Bite Size Memoir No. 10

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

July 14, 2014

Bite Size Memoir for Carrot RanchWriting a memoir is like eating an elephant as our host, Lisa Reiter, reminds us–one bite at a time. Thus far, she’s led memoirists new and seasoned through ten bites. I’m hoping the elephant is grand and that the meal is greatly extended. I’m enjoying the company around the dinner table as we swap memories.

The swap is enlightening. Sharing memories in bites with others leads to revelations and reminders. My memory reminds another and another’s memory jiggles a forgotten item from the past. It’s kind of like digging into old couch cushions and finding loose change.

This week, we our theme is “10 out of 10.” We are prompted to write about something we excel at be it a hobby, academia or even a certain strand of trivia.

I’m very good at setting that dinner table for Thanksgiving feast. When I wrote food columns, I would get excited for the grandest American food holiday and try to outdo the year before. All my food pairing and menu planning benefited my family who got to eat the results. One year, my eldest read an article that I wrote for the local newspaper and she went online to comment….”That’s my mum and that’s what we’re eating for Thanksgiving!” It made me feel like the best turkey-stuffer in the world.

So let me tantalize you with my best 10.

Memories of the Drunken Turkey

When they were little enough to all kneel on the kitchen counter, the Thanksgiving turkey got a full-body massage. Three little hands rubbed room-temp butter onto the round, raw 20-pound tom. As the kids got older and our food interests matured, we introduced vices to the turkey–smoking, bourbon and Clean Slate Riesling. From this transition, the Mills Family Drunken Turkey rose to the ranks of near-legend. At least for three Mills offspring.

Three days before launching the inebriated turkey into the oven, I create a brine of alcohol, spices, water and Celtic Sea Salt. Sometimes he gets to smoke prior to sloshing in bourbon or wine. He’s the star of the dinner table but accompanied by the likes of: Exotic Vanilla-Bean Cranberries, Wild Rice with Butternut Squash, Jalapeno Cornbread, Camembert Mashed Yukons, Maple Orange Sweet Potatoes, Savory Mushroom Bread Pudding, Creamed Peas and Bourbon Pumpkin Pies.

My perfect 10.


Note about photo: this was my Papa Sonny’s turkey ranch in central California, east of San Francisco.  Not all ranches wrangle cattle. And yes, the turkeys were free-range.

Turkeys on the Range







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  1. Lisa Reiter

    To have a vegetarian’s mouth watering is some feat! Wow Charli, I’m almost speechless as we get ready to sit down at the table with you all and tuck in! We’re celebrating 2 x 10 out of 10 here, one for your creative culinary expertise (and love and patience with for this amount of preparation) and another for such evocative writing. No wait! I spot another nod to a theme of ten with all those sumptuous sides! Perhaps that adds to 4 x

    Thank you and thank you for a lovely introduction to what I’m trying to do with memoir – best analogy yet!

    “It’s kind of like digging into old couch cushions and finding loose change.”

    It is but with the occasional bit of treasure too. Lisa xx

    • Charli Mills (@Charli_Mills)

      Yes! I love the added occasional bit of treasure. One Thanksgiving each daughter brought me a challenge–one a “friutatarian” college roommate and the other a vegetarian boyfriend. Also, eldest daughter was going gluten-free. I think the challenges made for one of the best feasts ever, but we still had turkey and we had a mock turkey from a walnut loaf. Thanks for taking a moment to salivate!

  2. TanGental

    God Charli, I’m drooling and it’s barely breakfast. Wonderful wonderful meal. I enjoyed my first ever truly American Thanksgiving turkey in San Francisco last year when we went to the Textiliste’s god-daughter’s wedding. Wonderful with the exception of the sweet potato, cranberry and marshmallow side. Glad to see you eschew that at the ranch!

    • Charli Mills (@Charli_Mills)

      I should mention that I also make drunken cranberries which will win anyone over to the tart fruit. Whole cranberries in a pie dish, sprinkled with a cup of sugar, fresh ground cardamon and a split vanilla bean. Bake in the oven for an hour, stirring once at 30 minutes. When its all bubbly and sultry smelling, pull it out and introduce it to a cup of Jack Daniels. The whiskey does not “bake off” so it’s a kicker with turkey! Much better than subjecting them to sweet potatoes and marshmallows!

      • TanGental

        sounds fab; if only I wasn’t teetotal!

      • Lisa Reiter

        Oh my!

  3. Annecdotist

    As someone who’s rubbish at entertaining, I’m totally in awe of your culinary and table-laying skills, all beautifully evoked in this mini-memoir, along with a strong sense of the warmth of your family.

    • Charli Mills (@Charli_Mills)

      Thanks, Anne. I’m a kitchen cook with adventurous tastes! And yes, I love serving up to my family.

