Are your memories of your first, really botched meals as pathetic as mine?
I rarely burned or scorched anything; in fact I had the opposite problem. On a long ago Thanksgiving I roasted a turkey for my partner’s English boss and his wife. I was laying out a feast like the ones my mother used to do: the turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, gravy, roast turnips– the whole shootin’ match.
It seems food takes longer to cook at higher altitudes, and we’d recently moved to Calgary, altitude 1050m (3445 ft). The damn turkey just would not cook.
Now at Thanksgiving, the appetizers are light and few, because of the massive feast to come, but our guests had eaten all the pickles and olives and neatly sliced celery. They were getting close to licking the dainty little plates they were served in. Everything else was mashed, buttered, stirred, plated, and bowled and inevitably getting dry and cold.
The turkey, about 7 kilos (or 15 lb) was gorgeous. Golden brown, glistening, plump– but mostly raw in the middle. Unless we planned to eat after midnight, we had to take it out of the oven. We put it on a platter and partner proudly showed it to our guests, by now sucking on the ice cubes from their drinks, and quite possibly biting their nails in hunger, before taking it into the kitchen to be carved.
The top part of each breast was cooked beautifully, so we carved that and put it on the platter. It was skimpy and would not feed four people. The drumsticks, thighs, wings, everything else were bloody at the joint, inedible, but they were duly carved and place decoratively on the platter. I put some parsley sprigs around it. Garnish is important.
We sat at the table and passed around all the delicious vegetables and stuffing to our guests, but when it came time to pass the turkey around, my partner and I were horribly rude. We picked what we wanted first! I took a drumstick and thigh and a wing, so did partner. More meat than a reasonable person could consume. This left only a few perfectly cooked slices of white meat and several sprigs of parsley for our guests.
I remember the boss’ wife, let’s say her name was Vivian. Vivian could not hide how she felt– she tried, and said the right words, but her face always betrayed her. When they’d first arrived to our apartment that evening, she simply could not disguise that she found Calgary quite frigid and horrible, despite saying they were settling in “fine”.
So she looked at our plates heaped with turkey, and the meagre white slices given to her and her husband, and a look of horror and disgust briefly crossed her face.
“Dig in!” said my partner.
It was all very tasty, especially the gravy, and partner and I ate most of the skin from the drumsticks and thighs, and filled up on mash and stuffing.
We became friends with these people, but never told them about the raw turkey. Vivian just believes I am the worst cook and most piggish host ever.