By now, if you hosted Thanksgiving, the increasingly wizened cartilaginous projection on the sternum of the turkey begins to remind you of Mr. Burns. Throw the damn thing in a stock pot--while it simmers, help me figure this holiday out. The phenomenon of holiday meals with Thanksgiving -- the best part is that it is about the meal, not X-Boxes, candy, or making a rare appearance at a house of worship. As a result, Thanksgiving is to cooking what New Years Eve is to going out and getting drunk -- a time when amateurs feel the need to compete with experienced pros. As a result, it seems to me that Thanksgiving offers a window into the way many Americans feel about cooking in general -- a tedious chore, fraught with peril. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family where cooking and family meals were the rule, rather than the exception -- this year, like most, the process was relatively smooth. However, it appears to be a jungle out there: I imagine a survey of a decade of pre-T.giv food sections in the Times and in other papers would reveal a persistent theme of the turkey as the football Lucy holds, and Charlie Brown as the chef. "This time, it's gonna be different -- everyone will love my turkey." Witness the recent brining phenomenon: in 2003, de rigeur, in 2005, passe as a pashimina. That turkey fryer from 2001 is gathering dust in your garage next to the Razor Scooter. I cannot think of another pursuit where a major corporation has set up a toll-free number to talk you through crises, and yet we have the Butterball Hotline. (BTW, are the people who answer the phone Canadian, or do they have Thanksgiving dinner there?) You are expected to make it though The Corrections on your own, but if you hit a snag cooking a bird, something our species has been doing for millennia, just call 1-800-BUTTERBALL. Three possible hypotheses: 1) Cooking a turkey is difficult. 2) Americans, as a rule, cannot cook. 3) The turkey is a convenient receptacle for projections of family agitas. Codland?