Last Thanksgiving morning, with a bandwagon full of my in-laws due to arrive any moment, my husband and I decided to fight about the super-size turkey I had just wrestled into a cooler full of oranges, lemons, and salt water. "You are going to waterlog the turkey," said my husband and cleared his throat to read from The Joy of Cooking. “‘Do not soak the bird in water at any time.’”
This came as a bit of a shock since last year, waterlogging was all the rage. According to the New York Times, basting was out, brining was in.
"But you can't brine without putting the bird in water," I argued.
"Then you shouldn't be brining," my husband declared.
I had to remind myself that my husband's uncharacteristic deferment to The Joy of Cooking was a case of displaced anxiety. Being our first time hosting Thanksgiving dinner, we were all on edge. My husband was worried that no one was going to show up. I was worried that everyone was going to show up.
"But I've been telling you I'm going to brine for a week now," I said.
"Well, I didn't know about the dangers of waterlogging until just a few moments ago," he said, tapping The Joy with his index finger.
Fortunately, the phone rang. Unfortunately, it was my mother. Even though she was spending Thanksgiving at her brother's house, 1000 miles away, she was worried about our plates. She had called three times in the past two days. "But you don't have enough plates for all those people. What are you going to do?"
"Don't worry about it," I told her.
"I'm not worried about it. I just want to know what all those people are going to eat off of. You can't use disposable plates for a Thanksgiving dinner, you know."
"I'll borrow some, okay?"
"If you would have let me know a little sooner I could have sent you some. But you always have to leave everything till the last minute, don’t you?"
So when my mom called on Thanksgiving morning I was poised to tell her that my mother-in-law was bringing plates. But my mom didn't want to talk plates. She wanted to talk turkey.
"Is the turkey in the oven?"
"No, it's brining."
"Brining? In water?"
"Yes, in water."
"Oh, I don't think you should do that."
"It's already done."
"Who told you to do that?"
"The New York Times."
"Well. . . . That is a good newspaper. But you're going to waterlog the bird."
After hosting Thanksgiving for thirty years straight, my parents were experts. They had it down to a science. Setting-up, cooking, cleaning-up was confined to a single day. And brining was not part of the procedure. The turkey was kept in the basement refrigerator until my mom woke before dawn on Thanksgiving morning. She washed it, stuffed it, sewed it, and cooked it, so that when The Uncle arrived at five o'clock, the bird was ready for carving.
"Who is going to carve the turkey?" my mom asked.
"I don't know."
"What do you mean, you don't know. Isn't your father-in-law going to carve the turkey?"
"Is he going to bring his electric knife?" Many years ago, The Uncle bought my mother an electric knife for Thanksgiving. She has grown to believe that there is no possible way to carve a turkey other than with an electric knife.
"I don't think he owns an electric knife."
"If you would have only let me know sooner, I could have sent it along with the plates."
"Mom, I gotta go."
"Yes, you have to get that bird in the oven."
By the time I got off the phone, my husband had forgotten all about the brining. I hoped that he was doing something useful, like putting the leaves in the dining room table. Instead, I found him upstairs.
"Look at this!" he said, pointing at our bedroom window with a tense index finger. "Moisture!" He shook some papers at me that he had printed from a government web-site. "It says here, moisture on the windows is very bad. We have to do something about it."
I rubbed the moisture away with my sleeve. "There," I said. Down on the street we could see that the relatives had arrived. On this side of the family, The Uncle brings cases of wine. I’ll take that over an electric knife, any day.
The telephone rang before we even served dessert.
“Well, how was the turkey?”
“It was fine.”
“Not as good as mine.”
“Of course not, mom.”
*First printed in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. November 6, 2005