Flip the Bird This Thanksgiving

Photo by Tenaya HillsThe holiday now upon us has always been one that lends itself to reflection. Where would we be if not for the generosity of our Native American brothers and sisters who shared with us the bounty of their land? They may have since had second thoughts, but it was a noble gesture all the same.

You may also be choosing this time of year to wonder, “What the frigging hell am I going to do with this turkey?” Many of you who grew up matching wits with Pokemon and in other vital pursuits may necessarily have skimped in the life skills department. And now you've got this ungainly butterball of a thing that won't fit in your microwave. What to do?

If you've got a friend with a band saw, have him cut the turkey down to size for you, and microwave away. While a microwave oven works on sophisticated technology—actually teleporting your food to a hotter planet to cook—you should also consider cooking the old analog way. You know that other appliance, the big one with the knobs that physically require turning? Turn the knob to 325, chuck the bird in a pan on a rack inside, and go watch the last two Matrix movies. You'll get a perfect turkey every time, especially on the screen.

The buzzword in turkeyland this year is brining. James Spader is brining his turkey. The Times suggests you use a soy brine. Well, that's fine, if you were reading this like last week, but you don't exactly have 24 hours to soak a turkey right now, do you?

Instead, let's take a tip from our Native American ancestors and invite a new culture into your holiday. Some Muslims among us haven't been feeling very welcome lately, what with the profiling and indefinite detentions and all. Invite some over, make sure they understand that turkey is the other white meat that pork isn't, and prepare Turkey Arabesque with this recipe:

First you need to make harissa, a spicy Tunisan relish. In a spice grinder or pestle, blend eight dried red chili peppers (minus the seeds), two tablespoons of whole caraway seeds, one tablespoon of cumin and one of coriander seeds. Mix that with six crushed garlic cloves, a big tablespoon of coarse salt and cover it all with olive oil.

Let those ingredients get acquainted for a couple of hours. Then take your turkey, and at the fore and aft portals, use a knife to separate the skin from the meat enough that you can slide your hand in between them. This does two things: it allows you to rub a thick layer of harissa under the skin, and it gives you a creepy vision of what your hand will look like when you're really old. Once you've done that, prepare the bird as directed before, except watch The Wind and the Lion and Ishtar instead. Everyone will have a very nice time.

While on the subject of food, have you been following the condom chowder case that's gained international attention? A Stanton woman, Laila Sultan, and three friends have claimed that while dining at the McCormick N Schmick's Seafood Restaurant in Irvine on Feb. 26, 2002, a Jimmy hat turned up in the clam chowder they were sharing. Yes, of course it was New England-style chowder.

The women claim to have sent the soup back to the kitchen because it was too cold, and when it returned, the condom was discovered . . . in the Stanton woman's mouth. She said she remarked to her dining mates that something rubbery had stuck to a tooth. “Of course, you're chewing on a clam,” a friend responded, according to the LA Timesaccount. It was then discovered that, nay, it was a rolled-up condom.

Sultan claims she spent the next 15 minutes vomiting in the restroom, and that the event has caused psychological trauma that has left her unable to enjoy fish, soup or sex, and that she has required psychiatric care and medication to deal with anxiety and depression.

In a statement released by the restaurant's attorneys, McCormick N Schmick co-founder Doug Schmick claimed, “After reporting the incident, the plaintiff asked for and received a shot of tequila, then remained in the restaurant with friends receiving complimentary alcoholic beverages for a considerable length of time.”

He seems to think this undermines her claim, that it isn't the natural thing to do to toss back an armada of free tequila shooters right after puking your chowder into a public toilet. But that's the sort of hardy pioneer stock they raise in Stanton, Doug.

The case is slated to go to trial on Jan. 12, with the women claiming negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and the restaurant claiming it had no part in the condom winding up in the chowder.

It's a case rife with preconceptions. On the one hand there's the public perception—sometimes captured on videotape—that if you ever send food back to a restaurant's kitchen, the staff will be so insulted that they do horrific things to it, sometimes even cutting off their own heads and tossing it in your salad just to gross you out. And a condom in chowder? Yuck! Chowder is basically chunk-style semen, and there's hardly anything grosser you could throw a condom into, aside from Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

On the other hand, everyone knows that if you want to dine for free, you put a bee or a Band-aid or harissa into your food, and the restaurant will comp you. There's also the public misconception that if you live in Stanton you're probably a whore and might very well have condoms stuck in your teeth for days before noticing it. It's a complex case, I tell you, more than Perry Mason ever had to deal with.

But you don't need to sit on the sidelines while this courtroom drama unfolds, not when your own household junior forensics team can spring into action. Here at the hacienda, for example, reading about this case raised several questions we realized we could answer in our own kitchen:

Do condoms float in chowder?

Even if you were distracted—watching the Victoria's Secret lingerie special, for instance—how could you not notice a condom on your spoon?

If you miss the spoon part, is it humanly possible to put a condom in your mouth, without knowing to a certitude that you'd just put a condom in your mouth?

Does a condom really have—to use a food-industry term—the same “mouth feel” as a clam? If a condom can be confused with a clam, can you confuse oyster sauce with pearl jam?

For our test condoms we used the Class-Act “ribbed and sensitive” unit and a nonlatex Durex Avanti, in case the different materials affect buoyancy.

I'm sorry to say that I haven't been to a McCormick N Schmick's lately—not since I tried the “Waiter, my dick's in my soup” ploy to eat for free there—and don't know how thick their chowder is. So we conducted the test with two soups of divergent viscosity, the brothy Campbell's Honey Roasted Chicken With Golden Potatoes and Snow's condensed New England Clam Chowder with only one-third the recipe's milk added.

Each condom responded identically in the soups, though the Class-Act's lubricant infused the Campbell's broth with an aftertaste that did not converse well with our chablis. The Avanti rode a little lighter on the spoon, making the Class-Act more apparent there, as it also was in the mouth, where its ribs all but announced, “Here I am, sailor!”

On to our questions:

Did it float in the bowl? In the chicken soup, indeed it did, both brands right to the top. But in the Snow's, which I suspect is more akin to the M&S chowder, it lay submerged like a threatening U-Boat. So, yes, you could very well eat from a compromised chowder bowl without knowing. But on the spoon? The condom was so obvious when snagged—it overhangs the spoon, and you have to balance it so it doesn't topple out—that even models' asses on parade all over the once-proud CBS network could not distract us from it. And you would need a mouth the size of a golf hole not to feel it going in. Neither did we need to conduct a discussion with friends before determining there was a friggin' condom in our mouths. It is a large ring of latex. There is no food in nature like it. Anyone remember the condom machine in the Coach House's old men's room, with the message scratched on it: “Gee, this gum tastes awful”?

Be sure to call the Court TV network today and make sure they cover this important trial. And please have a safe and rollicking holiday weekend.

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