Garfield flies high in NYC. Photo by Sue Frause.
First, a clarification. My husband is not a full time turkey farmer. He owns a public relations firm in Seattle and the “gentleman farmer�? label was slapped on him shortly after we moved to our three-acre spread on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound 30 years ago.
I can’t recall how this turkey gig got going, but for the past two decades, “Farmer Bob�? has raised anywhere from five to twenty birds a season. We usually keep a couple and give one to friends who help out with the butchering. The rest are snapped up by eager buyers for two bucks a pound.
When our son moved to New York several years ago, I thought it would be fun to bring Thanksgiving to him. So we did what any non-normal family would do: we rented an apartment in the city for the holiday weekend and readied our turkey for her flight east. Her stats? A 27-pound white hen with no name. But for this turkey tale, we’ll call her “Big Bird,�? or BB for short.
Now, traveling with small children is one thing, but flying with a frozen bird? Not only did we hope to sail through security without a lot of unwanted attention (“Sir, could you please hand over the ID for whatever is in that bag?�?), we had to make sure BB would be secure in the overhead bin. So Farmer Bob swaddled her in a blue foam camping pad, secured it with masses of Duck tape, placed her in a nondescript black duffel and plopped her in the freezer until our 2,400-mile journey commenced.
Bob Frause with his homegrown turkey in a bag.
When departure day arrived, BB didn’t raise any eyebrows or alarms at Sea-Tac (we were also carrying our son’s alto sax, which seemed to interest security a lot more). My husband gave me the international “zip it up�? signal, meaning, “No smart comments, Sue.�? When BB emerged from the airport screening machine, I felt a small surge of victory. Our Little White Hen was on her way to The Great White Way via Alaska Airlines!
As we hauled Big Bird and our bags up the three flights of narrow stairs to our Chelsea apartment, I became apprehensive. Although I’d seen photographs of our rented digs on the web site, who knew what was really behind that dark brown door? Well, not only had it not been cleaned since the last renters had been there, it was small…Big Apple small. In fact, the kitchen was not much larger than a potholder. After Farmer Bob transferred BB to the fridge to finish thawing, we set to work cleaning up the joint.
The next morning was unseasonably warm and sunny. I walked 20-some blocks to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while Chef Bob prepared for the big meal: shopping at nearby Chelsea Market and Whole Foods, purchasing a Global carving knife (we didn’t dare board an airplane with our own knives) and figuring out where we, my mother, our son and his two friends were going to sit.
I returned after the parade to the sweet smells of November. We had brought along our favorite Thanksgiving recipe, the roast turkey with Grand Marnier apricot stuffing from The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, and BB was ensconced in the oven with barely an inch of clearance. Farmer Bob (now Chef Bob) was also preparing mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables and cranberries in port and our guests were bringing the requisite pumpkin and pecan pies.
The tiny living room/dining room wasn’t much bigger than the kitchen, but we managed to set up two makeshift tables in the cozy space. A dresser from the lone bedroom was recruited as the turkey carving/serving table, and I decorated the little brick walled room with fresh tulips and lots of tea lights. Throw in plenty of TV football and red wine, and we had the makings of classic Thanksgiving feast.
The post-dinner review? My son and his friends were soon sound asleep, proof enough that we’d brought a little Whidbey Island magic to the isle of Manhattan.
Now, if only I could talk Alaska Airlines into giving me Big Bird’s frequent flier miles.
This was originally published in the November/December 2005 issue of Northwest Palate magazine.