The Mystery of Cooking a Thanksgiving Turkey

Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday. Hands down, no contest. Beautiful in its simplicity. To share food and be grateful, how does life get any better than this? Collectively, we all stop and count our blessings, and share with our friends and family food, laughter and love. If only all holidays were so simple. I love that somehow, Thanksgiving has managed to be spared the commercial focus of almost all of our North American celebrations. Besides turkey, stuffing and flowers, I don't see retailers pushing anything extraneous except perhaps harvest colour candles.

Cooking has been slow to become my strong suit. Many years ago, when a friend became too ill to host a turkey dinner, it was my turn to join forces with my childhood friend Cam Harvey and tackle the mystery of cooking a turkey. The turkey itself was an awe inspiring thing, huge, naked and -- quite frozen. With only 18 hours to go before Thanksgiving dinner we hadn't really thought that one through. Who knew that turkeys don't melt in a matter of hours? The beast was far too large for Cam's apartment-sized microwave, but we came up with ingenious idea of thawing it in the bathtub. And so we filled the tub with hot water, and floated that 18-pounder while we turned our attention to the kitchen.

Cam brought up the detail of stuffing, at which point we looked blankly at one another. "It's time to call Kathy," he said. Kathy is Cam's mom, who had spent almost 20 years in the Mississauga Hospital with severe MS. Unable to cook a bird in her own kitchen, she seemed more than patient to coach us through our first bird. Cam and I huddled together listening to her detailed instructions about celery salt (what the heck is that!) and rosemary, dried bread, and black pepper; with as much awe and understanding as if she had read us the instructions for splitting the atom. It took two more calls until we got it right, but finally, with confidence we went our separate ways that night, believing that tomorrow, the actual cooking of the bird would be a cinch.

My first clue that things weren't going so smoothly was when Cam called out to me around 7:00 a.m., that the bird was still frozen. This seemed almost impossible, and yet, when I got to his place, there it was, still a layer of ice on its underside. Ten hours in a tub, and still a block of ice. We started to pour boiling water over the most frozen parts and that's when I thought I had better reach inside and look for ice. It was kind of neat, because when I reached inside there was a little package, sort of like a present, I thought, stuffed inside the bird. I opened the cloth package up and to my horror, out flopped a heart and two kidneys; "sweetmeats" pronounced Cam. We decided there was no other choice but to stuff the bird and put it in the oven early. Fortunately we had a crew coming to dinner and bringing the trimmings, so we decided to go for a hike while the bird cooked.

A frozen bird, takes a long while to cook, but seven hours later, I served my (our) first Thanksgiving turkey. It was delicious -- really, and the friendship and laughter of that Thanksgiving celebration so many years ago, remains central to the way I celebrate this holiday. Over the years friendships have changed and many have deepened, so that around our table, 30 loved ones will gather on Monday afternoon. That first year I learned that community cooking is the best kind, and each of my guests brings their special dish to share. I don't worry too much about the perfect turkey, because it seems, no matter what I do to the bird, I have been blessed with Turkey karma.

I have much to be grateful for, and amongst my greatest blessings are my husband, my children and my amazing friendships and Turkey karma.