The smartest turkeys I’ve ever made
One should only expect Thanksgiving in Oxford to be nothing less than stimulating. And to date, those were the smartest turkeys I’ve ever made. Thanksgiving was coming, and we were a group of Americans in a British program. Naturally, the British directors left it to us to prepare a Thanksgiving meal and I, despite having never cooked a turkey before, was tasked to undertake preparing the three turkeys which were to feed the entire program. Just prior to my time in England, I had traversed my way through China, Nepal, and South Korea taking a special interest in the foods I found there, all of which were quite different from the fried chicken of my home state of Kentucky. The earthy flavor of Nepali dhindo and piquant curries, the peanuts and spice of Chongqing noodles and the toasted-cumin crunch of fire-cooked scorpions, the simple, dulcet taste of fresh corn shared with an old Chinese man and his wife in their small hut – these flavors and stories acted as my research notes on the creation of flavor as I began to experiment and write up my own recipes in the Vines kitchen. Flavor was what I was after. And Oxford had taught me how to use research skills to discover and create what I wished.
Mark Twain once said, “the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’Tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning” (The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain). And just so, I found that the difference between the almost right flavor and the right flavor was the determining factor in a dish. I tasted flavors the way a scholar tastes words before putting them on a page.
I must have watched every existing video on YouTube on the topic of cooking turkeys. I approached these turkeys with the same contemplation, creativity, and research as I did my schoolwork. Each turkey recipe had the complexities of a tutorial essay (and my tutorial essay that week was, shall we say, undercooked). One turkey was stuffed with onions, garlic, lemon, and rosemary; another with garlic, celery, onions, and thyme; the final desert turkey with apples, walnuts, rosemary, thyme, and perpetually basked in a homemade cranberry sauce. I led a small team (one of whom is now my wife) on to create these well-researched turkeys.
The turkeys were thoroughly enjoyed and we received many comments on being exceptional and flavorful. However, the most enjoyable part was seeing just how our turkeys contributed to the rest of the food and the overall Thanksgiving festivities – much in same way, as I have come to realize, all the hard work of our research contributes to the academic world’s dialogue on the nature of the world we inhabit.
Michaelmas Term, 2017