Mama Hint: Dreaded Chile Oil

The term ‘that’s a mama hint’ has been in my family since my sister and I have been small.  As guessed, the saying was created by my mama who used it in common sense situations… or… well, situations that didn’t seem so common sense at the time, but instead saying, “I told ya so,” she would educate us.  Say I’m cooking and I hit a pan handle, spilling all hot food on the floor.  My mama, breathing in deeply, would come over, help me clean the mess, and say, “Next time, don’t put the pan handle perpendicular to the stove door; keep it parallel.  That way you won’t accidentally hit it.  That’s a mama hint!”  The examples are endless…  If my sister is about to fill a birdseed container on the kitchen floor, my mama may foresee a future problem (as all mom’s do, with those psychic abilities), stop her, and say, “Look — If we move the feeder outside, you don’t risk spilling anything inside.  Instead, if you miss the feeder, you’ll just end up placing seed on the grass, which will still feed the birds.  That’s a mama hint!”

Strangely enough, even after my sister and I moved out of our parent’s house, our ‘mama hints’ didn’t stop.  To this day, we still dub any tip given to one another as a ‘mama hint.’  Sadly, I found myself wondering how long these ‘mama hints’ will last…  James doesn’t know about the coined expression, so I fear when we get married and live together it will die.  That’s why — after being faced with a certain situation — I decided to expand my blog and bring to you my ‘mama hints.’  As my mom both educated me and got me out of sticky situations, I want to help you.  Realize some of my ‘mama hints’ may seem silly… but let’s be honest, advice can be.  Other times though, I hope my ‘mama hints’ can save you from mistakes, loss time, and grief… which — trust me — are three things you’ll want to avoid (and hopefully can) by reading my very first mama hint to you…

Serrano pepper

Chile oil.  James and I are convinced that if people did not use it as a form of torture back in the day, it can — without a doubt — be used in that fashion now.  …Not that we’re advocates of torture… just sayin’.

My story starts over the weekend when I convinced my wonderful fiancé to prepare chili with me.  While we normally munch my chili, I’ve had this unusual craving for spicy foods (thank you for that thought, my dear friends… but no, I’m not pregnant), and James’ chili fit the bill because it’s packed with that warm heat mine lacks.  So after buying our ingredients, we went into my kitchen where I took the stand as my love’s sous chef.  I diced onions, chopped green and red peppers, minced garlic… and finely cut my ultimate enemy — one small green Serrano pepper.

Serrano pepper

I’ve never cut a chile before so this was a new experience.  Sure, I’ve seen a large number of the Food Network chefs take a knife to the beast-like vegetable, but as I realized (yet again), actions seen on TV are hardly ever that easy.  Just like butterflying a chicken is not a simple slip of the knife through joints, dicing a chile is not an easy “cut, cut, done.”  For all that have not tackled chiles yet, listen closely on how not to cut one…

“Okay, chile,” I said to myself.  “I’ve heard some nasty rumors about you, but buddy, I’ll give you a chance”… and with that, I cut it in half long-ways.  “Hummm… This is unusual,” I thought, and that’s because the Serrano pepper was filled with a thick membrane.  While I worked to remove the foam-like insides, I noticed another problem: The seeds were not attached to the membrane (like a red pepper); instead, they were firmly stuck in the inner ‘skin’ of the chile.  This wouldn’t have been a big deal… if it weren’t for the fact that the membrane and seeds were impossible to remove.  I cut and scraped with a knife… to no avail.  So (as I do when some problems are too hard to solve) I rolled up my sleeves and prepared to get down-and-dirty with the chile.  I took my thumb and dug the nail deep down into the heart of the Serrano — scratching the membrane and seeds out until that green sucker until it looked like a hallow chile  canoe.

Inside a Serrano pepper

Pleased with my work, I finely diced it then placed the bits in our chili.

