I have a secret I’ve been carrying around, like a middle school backpack — zipped busted because the bag is full of thick books — it’s weighing me down, hurting my back. I’ve been lugging this secret to work, my house, to my fiance’s home, in the car, and back and forth and in between… and I think I’m finally ready to share with you. I said I wanted to share the nitty gritty, right? Well, this is it for me. I know some of you may be let down it’s not something more dark… but sorry. I don’t run around the house naked when alone; I’m not an animal abuser, porn watcher, or threatening prank-phone caller. I’m not anything bad or odd… This is simply put: Just a secret. Something I’m scared of. Not a fear that will instantly get me crying, such as, “What if something happens to my sister in her line of work…” No. This is just a fear that makes me chew all my fingernails… even though I vowed that would be my 2011 New Year’s resolution. (So much for that… again…)
*Sigh* So it’s just a simple secret… and I think I’m ready to tell you. I think… See, I knew I would share it with you sooner or later, but I decided to share it earlier, before forced. I have decided to bare my secret now…
I’m making the Thanksgiving turkey.
I know, I know! Many of you are probably moving the mouse to another website after hearing that, but listen here! This is big. We’re talking a turkey — a whole turkey. A Thanksgiving turkey. Really — Stop and think about it! What are your memories of Thanksgiving? Who prepares your turkey every year? I’ll bet either you’ve underappreciated your turkey-cooker… or you’ve forgotten your first turkey-cooking fears. Well this is a story of mine…
One day recently, I was idly flipping through Good Eats to get a look at my next cooking journey… and that’s when I saw it — Episode 14, Season 2: “Good Eats Roast Turkey.” Surely it was a sign — Thanksgiving then was about a month away, and here, I had only one application before it! Now I’ve been known for making over the top goals, but ya know what? I’m a go-getter! And at that moment in time, this goal did not seem out of reach. It was just another culinary step I had signed up for in my personal ‘Alton’s Guide To Cooking’ class. So… thinking turkey… thinking Alton… thinking, “I have to make a turkey any way! Why not ask my mom if I can make the Thanksgiving turkey this year?!” What a great idea! …Then I realized, I’d have to put up my defenses, encourage myself to speak out — provide a list of reasons as to why I could succeed… and why my mother, the proud turkey-cooker, should step aside! So as the phone rang, my mental list grew; I came prepared…
“Mama…,” I said into the phone. “Sooo… I was looking through Alton’s cookbook, and I have to skip his “Chocolate Mousse” because I don’t have a stand mixer — ”
“Honey, you don’t have to get those exact items, you know. You can easily use your hand mixer instead.”
“… Huh? …Oh… yeah. I know… but I mean, I don’t want to… but — That’s besides the point. …Sooo… I um, came to the next recipe… and it’s a turkey!” (keep skirting) “Can you believe it?! A whole turkey! …And I figured… well…” (deep breath… deliver the punch) “SinceThanksgivingiscomingup,maybeIcouldpreparetheturkey?BecauseitisjustsillyformetodothewholethingjustformeandJames,butmaybe
contributethatwayand — ”
“Okay, honey. I think that’s a great idea.”
At this, I had the same reaction when James proudly released my secret to his family — A large gulp. Then, long pause. Just like that, I shuffled my mother to the sidelines. It was one move, and that was it. My gesture — strong and swift, as if proclaiming, “Checkmate.” The sole woman who has prepared an incredible turkey for 33 years — my entire life and more… I just scooted her out of her own kitchen. I felt horrible, guilty… and now, I felt scared. What if this was a poorly thought out plan? What if something goes wrong? What if I mess up?! I had to call back.
“Mama? What if I mess up?”
A nervous, loud exclamation: “What? What are you going to mess up?!”
“The TURKEY, mama! The TURKEY!!!”
“Oh, honey.” (A sigh of relief) “You won’t mess up the turkey,” she said with such conviction.
“Just what if though? Just… what if…?”
