TWO GUYS AND A TURKEY

About 30 years ago I wrote about my pal Nick and I taking over  the preparation of Thanksgiving dinner to show our wives it really isn’t that much of a big deal, even if 14 family members and guests would be sitting at the festive table.

When I volunteered for the task, I said to  my wife,”It can’t be that much of a project.  There’s just the turkey, dressing, a few vegetables and a dessert. Nick and I can handle that easily.”

“Okay, so do it, Dear, or take us out to a restaurant,” she replied. Nick said he’d received the same ultimatum.   We accepted the challenge, thinking it would be fun. Hah!

I drove to Nick’s on Thanksgiving Eve with a boxful of ingredients and a Betty Crocker cookbook, determined to turn out a feast which, if not exactly delectable, would be at least presentable and hopefully digestible.

Nick took charge of the huge turkey. He was an excellent barbecue cook, although some of his Hungarian dishes were exotic, or even strange. One concoction consisting of onions, mushrooms, red peppers, pork fat and butter was something my palate remembers fondly.  My gall bladder is still undecided. 

As I was cutting up the turnips, yams, potatoes, carrots and my left index finger, I noticed Nick was rubbing down the turkey with a crimson paste. He explained it was an ancient Transylvanian paprika recipe for pork belly that he was adapting for our 22-pound bird.

We’d started at 8 p.m. and figured we’d be done preparing by 11, but it was well past midnight when I slid two apple pies into the oven. They looked like patchwork quilts. I’d had trouble transferring the rolled out dough from the counter to the pie pans. Betty Crocker had warned that overworked dough could result in a tough crust. We were in for a couple of steel-belted pies.

Nick prepared three kinds of stuffing to satisfy the varying tastes of 14 diners. One had a cornbread base, another used the giblets and the third was a combination of commercial brands which he called “Stove Bottom”. During dinner the next day I asked my daughter to pass the stuffing platter and she replied, “I can’t, Dad. It’s too heavy.”

We were up and busy at dawn with the oven, stove and microwave going full blast.  The guests arrived at noon as we were into the finishing touches, delumping the gravy and trying to get the turkey out of the oven.  It had swelled up and was wedged in.  Fortunately the Transylvania marinade made it very slippery.

Everyone ate heartily and there were compliments to the chefs.  We didn’t say, “Shucks, it was nothing.”  because it had been backbreaking work. But we’d managed to preserve the tradition of a homecooked Thanksgiving dinner and even added a new twist. The carver didn’t have to ask “White meat or dark?”  Everyone had red.

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