Monday, November 19, 2007

Stop Me If You've Heard This Before

Having never been faced with cooking the Thanksgiving turkey ever before in my life, the prospect of doing so filled me with ambivalence. Turkey to me is a "so what" meal. Thanksgiving meals are rote, bland affairs that I would not in any way WANT to eat on any other day. I thought the challenge of doing a turkey would be an intellectual exercise at best.

I proceeded with my friend Sean's recipe for a paper bag turkey, which was a basting-free style form of cooking that would eliminate me having to open the oven every 40 minutes to juice up the thing.

Peering inside Mama's refrigerator, there it was, taking up two shelf spaces. When I was told it was a 25 lb. bird, the image of the Norman Rockwell painting of the American family sitting down to grace and the grandmother proudly carrying the golden roasted bird to the table completely flooded my consciousness. It was cooked to perfection. In theory.

But the reality when I opened the refrigerator door was 25 pounds of BIRD-BEAST. The only thing I could think about was the T-Rex chase scene in Jurassic Park.

Not to be overcome, I grabbed it with both arms. Backing away from mama's refrigerator, the Bird-Beast threw me off balance. Taking off the plastic shrink-wrap, the creature exploded, freed up from its cumbersome prison. The huge boil-sized goosebump pores of its skin looked like they were breathing. I searched for the salt.

"Take a fistful of salt and stick it up its ass", I remember someone telling me that was his favorite Thanksgiving duty. He never got invited over for subsequent dinners. But I took in the spirit of this questionable pleasure, and with a handful of Morton's approached the bird. I had forgotten that with all poultry, the processor will usually place the baglet of organs into the creature's crevice. This bird was no exception. With a plunge of my fistful of salt my hand was wedged into the mastodon bird. Thinking I could perform two duties with the one, I started seizing the baglet of organ meats. They wouldn't move. And my hand was stuck. Thinking I could let gravity do the work, I thought perhaps suspending my engaged arm over the roasting pan would free me and the baglet. I certainly did not want to roast the bird with a plastic bag of spleen trapped inside. It still would not move.

Next I tried to ease myself out of it, taking to the chair and using the tight wedding ring scenario, practiced mindful breathing to stop stressing and let the blood flow ease a little, thus freeing my hand and hopefully warming the organ bag enough so that it would release. Still nothing.

Then, in a fit of panic, I violently swung the bird, trying to force it from my arm and it flung me across the kitchen, hitting the edge of the oven, and stopping just short of the kitchen floor, a seething cauldron of bacteria.

It's Thanksgiving and yes, Virginia, my fist was stuck up a turkey's ass.

Misguided heroism prevented me from weakening my wrist and allowing the bird to fall or touch the floor. Rolling over, hoping to get on my back and use that as my vantage point to do a momentum-based sit-up with a twenty-five pound avian life-form in both hands, I engaged my core muscles. Yet my my right knee muscle was twitching, screaming something equally important."PAIN!!!!". I looked down and my knee was starting to hurt from the movement. I micro-wrenched it and was paying the price. Getting up without my hands touching the floor would be impossible.

I lay on the floor, working out what my next move would be. Looking down at my chest, there lay the open exposed neck hole of the T-Rex bird that I was about to bag and put in the oven for dinner, which by this point would happen at 10:00pm. Gathering myself up, I managed to slide my back to the cabinet under the oven with the turkey in my lap. Then, with my good leg, pushed myself up to standing, hopping on the one leg to reach for the big brown grocery bag. I was thirty minutes and a frozen hand into this match, and I was going to get this bird into the oven if it killed me. With all my might I pushed the bird into the bag, and rising to its defense the spirit of this dead bird, a Fighting Demon Turkey Spirit I might add, re-inhabited the body and crushed the bag.

I flattened the bag out with my elbow and tried again. This time, calling for the spirits of my ancestors, for my maternal grandfather, a veteran of decades of pig slaughtering, to my uncles long since in heaven but I'm sure taking pity on me after howling with laughter from heaven's pantry for this half hour of culinary magic. Using a twisting motion with my trapped hand, I somehow managed to dislodge the baglet, free up the salt and my hand at the same time. The bird, laying in "breach" position which would require some a minor procedure to remove later but at least it was finally and at last halleluia, in the fricking bag.

The next day, after I had removed a perfectly roasted bird from the oven and carved it up to dole out leftovers, my brother in law asked me "how did you get the turkey to be so tender?".

Please don't ask.


Turtle said...

That is SO nice! I remember when we had Thanksgiving up here with the wonderful paella!

Once again Henry will bring the free turkey from the HIlton and I will have to call my mom and ask her how to cook it, as I have done every Thanksgiving for 38 years!

I can never remember the temperature - it's a formula based on the number of pounds. & then she always says my oven is no good.

I shopped at an Asian market because it was closer and not as crowded so all the chips, cookies etc. for hors d'oevres will be a surprise - got vinegar/garlic corn chips, peach/mango chips, vegetable/wheat chips, pineapple cake etc.

We'll have tiny tiny potatoes cooked whole, a pound of shrimp and a bunch of crab legs.

We'll have caramel pecan ice cream, some chocolate mousse thing we thaw out from Trader Joe's and more Mango mousse and a fresh pineapple!

We'll get Henry to make some garlic, basil ground pork and brown rice!

Auntie Fi said...


I remember that Seattle Thanksgiving as one of the most colorful I've spent. I especially loved the home cinema that nephew Nikko and Ken set up on you bedsheet movie screen. What a hoot.

To this day I am still double checking the cookbooks on the turkey. Does everyone agree on the same one, or is there universal acknowledgement that no one oven is the same anywhere across the planet?

Sounds like you scored in the Asian food marts. Smart! ANd I love the crab leg idea. Hmmm--that's a useful tip for an event I'm planning to cater.