December 9th, 2010
I walked into Jimbo’s, armed to the gills with my new turkey knowledge, ready and confident to order a bird that would adequately feed 12 adults, four kids.
“One pound of turkey per adult, one-half pound per child,” I repeated over and over like a neophyte’s mantra. “I can do this, I can do this….”
I held my head high as I sauntered to the refrigerated meat section. I would pretend that I knew what I was doing, and people would believe me.
But as I eyed the vast mountain of turkeys, trussed and wrapped, I began to lose my nerve.
The magazine said to buy fresh, right? I asked myself. And organic? Nothing like an organic turkey, that’s what the article said, didn’t it?
“Mom?” My six-year-old goth daughter interrupted my reverie. “Are those frozen headless babies?”
“No of course not!” I quickly answered. “What would make you think such a thing?”
I took stock of the fat turkeys with their bulging tummies . Well now that you mention it…
“Can I help you?” The butcher made his way around the counter. “Any questions?”
I had this, I could do it. I didn’t need help. I’d read my Cooks Illustrated all night.
“So…it’s one pound of turkey per adult and one-half pound per child, right?” I repeated just to be sure.
“How many you feeding?”
I told him.
“You’ll need at least a 20-pound turkey.” He patted his portly stomach.
“What? According to my calculations…” Boy, did I sound lame. Even to myself. “I need a 14-pound turkey.”
“You got some big eaters in that family? Because 14 pounds isn’t going to do it.”
I mentally scanned the guest list. I guess maybe there were some big appetites in the bunch. But wasn’t Joe on a diet? And Susie never eats more than a bite of anything. But then again, I’ve seen Bob take two plates or more…
“Miss?” The butcher asked, waving his hand in front of my eyes.
“Right. Well…I suppose we have a couple of big eaters…”
“Twenty pounds?” I repeated.
“At least.” He pointed to the meat case. “I don’t think we have a 20-pounder in there. Let me go in the back.”
I waited. Twenty pounds? Is he sure? I know he’s the meat guy, but 20 pounds sounds like an awful lot. He does do this for a living though, he would know. But what about what the magazines said? I’m just going to tell him I’m going with the 14.
But it was too late. He came out with a box, wrapped and ready to go. “Nineteen-point-three-six,” he told me. “Best I could do.”
I nodded. “Is it fresh? Organic?” I tried desperately to sound like I knew what I was doing.
“Yep.” He put the thing in my cart. A humongous Artic baby.
Next thing I know I’m at the cash register. “That’ll be fifty-five dollars.”
Are you freaking kidding me? Weren’t these things just on sale at Vons for seven bucks?
I handed over my debit card. It sucks to not know how to buy, prepare, and cook poultry.
I took the thing home and stuck it in the garage fridge. I didn’t want to see its massive girth for awhile.
Now what? I asked myself as I once again scanned 25 recipes in quick succession. Brine? Marinate? Grill? Roast? Bake?
My cell phone rang. “Nan and Mo said they’d deep fry your turkey if you want,” It was my friend Gloria.
“Really?” I couldn’t believe my luck.
“Yeah, they’ve offered to deep fry people’s turkeys since they have all the stuff and the fryer will be set up.”
“Does this mean I don’t have to do a thing with the turkey?” My heart began to swell with relief.
“Other than inject it with marinade, nope.”
She told me what I had to do and next thing I know, I’m at the grocery store buying a giant syringe for my giant baby turkey.
“Don’t forget to take the giblets and turkey neck out,” she told me later. “The turkey usually has bags of innards stuffed in both its ends, so take those out.”
“BAGS OF INNARDS? BOTH ENDS?” What is with these turkeys?
“OK,” I mumble. “I won’t forget.”
So the night before Thanksgiving, my husband and I wrestle the turkey to the kitchen counter and prepare to shoot it up with some lemon-garlic mixture. “Hold it still!” He demands, trying to slip the plastic needle into the turkey’s thigh. Marinade spurts everywhere.
“Don’t forget the breast!” I remind him. “That’s the most important part.”
He shoot-spurts some marinade into the general breast area. I look closer. “I don’t think that’s the breast.”
“I know breasts!” He chastises me.
“No honey, look. I think that’s the turkey’s back.”
“It’s the breast! Look at the divet! Those are two breasts!”
“Those are vertebrae!”
“What?” Our conversation lost its sexy momentum.
“I forgot to take the innard sacks out!”
“Oh for God’s sake.” We both dug into the turkey’s head hole and pulled the neck out, along with a slippery bag of organs.
“Gross.” I say. “And we’re supposed to eat this thing?”
“We ready now?” My husband sighed. He doesn’t know how to prepare or cook poultry either.
“There’s supposed to be one more bag we pull out of the uh...” I poke the turkey’s butt, but it appears to be stitched up tight.
“There’s nothing there.” My husband began to inject more marinade into the vertebrae.
“No, it’s pouchy. There’s something in there.” I continue to pat and poke. “It feels bouncy, like there’s something in it.”
My husband tapped the turkey’s behind. “There’s no opening, honey. Nothing’s in there.”
By now, we were joined by our overnight house guests and soon we all crowded around the turkey’s butt, poking and prodding.
“Nope, nothing there.” My husband again picks up the syringe, but I’m not convinced.
Sensing my hesitation, our guest grabs a knife and makes a butt cut. I put my fingers inside the opening and pull out another bag of turkey parts.
“See?” I say triumphantly. “It had stuff in its butt!”
Our guests slink away.
“I think you’re right,” my husband admits, turning the turkey over with Herculean effort. “That was the vertebra.”
“Do you think we’re ruining this thing?” I ask. “Half the marinade is on the floor, the other half is in the turkey’s spine, and I just pulled a plastic bag out of our dinner’s ass.”
My husband would have none of it. “We’ve got 20 pounds of bird here. And by God, we’re going to eat it.”
“I’m not eating a baby for Thanksgiving!” My daughter yelled from the couch.
“It’s going to be good, sweetie. And it’s not a baby.” I look at the turkey. “Right?” I whisper to my husband who was wiping marinade out of his eye.
“Probably not,” he says while I survey the turkey’s split butt, its organs housed in little baggies strewn across our counter, and lemon-garlic marinade spilled on every available kitchen surface.
“Baby, baby, ba—beeee!” My daughter chants in the background.
“Honey?” I ask the vertebra injector.
He looks up, weary, defeated. “Yes?”
“Forget it” I didn’t have the heart to tell him he’d just injected the roll of paper towels we had set underneath the turkey. I smiled instead. “Let’s have tacos for Christmas.”
He looked at me gratefully. “As long as whatever we eat doesn’t weigh 20 pounds and have a butt.”
“…Or is a baby,” my daughter helpfully adds.
“Deal,” I say. Because I was too tired to argue and because if I can’t even fix a turkey, there’s no way I could cook a baby.