Confession: I’m obsessive compulsive.  Really.  …Well, okay not ‘really’ really… but that’s simply because I don’t want to go to a doctor to be branded with a label I know I’ll have to disclose for the rest of my life.  But, trust me, I do suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder.  That means (as all obsessive freaks do) I have to do the dishes as I cook… If not, I’ll have a nervous breakdown when the plates, bowls, measuring cups, and you name it are smiling up at me at the end of a meal.  So while I was cleaning, I noticed something strange — My fingertips hurt to be under hot water.  Again, because I’m obsessive (and a germaphobic), I have to wash dishes in extra hot water.  Because of this, my hands are more than used to scalding hot temperatures… yet, this time my fingertips hurt so badly, I couldn’t even manage lukewarm water. Strange…

After cleaning up, James and I watched my newly addicted TV show One Born Every Minute.  For those that haven’t seen it, the show is about pregnant women giving birth… with several hidden cameras placed all over the maternity ward to capture every crazy family battle, hilarious husband-wife conversation, and of course, every different birth.  The show is greatly entertaining, but this day, I found I could not concentrate.  My fingertips — namely thumb — were buuurning.  James can attest that at the start of the show, I couldn’t sit still… and by the middle, I was full out screaming in pain louder than the daggon pregnant women delivering.  No joke.  It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life.  I’ve had broken bones, surgeries, etc; this topped the list.  My thumb was silently combusting, exploding, a volcano leaking burning lava except that ‘lava’ seemed to be sliding further inside my hand.

It got to be so bad, I truly thought my hand was paralyzed… and that’s what I told James: “James…  I think my thumb is paralyzed…  I cannot bend it…  I’ve been trying and cannot!  In fact, I cannot even feel this…” and here, I touched my hand.  James, my absolutely sweet fiancé, instantly started questioning me.  “Okay.  Tell me again — It’s a burning feeling?…  Exactly where?…  When did it start?…  Would it help if you kept something cold on it, like dip your thumb in ice water?” and off he dashed for the freezing water.

What happened?  Well, it’s obvious looking back…  That little Serrano pepper excreted its fiery chile oil (or capsaicin) on my fingers and under my thumbnail… since I’m ever so brilliant, using my chewed-extra low thumbnail as a chile seed-scraping tool.

This was around 1:00 p.m.  For the next three hours I soaked my thumb in an ice water bath… to the point that I had another problem — I froze my thumb.  It’s true; I couldn’t bend it and momentarily stopped all blood flow.  My option then?  Let my thumb de-thaw… which caused that searing fire to return and lick under my thumbnail, over thumb, and through my hands.

Clearly, I needed more options to stop the pain…  James recommended aloe vera.  Smart, right?  Didn’t work.  Pain-relief Neosporin to at least numb the affected area?  Nope.  I called Patient First the pain was so intense…  The secretary said I had to — quote — “wash my hands until the oil comes out.”  Helpful, because as she also pointed put, oil and water don’t mix.  (Ps — In my moment of weakness, I did try this and washed my hands more than I have my entire life.  Still the fire remained, stronger.)  Next solution: She suggested using an oil… to attack the oil.  Out came the Baby oil.  Nope again.

As the hours ticked by, James had to go to sleep.  I tried to sleep too (twice) but with the roasting-feeling growing, the only temporary relief I found was the ice water soaking… which, as one can imagine, is not possible while laying in bed.

Three hours past my bedtime at 7:00 p.m., I consulted the person who knew it all — my mom.  Unfortunately, I woke her up from a nap (Pps — Who naps at 7:00 p.m.?!) so helpfulness was not the top priority on her mind.  She suggested soaking my thumb in milk.  “Tried it,” I said, and that was true.  “Doesn’t work.”  My dad then jumped in, overhearing my problem (phone calls in our house are neeever private.  My parents tap calls more often than the government).  His suggestion: vinegar… because it has “medicinal purposes,” according to him.  Vinegar on a burn?  …No.  Maybe it works, but I’d strongly advise against it.  He also thought baking soda would “absorb the oil.”  …There’s something very scary about rubbing baking soda under my thumbnail… on a burn.  Another no for me.  In the end, my parents got so frustrated they ended their help line, instructing me to call my family physician’s emergency number.

Secretary number two.  She said to rub garlic under my nail.  “Garlic has medicinal purposes.  I eat a clove of garlic a day, and it instantly detoxicates me.  Hey!  Maybe try that — Just eat a clove of garlic!  I’d recommend chopping it up in small pieces and swallowing it though… not eating it whole.  That world be rough.”  One, garlic?!  Really?!  Two, if I heard the term ‘medicinal’ again, the next person would have a problem larger than curing my burning thumb.  Three, I didn’t have a need to be detoxified.  I just need my thumb to stop burning.  In the end, I sadly tried all — yes, all… and the garlic shoved under my nails created a whole new burn.

