By Anna Daniels
It is not an auspicious sign when the turkey is not only NOT in the oven on time, but a feverish online search has ensued with the frantic words “where find blowtorch thanksgiving san diego.”
I was really looking forward to roasting a turkey this year. My husband and I have a brand new stove that replaced the old one with the inoperable oven that has functioned as a storage unit for over a decade. The fragrance of roasting turkey is one of the best smells that life offers; my olfactory senses were primed. But the taste of turkey is often something quite different.
Despite the successful attempts to make turkey breasts gigantic, culinary engineering has been less successful in assuring breast meat that doesn’t taste like a Mojave Desert burger. Getting and cooking a flavorful turkey has always been hit and miss for me. I have tried every kind of turkey available. Or at least I thought I had.
Doug Porter, who is not only a SDFP editor but also a stellar cook, recommended that I try a kosher turkey instead of the usual commercial fare.
A fresh fourteen pound kosher turkey sat in the fridge while I pondered different recipes for roasting it. One fairly simple recipe uses orange juice and dry white wine to baste the turkey. This brought back memories of Key West Thanksgivings, Cuban style where the bird was stuffed with an onion and garlic and basted with sour orange juice, herbs and spices. It was the most succulent, flavorful turkey that I have ever eaten. For days afterward we would warm up slices of meat, add a squirt of lime juice and make sandwiches on Cuban bread. I hoped that the orange juice and Cava which I had substituted for the usual white wine would produce the desired flavor.
It was now time to clean and prepare the turkey. I removed the neck and searched both cavities for a bag of giblets. There were no giblets! How do you make the stuffing stock and gravy without the giblets? Then I noticed the constellation of pin feathers spread out across the whole bird and the huge quills sticking up from the wings.
“O. My. God. “ I turned to Rich in horror. “ We have a hairy fourteen pound turkey.” Ok, it wasn’t hair, but the bird had enough feathers to fly. My first impulse was to assist it by hurling it into the back yard.
“I’m depilating the underarms of a goddam turkey with a pair of tweezers, that’s how it’s going, thanks for asking.”
Pin feathers and quills are a fact of life when it comes to freshly killed bird preparation. I can still see my mother standing at the stove with a whole chicken singeing the pin feathers off over the burner. We have slaughtered chickens and once a duck, using boiling water to eliminate the feathers and finishing off the job with a blowtorch.
But there was no pot in the house deep enough to contain this big boy and no way to hold it over the gas burner. And there was no blowtorch in the house. We were screwed.
Unsurprisingly, no hit list materialized to my google blowtorch search query. A revised search did turn up other suggestions to rid the bird of feathers: tweezers, pliers (clean !) and scissors. When a dear friend called from France to wish me a happy Thanksgiving and ask how the day was going, I wailed: “I’m depilating the underarms of a goddam turkey with a pair of tweezers, that’s how it’s going, thanks for asking.”
I gave up. A fourteen pound turkey is an amazing amount of avian acreage. We would be left with no option but to rip off and dispose of all of the skin that had been slathered with orange zest, a stick of butter, minced garlic and sage.
A feeling of embarrassment tinged with shame tugged at me as the first whiffs of roasting turkey filled the house. I had succumbed once more to the pressures of creating a perfect holiday. There we were sitting warm and dry under a brand new roof over a house filled with an abundance of food. And somehow, it wasn’t perfect.
Earlier in the week we had dropped off a donation to the annual Thanksgiving Rice Drive in City Heights. This was the ninth year that San Diego Asian Youth Organization and the Pan Pacific Law Enforcement Association co-hosted the drive to feed hungry families in San Diego County. Unsurprisingly, many of these families include Southeast Asian and African families, immigrants and refugees that are my neighbors in City Heights.
Rich and I were invited into an immense room to see the growing wall of twenty pound bags of Costco rice ringing its perimeter. It was astounding.
I asked one of the Community Relations officers if this was the right kind of rice as I thought of the different kinds of rice stipulated in recipes that I use. Jasmine and Basamati, long grain and short grain.
There was a long pause before the Thai officer responded. “We will probably have a thousand people show up this year when we distribute the rice. Families. Elderly people. Lots of kids. It will be a wonderful day. You should join us.”
At this point in my long life I have come to realize that perfection—and paradise– are places and events that took place in the past, after memory has smoothed out the sharp edges and disjunctive moments that loom large in the present. The problem seems to be that I can so easily ignore what I know in my heart.
Rich and I finally settled down to a really good meal, a really good Thanksgiving. I doubt that time will work its alchemy and serve it up as perfect in retrospect, but it will certainly join years of odd and very funny Thanksgivings.
Besides, would you really want to read about our perfect Thanksgiving?