With Thanksgiving just two days away, I’m guessing many of you are currently ensconced in holiday preparations.
Perhaps you’re dusting the knick-knacks, chopping up vegetables, sharpening the carving knife, or planning that last minute trip to the market.
However, if you’re anything like me, you’re experiencing what I call “Thanksgiving Torpor.” It’s the panic-driven inertia that sets in 48 hours before the guests arrive; it renders me useless in the holiday preparation category. Filled with dread and overwhelm, I often end up on the couch watching reruns of 30 Rock and biting my nails.
Why is this? For starters, I have an abysmal record with turkeys. There’s a chance I was one in a past life, and they have been seeking revenge on me ever since. One year, as I pulled the bird out of the refrigerator and began to “dress” it (stupid metaphor if you ask me), I discovered the darn thing was frozen solid. How could this be? I had purchased it days before. Immediately, I filled the sink with hot water and plunked the frozen fowl in. I stared into the sink, willing that bird to defrost. Needless to say, we dined very late that year. Lesson learned: do not buy frozen turkeys.
Another year, the turkey – not frozen – simply refused to cook according to the directions and all reasonable expectations. The side dishes were done and getting cold on the table, yet the stubborn bird would not cooperate. The guests politely pretended everything was fine, my mother wrung her hands and my husband, Kevin, shrugged his shoulders.
What is the etiquette in this situation? Do you sit down and begin the meal with the side dishes, hoping fervently the oven miraculously speeds up its cooking process? Do you start carving the semi-cooked bird and toss slabs of breast meat on the grill or in the microwave? Do you turn the oven up a hundred degrees to accelerate said cooking process? The answer to the last question is decidedly “no” – the skin will burn while the meat remains raw. It was later hypothesized that the bird did not cook in a timely fashion because I had neglected to completely remove those nasty parts located in its neck and rump. Another lesson learned.
Then there was the year the bird caught fire in the oven – check the Belmont Fire Department’s records for November 2009, if you think I am making this up. As I tried to explain to the kind person at the Fire Department who answered my phone call, it was a contained fire, one that I successfully put out. However, inspite of the flames, the stupid juices still weren’t “running clear” (a most nebulous criteria but, wouldn’t you know, my sister’s precondition for eating the meat). All I needed to know from the dispatcher on the other end of the line was whether I could continue cooking the turkey now that the fire was out. The fire department, however, insisted on popping over to make sure everything was really OK. Departmental guidelines …
The entire ordeal is nerve wracking. Hovering over the oven trying to determine if the stupid turkey can pass its “salmonella free” litmus test. Getting the all side dishes completed at about the same time (well, the creamed onions seem fine, but the green beans are the consistency of sticks). Figuring out what to do with the leftover h’ors d’oeuvres – toss or keep? Who ever can decide? Don’t even get me started on making the gravy or whether the stuffing goes into the bird cavity or not.
One year, I confess, in the carefree days long before marriage and children, I decided to assuage my Thanksgiving jitters by mixing up a huge batch of whisky sours for my assembled relatives. We had a blissful holiday. We weren’t at all sure what we were eating and didn’t care. All was lovely until my sister discovered two weeks later that she was expecting her first child. Darn. This same child now attends an Ivy League school so I am officially off the hook.
I blame my mother for my hosting ineptitude. My inability to execute a successful holiday dinner is probably a learned behavior. Either that or it’s genetic and I never stood a chance. Bette was forever burning the rolls and running out of food. In fact, we adopted a nostalgic acronym to address the chronic lack of ample food during the holidays: FHB – family hold back. FHB, as you probably know, compels the host family to eat very little food until they are assured the guests have had enough to eat. Sounds pleasant, doesn’t it?
Well, at least you understand why I dread hosting Thanksgiving dinner and instead find myself under the covers, furtively eating the last of the Halloween candy. Believe me, my standards are not high. As my friend Pam Burrows once said about this particular holiday: "All you really want on Thanksgiving is a moist bird and no family fights."
And, I’ll add, no fire department involvement.
Happy Thanksgiving; wish me luck!