It’s now about five hours before I had to wake up for work.  (And yes, the thought of calling out sick was high in my mind, except I didn’t want to explain why I sounded normal.  The fact was I had a thumb problem.  Despite the seriousness, it was still just a thumb problem.)  So my online research began… I saw where others suggested drinking milk because it ‘calms the tender nerve endings where the chile oil touched.’  I hate milk, but I drank that sucker down.  No relief.  Keep my finger in ice milk because apparently the colder the better.  Ice water though froze my thumb more effectively; cold milk did nothing.  From lemon juice to cucumber slices, it seemed everything possible was suggested to remove capsaicin oil.  And get this — At the end of all recommendations, a little typed note said something like, “Let us know what actually works!”  Dead give-away that these people didn’t have the slightest idea.  Only thing to do in my desperate attempt: keep trying…

Here’s the most crazy steps I came across:
1. Rub salt where the capsaicin oil is dwelling.  Apparently, the rough crystals will raise the oil from my skin.
2. Rinse in milk… which calms the nerve endings.
3. Wash with soap and water to clear the oil from the area.
4. Soak the area in the strongest drinking alcohol available… because that dissolves any remaining oil.

So, at 9:00 p.m., I found myself pouring a shot of Grey Goose vodka.  “Who does this?” was all I could think.  Who coats capsaicin oil under their nails?  Who gives their thumb a bath in Grey Goose?  Who?  And it was about here I felt that slow steady burn creeping back into my thumb again as it soaked in its ritzy bath.  That’s when I knew the vodka, hand-washing, milk, aloe vera, Neosporin — you name it — it didn’t work.

Time to brainstorm: What provided the most relief?  The answer: Ice water… but it was impractical because it froze my thumb.  Plus, there was no way I could keep my thumb in the water to sleep… and sleep was almost the goal now.  Then it hit me — The only ‘solution’ that may have calmed the burn was salt…  I just hadn’t left it on my thumb long enough to experiment if it removed the pain.  It was worth a shot…  Going into the kitchen, I picked up my salt grinder, scattered the crystals in a dish, and rubbed every bit of salt in and on my thumb.  I waited… and waited… and after that… (hold your breath)… nothing.  Well, there still was a dull burning pain, but it was slight.  In my first moment of calm, I took my exhausted self and salt-covered thumb to bed… where I instantly fell asleep with my arm dangled over the bed to reduced the throbbing.

The next thing I knew, it was 1-something in the morning, and my alarm clock was going off for work… and the pain — gone, completely and totally gone.

Now I’m not claiming salt will always defeat capsaicin.  Who knows — Maybe it was all steps combined… or simply my exhaustion that won in the end.  I also want to note that if the salt works, it can only be applied in certain areas.  Let’s use our common sense here — I’d never suggest placing salt in your eye if you had a battle with a chile.  No; I’m simply telling you about my chile mishap so that, if you’re in the same situation (bless your soul) and desperate enough, you’ll know salt has been proven effective on at least one person.  And trust me, knowing one person defeated a chile is more than enough.

In truth, I feel like I was brought back to life after my fierce Serrano pepper war.  I feel like it is now my duty to inform any and everyone of what I learned.  I think that’s why God allowed me to live… so that I can help and teach the world.  Honest.

In the end, this is my first mama hint to you, if you get burned by a vicious chile, salt can remove capsaicin oil.  Oh… and as another mama hint: For goodness grief, avoid this entire issue and always — I repeat — always wear gloves around chiles.  Even if you’re just looking at ‘um.

