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Janice Schlau: Roasting perfect bird is a creative process

By the first snap in the weather, I find myself hovering over the poultry section of the supermarket, obnoxiously poking the wide selection of reclining oven roasters. A whole raw bird to me is like a blank canvas with which I can attempt to paint a masterpiece. This is my calling, I feel. To roast the perfect bird, select the accoutrements, smear the spices and sing my perennial love song.

Currently I possess more than a dozen antique baking vessels. One or more to accommodate every length and weight wherein the potential feast will relax snugly amid seasonal herbs, fruits and vegetables chosen strictly for this magnanimous event.

Trimmed celery stalks, tart apple slices and robust onions more often than not line the vintage porcelain pan which, covered tightly, helps create a rich pond of au jus. It matters less to me if Thanksgiving traditionally offers up turkeys, ducks, hens or geese. Or as if everyone need to partake in this autumnal ritual. The waft and weft of a basted bird’s profound perfume settling throughout the home is enough to make me swoon on any given day.

By the first magical time my bird and I have begun our journey, gratitude runs rampant as an unspoken prayer to the heavenly maker for this colorful culinary abundance and joyous kitchen symphony. Perhaps the metamorphosis from a pink, plump, plucked and gutted feathered friend to an aromatic, bronzed and ethereal juicy delicacy is what sets me salivating.

When I come to terms that the bird and I somehow melded, cooperated and harmonized by this creative process, I practically blush. Still, the process should hardly be rushed. A slow bake at 325 degrees may begin as early as 1 p.m. and continue until 4 or 5, if you can resist the temptation of picking greedily at the wing tips and licking off the tasty, sticky glaze.

To humor myself until I can at long last lift the lid, I recall the pallid and flabby fowl presentation in the movie, “Accidental Tourist,” where the oven temperature was seriously underestimated. Yet a meal remained somehow intact and no lives were lost as a result.

When my meal lovingly adorns the hand-painted Limoges platter alongside braised root vegetables, the sauce cuddling close to the breast, and the dance of the carving knife separates the succulent slices, I’m left breathless.

To me it goes without saying that a celebration calls for an important bottle of wine. Well, to be perfectly honest, perhaps several. One wine specifically chosen to accompany the cook throughout the meticulous preparations, not just of the roasting bed vegetables, but the labors of correcting the consommé, smoothing the gravy, and/or deliberating over dessert sauces, which help complete dinner, such as a crème anglaise or fresh berry coulis. At this point, I feel the bird is quite indifferent, having transformed into a mystical entity of its own.

Immersing wholly into every aspect of the design of the menu is paramount. As is confronting the honesty of your expectations, limitations and willingness to commit to a banquet of top proportions. It’s more than a meal, I’ve found, perhaps accidentally but certainly true. Planning a roast has irrefutably become for me a methodology that transcends mere cooking. It’s visionary, contemplative and therapeutic. And of course, it’s extraordinarily delicious.