A moving feast

As a woman who prides herself on upholding nontraditional traditions, nothing is more sacred than my holiday feast. No common turkey for me. Christmas goose? No thank you—still too middle of the road. Years ago, I dumped my old standby of beef loin in favor of a bolder, more exotic cut of roast beast(s). Come rain or snow or dark mountain-top delivery, I now must eat Turducken.

Tur(key) + duck + (chick)en = Turducken. It’s a de-boned chicken stuffed into a de-boned duck, which is then stuffed into a de-boned turkey. The turkey drumsticks, breast and outer skin remain, making it look like your iconic holiday main course. But inside it’s a savory mystery of light and dark meats that Grandma never carried to the table unless she came from down on the bayou.  I discovered Turducken on the Food Network, back when cooking/reality shows weren’t a dime a dozen and actually offered some instructional value. I remember the demo having all the boast and swagger of Emeril Live, the intrigue of Man vs. Wild, and the potential pitfalls of a DIY episode gone bad. I took one look at the succulent end-product the chef presented to the camera and knew I wanted to devour some Turducken. I took a longer look at the chef’s three-hour carving and stuffing procedure and knew I wanted it prepared in anyone’s kitchen but my own.

That’s when I found the Cajun Grocer, voted best Turducken source by The Wall Street Journal. Their website got my mouth watering and convinced me that shipping a 15-pound frozen turkey trifecta was a breeze. As long as I observed their holiday delivery schedule from Lafayette, Louisiana, I could savor their signature creation anywhere in the world. I got so fired up, I even went for their spicy seafood Jambalaya stuffing.

The first couple of Turducken Christmases boosted my confidence. Leery that first year that the thing would arrive on Dec. 21 and be rotten come Christmas morning, I since learned that its hermetically sealed, dry ice-packed shipping box kept it frozen till way after oven time if I didn’t unearth it immediately upon delivery. Thawing it took nearly an ice age! I also figured out that: 1) relying on the little pop-up thermometer for Turducken doneness is not a perfect science; 2) despite how it sounds, Jambalaya stuffing juices make for some awesome gravy; and 3) once I served the concentric circles of sliced meat with all their Cajun fixings, my family would come to expect and highly anticipate a repeat performance every year.

Naturally, I planned for Turducken to be the central attraction at my first Christmas dinner in Rangeley. I placed my order on Dec. 9, and went about the rest of my holiday business, calm in knowing I had already checked off my top-of-the-list item. “Been there, done that,” I said to myself, picturing the square styrofoam container showing up on my porch via UPS just in time for my thawing ritual. It wasn’t till mid-December, after plowing through the rest of my online ordering and a couple of snow dumps, that the reality of my new situation dawned on me. The Cajun Grocer’s holiday schedule showed plenty of time for a regular, good old ground shipment to arrive on the 23rd. But the website’s fine print didn’t say anything about shipping to a private road—across a causeway from a long, dirt town road—that eventually led to a post office and a general store. Ground shipments that couldn’t land in my PO box in Oquossoc (or behind my box in the post mistress’ crowded quarters) had to cover a whole lot more ground now that I no longer lived in the flatlands of New Hampshire. Each UPS or FedEx package destined for my side of the lake required tons of lead time, at least two phone calls, a tracking number that was useless beyond Waterville, a neighborhood vigil, and a backup plan in case the thing never showed up.

After consulting the Cajun Grocer website again and cursing myself for picking the Dec. 20 ship option two weeks earlier, I nervously dialed 1-888-CRAWFISH to get help from the Turducken tech support folks. “I really need this to arrive by the 23rd,” I explained, “and I live in a rural area. If I switch to FedEx second-day air, can delivery be guaranteed by then?”

“Certainly, ma’am,” the customer service woman told me in a sweet drawl. My phone number would be printed on the address label so the driver could call if he had any problems reaching my location. Even though I knew she was picturing southern “rural” delivery and not necessarily my snowy landscape, I paid the $17 shipping upgrade and felt relieved.

By the week before Christmas, I had told my story to the woman at the Rangeley  dispatch, central winter dumping ground for most wayward packages. Tom had even gone there to retrieve a couple boxes that, although they got my hopes up, were not my Turducken. He had also been summoned down to the town side of the causeway bridge to pick up another different package off the FedEx truck. With my feast in limbo as I waited for my phone call with drop-off instructions, I understood why the natives resorted to dried venison this time of year. According to the FedEx tracking site, I had poultry in motion on Dec. 20, as promised. But, after that, my special delivery, had become a Tur-TRUCK-en.

The first phone call came on Dec. 22. It was FedEx headquarters in Augusta informing me they would not be able to deliver until the following day. “That’s fine.” I sighed, “Just have the driver call me if for any reason he can’t make it all the way up my road.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, ma’am, the driver does not carry a phone,” I was told. No phone? Really? Along moose alley in winter carrying dozens of packages with sketchy addresses? “But my husband just got called by the driver yesterday to go meet him….” Well, turns out, that was the Waterville FedEx guy. My box was on the Augusta truck and the Augusta guy doesn’t use a phone.

The second FedEx phone call came on the afternoon before Christmas Eve. My package was on the truck, but the driver would, unfortunately, not make it to my location that day. Could he drop it off at…(insert an agonizing pause and any number of possible suggestions between here and Augusta)…..the Oquossoc Grocery? “Yes!” I yelled into the phone. My heart soared as I called Tom and Becky, enroute home from skiing at Saddleback, and left a message. “Pick up the Turducken on your way through,” I pleaded. “And if, for any reason, it doesn’t show up, please grab a ham!”

As far as Christmas miracles go, the timely arrival of my Turducken was a small thing in a year filled with blessings. It didn’t require guidance from a heavenly star, just a note to self to back plan better next year. The greatest gift was the family around my table for my first Christmas in Rangeley. We gathered from afar—from over the causeway and through the woods—to eat, drink homemade wine, and top off our feast with pie Tom dreamt about as he picked blueberries back in August. And, of course, we laughed as I told tales of the traveling Tur-TRUCK-en, the latest piece in our rich, but slightly off-center, folklore.

3 thoughts on “A moving feast

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