For me, turkey is more than just special occasion chicken, it’s festive food.
Thanksgiving and Christmas just would not be the same without turkey meat.
And that twice-a-year craving provided me with one of my most treasured Christmas memories.
When my daughter was younger, and still lived at home, being her less-than-kitchen-competent dad, I would veer away from roasting an entire turkey on the big day, opting instead for what the two us affectionately called our annual “lump o’ turkey,” a large turkey breast fillet that normally gave us both more than enough meat to satiate our annual feeling for fowl.
But a few years back our treasured turkey time was derailed by my inattention to detail and the desire of just about every restaurant owner in town to let his or her employees go home to enjoy their own Christmas families.
That year there seemed to be a run on turkey breast fillets so I settled for a prepared and pre-stuffed, frozen mass of what purported to be “real white turkey meat,” prepackaged in a cardboard box that made it look all I had to do was open it and voila—a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings would appear.
As far as I was concerned, a quick trip to the oven for the ingredients was all that was required. But, as most dads can attest, Christmas Day can be a busy time, what with all that present opening, eggnog drinking and dozing on the couch,not to mention attempting to spend quality time with your offspring who, proving she can multi-task whips you at every board game you can suggest all while glued to her cell phone texting, taking selfies and posting them to Instagram or Facebook.
So, it’s not surprising I didn’t get around to remembering to pop what was to pass for our turkey into the oven until well into the early evening. I figured an hour, maybe 90 minutes, of cooking time. No big deal.
But when I pulled the frozen cardboard container from the freezer at 6 p.m. my jaw dropped. There was plenty of words on the cooking instruction panel, but all I saw was “cooking time: three to four hours.”
Three to four hours! That meant my daughter and I would be eating at 9 or 10 p.m. But hey, we could handle that. We’d just pretend to be Europeans and eat a little late. Then I read some more. Gordon Ramsey, I ain’t. Apparently I was supposed to have thawed the “bird” first. Who knew?
When I finally figured out an eating ETA, we were staring at the wee hours of Boxing Day morning! Suddenly, I was less enthused about being European.
So my daughter and I did what any self-respecting hungry folks would do in such a situation. We jumped in the car and headed out in search of a restaurant with turkey dinners on the menu.
But there would be no outside gastronomic saviour that day. Every restaurant we tried was closed. Dejected, we headed home.
Being the dutiful, proud, food-providing father and bread winner that I was, I was determined not to go down hungry and without a fight. Pulling everything from the fridge and freezer, searching for anything resembling festive food so a Big Mac would not have to suffice, I found two lonely little frozen chicken breasts huddled at the back of the freezer. They had been in there a while but I didn’t see any freezer burn. They’d do.
And then the real Christmas miracle occurred. My teenaged daughter put down her phone and offered to help me in the kitchen. I swear, at that moment I heard the angels singing…or texting…or taking selfies or something.
To make an already long story just a little longer, my daughter and I had a ball cooking together, both of us pretending we knew what we were doing in the kitchen. And, you know what? What we created was pretty good. It wasn’t turkey but it was the next best thing.
We still laugh about it ,but what makes the moment so special to me was my daughter and I muddled through something—together. No phones, no computers, no tablets. Just us.
In a few years she would be all grown up, moved away and living in another city, getting on with her own life. Times with dad are now just a memory. But at that moment, it was just special.
So this Christmas, make your own memories with a loved one.
And as the song says, have yourself a very Merry Christmas.
Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.