I have always had conflicted feelings about holidays, such as today’s. They naturally rekindled all of those delightful family get-togethers at which either no one talked at all or everyone yelled. Those of us who might be under age 17 could rarely manage to sneak a cocktail. (‘Dis functional?) There was never anything interesting on television except for parades, football games, and variety specials hosted by folks with names such as Vikki, Andy, Steve and Eydie, Lawrence, and the like. I never quite wrapped my oddly-cultivated perspective of the world around why that Thursday was never ideal for a PBS special on Egyptology, an all day marathon of Bea Lillie, Mildred Dunnock, or Estelle Winwood films, or anything else “normal.”
As I grew older and into my own sense of sensibilities and sensations, I also started participating in the vicious sport of competitive party-throwing. Thanksgiving, however, was a mid-level holiday: a nightmare for young amateurs, too rigid for seasoned pros. Most hosts prepared the fairly similar menu year after year. Yes, Aunt Barbara had loved the lamb chops, Brussels sprouts stuffed with Gruyère, and the saffron crème brûlées. Yet, she couldn’t resist her own slightly Southern and most passive aggressive “digestif”: “But I do so love a proper turkey. The day is just incomplete without it, unless of course the chef doesn’t know a snood from a dewlap!” By the time I was thirty-something, the joy had been sucked out of a holiday turkey, except for the early ’90’s when deep-fried birds offered an actual trend.
Needless to say: I have spent almost half of my life attempting to prepare exotic and fabulous alternatives to these culinary traditions. Needless to say: I have learned to carefully select both my battles and my month. Similarly, I yielded my favorite fashion color and my penchant for baggy turtlenecks.
My battle seemed fruitless and surely doomed until I met Jon and became confident that, yet again, the winding lane to cohabitation would be both paved and short. Although Jon loves. No, make that “really loves.” Actually, it should read: Jon is near tears and speechlessness when he sees a roasted turkey, cranberry relish, and pumpkin pie. Of course, if forced to eat the cranberry item, I prefer the ground type made with fresh oranges and cranberries. Jon prefers the gelatinous type that is capable of neither melting nor becoming anybody’s sauce. Pumpkin pies simply annoy me and have done so since I went to St Thomas More Elementary in Chapel Hill. Let my epitaph read: “There is no Punkin. There is no Sammich. And Now There’s No Me!”
I digress in not returning sooner to explaining the Thanksgiving miracle that is Jon. Although he’s a card-carrying member of the traditional, he’s usually willing to experiment and trust my broader food knowledge. Plus, he loves me slightly more than turkeys, so I win by a hair. For the last decade, I have been able to show him firsthand several plausible options. One year, however, I acquiesced. Our dinner group included five men, all unemployed; and four women, my employed sister and her three daughters. I had selfish reasons though. I had a Southern hankerin’ for my favorite stuffing: cornmeal, spinach, mushrooms, sausage, Vidalias, and fresh fennel.
Usually, whenever I purchase a turkey, it is in the spring or summer. We opt for a free range one that we hope had a relatively stress-free and fulfilling life … and that it was given intravenous valium or copious morphine before it was killed, plucked, and trussed. And that it wasn’t dressed inappropriately for the occasion.
Finally, most of you know that I have a bad habit of naming random things. Our most recent automobiles here at Marklewood were Nigel and Ian. My iPods have been Leopolds I, II, & III. The downstairs vacuum is Emmanuelle. The upstairs canister model is Emmanuelle II. The Two Rubies are my prized non-blooming and mammoth begonias.
And since 1992, whenever I did happen to prepare a turkey, I named it Heather. Heather rhymes with feather so it provides a good segue for jolly banter. Since that’d be such an odd choice for a turkey, I chuckle instantly, knowing that one might expect a Blossom, Amelia, or even a Fern before a “Heather”.
The Novembers in which I prepare a roasted duck, leg of lamb, prime rib, Cornish hens, or even a pasta, I always think to myself: “Heather escaped another one!”
That Heather! She’s got it going on … for a turkey with the right type of meal ticket.
(Happy Thanksgiving from Mark, Jon, and all the rescued pusses at Marklewood. Heather finds it safer to reside in Holly Springs.)