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  1. Chicken every Sunday ... turkey on Thanksgiving ... wishing on a wishbone ... squabbling for the drumstick. If one or more of these isn't a part of your family tradition, you must have grown up somewhere else! -- from Betty Crocker's Cookbook, 1969 edition, distributed free w/purchase of a major appliance from Sears. Did you know that some of the wild turkeys the Pilgrims hunted for the first Thanksgiving were between fifty and sixty pounds? That amazed me when I read it; I didn't think North America had edible fowl that big south of Sesame Street. Even the domesticated kind you buy at the grocery can get up to thirty pounds. This is why, in late November and early December, so many meals across this great land are made up of a local dish called "holiday leftovers", whose main ingredient is turkey. Many years, back, one fine day, my friend the Troll thought about that, and he wondered why nobody ever cooked turkey except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Troll liked turkey just fine, and he suspected that between himself and his two roommates, twenty bucks would buy enough turkey to feed everyone for a couple of weeks -- but not long enough for everyone to get sick of it. I was one of those roommates, and listened to him wax eloquent about it. Troll's girlfriend Bubbles happened to be in the room, and advised against it; her mom had made turkey every Thanksgiving for years, and she had seen it to be a humongous undertaking. The Troll disagreed. "It's not that big a thing," he said, "if the Pilgrims could do it without Teflon and microwaves. Your mom just thinks it's a big thing because she has to cook, serve, and clean up after two dozen people every November." With that, Troll promptly went out and bought a turkey. I don't remember what season it was, but it was definitely not the holidays -- I'm fairly sure it was, in fact, midsummer or so. Still, the stores had turkeys for sale. When he got home with the bird, he promptly yelled for me. "How do we cook it?" he asked. "Um," I replied. "How did I get to be in charge of this?" "Because you know how to make food." "Point. Okay, how much does it weigh?" Troll grinned. "Thirty pounds." I stared at him for a minute. "Thirty pounds?" "Biggest one I could find," he grinned. "Hey, I'm hungry!" "Krishna in a Bunny Suit... not too hungry, I hope," I said. "A turkey takes a long time to cook -- especially a big one." Troll's face fell. "How long?" "For a family-size bird, about three, four hours," I said. "This one looks more like a baby ostrich. You're looking at, like, six or seven hours in the oven, minimum." Troll frowned. "Well, fine. Later, then." "Suits me," I said. The next morning, Troll asked over breakfast how soon I thought we should start the turkey. "Do you have a roasting pan?" I responded. Troll looked at me funny. "Roasting pan?" "You know," I said. "It's a big sort of bathtub-shaped pot you put the turkey in, about four or five inches deep--" "Can't we just, like, wrap it in foil or something?" "Not unless you want to start a fire," I said, pointing at the bird. "Rodan, here, is full of ice and bird fat. Roasting him is going to make him sweat it all out, big-time. Unless you feel like putting out the fire, throwing the turkey away, and cleaning the oven, you want a roasting pan." Troll responded with his favorite four-letter word, got his hat, and stormed out the door. He returned a while later with a disposable aluminum turkey pan and a folding roasting rack. "Will this do?" he growled. "Did you check it for holes?" I asked. His eyes bugged a little; before he could say anything, I said, "Put it under the faucet and run a few inches of water in it. If it doesn't drip, it'll work." A gallon or so of water later, we found that the pan was unperforated. Smiling again, Troll went and got the turkey out of the fridge, to put it in the pan. "Wait a minute," I said. "No way is that thing thawed yet." "Huh?" said Troll. "It's been sitting in the fridge since yesterday afternoon!" "Yeah, but that's a lot of bird. I'd leave it in the fridge another day or so." "Durnit, Doc, if you'd just said something, I'd have left it in the sink--" "--and given us all salmonella poisoning," I finished. "Better to let it thaw in the fridge." Troll scowled, then