Guys take the heat off cooks by staying out of the kitchen


Here is a list of four things guys can do to make themselves useful during Thanksgiving. It can be used by anybody the cooks don't want in the kitchen, a group that on Thanksgiving includes guys as well as a few "designated guys." These "guys" are people of both genders who would like to contribute to the Thanksgiving effort, but who aren't up to pureeing sweet potatoes.

1. You can go to the store. Repeatedly. There is no limit to the number of grocery store trips a household makes to prepare for Thanksgiving, but most make three. First, there is the "big shopping trip." It takes hours. At its completion the grocery cart resembles a carload of homeward-bound college students. Items are stacked at precarious angles. The wheels are barely able to move. Vision is limited.

It is theoretically possible that guys can pull off a "big shop." But only if they are working from a cook-approved shopping list. A more likely, but still somewhat touchy, chance for a guy to offer shopping assistance would be to undertake a "just a few things" trip to the grocery store.

This trip follows the big shop and offers the chance to buy forgotten items like the can of mushroom soup you need to pour over leftover turkey bits. It is also a chance to buy reinforcements such as more eggs, more milk, more potatoes. Guys or designated guys can gain favor with the cook by volunteering to go on a "just a few things" shopping mission on the day before Thanksgiving. That is when the mood among shoppers usually alternates between sheer panic and overt hostility.

However, the prime opportunity for guys and designated guys to score big comes on Thanksgiving morning. That is when they make the "Holy Toledo!" trip, the -- to get the one item, such as a pint of whipping cream, that the cook is suddenly missing. The name stems from the expression the cook exclaims when she discovers that after all her preparation, she is short one item.

Back in the days when supermarkets were closed on holidays, pulling off a successful Holy Toledo trip made a guy feel heroic. Finding that gas station on the other side of town that sold a meat thermometer on Thanksgiving marked you as a man of some resourcefulness. You were a hunter-gatherer. And, even if all you were hunting was a kitchen gadget, bagging it for the home folks required some pluck.

Nowadays, a Holy Toledo trip doesn't deliver that sense of accomplishment. This year, in a break with tradition, almost all the major grocery stores in the Baltimore-Washington area will be open Thanksgiving Day. The Holy Toledo trip, once considered a feat, is now a mere chore.

2. You can console the cook about the vegetables. At some point in the Thanksgiving proceedings virtually every cook is struck with doubt about the vegetables. Are two kinds of potatoes too much? Should turnips be served even though nobody eats them? Is sauerkraut turkey-friendly? What about the threat of Brussels sprouts?

A guy or designated guy can be a great help to a doubt-struck cook. First he should listen to the cook's concerns, then issue his advice. He should say it is OK to serve both potato dishes, nobody counts carbohydrates at Thanksgiving. Second, it doesn't matter that no one eats turnips. They are members of the fabled antioxidant tribe of healthy food and the favorite food of Mammy Yokum, Li'l Abner's mother. Turnips are both trendy and traditional.

As for sauerkraut, in Baltimore it is served with the turkey. No one is exactly sure why. And, as for Brussels sprouts, never allow them near the table. They kill the festive spirit.

3. You can carve the bird. A guy or designated guy should remember that you cut up a roasted bird the same way you cut down a football fullback. You take away the legs. With the legs gone, the once-thundering fullback lands flat on the ground and the once-difficult nooks and crannies of the roasted bird become a simple, easily sawable, surface. (For additional carving advice see illustration on this page).

4. You can keep trouble at bay. The definition of "trouble" varies from family to family. It can be lively children, opinionated relatives, or pain-in-the-neck pets.

Whatever form trouble takes, it is the job of the guy or designated guy to keep it out of the kitchen. This may require taking the troublemaker on long walks, even if it is cold and rotten outside. The walks can be hard on a guy. But the cook shows her gratitude when it comes time to serve the pumpkin pie.

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