You Want Me To Cook What?

By Tammie Painter

The definition of volunteerism in my family generally means the person who didn’t say “No” fast enough; so, due to my slow response time a few years ago; my loved ones volunteered me to cook Thanksgiving dinner.

I enjoy cooking, but my tastes steer toward curries and enchiladas, not stuffing and giblets. Also, I’d never cooked a meal to feed more than two or coordinated the parade of side dishes expected at Thanksgiving.

 

Did I mention I’m a vegetarian?

That’s right; my family volunteered a vegetarian to prepare a meal that centers around an overgrown chicken. And my family would never settle for Tufurkey or some turkey-shaped lentil loaf creation. They’d expect the bird and all the trimmings. Fear should have bloomed in their guts, but they were too proud of escaping the dinner drudgery to bother.

Magazine layouts and a love-hate relationship with Martha Stewart ignited in me a yearning for the perfect meal. There’d be no Stove Top or canned berries at my table. Whether I gave them salmonella or not, my family would be fed well. The problem: I had no idea how to achieve this culinary masterpiece. My only experience with a Thanksgiving dish was making mashed potatoes once.

I was lost. How many side dishes were required? What exactly was stuffing? Was it mandated that yams be crowned with gooey marshmallows? One magazine – whose mission statement is something like, “Our featured homes make yours look like a hillbilly’s moonshine shack” – offered up a Thanksgiving Day menu. I read it and laughed. Soup for Thanksgiving dinner? My family would wonder what I did wrong to the gravy.

I needed help and, like anyone raised on too much TV, I turned to the magic box. The movie Pieces of April features a tale of a young woman played by Katie Holmes cooking her first Thanksgiving for a critical family. She suffers various mishaps such as dropping the bird, a dead oven and a crazy neighbor holds her turkey hostage. But the majority of her neighbors are wonderful people who lend their ovens and advice to save her meal. I wished, like Katie, I lived in an apartment building full of knowledgeable Thanksgiving chefs.

Still, I garnered Thanksgiving cookery tips from some unlikely sources. First, the local tabloid, better known for hooker ads, a sex column and poking fun of celebrities, featured an article about how to cook a Thanksgiving Day meal. It included tips from what to expect when opening the plastic the turkey is encased in (it still didn’t prepare me for the horrors) to the timing of the preparations (Thanksgiving Eve preparation is key to avoiding a day of misery). Once armed with this knowledge I read the sex column and laughed at celebrity gossip.

The second source was a bus stop companion. I bemoaned the irony of a vegetarian cooking a turkey and he insisted I “must brine it in salt and apple juice.” Apparently this would make Gobbles super moist and “the best turkey you ever tasted.” So maybe he wasn’t the best listener, but the advice was heeded.

The third source was my father. He wasn’t brave enough to attend, but he too saw the humor in someone making gravy for the first time who couldn’t taste the stuff during the process. He told me all about roux and other ingredients for the perfect gravy. This arsenal of gravy know-how had me feeling all French-chef-confident about my culinary endeavor.

With my mental tally of how to do what when, I was ready.

Thanksgiving Eve I prepared the stuffing (a tastier term than “soggy bread and celery”), the time-draining mashed potatoes, and the yams sans marshmallow goop. My carb-fest looked fabulous, and I gained a renewed vigor thinking I’d be able to pull this off after all. With my assuredness skyrocketing, it was time to tackle Mr. Turkey.

To keep the salmonella out of the kitchen, I hauled my twenty pound bag of squishy bird flesh to the basement utility sink. I plunged a knife into the plastic and out gushed what seemed like a gallon of bloody liquid. I jumped back shuddering. Shouldn’t they have cleared that stuff out during the slaughter? My repulsion was nothing compared to my confusion over the plastic contraption binding the poor animal’s legs together. Do they worry it might walk off? Luckily I’d read the sex column and could laugh about the sado-masochistic nuances of the poultry handcuffs. It took Sampson-like strength to hack through Tom Turkey’s S&M shackles, but once I did, the bird’s legs flung open.

 

Rinsed and slippery, I plopped the bird into a bucket to drown it in salt and watered down apple juice, then dragged the monstrosity of a bird and four gallons of liquid into the garage hoping it was cold enough, but knowing if I gave everyone food poisoning I’d never be asked to go through this again.

 

Attempting to set the mood, I put on music at a low volume, lit candles, and opened the copious amount of wine my family would need to withstand each other for several hours.

Unfortunately, the meal was a success.

 

Using some untapped cooking instinct, I managed a lump-free, creamy gravy everyone swooned over and coordinated the dance of warming the side dishes as the turkey roasted to time everything coming to temperature at the same moment.

Everyone’s bellies stretched to capacity and, as they lolled around afterward in a turkey stupor, someone uttered the dreaded words: “I think you’ll be cooking Thanksgiving dinner from now on.”

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2 Responses to “You Want Me To Cook What?”

  1. Hi Tammie loved the article! When Rosemary tells me you’ve written an article , I always read it.
    Love Aunt Connie

  2. Rosemary says:

    Tammie, I just found your Thanksgiving article again. I just love it!

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