|||||Cats Laughing, "See How The Sparrow Flies"||]|
A chronicle of my personal worst Thanksgiving.
This one happened some years ago, but has engraved itself on my brain. At that time I was living alone, so my friend Dar asked me to come over to her place for Thanksgiving. Actually, since I had no other plans (and no car), she suggested that she come over and pick me up on Wednesday so I could help her with the shopping; I would stay over at her place, and we could make the preparations that afternoon and dinner the next day.
Should have lied. When she asked me if I had plans, I should have lied. For various reasons I have no particular emotional attachment to the Thanksgiving holiday and no problem with spending it alone, and spending that Thanksgiving alone would have been infinitely preferable to spending it with Dar. I should have lied ...
Anyway. She showed up at my place on Wednesday and off we went to Fry’s Supermarket. Where I witnessed such an orgy of shopping as I have not seen since. Example: The rule I’ve run across most often for choosing a turkey is “two pounds per diner”. There were to be six at table: Dar, her husband Jerry, their two teenaged nephews whom they were raising, me and one other guest.
So naturally Dar bought a twenty-six-pound turkey. Because she couldn’t find anything larger. Fresh, so we could cook it the next day.
And everything else was bought in proportion. Six loaves of bread for the stuffing. Three pie crusts and three cans of pumpkin. Three dozen eggs. Two huge things of celery. Four pounds of butter. With Dar sorting through all the butter and egg cartons in the refrigerator section, searching carefully for the very freshest unsalted butter (because unsalted butter is fresher than salted, she said) and the very freshest brown eggs (because brown eggs are “better” than white). She bought enough food to feed fifteen people.
We had to hit two supermarkets: Fry’s for most stuff, the Bashas’ nearest Dar’s place (now a Food City) for produce. I bought apples and walnuts to make Waldorf salad because my mother always made Waldorf salad at Thanksgiving.
Then we headed back to Dar’s, put everything into the refrigeratorS ...
and proceeded to sit around for the entire afternoon and evening.
Dar drank and talked about how expert she was at cooking Thanksgiving dinners, and then just drank and talked. Finally, around eleven at night, I tried to make a contribution and actually turn this into a conversation: she’d just finished a long and convoluted and utterly pointless anecdote which I’d heard six times before, and I chimed in with, “That reminds me of something I read once.”
That’s as far as I got, because at that point Dar jumped to her feet with an excited, “Well, yeah, but we don’t have any time for idle chitchat. We’ve got to get some of this stuff made.”
Which should give you an idea of the sort of person Dar is. She can drunkenly repeat a story a dozen times, undisturbed by multiple assurances that you’ve heard this story before. But anyone else’s contribution to the conversation, any interruption of her monologue, is “idle chitchat”.
So, we made a few loaves of bread and finally conked out around two in the morning. And when we arose was when things got interesting.
At that time, Dar had two refrigerators: one in the kitchen, one outside on the back patio. Most of the groceries from the Thankgiving shopping ordeal had gone into the outside fridge. And that was a very cold winter.
We woke up to find that all the groceries in the outside fridge, including the fresh turkey, had frozen.
So while Dar and the nephews (whom I shall call Elder and Younger) cut up bread and chopped freezer-burned celery, I got the joyful task of thawing out the turkey. Hauling this enormous dead frozen corpse of a bird around and around in a sinkful of warm water, flexing its joints and waiting for Dar to finally give her official ruling that it was sufficiently thawed to start work.
It had to be Dar’s decision, because all the decisions were hers. You see, Dar hat this entire erroneous notion that she could cook. (Hint: Dar once told me that a cast iron pan was not properly "seasoned" unless you scrubbed it inside with soap and steel wool after every use.)
Finally, she gave the turkey legs a few bends and ruled the Monster cookable. We hauled it over to the kitchen table, dried it with two bathtowels, and then Dar salted and peppered it and rubbed it all over with a thick layer of Crisco.
Not butter, or even margarine. Crisco. A thick layer. That turkey looked as if it had been frosted like a cake.
And then the stuffing process began. Dar had cut up six loaves of bread, seasoned them, added chicken broth and onion and celery and melted butter ... and at least a dozen raw eggs. The stuffing was not merely “moist”, it was wet. Soupy wet.
Okay, “stuffing” as noun was done with; next, “stuffing” as verb. Now, every cookbook I’ve ever seen, every “roast turkey and dressing” recipe I’ve ever read, states very specifically and explicitly: spoon the dressing lightly into the turkey. Always. Invariably. And usually in those exact words: spoon the dressing lightly into the turkey.
So Dar proceeded to RRRAM the dressing into the turkey with all the strength in her body.
She sewed the engorged, distended turkey shut at both ends … and it was at this point she discovered (!) that she didn’t have a roasting pan quite big enough for an overstuffed twenty-six-pound turkey. She put the turkey into the largest pan she had, slightly overhanging on all sides, and tucked the extra dressing (and there was a lot of extra dressing) into the pan’s edges around the bird. Somehow she fitted this ... object into the oven, along with pans of sweet potatoes and greenbean casserole and everything else.
This was three o’clock in the afternoon.
At this point it occurred to Dar to find out exactly how long a turkey that size needed to cook.
She checked a couple of her cookbooks and found numbers based on the USDA’s old turkey-roasting guidelines. They all said that a turkey that size needed to roast for twenty minutes per pound.
Eight hours and forty minutes.
Okay, so at least it gave us a chance to rest for a while. And me a chance to converse with Other Guest for as long as I could stand it, OG being a right-wing asshole Limbaugh fan. Fiiiinally we took the turkey out of the oven.
As I said, Dar had packed dressing into the edges of the pan surrounding the turkey. You’ve cooked rice, haven’t you? You know how it forms a flat surface pocked with holes, where steam has bubbled up through?
That’s how those piles of dressing looked. Pocked with holes, where GREASE had bubbled up through. All the liquid that dripped out of the turkey, that a real cook would have basted the bird with and then made gravy out of, had been absorbed. Including the Crisco I mentioned earlier.
You could squeeze a handful of that stuff and it would drip.
So, dinner hit the table sometime after midnight. The turkey breast was as dry as you’d expect after nearly nine hours in the oven, the dark meat little better, the exterior dressing was like a wet sponge, the interior stuffing ... it was as if the turkey had swallowed a bowling ball.
Only four of us dined: me, Jerry, OG, and Elder nephew. Younger had passed out sometime around ten, and Dar herself ... well, nothing adds to the appeal of a meal quite so much as having your cook murmuring as she puts your plate in front of you, “I’m not gonna eat anything, I really feel like throwin’ up just about now.”
Dar and Jerry had seven dogs. Even the DOGS wouldn’t eat that goddamn turkey.
Everyone liked my Waldorf salad, though.
I haven't eaten at Dar's since.