Now my mom was getting exasperated. She dislikes playing what-if games. “Then you mess it up!”
“WHAT?! I can’t! I can’t just ‘mess it up’! What will I do! What will we do?! What would we eat?!?!”
I think it was here she realized this was a true concern of mine, a real fear. “Then we’ll eat the other stuff — the stuffing, the beans, the cranberry sauce — ”
“THE CRANBERRY SAUCE!!! We can’t eat JUST THE CRANBERRY SAUCE!!!”
To this, she decided another approach. It was as if I could hear her psychological wheels turn… “Honey. Calm down. If it goes wrong, we’ll eat other food, and know what? We’ll laugh about it later. We will say, ‘Oh remember the time Laura thought she could make the turkey, and it turned out raw?! We won’t let Laura near it this year!'” (chuckling)
Maybe she heard my silent chant of, “Raw?!Raw?!Raw?!”, because she then continued, my cheerleader, “It really will be alright… but if it doesn’t turn out, it will be a great memory. Your daddy still talks about his uncle’s corn beef dinner”… And here she explained a wonderful family memory I never heard before…
Before my dad married my mom, his uncle came up from out-of-state to spend time with his family. Because he was staying with family (who always spoiled him with wonderful meals and a place to stay when he visited), he wanted to treat everyone by cooking corn beef on the grill. He invited several family members for this big ‘Corn Beef Extravaganza’… buuut what happened was not the treat he hoped to give. My dad’s uncle cooked that meat on the grill all day… until the outside charred, but hey — that’s good and tasty because it means, once the meat is cut, a tender pink meat inside will be revealed. Yeeet, once the corn beef was taken off the grill, sliced, and put onto plates, no one — not one person — was able to cut it with a knife. I’m told everybody tried and tried… and tried to cut that stubborn corn beef… and it didn’t even dent. My mama said my daddy’s grandma then picked it up — with her fingers — and tried to gnaw a bit of the sucker off. She succeeded… with a tiiiny bit… and was left chewing and chewing… and chewing some more. In the end, no one could eat it. “Too tough,” as my mom says. So what was served for dinner that night? No one had meat, that’s for damn sure… and if you’ve grown up in a country family like mine, no meat is an utter shock.
So that’s it folks. On that story of Morris success, the turkey is purchased. The ingredients — sitting in paper bags at my parent’s house. I’ve sealed my fate, signed the recipe in blood. My blood. By announcing this secret thought to my fiance, my mom, to you… I cannot look back. “Can I pull this off?,” I wonder. “Can I truly pull this off?…” I mean, we aren’t talking about preparing an entire fish… while that is an impressive meal I conquered, it was simply to feed my fiance and myself. No great expectations; we cook-experiment together. We aren’t talking about butterflying a chicken… That is solely a talent of wielding a knife, which means even if I failed (and I did), the chicken is still good enough to eat… it just appears oddly (or uniquely) cut. …No, no. Instead, we are talking about a turkey. A whole Thanksgiving turkey. The turkey. A bird that is expected to feed seven people… and yield leftovers. Turkey — which has, by default, shaped Thanksgiving meals across our great nation. Turkey — the shining star, the spotlight of Thanksgiving meals… sweet potatoes, broccoli casserole, corn muffins — all mere fill-ins, extras, space collectors. It’s the turkey that’s the great wonder, the one sole that gets “ow”-ed and “aw”-ed over. …And I’m making it this year, with James of course. But this is one story I would not necessarily want to be in. Sure, it would be fitting — James and I are known for mischief or clumsiness… but I don’t want to be the next chapter in the “Remember when” Morris Family Book. I just want a story of success. I crave a story of high conquest, unforseen victory. …Possibly the first stepping stone for a new family tradition…
But more than all, I just want to make a delicious, mouth-watering, moist turkey. And I want to serve it to my family, my loved ones for Thanksgiving.
…Please hope for me…
— To be continued —