When Boys Cook the Turkey

A few days before Thanksgiving, there was a proclamation made at our house that the guys would be in charge of the turkey. So my husband and our twelve year old prepared it for brining.

“Get the liver and stuff out,” father said to son.

“Where are they?”

“Just reach into the hole at the end.”

“Wait, that’s his butt! I am not reaching into the turkey’s butt!”

We all looked up from whatever newspaper article, book or teacup we’d been focused on. Grandpop’s eyebrow arced in amusement.

“No really? It’s in his butt?!”

“Yep,” said my grinning husband.

“That’s disgusting!” But like any respectable twelve year old, he reached inside.

“Ewwww! I can’t believe I’m doing this!” giggling as he pulled out the neck. “What’s this?”

“His neck.”

“Oh my God, is this his heart?” he asked, triumphantly holding up a purplish blob.

“Yep.”

“Ewwwww!” as he pulled out the kidneys, then liver.

“I can’t believe I just pulled them out of his butt!”

As my husband washed out the now hollow turkey, our son played with its innards – squishing them, poking at them, sliding them along the countertop. “What does its heart look like inside?”

“Cut it open and see.”

The readers and tea drinkers paused. More eyebrows raised.

“No,” said his grossed out grandmother.

Our ten year old showed up suddenly at his brother’s side, and he did it anyway. He dissected the heart. Then the kidneys, which were much harder to cut. “Not that interesting.”

Solid purple.

Then the slimy liver. Not much for a boy to celebrate there either. “But I can’t believe you made stick my hand in the turkey’s butt!”

Then the turkey was brining, and the guys left the kitchen, content with their work – red-purple turkey juices still oozing across the counter for respectable ladies to clean up.

And I wondered why, after 47 years of turkeys, it had never dawned on me to look inside their hearts.

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A Perfectly Grilled Beef Tenderloin

The other night, we celebrated a first at our house. As I placed some perfectly grilled beef tenderloin on the table, my third grader pointed out, “We’ve never had steak at the kitchen table.”

True. I usually do not make steak when my husband is out of town, which is the only time we do not eat in our dining room. But he’s been traveling more than usual, and I was tired of pasta. So spread out on the kitchen table that night were steaks, a side of pesto pasta and salad with great tomatoes and ripe avocado. Something for everyone.

Then as the third grader served himself some salad, he said, “You know where they have the best salads?”

Clearly Mom’s kitchen table is not it. “Where?”

“School lunch.”

Out the window went my pride for the perfect meal.

“And their spaghetti and meatballs are awesome!” added his brother.

A crushing blow.

“Oh!” shouted the third grader again, “and the chicken alfredo!”

“The only thing is,” said the fourth grader, “we really need Mrs. X back.” The woman who runs their school lunchroom is on maternity leave, and I have protected her identity so another school doesn’t steal her away. “She is way nicer than the substitutes. The subs don’t let you have any food if you forget your lunch.”

If the other moms’ cooking is as sub-par as mine apparently is, when Mrs. X returns, there will likely be a dramatic increase in full lunchboxes stashed in nooks and crannies all over campus.

We’ve all seen them, actually, and we pass them by thinking, “who could possibly forget their lunchbox?”

A Coming of Age Moment in the Kitchen

I pulled or strained a muscle in my right hand while walking our crazy dog. So daily tasks are somewhat of a challenge lately. Buttoning shirts, turning the knob on the can opener, and clipping fingernails all surprisingly hurt.

So the other night, I was making lettuce wraps and could not open the jar of necessary Hoisin Sauce.

My ten year old, who was watching me cook and talking about his upcoming report on the Battle of Little Bighorn, offered to help.

I was about to say it was too tight for him, but I stopped myself. Why say that? Why not let him try?

I handed him the jar.

It took him only a few seconds to open it and hand it back to me with a smile. “You’re weak, mom.”

And that was when I realized that from this day forward, my son will always be stronger than I am.

The Myth of Irish Cooking

My impression of Irish cooking has always been of relatively overcooked, barely seasoned, and heavy on the potatoes. In fact, when I worked in Northern Ireland at a camp founded to bring Catholic and Protestant children together in play, the family I stayed with served two or three different types of potatoes in a single meal. They ordered Chinese carryout from a place that served it on fat French fries, not rice. After suggesting we make a salad one night, I realized why she usually didn’t serve it. The only dressing in the store was called “Salad Dressing,” and it tasted worse than Miracle Whip. The wonderful woman who hosted me packed my lunches, which included two sandwiches, a bag of crisps, and at least one chocolate bar. I gained 10 pounds in a month.

So when my mother-in-law invited the women of our family to a week of cooking classes at the Ballymaloe Cooking School on the southwest coast of Ireland, I was excited, but dubious.

Thrilled for an opportunity to go to Ireland, of course. But learning to cook in Ireland? I could see learning to sing, do a jig, knit, speak Gaelic, play soccer, herd sheep, but cook?

Well, silly me! It turns out that one of the best cooking schools in the world is located in the coastal town of Shanagarry, along with renowned potter Stephen Pearce.

The Ballymaloe Cooking School provides multi-week intensive courses, delivered by the wonderfully entertaining and industrious Allen family. Siblings not famed for their culinary skills, run the nearby country manor, the organic farm that supplies the school and restaurant, and have even built a gorgeous event and concert hall to draw talent and audiences to their small village.

Unusual today to see several generations of one family working a business together so successfully. But that was only part of the joy of visiting this place.

The manor oozes comfort meshed with old landed gentry. The grounds and gardens are gorgeous, including a shell house that is wall to ceiling (and chandelier) made of seashells. The weather in June is warm and sunny with scattered showers in the afternoon. So we were able to take long cliff walks in nearby Ballycotton, and visit with the resident horses, peacocks and pigs. We even ventured on our half-days off from cooking school to quaint and prosperous Kinsale and the Jameson whiskey factory.

In school, we learned to cook everything from pizza and gourmet burgers to Spanish tapas and delicious soups and curries. At the end of every demonstration, we had the honor of a taste-test buffet that could not be topped by chefs at the nicest restaurants. We identified various kinds of lettuce and spice. We watched how octopus tentacles curl up the second they are immersed in boiling water.

Like our teacher, we began to whisper the looked-down-upon word “ketchup” and spell out the evil “m-i-c-r-o”, which is only to be used in the rarest of circumstances. A pesto lover, I learned that it is “rancid” all but a couple of months of the year. Gladly, I forgot which ones. So I continue to eat it year-round.

But what a unique gift and special treat!

Now, when I think of cooking in Ireland, I think of the women I traveled there with and the fun we had. I think of the best oatmeal I’ve ever had and the brown bread. Succulent meats and the freshest vegetable cooked to perfection. Delicious sweet cakes!

And I think of that regrettable 10 pounds – this time gained in only a week! Victim once again to the legendary cooking of Ireland!