Roasted Turkey

Roasting a turkey always seemed like such madness: the giblets, the basting, the constant urge to call the turkey hotline. I only agreed to roast a bird one Thanksgiving because sister-in-law Amy would be staying at our house for the holiday weekend. Only she could keep our family safe from a full on, turkey disaster.

So on game day, before taking one step in the turkey’s direction, I brewed coffee, deliberately clanking around the kitchen to wake and lure Amy to her post. I needed my assistant to keep my anxiety from pulling me back to bed and under the covers. She shuffled into the kitchen, clad in her monkey pajamas (monkey-jammas as husband Todd calls them), popped open a diet coke, and said, “Are you ready?” Her eyes twinkled.

“No,” I said. “Yeah, well, let’s get started anyway," she said. "I’ll get the turkey.”

“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” I said as Amy hoisted the bird out of the fridge, onto the counter. “I’m just glad one of us has done this before.”

“Lisa,” she said, looking at me, rolling up her sleeves. “I told you...I’ve never made a turkey.”

“What about Thanksgiving at your house that year...when was that?”

“Don’t you remember? That was the year my parents brought the ‘Set-it-and-Forget-It’.”

I should have remembered. For days leading up to that Thanksgiving Todd and I tormented Amy and my brother, Larry, repeatedly bellowing, “How are we gonna cook the turkey? What’s that you say? We’re gonna set it…and forget it!”

Then the “Day Of” we shifted to Amy’s dad. “Hey John, did you set it? Well don’t forget to ‘forget it’! Ha!” and “Step away from the turkey, Grandpa John! You’re supposed to set it…and forget it!” We laughed all day long.

There would be no laughing this year, I thought. Even with Amy by my side, I feared a bloody, undercooked, salmonella of a bird, or, no less appealing, an over-cooked, desert dry, hunk of meat. I was betting on the latter, wishing John will magically appear, “Set it and Forget It” in tow, stuffing and dessert my only responsibility. That was not to be, so I faced the music.

My first line of business was to remove the giblets. “They’re in a bag in the turkey’s cavity,” the butcher had told me two days earlier. “You can't miss it!” And yes, the “can’t miss it” bag was right where he said it’d be. I reached into the bird, grabbed the bag and held it out as far away from my body as possible."Now what do I do?” I said, praying she'd say, “Throw it away.”

“Well, my mom always uses them for gravy,” she said, “but makes no difference to me.” So I trashed it. “Do you want me to do the rinsing?” she offered, deepening my love for her. "Of course," I said.

As Amy practically dove into the sink after the turkey, I watched her vigorously hose down our dinner, all the while (disturbingly) smiling. She lifted the bird out of the sink and into the pan. I supervised her hand washing technique.

My friend, Gayle was to roast a turkey that year, too. For weeks she and I had discussed strategy: number of pounds, organic or not, frozen or fresh, where to buy, how to avoid grocery store crowds. We both were using the Williams-Sonoma recipe so I figured collaboration was inevitable. When the phone rang that morning at 8:30, I knew it had to be her.

“I’m about to put my bird in the oven,” she said. “How’s it going over there?”

“Fine,” I said. “So far. Amy’s helping me.”

“Oh! Good! How nice! Okay, just checkin’ in. Happy basting!”

Back at the bird we washed herbs, cut a lemon, and stuffed the cavity. I pondered whether the final step, tying those darn legs together, was necessary as my instincts told me, "Do not blow this off." Amy and I twined the turkey closed as imperfectly as we possibly could and began the roasting process.

Just as we sat to finish our morning jolts and discuss being thankful, the phone rings. It's Gayle.

“Do you have a meat thermometer?” she asked. How in the world is her turkey ready for a temp check? I wonder. “Yes,” I told her.

“Can I borrow it? I just took my bird out of the oven and it looks good, but I don’t want to give anyone salmonella.” Who could blame her?

Amy and I left our husbands to man the oven so we could make the delivery two-blocks away. The trees were barren and it was an unseasonable 80 degrees. The warm sun calmed me, temporarily disintegrating my turkey insecurity. We chatted, stomping on crunchy leaves, hearing children laughing and playing at the park we pass. But when I opened the door to Gayle’s building, a waft of butter, onion, and chicken-broth hits me. My house doesn’t smell this good, I thought, wanting to run home to baste.

“Hello!” she said, throwing open the door and walking back into her kitchen. “Ya’ gotta come look at my bird!”

Smells like a bubbe’s house, I thought as I spotted the aroma source resting peacefully in the pan on the counter, golden-brown, crispy looking skin, legs perfectly together, green herbs strewn about. My mouth watered.

“Now that is a good looking bird,” I said. “Much prettier than ours. What did you do?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Basted a lot, I guess.”

On her counter I noticed a cookbook open to a page with step-by-step instructions, diagrams and all, on how to tie turkey legs together, which, to do so effectively, keeps in the herbs, spices and the like during the course of roasting: the nuance separating the men from the boys.

“So that’s how you do it!” I said, regretting the last two hours of my life.

I showed her the thermometer but she shook her head and said, “You know...I’m actually thinking I don’t need the thermometer. What do you think?”

“You are asking the wrong person,” I said. She should have know better.

Amy smiled and said, “I think it looks good.” Go ahead, maverick," I thought, "be blamed for salmonella-later-to-poison-Gayle’s-family!

Anyway, our turkey ended up, well, a tad undercooked at first, then after further roasting, a bit overcooked but who really cared by the time we all sat down? Gayle's did turn out great, no one got sick and she went on to roast many more birds, successfully. No repeats for me, however. One and done? Maybe. If I can get away with it.