The Holiday Turkey

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As we approach Christmas, I think back to Thanksgiving night and how I basked in my triumph. I no longer have to fear the upcoming Christmas dinner because I have vanquished my enemy, my long-standing antagonist. This foe has caused me embarrassment, worry and hours of frustration. I am speaking, of course, about the holiday turkey. (I know some of you were thinking I meant mother-in-law.)

You may ask why I single out the turkey and ignore the sometimes tricky turnips, the pumpkin pie that should be ready in 70 minutes but has still not firmed up in 2 hours, or the bane of many a hostess, lumpy mashed potatoes. Oh my friends, those dishes are child’s play compared to the main event, the star from central casting, the turkey. After all, if a side dish fails, toss it. No one will notice anyway. For the pumpkin pie that will not thicken, one stands ready in the frozen food aisle to take its place.

The turkey however, is not easily replaced or dismissed. You cannot disguise its absence because the stuffing and gravy seem gratuitous without it. The green bean casserole melds with the cranberry sauce, creating an unappetizing color palette in its absence. No, you must present the granddaddy of poultry, the big kahuna of the meat case.

I am sure you are curious why I have such a bitter rivalry with the turkey. It started years ago when I was a newlywed. That first Thanksgiving was going to be my entry into the ranks of those who prepare the dinner, as opposed to those who attend as guests. I was ready to accept the responsibility being passed to me by generations that had previously carried on this tradition. Or so I thought before I tried to roast the turkey.

I did not realize that buying a frozen bird of considerable heft the day before Thanksgiving would require a long defrosting time. The first long-distance call to my mother was to find out how to rectify this situation. The second call was to find out how to get the frozen packet of giblets out of such a small orifice. The third call was to weigh the competing instructions in several cookbooks. Do I baste every half hour or do I just put the bird in and forget it for several hours?

The second year brought a new challenge. I had learned from the previous experience. I bought a bird and gave it ample time to defrost. I expertly extracted the giblets and determined that basting every half an hour put a serious crimp in my schedule. However, I did not anticipate a second packet of extraneous turkey parts would be crammed into another turkey orifice. I am happy to report that the plastic material does not melt in a 325 oven, even after several hours.

Year three brought the turkey breast with no orifices to explore. Since this was much smaller than a full bird, I decided I did not need a roasting pan, as a small glass pan should suffice. While plastic packets do not melt at 325, glass pans do create smoke. Then they proceed to fill your house with unpleasant fumes and set off your smoke detectors, which in turn scare pets and small children.

In the intervening years, my parents visited at Thanksgiving or Christmas and Mom tackled the turkey. Some years we were invited to the homes of friends and family for dinner and I secretly took comfort in the turkey anxiety of other hostesses.

But this year a miracle occurred. Thanksgiving went off without a hitch and I am already making the guest list for Christmas dinner. There is no longer fear, trepidation, or an outbreak of hives in my home at the mere mention of turkey. I discovered that my local grocer would sell me a complete holiday turkey dinner, already cooked! And that is how I conquered my adversary, the holiday turkey.

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