Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

November 18, 2012

Dinner from a bag, boxes: How the culinary impaired celebrate Thanksgiving

— — I rise early, and pull a vast array of boxes and cans from the kitchen cabinets. Carefully, I reread the instructions on each, all the while compiling a timeline in my mind. Instant mashed potatoes, canned vegetables, Stovetop stuffing, canned crescent rolls and more.

Staring at the vast array of food awaiting preparation, I give myself a mental pep talk. “You can do this. Defeat is not an option.”

Yes, it’s Thanksgiving. The one day of the year when I attempt to do domestic.

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My current Thanksgiving dinners are quite unlike the ones I grew up enjoying. My mother and grandmother were queens of the kitchen and the holiday was one in which they offered up a plethora of home-cooked fare.

Potatoes were mashed by hand. Stuffing was made from scratch (to this day the smell of sage conjures up memories of an overly warm and bustling kitchen). Desserts were decadent, and abundant.

The mere thought of serving convenience foods on this most-important holiday would have sent the ladies into a tizzy. After all, it is Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, proficiency in the kitchen is a genetic trait I did not inherit.

Much of my married life has been spent attempting to whip up home-cooked meals beyond my culinary skill set, as other women tried to convince me I had the ability to be Martha Stewart for a day.

Many years ago former Telegraph obituary clerk Lillian Johnston encouraged me to try a homemade lasagna recipe. “It’s so easy,” Lilly said. “You can make it.” How I managed to burn the sauce and undercook the noodles is still a science mystery.

Of course the lasagna debacle pales in comparison to the homemade bread fiasco — a recipe I tried at the urging of former food columnist, the late Emilie Holroyd.

For one of her weekly features, Emilie had written about foods popular during the time of our early presidents. She not only composed the menu, she cooked up the fare. And I spent an enjoyable afternoon at her house sampling the early-American cuisine.

My favorite part of the meal was the bread — Sally Lunn bread. And once again I heard the infamous words: “It’s so easy to make.”

The following Saturday was bread-making day. I was on the phone with Emilie early, getting details of the Sally Lunn process. She talked me through the recipe step by step, but I continued to have problems. Later in the day I called Emilie when my dough had not risen hours past its plumpness due date.

“You killed your yeast,” Emilie said matter-of-factly.

"Oh my gosh!” I responded, naive horror lacing my voice. “It was alive?”

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Amazingly, the one part of my Thanksgiving dinner that turns out well is the turkey. I do not give credit to myself for this anomaly. Instead, I understand the success is based entirely on the Reynolds Oven Bags, a product I would name among the top 10 inventions of previous decades.

Using “the bag” my bird has turned out moist and juicy year after year. But that still doesn’t negate the grossness factor I feel during preparation.

Arising early each Thanksgiving day, one of my first tasks is to clean and prepare the bird. And, each holiday, I find myself thoroughly disgusted when I am forced to shove my hand down the turkey’s body cavity in an attempt to pull out “the parts” that will quickly be wrapped in aluminum foil and shoved in the freezer until “trash day” arrives.

Why must I be subjected to this year after year? In this day and age of technology and modern marvels — Facebook and Twitter, texting and Wi-Fi, space stations and the Mars rover Curiosity — why can’t we have the option of purchasing a turkey with or without the spare parts?

Perhaps I’m shopping at the wrong stores, but can’t someone, somewhere, offer a yuck-free bird?

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The boxes and cans of easy, breezy culinary fare are lined up on the counter — an army of convenience, ready to make dinner preparation simple.

After perusing the lineup, I make a mental game plan — and prepare myself to go into the bird to retrieve the parts that will remain unused.

Hours later the husband is thrilled by his holiday meal. At this point I usually feel a twinge of guilt that he is not just content, but actually happy over boxed stuffed and instant mashed potatoes.

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When I leave work this Wednesday the Thanksgiving tradition will begin with teasing from those in the newsroom. They know my plans for the holiday — and they know of my inability to cook.

“Try not to give him food poisoning,” someone will joke.

“If we hear of a fire in Duhring tomorrow on the scanner, we’ll know where to go,” another will quip.

The sad part about that statement is, on a few occasions in the past, the smoke alarm in the kitchen has served as the dinner bell.

But despite my years of kitchen mishaps, I will, once again, attempt a Thanksgiving dinner. It may not be the best or the tastiest, but it’s an effort.

An effort to be like Martha for a day.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.

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