Thursday, November 8, 2007

Turkey: Bird of Disaster

When I was in high school, I actually had to read about 300 ancient Greek plays for my lit class. Every one of them had a bird-based prediction of the future. Most of them were dire and involved bloody deaths or the rending of clothes. A hawk flying over someone's camp meant certain attack by the enemy. An owl seen during daylight hours meant that something weird and unnatural was about to happen (e.g. marrying one's father and then having to watch him gouge his eyes out). And so on. It's no matter that when I was pooped on by a pigeon while waiting for the bus in 11th grade, I nearly had to be tranquilized. I figured that not only was my perm ruined, my future must be seriously in the crapper. What else could I think?

So, it wasn't any surprise to me that years later, when I began to cook my own Thanksgiving dinners, the bird that would "fly" into my kitchen could ruin or exalt. Unfortunately, the turkey has not been good to me. I have bought certified fresh turkeys that NEVER thawed out from their permafrost deep freeze in time for Thanksgiving. I have burnt turkeys. I have over-corn starched gravy to a consistency that made it suitable for bathroom grouting. In an food safety-anti-eColi frenzy, I have cooked turkeys until their flesh was about as appetizing as wet straw.

And one year, as I prepared to feed 25 people, the turkey showed its true feathers, its disastrous powers. It was a beautiful, barrel-breasted bird, and I dressed and stuffed it with a special chestnut dressing. Of course, it was about then that I discovered that my beautiful turkey was too big for my oven. A finely engineered system involving a chair, many cinder blocks, and some rope just about got the oven door closed enough to roast the bird and help to heat the house. After many hours of roasting and several delicate basting sessions, I untied the turkey from the oven. I was calm, certain that the earlier disaster had been diverted, that the gods were smiling again. Then, as I was crossing the room, dodging guests, cats, and inlaws, I dropped it. I dropped the Thanksgiving turkey. And, even worse, I spilled all the gravy, most of which managed to snake down my leg in one boiling mass of turkey fat and chopped celery. When I tore off the pants that I was wearing, screaming with pain, most of my skin came off with them.

The turkey had spoken, that fickle bird. I learned then never to turn my back on one, or "dis" it with a shoddy oven set up, ever again.

I have the burn marks today, five years later. People ask me about that mean-looking scar on the beach every summer. I used to make up an answer, it was so embarrassing to say I dropped the turkey. Not anymore. "Turkey got me," is all I say, as they look on quizzically and pull their young children away quietly.

Every few years I tempt fate and try the turkey again, in the same spirit that I try making a flip off the high dive every summer at the pool. Other years, it's Cornish hen (a small bird capable of only minor inconveniences) or go really safe with a nice leg of lamb. I'm just happy that the Greeks never told the future through their livestock.

Just to play it safe, this year I'm cooking salmon.

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