Help

“Good Eats Roast Turkey”

So before Christmas comes a-knockin’ at my door, I desperately need to backtrack and tell you how my Thanksgiving turkey went.  A couple people have asked after reading “My (Secret) Conquest” post, but I need to explain more completely… and that’s because the answer, I realized, is not a simple, “Oh, it was wonderful!” or “Well, there were some problems.”  No, instead the answer is: Just like Thanksgiving meals, the turkey, too, is only better when loved ones help…

Better helping like when I asked James’ mom about her first turkey experiences…  We were in her kitchen, and Mary bent her arms in front of her, placed her fingers together (as if to imitate a crab), then rubbed the tips and started shivering, rolling her eyes.  She confessed she cannot stand to touch turkey skin, feeling the hard little bumps left behind from the feathers.  In fact, it disgusts her so much, she gets James’ dad to help.  Like her hero, Jim walks to the sink, takes the turkey out of its wrapping, rinses it, and places it on a rack.  I still smile, laugh out loud thinking about her story and her loathing for turkey skin… because I love this story.  I hope she’s not mad I’m sharing it with you all, but if you knew Jim and Mary like I’ve come to, you’ll see how they’ll do anything for each other and their family.  It doesn’t surprise me that Jim happily takes over this turkey-rubbing role… and that’s because he does so many things, just to make his wife happy.  For instance, he drives to Williamsburg on Black Friday and goes in store after store with Mary.  And he takes his wife to the movie theaters to see films like The Notebook, Pride and Prejudice, or Valentine’s Day… and the most wonderful thing about it all is that you can see how Mary recognizes this.  She’ll quietly nuzzle into his arm and whisper something in his ear, and they’ll giggle, look into each other’s — so in love after 29 years.

I told James one day I cannot tell which of his parents does more for the other, that it truly seems to be split down the middle.  Every weekend, Mary finds a place in the living room and watches sports games… multiple sports games… with Jim, cheering on his favorite teams and sporting red and navy… burgundy and gold… or orange and black colors.  She puts on multiple layers of clothing, gets out the jacket, gloves, boots all for a cold, early morning tailgate, then cold bleacher sit to watch games in person.  But you can tell it’s all worth it, that she gets recharged when Jim puts his arm around her, pulls her close and gives her a simple kiss.  It’s actions like this that also mean “helping” to me.  Mary wants Jim to have the best time doing what he enjoys, so she’ll help by getting excited when his team scores or angrily explain why calls are wrong if they go the other way; she’ll remember game facts along with practically every players’ name.  And Jim will bring home flowers for no reason, put girly movies on NetFlix, and spend hours in malls.  Both do this so they can help, participate in giving their significant other a good time.

Being honest — This was my favorite Thanksgiving.  Ever.  I normally am not a Thanksgiving fan — I never enjoyed turkey or stuffing or casseroles, and as far as “family time”, well I saw my family and relatives often so didn’t understand why we needed to set more time aside this one particular day.  …But the older I get, I understand the importance of this holiday.  The older I grow, I not only find I’m getting seconds of turkey and asking for casserole recipes, but I’m finding family is the one thing you can never replace, nor want to.  The time — right now — you have with your family is irreversible, unstoppable and each moment should be charished… because at one point, it will change — and you’ll only be able to look back at the time spent with your family.  I really understood that this Thanksgiving.  I’ve always had my family — whom I adore, but now, I have a second family… and getting that second family not only makes me so appreciative for my family and the time I have with them… but it also makes me feel special, honored to be getting — not “a” second family– but “this” second family I’ll have… These absolutely amazing people who didn’t even know me a few years before, but now accept me with open arms into their hearts.  It’s realizing things like this that make me want to spend so much time catching up with my family, and getting to know every detail about my new one.

So James’ and my Thanksgiving started when we went to his parents house Thanksgiving Day.  There, we helped — or tried to help — his mom prepare the Thanksgiving meal.  The turkey was already in the oven, and we had a few hours before the other sides needed to get started.  James’ brother was upstairs sleeping and his sister was gone, having traveled all the way to Connecticut with her newlywed husband for her second family’s Thanksgiving gathering.  That meant it was only Jim, Mary, James, and me.  We talked about so many things while the Macy’s Day Parade floats whooshed by on the TV screen  — about how, for the very first turkey Mary made, she forgot one of the bags inside the turkey holding its parts and cooked it, bag and all.  I laughed, telling her my grandma admitted to this also when she fixed a chicken one year.  We talked about the presidential race… if James and I wanted children… and mused when his sister, Lauren and Ryan would have theirs.  Once noon approached, Mary and I won against three boys and got to watch the dog show over football.  We both texted Lauren back and forth.  She loves the dog show too and was voting for her puppy’s bred — a Pomeranian — over Mary’s Yorkie and my Miniature Pinscher-Chihuahua.  …And while I was away from home for Thanksgiving, it didn’t feel like it at all.  There were so many traditions James’ family has done, that my family do too… so while my family, Lauren, Mary and I were all watching the dog show in different homes, we were all watching it together.

