Christmas creep. That’s what retailers call the race to take down Halloween decorations and put up Christmas displays. And I, for one, do not like it.
This is more than just my natural inclination toward fist shaking and muttering the holiday equivalent of ‘Get off my lawn’ at overly eager merchandisers. Someone has to stand up for Thanksgiving and I guess that someone is me. It’s one of my favorite holidays (oh, who am I kidding–I love any excuse to eat, so the one closest to me is generally my favorite) if for the simplicity of its purpose–to give thanks and reflect on all that you have, no matter how meager it is.
I see Thanksgiving as a reason to gather, and–since my family has never cared about football–to break bread and enjoy each other’s company, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Westminster Dog Show. It’s the appropriate time to start listening to Christmas music, when the Vince Guaraldi Trio is welcome at any table. It’s the time that I, as an enthusiastic if not always effective cook, can stretch my muscles and try new things while still savoring old favorites.
I will never forget my first Thanksgiving as a married woman. It was my family’s turn for the holiday and I invited them over to our house. My mother has long been over the excitement of cooking Thanksgiving dinner and I was more than happy to take the reins. I shopped carefully, looking up recipes and trying to find the perfect-yet-still affordable table linens. When the day came, I got up early, eager to start cooking, or at least to have a fully cooked turkey on the table by the time that we normally have dinner, in the 2-3 p.m. range.
Cooking a new meat is always an adventure and for me, this was my first time cooking a whole bird, chicken or turkey or otherwise and apparently I had some misconceptions about their anatomy. Blame it on McDonald’s, but I never knew there was so much mutilation of the animal in the process of cooking.
Pulling the neckbones and giblets out of the cavity was embarrassing enough, for me and for my empathy for the bird. What a life, to grow up without a care and then to have your own neck shoved into your torso! But I took them out and lovingly patted and salted and peppered and herbed the bird and tucked it into its warm nap spot for the next few hours.
After making all the side dishes, I pulled the bird out of the oven and gazed upon its beauty. It was golden brown and glistening, ready to be carved into the best meal I had ever prepared. I placed it on a beautiful serving dish that we had received as a wedding present and brought it to the table, ready to reenact a Norman Rockwell painting. I sliced into what I thought was the succulent breast.
And I hit bone. I tried again, from a different angle. Did I get the boniest turkey in the history of Thanksgiving? Risking embarrassment, I asked my mother if I was doing it right. That’s when we realized that I didn’t know where the breast of a turkey is.
I had cooked the whole bird upside down. Apparently this particular piece of fowl had a very puffy undercarriage and I just assumed after the neck business that I could season it and plop it in and move on. I was wrong. I cooked it upside down and then proudly served it upside down. Who knew?
After a heart laugh at my expense and a very messy flip, I finally got to cut into what was, by all accounts, a very juicy breast, having cooked with the juices flowing into it for three hours. It’s actually a technique. Of course it is! I knew that all along! I was just testing them…
Thanksgiving is about the people you love and those that love you. That’s what we have to be thankful for, no matter what orientation your turkey ends up.