  4. Sherri

    Oh I used to love celebrating Thanksgiving when living in California. This of course was something very new to me and I embraced it so your menu sounds to me absolutely delicious! I had never made sweet potatoes then (back in the 80’s they were unheard of here in the UK, but popular now) and my then mother-in-law gave me her handed down giblet turkey stuffing which I use still (at Christmas time though!). Your bite evoked the perfect turkey dinner..but what could be better than the comment your daughter left online about her mum…that is definitely 10 out of 10! Love it 🙂

    Charli – I’ve nominated you for a few awards, which I hope you will accept, in appreciation of your wonderful blog, fine writing and readership. Here is the link:
    I’ll be over to you tomorrow with my flash…until then, Happy Monday 🙂

    • Charli Mills (@Charli_Mills)

      Giblet stuffing is so good! We try so many different versions each year. Your comment reminds me of a friend who moved to Minnesota from the Caribbean. Besides the culture and weather shock, she can’t find familiar foods. But she fell in love with Thanksgiving! Have you tried baking sweet potato fries? They go great with curried mayonnaise!

      Thank you so much for thinking of my blog for a few(?) awards! I’m beginning to learn that they teach us to be grateful and how to be graceful in acceptance. So I will buzz over to your blog now!

      Happy Monday! And I look forward to your flash!

      • Sherri

        Yum, I haven’t tried making sweet potato fries but I’ve had them here at restaurants and I love them. I’ll have to have a go and I know that hubby would love the curried mayo with them. Great idea, thanks! 🙂

  5. Diane

    My 10/10 (for adaptability) wasThanksgiving dinner while our kitchen was on the tail end of a full renovation. We temporarily moved the stove back in and put a folding table on top of where the counters should have been (but were still a week or two away). Amidst the chaos I managed to prepare a semblance of a thanksgiving dinner that we enjoyed….sitting cross-legged at our coffee table. PS: To get through that, it wasn’t the turkey that was “drunken” – lol

    • Charli Mills (@Charli_Mills)

      What an accomplishment! Did I mention that I join the turkey? Not fair to let him drink alone. 🙂

  6. Morgan Dragonwillow

    Okay, now I’m hungry! I love food, making it, sharing it, and eating it. I watch for the ooo’s and aahhh’s as my family and friends bite into every tasty morsel. It is a good thing I didn’t read your’s first because I would have written about my lasagna or food in general. I think I probably didn’t because I learned a long time ago that my family comes from a long line of delicious cooks because in my family, being a good cook is a measured mark of a good wife and her worth but it isn’t anything special because it is expected.

    Man, I want to be sitting at your table this Thanksgiving and of course I am going to have to try some of those recipes. LOL!

    Peace to you.

    • Charli Mills (@Charli_Mills)

      Oh, I love a good lasagna! Can you imagine how hungry we’d all be if Lisa gave out a prompt on food? Oh, boy!

      Interesting what you say though, about being measured as a “good wife.” That was prevalent in my upbringing, too although the girls were never to be as good as their mothers or grandmother. In fact recipes handed down often omitted important steps or ingredients. I reconstructed my ideas about food and cooking as the kids got older and I got into food writing as a freelance gig.

      And you are welcome at my Thanksgiving table anytime!

      • Morgan Dragonwillow

        Wow, freelance food writer, sounds awesome. I am slowly but surely putting together a food memoir with a working title of, Eating in the Shadows, Growing in the Dark, or something along those lines.

        I imagine there are recipes somewhere but my mother taught me to cook by telling me, “You’ve seen me do it, just make it like I do.” Or she would say, “Just put a dash of (fill in the blank) and a dash of (blank) a pinch, a splash, that was her recipes. So I didn’t learn all of my cooking skills from her although I did learn how to create a meal out of seemingly empty cupboards just like her. I consider myself an intuitive and experiential cook. I taste and if I don’t like how it tastes I add various ingredients (which I smell first) until it tastes good. Sometimes I will look at a recipe for a base and then I decide what I’m going to add and what I’m not going to add. Yep, lots of experimenting and 95% of the time it turns out great, or at least I think so. Have to go eat now, as all this food talk has made me very hungry! 😀

      • Charli Mills (@Charli_Mills)

        Sounds like an intriguing title! Food memoirs are a hot genre–foodies just gobble them up. I cook by intuition, too which is why I think that I took to food writing so well–I could imagine possibilities from a single basic recipe.

  7. Morgan Dragonwillow

    P.S. My favorite spice is Tarragon. Do you have a favorite spice?

    • Charli Mills (@Charli_Mills)

      I LOVE TARRAGON! <3 It's gone wild in my neglected garden but it's my fave!

      • Morgan Dragonwillow

        Oooh I wish I had Tarragon on my patio, I’ve looked but can’t find a place that sells the plant in this area. I will have to look again this year so I can plant some on my back patio. Neglected gardens I think are the bane of a writer; we’re so consumed with our words everything else gets neglected.

  8. Norah

    This dish sounds absolutely delish! My mouth is watering. When we have our Rough Writers conference, I vote you do the catering!

    • Charli Mills

      Will do!

      • Norah

        Can’t wait! 🙂


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