Wherein I Abandon Plastic-Wrapped Birds With Pop-Up Tabs

Man, oh, man. It’s nearly Thanksgiving, and I couldn’t be happier. Now’s the time I head to Williams-Sonoma and Central Market to see if there’s some trendy new foodstuff I can’t live without. The time I bust out the family recipes and whatever cookbook happens to be hot and, glass of wine in hand, begin planning what I envisage will be my best spread yet. The time I start dropping terms like brining and braising and sous vide like I not only know what they mean, but I’m capable of pulling them off with ease.

Thanksgiving is, to me, the best of the holidays because, if you approach it in the right spirit, there’s no crazy, emotion-laden pressure. Give people — including the most irritating members of your family ­­— a really good plateful of food and a boatload of booze and they’re guaranteed to be nice to you. At least until their football game of choice comes on and, then, you’re blissfully home free. Or when family is dragging you down, you can do what we do here at Chez Townsel and invite the people next door, dear friends at loose ends, and neighborhood strays. (Last year, our Turkey Day crowd covered the globe from Spain to Australia, ages 7 to 74 and Christian to Muslim.)

Nothing thrills me more than the smell of a well-stuffed turkey roasting in the oven, accented by the spicy aroma of freshly-baked pumpkin and apple pies. Which may explain why I was so depressed last year having suffered a major car wreck in July.

Still recovering from surgery, it became clear that my signature brined bird — involving the complicated, overnight soaking of a 20-pound organic turkey in giant garbage bags, then draining, rinsing and stuffing — was going to be tough to pull off on crutches.

After five straight years of killing the fatted calf here on Winnetka Ave. while Ms. Sadie-licious makes homemade placemats and decorates a gingerbread house, I couldn’t believe something as pesky as a bum leg was going to halt me in my tracks. Turns out, it didn’t — thanks to Susie Buck and the elves at Susie’s Cuisine (www.Susiescuisine.com), 420 W. Davis Street, Suite B.

In an early-November funk, I headed down Davis for some caffeine and company. Stuck in traffic, I looked over and saw the Susie’s Cuisine sign on the side of the building — and felt the cogs slip into place at the back of my brain. Cooking might be tough — but catering? Nothing could be easier — or, as it turns out, better.

I rushed home, called Susie — a self-taught chef who started cooking as a child in her mother’s kitchen — and told her my predicament and, to my great relief, she was able to work with me and all my nutty requests. For starters, I wanted to cook my own bird. Could Susie deliver a stuffed, seasoned, raw turkey, ready for the oven? Absolutely. Homemade pies? Better than my own. Unbaked veggies and sides? Can you say “green chili cornbread stuffing?”

It was an unusual request for the intrepid caterer, given that she typically delivers fully prepared, gourmet meals for the day with reheating instructions — but she listened and seemed to understand how important it was for me to feel as if I’d had a hand in preparing the meal.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Susie arrived with a smile and an uncooked turkey, prepped and ready for the oven. Two of the best pies I’ve ever eaten — including what Susie calls her “killer, Blue Ribbon Pecan Pie.” Pans of haricot vert with peppered bacon, cranberries in port-wine sauce and spinach casserole. All ready to pop in the oven. All accompanied by complete roasting and baking instructions. Enough for 12 people. And all for about $175, plus tax and tips.

Best money I ever spent. I woke up early Thursday, moved the turkey from the fridge to our kitchen table, from our kitchen table to our counter, from our counter to the oven. It was a bit of a production number, but nothing like it would have been had I tried to go it alone. And, as the house filled with the fantastic smell of roasting turkey, I couldn’t help but pat myself on the back a little — and say a small prayer of thanks for Susie.

This year, I’m better, but still on crutches — which gives me the out I need to call Susie yet again (214-946-4242). With menu additions like pumpkin-leek soup, roasted Brussels sprouts, rum cream pie and flourless chocolate cake, you can’t go wrong.

I can’t think of a better — or easier — way to give thanks. Which I’ll do here as well. Thanks again, Susie! We’ve never eaten better. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!


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