Friday, November 25, 2005

Black Friday

Thanksgiving morning, I woke up at 6 AM to take my husband to the train station. He was headed to O’Hare International Airport to go back to Boston until Sunday. It was bitter cold outside; the kind of cold where you are instantly chilled right down to the bone only after minutes of being outside. Although it was a magnificent day; bright baby blue sky with a few delicate puffy clouds dispersed. People were disguised in ski masks and wrapped up like tightly like Christmas presents.

After I got home, I ran back into bed and shivered myself back to sleep for another four hours. Once it was time for me to emerge from my cocoon of comfort, I bundled up and headed for the train. On my brief walk, my Thanksgiving spirits were nudged awake. A couple dressed like they were out of a J.Crew catalog stepped out of the liquor store with some pumpkin ale, cars that were passing by me were filled with fathers, mothers and children, and once I hit the entrance to the train station, a dozen people scampered out with rolling luggage and carry-on bags.

I couldn’t help but think about the past Thanksgivings I shared with my family. Each year, my mother provided small chocolate turkeys as a favor by everyone’s place setting. She sent my husband and me our pair just yesterday. Our menu was always traditional and simple, staying away from the modernizing of the holidays that’s popular today. We had sweet potatoes with crushed pineapple and brown sugar topped with marshmallows, of course. My mother and I would snip the ends of the green beans the day before while planning out our schedule for the next day. She would make her incredible chopped liver with schmaltz, hard boiled egg, and onions. We polished silver, cleaned the china, and dressed the dining room table with a freshly dry-cleaned linen lace tablecloth. Spending time in the kitchen with my mother the day before and the day of Thanksgiving was the best part of the holiday. The actual meal always went by too quickly and I ended by watching football in the den with my father. A few hours after we finished the meal, round two came and we piled our plates high again.

But today was obviously different and I shook the memories away and headed up the stairs to the “El” platform. I waited a brief five minutes or so trying to warm in the sunlight, but it was not giving off any heat today.

I showed up to work and needless to say, it was a bit insane. Everyone was hustling left and right, servers were coming in from the dining room with empty platters demanding full ones, and suits were swiftly slithering in and out of each department making sure the controlled chaos was maintained. I fought my way past dishes of candied yams, stuffing, rib roasts, and hams and finally made it to the Garde Manger kitchen. It wasn’t anymore restrained there. The tables were covered completely so not an inch of stainless steel could be seen anywhere. Stray herbs, chopped onions, hotels of quinoa and sautéed mushrooms, bowls of dressed spinach, and marbled cheese platters were everywhere. I noticed a speed rack sitting outside our kitchen with three pairs of pig eyes staring at me.

I was a little out of sorts and my team seemed a little busy to help me get settled. I decided to just watch a few of the dishes and see how they were being presented, looked over the menu, and found some space to work. It was 12:30 PM and the next seating was at 2:30 PM followed by the third and final seating at 5:30 PM. The first one was at 10:30 AM and around 200 guests came. The hotel was expecting 200 for the next two seatings, also.

Servers continued to flow into the kitchen and we continued to refill their arms with freshly plated dishes. Each person was completely in their own world so I sneaked outside to see the spread we were offering:

Charcuterie Platter wiht Dijon Mustard, Whole Grain, and Cornichons
Chicken liver pate with black truffles, Pistachio and turkey terrine and turkey roulade
Smoked fish platter: Molasses smoked salmon, Gravalax, and Smoked Salmon, Smoked Scallops and Mussels
Freshly Shucked Oysters, Shrimp Cocktail, and Empire Crab Claws
Seared Tuna with Jicama, Mango and Papaya with Lime Vinaigrette
Wild Rice Salad with Apple-wood Smoked Venison with Dried Cranberries
Seared Hanger Steak with Huasteco Pepper Sauce with Roasted Red Pepper, Red Onion, and Spinach Salad
Wild Mushrooms and Celery Root Salad with Walnut Vinaigrette
Citrus Pickled Beet Salad with Walnuts and Chives
Butter Lettuce with Maytag Blue Cheese and Quince Dressing
Pheasant Sausage with Quinoa and Candied Lemons

I think that’s everything. James and I were the only two to man our kitchen and maintain our dish offerings after 4:30. Setting up for the 5:30 seating was calm and we already had 2-3 back ups of each dish already prepared. Once the mass amounts of cooks started to head home for the day, things were running a lot more calmly. In between maintaining the brunch, we started some prep for the next day and cleaned out the walk-ins. All in all, the day went by very quickly and soon enough it was time to head home. I felt invigorated and not at all tired.

I decided, since it was close to 20 degrees outside and my body had not yet fully thawed from my walk home, I was going to treat myself to a hot bubble bath and a White Russian. I slithered in and reviewd my day. It was actually a really enjoyable day. I pretty much forgot that it was Thanksgiving and I didn't mind one bit.

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