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Shirl the Pearl

(by Kara Fox)

The idea was movie-perfect: a Thanksgiving celebration and family getaway at a remote log cabin in Montana, surrounded by a thick forest. The enthusiastic cast included my (then) husband, our children, their spouses, grandchildren, nephew, mother, father, stepfather, (yes, all good friends), brother, and his girlfriend (a stunning Swedish James Bond film actress).

(top row: daughter-in-law Brooke and me; bottom row: Shirl and daughter Jenifer)

I was at the end of my master’s program. A paper on statistics was due the day after we returned home. For me, statistics is like Swahili. I just don’t get it. Staying home and getting help would have been smart, but missing this special time was not an option.

Early preparation was always Mom’s motto, so she and I flew to Montana the day before the holiday to do the grocery shopping. Everything had to be perfect for “Shirl the Pearl,” our nickname for Mom. The turkey had to be stuffed with her famous dressing and seasoned as only she could do it. But as she was putting the bird, wrapped with cheesecloth, in the roasting pan, she shrieked, “There is no rack—the turkey will be ruined.”

My (then) husband also had a family nickname: “Handy Andy,” and he exclaimed that he had the perfect solution. “I’ll build a rack with kindling,” he said, and created a neat arrangement of wood from the fireplace to cradle the turkey. Shirl basted the turkey with sherry and butter, and as it turned golden, she tasted the gravy for seasoning. With a squinched up face, she announced that it tasted funny. She tasted again and said, “It tastes like gasoline.”

At once we all realized what should have been obvious: The kindling was soaked in fuel. Handy Andy to the rescue again: He threw the wood away and drained the turkey of the gasoline-flavored gravy. Shirl basted her way to a fuel-free dinner, delightful in every way except that we were wearing pilgrim hats provided by my brother’s girlfriend—apparently a tradition in her family—so we looked like Thanksgiving idiots.


Kara Fox is the co-founder of Glamour Project, which gives homeless and disadvantaged women an ego-boosting makeover experience. She lives in Santa Monica, California.

Shirley Hart's Turkey Stuffing

2 sticks unsalted butter

3 large cloves garlic, chopped

4 onions, chopped

12 oz. mushrooms, sliced

6 stalks celery with tops, chopped

6 medium zucchini, grated

6 carrots, grated

3 large eggs, beaten

1/2 c. flat-leaf parsley, chopped

kosher salt and pepper to taste

12-oz. package of Mrs. Cubbison's Corn Bread Stuffing

chicken broth to moisten

optional: toasted pine nuts and 1 - 2 T. sherry

In a large pot or frying pan, melt butter and sauté garlic and onion until softened.

Add mushrooms and cook until softened.

Add remaining ingredients.

Use mixture to stuff a turkey.

Alternatively, put in a buttered casserole dish, moisten with chicken broth, cover with foil, and bake at 350 F. for 30 minutes.


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