10 November 2008

Guest Post: Modern Woman's Guide to Holiday Cooking 20

As the months start to spiral onward, Fall 2008 has arrived and Thanksgiving is fast approaching. I think that any one of us - regardless of cooking level or knowledge can remember sometime in our holiday past when dinner was anything but perfect and kitchen errors were left ingrained in our memories forever.


Post Forward:
Awhile ago I put out a call for interesting stories related to cooking, that would be featured on Renaissance Culinaire , and one of the responses I received was from April, who is a resident of Portland, OR.

This is what she wrote:


It is a humorous piece. I did not know if you wanted only articles that were written by 'real chefs'. Obviously, I am not, but I thought you might enjoy it anyway. - April M Whidden












April Whidden's Guest Post:

This year I did something I had never done before. I hosted our families traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Since the tragic salmonella poisoning of 1997, my family had voted (68-1) that I should never again be allowed to set foot inside a kitchen. Determined to redeem my inner domestic goddess, I crafted an ingenious plan to ensure that I would be the one cooking the bird this year.

Quite surprisingly, saying "please,please,please,please" for three hours straight works as well on my mother now as it did when I was a kid.

"This will be the best Thanksgiving ever." I told my husband as I happily planned the seating arrangement. Having only four chairs I had worked out a course by course rotation schedule to accommodate all of the guests, provided Aunt Tessie could not make it who would take up two seats alone.

"We need new placemats?" I reminded him, eying the plastic Easter Bunnies that still graced our table.

"We just got those." He said, gripping his wallet. "Just color in some feathers and a waddle."

I narrowed my eyes at him and he changed the subject.

"You inviting your brother?" He asked nervously.

"I had planned to." I replied. My brother was an anti-consumerist vegan who owned a million books and dvds which explained why shopping and holidays were wrong. My husband sighed helplessly.

"You know, you've never cooked a turkey." He informed me, as if this was something I had not considered.

"How hard can it be?" I asked him. "After all, it's just a big chicken. If the colonel can do it, then so can I."

Even so, his ominous words had me a bit worried, and reluctantly I sought out the wisdom of my mother.

"How were you thinking of preparing it?" She asked.

"I was thinking of brining it." I informed her, feeling knowledgeable.

"Brining?" Her voice grew louder, filling with alarm. "Do you even know what brining is?"

I hated to admit that I did not. I had read about it in a recent copy of Better Wives magazine while I was in the Super Cuts last week. Unfortunately, I had only read the part that said "Want to start a new Thanksgiving tradition? Try brining your turkey this year." before the stylist called me up to the chair.

"I'm starting a new Thanksgiving tradition." I told her simply, offering no more.

There was a long pause over the phone, followed by my mother's voice uttering an old Catholic prayer.

She is not catholic.

According to a google on the Internet, brining, as it turned out, is a very laborious process of salting the inside and the outside of a turkey, letting it sit overnight, and then rinsing the whole mess off again before baking it. This was way more work than I had intended and I really did not look forward to polishing a turkeys innards. Fortunately for me there were a gazillion other turkey recipes on the net and I found one that was not too difficult, after a bit of personal tweaking.

"Mom," I said, calling to report the change in turkey status, "I decided to use a recipe instead."

"April, I'm so glad honey!" She sounded so proud of me, as if I had just discovered the cure for seasonal hay fever. "What does the recipe call for? Rosemary? Sage? Thyme?"

I blinked and tried to recall where I had heard those words before. Weren't they the gifts from the wise men? I glanced up at my three-gallon bottle of Albertson's Season All and told my mom I had it all under control.

"Would you like me to make the stuffing?"she asked. I could tell in her voice that she was afraid I would, heaven forbid, use a boxed mix. "I can have it ready in the morning and you can swing by to pick it up and stuff the turkey before baking it."

"I wasn't planning on cooking the turkey with the stuffing. It will ruin my recipe." I looked at my meticulously written notes, scribbled in crayon, which hung on the refrigerator door.

Defrost turkey 2 hours...bake for four.

Any variation to this recipe and I knew I was in trouble.

The morning of feast day I woke up bright and early, eager to begin our families newest Thanksgiving tradition. It was almost 11. Wanting to be in a positive frame of mind before I started the actual cooking process I lounged about in my pajamas for a few hours catching up on Desperate Housewives via my trusty Tivo. At 1 PM, during a very good Susan scene, my mother called me to ask how the dinner was coming along. "Fine, mom." I told her absently, trying to read Susan's lips.

