The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 21, 2012

MICHELE BENDER | It’s hard to zest a plastic lemon

Michele M. Bender
For The Tribune-Democrat

JOHNSTOWN — At Thanksgiving, we count our blessings and express gratitude. You readers can be thankful that I’ve never invited you to dinner.

Some folks have eaten at my house and gone on to live healthy, normal lives. Others, however, tell frightening tales of grisly inedibility. Savory and usually recognizable holiday dishes have emerged looking like weasel intestines and tasting worse.

If you listen carefully, you can hear a terrified gasp when I steer my shopping cart down the turkey aisle. Fresh or frozen, these birds know the meaning of “cruel and unusual punishment.”

A fine line separates “melt in your mouth” from “decomposition.” I’ve crossed it more than once.

Years ago, my friend Marlene offered me advice: “If you can read, you can cook.”

I can read, honest! I just fumble techniques, misuse ingredients, lose track of time … you get the idea.

For years, I dodged the dreaded turkey preparation bullet, relying on family to feed me. But in 1979, I decided to tackle a Butterball. I purchased a tinfoil roaster, cans of corn and green beans, two boxes of Stove Top Stuffing, a jumbo canister of Potato Buds and four jars of Heinz gravy.

When the turkey was done, I discovered I’d made a classic “first bird” error. Two crispy paper baggies of giblets and gizzards crinkled in his cavity.

My mother-in-law baked pies. My mom brought festive napkins, serving plates and her special green damask tablecloth.

Hubby fired up the electric knife and began to carve … through the tinfoil roaster, on the tablecloth. Juices saturated the damask and dripped on the linoleum.

I don’t limit my holiday bungling to entrees.

One season, I attempted fudge. I was short one cup of sugar, but rationalized “So what? Fudge is sweet enough.”

Sugar helps fudge “clot.”

It didn’t help when I hastily selected the wrong little brown bottle from the cupboard, adding 2 teaspoons of Gravy Master instead of vanilla.

Somewhere on a landfill, that fudge is still moving!

My guests must have low expectations and even lower standards.

I prepared my most infamous turkey in 2005. Galpal Denise suggested I buy a boneless turkey breast and simply cook it in my crockpot. Foolproof, right?

I unwrapped the 7-pound breast. The shiny skin appeared to be covered with lines. It looked … well … quilted.

But I Pam-sprayed the crock and bird, added a can of chicken broth and set the dial.

I’d invited only five guests. One of the guys lifted the thing from the pot and readied the Sunbeam knife to carve. Then he started laughing uncontrollably.

The “shiny skin” was actually an additional layer of plastic covering. The “quilting” came from the twine that bound the tender meat securely.

“Look!” my buddy exclaimed. “An S&M turkey!”

My friends still recall “Michele’s Bondage Bird.”

This year, I made what I make best: Reservations!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Michele Mikesic Bender is a Johns­town resident and a member of The Tribune-Democrat’s Readership Advisory Committee.