How hard can a Thanksgiving feast be? Now I know

November 30, 2000

How hard can a Thanksgiving feast be? Now I know

By Kevin Clapp

Having trouble sleeping lately? Come to my house, where there's enough turkey to get you doped up on tryptophan through the new year.

It began, harmlessly enough, in October, when we received a coupon for a free turkey from our supermarket after buying a certain amount of groceries.

Neither myself nor my girlfriend, Stacey, could go home for Thanksgiving - we both ended up working for at least part of that Thursday - so we made the following Saturday our Turkey Day. So what if we had never cooked a meal of this magnitude before? How hard could it really be?

Here, then, is a blow-by-blow account of how two 25-year-olds got their gobbler groove on:

Saturday, Nov. 11: Frozen turkey coupon in hand, we rifle through a cold meat case looking for the perfect turkey, our first turkey, for Thanksgiving-just-not-on-Thanksgiving-Day-Day. We take the smallest bird possible: a 21-pounder.


Saturday, Nov. 18: Time to round out the feast. In: Squash, turnips, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffing, rolls. Out: Sweet potatoes; I'd like to say it's because I can't justify buying all of the extra ingredients to make them like Mom does. Really, though, it's because we don't have enough dishes - or oven space - to cook in.

Tuesday, Nov. 21, 5:30 p.m.: The bird comes out of the freezer, goes into the refrigerator to thaw. It's a really big bird.

Thursday, Nov. 23: Nothing new on the bird front. Feels fleshy when I poke at it, though. Eat a bowl of soup and a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich for dinner. How glamorous.

I talk to the family, though, and get last-minute instructions for Saturday. Now for the squash, all I have to do is boil it, drain and mash, right? Right. And I need cornstarch for the gravy? OK ... got it.

Friday, Nov. 24, 4:30 p.m.: One last trip to the store for supplies. Milk? Check. Seasoned salt? Check. Cornstarch? How can a grocery store be out of cornstarch? It's not Thanksgiving without my mother's gravy. Sigh ... we'll have to use gravy from a jar. But it won't be the same.

Saturday, Nov. 25: The day arrives ...

8:30 a.m.: The alarm goes off. I take a swing at the snooze bar. The bird can wait a few more minutes.

8:35 a.m.: The bird is on the counter, naked and basking in the glow of soft, overhead fluorescent light. I apologize for what I'm about to do and yank the innards from inside the bird, along with two small chunks of ice. I really hope this sucker is thawed.

8:45 p.m.: "Rinse bird and pat dry." That's what the directions say, so that's what I do. What I don't expect is for it to slip around in the sink like a greased pig. I was just kidding earlier in the week when I said cooking wasn't worth it if it wasn't a contact sport. Honest.

9 a.m.: Peeling turnips, my hand cramps. Again with the contact sport. Were turnips really necessary?

9:24 a.m.: Packed with stuffing, the bird goes in the oven, a thermometer poking out from its left thigh. Now we wait.

10 a.m.: Basting begins.

10:30: More basting.

11 a.m., part I: Check the turkey, baste some more.

11 a.m., part II: "What's that smell?" Stacey asks.

"I just checked the turnips."

"Really? I thought it was the trash."

Evidently, I'll be the only one eating that vegetable.

11:30 a.m., noon, 12:30 p.m., 1 p.m.: Baste, baste, baste and baste. The bird's browning up pretty well, but I think we've both gotten drunk with the power of hydrating it.

1:30: My parents call to wish us a Happy Thanksgiving-just-not-on-Thanksgiving-Day-Day; I break the news about the cornstarch.

"Oh, you could have used flour, you know."

"Thanks, ma. Would've been nice to know that two days ago."

1:45 p.m.: Basting has gone to my head; I spray the inside of the oven with turkey juice. I think I need help.

2-2:15 p.m.: Stacey talks to her sister while preparing mashed potatoes from her mother's recipe. I assemble the green bean casserole. At one point she looks up from the phone and says:

"I'm not sure, let me check. Are you sure you got everything out of the turkey?"

"Uh. ... Pretty sure," I reply, confidence completely absent from my voice. After she hangs up the phone, I ask Stacey what her sister said about what we could have missed. She didn't say, and I'm wondering if our turkey now has something in common with a box of Cracker Jack.

3:05 p.m.: Bird out, potatoes and casserole in. It looks good sitting in its pan. Do we really have to wait to dig in? We take a picture to prove that we cooked this thing and didn't go out for KFC.

3:30 p.m.: Time to carve, but first we dig the stuffing out. I use a flashlight to make sure I haven't missed any. Nothing jumps out and says, "boo."

As for the carving, something seems wrong. All the breast meat seems to be in the wrong place. It doesn't look at all like it does when Dad carves the bird at home. Wait a second... did we bake it upside down? No, we couldn't have. ... Did we? Nope, we got it right. It looks just like it does on the box of stuffing, our culinary Cliffs Notes.

3:49 p.m.: We pile food on our plates, but not until after we take more pictures to prove it. This is a lot of food, enough to feed eight or 10 if necessary. Stacey puts it into perspective.

"It's not fun unless you're cooking for 12 ... or the next week."

4:09 p.m.: Time to clean up. We decide to carve the rest of the turkey and freeze the leftovers.

5 p.m.: Still carving, but have replaced the knife with my hands. Does this bird ever end?

Tuesday, Nov. 28: Have eaten turkey for five straight meals but can't bring myself to make it six.

Thursday, Nov. 30: Still not sick, so we must not have left anything in the bird after all. There's always next year, which should be right around the time we finish the leftovers.

Kevin Clapp is a staff writer for Lifestyle.

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