Dr. Demento and the desecrated turkey

About five months ago I 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 as my mom churned and burned 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 am 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. Also to score some fish heads for a photo shoot, a nod to the “Fish Heads” song that Demento liked 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 okay 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.

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  1. You are soooooo funny!!! I love to see what you have come up with.
    I’m sorry that I didn’t stop by this weekend. But we were busy with yard work. Yes, in honor of Mother’s day every year we do yard work. Everyone fights and bickers. Finally, I ask the three of them if they thought yard work and fighting was a good gift. I would rather be on the couch with a book too but this is what I get every year. I’ve decided that Mother’s day should only fall on a weekend when there is nothing to do. Hmmmmm, I have yet to have a day with nothing to do. Maybe the dead of winter would be better, at least then I might have a chance.

  2. priskill

    Ah, the classic children’s book: “If you give a gal a turkey, of course she’ll want some “stinkin’ piscine craniums” to go with it . . .

    And you met Dr. Demento!!

  3. Donna Freedman

    @Priskill: Who has more fun than me? Well….everybody (especially SonyaAnn). But my life has been a very interesting ride so far, and it ain’t over yet.
    @SonyaAnn: I think that yard work for Mother’s Day is a great idea. But only if you’re watching through a window, a good book and an adult beverage at hand.
    Thanks for reading.

  4. How I love turkey leftovers: I hope you know how to make gumbo! I have a colleague who had several turkeys in his freezer–for several years. Post-Katrina, he had to cook them. Amazingly, they were still ok.

  5. Donna Freedman

    I did plain old turkey-vegetable soup rather than gumbo. 🙁
    And I love turkey leftovers, too. But what I really love is the fact that there’s a *manageable* amount of leftovers.
    Also, because I’m single, I get to eat ALL the stuffing.
    Thanks for your comments, everyone.

  6. I LOVE adult beverages! And now the question is, Can I lock them out of the house while drinking my grown-up drink and watching them do work?

  7. Donna Freedman

    @SonyaAnn: You MUST lock them out. Otherwise, your husband will want a sip and your kids will want some of the snacks that go along with the beverage.

  8. OMG. I just e-mailed with Mr. White Keys a couple weeks ago in connection with another job. I couldn’t believe it! At the time I didn’t know that the club was closed. How sad.

  9. Donna Freedman

    @Karen: We’re all sad about that. I still miss the music of the Fabulous Spamtones.
    Thanks for reading.

  10. Tracy Black

    Dr. Demento…ah, a blast from my past! Would never have connected him with Turkey, Eagles or Fish Heads, but thanks to the internet…

    • I used to listen to Dr Demento’s radio show when I lived in Victoria, BC in the late 1970’s. And I’m kinda partial to that Fish Heads song as well.

  11. JAV9206

    Loved your writing. I too remember the Fly By Night club in Anchorage and our required visits whenever in town to visit my brother and sister-in-law. I am still fighting the mindset of turkey only in traditional turkey dinner fashion. But then again it took 25 years for my husband to find his “grill” gene.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Judy: I got a sudden vision of turkey and the Fly By Night jumbled together, i.e., Spam in the stuffing. Eek.
      Glad your husband found the grill of his dreams.
      Thanks for reading.

  12. I always buy four or five turkeys when there on sale through he holidays. We have turkey every three months, but, I don’t have the whole turkey I cut it up like a chicken and use it in recipes for chicken or pork. My husband really likes turkey noodles. I make big pots of turkey broth for soups. I have tried freezing ham but it’s never as good. I buy them and go ahead and cook what ever I want the ham in like casseroles or white beans and freeze.

    • Donna Freedman

      We’re planning to buy a couple of extra turkeys and try pressure-canning the meat in broth. Later we’ll strain out the meat, turn the broth into gravy and then add the fowl back in. If it turns out well, we figure that would be a bunch of easy meals.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.


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