cooled. "All right," he said. "We'll cook it tomorrow." He then glanced up at me and said, "We will cook it tomorrow, right? No more thawing, no more pans, no Sacred Turkey Dance, or anything?" "Not a reason in the world we can't have that bird for supper tomorrow," I replied. The next day, I made the mistake of asking if Troll had a meat thermometer, which led to several moments of high drama and sudden exercise. Fortunately, I was able to tell him that we didn't exactly need to have one before he caught me. When he'd cooled off, we set up the roasting rack in the pan, set the turkey on it, fired up the oven, stuck it in, and settled down to wait. "How long?" Troll asked. "Between seven and eight hours." "Wow," he said, lighting a cigarette. "Is there anything we need to do between now and then?" "Well," I said, "You'll need to baste it." "Baste?" he said, mystified. "Every half hour or so, you open the oven door, dish up some of the juice in the pan, and pour it back over and around the turkey. Keeps the meat juicy. Ever had turkey that was too dry and chewy?" "Oh, okay," he said, puffing on his cigarette. "Sounds like a plan. What do you say we make an event of it?" "Mmm?" "Well, there's you, me, and Bobo. I can call Bubbles over, and Crazy Jane, and ..." Before long, the place was full of people. Well, not full -- no more than seven, I'm sure. Still, we were all there, and before long Bobo broke out the cards, and soon the Thanksgiving In July was in full swing. At length, I retired to my room to study. Until the smoke alarm went off. I jumped; until then, I wasn't even aware that we had a smoke alarm. All three of us were smokers at the time, and between Dave's cigars and the pipe I sometimes smoked, the place had often been sort of opium-den'ish. Or at least I thought so until I opened the bedroom door. I couldn't see anything! It was as if someone had built a wall right outside my bedroom door -- a wall covered with dirty gray cotton. The only thing missing was a subtitle reading LONDON 1898. I could still hear the thin electronic squeal of the smoke alarm, though. In the distance, I saw movement, and heard a woman shout. "Hey!" I yelled, my voice a little shaky. "Is the house on fire, or did Troll do something weird with the turkey?" From off in the distance, I heard the oven door clang open, followed by Troll's favorite four-letter word. I took this as a sign of relative safety, and strolled into the foggy evening. From the living room, I heard Bobo call my name. "Yeah?" I replied. "Doc! [fourletterword!] I'm getting the front door! [fourletterword!] Troll's putting out the bird! [fourletterword!] You get the [obscene gerund] smoke alarm an' make it shut up!" I tried, and promptly collided with one of our guests. Together, we followed the sound to its source. Working together, we managed to climb up, yank the thing off the wall, fail to figure out how to turn it off or yank the battery, and finally, we beat it to death with a baseball bat and a golf club. As we did so, the air cleared, which helped us to see the thing as we took turns whacking it. And, at the end, the turkey remained edible. It turned out Troll had gotten tired of basting it, and in order to save time, he'd pulled the bird out, removed the roasting rack, and set the turkey down directly in the pan, partially immersed in its own juices. "That way," he thought, "it'll baste itself while we play cards." I explained to him while we ate that this would have made turkey soup, not roast turkey -- and why didn't it? And what started the fire? "No fire," he said with his mouth full. Swallowing, he continued, "I accidentally poked a little bitty hole in the pan when I put the turkey back in it. It started a slow drip going, and when the puddle reached the heating element in the bottom of the oven, it started to burn. No fire, just lots of smoke." "Incidentally saving the turkey from a soggy grave," I added. "Nice smoky flavor, too," chuckled Bobo. "I have to admit, this is pretty good. What did you stuff it with?" "Huh?" said Troll. "What did you make the stuffing with?" I rephrased. "Huh?" said Troll. "The stuffing, dipstick, the stuffing!" laughed Bobo. "What-did-you-stuff-the-turkey-with?" "Oh," said Troll. "I didn't have to stuff it. It wasn't empty."
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