I was talking to a friend today and telling her about the first time I ever decided to have Thanksgiving at my house. I had invited thirty people for dinner and before I go any further, in the spirit of honesty, I have to admit that I’m a terrible cook. That said, it was sheer stupidity for me to invite a houseful of guests when I didn’t know how to cook a turkey.
But it gets worse. The night before Thanksgiving, I put out bridge tables that went from one end of the house to the other and I put huge bed boards on each table to extend the seating capacity and covered them with beautiful hand embroidered tablecloths that had been passed down from one generation to another. The place settings were neatly aligned and my grandmother’s crystal serving pieces sparkled on the tables.
The doorbell rang and when I went to answer it, there was this delivery guy from the flower shop looking all the worse for wear and tear. He handed me a gorgeous floral table arrangement and when I read the card it was from a friend who couldn’t join us. The card said, “Sorry I can’t be there with you but have a Happy Turkey Day.”
I said, “Oh, my God. I forgot to defrost the turkey.”
Anyone who has ever cooked a huge turkey to feed thirty people can appreciate how all the blood drained out of my face and my heart rate sped up so high I thought I was going to pass out when I realized that I had nothing to serve my company unless we had a miracle.
My miracle was my mother. In her calmest voice she told me to get the turkey out of the freezer and put it under cold running water. This was in the days before microwaves were invented and it seemed an impossible task that this huge frozen bird would ever be soft enough to eat.
I stayed up all night, rotating the bird under the cold running water; I only had a double sink and that meant the turkey couldn’t be submerged up to its scrawny, stiff neck. I had to keep turning it. Or so I told myself.
The next morning I put the turkey in the oven. It felt soft enough to cook. My guests arrived. I put on my bravest smile and proceeded to serve everyone.
Aaaarrrrggghhh!!!! The insides were raw. The outside looked brown and edible but when it was carved, I could see the knife getting stuck inside. No hope. My guests were starved and I didn’t know what to do.
Fortunately, there was someone at the table who suggested that we carve the turkey into smaller pieces and put them back into the oven at a higher temperature to cook faster. That worked. Almost.
In the years since that culinary disaster I learned a wonderful secret. For the first course, serve a huge Caesar salad with all the trimmings and French garlic bread that has been warmed in the oven and is golden brown and smells delicious. For the last course, serve a mouth-watering dessert and coffee with either Alka Seltzer or Bromo Seltzer on the side. And finally, hope that no one remembers what you served in between the first course and the last course.