Remember that scene in Tom Sawyer where Tom, as a punishment for skipping school, is made to whitewash an entire fence alone? Initially bummed, Tom soon figures out that by feigning his love for the project, he can get his buddies to pay him for the "privilege" of partaking in the chore.
Welcome to Thanksgivings-past at my place. Historically, the meal has been my fence and if all goes according to plan, my husband, sisters, sisters-in-law and mom will do all the dull and grueling prep work for me. Sure, I can talk a good game when it comes to chopping onions, but the reality is I have no idea how to use a decent knife, much less a food processor. And while I have been known to "stir the pot" over Turkey Day dinner, it's usually been in the family gossip arena. Stirring a real pot with gravy or cranberries -- not really in my skill set.
But this year I've got a bit of problem on my hands. First, my husband has a slipped disc in his neck and shouldn't be doing any of the heavy lifting, literally, for the holiday. This unfortunately includes the lifting of the raw, dead bird into the empty paint tub he uses annually for brining. There are not enough latex kitchen gloves in the world that could make this a tolerable activity for me.
And I am bummed much of the extended family I have "Sawyered" into dicing, rolling and whisking in years past can't make the trip to Wisconsin. My Madison-based sister is coming, but she plans to do all her cooking at her place -- I sincerely doubt she wants to peel my potatoes over there. And as much as I'd like to assign my brother from Chicago something other than the ingredients for pumpkin pie martinis , I've learned that a 2.5-hour car ride with string bean casserole and two young kids in the backseat rarely ends well.
I'm sure the Butterball hotline can solve a lot of issues for many folks on Thanksgiving. But I'm not sure they can do a darn thing about mine.
There is, though, a light at the end of the culinary tunnel and it comes in the form of a 14-year-old boy. My son, I've discovered this past year, loves to cook. He's taken the title of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, a gift from his foodie aunt last Hanukkah, to heart. From pancakes from scratch (I didn't know it couldn't be done without the help of a mix), to curried sea bass to olive oil cake, which tastes much better than it sounds, he's made just about everything. So I see no reason why he can't just claim Thanksgiving dinner for himself.
I'm pretty sure he can handle pie, and is even game to make homemade crust. He wants to do two kinds of sweet potatoes, the sweet family favorite and something more savory and exotic involving chili peppers. He is even willing, albeit with reservation, to help hoist the turkey into the brining pot and onto the grill.
I just hope his Aunt plans to find out if anyone has written a book called How to Clean Everything"Kitchen Edition. If you've ever seen my son in the kitchen you know we'll need it, and probably well before Hanukkah.
But I am excited to pass the cooking baton, this one in the form of a turkey baster.
And for my son's help -- on this and so many other things -- I will be eternally thankful.
As far as I know, Tom Sawyer never got to say that.