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The first Thanksgiving dinner I attempted to cook after my mother died was quite the disaster, as was the second and the third and even the FOURTH. But the fourth was surely the worst. Each of these dinners followed a similar pattern: undercooked potatoes, overcooked turkey, mushy greens and runny pumpkin pie. But it was the fourth dinner where everything really came together and emerged in the most spectacular mess of them all.
On this particular Thanksgiving I decided to aim for more of a group effort. This way, if it all went south at least I wouldn't be held solely responsible. A motley crew of us gathered at my father's condo in South California. My friend Liz was there, a self-professed terrible cook, and my friend Holly, who has always showed a bit more enthusiasm than talent in the kitchen, and her sister Laura who was working as an inexperienced cook in Colorado. My elderly cousin Q, Holly's husband Kevin and possibly a random neighbor were also all in attendance.
I instructed everyone to simply make their favorite dish. Liz arrived with a big dish of sweet potatoes, replete with tiny marshmallows cascading across the top into a sea of sweet foam. Kevin mashed some potatoes in one corner while Laura took over another corner of the kitchen, attempting to blend up a mysterious soup using both the cuisinart AND the blender. My father and Q and the random neighbor all set up shop in a corner, shouting out words of encouragement to the rest of us.
As for me and Holly? Well, after we took care of a batch of soggy green beans, a casserole of macaroni and cheese, some creamed corn swimming in two sticks of butter and a pan of biscuits, we finally turned our attention to the ham and the turkey.
Is it clear yet that the one thing we were all lacking is a sense of timing?
The major dilemma of the evening struck right away. We had bought a small ham and a small turkey breast, but at the last minute when we finally realized that these guys needed to go in the oven, there was hardly any room because of everything else we had going on.
Finally it struck us: There was only one solution.
Put the turkey and the ham in the same baking dish.
So we did. We crammed the ham and the turkey right in with each other and slammed the oven door.
Perfection, we thought. Problem solved.
Cut to the feast.
We've all found our places at the table. Drinks have been poured, mashed potatoes passed, mystery soup doled out, burnt rolls and buttery corn all heaped on our plates. My father did the honors of slicing the turkey and the ham, now on separate dishes. Toasts were made, gratitude recognized, and food dug into.
I'm not sure how long it was, maybe only five minutes or so, but suddenly there was a collective look about the table, everyone puzzling over their food. Then the rumbling started.
Which one is the turkey again, someone asked.
Is the ham supposed to taste like this, someone else asked.
Is the turkey supposed to taste like this, another person asked.
Both questions were moot, because the ham tasted exactly like the turkey. Or the turkey tasted just like the ham. Either way, the taste of the two was identical.
We did blind taste tests, random taste samplings and toasted repeatedly to the turkey-ham. After all, what's a cooking disaster without a good laugh afterward?
Not a Thanksgiving goes by now, that Holly and I don't chat by phone, one of us never failing to bring up the tale of the ham-turkey/turkey-ham. And I'm happy to report that ever since that dinner, each Thanksgiving meal that I've cooked has grown increasingly more successful.
We all have to learn somewhere, right? And you can bet that I'll never cook a ham and a turkey in the same dish again.
What about you, Internet? Do you have a funny cooking story for me?
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