Dinner at James’ family was wonderful.  Everyone — Mary, Jim, James, Lauren — know how to cook so amazingly.  I feel like most people would chose to go out to eat when they get together… but I’m the opposite.  Give me any second with them, and I’d gladly take a dinner at their house instead.  We had a deliciously moist turkey, sweet potatoes (which I helped make!  So happy I could lend a hand!), mouthwatering green bean casserole, stuffing and gravy, rolls and cranberry sauce to boot.  Oh, and the best was Mary’s homemade pecan pie…  To please everyone in her family, she had pumpkin pie for her boys… but for Jim and I, warm pecan pie topped with melting ice cream.  Yummm…

Gathered around the table: James’ grandma, dad, brother, me, and James… Thank you for sharing your pictures with me, Mary!
Helping Jim and Mary with the dishes!

After that, we were stuffed… and a stuffed stomach Thanksgiving Day means sleep… so I crawled into bed shortly after.

Fast forwarding through work on Black Friday, James and I found a second Thanksgiving meal in front of us — this one at my parent’s house.  As I told you in my post before this, I had (maybe too proudly) announced James and I were undertaking the turkey.  So the “eve before roasting” (as Alton says), we were to let the turkey marinate in a brine.  However, since James and I would be at his parents house all day Thursday, I had to recruit extra help.  Enter my parents.  So Wednesday afternoon, I went to their house to prepared the brine by combining a whopping gallon of vegetable broth, black peppercorns, allspice berries, candied ginger, salt, and sugar.

Our brine sitting over medium-high heat

After it came to a boil…

The boiling brown brine (gotta love alliteration!)

James poured the brine into a brining bag to be refrigerated…

Ever so luckily, we tracked down a brine bag… Thank you, Kroger!

and we left a note for my mom so she’d understand the easy steps left to do.

Note: Simply add a gallon of ice water and the turkey 12 hours before roasting. Remember to flip the turkey half way through brine time.

…I say easy because this task apparently was nothing but…

Our Thanksgiving Friday, James and I open the fridge to pull out our brined-soagged turkey… only to find it stuffed in this:

Rubbermaid Tote

a massive multi-gallon plastic storage container!  My mom and dad explained they searched the house high and low for something tall enough to hold a 16-pound turkey… something deep enough to keep the turkey covered in my now two-gallon brine… and something small enough to fit in the fridge.  And the absolutely only thing my family could find?  Not a large pot… not any other deep vessel… no, a fancy-schmancy plastic Rubbermaid container!  …Okay, so maybe I could have given them a heads-up that this may have been a hard task…  I should have guessed when I read Alton’s note saying, “Seal up the cooler and use as an ottoman.”  A cooler?  An ottoman?  Alton has a tendency to be sarcastic, but sarcasm was far from this application…  I believe now this was a true teacher’s tip to avoid tricky messes… like the one my poor parents got in.  They just wanted to impress me, show me they could handle my cherished Alton application and the beloved turkey I fought to undertake.  They really wanted to surprise me with their skills… which PS-took an hour to do… an hour to drop ice and a turkey into a bag and refrigerate.  An hour.  *Sigh*  Daddy and mama, if you’re reading this, you did a wonderful job.  I probably would have called you in a panic if I were the one fixing this turkey alone… but again readers, help.  They wanted to help me succeed.  They wanted me to prepare the best daggon turkey yet to be eaten in the Morris residence.  They wanted to help me because they love me.

Alas, after we had finished laughing at the sight of my poor, gigantic bird shoved in a storage bin…

Turkey… covered in brine… in a brine bag… in a storage container. Check!

next came time to rinse and dry our boy.  I was secretly so excited to touch the turkey.  I had never touched an uncooked turkey before and after hearing James’ mom’s horrors of turkey skin, I wanted to know what it was all about.  The truth: It was disgusting.  Disgusting not so much because of the skin or bumps, but disgusting because after a turkey relaxes in brine for 12 hours, the skin becomes very pliable and almost rips beneath your fingers… nasty.  Regardless, we picked him up (well, James picked him up… he was too heavy for me), rinsed and patted him dry.

