December 4, 2000
Turkey Virginity


I have a confession to make: until this weekend, I was still a *turkey virgin.*

This is an embarrassing public admission for a forty-something/mother of three/former Martha-Stewart-wannabe. But there it is. Until yesterday I had never found myself solely responsible for the purchase, preparation and presentation of a full-sized turkey.

Turkey TV dinners? Sure. Turkey pot pies? Not a problem. Those crappy little frozen turkey loaves that look (and smell) like Fancy Feast? You bet. The kids -- and the cats -- loved 'em.

But when it came to preparing a full-size, rock-solid, twenty-pound turkey, straight from my grocer's freezer, I was still an innocent. Turkey Virginity

This wasn't due to lack of culinary interest. I wanted to learn how to cook the turkey. It wasn't due to lack of desire, or lack of motivation, or lack of training. I took ninth grade Home Ec, forcryingoutloud. I used to read Family Circle magazine. I watched Graham Kerr.

No, it was MOSTLY due to lack of opportunity: the men in my life always beat me to it.

Almost without exception, every man I have ever lived with -- including my beloved Grandpa Vert, my Dad, my former husband, and all romantic partners before and after [and during] my marriage, right up to my current *romantic partner* -- have fancied themselves The Greatest Cook in the History of All Mankind. I'm not sure why this is. Do all men feel this way about their cooking abilities? Or is it just the men I've aligned myself with? Almost without exception, they have automatically armed themselves with poultry baster and oven mitts, whenever a holiday has rolled around, and assumed all turkey-preparation duties for the household.

(And of course after the The Great Oven Meltdown/Webber Experiment of 1983, that was pretty much it. From that point forward my contribution to the holiday meal was limited to apple-and-walnut stuffing, defrosting the Sara Lee and cleaning up afterwards. And for a lot of years that was OK. As long as I had my World Famous 10 p.m. Turkey-and-Cranberry Sandwich, what did I care who cooked it?)

So finding myself face-to-face with twenty pounds of raw Butterball yesterday could have been intimidating.

It could have been difficult.

It could have been downright dangerous, given my history with oven mitts and cranky antique kitchen appliances.

But I believe that things happen exactly how and when they're supposed to happen. And the truth is: I don't think I was ready to cook a turkey by myself until now. I don't think I could have handled it at any other point in my life.

Twenty-year-old Insecure Secra, for instance, would have been weeping and whining on the phone to Grandma all afternoon -- Do I cover it with foil or plastic wrap? How will I know when it's done? How do I pull the bag of guts out of the middle without actually touching anything? -- until Grandma finally hopped into the Malibu and drove to Secra's house and cooked the damn turkey FOR her.

Thirty-year-old Overloaded Secra, on the other hand, would have been so distracted by kids and cats and Kool-Aid stains on her living room carpet that the turkey would have died a second death: this time, due to neglect.

(Forty-year-old Dysfunctional Secra, sitting alone in her Tree House, would have said "Fudk it," lobbed the partially-defrosted turkey out her second-story window and poured herself another bucket of cheap chablis.)

But almost-forty-three-year-old Secra -- sane, sober, self-sufficient Secra, who is interested in learning to do new things for herself, and who isn't quite so obsessed with prefection as she used to be, and who doesn't come unglued if she screws up once in awhile (unless she's, like, piloting a 747 or something) -- and who really really wanted another one of those World Famous 10 p.m. Turkey-and-Cranberry Sandwiches -- looked at that turkey thawing in her refrigerator and said:

I can do this.

And as soon as David had showered and dressed and left the apartment for a day of family stuff, yesterday morning, that's precisely what she set out to do.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

Following directions printed off the Internet, I placed the turkey  --  uncovered, breast-side up, lightly basted with vegetable oil  --  into the preheated Ugly Pink Stove at 450º for 25 minutes. Then I "tented" the bird with aluminum foil, dialed the temp down a hundred degrees, and put it back into the oven for another four hours, give or take a drooling fifteen minute mini-nap or two. Every half hour or so I basted the turkey with a combination of chicken broth, melted margarine and herbs ... every hour or so I checked to see if the little thingamabob had popped up yet ... but that was pretty much the extent of my involvement in the cooking process.

I was stunned by how easy it was.

I puttered around for the rest of the day, doing my usual Sunday afternoon *Alone-Day Stuff* -- archiving old e-mail, reading library books, rinsing out pantyhose, weeping over Glen Campbell Christmas songs -- while the turkey essentially cooked itself. I took shortcuts like crazy on everything else, too: Stovetop stuffing, instant mashed potatoes, packaged gravy mix, canned cranberries, frozen spinach.

Basically this whole meal was so paint-by-numbers simple, a chimp could do it.

(Or a man.)

There were a couple of minor Crisis Moments, of course. The smoke alarm went off while I was firing up the Ugly Pink Stove, which tripled my heartbeat for a few seconds. (But then again the smoke alarm goes off whenever I light a candle or plug in my hairdryer or look at a box of Blue Tips. It knows me too well.)  We don't have a turkey baster, so I had to improvise with a long-handled ladle: it was clunky and awkward and I accidentally grazed my hand on the side of the blazing hot oven a couple of times. Ironically, we don't actually own any *real* oven mitts at the moment: I had to use folded kitchen towels. More burns. The turkey, in its flimsy disposable aluminum pan, was so heavy that I couldn't slide the oven rack out all the way. Luckily I'd had the presence of mind to put the disposable pan on top of a cookie sheet, so when the time came to remove the turkey from the oven, the whole thing didn't collapse onto the floor. (Or onto my feet.)

By the time David got home late in the afternoon, the turkey was ten minutes out of the oven ... resting seductively on the cutting board, legs splayed, looking almost obscenely brown and succulent.

Dinner was served.

I don't mind telling you -- and I know that David will verify this, if you ask him -- that it was one of the best turkeys either one of us has ever had. Anywhere. Anytime. Ever.

And *I* cooked it ... all by myself!

Anyway. Now that my *turkey cherry* has been popped, so to speak -- now that I know that I am perfectly capable of handling a task I had always defaulted to the nearest available testosterone in my life -- it makes me wonder what other stuff I could handle on my own.

Changing a flat tire, maybe? Buying stocks? Peeling avocados? Emptying the garbage?

Carving the turkey once it's cooked?

The *deflowering possibilities* here are endless.

wow! it's almost as though Patrick read my mind...

two years ago: same view, different ZIP code

throw a rock