing this full Indo style, all the food would be served off of platters in the middle of the blankets with everyone using their hands, but I prefer the table and utensils (at least for serving), thank you.

Another concession to my surroundings is that Thanksgiving will be on Saturday, instead of tomorrow.  There's no public holiday here for the feast, and it would be unfair to ask folks to work the day after gorging themselves on a meal that will take a week to fully digest.  And no one is sure yet what the residual effect of the mango mead will be.

One thing I miss about Thanksgiving back home is the cold weather.  There is something soothing about a roaring fire while feasting that just completes the event.  Somehow, torrential rain and lightning just don't make up for that part.  I never have watched football, so that part doesn't bother me at all.  And the parades have become so commercialized that they are mockeries of the originals, so that part is not missed either.

I will raise a glass to absent friends.  It's been five years since I've seen any of the homefolk, and for the most part, I miss them.  Especially dear, old Mom whose own legendary turkeys inspired and trained my love of cooking.  It is her tutelage that ensures I always use fresh, real ingredients...nothing canned or artificial in my feasts, thank you.

Of course, I was also inspired by Julia Childs, or at least the part where the chef gets sauced on gin while whipping the food into submission.

Thanksgiving is a great time to take personal inventory and realize that no matter what, there is a bright side to everything if you look for it.  I am thankful for my children, for my host country, for my good friends, for the ability to have nature retreats in the mountains and the jungle, for relative good health and another day to enjoy it, and for the massive feedfest that will shortly ensue.  I am thankful for my Mom, who taught me how to read, write and cook, and for my Dad who taught me how to think and analyze history and current events.  In fact, I am thankful for all the teachers who have added the skills and developed the talents I have that allow me to put on holiday feasts and have mountain retreats.

I am thankful for the great readers and listeners of Life on the Far Side, who send such great messages, offer fantastic suggestions and donate to the cause so we can build up this effort into something meaningful for folks.  I am also thankful for the invention of the internet that allows us to have the collected knowledge and experience of Mankind at our fingertips and in the comfort of our homes and offices.

But mostly I am thankful for a beautiful and supportive wife who takes such great care of me and the family, and makes our house a home.  She is my friend, my lover and my partner; who could ask for more than that?

Finally, I am thankful for a world that, despite the best efforts of a select few, continues to offer so much wonder, beauty, bounty, and diversity.  As long as we continue to look with childlike wonder, the Universe will continue to offer those wonders.  And if we put forth a little effort to clean up our little part of it all, then our children and their children will receive the same benefits.

Happy Thanksgiving to all Far Siders everywhere.  May your feasts be lavish, may your mead be sweet, and may you enjoy the blessings of friends and family every day of the year.

Now, where' my fork...