My daughter just texted me and asked me to cook a turkey and bring it over to her house for Thanksgiving. My son, her brother, gets a free holiday turkey from work every year. He’s young and single, and usually gives his turkey to someone at work who has a big family to feed. He has no use for something that needs to be cooked before eating. This year, instead of giving this prize away, he offered it to his sister.
I have only ever cooked a few turkeys in my life. I don’t really like turkey, and should I ever find myself in the awkward position of wanting to eat some, say in a sandwich, well, that’s what deli departments in grocery stores are for, right? Deli turkey is usually delicious, and comes without that conundrum of what to do with the leftovers.
It’s not that I can’t prepare one. I cooked my first turkey when I was 20, my junior year in college. I was living in a house with four other people at the time, and only one of us was going home for Thanksgiving break that year. I got the bright idea that those of us remaining for the holiday should get together and cook a Thanksgiving feast for ourselves.
After all, the house came supplied with both a complete kitchen and a dining room table, though we’d mostly only ever used the refrigerator and the sink in the kitchen. The dining room table was an obstacle to be walked around on the way to the living room couch, not somewhere to sit and eat. The table and the kitchen would get their first full use.
I learned a few things from that earliest experience. Cooking a turkey is not as daunting as it might seem, provided of course you get one that fits in your oven, which through sheer luck I did. You should also check your kitchen supplies long before you begin any kind of preparation of anything, not the hour your work begins.
Since this was a rental house full of college students, dishes, cookware, and the proper amount of silverware, not to mention carving knives and pot holders, as we belatedly found out, were in scant supply. Lastly, I learned that having three other chefs in the kitchen with me, all of whom were as inexperienced as I was, made for a potential fiasco of the first order.
We squabbled over who got time when to use the oven, or the almost non-existent counter space. We argued over what dishes to make as sides, and what ingredients, exactly, should go in to the stuffing. I thought stuffing absolutely must be cooked in the turkey, and bacon and onions are the prime ingredients besides the bread. One of my house mates acted as if stuffing cooked in the bird was a recipe for instant death of all who consumed it.
I personally dislike sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping, but that was another housemate’s favorite thing. Green bean casserole, especially when all the ingredients come from a can, made my stomach heave at the thought. My housemate from Co-op City in the Bronx, however, insisted he would be devastated without it.
In the end we somehow got it all done, with each of us having the thing we liked best beautifully prepared, cooked, and served at the same time. We all managed to eat some of everything, and none of us died or got sick. The fact that we didn’t have enough of the right dishes, or napkins, or even forks and knives, hardly made a difference. We were young, and able to improvise. It turns out a bread knife is not the best option for carving a turkey, but it does get the meat off the bone. We had a wonderful time, and declared it a success.
For many years I guess I got lucky. The job of preparing the feast fell to my sister, or my sister-in-law, both of whom had families long before I did. I remember those Thanksgivings with warmth and gratitude and the joy of being with family.
When I had young children and moved to Colorado, I discovered the Stanley Hotel, of Stephen King’s “The Shining” fame, served up a Thanksgiving feast worthy of royalty for a reasonable fee. So every year we drove up the mountain to Estes Park and stuffed ourselves, sitting at tables with starched white tablecloths, shining silver, and waiters to clean up our leftovers.
I suppose I shouldn’t complain if this year I have to prepare a bird. I have a beautiful kitchen of my own, with nobody to fight me for space or time, or ingredients. I can make an hors d’oeuvre, and a salad, and a stuffed turkey. They all will fit in my car. It’s such a small price to pay for family.