The bug was wonderful and sweet in the car, reading her books and hugging her animals, in particular Grandma Bear:
We stopped in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, for a light lunch outdoors (pizza margherita), and walked around marveling at the tall buildings and feeling like country come to town. The bug had a ball peeking through holes in various public statues and structures. It was windy, but not too cold.
By evening we'd reached Wytheville, Virginia, a small town in the far southwest corner of the state, where Interstates 77 and 81 intersect. It's been the setting for many a fantasy of the Chalmerses ever since Mr. Chalmers passed through it on a cross-country trip many years ago; this was my first time there. It's hard to imagine that it could have exceeded my expectations, but it did: it truly is the most beautiful small town I've ever seen. Here's the main drag (the moon is in the upper right corner):
While strolling down the sidewalk looking in shop windows (many of the the shops were open for business, amazingly), we saw: a man asleep at his desk in what I think was an insurance company, a huge pencil advertising a stationery store, people (oh, let's call them neighbors) putting up holiday lights on the streetlamps, and an almost full moon (the bug is very excited about the moon these short days). The small but perfect public park was an idyllic glade of bright-yellow-leafed trees lining a babbling brook with wooden footbridges. We had a tough time convincing the bug to come down off the big rustic outdoor stage (think Shakespeare in the Park). We walked through a pretty neighborhood, and were passing a big old Victorian house with a crazily overgrown wooded yard as people were just arriving—Thanksgiving guests. It was lovely.
We had supper at a place on the main street called Troy's, which was a New York–themed Philly cheesesteak joint:
My cheesesteak was excellent, which is good because Troy's was about the closest we got to eating in the North on this trip.
Coming down a mountain into West Virginia that evening, on a curvy, fast highway, we had an honest-to-god blowout. Within twenty seconds our tire was completely gone. Mr. Chalmers very carefully pulled over right next to the guardrail beside a sheer dropoff. With trucks and holiday traffic whipping past us, we got the car jacked up, but we couldn't get one of the lug nuts off—it just kept spinning frustratingly. The bug was asleep. Mr. Chalmers started walking back up the mountain, where we'd passed an exit about a mile back. It was cold and windy. About an hour later, a courtesy patrol truck stopped, and the man used special tools to get the tire off and the spare on, then he went to look for Mr. Chalmers, because he said there was absolutely nothing off exit 1. Half an hour later he came back—without my husband. The courtesy guy called up to the mountain tunnel people—nobody had seen him. He called the state troopers—no luck, but they'd go out looking for them when they could spare a car (apparently there was a big domestic disturbance in the next town, ten miles down the road). Just then a truck pulled up with Mr. Chalmers in it. He'd walked (and run) eight miles, to the nearest business, a liquor store, and gotten a ride back.
By that time, the hazards had run down the car battery, so we had to jump start it with the courtesy truck. It was after 10 when we got to a motel with an available room and started trying to put the bug to bed. We were all exhausted. The bug, however, would not sleep. She was delirious with excitement about being in a new place, and insisted on exploring the new place until 3:30. So we slept off and on from then until she woke up for good at 7:30. It was actually a relief to be out of the bed with that little kicker—if she wasn't kicking us in the throat we were getting it in the face.
In better spirits now with a few hours of sleep under our belt, we drove slowly to the Wal-Mart and got a new tire put on—we were all set by 8:30 in the morning. Thanksgiving morning. Pittsburgh would've been a possibility if the specter of at least two more sleepless nights in a hotel room weren't looming over us. So we drove home. It was a pretty drive, and thankfully uneventful. The bug was adorable, of course, and perfectly sweet. She's a good road-tripper but a very bad co-sleeper.
It's Saturday now. The first thing I heard this morning when I woke up was Mr. Chalmers and the bug outside cleaning the smoker getting it ready for a turkey breast he'd put in a brine yesterday afternoon. We had just the right size pot:
We've been making food since yesterday, eating each dish as it's ready and not worrying about Thanksgiving traditions or getting everything on the table all at once. (Mr. Chalmers told me we can do anything I want for Thanksgiving each year as long as he gets to smoke turkey.) So I made Polish food.
First up, pierogies. I'd never made them before, so I pretty much followed this recipe, which worked well, though the dough was a little doughy—roll it thinner than 1/8 inch. For the filling, I boiled 2 1/2 pounds of potatoes (mixed varieties), had Mr. Chalmers rice them (even though I've been boxing, his arms are still stronger), then beat in 1 minced sautéed onion, 4 ounces grated Cheddar cheese, some chopped parsley from the yard, and salt and pepper.
I'm a fried pierogi type, as you might've guessed. I boiled them till they floated, drained them well (till they were a bit dry), then fried in butter with onion.
The bug had her own little bowl. She especially liked the applesauce her grandma from Washington made for her.
Ever since I saw a picture of a plastic to-go container of cabbage rolls (in my Pittsburgh research online), I'd been craving them.
Thanksgiving cabbage rolls (mostly from Joy of Cooking): Cut out the core of a green or Savoy cabbage and put it in a large pot of boiling salted water for 5 minutes or so. Meanwhile, mix together 1 pound ground turkey, 1 large egg, 1 grated carrot, 1 diced onion, 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup raw white rice, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Pull a leaf off the cabbage and put the head back in the boiling water. Slice the back of the center rib off to make the leaf flexible. Set the leaf on the counter concave side up and put a 1-inch-diameter line of the turkey mixture at the core end. Roll it up like an eggroll, somewhat loosely (the rice will expand). Repeat with the remaining filling.
Chop 1 cup of the remaining cabbage. Heat some olive oil in a large sauté pan and add the cabbage and 1 diced onion. Cook until lightly browned, then add 1/2 cup wine (I used red; it was open) and cook until it's evaporated. Add 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes in puree and break up the tomatoes a bit. Add some water, about 1/4 cup brown sugar, some raisins, 1/2 teaspoon citric acid (I couldn't find any, so I used Fruit-Fresh, which contains ascorbic and citric acids, plus about a tablespoon of sherry vinegar—?), about 6 ginger snaps, and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the cabbage rolls, seam side down, in the sauce, cover the pan, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
Serve with sour cream or crème fraîche.Somewhere in there we also had sausages. Oh, and I made a plain old apple pie for dessert.
Today, of course, will be turkey, and I also want to make my mom's cheese babka, which is sort of a mash-up of a Mario Batali pandoro and a Craig Claiborne cheese danish. Mr. Chalmers kindly consented to using preground coffee for the forseeable future so that I'd have two big cans to bake the babkas in. They've been emptied and washed, so stay tuned.