Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

The right way to talk turkey on Thanksgiving

Commentators discussing the 2016 presidential election have said things like, “The people spoke.”

Really? That strikes me as an overly euphemistic turn of phrase. From where I sit, we didn’t so much speak as let loose a big, ugly, collective hurl, one whose nasty contents spilled far beyond our polling places.

Frankly, we should’ve seen it coming. For more than a year our information diet consisted of gut-roiling junk, much of it doled out 140 characters at a time or in Facebook posts, because we didn’t demand anything of substance. After eating all that garbage, of course we got sick.

It’s going to take a long time to clean up this toxic mess, of course, but we shouldn’t let it touch Thanksgiving (or “Yanksgiving,” as I like to call it). This holiday should be about community, kindness, gratitude, and charity, and a meal that celebrates those things. My family will be celebrating the fact that I’m not cooking the turkey this year, for example. But I digress.

Right now a lot of people are asking how, if they’re surrounded by turkeys, they can make sure the only turkey that gets the stage on Thanksgiving is the bird on the table?

I offer two pieces of advice, the first of which was given to me by a dear friend: “When you least feel like giving is when you most need to give.” The friend in question said this when we were in the middle of an argument and the only thing I felt like giving him was a knuckle sandwich, but you know what? He was right then, and he’s still right. I forced myself to give, he forced himself to give, and slowly but surely, the giving created a positive loop and things began to get better.

What did we give each other?

  • The benefit of the doubt
  • Our full attention
  • Smiles
  • Gratitude
  • Calm
  • Kindness

We checked our snark at the door, ate humble pie, and generally acted like the adults in the room. And that’s what you should do, too.

HAHAHAHAHA! I’m sorry, I just cracked myself up, there, with that whole “adults in the room” thing. Who am I kidding? The only room we’re in right now is Romper Room, and the lone adult, Miss Sally, has gone on the lam.

Which brings me to my second piece of advice: get ready to channel your inner Mad Libber. No matter how hard you try to avoid it, someone might bring up one of those other turkeys, and when they do, you’ll need a diversionary tactic. You can’t just get up from the table – what if the pie hasn’t been served yet? – but you can change the subject, and this construction works well:

“LOOK, a [absurd noun]!”madlibs

For example, “LOOK, a UFO!” (I have another friend to thank for that one – it was his default response to any declaration of love.)

Speaking of alien life forms, “LOOK, Kanye West!” would probably work too. The more absurd, the better.

If you really want to sell it, as you’re mad-libbing, be sure to gesticulate wildly in the direction of the nearest door or window. And then steal the last bit of stuffing while no one’s looking. Go ahead, you earned it.

So you’ll survive Thanksgiving just fine. But unless you’re aiming for a career in politics, you can’t hide behind Mad Libs and diversionary tactics forever.

If you want to feel better in the longer-term, try that first piece of advice, and also consider cleaning up your information diet. Go out and get quality content yourself; don’t rely on others or social media to feed it to you. Find out where your information is coming from before you consume it. Check not only your source but your source’s sources. Not all purveyors of information are purveyors of fact, and even reliable sources get it wrong sometimes. Make your diet balanced, eat slowly, and take time to digest. And for Pete’s sake, if someone hands you a Twinkie, don’t let ’em tell you it’s kale.

The Force Awakened, and it also tested our mettle

My brother, L.J., and his family came up from Atlanta for Christmas this year. Their holiday visits tend to be chaotic, and this one promised to be particularly so since my dad was still navigating some health issues. (He’s doing much, much better, and thanks to all the kind souls who asked.)

Always a realist, my brother scaled back his expectations and said, “I just want to do one thing while I’m up here: see the Star Wars movie.”

He had one other condition: he wanted to go with me and Mom, the two people he’d seen the original movie with in 1977. Star Wars made a huge impression on me and my brother, and nowhere was that impression more evident than in L.J.’s Christmas list, which included requests for the Death Star, the Millennium Falcon, an X-wing fighter, and enough action figures to man the whole enterprise. (I was glad he asked for those things, because it freed up space on my list.) Over the next several years, he and I spent hours and hours re-enacting battles we’d seen and fighting new ones.

When The Empire Strikes Back came out in 1980, Mom made sure L.J. and I were among the first in line for tickets at the Springfield Mall, which I believe required her to take us out of school a few hours early. Mom wasn’t the type to let me and my siblings miss school even if we handed her a burst appendix, so this was an event of epic proportions. We treated Return of the Jedi with similar reverence, and The Force continued to strengthen in us.

L.J. and I, along with millions of other Star Wars fans, spent the next 16 years waiting patiently for the prequels. Though my brother lived in Atlanta by then, we managed to see one of those movies together, both of us likely operating under the mistaken belief that the company would somehow improve the experience.

High expectations for those movies, we had. Test our faith in the franchise, they did.

Yet because The Force remained strong in us, we kept our hopes alive for the latest installment and snagged tickets for a daytime showing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on December 23. To ensure the Jedi tradition would be passed down to the next generation, we brought my niece and four nephews with us. (We weren’t able to pull Mom away from her post at home, alas.) For old times’ sake, I sat next to my brother.

As the introductory text began its trademark scroll up the screen and off into space, accompanied by an unmistakably John Williams score, L.J. leaned over and whispered, “I’ve got chills.”

