The Professional Guest: Thanksgiving

30501_RecipeImage_620x413_easy_brined_turkeyIn Minnesota, we start thinking about Thanksgiving in October. There are vacation days to take, travel plans to make, weather forecasts to watch, and you need to plan ahead. The family starts to contact each other. “Where are you going for Thanksgiving?” We usually hone in on the brother or sister who has the biggest place with a table big enough for more than fourteen. And room to go cast off your over-stuffed body on a couch to watch football after the meal.

One of my nieces wanted to learn how to prepare a turkey so I started to email her the “how-to’s.” And then memories flooded back about my own Thanksgiving turkey fiascos.

Since I come from a family of nine and I was on the young end, making the Thanksgiving turkey didn’t land on my end of the stick of responsibilities. I mostly had to show up with buns, carrot and celery sticks, pickles and olives, or the jar of pickled herring as the family gathered. Either my mom or older sisters carried in the “big bird.”

When I became a mother, I realized I needed to earn the “rite of passage” as a mother and learn how to make the Thanksgiving turkey, if for no other reason than just to prove to myself and to my son that I was a “real mother.” After all, “real mothers” know how to do the Thanksgiving spread.

So, one Thanksgiving, I offered to bring the turkey to the family gathering. I was up to the challenge! I knew there was going to be at least 14-18 of my family members there that day and according to my limited math calculations, I thought I better cook an 18-pound turkey. There has to be enough for all of us plus leftovers. I bought an 18-pound turkey.

An 18-pound turkey when it is frozen is completely manageable. An 18-pound turkey when it is thawed becomes a slippery, unnatural beast, a jellyfish, a whale that must be physically manhandled and tamed. I’m a single woman and I’m not weak but when I had to lift that 18-pound thawed turkey in its roasting pan out of the refrigerator and slide it into the sink to rinse it, I knew I was in trouble.

I was covered head to toe in an apron, braced my body against the sink and heaved the slippery, dripping wet bird into the sink. It sloshed around the sides before it settled and I proceeded to cut the wrap off and rinse it. You ALWAYS rinse a turkey before you cook it. You also need to grope around inside the body cavity openings to find the packets of gizzards that are neatly hidden somewhere in the neck part or the “other” part. The year before, I didn’t know about this deal and while we were carving the bird for the meal, we discovered the very-cooked, paper-wrapped gizzards still in the neck.

Bird was unwrapped and in the sink. I rinsed and rinsed. Next step, pat dry. I patted the enormous hulk with at least 150 paper towels until it was good and dry. That’s when I should have lifted it out of the sink, put it in the Lipton Roasting Bag and in the aluminum roasting pan…. but I didn’t.

Nope. I thought I should spray it with the PAM olive oil spray and salt and pepper it while it was still in the sink.

Have you ever played that game of greased watermelon in the lake at summer camp? The team that manages to corral the greasy thing into their arms and out of the water wins. That was my night with the 18-pound turkey. No man to call in for help. I briefly considered dialing 9-1-1, but thought better of it. It was me and the bird and only one of us was going to win.

An hour passed, maybe two, I had used my arms, my face, my boobs, my waist, and half my intellect to scoop the slippery beast up out of the sink and into the roasting pan. Several more manipulations later, I got it INTO the roasting bag. By this time I was sweating profusely.

I thought I had it conquered because it was all wrapped up in the Lipton bag, completely stuffed inside and out with onions, buttered, greased, salted and peppered, and sprinkled with my secret ingredient of Herbes de Provence. All I needed to do was put it back in the fridge for the night. Tomorrow morning was Thanksgiving. Wake up early, put it in the oven, 1 hour for every 4 pounds of bird. How hard can that be?

After a good night’s sleep, I woke up at 6 am to put the turkey in the oven. The roasting pan made it a successful transfer. Middle rack. 350 degrees. Sigh.

Within an hour or two, the house was filled with the wonderful smell of turkey, sage, onions and all that is…Thanksgiving! My heart was filled with joy as I got ready to head up north to Grandpa and Grandma’s house. I’m single but I have a sneaking suspicion I know why so many of us in our large family were born in August. Count back nine months. Yep. Thanksgiving.

Over the river and through the woods…. Success! The year before, I had added too much sage to everything and my poor blind and autistic son lost the rest of his olfactory senses and tastebuds. I pried him with questions about how the food was and all he could say was, “Everything tastes like sage.”

I lifted the roasting pan out of the oven, and this is where Left Brain left the building and Right Brain took over. The turkey was done, but wait…it still needed to cool and then I needed to carve it before I headed up north. Let me tell you, an 18-pound turkey does not cool quickly. I paced back and forth waiting for it on the stovetop and then decided, I needed to carve it NOW. There was only an hour to go before our scheduled family gathering! I pulled out the electric carving knife, opened up the Lipton Roasting Bag and started to slice. All my fingerprints burned off. Gravy spilled out of everywhere! The roasting pan was filled to overflowing with turkey/onion juice which spilled over onto the counter and on me. I sliced as best I could right there in the roasting pan, covered it with tin foil and…

Now what??? How can I lift that steaming, cooking, onion-filled, gravy-filled roasting pan and carry it out to my car?? What was I thinking?

I was dressed and ready for the day, forgot my apron, and thankfully had bought two roasting pans so I tucked one inside the other, but getting it out to the trunk?? By this time I was delirious. No arguing with a slippery turkey. The temperature outside was in the 30s F. I could see my breath as I carried it out to the car, gravy and juices sloshing all over me, set it into the trunk, more gravy spilled in the trunk, went back inside and changed clothes and drove 65 miles up north to deliver said turkey to said relatives…WHO BETTER APPRECIATE WHAT I’VE BEEN THROUGH TO GET THIS BIRD TO THEM.

Nope. Nobody in my family ever saw or heard what I had just experienced to get them their Thanksgiving turkey. All they knew was they sat around and happily ate turkey, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, Waldorf salad and more. All filled up and happy and seeking out those couches to sprawl on.

Thank you, Sheryl, for helping to keep your family traditions together. And you’ll never buy an 18 pound turkey again, that’s for sure.

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