Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Talkin' Turkey

The summer I was 18, my parents took a vacation with my sister and left me at home. I had a job and couldn't get off (I didn't try very hard), and was considered responsible enough to stay alone for a week or two. It was awesome. My friends and I built a ramp the second my parent's truck rounded the corner, and I was free to lie around the house, watch TV during the day, and generally get a taste of what life would soon be like with no parents around. Well, in a much nicer house then I would ever have.

I had to make all my own meals, which wasn't really that big a deal. I could cook, and had enough money from my paycheck and whatever my parents left me that I could eat in Bradenton's finest restaurants. Also, I could drink Coke (well, Publix cola) for every meal to give me extra energy for skating and watching TV.

One afternoon I was in the garage, looking for something to do when I decided to check the refrigerator. My sister and I generally stayed away from the garage refrigerator, because it would occasionally give you a nasty little shock if you weren't properly grounded, and really, who needed the hassle?

But today, I would have gladly taken the shock when I saw what was waiting for me in the freezer. A whole turkey, all wrapped up and ready to cook.

Now, I love turkey. Love it. Love carving it up, love sneaking bites while everyone else is looking away, love leftover Thanksgiving sandwiches, just love the stuff. I'd say my turkey love is second to none, but I'm pretty sure I'm way down on that list.

So naturally, I had to cook that turkey. No more Wendy's salad bar buffets. I could save my money and have a Thanksgiving feast for the rest of the week. I bought mashed potatoes, dressing, all the ingredients I could find. I also invited my girlfriend over for the next day. I mean, what is more romantic than a Thanksgiving feast? Nothing. That's what. Nothing.

I was up early the next morning. I remembered that from my parents cooking turkey. I kept the bird in the refrigerator overnight, figuring that would be enough to thaw it out.

It still felt about as frozen as when I first discovered it, so I ran water over it. I thought I remembered seeing them do that. Then I set the oven for whatever the turkey wrapper told me.

Listening to NPR during Thanksgiving drives in the years since, I've learned about the Turkey Hotline, where you can call and get advice on how to cook your turkey. I didn't know about that then, and even if I did, I don't know if they staff the phones in the middle of summer.

So I had to wing it. After soaking it for a while, I set it in the oven. It was still frozen, but the oven would take care of that.

Hours later, the turkey still seemed kind of hard, but I was definitely making progress. I concentrated on the other aspects of my feast.

When dinnertime came around, the inner part of the turkey was still sort of frozen, even after about 9 hours in the oven, but it was just the two of us. We probably wouldn't get that far into the bird's insides, especially after the romance of the roasted turkey overtook us. And yeah, parts of the turkey looked a little pink and rubbery, almost raw, but we could easily avoid those parts. No problem.

Whenever I got hungry over the next few days, I'd take a big hunk out of the turkey with my hands, feeling like a Viking. I did notice a weird smell throughout the house, but I was an 18 year old guy living on my own. I just thought it was natural.

When my parents got home the next week, the first thing my dad said was, "What's that smell?"
I just figured it was me living in my own filth, so didn't say anything, but my parents seemed really concerned, walking around sniffing the air like hound dogs.

They located the culprit fairly quickly. Apparently you're not supposed to cook an unfrozen turkey. But if you must, you have to cook it completely. I didn't even really notice the toxic clouds of salmonella leaking from the refrigerator. I just figured the smell was just me skating all day and being lackadaisical about showers. And yeah, after they pointed it out to me, the insides of the turkey did look sort of black.

It's a wonder I wasn't dead or full of food poisoning, but I guess that can be attributed to having a teenaged cast-iron stomach. Now just thinking about that turkey is enough to give me the dry heaves.

You would think that an experience like that would keep me away from turkey for a while, but I'm happy to report that I didn't learn a thing from the experience and am still as deeply in love with turkey as I was as a teenager. Some things are eternal.

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