When I was little my mom used to get up at 5 AM to start preparation for the day. She began by making the pies, cutting the vegetables, setting the table, and then baking the turkey. She was busy from the moment she woke up until the time she went to bed, attempting to make our meal as wonderful and perfect as a Norman Rockwell painting.

But my mother had lacked the vision, not to mention the modern conveniences I had at my disposal. There was really no reason to waste one's entire day cooking one meal that would be eaten in less than fifteen minutes, when you could achieve the same results in a few hours. At 2 PM I removed the turkey from the freezer and let it sit on the counter to thaw while I tried out bold new hairstyles profiled in Celebrity Monthly. I certainly did not want guests coming over when I had my everyday hair on.

"Mom, turkey's still frozen." my son called to me from the kitchen. Glancing up at the clock I realized he must be mistaken. It was 4:30. It had had a good two and a half hours to go from solid to liquid form. I scratched my head, perplexed. Perhaps I had done a bit too much tweaking.

I put it in the microwave for an hour, using the popcorn cycle repeatedly.

Viola! Like magic, at 3 PM it was thawed, thanks to my incredible foresight to buy the microwave with the popcorn cycle my husband said we would never use.

The bird was small. It had been the Charlie Brown tree of turkeys and I had bought it because I was sure that no one else would not. I had imagined it, cold and alone in the store, wanting desperately to be a part of someone's special dinner this holiday season. I had created a whole Thanksgiving movie about it in my head, a heartwarming tale in which I had given it love and a home...The Littlest Turkey.

Somehow the popcorn cycle had done more than defrost the turkey, it had aged it. It was no longer cute and sweet, but shriveled and old.

"This thing okay to eat?" Asked my husband, uncertain.

"It's fine." I said. "That's how all turkeys look before you cook them" He shrugged and held open a turkey bag and I dropped it in.

Thwak!

That is the sound that turkeys make when they fall through turkey bags onto the floor. It is also interesting to note they do not make a sound at all when they slide across that same floor.

"Catch it!" I cried, panicked. My dogs had entered the room and were circling the bird like bandits on a wagon train. The only thing that kept them at bay was they could not reconcile the smell of turkey with the look of the leather-skinned bird that lay sadly on the linoleum. That would not last long.

My husband hurdled the chairs and seized the turkey just as three hungry canine jaws snapped shut behind him. It was a close call.

I finally put the turkey into the oven and was relieved to actually turn the dial to 325 F °. My job was done. I suppose it would have been wise of me to have preheated the oven, but I was already straying dangerously away from the recipe as it was.

With that, I went off to pick up my vehicular-impaired family. I loaded in my brother and his wife, laden with the traditional vegan goodies, and my mother and dad, carrying so many pies it looked like a circus juggling act. How we all fit in I will never know. The only sound on that still Thanksgiving night came as my dad yelled for me to slow down as we approached speed bumps at a dizzying three-miles-per-hour. Somehow we made it back to my home, safe and sound.

When we arrived, I hesitated at the door. I tried to imagine what my mother would encounter and I felt a pang of guilt. Thanksgiving and holidays had always been important to her. No matter how terrible the times had been for us as a family, she had always made holidays special. Somehow I felt like I had ruined this for her. I admitted to myself that perhaps I had not given the care and the love to the meal that she had. I wanted to warn her, to apologize for what might come. She seemed so happy, I could not do this to her. I would let her find out on her own.

The ghost's of holidays past were with me that night. The house, which only hours before had smelled of burnt leather and wet dog, felt warm and welcoming. The smells that came from the oven made my stomach lurch with hunger. My husband and son had cleaned in my absence and had even lit some scented candles. It felt like a real Thanksgiving.

There is this a part of me that hoped for some drama that night. Drama is always fun to write about. I had hoped that my brother would go on his traditional rant about the wrong-doings of the pilgrims. I had hoped that my mother would yell at me for not following turkey protocol. I had even hoped to burn the bird. None of that occurred. Everyone was happy and merry and the turkey turned out tender and delicious. It was a perfectly lovely night. I had not ruined Thanksgiving after all. Perhaps they will even let me cook dinner for Easter. After all, how difficult can baking a ham be?



This original article is authored by
April M. Whidden , who resides in Portland, OR , who is a freelance writer. Permission was given to republish this Article. 2005 © April M. Whidden. All Rights Reserved and stay with the Author.

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