For more than three decades I managed to escape cooking a Thanksgiving meal. Twenty of those years were always spent with the Silvermans, my former in-laws because, if you notice my middle (maiden) name, and their last name, the Christmas holiday was never an issue. Even after Ken came into my life, I continued to claim Christmas Day; so we spent our first four Thanksgivings together at his brother Fred’s home, where Fred honored the family’s vegetarian/vegan tradition of serving borscht and fruit-and-grain-stuffed gourds. For dessert ice cream for everyone, except for the vegans who ate more fruit. When Fred became ill, our last Thanksgiving with him was catered. Then with his passing, the holiday baton (or, rather, baster) was passed to me and my side of the family joined us.
During my first marriage, I often prepared Passover and when I did, always ordered a cooked chicken from Wegmans. No one knew because they arrived early evening for our Seder. But everyone was coming for this first Thanksgiving DAY, and there was no opportunity for deception. I poured over cooking techniques and decided to do a traditional lower-temperature roast, the wonderful aroma (although not to my vegan brother-in-law and two vegetarian stepdaughters) wafting through the house as one football game gave way to another. Time to eat! All the sides were on the table, and after setting down a colorful plate of dressed-up meatless “turkey” patties, I returned to the kitchen for my small and rested Tom Turkey, which collapsed in on itself like the doused Wicked Witch when my older stepdaughter’s boyfriend, Sam, began to carve. Okay, not really. But it was pretty dry.
Growing up in an Italian household, I do pasta to perfection. I have a flair with fish. My osso buco is awesome. And if we’re doing any poultry, I buy breasts and thighs, and a la the Food Channel’s “Chopped” (using ingredients that don’t seem to go together but turn out yummy), create a super surprising savory sauce. Although I will admit to a recent breakdown I had while preparing my signature Chicken with Chorizo for company. We live in the country, so there was no choice when at a critical cooking moment I realized that I did not have Madeira, or any other red wine in the house – only Burgundy, which turned the stew into a purple mess, looking like something Grover from Sesame Street had coughed up. My husband joked over dinner that if everyone came back a week later, I might cook something blue.
Anyway, the following Thanksgiving (last year), I decided to do a 20-hour brine and a high-heat start…and after nearly five hours – which included an hour of overtime cooking – I ran out of piercing sites. The juice was not running clear, so I took out the bird, split it, and put it back in. This was all performed in front of 12 people with their forks and knives at attention because when we remodeled our home, I wanted an open floor plan – which I now regretted.
“Maybe it wasn’t thawed enough,” my brother said. (It was a fresh turkey.)
“Maybe a brined turkey takes longer to cook,” my husband offered. (The opposite is true.)
“Does your oven need to be recalibrated?” my mother asked. (I had baked dessert that morning without incident.)
“Maybe there’s a vegetarian gremlin fiddling with the propane tank,” my stepdaughter remarked. (I was considering that as a possibility until…)
“This happened to me once,” my sister-in-law said. “Sometimes turkeys just don’t cook.
Say what? Turkeys that don’t cook? So the next day I googled Why didn’t my turkey cook? I think my sister-in-law was just being kind because all the answers I found among various cooking sites were the same possibilities that had been posed by my family the night before – except of course the gremlin one.
Autumn is my favorite time of year, but now it brings with it a specter much like The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. On one hand, I am hoping one of my sisters-in-law is kind enough to end my misery and host. But on the other, I am on a mission that must be accomplished. And that they even want to come here again is testament to their love for me – or their sick desire to watch me suffer.
Speaking of Christmas, Mom is moving into a small independent living apartment nearby so that dinner is now all mine too. And I will carry on her long-standing tradition of ordering a Vermont cured ham, prepared and delivered, like a gift from Santa, by the US Postal Service.