I’ve never been big on cooking Thanksgiving Dinner. Number 1, I’m not overly fond of Turkey. I mean, it’s great for the Thanksgiving meal, but then you’re left with all that leftover Turkey that you have to creatively use up over the next few days. I’ve always been a dark meat person myself, but the leg is extremely fraught with tendons and tiny bones. And the thigh just goes too fast. Then you’re left with that dry, stringy breast meat that you have to smother with gravy in order to chew and swallow. As I said, I’m just not a big fan of it.
When we first married, Tim was a 2nd lieutenant in the USAF, and our first assignment was 1800 miles from our home. So it was impossible to go home for Thanksgiving. But as most young families in Tim’s squadron were in the same situation, someone would volunteer to prepare the Thanksgiving Dinner and invite 2 to 3 other couples over to join.
So in that manner, I managed to skate through the first 5 years of our marriage without ever having to do battle with a turkey. I had reached 28 years of age, and had never cooked a turkey. But having recently moved to Oklahoma and made a new bunch of friends, I decided I would like to try my hand at hosting my own Thanksgiving Dinner.
We invited friends for a mid afternoon meal. The menu was a given. I would cook all the traditional dishes that I had growing up for Thanksgiving Dinner. Having grown up in the South, all foods came fried or in the form of a casserole dish. Imagine our glee when we discovered Fried Turkey, many years later.
One of our favorite traditional Thanksgiving dishes was the Million Dollar Squash Casserole. It was made with yellow crooked neck squash, sour cream, mushroom soup and Pepperidge Farm Cornbread Dressing Mix. So what started out as a healthy, nutritional vegetable was transformed into a calorie and fat laden “heart attack on a plate”. But, after all, what is Thanksgiving Dinner, if not a day for over indulgence.
I grew up in the lower part of SC where rice is the staple starch rather than the potato, so we always had rice with giblet gravy, and the requisite sweet potato soufflé (casserole) and my Grandmother’s recipe for cornbread dressing, pumpkin pie, pecan pie and of course the turkey. Now, I knew how to make everything else, I was not concerned with any of the side dishes; however, I knew absolutely nothing about a turkey. So I consulted my cook books that I had received as wedding gifts and opted for one of the new fangled turkeys that had the pop up doneness indicators.
It seemed relatively straight forward. Baste the turkey-put it in the oven at the correct temperature- cook for about 4 hours. Dinner was planned for mid afternoon, so I put the turkey in at the appropriate time, allowing for the resting time before carving, and began preparing the delectable squash casserole.
The squash that I was familiar with from my childhood is a yellow goose necked squash with a smooth, thin skin that when sliced and boiled will puree by simply mashing with a fork. The squash I found in the grocery in OK looked similar, but not exactly the same. It didn’t have a crooked neck, and the skin was rough and bumpy. But it was what they had, so I went with it. After boiling, I tried to mash it, but the skin was tough and would not break up. I put it in the mixing bowl and ran at high speed—still lumpy. So I elevated to the next level of maceration, and put the squash in the blender. This would definitely take care of it. But, as there was not a lot of liquid in the squash, it didn’t swirl well, and the squash escaped the blades by clinging desperately to the sides of the pitcher while the blades whirred ineffectively in the center. So in an attempt to force the squash back into the center of the blender, I used the handle of a large fork to poke along the sides of the pitcher, and inadvertently proved a law of physics.
Newton’s law of motion. an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
When the blades came in contact with the fork, the blades came to a screeching halt, but the squash, which was in motion at a gazillion revolutions per second, continued at the same velocity, but changed direction to a vertical trajectory and stopped abruptly when it made contact with my ceiling.
Around about that time, my husband, Tim, came into the kitchen in an attempt to be helpful. He peeked in at the turkey and then examined the control panel on the front of the oven. We had just recently moved into our rental condo, and it had really glitzy appliances. It even came with a trash compactor, which was quite sophisticated for a young, impoverished, Air Force couple like ourselves.
The oven had lots of buttons, but no user’s manual, so I had never used any of the advanced settings. I heard Tim idly comment on the functionality of some of the controls, but I ignored him as I continued to scrub squash off the ceiling.
Preparations went on with no further incidents until about 3 hours later when I opened the oven door to check on the turkey. The oven was stone cold. The turkey was raw. Dinner guests were due to arrive any minute. Tim will deny it even to this day, 40 years later, but when he was marveling over all the buttons on the oven, he pushed the button for timed bake and put the oven on pause. Effectively, dinner was on pause.
Our guests were quite amused by the tale, and we spent the afternoon drinking and playing games until the turkey finally made its grand entrance. All in all, it was a wonderful Thanksgiving. But that’s what Thanksgiving is really all about, isn’t it. Sharing the day with friends and family and giving thanks for what really matters in life: health, happiness, sharing and caring.