Wednesday, January 07, 2009

10 Moments in the Life of the Turkey: Or, why Nobody Family Holidays are just Stellar.

1: Thanksgiving 2001: I drag my teenaged self out of bed and meander into the kitchen. My mother (the veterinarian) is dressed and pacing. She hands me a bunch of celery and a knife, and announces: "Your grandmother's dog is dying. The family's coming at 4. You'll want to have the bird out of the oven by 3:30." She leaves.

After some consultation with Joy of Cooking and my mother's old notes, I figure things out. Mom returns in time to make my gravy lumpy and critique the amount of garlic in the potatoes. I resolve to hold this over her head for the rest of my adult life. We feed 29 this year, a Nobody Family record.

I tout myself as a 16 year old Julia Child/Wunderkind, obviously.

Adding to the previous year's newfound skills, my mother the veterinarian teaches me to suture a turkey shut. I weird out my friends, and vow to never use turkey pins again. 4 year later, I will further prove I am my parent's child by flapping the turkey wings at my (formerly vegetarian) roommate, and using my best turkey-voice to communicate with her. She will threaten to have me committed. I will test her resolve by showing her the Turkey Dance.

Senior Year of high school: The Refugee Thanksgiving. My old teammate's grandmother sets fire to their family turkey, and we pull up picnic benches to accommodate their clan, cousins and all. In a minor miracle, no one is injured reaching for gravy, although one cousin has his life threatened when he attempts to get to the dip before Crazy Aunt Pat.
There are still leftovers.

Thanksgiving 2003, DC- My first Thanksgiving away from home, and my dad and brother come out to visit. Since we'll be hosting a group of 9 or so in our twee apartment, I go grocery shopping. I err on the side of "big," and take home a 26 pound turkey. We discover at the last minute that we don't have anything to serve or carve on, so we put the cookie sheets to creative uses.

We end up eating turkey for days. Apparently, when standing in the supermarket contemplating your poultry purchase, you should know: the standard ratio of bird to guest is 1 lb per person, and it will take approximately 10 days of eating nothing but turkey to get through the remaining 15 pounds of meat.

After Thanksgiving in DC, my dad discovers that, no, turkey isn't that hard to cook. He runs out and fills the freezer with 3 turkeys, bought on clearance. The cats are the big winners in this one, since everyone else is getting to total poultry burnout.

Thanksgiving 2006- Uncle Joe takes a domestic turn, and decides that he would like to make this year's turkey. The natives are skeptical: this is, after all, the man who has recently taken to referring to Martha Stewart as "his homegirl Martha."

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Uncle Joe decides that, just kidding, he does not have room for the entire Nobody Klan. Not to be deterred, he decides that he will just bring Thanksgiving, pre-carved, and re-heated, to us. My mother, the former matriach of Thanksgiving and great slayer of all family traditions, thinks this is a grand idea.

We feast on a deli platter. I am most seriously displeased.

One year after the Great Thanksgiving Outsourcing of 2006, I call my mother from NoSchool and issue an ultimatum. I absolutely, positively will not come home if she persists in the deli platter madness this year. She agrees, then confronts me in the airport with "Oh but honey! Your uncle just got the nicest turkey!"

The "nicest turkey" doesn't actually fit in Uncle Joes' oven, and is ill-suited for the 40 minute commute to our oven after he attempted to cut it in half, so we get a last minute turkey, and no one in the family has to face the fiery wrath of my turkey-making deprival. The turkey is not 26 pounds, but still manages to feed the 21 people who show up. 18 were expected, a pretty good statistic for Nobody Family events.

First Thanksgiving with Darwin. We turkey it up with The Family Darwin, and nothing is set on fire. Dinner is delicious and the Family Darwin is lovely, and I emerge with a new-found appreciation for cornbread stuffing.

