Jive Turkey

December 21, 2014

Essays for Giggles, Holiday Stories


Thirteen years ago and newly married, I cooked my first, and so far only, holiday dinner for my in-laws. This extravaganza involved my first whole turkey, and included all the trimmings.

My new husband and I were meeting his parents and sister in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, to stay in a tiny cabin for the weekend.  Since I had just gotten married, and was in a frenzy of nesting and creating new traditions,  I loaded down our car with heavy boxes of dishes and serving pieces, so that I could set the cabin’s generic table with a bit of flair.

I also hauled most of the food that I intended to prepare, including the mutant eighteen-pound frozen bird.

Hubby and I got there the day before his family, and as we unpacked, I set about reading instructions for how to deal with the giant, frozen boulder that would be our dinner’s centerpiece, the following day.

With horror, I read “place the frozen turkey in the refrigerator, to thaw for five days, before cooking.”  I needed to cook this son-of-a-bitch in 24 hours.  It was midnight.  I was in the mountains.  My in-laws were coming in a matter of hours to eat their new daughter-in-law’s first holiday meal.

I’m not saying I panicked… but, um…  I completely freaked out. Oh Jesus, to be truthful, I was actually hyperventilating… my life was flashing before my eyes. This was going to be a disaster.

Then, I read further and saw the “quick thaw” instructions designed just for idiots like me. So, now I had to place this frozen monster in a sink full of cold water and change the water on a set schedule for the next twenty four hours.

So, like a breastfeeding mother, I got up every two hours to change the sink water, terrified that if I didn’t follow the instructions exactly, that I would kill my in-laws with food poisoning. Depending on the heft of the inheritance my husband would receive, I suppose I could have even been charged with murder.

So as I fretted and worried all night over my slowly thawing baby, I checked out what restaurants in town would be open, should we need a Plan B.

The next day, I baked that bird, according to directions, which simply said, “cook until the ‘button’ pops up.”  There was a little red and white plastic device inserted into the meat, and when it popped its top, the turkey was ready!

As I prepared the side dishes, praying to the turkey gods that I wouldn’t kill myself or my family, I nervously watched for the button to spring up. And that is all I did. Literally. I didn’t put salt and pepper on the turkey. I didn’t baste the turkey. I didn’t massage it or insert anything into its most private cavities. I simply baked it until the button popped up.

To this day, they rave about how I make the best turkey ever in the whole world. And the more I protest that all I did was cook it until the button popped up, the more they insist that I have some magic hoodoo turkey-cooking skills.

My turkey has become legend. And like all legends, the memories are not as good as the reality ever was. Now, after all these years, I cannot rest of my laurels any more. Sadly, my mother-in-law passed away this year, but my father-in-law will be spending the first holiday with us since the day my legend was born.

At Thanksgiving this year, he told his son-in-law’s family that their turkey was good, but mine was better, and he was looking forward to being at my house for Christmas to eat the best turkey ever cooked in the history of the world.

Pressure much? You know there is no way I can win, right? Do I do what I did before, which was nothing? Or do I over-think it and give it some kind of Asian body massage to try to achieve some other-worldly result to retain my status as Turkey Queen?

Then again, we all know it is not going to matter what I do, because no bird will ever live up to that one. I have failed before begin.

So, the other day, I bought an 18-pound bird. It doesn’t even have a button. I am meeting my dilemma in the middle and using a mild injectable flavor marinade. And then I will present this turkey to the world, to be judged by history.

I will report back after Christmas to let you know how it was received and don’t you worry, that sucker is thawing in the refrigerator as we speak.

Merry Christmas! (Or whatever holiday you celebrate. And if you don’t celebrate any winter holidays, well then, Have a Great Day!)

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About reneadijab

Renea Dijab

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