Howard Johnson’s on Thanksgiving?!
I want to start from the end and that means talking about Thanksgiving and Howard Johnson’s on the same page. I’ve been watching the Thanksgiving posts on Twitter, in my Feed Reader and on Facebook and thought I’d stand back and watch. I mean, what could I contribute in the turkey-stuffing-gravy-mashed potatoes-sweet potatoes-cranberry sauce-string bean casserole-pumpkin pie arena that everyone else hasn’t already said? It’s all the same, isn’t it? Year in and year out we endure the run-up to Thanksgiving, look forward to the day off and the start of the holiday season, make and/or eat our family favorites while some watch football or head outside to the cool (maybe) Fall air for some outdoor time and then we all gather around the table to eat one of our favorite meals all year. I’m no different.
The place may change, but the tradition is the same — sometimes with family, often not, but for a couple of weeks I was cooking and shooting and eating Thanksgiving food, but there was nothing special about it. Nothing different enough to make it stand out from the massive food blogging and tweeting and facebooking crowd so I continued to stand back. But last night, when I put this sandwich together, it evoked childhood memories that drew me to my keyboard.
So come on, let’s talk turkey and other things. I remember the open-faced turkey sandwich at Howard Johnson’s (HoJo’s) that was a favorite when I was a kid. YES! I said the open face turkey sandwich at Howard Johnson’s was a FAVORITE of mine! Yes ME, the person that grew up to have an aversion to chain restaurants. ME, with a mom that is a most amazing cook , I liked going to HoJo’s for that sandwich! And my mom liked going for the fried clams. It came with tartar sauce on a roll not unlike the one I used for my sandwich, but we’ll get into that later. The clams were crispy and really what can be bad about something that’s deep fried, but lett’s step back a few paces. It was the late 60′s. Howard Johnson’s was down the road about 15 minutes down the road, off Route 10 if I remember correctly.
We didn’t go often, which lends itself more to the illusion that a lunch or dinner at Howard Johnson’s with the orange roof was a special event. And why not? We were kids. And they had dessert! We probably weren’t silent, like statues all the time and yet we all wanted to go out for a meal here and there. This was pre McDonald’s, people. It conjures up scenes of MadMen with pouffy hair and sleek form-fitting dresses on the grown ups, women in their shiny patent leather high heels and cat eye sun glasses small purses hanging off their arms and men in crisp white shirts with starched collars and maybe a thin tie. I remember the food coming to the table, but for the life of me I can’t remember what my sister ordered. If was lunch, then our dad was out in the big city working. Perhaps she had a hot dog? Not likely. Chicken of some sort? A hamburger? Swell! I can’t remember. It’s a total blank. Jane, chime in here — help me out please. Those days were far too long ago now for me to remember — darn it!
But I remember my sandwich. A white plate with two slices of white bread. No, not the artisan country loaf I almost built last night’s sandwich on. The soft white bread that you can roll into balls and spit through a straw if you were so inclined and didn’t have manners or parents to stop you. The kind of bread that turns to glue with turkey and gravy on top. On top of the bread was a dollop of stuffing, then a slice of turkey and to finish, a good helping of gravy. Off to the side was a spot of canned cranberry sauce and a spoonful of mixed vegetables which most probably were picked through for the corn.
I dove into my sandwich with abandon last night just as I did as a kid. I came home with a goodie bag of leftovers from Thursday’s Thanksgiving dinner, but without gravy so I whipped up a very Howard Johnson’s style batch using butter, flour, chicken stock from a box and a whole lot of freshly ground black pepper and it was perfect. Just right.
The turkey was from this big, golden brown turkey we roasted and the cranberry sauce was not from a can. I whipped up a pot of fresh cranberries, sugar and orange juice with 3 whole cloves thrown in for a nice bit of aromatic zip.
I stirred and stirred until it thickened up and after a bit of time cooling in an ice water bath into the fridge it went until dinner. Which, by the way, was served right on time. The bird took exactly 3 hours to roast and after it had time to rest, the fabulous sausage stuffing and green bean casserole were heated and ready to serve.
Thanksgiving at the Millers was once again in full swing with the few of us single types at the table for a fun time. Stories were told and a great meal was shared and we sat back knowing that we’d soon be diving into left overs. I knew we’d talk about times gone by. Three of us worked at AOL together for years and 3 of us work at OPM together now. I am the one in those little circles that has a past and present with both, so the stories were fun for me, but for the others at the table, well, it’s just a good thing there was good food to dive into or they would have hit their heads on the table in mid sleep.
What I didn’t know was that with this meal, I’d be recreating a childhood memory — the open face turkey sandwich. I didn’t have — NEVER have had one of those traditional bags of white bread in the house, but I did have a bag of Martin’s Potato Rolls for my stash of Hebrew National hot dogs and it was the perfect bread for this sandwich. The rolls, while not flat on a plate kind of bread had the right consistency to stand in for white bread and it ended up being so right it was almost wrong that I had them in the house.
I tried not to go overboard on the turkey, but it was enough for all of us to have more than one more meal. For me, it was a snack while watching TV that night and a bite for a 5am breakfast and then the finish was last night’s sandwich. Howard Johnson’s may not be around in this area anymore, but that’s not a problem. I can recreate it in my kitchen. The next thing I need to do is to get my hands on some clams and fry some up for my mom.
I knew we’d be having pie of some sort for dessert, but I couldn’t help myself from making a batch of SweatPeasKitchen’s Buckeyes because they’re that good! If you’ve never had them before, I’m sorry. Yes, I apologize, because you’re missing out on one incredible treat that no one should never, ever go without experiencing. Imagine a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup made with good creamy peanut butter and coated in dark chocolate.
Oh yeah, that is a ball of heaven right there!
How was your Thanksgiving? Any old memories come to mind?
In 2007 my career with a large, but shrinking high tech Fortune 50 \"left me,\" leaving a void in my life. While lamenting the loss and flying around the world looking for a new career to get married to, I discovered a way to use a familiar outlet during tough times -- writing. My blog-writing morphed into writing about my favorite past time -- Food! I purchase food, sell food, make food, watch food being made, broadcast meal preparation, photograph and blog about food. Like I said; Food! To change this standard text, you have to enter some information about your self in the Dashboard -> Users -> Your Profile box.