To my astonishment, I did too. And that’s when I realized I had more than mere hopes riding on this movie, I had pinned actual needs to it. I needed to feel like a little kid again, to have this space opera engross me so thoroughly that, for at least two hours, I could forget some of the realities of life in middle age. Not that middle age is bad, mind you, because it isn’t at all. But if I had to express a complaint on behalf of forty-somethings, it’s that people both way older and way younger than us seem to expect us to be utterly dependable and responsible, whereas we’re not supposed to need anybody. Never mind that being responsible and dependable to these people, whom we love dearly, is the very least we can do and a privilege. Sometimes even the most responsible among us gets a little petulant and longs for the days when bad stuff was mainly imaginary and could be vaporized with the swing of a light saber.

I was feeling that longing just as The Force Awakens came out. I needed to go hurtling back to a time long, long ago and a galaxy far, far away, a place where good guys are too busy battling the Dark Side to worry about things like gum grafts.

I won’t give away any details about the movie in case you haven’t seen it, but it’s enough to say that it gave me what I needed and then some. It was a two-hour nostalgia trip at light speed that left me and my brother elated as we walked out of the theater. The Force Awakens rekindled our love for the franchise, solidified our bond to the past, and gave us plenty of hope for the future.

My brother summed it up perfectly when he compared it to the best kind of old friendships: “We picked up right where we left off.”

 

I think I'll hang on to this one.

I think I’ll hang on to this one.

 

Taking “winging it” to a whole new level

Several readers commented on my post about volunteering to cook the turkey for this year’s Yanksgiving at my parents’ house. Though my stint in the kitchen was not a planned happening so much as the result of a change in Mom and Dad’s travel plans, I nevertheless viewed this as a passing of the torch. Those readers seemed to view it the same way and, mindful that my track record with fire isn’t all that great, chimed in with all sorts of suggestions. They agreed wholeheartedly with my brining. They also told me to remember to bring a meat thermometer and butter, but if I happened to remember only one of those two things, make it the butter.

My friends Marvin and Gil expressed their concern by inviting me to their home Wednesday night so we could talk turkey in person. They’ve put on a big Thanksgiving spread for as long as I can remember, so I headed over there. I felt certain they’d offer me quality pointers, or at the very least a glass of wine. I sat on their sofa, a full glass of white in hand, and leaned forward in anticipation of receiving the insights only a seasoned turkey pro could offer.

“Remember to turn on the oven,” Gil said. And because Marvin and Gil are the kind of people who stop at nothing to help a friend in need, they topped off my wine.

On Thursday at noon, I showed up at my parents’ house with the star attraction –my 15.8 lb brined bird, escorted by a bottle of bubbly –as well as potatoes and asparagus, which to me are sort of like backup dancers. By 12:15, I had the bird stuffed full of apples and spices and ready for its champagne bath.

Before...

Before…

Thank goodness I stole a last peek at the recipe, otherwise I would’ve doused the turkey with an entire bottle of champagne rather than the mere 2/3 it called for. It’s one thing to ruin a turkey and another altogether to waste a perfectly good glass of champagne.

Disaster averted, I somehow managed to get the bird into the oven bag. As soon as I tied off the bag, I had my mother snap a photo of me downing the remnants of the champagne.

I texted Marvin and Gil, “Chef and turkey are both in the bag.”

They wrote back, “Keep him in plastic and you in paper. Gotta breathe.” I have such supportive friends.

I plopped the bagged bird into the roasting pan my mother’s been using ever since I can remember. It’s black with white speckles that are either decorative or a function of the fact that the pan has spent a lot of its life in my parents’ basement near paint cans. I’m sure there are better and fancier pans out there, but that flecked pan is the only one that holds our family traditions, so when the time came, I didn’t consider using anything else.

After loading up the pan, I stuck it in the oven and had Mom set the timer to go off every hour, expecting the turkey to take at least three hours to cook. Heavenly smells began to waft through the kitchen after an hour. I fully intended to give the meat thermometer a go at the two-hour mark but got sidetracked by an opportunity to try out some new tunes on the piano while my sister Suzi sang along. (We crushed “Piano Man,” in case you’re wondering.) I wasn’t worried, thinking there was no way a nearly 16-lb bird would finish cooking in under three hours anyway.

When the timer sounded at the third hour, I pulled out the turkey and popped in the thermometer. Turns out my gold-plated, free-ranging bird was advanced in every respect, including done-ness. While I suppose it’s better to cook a turkey to within an inch of its life instead of your family’s, I worried that it might be too done. We raced to get the backup dancers caught up with the star, and by 4:45, the stage was fully set. We took our places and gave the usual thanks for family, friends, and freedom from salmonella.

If I were rating my first effort on a 100-point scale, broken down into three categories –texture, taste, and artistic impression –here’s how I would grade myself:

...after!

…after!

  • Texture (possible 30 points): 23. The dark meat had perfect texture. The white meat? While no one would have bitten into it and mistaken it for a Topsider, it didn’t exactly melt in your mouth.
  • Taste (possible 40 points): 40. Maybe the brining had something to do with it, but I choose to give full credit to the champagne, mainly because doing so gives me license to douse all future uncooked poultry with a bottle of bubbly. And the gravy? So otherworldly good it has visited me in my dreams.
  • Aesthetic appeal (possible 30 points): 22. It came out all in one piece and would generally be recognized by the sighted world as a cooked turkey, so that’s a plus; however, as I removed it from the bag, some of the skin ripped off, making it look like the bird had been tossed out of a speeding car and skidded along the pavement before coming to rest on the platter. So maybe my turkey won’t be asked to pose for the cover of Bon Apetit any time soon, but it’s not a Pinterest fail, either.

I give myself an 85 overall, which is a solid B effort. Not altogether bad for winging it.