For Thanksgiving this year, I decided to change the menu and swap out a few of the heavy carb-laden foods for lighter, fresher options. I was going to be the only American at my Thanksgiving feast, and the others might not realize the difference. After all, the turkey is the star of the meal. I chose to keep my favorite carb — the stuffing — but cancelled the mashed potatoes, gravy and sweet potatoes. Then I swapped the caloric green bean casserole for roasted carrots, yellow peppers and green beans. My rationale? I wanted to save calories for a new recipe I’d discovered for amaretto chocolate pie.
I bought a big Butterball turkey four days prior to Thanksgiving, and asked my husband, Kleriston, to put it in a friend’s refrigerator, as mine was full. The day before Thanksgiving, I went to get my turkey so I could brine it… and it was missing! No turkey in the refrigerator. With a heavy heart and shaking hands, I opened the freezer. There it was, 24 hours before T-day, and my bird was frozen solid.
When I met my Brazilian husband five years ago, he only spoke Portuguese. Being a typical American, I only spoke English, and neither one of us spoke Spanish. Over the past several years, he’s learned both English and Spanish, which is a Godsend because I still don’t know Portuguese ...and I speak Spanish like a five-year-old. Although Kleriston seems almost fluent when you talk to him, we often have Whose-on-First type of conversations. Sadly for my Thanksgiving meal planning, he thought I wanted the turkey to stay frozen.
When I discovered the star of my Thanksgiving dinner was a twenty-pound ice cube, I went to my Brazilian BFF’s house and knocked on her door. Through alligator tears, I told Rosane that our Thanksgiving dinner was ruined. Being a non-American, she didn’t understand my distress, but she calmed me down with a compassionate shoulder and a glass of wine. (Really, I don’t understand why men think we’re complicated. All women ever need is a full glass of wine and a listening ear.)
Rosane and I discussed options. My Thanksgiving feast was halfway prepped, so I didn’t want to put it off four days while the turkey thawed out in the fridge. I also didn’t want to chuck my favorite tradition and go to a restaurant. We decided the only solution would be to roast a chicken. I sent my husband back to the grocery store the night before Thanksgiving (which was chaotic because the American holiday is celebrated by many in Panama) to buy the biggest chicken he could find. He came back at nine at night with two of the puniest chickens I’ve ever seen. It was Thanksgiving after all, and the stores shelves had been depleted.
Thanksgiving morning, I went to the beach with a light heart for our morning swim. I didn’t have a turkey, but I had two chickens, a lot of fresh vegetables, an amazing pie… and a plan. After my swim, I went straight to the hardware store. One of the benefits of celebrating a U.S. holiday in Panama is that all of the stores are open for last minute necessities. I wanted to buy a rotisserie attachment for my grill. My husband, bless his Brazilian heart, never learned how to grill. I would love to send him to BBQ Bootcamp for a week, but since every other man on the planet knows how to barbecue, this cooking school for men doesn’t exist yet. (If you start one, email me right away. I have your first attendee.)
At the hardware store, I found an add-on rotisserie kit. I opened the box and read the instructions. There were half a dozen diagrams and a few words of gibberish, but on a day when every minute counted, I couldn’t imagine that two non-handy people could figure out how to put the made-in-China product together, and then successfully roast a chicken. To solve problem number two, I opted for the $35 stainless steel hang-the-chicken-upside-down-over-beer-thingy-ma-jig. No assembly required. Just what I needed.
I marinated the chicken, and exactly one hour before dinner, I lit the grill. Problem number three came when the cavity of the barely-an-adolescent chicken wasn’t large enough to go over the stainless steel cup filled with beer. With marinade-messy hands, I got my sharpest poultry knife and performed surgery on the poor bird. Problem number four came when I tried to close the lid on the grill. Since I’m a barbecue newbie myself, I’d put the chicken at the front of the grill, where the chicken was too tall to close the lid. I tried to take off the warming grill at the back but forgot the grill was hot! (Perhaps I need to send myself to BBQ Bootcamp.) Yes, burning my hand was problem number five.
I finally got the bird arranged in the barbecue and the lid closed. I needed champagne — for medicinal purposes, mind you — to take my mind off of my scorched hand and my crazy day of problematic cooking. I set the timer for one hour and got ready for my company.
My friends arrived on time, and we had more champagne. When the timer went off, I sent Kleriston outside with a meat thermometer and told him the bird should be 160 degrees.
He yelled from outside, “It’s 200 degrees. Is it done?”
Problem number six… I killed the chicken. Thankfully, we had a backup bird that had been bathing in marinade. We put the second chicken on the grill and set the timer for 45 minutes. My champagne-soaked brain thought that shaving 15 minutes off the cooking time should take off 40 degrees. More champagne and more chitchat, and the time zoomed by. When my husband went out to check the chicken with the meat thermometer at the allotted time, it was 180 degrees.
My face fell. How could I have overcooked not one, but two chickens? I really am a good cook. Well, I am when I’m not drinking champagne.
We pulled the second chicken off the grill and literally ran to the dinner table with everything else that had been warming in the oven. The stuffing was sublime, the mushrooms were marvelous, and the wine was divine. And the chicken? Well, it was overcooked, but we ate it. And at the end of the evening, all the food was gone.
My Thanksgiving disaster had been saved. Not by a chicken or a new barbecue accessory, but by the friends I’ve made in Panama. Oh, and the champagne didn’t hurt either.
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