It’s not like all my previous Thanksgivings have been perfect — far from it! So I am not sure why I am so disappointed about this upcoming, very different holiday. On some level, I guess I should be happy. Instead of hosting a party for 12 or 16 people, I will be setting the table for five. My two oldest daughters and their significant others have decided to pass, due to COVID fears. Other members of my family have also politely declined and prefer to hunker down in their own homes free of other people’s germs, the fear of double-dipping and general anxiety. Maybe secretly, they are relieved that they don’t have to come to my house this year, as they too remember well the many Thanksgiving failures I have experienced in prior years. One year, I realized that my 24-pound frozen turkey was still frozen on Thanksgiving morning. It found itself bobbing around in my bathtub that day as I feverishly tried to defrost the enormous bird. I also tried blow-drying it. Finally, it was thawed enough to pop into the oven, but I was so nervous about the chance it may still be frozen inside, I over-cooked it. Thank God for gravy and a lot of wine. No one got sick, so I will consider that a borderline success.
One year I decided to splurge on an expensive, organic, brined turkey. It cost me $70. I was having a large crowd of people over, a few whom I would be meeting for the first time. I wanted everything to be perfect. Nothing says perfect like slitting open the wrapper of your prized main attraction and getting a whiff of what could only be described as putrid! The smell of rotten eggs filled the kitchen! I was horrified and panicked, but I thought maybe that is what a brined turkey should smell like. I rinsed it off and prepared it like I would any other turkey and placed it in my roasting pan. I got to work on all my side dishes as the bird roasted away. It smelled ok, but something kept gnawing inside me. What if the turkey was spoiled? With about an hour to spare before my guests arrived, I sat down at the computer. I simply Googled “My turkey smells like rotten eggs.” If my computer had been armed with a siren, it surely would have gone off. In big bold letters the response from every website read, “A TURKEY THAT SMELLS LIKE ROTTEN EGGS MAY INDICATE SALMONELLA! DO NOT SERVE TO YOUR GUESTS!! YOU WILL SICKEN THEM!”
Oh no! I sat there at my computer, stunned. NOW WHAT?? Maury entered the room and saw me teary-eyed and white as a ghost. “The turkey is rotten! We can’t serve it! We might KILL someone!!”
Maury stared at me.
“What are we going to do?” I cried. My mind raced. I had to get to Safeway and see if I could buy any ready-to-eat turkeys or chicken. I told Maury to put the rotten turkey into a garbage bag. Sadly, the deceivingly wonderful smell of Thanksgiving still hung in the air. Funny how a spoiled turkey still smells good when you cook it!
“Open the wine and make sure everyone’s comfortable,” I told Maury. I grabbed my purse and headed to my car just as my guests arrived! My brother could tell something was wrong. I quickly explained the situation. I told him to go on in and mix up a strong cocktail. I arrived at Safeway with only minutes to spare. They were closing early. When I got there, the cupboards were bare. The clerk in the deli told me I had just missed the last two roasted chickens. I rushed to the meat department and grabbed a handful of boneless chicken breasts.
The dry and tasteless chicken breasts were a perfect accompaniment to my over-cooked and dried out side dishes that I had forgotten about in the oven. As mentioned before, thank God for gravy and wine.
My most successful Thanksgiving was last year when I let Mimi’s Café do the cooking. I ordered everything online and picked it up Thanksgiving Day. I was actually able to enjoy the day with my family instead of running around the kitchen like a turkey with its head cut off. Unfortunately, Mimi’s is insisting you pick up your meal the day before Thanksgiving this year. I don’t know why. It probably has something to do with COVID. Everything does these days.
So, I am attempting to cook a small turkey for my party of five. In all honesty, I could probably just serve some frozen turkey pot pies and a few side dishes, but I am old school and believe that there should be an actual turkey involved on Thanksgiving. Though there are some empty places at my table this year, I am thankful that my family is well. Though we may not be physically close, we are still close in all the ways that matter, and I wish the same for you and your family. So, bring on the gravy, and bring on the wine.