Next up, preparing the ingredients to stuff the bird with: An apple, onion, and cinnamon stick.

Stuffing ingredients in a small amount of water go into the microwave to soften
Finished heatin’ up!

Next, combining everything…

Prepare to be stuffed, turkey!

which means rosemary, sage, and my microwaved ingredients go into the turkey’s cavity, then the bird gets coated in olive oil.

Stuffed and coated!

Now it was ready for the oven!  Alton says the turkey should cook for 30 minutes at a high 500 degrees… then cook for about two and a half hours more on 350 degrees… which ensures the outside of the turkey is crispy and delectable, while the inside is moist and delicious!

Into the oven you go!

After this it was a waiting game… which is funny because I have a friend whose in eighth grade named Emily, and she sent me the sweetest Facebook message.  She said, “About Thanksgiving, everyone thinks the turkey is hard to bake but it’s really easy!  It just takes forever in the oven!  I’m sure yours will be just perfect.”  How adorable is that?  And know what — Emily, if you’re reading this, you are 100% right.  The hardest part is probably waiting for the thing to cook!

How to kill time?  Catchin’ up with my family…

My little sister cuddling and kissing her Italian Greyhound puppy
Trista and Penny Mae
Without a doubt, my better half and love of my life

And I just have to include these next shots…  My sister’s fiancé, Nick, was playing with my camera and captured the puppies playing.  While I in no way encourage dog fighting (remember, I seriously consider joining PETA daily and have an absolute loathing for the Philadelphia Eagles solely because they allowed and wanted Michael Vick to join the team), I told my mom I can imagine this is what people who go to dogfights do — Encourage the puppies to “get” one another… however, again, my puppies love each other.  They are sisters (although my mom is hell bent and determined to call them cousins because that’s what they would be “legally”…).  So while some of their facial features may not be the most, well, pleasant, just keep in mind we treat each dog like a princess and would never tolerate one hurting another.  …They just like to play bite (or as I say “open-mouth drool”) on each other… and run and roll together.

And the rompin’ begins!
Yes… The demented black and tan pup is mine… *Sigh*
Cora, my parents puppy, always gives in to Paris and flops on her back… although here it looks like she’s putting up more of a “fight”!
Whew! Now that all the horsin’ around’s done, the bffs can relax together!

Time’s up!  Now James and I had to check on our turkey… and make sure the meat is 155 degrees… and (drum roll)…

“Good Eats Roast Turkey”

It was perfect!  I mean, truly, I could not have wished it to be better.  I was (and still am) elated, in total disbelief, and ever so humbled… because I “my” turkey wouldn’t have been nearly as perfect without my parents help, James’ support, and Alton’s guidance.

Cutting my beloved bird up! First off, the thighs…
Next, the breasts
Please note: My knife skills are improving! Check out that perfectly sliced off breast!
I learned turkey is best if you remove the breast and then slice against the grain of the meat. This creates shorter fibers and therefore, the turkey is more tender!
Can’t forget my beautiful drumsticks and wings!

The verdict?  Well, judging by my gushing (but trying oh so hard not to over gush), 115% wonderful.  Alton’s application called for the perfect turkey pairings — allspice berries, apples, cinnamon, rosemary, sage… and even ginger (despite the fact that ginger is one flavor that makes me absolutely nauseous just to smell).  Alton, I know I’ve said it before, but I wish you read my blog… just once.  Not that you need little ‘ole me saying this, but you’re such an amazing cook and teacher.  So again, with Alton instructing me what to do and my family by my side, this turkey made it in the successful Morris Family Book.  Truth be told, in years to come, we’ll probably forget my great turkey trials… but you know what?  I’m okay with that.  To have succeeded, even if it’s known for just this day, is more than enough for me.

After cutting the turkey, I brought it to the table, like a proud baker showing off a wedding cake that’s being featured in a magazine.  I served everyone — My daddy, mama, sister and her fiancé, my love, and my grandma… and we all talked some more… about the delicious turkey, our wonderful Thanksgiving dinner… and all I could think is how thankful I am — for everyone surrounding me that moment and those the day before that made this Thanksgiving the most cherished of all.

My (Secret) Conquest

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
Icouldhelpthisyearbymakingtheturkeybymyself,well,withJames,butwecould
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…

Please.

— To be continued —