Next week, most of us will be sitting down to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends. I know there are many young people around the University of Alaska Anchorage campus who will be cooking their first holiday meal this year. And chances are that things will not go as well as they expect.
I can still hear my mother's voice whispering in my ear on my wedding day, "Always remember to take the giblets out of a turkey before you bake it." Thanks to Mom, I never baked a bird with a bag of innards left inside.
But she never told me about sink plugs, flour or cats named Sebastian. My husband, Don, and I celebrated our first Thanksgiving together in Fairbanks three weeks after our wedding. We invited several friends over to our tiny house to share in my first attempt at cooking the traditional American feast. I must say, we had very brave friends. Up to the point of saying, "I do," I could only make tuna-noodle casserole and spaghetti.
I got up early that morning. It took me about an hour to chop onions and celery, crumble dried bread bits into a bowl and sprinkle assorted spices into the stuffing mixture. Then I wrestled the 24-pound turkey out of the refrigerator, washed it off in the sink and carefully piled hand-fulls of stuffing into the cavity and neck. I then hoisted the bird out of the sink, dropped it into a roasting pan and popped it in the oven. I felt invincible. Until that afternoon, when Don volunteered to wash all the dishes that I'd used in preparing the meal.
"Where's the stopper for the sink?" he asked.
As he searched the kitchen for the rubber plug, I stared at the oven.
I made sure that no one was in the kitchen when I scooped the stuffing out of the cooked turkey, washed off the plug and hid it behind the coffee maker. What they didn't know…
I then turned my attention to making gravy. I remembered a friend saying "just add flour to thicken," when I'd asked her how to make the goo. With the succulent turkey juices boiling in the pan on the stove, I grabbed a whisk and started stirring in flour. I ended up with globs of flour the size of marbles. My friend neglected to mention that one must first mix the flour with water and make a paste before adding it to the turkey drippings. Thankfully, the packages of turkey gravy mix sitting in my cupboard came with directions.
The rest of the Thanksgiving feast went off without a hitch, even the desert – after a minor adjustment.
I baked a lovely pumpkin pie for desert. I even bragged to my guests about the beauty of my first pastry creation. So when I went into the kitchen to retrieve it, I was stunned to see cat prints squished into my masterpiece. Sebastian, our white and yellow feline friend, had decided to sample the goods first. I quickly slathered a thick coat of Cool Whip all over the top of the pie and served it to my guests with a smile.
To all the fledging cooks at UAA, I hope that these revelations will give you the courage to create your own masterpieces on Thanksgiving Day. And to all the family and friends who are coming to my house next week, I want to reassure you about a few things: Don always takes the stoppers out of the sink before I stuff the bird; I have learned how to make gravy and, if it turns out lumpy, how to shove it through a sieve to make it smooth; and Sebastian, may he rest in peace, is no longer with us. He died shortly after eating my pie.