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 Texas : Features : Humor : Column - "A Balloon In Cactus"

Nothing to Fear But Thanksgiving

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand

Since the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, Thanksgiving has always been a day of gratitude for our many blessings, a day of family, friends, and mashed potatoes. But now the government is interfering in our lives yet again.

They have decided to add yet another fear to the long list of things they tell us to be scared of: holiday food. We'd be more inclined to believe the current government's fear list if they put themselves at the top of it.

Unless you're planning to eat your Thanksgiving meal in Baghdad, Kabul, or Guantanamo, it seems a waste of our hard-earned fear to follow the government's instructions about holiday food preparation. Do they have to get into everything? Well, yes, apparently they do. They're sending out the Turkey Police to Big Brother our kitchens.

Government cooking instructions should be filed along with their pamphlet on How to Save Money, of which they claim to know 66 ways, and which they'll sell you for fifty cents. The smart money's on people who start by keeping the fifty cents.

In the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service and the FDA's Office of Women's Health package on Holiday Food Safety, when preparing stuffing and gravy, we're given another fascinating life lesson: wash our hands. What? As if we would not normally wash them? Like we can finally get revenge on our relatives by mixing the stuffing with snarky hands? Let's throw in filthy fingernails while we're at it. Maybe we should just boil our hands before touching anything. I wonder why the fed stopped there. They could've told us not to sneeze on the gravy.

They further attempt to frighten us by saying "If food is mishandled, you may have an uninvited guest at your meal." I already know that. Uncle Sam always shows up wanting his piece of the pie.

With almost constant warnings of anthrax, smallpox, and unnamed odorless gases ready to be released by terrorists, a little bacteria should be quite welcome. Besides, we already have grandpa's gases, which can hardly be called odorless. It's a family tradition to seat our least favorite relative next to grandpa at the Thanksgiving table. If he keeps it up, next year, he may find himself seated at the little table, the one reserved for kids who might not question what that noise was Grandpa made that caused their eyes to water.

The government also discusses, in their what-not-to-do-at-Thanksgiving pamphlet, how to avoid cross-contamination. What, plain contamination isn't enough to scare us? Does contamination have its own lobbyist in Washington? They say we can avoid cross contamination by "separating raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods in the refrigerator, on the counter, or on the cutting board." How does the government think we refrigerate our foods? By mashing them all together? Fine, then how about coming over and having a beeken (combo beef and chicken) smothered in carp or a tuna burger with a side of chicken livers swimming in sweetbreads? No thanks guys, I'll stick with turkey.

As to our Thanksgiving turkey, the government reminds us to stick a thermometer in it, and, though our current government doesn't specify, they probably mean after it's dead. They offer "helpful hints on how to safely thaw and roast our turkeys, along with suggested cooking timetables." These must be politically correct birds because, in the old days before the government took sensitivity training in order to not offend any of their potential pamphleteers, the turkeys thawed in the fridge as the label advises, and were roasted according to family recipes or even Julia Child's recipe.

Good old Julia, who once dropped a chicken on the kitchen floor and baked it anyway. That's the spirit of America. Improvise. It's fine if you want to take the government's advice but, if you're uncertain about preparing your Thankgiving feast, you can also get help from Butterball, http://www.butterball.com, which has menus, recipes, planning, preparation, and serving tips.

The one thing to remember is common sense. Don't nuke the bird, or blow it up on your barbecue, or think you can soak it in hot water till it's cooked. Just keep it simple and follow the directions on the turkey's label. Or maybe you can do things the easy way and finagle an invitation to someone else's house.

Just remember two things: the part of Thanksgiving where we give thanks, and that the only one who should fear Thanksgiving is the turkey.

Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
November 7, 2008 column

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