Still, I'm left a little bewildered. Shouldn't I be wearing an apron and smacking the cousin's hands away from the gravy? Why isn't someone standing in the kitchen from 8am onward? Not to be deterred by this silly "under 10 people" and "not my kitchen" business, I attempt to kill the entire family with kindness/pies. Many, many, many pies: enough to fill Darwin's back seat, and still have some left over for Thanksgiving breakfast. I bat 100% on the crusts (thank you, Smitten Kitchen), but learn that the elusive "Sugar Pie" is better sung than baked.

Christmas '08: In an effort to be helpful, I preheat the oven for cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Also in an effort to be helpful, my dad has put the (plastic-wrapped) turkey in the oven, to keep it out of the way. Luckily, I smell something off before we manage to burn the house down- the plastic has started to melt, but hasn't actually melded to the turkey, so we make some recovery efforts.

Believe it or not, the turkey turns out delicious, and moist. I may be on to something. Also, we are apparently dwindling- only 20 at the table, and only 2 unexpected guests. Maybe they heard about the plastic incident?

No one gets food poisoning, and I did not ruin Christmas. Score one for the good guys.

: Which brings us to #10: The Guilt Turkey, cooked for 6. The Guilt Turkey, because I didn't come home for Thanksgiving this year, and everyone feels like they have to make up for it- me, by having more family time, and my dad, by providing me with another turkey in my life.

The gravy turns out to be not stellar (I am an epic gravy maker), but I still get a theraputic turn at turkey-ing before heading back to school. Making a turkey dinner is terrific, because everyone oohs and aahs, but, kids? Holy mother of poultry, it is easy.

Nobody Presents: Guilt Turkey in 10(ish) easy steps:
1. Procure turkey. Do not buy a 26 pound turkey unless you really, really mean it.

2. After dethawing, put giblets and neck into a pot with garlic, onions, celery, and magic. Let simmer interminably (No. Really.)

3. Get the good stuff ready: Rub inside of turkey with garlic salt. Sautee garlic, onions, and celery according to stuffing package directions. Do not buy gross stuffing (Stovetop, I'm looking at you). Mrs. Cubbison's is delicious.

5. Stuff turkey (this is easiest to do in your pan). Put turkey in pan breast down.

6. Sigh heavily, like the long-suffering culinary soul you are. Make someone pour you a glass of wine. (Time is not an issue. You are a gourmand, and gourmands drink when they want, thankyouverymuch).

7. Dress that bird up: Give your turkey a butter rubdown (this is optional, but makes for amazing gravy). Gently pour a little chicken broth over the top, and sprinkle with poultry seasoning, garlic salt, and maybe marjoram. If the spirit moves you.

8. Make a tent out of tin foil to cover the turkey. Tight will steam it, looser will make the skin crispier. Take the tent off in the last 45 min of cooking.

9. Cook turkey & let rest for at least 30 min. Then, pick turkey up, and make someone else carve it.

10. Make Gravy: Pour off pan drippings into a gravy separator. If you don't have one, just try to skim most of the fat off the top.
You should have tasty brown drippings stuck to the bottom of your pan. Pour a small amount of hot water in, and whisk with a very small amount of flour, to form a paste. The more you get off the bottom of the pan, the better your gravy will be. Strain your giblet mix off, and reserve the broth. Add pan-dripping paste, and keep whisking. Mixture will thicken when it reaches a rolling boil, so add flour very, very slowly to thicken.
Add pepper, garlic, salt to taste. Smack cousin's hands away. You are the taste tester!

11. Bask in your awesome. Guilt trip favors out of your dinner guests for the hard, hard, work you've done. Make someone else do dishes.

See? Not that bad. Just don't ask me to make a sugar pie.


All rights reserved to my snotty and generally self-deprecating writing. And if your comments bother me, I'll delete them. That's right, pumpkin.
...How dreary—to be—Somebody!
How public—like a Frog—
To tell one's name—the livelong June—
To an admiring Bog!
-- Emily Dickinson