Dr. Demento and the Desecrated Turkey

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There's more than one way to cook a turkey. But it took me decades to figure it out.

I recently walked over to the Asian market to buy carrots and came home with a turkey. Yes, I know the difference between root vegetables and edible fowls. But the bird was on sale for 25 cents a pound. The whole thing cost only $2.65. I’ve paid more than that for a soft drink at a ballpark.

(What does this have to do with Dr. Demento? I’ll get to that.)

I stashed the 10.58-pound bird in the freezer. Then I ignored it. Why? Because a turkey dinner is such a production. I’d have to buy potatoes, a couple of other vegetables, and some cranberry sauce. Onions and celery and white bread for the stuffing. Cabbage and sour cream for the coleslaw. Yeast to make rolls, apples for applesauce. I already had a can of pumpkin on the shelf, and I had baking chocolate in the freezer for brownies, but I’d need whipped cream or vanilla ice cream – or both – to go on the desserts.

And if I were going to make that much food, I should invite people over. Having dinner guests would mean that I’d need to clean the apartment and wear something other than sweatpants and my caulk-stained “Anchorage Daily News Health & Safety Committee” T-shirt.

The rational part of my brain piped up: What if I just ate it myself, with whatever I have on hand? Rice, maybe, and a side vegetable?

The irrational part of my brain immediately shouted back: Impossible! There’s only one way to make a turkey!

A gut-busting occasion

Once upon a time, turkey was a holiday dish. Now it’s the go-to protein for people who are grossed out by meat but still yearn for hot dogs and “bacon.” Somehow, it’s easier to eat a bird than a pig or a cow. I’m not sure why, since they all have faces.

Ben Franklin once suggested, possibly in jest, that the turkey would make a much better national bird than the eagle. Wonder what we’d all be eating on Thanksgiving if he’d had his way? Eagle drumsticks, anybody?

(We’re getting closer to the Dr. Demento part. Hang in there.)

Fact is, I’d imprinted on all those years of watching and helping my mom churn and burn in the kitchen. The only way to serve turkey is with a platoon of side dishes and desserts. Until I could do that, the bird would stay on ice.

Rice, no cranberries

Yes, I know how silly that sounds. But the irrational lobe of my brain has had a lot more practice. Slowly, slowly I’m starting to rethink what I always, deep down, believed to be true. Things like…

  • A woman’s worth is defined in terms of her service to others.
  • I’m not smart enough to do math.
  • I have to do things the way they’ve always been done. I just do, that’s all.

Finally, finally, I listened to the rational lobe. Last week, I roasted the bird. And lightning did not strike, even though I completely desecrated the memory of long-ago turkey dinners.

I cooked rice because I had no potatoes, and a side dish of corn. No cranberry sauce – I hate the stuff. Since I prefer the dark meat, I cut up the turkey breast and froze it to use in future pots of chili.

And as I worked, I kept giggling at the memory of the day I spent driving Dr. Demento around the city of Anchorage, Alaska.

Eagles and trains

Years ago, the good doctor was in town to perform at the late, lamented Fly By Night Club. I was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, and it fell to me to interview him – and to score some fish heads for a photo shoot, a nod to the “Fish Heads” song that Demento likes to play.

Incidentally: Although known for wacky novelty and comedy records, Demento was (and probably still is) the most ordinary guy I’ve ever met. Middle-aged, native of Minnesota, married to the same woman for decades, fascinated by bald eagles and railroad trains. His real first name is Barry, for heaven’s sake.

He loved the Alaska Railroad depot. Then I showed him where a couple of eagles were nesting nearby. One of them perched on a branch, glaring at us. (I think it was glaring. With eagles, it’s hard to tell.)

Demento was delighted enough to start quoting from a classic Stan Freberg skit about a snafu at the first Thanksgiving: The turkey, meant to be a centerpiece, was mistakenly roasted. “‘You put our national bird in the oven!‘”

At that precise moment, the eagle took an enormous dump. Clearly not a radio fan.

Think outside the giblet bag

So what have we learned here?

It’s really OK to do things differently from the way we’ve always done them. Doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about personal finance or side dishes.

When you find turkey at 25 cents a pound, go back and buy a few more.

Eagles have no sense of humor, so stand far away from the tree when quoting Stan Freberg.

Oh, and if you get fish heads for a photo shoot, refrigerate them. Luckily, Barry was a swell sport about being surrounded by dangling, stinking piscine craniums. Bless his heart.

Stacy Johnson

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