I don’t love labels, far too restrictive. So, I shudder a little when people refer to me as a “vegetarian.”
Do I cook and eat 99 per cent vegetarian meals? Sure. But would I dive into a pool of bacon with my mouth open, given the opportunity? Without question. Have I found myself, on a scattered occasion, face and eyes into a crockpot of meatballs after one too many white wine spritzers? Obviously. But I certainly don’t want to prepare fleshy meals or think too much about the process.
I do love to cook, though, and, perhaps more so, I love to feed people. So, when my husband requested that I make a good ol’-fashioned Newfoundland jiggs dinner for Easter, I didn’t immediately reject him. After all, it is a holiday tradition here on the island.
Resisting the urge to watch the entire YouTube video of an adorable mother turkey with her babies, I agreed.
I told the husband he would have to retrieve the frozen corpse from the grocery store. I would simply be roasting a liberally seasoned dead body that was already in my house; not nearly as incriminating.
I knew nothing of the process of cooking a turkey, so I called my parents every 18 minutes for five days leading up to the big event. After two-and-a-half days of thawing in the fridge, the bird still felt pretty frozen near the decapitation site. So, upon mom’s advice, I bathed its body in cold water in my sink. Which was great, because all day, any time I needed to rinse a dish or wash my hands in the adjacent sink, I could gaze upon the sunken, frigid, fetally-positioned hunk of flesh and remember all there was to look forward to.
I sang “Circle of Life” from the Lion King a LOT that day.
“Pull the neck out of its hole,” my mother casually directed me over the phone.
“I beg your pardon?”
“The neck. Also, did you find the bag of giblets?”
“I am sorry, the bag of what, now?” I thought she was messing with me, the rookie.
Oh sure, mom, I thought, let me just grab that “bag” of “giblets” from inside this carcass. And while I’m at it, maybe I’ll just fetch a “parcel” of “wubbles.”
Three hours later, the bird, indeed, birthed a very soggy paper bag of very real organs out of its neck hole onto my forearm.
I returned the cold but thawed, de-gibletted bird to the fridge Saturday night to “rest” until the next morning. I didn’t realize the “resting” part would be so literal – I retrieved him at 8 a.m.; he had relaxed during the night, I suppose, and was side-lying with his top leg forward, just like I do. It was like walking in on a peacefully slumbering little naked person. I was told I needed to let him “rest” again, on the counter, until he came to room temperature.
Meat eaters, I’ve learned, like their animals to be well-rested. Considerate.
At this point, I knew three things for sure: 1. The bird was really dead now. He could literally not be more relaxed. 2. His insides were empty, meaning no more surprise packages of squelching innards. 3. He was thawed and dried and ready (or not) to be seasoned. What I did not know was the slow, quasi-seductive way I would be required to massage his body with herbed butter.
“Make sure you get it all up under the skin”, mom advised me on the phone that morning.
I’m sorry, UNDER?
Of course. Why simply massage the pale, wrinkled, goose-bumped skin over its rounded spine and very-animal-like thighs, when you can carefully pry the skin from the flesh and massage the actual muscle?
The deeper I slid my buttered hand under the skin, the more my disgust and intrigue grew, and the further I went. That raw bird was halfway up my forearm, like a really perverse catcher’s mitt.
After the buttery assault, the stuffing of various sprigs into the moisturized yet lifeless body, and the tying together of his legs with dental floss, it was finally roaster time.
No one really talks about how to lay the animal in the roaster. Despite our rather intimate day together, I still wasn’t completely confident about which part of the bird’s body was which.
I inadvertently placed him in a headstand; sort of in a mid-somersault position. Which is why, I think, gravity made the bones fall out of its legs during roasting. It wasn’t pretty. It was like a little bony graveyard behind a beautifully tanned bird doing yoga (specifically, crow pose).
It is difficult to judge your own cooking, especially when the process feels like such a disaster. But the three-year-old could not get enough. “I wuv Christmas chicken,” he announced, recalling a similar meal at mom’s house. So I’m calling it a win.
Turkey is, henceforth, “Christmas chicken.” And I’m talking WAY post-pandemic “henceforth”… when someone else invites us for turkey dinner.
Heather Huybregts is a mother, physiotherapist, blogger (www.heatheronarock.com), YouTuber and puffin whisperer from Corner Brook, NL. Her column appears biweekly.