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Published: Sunday, 11/20/2005

Cooking up a Thanksgiving disaster

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

One of Ellen Wisniewski's favorite Thanksgivings was the one where her grandmother tried to kill her.

It happened about 10 years ago, when her grandmother chipped the glass bowl she was using to make her famous stuffing. She didn't notice until family members started finding crunchy bits in their helpings.

"We teased her then for trying to 'off' us all with ground glass in our meals, and have insisted on examining the bowls she uses to prepare dinner every year since," said Mrs. Wisniewski, 29, of Sylvania.

Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks, yes, but inevitably it's also a time to mess things up, to get overwhelmed by the stresses of hosting a giant family gathering, and gripe about why the pilgrims couldn't have just ordered out for pizza.

The challenge of putting together a table full of turkey, stuffing (without grandma's glass, hopefully), and all the trimmings can be a recipe for disaster even for the most accomplished cooks.

So what chances can newbies in the kitchen have? Not much, if you ask Bonnie Rini, 56, of Sylvania Township.

When she was venturing into adulthood at the age of 24, she decided to cook Cornish hen for Thanksgiving instead of turkey, even though she'd never eaten - or even seen - one before. She had just purchased a condo and was hosting a potential roommate and wanted to impress.

Unfortunately, when her guest cut into the bird, a stream of watery, bloody liquid began to spurt out. She politely kept cutting and even took a bite, only to pull a piece of white, waxy paper out of her mouth.

"By that time I watched in complete horror - wide-eyed and open-mouthed," Mrs. Rini said. "After a little more cutting and poking, she pulled out a bloody little bag from inside of the hen. Neatly tucked inside the bag were the neck, heart and giblets - uncooked and very unsavory looking."

(Despite this, they still became roommates and fast friends.)

Similar stories of people forgetting to remove the bag of giblets tucked inside the turkey abound, but Mary DeWalt's Thanksgiving disaster is more unusual. When she was a young, single mother more than 50 years ago, she decided to make a pumpkin pie for her two sons.

"It was beautiful when I pulled it out of the oven," she said.

So imagine her surprise at her kids' reaction: They started to cry.

See, she didn't realize that making a pumpkin pie doesn't involve just scooping the innards out of a pumpkin and baking them in a pie crust.

"I didn't know you were supposed to mix other things, said the 77-year-old from Bedford Township. "I was only 20 when I did that mess. I got better as I got older."

For Diane Dooley, 51, of West Toledo, hosting Thanksgiving when she was newly married in her first house was a lesson in Murphy's Law.

"Anything that could have gone wrong, did," she said.

The turkey roaster broke, leaving the bird raw. When she tried to put it in the oven, the appliance door fell off its hinges. Then the potatoes started boiling, setting off the smoke alarm - which wouldn't have been so bad except it jarred her visiting grandmother, who had just gotten out of the hospital after a heart attack.

"My mother was worried my grandma was going to have another heart attack," Ms. Dooley remembered. "I started crying."

At least she can laugh about it now. These days, one of her sisters usually plays host for the holiday.

"It's safer," she said.

Sometimes, even Turkey Day veterans get struck by Thanksgiving disasters.

Just last year, 72-year-old Anne Hammer left her West Toledo house in a huff over a botched bird, whose extreme dryness she blamed on a new recipe she got from her daughter.

"You couldn't even cut it. It was petrified," she said. "That was just a year ago. Everybody tells me they're going to give me turkey jerky now."

Not one to take disaster sitting down, Mrs. Hammer hit the streets to cool off. Without telling her family what she was doing, she walked for about two miles before ending up at the police station on Sylvania Avenue. There a kind sergeant let her phone home for a ride and gave her some Thanksgiving advice.

"He told me before I left: Next year, cook a ham."

Contact Ryan E. Smith at: ryansmith@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.



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