I’m writing this a few days before Thanksgiving, and there’s just one thing going through my mind as I think about the feast that awaits:
Please, God, deliver us from Angie’s turkey.
Angie is one of my sister-in-law’s best friends. Angie is fun. Angie is friendly. Angie is caring.
Angie is not her real name (I’m protecting the oblivious). For when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, the other thing Angie is not is a cook.
Actually, that’s not fair. The only thing she has ever cooked that I have had the dubious pleasure of eating is a Thanksgiving turkey. Which, two times in a three-year-period of holiday feasting, has been defrosted a week too soon, cooked, cut up, frozen, thawed out — again — and reheated.
The first time it happened I thought it was an idiotic fluke, stupid but forgivable, like putting aluminum foil in the microwave (hey, it happens!).
But the second time I heard this whole “gee, the turkey had to be refrozen again” fiasco, I thought, “What’s with this woman? Give her a ham or something — anything — that is precooked and won’t be a toxic breeding ground for bacteria.”
Some background: I love my brother and sister-in-law. I love their easy-going, live-and-let-live attitude. Their first date was to an outdoor Grateful Dead concert. That afternoon, they tie-dyed a sheet to take along to use as a blanket on the ground. If that wasn’t a sign of a match made in heaven, I don’t know what would be. They are loyal and welcoming, and love friends and family generously.
For Brad and Stef, Thanksgiving isn’t formal or stuffy. It’s a warm, rollicking free-for-all-potluck with their friends. And in recent years my parents and Mark and I have crashed the party.
In true form, their reaction to the four of us inviting ourselves to what really is a party is basically “what’re a few more chairs?” But for me, who steely clings to traditions, I have to admit it’s taken a little getting used to.
What’s with those stuffing balls, the size of baseballs? What? No steamy bowl of my mom’s lightly seasoned, oh-so-satisfying stuffing pulled from the bird?
Are those pierogies? Holy carb overload – as if the mashed potatoes weren’t going to be enough on this high feast day.
Don’t tell me that’s canned cranberry sauce? Where are the “real” chopped berries cooked with just the right amount of sugar and spice and plenty that’s nice?
What happened to the bourbon-laced sweet potatoes? Dotted with pecans, they are pretty but potent. I’ve often thought that if I got pulled over on the drive home I’d have to confess to the officer that, no, I hadn’t been drinking – but I did have two helpings of sweet potatoes.
And then there is Angie’s death-wish turkey.
The first year, Angie breezily laughed as she explained how she had bought the turkey but then it defrosted in her car — her car!!! — and so she didn’t know what else to do but cook it and refreeze it until the big day. This was also the year my brother wanted to try out a turkey fryer, the craze that ignited countless garages thanks to vats of hot oil catching on fire within feet of inattentive men. Fortunately, my brother was paying attention. Having vowed to only eat the fried bird, I kept a nervous watch on the others, ready to dial 9-1-1 as soon as they fell to the floor in convulsions after nibbling on what I was convinced were lethal drumsticks.
When no one got sick, I thought we had dodged a 20-pound Butterball bullet.
Flash-forward to last Thanksgiving. There are pies, mashed potatoes, ham, rolls. Casseroles, the homey baked corn and broccoli-and-rice concoctions slathered with cheese and sour cream and butter that have been at my mom’s Thanksgiving table all these years, are front and center in the buffet spread out on the kitchen table. The pierogies were missing but there would have been room if they had appeared. It is bountiful. We are indeed blessed.
And Angie has yet another turkey story. This time it defrosted much earlier than she had expected. By about a week. What else could she do but cook it, freeze it, and reheat it?
What else, indeed. As we crowd into the dining room to say grace for all of our blessings, we hold hands — the simplest of my family’s traditions. We circle around the table, squeezing to make room, three generations of family and friends coming together to carve out a new way of celebrating a centuries-old holiday. Before bowing my head, I look around the room and see happy, glad faces. It is good.
So, God bless the turkey. Keep us safe. Keep us laughing. Keep us together.
For it is tradition.
Chris Arbutina writes a monthly column for the CDT.